Belgium v United States

Position-by-position: Breaking down the U.S.’s squad for Mexico

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The most impressive part of this U.S. squad: the depth, particularly compared to the team assembled in Frankfurt ahead of the team’s match against Ukraine. Where that team ended up starting the likes of Sacha Kljestan, Edgar Castillo, and Oguchi Onyewu, the lineup that will start next week against Mexico will feature locks for this summer’s World Cup. In stark contrast to the squad that Bob Bradley took to South Africa, this summer’s team will be built around North America-based talents.

The most notable of which are Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan, but they’re not why this camp is important. This camp is about Michael Parkhurst and DeAndre Yedlin. It’s about Brad Davis, Maurice Edu, and Luis Gil. And yes, it’s about Julian Green.

Though Jurgen Klinsmann’s sure to relish an opportunity to get so many of his regulars together, the real drama of next week’s out-of-window camp is about the 30-man preliminary roster – the one the U.S. will submit to FIFA mid-May. Who can cement their place on that list? Because without that, you’re out of the fight for the 23-man team that will leave for Brazil.

That’s what this camp all about, so position-by-position, here’s where each everybody stands ahead of next week’s test.

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

It’s amazing how clear the goalkeeper depth chart is. Then again, when we’re talking about a position where only one person can play at a time, perhaps there’s no room for ambiguity. Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) are clearly numbers one and two, after whom we get Rimando (a consistent call up), Johnson (Rimando’s backup, when the big two aren’t around), and Hamid. One through five: no debate; no doubt.

source: APDefenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

Five of these guys are going to Brazil, and given how highly Klinsmann spoke of Michael Parkhurst after the January camp, the versatile Columbus defender seems very close. Add Geoff Cameron to the mix and whether there are spots available may depend on a.) what Klinsmann plays to do at left midfield (and how that affects Fabian Johnson), and b.) whether versatility within the squad means the U.S. can take more than eight defenders.

The most obvious candidate to snare that extra spot is in Europe, but center back John Brooks is staying with Hertha Berlin during this out-of-window friendly. But between his struggles against Ukraine, Cameron’s versatility, and DeAndre Yedlin’s (right) continued improvement for Seattle, the 20-year-old Sounder seems to have a shot, even if that would make five players who can play right back (Evans, Cameron, Parkhurst, Fabian Johnson being the others). It’s a long-shot, and in light of that depth it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it’s a shot nonetheless.

As much as anybody on this team, Michael Orozco seems to have the thinnest chance of making this summer’s squad. Even on a roster without European call ups, the Puebla defender may be the team’s fifth-best center back.

source:  Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

The stakes are highest for Davis, Edu, and Gil. The rest of the guys are, presumably, on the plane, with Bradley and Zusi having served as regular starters throughout the qualifying cycle.

Edu has the longest odds. His lack of playing time at Stoke City left him on the outside looking over the last two years, but after an impressive start with the Union, Edu can play his way into consideration for a “what id Jermaine Jones, Bradley, or Beckerman get injured” spot. Even then, with Geoff Cameron and Brad Evans also capable of playing in the middle, the U.S. already has other options embedded in the squad.

Gil’s path is slightly different. His competition is more likely to be players like Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan – midfielders who will can come off the bench and give the team a different look. Ultimately, this may cast the 20-year-old into the pool with Yedlin and Brooks – players Klinsmann my take for experience rather than purpose.

Among the people who could be hurt by the Julian Green switch is Brad Davis (right). Klinsmann already has a number of options who can play on the left, among them being Landon Donovan. It’s unclear what Davis would bring to the team that Donovan does not, and with players like Fabian Johnson, Eddie Johnson, Beasley and Green also capable of playing that side, Davis is a good bet tog et squeezed out. He needs to impress next week.

source: Getty ImagesForwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

All eyes will be on Julian Green, who starts his transition from unknown to what U.S. fans hope will be a regular fixture in the squad. Expectations are unreasonably high for a player who most fans have never seen in action, but come next week, those expectations will become grounded in fact, one way or another. Based on how Klinsmann uses him alone, we’ll get a much better idea of where Green ranks against the other players vying for spots in Brazil.

And then there’s Chris Wondolowski (right), the player who has usurped Kyle Beckerman as the most debated part of the national team picture. For some, he’s an exemplar of the limits of Major League Soccer success. For others, including it seems Klinsmann, he’s somebody whose continues to defy doubts to keep himself on the edge of the World Cup squad.

It’s easy to look at the U.S. roster and ask “why would they make a place for Wondo,” but here we are, a little over two months ahead of the final roster announcement, and the San Jose captain has another shot to impress. His odds of getting to the World Cup are still long, but merely by being in this squad, he’s defied expectations. Like Edu, he could keep himself in frame as a backup plan should injuries befall players going to Brazil.

Kaka hoping to stay in Orlando beyond 2017

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 08:  Kaka #10 of Orlando City SC dribbles the ball during an MLS soccer match between the New York City FC and the Orlando City SC at the Orlando Citrus Bowl on March 8, 2015 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
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Kaka is enjoying life in Florida.

The former Ballon d’Or winner is hoping to stay with Orlando City SC beyond the end of his contract, which runs its course after the 2017 season.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

Kaka has been very good for the Lions, scoring 19 goals and 15 assists in 53 total matches. Reports had said he’s skip town after the third year of the deal, but Kaka refutes that idea.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“A misunderstanding because I am very happy here,” Kaká told reporters at MLS Media Day on Tuesday. “I had a three year contract, so this is the last year under this contract, but my idea is to stay here.

“Of course we never know what can happen at the end of the season or during the season, but my idea for now is to stay in Orlando and stay in the league.”

Kaka turns 35 in April, but has been consistently good even if injuries kept him to 24 MLS contests last season. If he puts forth a similar season, there’s little reason for Orlando — or another team — not to take a chance on Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.

Gabriel Jesus cleared, could make Man City debut

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 20:  Gabriel Jesus of Palmeiras runs with the ball during the match between Palmeiras and Botafogo for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 20, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Jesus could go straight into Manchester City’s starting lineup.

The 19-year-old Brazilian has finally been cleared to suit up for the English side after finishing a title-winning campaign with Palmeiras.

With four goals in six caps for the Brazil national team and an Olympic gold medal with their U-23 side, Jesus is among the hottest prospects in the world.

[ MORE: City fifth in “Money League” ]

City is struggling, and the fresh injection of attacking talent could be music to the ears of boss Pep Guardiola (who, fun fact, celebrates his 46th birthday today).

From the Manchester Evening News:

“He’s a great player. Going to Europe is a good thing for a player. He will grow quicker, he will start to understand football in another way and also be respected inside the football scene.

“I guess that for Gabriel Jesus it was a good thing to leave Brazilian soccer, he did everything he had could in [Brazil]. He’s going to a very difficult, competitive [type of football] but I think that he can be successful.”

Jesus had 21 goals in 46 matches this season with Palmeiras.

Casemiro: “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose”

MADRID, SPAIN - JANUARY 18:  Henrique Casemiro of Real Madrid heads the ball against Daniel Wass of Celta de Vigo during the Copa del Rey Quarter Final, First Leg match between Real Madrid CF and  Celta Vigo at Bernabeu on January 18, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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The pressure at Real Madrid can be overwhelming, and the players who thrive there generally have thick skin and short memories.

They also take losses pretty seriously.

That goes for the manager as well, as both Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane and Casemiro have reacted to Real’s third-straight non-win in serious fashion.

[ MORE: Real no longer No. 1 in money ]

Remember, this is coming after the first match of the “slump” — a 3-3 draw with Sevilla — was the final match of a world record 40-match unbeaten run.

Casemiro, whose record in the Real Madrid lineup is as good as anyone’s, said this (via Marca):

“Yes, it’s worrying to lose again,” he said just after the full-time whistle. “Real Madrid aren’t ever allowed to lose. The defeat against Sevilla has hurt us.”

And if you want to tell Casemiro to relax, that only one of those matches was in league play and the club still leads the table by a point with a match-in-hand on nearly everyone… well… enter Zidane.

“I’m the one responsible and I must find the solution,” he said in his post-match press conference. “I wasn’t surprised by the way Celta played, as we knew that they’re a team that can really hurt you. I’m not worried, although it’s a bad moment. We know that we can overcome it and we are going to overcome it.”

I’m far from a Real Madrid fan, and you can credit Florentino Perez’s ideas and the hanky-waving fans for a lot of that, but it’s impossible not admire how seriously Real takes the business of winning. And maybe, just maybe, the fan and board expectations occasionally help the squad.

Run-up shootouts, per-player match limits on FIFA’s agenda

Marco van Basten, Dutch football manager and former football player, poses for a photo on the green carpet while arriving prior to the The Best - FIFA Football Awards 2016 ceremony held at the Swiss TV studio in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.  (Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP)
Walter Bieri/Keystone via AP
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Restricting players to 60 games a year. Replacing penalty shootouts with eight-second run-ups. Introducing orange cards to send players off for 10 minutes. Scrapping offside.

Former AC Milan and Netherlands forward Marco van Basten is using his role as technical director at FIFA to propose a series of changes to soccer to stir a debate.

[ MORE: Costa back for Chelsea ]

Rather than using his job to meddle, Van Basten highlights the need to preserve soccer as the world’s most popular sport.

“I have spoken to a lot of coaches and players,” Van Basten said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We have to promote quality instead of quantity. We are playing too much football now. We have to defend players because they have to play so much and are not fresh or fit anymore.

“That’s bad for the quality of the game. Even in June when the big tournaments are played players cannot perform to their maximum because now if players are really successful they can play up to 75 official games in the year. I think that’s a bit too much and maybe they should stop at 55 or 60.”

Although FIFA will expand the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from 2026, that won’t burden players with any additional games. Instead, clubs sides would have to explore reducing the number of fixtures, potentially by reducing the number of lucrative friendly games played on tours.

[ MORE: Real Madrid now winless in three ]

“That’s all for money but we have to think about football and not money,” said Van Basten, who was hired by FIFA in September. “For a lot of clubs that’s not easy. But there is enough money in football.

“(Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Lionel) Messi are earning so much money. If they are earning a little bit less but performing better that’s good for football.”

Asked about countries like England or France no longer playing two cup competitions alongside their league fixtures, Van Basten said: “In my opinion that should be an interesting discussion.”

Van Basten knows some of radical changes he proposed to the AP could make traditionalists uneasy. But the 1992 FIFA world player of the year wants to ensure the global game has a say on its future.

“We should not just let the game be organized by those with the money,” he said from FIFA HQ in Zurich. “The big clubs like Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Real Madrid who have everything.”

“In football you need opponents, competition because if you are alone with two or three clubs controlling everything you don’t have any competition.”

Here are some potential changes to soccer proposed by Van Basten:

PENALTY SHOOTOUTS

Rather than burdening players with an additional 30 minutes of action when cup games are level after 90 minutes, Van Basten is suggesting going straight to penalties.

“I think everybody is pretty tired after 120 minutes,” Van Basten said.

Now penalties are a test of nerves with players having one chance to beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot.

“Maybe the player should start 25 meters from goal and then you can dribble the goalkeeper or shoot early,” he said. “But you have to make a goal within eight seconds. It’s more skill and less luck. It’s maybe a bit more spectacular. It’s more football but it’s still nervous for the player.”

NO OFFSIDE

Scrapping the offside rule could make soccer more visually appealing, Van Basten advises.

“I think it can be very interesting watching a game without offside,” he said. “Football now is already looking a lot like handball with nine or ten defenders in front of the goal. It’s difficult for the opposition to score a goal as it’s very difficult to create something in the small pieces of space they give you.

“So if you play without offside you get more possibilities to score a goal.”

FOUR QUARTERS

Soccer is increasingly intense and grueling, with a single 15-minute break between 45-minute halves.

“We are trying to help the game, to let the game develop in a good way,” Van Basten said. “We want to have a game which is honest, which is dynamic, a nice spectacle so we should try to do everything to help that process.”

Introducing four quarters could be advantageous.

“The coach can have three times with his players during the game,” Van Basten said.

SINBINS

Now there is no middle ground between players being shown a yellow card and receiving a red card and then being removed for the rest of the game.

“Maybe an orange card could be shown that sees a player go out of the game for 10 minutes for incidents that are not heavy enough for a red card,” Van Basten said.

Such an instance could be when a player commits repeat fouls that didn’t warrant yellow cards or obstruct opponents. Five misdemeanors could earn a player a place in a sin bin for 10 minutes, Van Basten said.

NEXT STEPS

Any changes to the laws of the game cannot be forced through by Van Basten, however close he is to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. He said he wants to listen to the views of world before any proposals are taken to the game’s law-making body, The International Football Association Board. FIFA controls half of the eight votes on IFAB, with the other four retained by the British associations.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports