U.S. World Cup 2014 roster outlook: FORWARDS

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We’ve already walked you through the back and the middle, giving you our read on how the U.S. Men’s National Team depth chart sits ahead of next month’s pre-World Cup camp in Palto Alto, Calif. Now comes arguably the most contentious part of the team, even if debate doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of clarity.

Three players are locks. Two others can solidify their places in the squad next month, while a second, younger pair look like long shots make the 23-man team. They’re just hoping to get called out to California, a trip that would give them a chance to make their final, desperate case to Jurgen Klinsmann.

Here’s how we see the U.S.’s potential World Cup 2014 forwards:

FORWARDS

We talked about this with regard to the team’s fullbacks, but it bares mentioning here, too: The only evaluation that really matters is Jurgen Klinsmann’s. You may not like a player, I may not like a player, but this is an exercise in reading tea leaves, not a thought experiment on how we’d construct a squad. We’re trying to determine who’s most likely to make the final team.

With that in mind, Jozy Altidore’s a lock. Just two months ago, Klinsmann noted the Sunderland striker was part of the core he’s built the team around. While he can’t be thrilled with Altidore’s lack of playing time, he’s probably come to grips with what he’s been handed. In lieu of other obvious options, Altidore is the team’s number nine.

For some, Aron Jóhannsson is that obvious option, though there’s no evidence to suggest the young AZ striker has claimed that spot. Given how Altidore performed in the Eredivisie, we need to be guarded about what Jóhansson’s production says about his ability beyond Dutch borders. Regardless, Jóhannsson has  a place in this squad.

Add in the team’s captain, Clint Dempsey, and that leaves one or two spots in doubt. The exact number depends on what Klinsmann wants to do in midfield, but was we discussed while working our way forward, the U.S.’s positional versatility allows Klinsmann to take five forwards. Particularly if Eddie Johnson is seem as more valuable in wide midfield than at forward, it becomes a easier to justify taking Chris Wondolowski.

As for Johnson, given how he’s been used by Klinsmann, he has always projected as more of a late game or injury alternative. Yet whereas just under a year ago Johnson was being brought into the Gold Cup to move Wondolowski to the bench, now he can’t claim a starting spot for an Altidore-less friendly against Mexico. Something’s changed.

If it’s Wondolowski impressing the staff (which is the story we’ve been told), it’s more likely the San Jose captain will take a spot from a midfielder. If, however, Wondolowski’s emergence also causes Klinsmann to start scrutinizing Johnson’s slow start with D.C. United, an eighth midfielder could make his way to Brazil.

  • Going to Brazil: Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Jóhannsson
  • On the bubble (one-to-two spots open): Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Eddie Johnson, Chris Wondolowski

MORE: Goalkeepers and defenders | Midfielders | Forwards

MLS Snapshot: POR carve up 9-man ORL, keep pace with VAN, SKC

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The game in 100 words (or less): All of a sudden, the Western Conference has sprung to life as the 2017 regular season winds down — Vancouver Whitecaps, winners of five of their last seven games (unbeaten); Portland Timbers, winners of four of their last six following Sunday’s 3-0 victory over 10-man nine-man Orlando City SC at Providence Park; Sporting Kansas City, losers of just two of their last 15 games; Seattle Sounders, who had their 13-game unbeaten run snapped on Saturday; and Real Salt Lake, winners of four of their last five. With fewer than a handful of games remaining, Vancouver’s lead on Portland and Sporting KC remains one point after all three sides won this weekend; RSL and Seattle are separated by just three points, three points back of second and third. As for Saturday’s game, Diego Valeri is now a top-two candidate for MVP after scoring two more goals (his 19th and 20th, to go with 9 assists) against 10-man Orlando.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three moments that mattered

15′ — Valeri extends his streak, makes it 1-0 — The last time Valeri failed to score in a game, the date was July 23.

29′ — Mattocks taps it home after Asprilla’s cross — Huge credit to Diego Chara for the through ball to spring Dairon Asprilla into acres of space. The ball to Mattocks was simple, and he got it right.

59′ — Valeri gets no. 20, makes it 3-0 — Joe Bendik managed to deny Mattocks’ initial effort, but Valeri followed up when everyone in white had already quit on the play.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (15′ – PK, 59′), Mattocks (29′)

The 2 Robbies: City Sparkle, Chelsea Shine, Liverpool Hold On

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe take a look at some of the weekend’s biggest storylines, including Liverpool’s thrilling victory over Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur’s frantic win away to West Ham United and Manchester City’s demolition of Crystal Palace.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Ederson harbors no ill will after Mane’s personal apology

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As far as Ederson is concerned, Sadio Mane‘s studs-to-face assault is a thing of the past — save for, the elongated scar he’ll likely wear on the left side of his face for the rest of his life, of course.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

The Manchester City goalkeeper, who was forced from his side’s 5-0 victory over Liverpool on Sept. 9 after his face was raked by the studs of the Reds’ star attacker, revealed this weekend that he received — and accepted — Mane’s personal apology in the days immediately thereafter — quotes from Goal.com:

“Yes, I had contact with him, he sent me a message. I told him to stay calm, those things happen inside the pitch, it could happen anytime. I told him to not worry and wished him a good season.”

“I ended up having a hard hit in the face, but in the same week, I was ready to play in Champions League. I felt a strong kick, but I was always conscious. I knew it had been a long cut. I wanted to keep playing but, for medical issues, I couldn’t keep playing.

“But I was always conscious, even if I had my face a little bit swollen. But after a week it was normal again. In the same week, I was ready to play in Champions League. I faced that game full of confidence again, without any fear and happy for the result we achieved.”

Bundesliga: Leverkusen throttle HSV; Hannover remain unbeaten

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BERLIN (AP) Three days after being cleared to play by FIFA, Argentine striker Lucas Alario scored one goal and set up another on his debut for Bayer Leverkusen to beat Hamburger SV 3-0 in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Alario struck midway through the first half, converting a cross from Leon Bailey, who also set up Kevin Volland’s opening goal just three minutes before.

A moment of class from Julian Brandt sent Alario through with less than 10 minutes remaining, and the Argentine had the awareness to spot the better-positioned Volland to seal the win.

Alario went off moments later to warm applause from fans.

“The goal is the cream on top. He played very well, scored the goal and combined with others. He worked well coming back and his first goal wasn’t so easy to score,” Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich said.

Alario’s first appearance for Leverkusen was held up when previous club River Plate objected to his transfer through the Argentine soccer association (AFA), which denied his playing rights.

The Buenos Aires-based club contended that Alario’s transfer was invalid as Leverkusen paid his release clause of $28.6 million on Aug. 31, after the Argentine season began, which it said was against FIFA rules.

Leverkusen then took the case to FIFA, which ruled in its favor on Thursday.

Leverkusen’s second win in six games eased the pressure on new coach Herrlich after a difficult start.

Counterpart Markus Gisdol remains in need of a change in fortune, however, after four straight defeats. Hamburg next faces Werder Bremen, Mainz and Bayern Munich.


Cologne fought its way to its first point in a 0-0 draw at promoted Hannover after starting the Bundesliga with five straight defeats.

Now the last-place side hopes it can build on the point.

“The luck will come back and the chances we had today will go in,” Cologne goalkeeper Timo Horn said. “We’ll start winning the games again. But the precondition was this performance that we delivered today.”

Peter Stoeger’s side, which has scored only one goal all season, hasn’t netted in its last four league games. That highlighted the extent to which Cologne relied on French striker Anthony Modeste, sold in the offseason in a big-money move to Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian.

Modeste scored 25 Bundesliga goals for Cologne last season. His replacement, former Mainz striker Jhon Cordoba, is yet to score in six games.

“We all have to be satisfied with the draw,” said Hannover general manager Horst Heldt, whose fourth-place side remains one of three unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season.

Hannover coach Andre Breitenreiter remained unbeaten in 15 games across two divisions.