Five players who could make late charge into USA’s World Cup squad

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First off, let’s start by summarizing that the U.S. national team squad looks in pretty good shape and hugely predictable ahead of Jurgen Klinsmann’s announcing his 30-man roster on or before May 13.

However, as always seems to be the case, players hit form at the right time of the season for their club and will be invited into the pre-tournament camp as part of the initial squad.

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It remains to be seen if that is the case before the 2014 World Cup but there are certainly plenty of players who many would regard are on ‘the bubble’ and on the outside looking in to the windows of the plane heading to Brazil.

Here is a quick look at five USMNT players who may not be automatic picks for the World Cup this summer but could be surprise late selections after their recent good form.

Tim Ream

After just being named Bolton Wanderers Player of the Season, to go along with the similar accolade he received from the fans, Ream has had a marvelous season in England’s second-tier. Okay, he took a while to adapt to the rough and tumble style but now he is used to the physicality of the league, plus we all know how good he is on the ball. Could Ream provide a good back-up option at CB?

Danny Williams

Another player plying his trade in the second-tier of English soccer, Williams is guiding former PL team Reading towards the playoffs and the Royals could be back in the big-time next season. Williams has added three goals in 32 appearances this season since switching Germany for England and is a solid and dependable option as a holding mid.

Maurice Edu

Talking about another option in the engine room, Edu has slotted into life back in MLS seamlessly with the Philadelphia Union. Many feel his experience could be key for the USA and his ability to break the player up and get around midfield could be a valuable asset in Brazil. The jury is still out though.

Juan Agudelo

The former New York Red Bulls starlet has been playing well in the Dutch Eredivisie  for FC Utrecht after being signed by Stoke City and then loaned out following work permit issues. Recently Stoke boss Mark Hughes went over to Holland to watch Agudelo and was impressed with how the pacey attacker performed. Could be a wild card up front, as Agudelo always seems to come up big when it matters.

Michael Parkhurst

Perhaps Parkhurst is already set for a spot on the USMNT squad but he certainly falls under this category of a player peaking at the right time of the season. The defender has been superbly solid for the Columbus Crew since returning to MLS this season and his versatility would be a big plus for Klinsmann in tournament play.

Pep Guardiola praises Man City’s “animals”

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Pep Guardiola‘s Manchester City have set a new English top-flight record with 15 consecutive wins and, of course, comparisons are already being made as to just how good this City side are.

Runaway leaders of the Premier League with an 11-point lead heading into the busy festive period, City are being compared to the great teams in PL history.

Their winning run means they’ve accomplished something none of the other great PL teams have, and it seems like there is no stopping City.

Speaking to the media after the 4-0 win at Swansea on Wednesday which clinched the record, Guardiola praised his players for breaking the record but also their ability to not only excel when they have the ball but to hunt in packs to win it back.

“In history there have been some amazing teams – Liverpool, [Manchester] United with Sir Alex Ferguson, Chelsea with Jose Mourinho. A lot of good, good teams and we are the first ones to win 15 games in a row,” Mourinho said. “Of course that will not make sense if we do not win the title, if we don’t win the title it will just be a record. This record will be broken but it will not be easy. When (my players) don’t have the ball they go to win it like animals. At this level it’s so competitive. That means we are strong in the head.”

Guardiola’s team have made the best start in Premier League history to a season with 49 points from their opening 17 games and 16 wins from those matches.

They’ve scored 52 goals and the duo of David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are controlling the tempo of each and every game they play in, but not much has been said about the tenacity in City’s play to win the ball back.

That quality has always been a hallmark of Guardiola’s teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich with the fabled “six second rule” mentioned time and time again as he set his players a target of six seconds to win back possession of the ball.

City did that time and time again against Swansea on Wednesday with Silva regaining possession on multiple occasions in midfield and releasing the likes of Sterling and Sergio Aguero to attack.

There is a lot more behind this ruthless City side than just breaking winning and scoring records. Their extreme hunger for success and doing the dirty work was duly noted by Guardiola.

USSF says nominations submitted for 8 president candidates

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CHICAGO (AP) The U.S. Soccer Federation says it received the required three letters of nomination for eight candidates in its presidential election, one fewer than the total of people who announced their intention to run.

The USSF is conducting background checks on the candidates whose nominations were received by Tuesday night’s deadline. The governing body said the check is to ascertain that a candidate has “no conviction or no contest plea to a felony or crime of moral turpitude” and it will announce the candidate slate after completing the process.

[ MORE: Atlanta acquires Nagbe ]

Sunil Gulati, the USSF president since 2006, decided after the Americans failed to qualify for the World Cup that he will not seek a fourth four-year term.

The nine people who announced they are running include former men’s national team players Paul Caligiuri, Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino; U.S. women’s goalkeeper Hope Solo; Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter; USSF vice president Carlos Cordeiro; Boston lawyer Steve Gans; New York lawyer Michael Winograd; and Paul LaPointe, Northeast Conference manager of the United Premier Soccer League.

The election will be held in February.

Madrid rallies to beat Al Jazira, reach Club World Cup final (video)

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Gareth Bale scored an 81st-minute winner as Real Madrid came from behind to beat Emirates club Al Jazira 2-1 on Wednesday and reach the Club World Cup final.

Madrid will try to win its third world title in four seasons when its faces South American champion Gremio on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League Weds. roundup ]

The match had two goals disallowed by video review, one for each team.

Madrid struggled early and allowed the local league winners to open the scoring with a goal by Brazilian forward Romarinho just before halftime.

But Cristiano Ronaldo equalized early in the second half and Bale netted the winner less than a minute after entering the match as a substitute for Karim Benzema.

Paul Clement admits helplessness at facing Man City

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Swansea City manager Paul Clement may have the enduring quote of the season so far when it comes to facing the behemoth that is Manchester City.

[ RECAP – City hammer Swansea ]

The suffering Swans have had their share of poor performances this season — Clement later said January transfer spending “is a must” if the club wants to stay up — but he’s throwing his hands up in the air when it comes to Wednesday’s loss at the Liberty Stadium.

The man sounds exasperated, and sorry for his team. From the BBC:

“At times it was horrible to be on the sideline watching that, seeing my side trying but suffering for long periods. They’re not the games that will decide our season but it was hard to watch at times because they were so dominant. For me, one of the best sides I’ve ever come across. So many good athletes, so many intelligent footballers and it’s really hard to pin them down. We actually had some attempts on their goal so I’m disappointed we didn’t get on the score sheet but they were a far superior side to us. We’ve got to put it aside that game. We’ve got Everton away (next) and we’ve got to try and pick something up there.”

All that’s left is for Clement to pick up a clarinet, awkwardly blow into it, then point at Pep Guardiola and say, “He’s good.”

Free message board points to the first one to name the reference.