The USMNT and the Changing of the Guard

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The face of the USMNT is changing. With a focus on younger players and development, and with one eye focused beyond the 2014 World Cup, Jürgen Klinsmann has already significantly altered the squad that so ignited crowds in South Africa four years ago.

Veterans Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo are already gone, ushering in a new era at the back. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are two of the new generation that will hope to find themselves on a plane to Brazil, with other young players hoping to slot in up top and in midfield.

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Of course, the defense won’t be what sticks in people’s minds when they remember the 2010 World Cup. Those clustered around television sets and straggling into bars for early morning viewings back then will mostly remember these faces of the USMNT: Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey. Most of all they will remember Landon Donovan, whose game winning goal against Algeria in the 91st minute ensured the U.S. would finish top of its group.

But, come 2018, the core that has shaped the recent face of U.S. soccer – and helped attract a generation of fans committed to the sport’s development – will no longer be present in the World Cup squad. Their legacy, however, will remain firmly in place.

Tim Howard (goalkeeper)

Howard got his start way back in 1998 with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, before moving to England in 2003 to join Manchester United. United loaned him out to Everton in 2006, and he’s been a Toffee ever since. Howard’s USMNT career began twelve years ago, although playing backup to Kasey Keller kept his number of caps low. Howard won the starting ‘keeper position back in 2007, a role he kept through to South Africa, where he put in a few impressive performances, including setting up the winning goal against Algeria.

It seemed as though Howard might face competition for the starting role from Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, but his form has dropped of late, and Howard is almost certain to start in Brazil.source: Getty Images

At 35, Howard’s career is coming to a close. Some might argue that goalkeepers only get better with age, and that at age 37, Keller started all three matches of the 2006 World Cup. But it’s mighty hard to believe that Howard will be starting come 2018, so it’s best for fans to enjoy him while they can.

Clint Dempsey (attacker)

Is he a “forward”? Is he an “attacking midfielder”? Does it matter? Dempsey comes into the 2014 World Cup in fantastic form, having scored eight goals in nine games for the Seattle Sounders. The USMNT captain has been impressing in training camp, prompting his teammates to speak of his play as being “on a different level.”

Dempsey, now 31, may feel he has something to prove after failing to impress in his first season with the Sounders. But for most fans of the USMNT, the upcoming World Cup is almost certain to just be icing on the cake of an extremely successful career. Dempsey’s professional days began at the New England Revolution, where his impressive performances prompted Fulham to come calling. After five and a half years with the Cottagers, Dempsey, hopeful of reaching the Champions League, moved on to Tottenham, where he spent a year before heading to Seattle.

Dempsey earned his first senior cap for the USMNT in 2004, and by 2006 he was part of the World Cup squad. In fact, Dempsey scored the only goal for the United States in that campaign, putting one past Ghana. His fantastic performances in the 2009 Confederations Cup meant that he was a lock for South Africa. There he became a hero when he equalized against England, making their goalkeeper Robert Green a laughingstock in the process.

Now, Dempsey’s hoping to build on his performances to lead his team on a deeper campaign in Brazil. He’s already scored 36 goals for the USMNT, making him the second-highest goalscorer, but should his astonishing form in MLS continue in Brazil, Dempsey may be singing one amazing swan song in his final World Cup.

Landon Donovan (forward)

Donovan was only 20 years old when he went to his first World Cup in 2002, but it feels as though that tournament launched him into stardom, making him the face of U.S. soccer. It certainly helped that the young forward scored the clincher against Mexico, giving the USMNT another “dos a zero” and ensuring they’d get through to the quarterfinals.source: AP

He was named the tournament’s top young player, going on to start for the USMNT in 2006, while in between, followers of the national team will remember him for impressive performances in the 2007 Gold Cup and the 2009 Confederations Cup. It was in 2010, however, that he really made casual fans sit up and take notice. Down 2-0 to Slovenia, Donovan scored the first for the US shortly after the break, paving the way for Bradley’s equalizer and setting up a crucial final group game against Algeria.

And, of course, that game is what endears Donovan to most USMNT fans. A win would put the U.S. top of the group, beating out England, but a loss could put them out of the tournament. The U.S. dominated much of the match, and Dempsey had a first-half goal harshly ruled as offside. Then, in stoppages, Dempsey raced through to fire point-blank at the Algeria keeper. Donovan pounced on the rebound, tucking it into the back of the net…and giving new meaning to the phrase, “The Crowd Goes Wild!

It’s hard to believe that Donovan won’t be around for the 2018 World Cup, but it’s even more difficult to fathom (especially for a casual fan) that he might not make it on the plane to Brazil. There’ve been questions about his commitment, particularly after he sat out 2013. There are rumors of a rift with Klinsmann. He’s carrying a lingering knock.

But for most fans, Donovan simply has to be part of the 2014 World Cup squad – if only to say goodbye to the man that’s done so much to bring attention to the sport in the country. If he goes to Brazil, Donovan’s presence won’t be a mere symbol, but it will certainly serve to highlight the changing of the guard, to showcase the way U.S. soccer continues to grow and develop.

Dani Alves fires back at Diego Forlan

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After Neymar and Edinson Cavani’s penalty drama that has blown up over the last few days and potentially led to Neymar’s exclusion from the PSG squad this weekend, Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan went on sports radio in his home country to not just back his former international teammate Cavani, but also throw a pair of Brazilians under the bus.

Forlan obviously denounced Neymar’s role in the dispute, but he also picked out Neymar’s club and country teammate Dani Alves for favoring his countrymate.

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“What doesn’t make any sense is what Alves does, he doesn’t give the ball to Cavani and then gives it to Neymar as if he were his [explitive]. Cavani deserves respect. He has been scoring goals for years, taking penalties. There has to be respect. Neymar would not have done that with [Lionel] Messi. He didn’t want Cavani to take the penalty. He was like a little boy annoying him.”

Well, as you can imagine, Alves did not take kindly to being sucked into the fray, and fired back as a result. “I don’t know what match you were watching,” Alves wrote on Twitter, “but for your information, I didn’t take the ball away from any of my teammates. It was just the opposite, it was taken from me!

“And also for your information, the last penalty kick for PSG was mine. So shut your trap and stop making drama in my name.”

This whole situation has blown up more than most penalty disputes (which happen relatively often) likely due to the international affiliations. With the decades-old bad blood between Brazil and Uruguay, it’s no surprise that people are taking sides. Forlan swept up another Brazilian in the mix, and understandably he did not appreciate the cheap shot.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Liverpool

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  • Leicester City has won 2 straight home PL games vs Liverpool
  • Jamie Vardy has 5 goals in 3 PL games vs Liverpool
  • Liverpool leads the PL with 40 shots on target this season

Jamie Vardy is good to go for the Foxes as they welcome Liverpool to the King Power Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 a.m. ET on NBC or live online via NBCSports.com).

These two teams matched up midweek in League Cup play, with Leicester City winning 2-0, and they did so without Vardy who missed out with a groin strain. He’s since recovered, and will likely play a part. Christian Fuchs and Leonardo Ulloa are also ready to go, with Fuchs back after an eye injury in training, while Ulloa took a knock to the head midweek but is ready to go.

The Foxes need a win in the worst way, as a loss would leave them with their joint-worst point total through the first six matches of a top flight season since 1994/95, the year they were relegated.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

Liverpool, meanwhile, has issues of its own to sort out. They are winless in all competitions since August 27th, and on a larger scale, Jurgen Klopp is taking heat for having less points than Brendan Rodgers did through his first 73 league games of his Liverpool tenure.

The Reds are also facing a bit of injury trouble, with Dejan Lovren still out with back problems, while Joel Matip and Emre Can both suffered slight injuries in the midweek loss and are questionable for Saturday. Should all those miss out, the already leaky defense would prove even more porous.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Liverpool chasing the ball: “We come too close together in the situation where the first ball is going after a throw-in and it means for the second ball we don’t have a good formation. We need to get more natural in these things because it’s not that difficult to be honest but it happens too often. Now we have to work and then it will be even more difficult to create something against us.”

Craig Shakespeare on Jamie Vardy vs. Liverpool: “Is he a bogeyman? I am hoping so. Sometimes strikers will have good memories of playing against certain teams. Centre forwards go through these purple patches and everybody would like one who can get you 20 goals a season.”

Prediction

If anything is certain in a Liverpool match, it’s that the first goal doesn’t matter. Since the start of last season, the Reds are tops in the league with 20 points from losing positions. However, they’re also fifth in the league in that same timeframe with 20 points lost from winning positions. With that in mind, a wild game is likely in store, but with the inconsistent form for either side of late, it’s tough to pick a winner. A 2-2 draw is a likely result.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 17 of its last 23 Premier League games
  • Alvaro Morata has 3 goals and 2 assists, all with his head
  • Stoke has lost just 1 of its past 7 home games vs defending champions

Eden Hazard is back and at full strength as Chelsea travels to the Britannia to take on Stoke City Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

With Hazard back and Diego Costa finally shed to Atletico Madrid, the Blues have positioned themselves to make a run at the Premier League’s top spot. Chelsea has not lost since their Opening Day misstep against Burnley, and despite firing a blank in last weekend’s 0-0 draw with the Gunners, Chelsea is still just three points off the top spot, and will look to put pressure on the Manchester clubs.

In addition to Hazard, the Blues also get Temoue Bakayoko and Pedro back in the lineup as well, although David Luiz is suspended after his late red card last weekend.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

This season has been a roller coaster ride for Stoke City, having picked up four points against Arsenal and Manchester United, but also losing to Newcastle and Everton, plus a very disappointing defeat midweek to Bristol City in the Cup. The Potters are missing a host of defenders, with Geoff Cameron and Ryan Shawcross both injured, plus Kurt Zouma ineligible to face his parent club. Kevin Wimmer is also touch and go with a hamstring injury, not expected to be available.

What they’re saying

Mark Hughes on Chelsea’s discipline issues: “Chelsea at the moment look like they are getting yellow and red cards more frequently, but that might be just an anomaly, something happening in the moment. I don’t think it is prevalent in their team. They are just strong when they need to be. It is not going to be tactic we are going to irritate them with, to step over the line, because if I’m honest I don’t think I’ll have the players to do that.”

Antonio Conte on Stoke: “The most important thing for us is to go game by game. Tomorrow it will be a really tough game. We must prepare very well this game in all the situations, tactically, physically, to be disciplined. Stoke won against Arsenal and then drew against Manchester United. It means Stoke is a really good team.”

Prediction

Stoke City has given tough teams trouble, and could again if Maxim Chupo-Moting shows up at his best again, but it’s much more likely that Chelsea will ease by in this game. The Potters have fallen off slightly this season, and while their draw against Manchester United shows they pack some punch, it won’t be enough to see off a Chelsea side buoyed by the return of Eden Hazard. Chelsea could win their opening three Premier League away matches for the first time since 2009…their third away fixture of that campaign was a 2-1 victory at Stoke, so we’ll go for the same scoreline here.

Hope Solo says she has settled grievance with US Soccer

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Hope Solo has settled a grievance with U.S. Soccer over her suspension from the women’s national team following comments she made at the Rio Olympics.

The settlement was first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. The 35-year-old goalkeeper was suspended for six months and her contract with the federation was terminated after she called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” following the U.S. team’s quarterfinal loss.

Details about the settlement, reached last month, were not released. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Players Association filed the grievance on Solo’s behalf.

In a statement provided Friday to The Associated Press, Solo reiterated her regret over the comments.

“As I expressed in my apology to the Swedish captain immediately following the match, I have tremendous respect for the Swedish team, and in describing the style of play, I used a choice of words that was both offensive and not at all what I had intended to convey,” she said.

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“We have amicably resolved the matter and are moving forward in a positive way,” she added.

U.S. Soccer did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Women’s Soccer Team Players Association declined to comment.

Solo anchored the team in goal for the 2015 Women’s World Cup victory, allowing just three goals in seven games with five shutouts during the tournament – earning her a second straight Golden Glove Award.

For her career, Solo has made 202 total appearances with the national team, with 153 wins and an international-record 102 shutouts.

The defending champion U.S. women were ousted from the Olympics last summer when Sweden advanced 4-3 on penalty kicks following a 1-1 draw.

Solo’s “cowards” quote came immediately following the loss. Sweden went on to play in the gold-medal match against Germany.

Solo told the AP in an interview late last year that she spoke to coach Jill Ellis and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati following the loss, and felt that the issue was put to rest. After she returned to the United States, she said she was blindsided by the announcement about her suspension.

She said she believes U.S. Soccer wanted her off negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. Solo has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay and was among the players who filed a complaint against the federation with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

“Let’s call it what is, which is a firing,” Solo told AP then. “It was a termination of my contract effective immediately with severance. That is a firing. It wasn’t a suspension, that’s what they told the media because it looked better. But I got fired. I got fired for what they say was using the word `cowards’ but in reality they got rid of an adversary in the fight for equal pay.”

U.S. Soccer said at the time that Solo was suspended following a culmination of actions, and separately her contract was also terminated with the team.