With the 23-man set, how does the USMNT line up for the World Cup?

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Now that we’ve all taken a deep breath from the Landon Donovan news this evening, it’s time to look big picture with the squad.

Agree or disagree with Jurgen Klinsmann’s omissions, it is what it is, and it’s important to look at how things go forward.

Thing is, after what we saw today, it just became that much harder to figure out what’s going on in Klinsmann’s head when it comes to who he believes is the best at each position.

There are a number of positions that we thought were solidified, but now that we know the skipper’s not afraid to shake things up, may not be so easy to call after all.

In addition, given either injury or performance at any of the friendlies the USMNT has scheduled before they make their way to Brazil, things could change then as well.

Nonetheless, we’ll do our best to analyze how each position will break down as we see it now, and how the US formation could play out.  First, let’s take another look at the roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Ale Bedoya, Brad Davis

Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Julian Green

There are many questions going forward.  For example, who plays on the outside of defense? Who plays next to Besler in the middle? Is Altidore alone up front? Where does Klinsmann use Dempsey? All of those will be discussed here briefly.

But first, for a point of reference, here’s how the team lined up in their most recent competitive match that really had something riding on it, a 2-0 win over Jamaica in  World Cup qualifying:

……………………Howard……………………
Evans – Cameron – Besler – Beasley
………………Diskerud – Jones……………..
Johannsson – Donovan – Bedoya
…………………..Altidore…………………..

Remember, Michael Bradley was injured at the time.  Now, here’s what I believe to be the best lineup from this 23-man roster:

…………………..Howard…………………..
..Johnson – Cameron – Besler – Beasley..
………………Bradley – Jones……………..
……Johannsson – Dempsey – Zusi……
…………………..Altidore…………………..

There are plenty of questions that I keep asking myself with this roster. Here they are:

source: AP
Jozy Altidore struggled with a lack of service at Sunderland. Is it ok to leave him by himself up front?

1) Leaving Altidore isolated at the top is dangerous, is it really the right choice?

It’s been shown before that with Altidore as a lone striker, he will get much too isolated if the opposing midfield pegs the US back in possession.  If he doesn’t get service at the top, he’s on an island, and will get disheartened quickly.

However, I still don’t think Clint Dempsey’s best position is at the front of the attack, and with Johannsson pushing up the right and feeding the middle, the attack shouldn’t be too starved at the front.

2) Who is the best option at RB?

The question on many US fans’ minds is, who is the best person to cover Ronaldo against Portugal? He will likely be on the left wing, which means the right-back is going to be tasked with covering the winner of the Ballon d’Or.

Let’s start by saying this: nobody can cover Ronaldo. Flat out, end of, stop.  Therefore, the question may not be at RB, but at LB.

Both Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler are right backs by trade, and Beasley plays on the left. It follows then that to start both Chandler and Johnson, one of them (Fabian) would have to move to the left, and I don’t think Chandler is anywhere close to being able to cover a star left winger.  Therefore, I went with Beasley on the left and Fabian on the right.

Judging by how Chandler fared in the heat against Mexico (hint: not so well), I personally hope Klinsmann doesn’t pick him in the jungle climate against Cristiano Ronaldo.

3) Is it possible to find room in the midfield for Kyle Beckerman?

I still can’t get out of my mind how well Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman paired up in the match against Mexico. Having Beckerman at the back end of the diamond allowed Bradley to get forward and make things happen in the 18-yard box.

However, Bradley’s a lock obviously, and at this point Jermaine Jones still ranks above Beckerman in the midfield pecking order.  It’s possible Klinsmann could spot-start Beckerman in one of the matches if he chooses to play a possession game and get Bradley farther forward, but at this point Jones is the penciled-in starter. Also, ask Landon Donovan what Klinsmann thinks of pecking orders…

4) Where the heck is Clint Dempsey’s best position?

As someone who has watched Clint for years at Fulham as well as with the USMNT, I still have not figured out where he slots in best.  Clint’s put in wonderful performances from striker, from the attacking midfield, and from the left wing.

However, in my experience watching Clint, at striker he feasts mostly upon lesser talent, and in a stacked group, there will be no lesser talent to feast upon.  He’s a great feeder on the wing, but often you lose his goalscoring ability sticking him on the touchline.  Therefore, I think sitting behind Altidore is the best spot for him, where he can both dish to Jozy/Aron/Bradley, and also take feeds from those men if he wishes to have a go himself.

As the captain of this team, Dempsey needs to take charge, and slotted just behind the striker is the best spot to do that.

source: AP
Teen phenom Julian Green made the 23-man roster, but will he see the field much in Brazil?

5) Who comes off the bench?

As something not addressed above, it’s also prudent to see who is first off the bench in certain situations.

When the team needs a spark, Wondolowski appears to be first off the bench in crunch time when the team needs a goal. As one of the two lone strikers on the roster, this one is pretty obvious.

But is there game time for the others?
-Mix Diskerud and Kyle Beckerman would be first in line for central midfield legs when someone needs relief.
-Brad Davis and Ale Bedoya would appear to be the wing relievers/sparks. Hard to see Julian Green getting much time, unless Klinsmann sees something we don’t (which, admittedly, is very likely).-Gonzalez is the third CB, unless Klinsmann chooses him over Cameron to start.
-On the edge of the back line, it’s tough to see time for Yedlin or Brooks, but they’ve both made it this far, so who knows. One would imagine that whoever doesn’t start of Beasley/Chandler/F. Johnson will still see the field a decent amount, but the rest are on the outside looking in.

6) Does the diamond work with this group?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s trademark in his tenure with the United States has been the diamond midfield formation.  As you can see, the formation I put up above does not exactly follow that tactical choice, instead going with a conventional 4-2-3-1.

Things would be drastically different with a diamond.  The biggest difference would probably be figuring out what to do with Clint Dempsey.  If he moves up front alongside Altidore, then Bradley or Jones would slide into the space behind the strikers as an advanced center-mid.  If Dempsey moved to the wing, Zusi would likely sit and Wondolowski would come in as a second striker, although that is not ideal because Zusi is a winger built on possession, perfect for the diamond.

That formation complicates things a little, and he very well may decide to employ that tactic.  But for right now, there are too many unknowns involved in that decision.

How can you see the US lining up? Will Klinsmann go back to the Beckerman/Bradley diamond that worked so well against a struggling Mexico? How will he deal with Cristiano Ronaldo? Is it ok to leave Jozy Altidore by himself up front after struggling so badly at Sunderland?f

These are all questions that must be answered by the skipper, and for the time being, they’re ours to try and answer as well.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

[ MORE: Donovan unveiled by Leon ]

The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.