2014 World Cup team preview: Bosnia

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Getting to know… Bosnia: The tiny nation has only been a full FIFA member since 1995 and they have been on the up and up in recent years but were knocked out by Portugal in playoffs for both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. After qualifying for the tournament in Brazil, Bosnia have reached their first-ever major tournament as a nation. A strong core of players including Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and AS Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic should see them give a very good account of themselves this summer.

Record in qualifying: Bosnia finished top of their group in UEFA qualifying, as they won eight of their ten games in Group G. They beat Greece to the automatic spot on goal differential and only lost once the entire campaign. They scored 30 goals and let in just six as Dzeko’s status as a national hero in Bosnian was reinforced by his goalscoring exploits in qualifying.

Which group are they in? They are in Group F alongside red-hot favorites Argentina, Iran and Nigeria. Bosnia will be hoping their first-ever World Cup appearance will yield a trip to at least the last 16 stage. Many favor the Bosnian side to cause some huge upsets and you would expect them to battle it out for second spot in the group.

Game schedule:

15 June, 18:00, Rio de Janeiro – Argentina vs. Bosnia

21 June, 15:00, Curitiba – Nigeria vs. Bosnia

25 June, 12:00, Salvador – Bosnia vs. Iran

Star player: Edin Dzeko

The bustling striker heads to the World Cup fresh off winning the Premier League title with Man City and Dzeko played a huge part in that with key goals late in the campaign. Overall he scored 26 goals for the Citizens and his power in the air and incredible hold up play makes him a key cog in Bosnia’s machine. Not many defenders can out-muscle Dzeko and he has a knack of popping up in the right place at the right time, as all good strikers seem to do. If they can get him the ball regularly, the big Bosnian will finish.

Manager: Safet Susic

A manager with plenty of experience, 59-year-old Susic has mainly managed in Turkey after his long playing career with Paris Saint-Germain and FK Sarajevo. He played for Yugoslavia for 13 years but also appeared for Bosnia after the war in 1993 before they became an official FIFA nation. Susic has been at the helm since 2009 and has won 24 of his 42 games in charge. He encourages Bosnia to attack but they are also extremely solid defensively. We saw that in their 1-0 World Cup warm up win against Mexico.

Secret weapon: An unknown quantity

It seems silly in this day and age, but not many people know about the player possess. With guys like former St. Louis University star Vedad Ibisevic and many others working their way up through the European leagues, this will be the first time they have experienced the World Cup and the biggest stage of all. There could be nerves but they could also feel no pressure and exceed everyone’s expectations.

Prediction: Bosnia are a well-organized and with their tough mentality, many teams won’t relish playing against them in the World Cup. They could easily make it out of their group and then who knows? Ultimately, this is their first World Cup so anything other than getting embarrassed in the group stage is an achievement.

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

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So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

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Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

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Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.