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2014 World Cup Team Preview: United States

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Getting to know… United States

The U.S.’s appearance in the semifinals of the first World Cup (1930) was a high point, but at the time, it wasn’t necessarily an isolated success. Counting the Olympics, a tournament that was considered a world championship at the time, the U.S. qualified for all five major competitions from 1924 to 1936. It wasn’t until the 1938 World Cup, when the U.S. withdrew from qualifying for financial reasons, that the Americans finally missed out on a big tournament.

Unfortunately, that absence became a pattern. Though the U.S. qualified when the World Cup resumed in 1950 (famously defeating England in Brazil), the team would miss the next nine tournaments. It wasn’t until Paul Caligiuri’s Shot Heard Round the World found the net at Port of Spain in 1989 that the U.S. returned to the international stage:

Starting with Italy 1990, the U.S. has taken part in six straight World Cups.

Brazil represents number seven, with the team finishing first in CONCACAF qualifying to get there. Over the past 24 years, the team has gone 4-13-5 at finals, advanced to three knockout rounds, and scored 20 times (while conceding 35).

Record in qualifying

With a 7-2-1 record in CONCACAF’s final round, the U.S. established itself as the clear leaders in its region, doubling the points of rival Mexico. Defeating El Tri 2-0 in Columbus on Sept. 10, 2013, the team booked its place in Brazil with two games to spare.

The U.S.’s final point total in “The Hex” (22) was the second-highest for any team since CONCACAF started using its six-term, round robin format in 1998. It was also two points more than the U.S. accumulated in 2010.

What group are they in? 

The Group of Death moniker has become an empty cliché, but that doesn’t make the U.S.’s task any easier. The team should be considered slight favorites to beat Ghana, but it will be underdogs against both Portugal (FIFA’s third-ranked team) and Germany (ranked number two). If there is an early pecking order in Group G, the U.S. is number three.

Game schedule:

16 June, 18:00, Natal – Ghana vs. United States

22 June, 17:00, Manaus – United States vs. Portugal

26 June, 12:00, Recife – United States vs. Germany

Star player: Michael Bradley

Five years ago, as a still emerging midfielder playing under his father, fans used to see the current Toronto FC star as the beneficiary of nepotism. Seriously. As ridiculous as that sounds now – as ridiculous as that sounded at the time, to those around the team – fans wondered if the then-Borussia Möchengladbach player was an attacking talent being wedged into a defensive role. And the only possible explanation for that? Father Bob was intent on putting his son in the team.

One year later, Bradley was the U.S.’s best player at the 2010 World Cup. Now the central midfielder, who has settled into a box-to-box presence for both club and country, is unquestionably the team’s most important player. With a midfield built around Bradley’s high tempo, all-around talents, the U.S. will lean on the one-time object of derision in Brazil. On the few occasions the U.S. has had to play without him, the team looks like hollow.

Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann

A world champion as a player, Klinsmann became a hot commodity as a coach when he reshaped Germany ahead of the Nationalmannschaft’s 2006 semifinal appearance. The benefits of the youth movement he accelerated are still being felt in one of 2014’s favorites.

A brief spell at Bayern Munich dimmed that star, yet after the U.S. was beaten decisively by Mexico at the 2011 Gold Cup, federation president Sunil Gulati brought in Klinsmann to rebuild the national team. Dramatically expanding the player pool and changing the team’s style amid his long-term project, the 49-year-old Californian takes his rebuilding team into Brazil as reigning Gold Cup champions and decisive winners of CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament.

Secret weapon: Fabian Johnson

If fitness, speed, strength are going to be decisive in Brazil, then the U.S.’s versatile Gladbach wideman could be one of its most valuable weapons. Able to play midfield or defense, on the left or right, Johnson’s speed leaves him capable of patrolling goal-line to goal-line, something that will liberate the likes of Graham Zusi to pinch in and augment the U.S.’s two-man midfield. Expected to start at right back, his strength and fitness will be tested against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Marco Reus, giving the U.S. a high-level European talent to matchup with their opponent’s high-level European stars.

Prediction: Third place is the fair pick, but the U.S. could finish anywhere from second to fourth in Group G. The key will be an opening match win over Ghana – a team that’s beaten the U.S. at the last two World Cups. With three points against the Black Stars, the U.S. creates a near win-and-in opportunity against Portugal.

Watch Live: Burnley vs. Watford (Lineups, Stream)

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - APRIL 19:  Sean Dyche the manager of Burnley applauds the home fans during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burnley and Middlesbrough at Turf Moor on April 19, 2016 in Burnley, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Burnley host Watford at Turf Moor on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in their first-ever meeting in the top-flight.

The Clarets have just one win so far this season while high-flying Watford is on the hunt for their third-straight Premier League victory.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Sean Dyche was a former captain and then manager of Watford and the Burnley head coach has plenty of respect for the Hornets, but all of that will go out of the window as he tries to beat Walter Mazzarri‘s side on a chilly early fall evening in Lancashire.

In team news Burnley start with Sam Vokes up top on his own without the suspended Andre Gray, with Dyche packing the midfield.

Watford bring in Nordin Amrabat replaces the injured Daryl Janmaat.

LINEUPS

Burnley: Heaton; Lowton, Keane, Mee, Ward; Marney, Hendrick; Boyd, Defour, Gudmundsson; Vokes. Subs: O’Neill, Flanagan, Kightly, Tarkowski, Arfield, Bamford, Robinson

Watford: Gomes; Cathcart, Prodl, Britos; Amrabat, Capoue, Behrami, Pereyra, Holebas; Deeney, Ighalo. Subs: Pantilimon, Kaboul, Zuniga, Kenedy, Watson, Guedioura, Success

Premier League Playback: How can Chelsea improve defensively?

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CHELSEA A DEFENSIVE MESS

Following Chelsea’s humiliating 3-0 defeat at London rivals Arsenal on Saturday, Antonio Conte‘s eyes glazed over as the following words came out.

He was in a state of rage after yet another embarrassing defensive display, an area of the game the Italian coach prides himself on being a master at.

“We must work a lot. If someone thinks this season it is easy, we must work a lot to improve and to change the situation. I think that now we are a great team only on the paper. Not on the pitch,” Conte said. “To be a great team, I prefer to be a great team not only on the paper but also on the pitch because the pitch speaks. The pitch is the truth. The pitch is the most important thing for us. Not the words. Not the paper. We must change this.”

But how?

The most obvious answers is personnel and that appears to be Conte’s plan with reports already surfacing that he will phase out both Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic in the coming weeks as John Terry and Kurt Zouma return from injury. To me, that means one thing: 3-5-2.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Conte switched to the formation he mastered with Juventus and the Italian national team for the final 35 minutes of Chelsea’s drubbing at Arsenal and it seemed to work a little better, but it’s tough to tell how well it worked because the game was already over.

Something drastic needs to change in formation and personnel because the mindset of the current crop of defenders doesn’t seem to be strong enough to deal with what’s being thrown at them. Ivanovic came out after the game and said the players were not carrying out Conte’s instructions. That’s a huge problem.

Another problem is that Conte did not get the players he wanted in the summer. Reports suggested he went after center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci but instead Chelsea signed David Luiz with many suggesting the deal wasn’t exactly what Conte wanted but Luiz’s connections with the club saw it pushed through.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule | stats ]   

Conte is now left with a messy situation in defense.

Yes, mistakes happen, but his side have given up at least two goals in each of their last four games. That’s not good enough. Conte knows it and so do Chelsea’s players but the worrying thing for Conte is that on Saturday that apart from Gary Cahill and Thibaut Courtois screaming criticism at teammates, there was a real lack of direction out on the pitch. Without Terry, that’s to be expected, but the 25-year-old won’t be around forever. Chelsea must find a solution.

“I have to solve the situation. That is the most important thing. The situation is that every game we concede two goals, at a minimum,” Conte said, furiously. “For this reason, three back or two back or four back, I don’t care. It is important to solve the situations. I must find the right solution for this team because in every game we are conceding two goals. I work a lot to find the right solution.”

Three at the back is worth a go. Using the formation and personnel below when Terry and Zouma are fit should improve Chelsea’s display but only when individuals cut out huge errors can Conte really kick on his project at Chelsea.

—– Courtois —–

—- Zouma — Terry — Luiz —

—- Azpilicueta —-  Kante —- Matic —- Hazard —- Alonso —-

—- Costa —- Batshuayi —-

To me, that team above is Chelsea’s Best XI at the moment.

Away from the defensive issues, Eden Hazard looked lost out wide against Arsenal, bring him inside to influence the game and make the most of N'Golo Kante‘s supreme ability to intercept and win tackles. Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta as wing backs are good enough on the ball to deliver crosses, something Willian, Pedro and others haven’t done consistently this season. Then up top, it is time for Diego Costa to get a partner in crime with Michy Batshuayi starting.

Again, all of these lineup changes are irrelevant if Chelsea’s entire team doesn’t adopt pride in doing the simple things correctly on the defensive side of things. You could tell as his post-match press conference drew to a close that Conte was getting more enraged by the second. He tapped on the table. He raised his voice. He took long, reflective pauses as he sighed deeply.

Let’s put this into perspective a little: it’s not the end of Chelsea’s title bid, even if Conte wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence when asked about it. Losing at home against Liverpool and away at Arsenal is no disgrace but for a Chelsea team billed as title contenders and meant to be tough to break down after acquiring their managers penchant for defensive excellence, this has been a bad few weeks.

I asked Conte why his teams have been so sloppy from the start in games in recent weeks. Like their bad defending, he simply can’t explain it and seems genuinely stunned.

“I was a footballer and it happens in one game. It can happen,” Conte said. “You don’t have a good performance for many reasons. I hope to improve this situation because this is the second consecutive defeat after Liverpool. They are great teams, Liverpool and Arsenal. We must reflect on this because we had two defeats in two big games. For this reason we must be humble and understand the moment. To understand we need to work a lot and improve to change our story.”


SPURS, ARSENAL, LIVERPOOL CHASING PERFECT CITY

A more positive story which has dominated the early weeks in this season is Manchester City’s excellence under Pep Guardiola. Following their 3-1 win at Swansea the Spanish coach has now won all 10 of his games in charge of City across all competitions and they sit top of the table with 18 points and a 100 percent record. Pretty easy this Premier League stuff, right Pep?

In all seriousness, apart from facing Manchester United away from home, Guardiola knows the fixtures have been kind to his team. No disrespect to teams like Bournemouth, Swansea, Sunderland or West Ham, but most title-chasing teams will also beat them. The next stretch is where we will find out just how good Guardiola’s side are, especially without Kevin De Bruyne who could be missing for up to a month with a hamstring injury.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]   

City face Tottenham, Everton and Southampton in their next three games, a real step up in opposition, plus they also have a UEFA Champions League clash at Barcelona and an EFL Cup match at Manchester United to negotiate. Jostling for position just behind the clear front runners are three teams: Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Spurs are unbeaten and edged past Middlesbrough without the injured Harry Kane. Their manager Mauricio Pochettino wants them to be more clinical but they’re digging deep and getting the job done. The two teams with the more likely staying power to challenge City appear to be Arsenal and Liverpool.

As bad as Chelsea’s defending was, Arsenal’s offensive talents dazzled on Saturday with Alexis Sanchez’s pace terrifying in a central role up top and Mesut Ozil’s close to his bamboozling best. The Gunners look to have finally rectified any issues over their shaky defense and with Sanchez and Ozil combining, Arsene Wenger is a happy man as he celebrates his 20th anniversary in charge of the Gunners this week.

For Liverpool, well, they’re flying. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has scored more goals than any other team in 2016 and they brushed aside 10-man Hull City 5-1 with minimum fuss. When Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho get going, there are few clubs who can stop them. The only issue remains not only defensive lapses but also, where does Daniel Sturridge fit in? Klopp will provide an answer to that question another day but for now his side are slowly building momentum and with no European action this season, he can work longer and harder on the training ground to fine tune his already well-oiled machine.

City are already many people’s favorites to win the league but the chasing pack is already showing plenty of promise that this will not be a one-horse canter to the title. Remember, we’ve only had six games. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


NO ROOM FOR ROONEY

Jose Mourinho finally bowed to the suggestions of all of those “football Einsteins” and it worked a treat. Mourinho left his captain and talisman Wayne Rooney on the bench along with Marouane Fellaini and the balance in Manchester United’s midfield instantly looked better.

The Red Devils breezed past Leicester City 4-1 on Saturday at Old Trafford with Paul Pogba flourishing in a more advanced midfield role alongside Juan Mata and Ander Herrera sweeping up magnificently in front of the back four. It seems like Mourinho has found a winning formula, one that doesn’t include Rooney.

It has to be said that Leicester helped them out with their woeful set piece defending on three of United’s four first half goals, but there was a renewed energy, zip and purpose about United’s play, especially in midfield. The balance between Pogba, Mata and Herrera was spot on and it allowed the former to unleash his true self as he scored his first-ever goal in a United shirt, flicked delicate balls behind Leicester’s defense and was a general nuisance. Leaving out Rooney got the best out of Pogba. We all know how this is going to end.

Closing in on being the all-time leading goalscorer for United, Rooney will still play his fair share of games but at the age of 30 it seems like he’s coming to the realization that he will have to pick and chose which games to play in to prolong not only his United career but his effectiveness when he does step on the field.

“He’s my man, I trust him completely. He’s as happy as I am at this moment. He’s a big player for me, for United, a big player for this country,” Mourinho said afterwards.

He’s a big player for United, no doubt. It’s just that Pogba is bigger, younger and, crucially, better in that advanced midfield role. There’s simply no room for Rooney to start regularly anymore in this United team.


WEST HAM’S WOES

I was at the London Stadium on Sunday and it was clear all is not well at all levels of the club.

West Ham United were hammered 3-0 by Southampton on the pitch (their captain Mark Noble admitted afterwards it could’ve been 6-0) and in the stands there were still a few issues with the Hammers’ new home as fans in both the home and away sections were ejected by heavy-handed security staff.

After five defeats from their opening six PL games, Slaven Bilic‘s side are spiraling out of control. Dimitri Payet looks lost, the defending is poor and their lack of a clinical goalscorer is hurting West Ham badly. On top of all of that the move to the Olympic Stadium has not gone well initially. After infighting among West Ham fans in previous defeats at the stadium, there was more of a somber atmosphere inside on Sunday with most of the home end empty long before the final whistle.

The situation is bad but it appears West Ham have hit rock bottom.

Cast your mind back to pretty much every new stadium opening in the PL in years gone by. There have always been teething problems, issues with fans complaining about the view being too far away and things which seemed like a big deal at the time but now seem like nothing. A perfect storm of negativity has been created at West Ham, coupled with their shock Europa League exit in the playoff round and their worst-ever start to a PL season.

Their joint-chairman David Sullivan and David Gold issued a statement on Monday saying “there have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses.”

The Hammers can’t afford to make excuses but when they work at the kinks at their wonderful new home of just under 60,000, all of this unrest will seem a million miles away. The only issues remain on the pitch. West Ham shouldn’t get dragged into a relegation battle but they must stop the rot against Middlesbrough at home next weekend. Another abject performance and defeat in front of their own fans is not an option. No excuses.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

FIFA ending racism task force denounced as shameful betrayal

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  FIFA presidential candidate HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein addresses the UEFA XI Extraordinary Congress at the Swissotel on February 25, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA will hold a Extraordinary Congress in Zurich tomorrow, 26th February to decide the next President of FIFA.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA’s abolition of its anti-racism task force was denounced as a shameful betrayal on Monday as the governing body went on the defensive to reaffirm its commitment to fighting discrimination.

The Associated Press revealed Sunday that the anti-racism group was being dismantled after FIFA decided that its mission had been completed after three years.

Kick It Out , English soccer’s anti-discrimination organization, said it was “perplexed” by FIFA’s decision, given the World Cup is being staged in 2018 in Russia “which is notorious for racism and abusive activities towards minorities.”

Jordanian federation president Prince Ali said he found it “incredibly worrying” that the task force was being scrapped given the “very real and apparent” discrimination problem that remains in soccer.

“The fight against racism is far from over and the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the `task force’s recommendations have been implemented’ is shameful,” said Prince Ali, a former FIFA presidential candidate and FIFA vice president. “Now the idea that FIFA believes that it’s the right time to disband its anti-racism task force is ridiculous.”

Prince Ali believes the task force should have been empowered to work further with soccer authorities and governments to use the sport to tackle discrimination in wider society.

“There is still so much work to do, and FIFA must show leadership, take responsibility for reform and be accountable if change isn’t put into practice,” Prince Ali said.

“Transparency, trust, credibility and integrity are the values that should run through everything FIFA does. Not tackling the plague of racism and discrimination properly is an absolute betrayal of those values.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced in September 2015 as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari.

“The reality, as with many programs within FIFA, is that the task force was never given real support since its conception and its role was more about FIFA’s image than actually tackling the issues,” Prince Ali said.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura fended off the criticism, insisting her organization remains committed to combatting discrimination in the world’s most popular sport.

“The task force had a very specific mandate that to our knowledge it has fully fulfilled,” Samoura said at the SoccerEx convention. “Its recommendations have now been turned into a program and a strong one.”

Samoura was appointed in May as the organization’s first female and first African top administrator of world soccer’s governing body as part of the overhaul under Gianni Infantino. The Senegalese former United Nations official said her “presence here is a strong testimony that for FIFA, it is a zero tolerance policy” on discrimination and it is an inclusive organization.

Responding to criticism of the task force being shut down, Samoura said, “We can live with perceptions, but we are taking very seriously our role as the world governing body of football to fight discrimination.”

Kick It Out urged FIFA to publish a “clear and concise strategy” on its fight against discrimination and promotion of equality. It was one of three organizations in the running to win FIFA’s new diversity award from Samoura at a ceremony at SoccerEx later Monday.

Although racism is no longer rampant in English soccer, 402 incidents of discrimination were recorded by Kick It Out last season – up more than 40 percent from two years earlier, although reporting mechanisms have been enhanced.

“There is clear evidence that discrimination, prejudice and hate are on the rise in developed societies, particularly in Europe but also in different forms across the world,” Kick It Out said in a statement. “Football should seek to lead the way in combating such intrusions.

“It is clear that organizations that are actively campaigning against racism and discrimination will be deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership in a game which is so popular across the world.”

The pressing problems for FIFA are in Russia with less than nine months until the country stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

Earlier this month, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, ordered Russian club Rostov to close a section of a stadium for a Champions League game as punishment for the racist behavior of fans.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, compared to a total of 83 for the previous two seasons combined.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

PSG’s defender Aurier sentenced to prison

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 03:  Serge Aurier of Paris Saint-Germain in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier has been handed a prison sentence after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

Aurier, 23, was convicted of striking a police officer with his elbow in May after being asked to take a breathalyzer test outside a Paris nightclub.

The Ivory Coast defender has appealed the verdict but he has been sentenced to two months behind bars and has been fined $650 and has to pay $1687 in costs.

This is not the first time Aurier has been involved in controversy off the pitch as he was suspended by PSG last February after posting a video on social media which saw him ridicule his former manager Laurent Blanc. He later apologize for that incident but now he’s in plenty of trouble again.

Seeing as Aurier has appealed the decision from the French court, he will be able to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, PSG addressed Aurier’s current situation following his conviction.

“Serge Aurier appeared personally before the Paris court to answer the charges against him. The club takes note of his conviction. An appeal was made to the output of the hearing by counsel for the player. Thus according to the rules of criminal procedure, Serge Aurier is again presumed innocent pending the decision of the Court of Appeal. Pending this decision, the player is allowed to continue the exercise of his profession in France and abroad.

“Furthermore, the club wishes to stress the professional attitude of the player since his return to training on July 4. Meanwhile, Paris St Germain reaffirms its commitment to respect the forces and their missions. No further comment will be made by the club by the appeal.”