ProSoccerTalk’s World Cup Roundtable

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The World Cup is TWO days away and counting!

*Jump around, jump around, jump around*

ProSoccerTalk’s writers did a roundtable-style Q & A where we grabbed a few big narratives coming to us from Brazil and gave our takes.

From South American powerhouses to the USMNT’s position, from specific to open-ended, here’s what we think are some major talking points just before kickoff.

1. What are you most looking forward to this World Cup?

Joe Prince-Wright: I am looking forward to a very open World Cup where at least 6-8 teams enter the tournament with realistic ambitions of winning it all. This is, by far, the most competitive World Cup I have witnessed in my lifetime. Usually there are some teams you know are going to get hammered in every single game, that’s not the case this time around. Also, the fact it is being played in Brazil, the five-time World Champions and the spiritual home of the game, makes it a little bit more special.
Mike Prindiville: Going to Manaus to see the US take on Portugal in the Amazon. The moment that fixture was announced there was just something mystical about it — playing against Cristiano Ronaldo and 4th ranked team in the world, who the US memorably upset in the 2002 World Cup, in the middle of the jungle?! Too weird and too awesome to miss.
Nicholas Mendola: Seeing how the European teams fare in the Western hemisphere, and how the CONCACAF teams perform at an absolutely crucial time for the confederation.
Kyle Bonn:
With so many players injured, the star power of this World Cup has taken a hit for sure. However, with a number of big name players on the sidelines, there is more time to focus on the hidden gems of the world, and those will be on full display in Brazil.  Much of this tournament will be about building new stars, and that’s just as fun.

2. Do you think the USA has a chance to make it out of their group? Is so, what will be the key?

Joe Prince-Wright: The first game is so important. If the U.S. beats Ghana in the opener you get the feeling that Klinsmann’s side will grow in confidence and give Portugal a run for their money, especially given Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury problems. If the USA can bag four points from their opening two games, it may mean Germany will ease up in the final group game and would much rather see the U.S. advance to the last 16 rather than Portugal. The key factor is that the USA beat their bogey team: Ghana.
Mike Prindiville: Of course. Taking three points off either Ghana or Portugal before going into the final match against Germany will be key and for that to happen our attack must capitalize on their opportunities.
Nicholas Mendola: Yes. Beating Ghana and Portugal feeling pressure from a Game One loss to Germany.
Kyle Bonn: Do they have a chance? Sure, especially with news of Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury potentially affecting that assuredly fateful match in Manaus. The key to the United States moving on is their manager Jurgen Klinsmann.  With so many surprises on the roster, he better see something much of the country does not, or else the US is doomed. Team chemistry will be essential. Beating Ghana is a MUST.

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Will Jurgen Klinsmann still be all smiles if the USMNT flops in the Group of Death?

3. Will Jurgen Klinsmann be under pressure if the U.S. don’t perform in Brazil?

Joe Prince-Wright: Not so much under pressure, but questions will be raised about how much the U.S. have really improved under his stewardship since 2011. Bob Bradley took the USA to the last 16 in the 2010 World Cup and was a whisker away from getting into the last eight. We all know Klinsmann’s men have been drawn into the “Group of Death” this time around, however, there must be a good showing from his players and some of the younger guys really need to step up as Klinsmann seems to be preparing for the 2018 tournament. If the USA lose all three group games, many will say that is what was expected… But it is the manner in which the USA plays that will determine how people assess Klinsmann’s managerial prowess. Pressure will arrive but, so far, Klinsmann has negotiated every hurdle thrown in his way.
Mike Prindiville: Depends on what is meant by ‘don’t perform.’ Assuming the absolute worst and the US lose all three games conceding over 12 goals in the process, possibly. Assuming a slightly less painful scenario and the US lose all three matches by a tight margin, I don’t think so. Klinsmann has raised the profile of the USMNT, brought in a number of game-changing players and plus, the decision-makers at US Soccer are positively enamored with him.
Nicholas Mendola: Define perform. The US really need to beat Ghana but if they draw Ghana and look adequate and competitive against the other two teams, he’s fine.
Kyle Bonn: Absolutely. Klinsmann’s bold, potentially reckless decisions with the roster have made this all about him. If he had selected the 23 players many expected and the United States had failed, there would be much less blame heaped on the coach. But with this roster made up of “his” guys, all fingers will be pointed at the guy in charge if the team is axed early.

4. Which group games are you most looking forward to and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: U.S. vs. Portugal, England vs. Uruguay and Spain vs. Netherlands. I am so intrigued to watch Ronaldo, the best player in the world, go up against the USMNT’s defense and see how they handle him. As for England vs. Uruguay, there are so many storylines swirling around that one… mostly involving Luis Suarez. It will be a real clash of styles and will showcase why European nations are so different to their South American counterparts. Different flavors of soccer from around the world, that’s what the World Cup is all about. Spain vs. Netherlands is a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final and it will be interesting to see how both teams have improved/digressed since they met in South Africa four years ago.
Mike Prindiville: US v. Portugal (see #1), England v. Italy is a classic matchup and Spain v. Netherlands because it’s a rematch of the 2010 final.
Nicholas Mendola: Italy/England, USA/Ghana and Spain/Chile. For the first, because of history and it’s a Soccernomics nightmare. The second, because yep. And the third because I think Chile can surprise teams.
Kyle Bonn: United States vs. Ghana will be a brilliant way to kick off the US slate, and will be a critical match in that group. Another early one will be Spain/Netherlands, and all of Group D (England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica) will be a ton of fun.

source: Getty Images
Mike Prindiville is ready for Bosnia’s Miralem Pjanic to break out in Brazil.

5. If you had to pick one player to shine this summer, who would it be and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: Adam Lallana. Watching him closely all season long in the Premier League, Lallana has got better as the season went on. Form counts for a lot and he is on top of the world right now. His shirt is the # 1 seller in England, fans love to watch him play and Southampton’s captain is being courted by some of the biggest clubs in the world. If England do well this summer, Lallana will likely be at the center of it.
Mike Prindiville: Tough one. I’ll go with Bosnia & Herzegovina attacking midfielder Miralem Pjanic. It seems the world is always a bit late in recognizing the star status of Eastern European players and this guy is a full-blown stud. So technical. So gifted. He’s the ultimate playmaker and one that I foresee bringing his country on a deep run in this tournament.
Nicholas Mendola: Thiago Silva. Playing in France doesn’t get him the shine he deserves, and I think he can take his reputation to another level… and that he knows that.
Kyle Bonn: There’s the possibility France flops hard and this pick flames out early, but I feel that Paul Pogba is due for a breakout moment on the world’s biggest stage. If anyone is in for an upstaging of Neymar (which will be hard to do) Pogba could be the one.

6. Your dark horses for the tournament?

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m not sure if they are dark horses, but the Ivory Coast are certainly stacked with some top class talent. Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba, Kolo Toure, Chieck Tiote, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony and Salomon Kalou stick out as players who possess a vast amount of experience but have yet to grace the World Cup in glorious fashion. In the last two World Cups Cote D’Ivoire have gone out in the knockout stages, now they should advance from Group C and go deep in the tournament. Allez les Elephants!
Mike Prindiville: Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Chile – any of these sides could make the semi-final. Even bolder, I think France could win the whole thing.
Nicholas Mendola: Chile. The doubts over Arturo Vidal’s fitness have people talking about them even less, as if that were possible. Since March 2013, Chile has only lost to Germany and Brazil.
Kyle Bonn: I was going to say France until the Ribery injury came through, but they could still make noise. Everyone’s chic pick of Belgium is bogus since they’re group favorites and therefore don’t qualify as a “dark horse” to me. A true dark horse to me would be Russia, who have been reborn under Fabio Capello. They allowed just five goals in UEFA qualification and beat Portugal to the top spot in their group. They’re dangerous.

source: Getty Images
Can you see any way the European stars have a shot at overtaking Neymar, Lionel Messi, or the rest of the host continent?

7. Can you see past the South American powerhouses for the title?

Joe Prince-Wright: Nope. I mean, Spain and Germany are going to be threats and hanging in there right until the end. However, with home support Brazil will be very tough to beat and Argentina’s star players are due success on the world’s biggest stage. This is Lionel Messi’s time to shine.
Mike Prindiville: Absolutely. The weather argument is a tired one, for me. Last time I checked it’s 2014 and the best players know how to play in all conditions and are aided by stunning technological innovations. Spain and Germany are close favorites for a reason.
Nicholas Mendola: I think Germany wins the entire thing, so yes. The rest of my final bracket is pretty South American though… and never rule out the Italians!
Kyle Bonn: Not really. Spain and Germany both have legitimate shots, but both also have weaknesses. This tournament is Brazil’s for the taking, and if the European giants are to do top them, they’ll have to be near-perfect.

8. Sum up the World Cup in three words…

Joe Prince-Wright: Soccer’s spiritual home.
Mike Prindiville: Decreased work productivity.
Nicholas Mendola: Best month quadrennially
Kyle Bonn: Who steps up?

Do you agree or disagree with our writers? Have any answers of your own we didn’t mention here, like your “dark horse” or a player to shine? Are you able to see this one past the continental hosts? Chime in to our roundtable below!

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.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“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.

Awful goalkeeping howler dooms Bayern to draw

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Bayern fans are already counting down the days until Manuel Neuer’s return in goal.

In his absence, Sven Ulreich has earned a pair of starts in Bundesliga play, and the most recent has not ended well. With Bayern leading Wolfsburg 2-0, Ulreich completely botched a simple save leading to Wolfsburg’s first goal, sparking a comeback from the visitors.

As Max Arnold delivered a free-kick 10 minutes after halftime, the ball sailed just over the wall and directly at Ulreich’s head. Instead of catching the attempt or using both hands to parry the shot, Ulreich raised just his right hand and failed to connect fully. The ball glanced off the side of his palm and into the back of the net to bring Wolfsburg a goal back.

The free-kick had decent pace, and it didn’t help that Sebastian Rudy made a poor attempt to block the delivery, but Ulreich won’t want to see a replay of that chance, as he made a hideous attempt to stop the shot. Wolfsburg would eventually equalize with just seven minutes remaining in the match as Daniel Didavi scored a pinpoint header in off the post. Ruddy let Didavi sneak behind him, and Paul Verhaegh delivered a fantastic long ball into the box for the 27-year-old to redirect in.

The draw means Bayern has failed to put pressure on Borussia Dortmund this weekend, leaving Die Roten level with their Dortmund rivals on 13 points with the latter still to host Borussia Monchengladbach on Saturday.

Neuer likely won’t be back until January thanks to yet another foot injury, leaving Bayern to either continue along with Ulreich and hope he improves, or look for other options either in-house or on the free agent market. Ulreich came over from Stuttgart in the summer of 2015 and has backed up Neuer since.

Former Fulham midfielder Sidwell tells another amazing Felix Magath story

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German manager Felix Magath has always been known as a mercurial individual, but as time passes from his failed stint in charge of relegated club Fulham, more and more stories continue to flow from former players that absolutely boggle the mind.

The most famous story thus far has come from former Fulham defender Brede Hangeland about Magath’s suggestion that applying cottage cheese directly to his ailing knee would help solve his injury problem. Hangeland also spoke of how Magath would make the team run in the dead of night after returning from away trips, calling him “an awful human being.”

Now, former Fulham midfielder Steve Sidwell, who spent three years at Craven Cottage, spoke up about his own experiences under Magath. Sidwell, now with Brighton but yet to make a Premier League appearance, told BBC 5 Live Sports about another time Magath was frustrated with his squad, and how he chose a different way to express that during training.

“We played poorly – I can’t remember what game it was – and we got off the bus and he said ‘right, well everyone in tomorrow at 8:00 and we’re gonna train.’ We was due a day off but we’re gonna be in for training. So everyone got in, we got outside…there was no balls coming out with us so we’re thinking ‘right, ok.’ So he’s gone ‘right, your formation yesterday, can you get in your positions?’ So we got on the pitch…goalkeeper, back four, midfield four, two strikers…stood there. And he said, ‘right, you didn’t want to run around yesterday, we’re not gonna run around today.’ And he just blew the whistle, and he said ‘everyone just stand still.’ And we had to just stand still. And it was a cold day, and there was a couple lads with gloves on, they was off straight away. There was leaves blowing across the pitch, you couldn’t make eye contact with anyone, you had to just stand there, and I think we was just there for about 40 minutes just standing there.”

In. Credible. Stuff. Sidwell also said that Magath had every player participate in a pint night before each and every away game, often in the hotel bar.

Magath was fired in September of 2014, just seven months after his hire, with Fulham having suffered an eleven-game winless streak. The Whites were eventually relegated later that season, and have not recovered since, still in the Championship looking for a return to the top flight.