World Cup Preview Group G: Germany, Portugal navigate the U.S., Ghana minefield

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Group B has the power, Group D has the balance, but Group G has its own claim to being the 2014 World Cup’s group of death:

  • In every World Cup Germany’s entered, they’ve made it to the final eight;
  • Portugal has one of the world’s two best players (Cristiano Ronaldo) and took Spain to penalty kicks in the semifinals of the last European championship;
  • A United States team that made the Round of 16 two years ago improved its qualifying performance while forging a more resourceful squad;
  • Ghana has more viable attacking options than the team that made the final eight in South Africa.

The argument against this being the Group of Death: There’s a pretty big drop off after the quartet’s top two, a drop you don’t see in Groups B and D. Ultimately, if there are no upsets, two teams that may not be among the best 16 in the world won’t make it to the second round. Your website of choice probably won’t break out the big typeface if the U.S. and Ghana go home.

That’s not a Group of Death, but it is a group of depth – a packet that could provide drama, particularly if Portugal isn’t at full strength when they face Germany on June 16.

Let’s take another look at Group G (click on country name for full preview)

Germany: The loss of a player like Marco Reus would be debilitating for most World Cup qualifiers, but Germany’s depth in attack means the Nationalmannschaft is unlikely to feel that pain until the later rounds. In this group, an ability to control the midfield may prove too much to over come in games two and three, while the 2010 semifinalists are capable of out-gunning Portugal in the opener.

Portugal: Tendinosis may not completely derail Cristiano Ronaldo’s World Cup, but there’s a chance the Portugal star will be hampered throughout the tournament. If he can’t be his normal, explosive self, it will be up to midfielder Joao Moutinho to get the best out of the Selccao’s other attacking options.

Ghana: A deep array of attacking talent is capable of overcoming the team’s typical problems. At the back, the Black Stars’ weakness in goal can be heightened by a lack of poise from their back four. Under the pressure their group mates can bring, Ghana’s back five will have to find a new level.

United States: While the team does not look glamorous on paper, a convincing run through CONCACAF qualifying hints the squad may be more capable than it was four years ago. With Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm, the U.S. has been able to leverage its new approach to forge its physical capabilities with tactical flexibility. They’re the team most likely to make meaningful tweaks from game to game.

Who’s going through: Germany, clearly. Portugal is the next most likely, but health could become a major concern. The U.S. is being scoffed at by the typical detractors, but they’re more adaptable than they’ve been at previous tournaments. Ghana is the team least likely, but even they’re capable of springing the upsets that would carry them through.

Who’s going home: Most likely, the U.S. and Ghana. Portugal could replace one of them, while it would be an utter shot of Joachim Löw’s side was tripped up twice in three matches.

Top players to watch:

5. João Bradley … errr, Michael Moutinho – you know, that central midfielder from the United States of Portugal? (Reality: Moutinho and the U.S.’s Michael Bradley will each play crucial roles or their teams.)

4. Mario Götze, Germany

3. Thomas Müller, Germany

2. Phillip Lahm, Germany

2. Marco Reus, Germany

1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal

France veteran Malouda loses appeal in Gold Cup case

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former France winger Florent Malouda has lost his appeal against being ruled ineligible to play for French Guiana at the 2017 Gold Cup.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says its judges dismissed Malouda’s appeal against North American soccer body CONCACAF.

French Guiana fielded Malouda in a 0-0 draw against Honduras last July despite being told he was not eligible. CONCACAF awarded a 3-0 win to Honduras and suspended Malouda.

The Gold Cup uses FIFA eligibility rules which bar players from transferring allegiance after playing a competitive game for one country.

Malouda played 80 times for France including a 2006 World Cup final loss against Italy.

The French Guiana soccer federation hoped Malouda, now aged 37, could play in the Gold Cup because it is not a FIFA member.

Report: Bobby Wood unlikely to come to MLS this summer

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A U.S. Men’s National Team forward will probably have to wait a bit longer to come to Major League Soccer if that is the path that he chooses.

Reports have recently surfaced linking Bobby Wood to MLS at the conclusion of the Bundesliga season, however, MLSSoccer.com is reporting that a move for the American likely won’t come in 2018.

Wood, who remains under contract for three more seasons at Hamburg, is currently fighting relegation in Germany with his club side.

Hamburg currently sits 17th in the German top flight, eight points buried in the relegation zone with four matches remaining.

The MLSSoccer.com report suggests that MLS clubs aren’t willing to compensate Wood at the current rate of his contract in Germany.

Currently, Wood is making “several million dollars” per season, and even if Hamburg is relegated in 2017/18 Wood’s contract wouldn’t decrease to a number that clubs are comfortable paying.

If Wood was to join MLS, he would be considered a Discovery signing as he is not currently on the MLS player allocation list. The Washington Post previously reported that an MLS club has Wood included on their Discovery list, although the team’s identity isn’t known.

Report: Fellaini eyes MLS, China after shooting down Man United terms

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Marouane Fellaini‘s time in Manchester looks to be numbered, and a move abroad could have the Belgian in line for one last payday during his career.

The Manchester United midfielder has rejected multiple offers to stay on at Old Trafford ahead of his contract expiring this summer, which would allow Fellaini to pursue other opportunities come June.

Fellaini is being linked to moves to Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, as the veteran aims to secure a sizable contract upon leaving the Red Devils after over five-and-a-half years with the club.

The Daily Mail is also reporting that Fellaini would be open to hearing options that could keep him in the Premier League, although it is unclear if there is any serious interest from English sides at this time.

Since the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, Fellaini has struggled to find playing time under manager Jose Mourinho.

This season, the Belgium international has appeared in just 14 PL matches and 19 in all competitions. Fellaini has scored four goals in that span.

Chicago Fire venue to be renamed SeatGeek Stadium

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The Chicago Fire won’t be moving into a new stadium 2019, however, their venue will have a new name donned on the side of it.

For years, the Eastern Conference side has played its home matches at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, but starting next season the Fire’s home turf will be called SeatGeek Stadium as part of a rebrand.

SeatGeek is one of the largest online after-market ticket distributors, and was created back in 2009.

Toyota Park will undergo its transformation at the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season.

The venue is also home to the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars.