Game on: Lineups, talking points as the U.S. opens against Ghana

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The countdown to Brazil 2014 ended four days ago, but for fans of the U.S. Men’s National Team, the true wait is almost over. At 6:00 p.m. Eastern, the Stars and Stripes open their seventh straight World Cup with a chance at revenge, facing a Ghana team that’s knocked them out of the last two finals.

You can read more on the U.S.’s side of things here. For now, here’s a quick look at the team’s much-anticipated opener, due to kick off shortly in Natal, Brazil.

[ MORE, PreviewsGhana | United States | Group G ]
[ MORE, Soccerly: Preview Follow live ]

Starting lineups

Ghana: Kwarasey, Opare, Asamoah, Mensah, Boye, Rabiu, Atsu, Muntari, J. Ayew, Gyan, A. Ayew

United States: Howard, Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley, Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Dempsey, Altidore

Talking points

1. 2006, 2010 – The United States has been seen out of the last two tournaments by Ghana, a fact that’s motivated both sides. While Jurgen Klinsmann’s men don’t want to become the latest Black Stars’ victims, the Ghanaians carry the expectations of their past’s success. In 2006, Ghana’s group stage win ensured the U.S. wouldn’t reach a second straight final 16, while in 2010, extra time helped the Black Stars discard the U.S. en route to their first quarterfinal.

2. Portugal’s plight – Neither Ghana nor the U.S. were favored to get out of Group G this morning, but after Portugal’s embarrassment earlier today, the door is open. The Seleccao are four goals to the bad and will be without defenders Pepe (red card) and possibly Fabio Coentrão (injury) when they face the U.S. on Sunday. Whomever wins this game will be the new favorite to finish behind Germany and make the knockout round.

3. The U.S.’s midfield – Between Gyan, the Ayews, and Atsu, Ghana has an enviable wealth of attacking talent, a battery that will be more impressive if Kevin Prince-Boateng’s brought on. The U.S., however, are capable of controlling the game, with Michael Bradley leading what often becomes a midfield five that can congestthe middle of the park. Ghana has to find way through that mire, while the U.S. needs to cut off access to their opponents’ most dangerous stars.

Expectation: Worldwide, Ghana seems to be slight favorites, but this should o be one of the tighter matches of the tournament’s opening week.

One blogger’s prediction: The U.S. exploits the Ghanaian defense to exorcise its demons, giving up a trademark late goal in a 2-1 win.

CCL wrap: Toronto tops Colorado; Herediano’s insane comeback (video)

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”