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.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

Photo credit: Liverpool FC / Twiter: @LFC
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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million, and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.

Alexis sets the record, but Germany come back for draw

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Alexis Sanchez became Chile’s all-time leading goalscorer (38) on Thursday, and La Roja inched ever closer to progression at the 2017 Confederations Cup with a 1-1 draw against Germany.

[ MORE: VAR steps in to help Aussies draw Cameroon, 1-1 ]

Sanchez moved past Marcelo Salas with his 6th-minute opener (above video) to capitalize on a poor turnover and complete a quick one-two atop Germany’s 18-yard box. Arturo Vidal put a foot in to disrupt Germany’s attempt to play out of the back, and the ball fell to Sanchez who quickly played it back to Vidal, who played Sanchez into the box for a left-footed finish inside the near post.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Chile’s lead wouldn’t quite last until halftime, though, as Lars Stindl got on the end of Jonas Hector’s cross in the 41st minute to bring the reigning World Cup champions back to level terms and all but secure their place in the next round.

With the result, Chile and Germany remain tied on top of Group B (4 points) with one game to play. Given the distance between themselves and Australia and Cameron (1 point each) in third and fourth, a draw in their final group games would be more than enough to go through to the semifinals. One-goal defeats would even do the trick.

Kenny Saief approved for one-time switch from Israel to USMNT

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Kenny Saief has been officially cleared by FIFA to make his one-time switch of international allegiance from Israel to the United States, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Thursday.

Saief, 23, was born in Panama City, Fla., to Druze-Israeli parents and began his youth career with Maccabi Haifa in 2005, at the age of 11. After a handful of first-team appearances for various Israeli clubs between 2010 and 2013, Saief earned a regular place in Ironi Nir Ramat HaSharon’s first team during the 2013-14 season. In the summer of 2014, he moved to Belgian side Gent, where he’s played in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena included Saief on his 40-man preliminary roster for next month’s 2017 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

He appeared for Israeli youth national teams at just about every level, but having grown frustrated at the lack of a call-up to the senior team, Saief made it known many months ago he would consider a switch to the USMNT if the omission continued.

Saief figures to serve as something of a utility-man for the USMNT, at least from the start. He’s a left-footed midfielder who’s played extensively on both the left and right wings, and even a bit at left back. It’s the latter that should most intrigued USMNT fans, considering the dearth of options available at the position.

Geiger, Marrufo, Villarreal picked as Gold Cup referees

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) Mark Geiger, who three years ago became the first American to referee a knockout stage match at the World Cup, is among 17 referees picked for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Americans Jair Marrufo and Armando Villarreal also were announced Thursday for the 12-nation tournament, which runs from July 7-26 in various U.S. cities.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Geiger, who is from New Jersey, was a referee for France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria in the round of 16.

Three each were picked from Mexico (Roberto Garcia, Fernando Guerrero and Cesar Ramos) and Honduras (Melvin Matamoros, Oscar Moncada and Hector Rodriguez).

Two will come from Costa Rica: Henry Bejarano and Ricardo Montero.

Others picked for the tournament are Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Drew Fischer (Canada), Walter Lopez (Guatemala), Yadel Martinez (Cuba), John Pitti (Panama) and Kimbell Ward (St. Kitts and Nevis).