Continental problem? Toronto columnist condemns CAF World Cup efforts

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Kurtis Larson isn’t being shy about a controversial topic, burying an entire continent worth of soccer in his new Toronto Sun column.

Claiming that the Confederation of African Football’s representatives performance early in this World Cup is endemic, Larson goes after them from Word One.

The claims begin with Yaya Toure’s infamous birthday acknowledgement problems at Manchester City, move on to Cameroon’s brief bonus-fueled boycott and slide into Alex Song’s red-card rage. In short, Larson says these awful examples show how an underperforming continent continues to disappoint.

From The Sun:

Similarly, neighboring Nigeria was embroiled in an alleged match-fixing scam during an important pre-World Cup tuneup against Scotland, a game investigators red-flagged as one organized crime might have infiltrated.

Those accusations kicked up a notch when Austin Ejide appeared to throw the ball into his own goal midway through the first half that game.

This is a federation full of cry babies, selfishness and alleged cheats.

Strong words, but certainly ones that needed to be uttered now in order to remain safe. Cameroon has been eliminated but Ivory Coast is in still in strong position to advance (having only lost to a Colombia team that looks ready to roar). Nigeria’s sickly performance against Iran may lead to elimination but they could still up-end Bosnia and Herzegovina, while Ghana’s game effort against the U.S. belies consecutive knockout round performances. And Algeria was never expected to do much.

Not saying the corruption talk is silly; it isn’t. And the cited examples are certainly very poor representations of a continent that hasn’t always covered itself in glory… but which continent has? France simply quit in the 2010 tournament, Croatia has had a player suspended from the tournament for inciting Pro-Nazi chants, and England had its high-profile captain sleep a teammate’s wife. The anti-Europe column hasn’t appeared as Spain and England crash out, though.

CAF has put a team in the knockout rounds of each of the last six World Cups, and in the quarterfinals of 3 of 6 (Ghana in 2010, Senegal in 2002, Cameroon in 1990). And while this isn’t the most shining of accomplishments, it’s also far from consistent and horrific failure. And as explored in Ian Hawkey’s “Feet of the Chameleon”, African soccer has met plenty of unique obstacles in its development.

I don’t know Larson personally, and I’ve enjoyed following him on Twitter, so I can’t and won’t accuse him of click fodder. But this seems like a reach to me. Yes, CAF is crooked, like the majority of confederations. To pick out one seems a little forced.

VIDEO: American teen Wright scores first 2.Bundesliga goal

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For all the talk about Schalke’s 18-year-old American wunderkind, Weston McKennie, it’s easy to forget that three young Yanks signed for the Bundesliga side.

One of them, Haji Wright, scored four goals in a preseason match before being loaned out to Sandhausen in 2.Bundesliga.

Ex-New York Cosmos striker Wright, 19, came off the bench for Sandhausen in its league opener Saturday, and didn’t wilt when given a clear scoring chance alone in the 18.

[ MORE: Bundesliga preview with Howedes, Nastasic ]

Wright has scored 31 goals at the U.S. youth national team level, and Bruce Arena will be quite familiar with him given a four-year stint with the LA Galaxy Academy.

Fellow American striker Andrew Wooten is on the books at Sandhausen, but the veteran was not in the 18.

Here’s video, found by American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta:

Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

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Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

[ STREAM: Swansea v. Man United ]

Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.