The case for Geoff Cameron: should US defender start vs. Belgium?

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An early shank against Portugal is the only mistake Geoff Cameron has made in a U.S. shirt so far in the 2014 World Cup.

However, the Premier League defender lost his starting spot to Omar Gonzalez for the final group game against Germany, and it will be a huge decision to see which player Jurgen Klinsmann goes with on Tuesday against Belgium.

Along with the decision to bring back in Jozy Altidore, who will play at center back is the other hot topic of discussion around the U.S. starting lineup.

[RELATED: How will USA line up? ]

[ RELATED: Three key battles in U.S. vs. Belgium ]

Many U.S. fans made Cameron a scapegoat for the USA’s 2-2 draw vs. Portugal after the shank and then the second goal they conceded in the dying stages, but I’m not buying that. It was a catalogue of errors. Fabian Johnson obviously didn’t give Cameron a call that Silvestre Varela was coming over from the right side, Cristiano Ronaldo was given far too much time to tee up a cross and the ball was lost cheaply in midfield to start with. The first goal, Cameron will admit, came from his mistake. Portugal’s second goal, that wasn’t down to him. You can’t help but think that after scrolling through Twitter in the moments after the game that Cameron, and Michael Bradley to a certain extent, were made the scapegoats. Both players are two of the finest and most experienced the U.S. has.

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Will Cameron find himself back in the starting XI vs. Belgium?

Regardless, now it is either Gonzalez or Cameron to start for the U.S. in central defense alongside Matt Besler. Gonzalez and Besler formed a formidable partnership in the USA’s qualifying campaign, while Cameron played at right back. Both candidates would do a good job and wouldn’t let the U.S. down against one of Europe’s best teams, but here is the case for Cameron.

“It was a good opportunity for us to give Cammy [Cameron] a breather,” Klinsmann said when asked about why Omar Gonzalez was brought into the starting lineup vs. Germany.

However you dissect Gonzalez’s performance against Germany, he didn’t do much wrong. One shaky clearance that resembled a shank early on was rectified by a string of fine defensive headers and a great last-ditch tackle on Mesut Ozil in the first half. Gonzalez’s solid display, coupled with Cameron’s benching, has now seen the Stoke City defender fall out of the picture for the USA’s round of 16 clash against Belgium.

Should Cameron start against Diables Rogues?

The main reasons why Cameron should get the nod ahead of Gonzalez at the heart of the USA’s defense are the following:

  • He is quicker…

Cameron is not the fastest player in the world but as a center back he possess great pace. Playing right back for Stoke all season, he has bombed on and supported the attack and tracked back pacey wingers with ease. He certainly has the edge over Gonzalez when it comes to being able to match the pace of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, which will be crucial on Tuesday.

  • He has played in the Premier League for the past two seasons…

Okay, so we know playing in the PL is no longer the sole requirement for being a starter in Klinsmann’s team (we can see that from the large MLS contingent) but Cameron’s displays against the world’s best week in, week out, prove that he can do it when it matters. He has marked Eden Hazard, come up against Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini and not looked out of place. His experience against Belgium’s best players counts for a lot.

  • Fitness-wise, he is in top condition…

This is one of the major question marks surrounding Gonzalez, as the LA Galaxy defender was struggling with a knee injury throughout camp and the warm-up games. Gonzalez came through an entire 90 minute unscathed against Germany, but can a player who has had limited game-time over the past six-weeks really play two full games back-to-back in the space of five days? Cameron is in top shape and is not a risk when it comes to this aspect.

  • Remember that display vs. Ghana, yeah…

With Matt Besler having to go off injured at half time against Ghana, the U.S. looked to be in a bad spot as rookie defender John Brooks came on in his place. Cameron defended superbly throughout, making two vital blocks in the second half and his superb display knitted the entire defense together as Ghana piled on the pressure. Brooks got the heroics for his late header, but along with Jermaine Jones in midfield, Cameron was the main reason the U.S. bagged a win that proved crucial in their qualification from the dreaded “Group of Death.”

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.