At halftime: Netherlands and Argentina scoreless at half with all to play for

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After an unpredictable first-half yesterday, things are back to normal today with the Netherlands and Argentina scoreless at halftime.

Things began predictably tense with both sides adopting conservative approaches that saw forwards dropping into the midfield and midfielders dropping into defense with Javier Mascherano, Nigel de Jong, Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Gonzalo Higuain all guilty of the offense.

Argentina was the first to loosen things up when a 14th minute attack resulted in a Lionel Messi free-kick that he stroked pure but directly at Jesper Cillessen. Ten minutes later and the Argentines were at it again with Ezequiel Garay putting his diving header just over the bar, thanks to good defense from Ron Vlaar.

Holland proceeded to forgo possession in favor of a more direct attack and it proved fruitful as a pair of 32nd minute crosses required Argentine goalkeeper Sergio Romero to rise strongly and punch away. But Louis van Gaal’s side failed to sustain the pressure, instead opting to put 10 men behind the ball in defense and await opportunities on the break.

For both sides, they didn’t come. Will the second half prove more eventful?

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Goals:

None.

Other key moments:

14′: Enzo Perez made a streaking run up the right side but Messi was fouled before he can find the through-ball. From 20 yards out Messi’s free-kick was hit hard but well saved by Cillessen.

25′: Messi earned a corner that was swung in beautifully for Garay but the defender’s diving header was sent over the bar.

26′: Mascherano clashes heads with Bruno Martins Indi on a 50-50 ball and was left dazed and confused. The Barcelona man shook it off but it was yet another moment where, if this match were in America, Mascherano’s day would’ve been finished.

35′: Ezequiel Lavezzi was played over the top and found some space down the right side but his service to Gonzalo Higuain was interrupted by a sliding Ron Vlaar.

38′: With Messi in possession on the right side Martins Indi threw a bad elbow at the Argentine with the referee cautioning the defender. Meanwhile, Wesley Sneijder limped off following a kick to the ankle by Martin Demichelis only to return minutes later.

Questions for second half:

– Can Argentina overcome the Dutch defense?: Things got more difficult for Argentina’s attacking success with Nigel de Jong in the game but grew even worse when Van Gaal instructed his team to put 10 men behind the ball. Argentina possessed but had little success moving forward. What success they did have came from Pablo Zabaleta and Perez linking up on the right side, giving Daley Blind and Martins Indi headaches. If the Dutch defense is going to break, this looks the most likely spot. Zabaleta must continue to push forward as Mascherano provides coverage.

– Where is Robben?: After a brilliant first five matches in this World Cup, Arjen Robben has gone silent. But it’s not for lack of effort as the Dutch midfield has been unable to get him the ball despite his dropping deep. With Garay and Rojo shutting him down, Robben may want to come more central or even switch to the left where Zabaleta’s bombing runs may leave Argentina exposed. One way or another, if the Dutch are to win they need Robben to step up.

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.