How will Louis van Gaal revolutionize Manchester United?

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Manchester United’s ‘bouncebackability’ will be tested to the max this season as Louis van Gaal arrives and tries to turn the Red Devils back into the imperious force they once were.

This will not be easy. Not at all. But if anyone can do it, van Gaal can.

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Last season, their first Premier League campaign without legendary boss Sir Alex Ferguson in charge, United finished in seventh under new manager David Moyes who didn’t finish out the campaign before being fired. That was their lowest ever finish in the PL era and something had to change.

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Dutch national team boss van Gaal (who led his country to an unexpected semifinal berth at the 2014 World Cup this summer) is the man tasked with a monumental overhaul. So far, things have gone rather smoothly for LVG during preseason but we all know that counts for nowt as the new season is almost upon us. Winning the International Champions Cup after beating the likes of Real Madrid, Roma and Liverpool is all well and good during a U.S. tour but the 38 PL season is what matters most. With no European soccer to distract them this season, United’s sole focus will be on returning to the top four. At least.

How will van Gaal make that happen? Here are five steps the Dutchman will likely take to usher in a new era at Old Trafford.

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Van Gaal’s no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans on the terraces.

3-5-2 formation

Van Gaal loves the flexibility this formation gives him and he championed it with Holland at the World Cup this summer. There are plenty of square pegs in round holes at United right now, but in the long term it seems like the formation of the future. Just as Tiki-Taka too over in the last decade, expect a fluid 3-5-2 formation to become the most fashionable in soccer. With three ball-playing center backs, LVG stays true to his Dutch beliefs. The midfield three are interchangeable and are encouraged to drop deep and pick up the ball. Summer signing Ander Herrera has already shown he’s a star of the future in the holding role. While Juan Mata is given the role of chief creator in the hole behind two central strikers of Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. It is adaptable when United will be under pressure as the wing-backs will drop in to create a five-man defense. It also allows you to dictate the tempo but the players must be extremely fit to make it work.

Hunger, fight, hard work

That segue’s us nicely onto this next point. The passion, desire and determination to roll up the sleeves and grind out wins seemed to disappear from United last season. LVG is working hard to instill that back into his players. With Darren Fletcher back fit and leading the charge from central midfield, United have a figurehead as the wily Scot is a warrior in the engine room. Just like van Gaal had with Nigel de Jong with the Dutch team, he needs players who aren’t the most gifted but will graft and sacrifice themselves for the team. Look at the way he singled out the most expensive teenager in the world, Luke Shaw, and made him train on his own to up his fitness levels. That sent out as message to United’s players: they must be willing to give all they have to succeed.

Experience counts for everything

In order to succeed, experience is key. Now, after the fact, we can point to Moyes appointment last season as the wrong choice as he had no experience managing a side who are expected to win the league title and other trophies. Van Gaal has that, in abundance. LVG has won trophies wherever he has gone. He has claimed silverware at European giants Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. He is no stranger to success and knows exactly what to do to achieve it. However he has never managed in the PL, so this may be his biggest challenge yet. Especially with Sir Alex Ferguson’s success hanging over him ominously from the get-go.

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Mata and Rooney will be key as United’s players roll up their sleeves to succeed.

‘Us against them’ mentality returns

Fergie was famous for this. A wall has already been erected by LVG between his side, the press and the outside world. His no-nonsense approach has already won him plenty of fans with the Red Devils faithful as the similarities between his mentality and Sir Alex’s is striking. LVG has screamed and bellowed at his players in practice sessions this summer and has put them through their paces with a grueling routine. However, publicly he has been supportive of them (even Shaw) and it is clear that he wants to foster a family environment at Old Trafford.

Clean slate signifies new attitude, philosophy

The old United ‘family’ have gone. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have left this summer, while Nani, Anderson, Javier Hernandez, Marouane Fellaini and Rafael have apparently been told they are free to leave United should a suitable offer arrive. The ‘clearing of the deadwood’ so to speak, needed to happen last season and we all saw why. Veterans like Ferdinand, Evra and Vidic have been great servants for the club but it was one season too many. Now van Gaal can finally cast aside a group of players who were so loyal to Sir Alex that perhaps they weren’t willing to change their style under a new boss at United. Van Gaal has been ruthless and he has needed to be to provide a clean slate to every single Manchester United player. No matter how much you cost or what your name is, you are all the same to van Gaal. That is huge for United heading into the new season as a new attitude and philosophy arrives at old Trafford. Lets see how successful it is but one thing is certain, van Gaal has impressed at every hurdle so far. Now the biggest one is on the horizon: returning United to glory.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

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That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?