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USMNT 0-0 Serbia: Nagbe, Lletget shine in Bruce Arena’s return

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The Bruce Arena Era is back on with the U.S. Men’s National Team, but the second-term boss has his work cut out for him.

[ MORE: USMNT to face Honduras at Avaya Stadium in March WCQ ]

The USMNT earned a 0-0 draw against Serbia on Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, however, both sides struggled to create opportunities in the final third and the hosts still hold many questions regarding their lineup heading into March’s resumption of World Cup qualifying.

While both sides recorded a combined four shots on target, Arena did get a solid look at several players that impressed on the day. Sunday was a day of firsts for several players in the U.S. ranks making their debuts with the senior team, while Jozy Altidore earned his 100th cap for the Stars and Stripes.

[ MORE: PST talks to David Villa about ’17 MLS season, La Liga and more ]

Second-half substitute Juan Agudelo carried the ball into the penalty area with just minutes remaining before Chris Pontius pulled his effort just wide of net.

Goalkeeper Nick Rimando wasn’t tested often on the afternoon but the Real Salt Lake shot-stopper came up big in the 89th minute with a close-range save on Lazar Jovanovic.

The U.S. nearly took the lead in the 25th minute when the hosts pushed a counterattack deep into the Serbia end but Jermaine Jones’ final pass into the center of the penalty area couldn’t pick out another American player.

Darlington Nagbe, who really shined on the afternoon, had a quality chance of his own four minutes later but the Portland Timbers attacker couldn’t bend his shot enough and his effort missed just wide to the right.

Nagbe had an almost identical chance to pick out the corner seven minutes before halftime, but the Timbers man once again curled his shot wide of Serbia goalkeeper Filip Manojlovic.

Arena made just one change at halftime as LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget came on to replaced his new teammate Jones. Sunday marked Lletget’s first senior cap for the USMNT.

The USMNT boss could potentially use Lletget or another player in a holding midfield role come March when the U.S. takes on Honduras with Jones suspended.

The U.S. was fortunate to avoid a sending off in the 57th minute when Sacha Kljestan lunged in on Marko Gobeljic with two feet. The New York Red Bulls attacker was shown a yellow card, however, it could’ve just as easily been red.

Lletget nearly linked up with Kljestan just minutes later when he picked out the head of the New York Red Bulls attacker, but Kljestan’s nodded effort just missed to the right post.

Arena opted to go to his bench late in the match, with Jorge Villafana and Chris Pontius two more players in the USMNT system to made their first appearance on Sunday.

The U.S. will take the field again on Friday when Arena’s squad faces Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Suspended Villar says Spain in danger of missing World Cup

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The suspended president of the Spanish soccer federation, who is under investigation for corruption, tried Monday to stoke up fears that the country could be kicked out of the World Cup because of government interference.

Angel Maria Villar, who is free on bail, spoke at a news conference in Madrid and again denied any wrongdoing. He also blamed the government for meddling in the federation’s affairs by suspending him.

“This government is putting Spain’s participation in the World Cup at risk,” the 67-year-old Villar said in his first news conference since being arrested in July along with his son, Gorka Villar, and two other officials.

[ BLANC: I turned down USMNT talks ]

“The risk is serious,” Villar said. “The only party responsible for Spain not going to the World Cup will be the Spanish government.”

Villar spoke three days after FIFA said it was concerned about the independence of the Spanish soccer federation and that it would soon send a delegation to analyze the situation. FIFA made no mention of a possible suspension of the federation, which could keep Spain out of next year’s World Cup in Russia or even knock Real Madrid and Barcelona out of the Champions League.

Villar, who has spent time behind bars to impede the possible destruction of evidence, and the other three officials are being investigated for alleged improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Villar resigned his vice presidencies of both FIFA and UEFA following his arrest. But he tried to stay on as the head of Spanish federation, a post he held for three decades.

His refusal to listen to pleas for him to step down led the Spanish government to suspend him from the post for one year pending the outcome of the investigation. Court documents allege that besides misappropriated funds, Villar is suspected of corrupting several regional federations by offering favors in exchange for votes.

Villar fired back at the government, saying his suspension had broken FIFA rules since it represented interference in the federation’s management.

“It’s easy to see that the source of concern was my arbitrary and unjustified removal from the presidency of the federation and for not respecting the presumption of innocence,” Villar said, adding that other teams are ready to take Spain’s place at the World Cup.

“Be careful. There are other powerful countries that didn’t qualify like Italy that are waiting to pounce and take our place,” Villar said.

Spain, which won the World Cup in 2010, is considered to be among the favorites for next year’s tournament.

Blanc: I turned down USMNT talks

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U.S. Soccer has not been inactive when it comes to the USMNT coaching search, despite its uncertainty with an impending presidential election.

Le Parisien has an interview with Laurent Blanc in which the ex-Bordeaux, France, and Paris Saint-Germain boss says he was approached by the United States Soccer Federation, but was not interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

Blanc said an international job would have to touch his roots, and he’s most certainly not American. The tall 52-year-old had a glittering playing career with Saint-Etienne, Barcelona, Marseille, Inter Milan, and Manchester United amongst other stops.

More important, it shows that Sunil Gulati and his men have to some degree moved forward with keeping their imprint on the national team.

That’s a little worrying on any team: A hierarchy that may not be around much longer may be working to fill a position arguably more important than its own. It’d be nice to have them commit to not hiring anyone until after February’s election.

Premier League Preview: Everton vs. Swansea City

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  • Everton leads all-time 15W-9D-3L
  • BUT Swans unbeaten in 7 vs. Toffees
  • Toffees go ninth with win
  • Swans four back of safety

Everton hopes its up-turn in form can end three seasons of futility against visiting Swansea City when the two sides meet at Goodison Park on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Gylfi Sigurdsson gets a chance to face his former club for the first time, while longtime Swans man Ashley Williams may also feature for Sam Allardyce.

Swansea has no time to focus on the past, as Paul Clement‘s men sit deep in the drop zone. The last place Swans are four points shy of safety.

What they’re saying

Everton’s Ashley Williams on facing his former club (again)“The game is a little bit more important to me, I would be lying I said it wasn’t. You always want to play against your old teams and it’s a fixture you always look for.  I have been looking forward to this one and it will be nice to see old faces and old friends. It is a game we want to win and to keep a clean sheet in, especially at home, in order to keep our momentum going.”

Swansea City’s Roque Mesa on the match“This is a massive game for us. We need to pick up points because we are bottom and we need to improve our position. Everton have a new manager and their players have done very well under him – you can see their confidence has grown since he joined. But we did well against West Brom and picked up three points, which was very important. Then we faced Manchester City and they proved too good for us. They are the best team in the league, and unfortunately, we couldn’t match them on the night.”

Prediction

Swans need to move past that Man City loss and build on a 1-0 win over West Brom a few days previous. That may not be possible at Goodison, and the Welsh side would be thrilled to escape with a draw. It seems unlikely. Everton 2-1.

Report: Man City, Guardiola to discuss new contract this summer

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Manchester City does not want to let Pep Guardiola start the third year with the club without signing on for longer term.

Guardiola enters the third and final year of his deal in August, and the BBC reports that Man City plans to negotiate a new deal with the Catalan wizard this summer.

[ MORE: Making sense of the PL table ]

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given City’s outstanding sophomore season under Guardiola.

Unbeaten City has an 11-point lead on the Premier League table after 18 weeks, with one draw and a PL record 16-straight wins. They have 56 goals scored, conceding just 12.

They’ve won five of six UEFA Champions League matches, only losing a match their opposition needed and they did not, 2-1 to Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine. City faces Basel next, and visits Leicester City in the League Cup quarterfinals Wednesday.