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For Guam, skipping the 2019 Asian Cup is a lost opportunity

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Less than two years after the team from tiny Guam drew international attention in the qualifying tournament for the 2018 World Cup, the football story in the northern Pacific island has turned to one of broken dreams.

Prior to June 2015, the United States territory, which joined FIFA only in 1996, had lost its only two World Cup qualifiers with a combined score of 35-0.

Then, with the space of five days, Guam beat Turkmenistan and India to temporarily top an Asian qualifying group containing Iran and Oman and jumped to No. 146 in FIFA’s rankings, its highest ever place.

The results also earned Guam – for the first time – a spot in the final round of qualification for the Asian Cup, to be held in 2019. But that opportunity is gone.

Guam Football Associated chief executive Richard Lai last month blamed a lack of funding when he announced the decision to withdraw from the continental tournament.

So when the draw was made last week, Nepal slotted into Guam’s allocated spot and ended up in Group F with Philippines, Tajikistan and Yemen. The winners and runners-up in all six groups will advance to the AFC Cup in the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

The decision to withdraw from the qualifying generated backlash from players and fans, but Lai told The Associated Press that it would cost around $1.2 million to compete in the six qualifying games and “We just don’t have the money.”

He said many of the players are based in the United States and the cost of flying them into and out of Guam and setting up training camps drives up the costs for an FA with little sponsorship, broadcasting revenue or government support.

“There is no sports ministry here to support the team (and) every NGO here has to be self-sustaining,” Lai said. “The FIFA grants come with conditions regarding women’s football and youth football and facilities. We can’t keep investing all we have in the national team only.”

The federation said it plans to focus on Guam’s youngsters in the hope it will pay dividends in the future.

“We can develop more and better players, help more go to the U.S. and improve then we can play friendlies against teams like Thailand and Singapore and start generating revenue,” Lai said.

Jason Cunliffe, who was captain of the national team, said he was upset when he found out through the media that Guam had withdrawn from the Asian Cup.

“The money is there. I think maybe not all of it was there immediately but there was a way,” he said. “We’ve known since March that we had reached this stage of qualification and we were told to prepare. There has been no effort from the GFA to raise funds.”

Lai “and everyone else have done a good job in the past but we can’t rest on our laurels,” he said. “We no longer have faith in the decision-makers.”

Gary White, was the Guam coach in 2015 before leaving in 2016 to take over Chinese club Shanghai Shenxin, said the success came from administrators and players “pulling together.”

“I had support from the federation and the commitment from the players.” White said. “There is enough leadership both in the GFA and among the players that they will get back on track.”

For Lai, the last World Cup campaign was a special situation for the island of 165,000 people.

“We wanted to see were we stood, to measure our development 20 years after joining FIFA,” he said. “What we achieved was phenomenal but now we have no savings. Withdrawing was a hard decision but was really our only option – better to withdraw before the start than halfway through.”

Cunliffe believes his squad could have finished in the top two in qualifying and reached the Asian Cup for the first time.

“The opportunity was there to put our island on the map,” he said. “But that opportunity that the players gave everything to earn has been taken away. Not by someone else but by our own federation and that is hard for us to swallow.”

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”