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Arena will be cautious with players for World Cup qualifying

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MILLBRAE, Calif. (AP) Bruce Arena is preparing for a pair of critical World Cup qualifiers this month uncertain about the availabilities of forward Clint Dempsey, defender Geoff Cameron and goalkeeper Tim Howard.

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Arena spoke Monday with Cameron, who told him he was a bit sore after playing a full match for Stoke on Saturday for the first time since injuring a knee in October. While Arena is thrilled Dempsey has returned to the field for Seattle after dealing with an irregular heartbeat, the U.S. coach will be “very cautious” in determining Dempsey’s national team status before the March 24 qualifier against Honduras at the San Jose Earthquakes’ Avaya Stadium.

After losing their first two games in the final round of World Cup qualifying, the Americans fired Jurgen Klinsmann and brought back Arena, their coach from 1998-2006. His first competitive match is against the Catrachos, and the U.S. plays four days later at Panama.

“Well, I don’t think we’re hanging on by a fingernail yet, but we’re getting close,” Arena said Monday. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think they’re getting a plier out.”

Arena might lean toward using more players who have been abroad and are deeper into their seasons than those in Major League Soccer, whose seasons began last weekend, though the roster might be close to an even split of players from abroad and MLS.

“I’ve always felt the team would qualify for the next World Cup,” said Arena, the Bay Area for CONCACAF’s announcement Tuesday of Gold Cup groups. “Now, it’s obviously a little bit more challenging, but it can be done.”

Howard is still recovering from leg surgery in November and missed Colorado’s opener last weekend.

“I’ll follow their lead,” Arena said of the Rapids, “as well as following the lead of Seattle with Clint.”

“Between now and when the players report, there’s going to be a lot of issues, so we have a Plan A, a B and a C, and in a lot of cases we’re probably going to go to Plan C,” Arena said. “Two players, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, may not be available. It may be the case with Geoff. They’ve all been good players for the U.S. team. We’d like to have them all. The reality of the situation is that that’s not likely.”

The Americans will be without Timmy Chandler and Jermaine Jones for the Honduras match, both suspended because of yellow-card accumulation. In the November qualifiers, the Americans lost to Mexico 2-1 at home and 4-0 at Costa Rica.

“If they got a result against Mexico and lost to Costa Rica, then you’d believe everything’s not so tense? That’s the way it is,” Arena said. “There are eight games left. If there were two games left, I’d really be concerned. But I think we can close the gap real quick, or we can continue to, I guess then, start hanging on by our fingernails.”

Fabian Johnson scored two goals Saturday for Borussia Moenchengladbach and has been playing midfield, yet Arena is unsure whether he will be better suited at there or left back for the qualifiers.

Arena has been traveling regularly to get to know almost everyone from a pool of about 40 players from which the U.S. will build its roster. The roster announcement is likely March 15.

“I’ve visited all the countries you can visit,” he said before specifying Germany, England, Mexico and parts of the U.S.

Arena expects the Americans to have no issues once they reconvene – focused on one goal and not whether they are U.S.-born.

“All I know is they have that U.S. passport,” he said, while noting in the current political climate “today, everything’s crazy, what are you going to do?”

Howard raised concern in January about the national pride of American players born elsewhere.

“Those are the little games we don’t get involved in. We get together as a team and we’re a team when we show up,” Arena said. “Inside teams it’s a lot different than you think. I don’t think they’re having little verbal wars with each other. They’re going to be a team. They want to win. They’re going to all do their job and play for each other and represent our country in the right way. That’s what I’m anticipating.”

NOTES: The U.S. Soccer Federation announced last weekend that its membership adopted a limit of three four-year terms for president and vice president and four four-year terms for directors, with the provision current officers can run one more time. Arena figures Sunil Gulati, elected to a third four-year term in 2014, will seek one more. “I would think that he’ll give it strong consideration. I think he loves his job, I think he loves the responsibility,” Arena said. “The federation has grown tremendously under the leadership of Sunil and (secretary general) Dan Flynn. I don’t see any reason why it’ll change.”

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

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It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.

David Luiz “took a risk” to return to Chelsea, PL — and it paid off

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You should always bet on yourself, and that’s exactly what David Luiz did last summer in returning to Chelsea and the Premier League.

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Whether or not you succeed is secondary to believing in and backing yourself to to do well in an situation, no matter how difficult. When Luiz left Chelsea in the summer of 2014, he did so as something of a joke in PL circles — his eccentric playing style had caused him to commit a number of memorable sometimes-hilarious gaffes which eventually branded him a liability as a “defender.”

After two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain, where he won everything that French football has to offer, Luiz was given an opportunity to return to England and prove wrong so many who had doubted him. It was a “risk,” according to Luiz, but an opportunity he couldn’t pass up — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was winning everything in Paris. I was there for two years and won all the titles in France. I had a great life, great credibility with the club. … I had everything.

“But then I took a risk to come back to the one country that was not that happy with me. Where they always criticized me a lot even after winning the Champions League, the Europa League or where I’d played all the games. That’s why it was a risk. And I love the risk. If you don’t take risks in your life — in your professional life but also in everyday life — you never feel anything new, so I [chose to] taste something new. I don’t like to stay always with the easy life, but I’m happy now because I took the right decision.”

Antonio Conte, the manager who sought to bring Luiz back to Stamford Bridge, heard what everyone was saying about the 30-year-old Brazilian international, and he couldn’t believe his ears — quotes from the Guardian:

“I heard a lot of bad things when he arrived, that he was ‘not a defender.’ But we were sure we were signing a really good player we could lift up again to be one of the best defenders in Europe and, I hope, in the world. He has good technique, he’s strong, he starts our possession and has the personality to do this.”

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Luiz was a standout performer for a title-winning side with the third-best defensive record in the PL this season.

Conte and Luiz – 1, Everyone else – 0.

Cristiano Ronaldo could face tax-fraud charges in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Spanish prosecutors are considering whether Cristiano Ronaldo should face charges over allegations by the country’s tax agency that he defrauded the authorities of 15 million euros ($16.7 million) between 2011 and 2014.

Prosecutors said Thursday they have until the end of June to decide whether to charge the Real Madrid star, based on evidence from an investigation by tax officials.

The alleged irregularities were mostly related to money that Ronaldo had in the Virgin Islands.

Tax officials said Ronaldo adjusted his tax declarations and paid an extra 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in 2014.

Prosecutors said that if they decided to charge him, and if the Portugal captain was subsequently found guilty by a court, he would face a prison sentence of at least 15 months. However, it would be unlikely he would go to jail as a first-time offender.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was convicted of tax fraud last year.

Terry: “I couldn’t care less” about 26th-minute farewell criticism

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John Terry is a man who… well, let’s just say, does things his way.

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For instance, remember the time Chelsea won the UEFA Champions League, by beating Bayern Munich, in penalties? Remember Chelsea’s post-game celebrations, which saw Terry, who was suspended for the final at the Allianz Arena, joyously jumping around with his teammates wearing his full kit, shin guards and all?

Was it over the top and a bit silly? Sure it was, but was anyone hurt or genuinely upset by it? Of course not. On Sunday, as Terry said goodbye to the only club he’s ever known (apart from a six-game loan spell at Nottingham Forest in 2000), he toed the line between what’s acceptable and what’s outlandish. Just like in 2012, Terry caused a minor uproar, and just like in 2012 he “couldn’t care less” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I couldn’t care less, I promise you. All I care about is celebrating with my Chelsea fans. Me and them have a wonderful rapport and have done for 22 years. Nothing that people write or say can ever get in the way of that.

“If that’s the way I want to go out, that’s the way I go out because I’ve been here 22 years, I’ve won so many trophies — so if I wanted to play one minute and come off, I would have done.

“I wanted to play 26 minutes because the shirt number means a lot to me and the supporters so as long as they are happy – and I was over the moon with the reception – I promise you I could not care less.”

“It was an unbelievable send-off from the supporters to help me to celebrate 22 years at the club.

“I’m very grateful to them, and it was something I will never forget. It was so emotional after the game, I was in bits.”

There’s something to be said about the success that Chelsea have had as a club, and the way its recency leads them to feel they are perceived by the outside world. Other clubs, “bigger,” most historic clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, for example — have been winning trophies pretty regularly for decades, while 70 percent of the major trophies (14 of 20) won in the club’s history have come since Roman Abramovich bought the club 14 years ago, in 2003. Chelsea is a 112-year-old football club.

[ MORE: Pogba, Mkhitaryan fire Man United to Europa League trophy ]

Chelsea’s players and fans are so clearly away of their bought-and-paid-for status, thus everything is celebrated on the grandest scale, almost as if to legitimize their accomplishments (which stand up just fine on their own two feet) and standing within the hierarchy of English football. “Contrived” (and admittedly so) is the word that comes to mind and best describes Terry’s send-off.

No one in this space is saying there’s anything wrong with that, but everyone connected to Chelsea must realize and accept that it looks silly to supporters of the aforementioned long-time giants, and they’re going to be pointed at and laughed at every time they do it.