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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.”

FIFA force pace on $25B Club World Cup, global league plan

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GENEVA (AP) FIFA is forcing the pace on talks over a $25 billion offer to revamp the Club World Cup and create a global national team competition.

FIFA says President Gianni Infantino hosted a meeting last Friday with invited officials from some top European clubs.

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The European Club Association has strongly opposed FIFA’s hope for a four-yearly club tournament starting in 2021, which could rival the UEFA-organized Champions League.

UEFA has also proposed a Global Nations League. A similar project is tied to the FIFA-controlled $25 billion, 12-year offer from a consortium including investors from Saudi Arabia and China.

FIFA says it’s holding “informal ongoing discussions with different stakeholders on the topic of the future Club World Cups.”

Infantino is set to meet confederation presidents and general secretaries “in the near future,” FIFA says.

Video: De Rossi, Roma make classy visit to Hillsborough memorial

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On many occasions there are instances where teams and individuals exemplify the fact that real-life occurrences are more meaningful than sports.

Ahead of Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League meeting, Italian giants AS Roma visited Anfield –where they will face Liverpool in the competition’s semifinals.

After walking around the venue where the two sides will compete in less than 24 hours, Roma captain Daniele de Rossi and the rest of the Roma squad visited the Hillsborough memorial at Anfield to pay tribute to the 96 victims lost in the 1989 event that rocked the entire country.

De Rossi was seen laying a floral arrangement on the site, along with a note from the club that read, “In memoria delle vittime di Hillsborough AS Rome.”

Liverpool, Roma ride major emotions into the UCL semifinals

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Four clubs remain in this season’s UEFA Champions League competition, and while two of the teams have been considered heavy dogs in the fight all year long the other two sides look to continue on their storybook run.

Liverpool, Roma, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid have found themselves in the semifinals of this season’s UCL, creating a strong mix of storylines as the tournament heads towards its most critical point.

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Anfield will be the site for Tuesday’s first leg between Liverpool and Roma, with both sides still riding major highs from their victories in the last round.

The Reds enter the final four after having disposed of fellow Premier League side Manchester City in relatively dominating fashion. Meanwhile, Roma completed a seemingly impossible comeback against Barcelona to progress in the competition.

Liverpool is led by three of the year’s top goalscorers, including Mohamed Salah — who has scored eight goals in the UCL and 41 across all competitions.

For Roma, much of the side’s success has been predicated on finding defensive strength at the right moments throughout the tournament.

Despite falling behind 4-1 in their first leg defeat to Barca in the previous round, Edin Dzeko and Co. rallied for a 3-0 win at the Stade Olimpico to stun the Catalan club by holding Lionel Messi and his side in check.

Manager Eusebio Di Francesco will have to find creative ways to halt the Liverpool attack though over the course of two legs, with the Reds boasting the top attack in this year’s UCL.

Liverpool has scored 33 goals in 10 UCL matches, while only conceding seven in the process.

Keeper Ederson hopeful he can score this season for Man City

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The prospects for a goalkeeper scoring during a match are usually uncommon, but that hasn’t halted Manchester City’s number one choice from aiming to break the trend this season.

Ederson — who has moved into the starting role at the Etihad Stadium with relative ease in 2017/18 — has dreamt of scoring a goal of his own for the Premier League champions in waiting.

“I heard the fans chanting my name, asking me to take the penalty but Gabriel went there,” Ederson said. “Unfortunately he missed it and Bernardo happily scored. But if the manager have asked me to go there, definitely I’d score.

“I’m not sure if I would be able to do set-pieces, but I’m good at penalties, either using power or technique on shooting it. But City have [their] regular penalty-takers and we are well-served.

Citizen supporters chanted for the goalkeeper to take a penalty kick over the weekend in the team’s 5-0 win over Swansea City.

However, Gabriel Jesus was the man selected for the opportunity, but had his attempt saved by Lukasz Fabianski before Bernardo Silva was in the right spot to score the game’s fifth goal.

“If Pep asks me to take it, I’m there,” Ederson said of the penalty kick. “Hopefully it will happen [before the end of the season], I’d like to score.”

This isn’t the first time Ederson has discussed exploring opportunities outside of the net, though.

The Brazilian shot-stopper has long been a fan of former Brazil international goalkeeper Rogero Ceni — who scored 65 goals for club side Sao Paolo.

Earlier this season, the 24-year-old joked around with the media, saying that he’d be more than happy to fill a role in the midfield when City was experiencing some injury issues within the squad.