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World Cup qualifying: What’s at stake this break

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So we’ve hit an international break, one of the terrific ones which include World Cup qualifiers, and it’s an excellent time to evaluate what’s cooking in the next week in terms of nations looking to book spots for Russia 2018.

[ MORE: Cameron pumped for USMNT return ]

AFC

Group A will be about who slips up, with the top three nations each playing a pair of matches against the bottom three nations. Iran leads the group with 11 points, while South Korea is a point behind and Uzbekistan two back. Any logical chance for Syria, Qatar, or China to make a move toward the third place playoff spot must include a big upset over the next week.

It’s a bit different in Group B, where the top four sides are separated by a single point. Thursday sees a huge tilt between Japan and United Arab Emirates in Al Ain, with the hosts leaving for Australia after the match. It’s no exaggeration to say this is one of the biggest weeks in UAE soccer history.

CAF

No World Cup qualifiers during this break.

CONCACAF

You know the drill here: the United States has started 0-2 and badly needs wins, or at least four of six points, from Honduras at home and a trip to Panama.

Costa Rica is the only 2-0 team in the confederation and faces a pretty tough pair of matches with a visits to Mexico and Honduras, leaving El Tri with a chance to summit the group by toppling CRC and winning and Trinidad and Tobago. Speaking of T&T, it can forget about harboring any World Cup hopes if it fails to beat Panama at home.

CONMEBOL

Brazil can qualify for Russia with a win at Uruguay on Thursday, while a win by the hosts makes it possible that both will advance before the end of the break.

After that, mayhem.

Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia open the break within two points of each other, and only two of the four can qualify automatically (The fifth place side advances to the interconfederation playoffs). Paraguay and Peru need to win, not draw, matches to get back in the hunt for a spot.

Oceania

New Zealand can clinch a spot in the Oceania final by beating Fiji twice, while a win and a draw will have them in very good shape before Fiji’s pair of Group A matches against New Caledonia. In Group B, Tahiti is ahead of Solomon Islands on goal differential, and will look to keep pressure on the latter by sweeping Papua New Guinea.

UEFA

With only nine (more) automatic spots available for Russia, it’s remarkable that only one group has a gap of more than one win between the first- and second-placed teams (Germany has 12 points to Northern Ireland’s seven).

So it’s a bit foolish to label anything in UEFA qualifying “must-win” considering most of the matches are “don’t lose”; Of the nine sides to get automatic spots in 2014 qualifying, seven had a zero in the loss column. Bosnia & Herzegovina had one loss, but advanced over Greece who also went 8-1-1. Two-loss Russia was the exception, playing in a weak group and winning seven, drawing one.

Instead we’ll give you the highlights of this break:

Republic of Ireland vs. Wales, Friday

Croatia vs. Ukraine, Friday

Belgium vs. Greece, Saturday

Scotland vs. Slovenia, Sunday

Azerbaijan vs. Germany, Sunday

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.

Another American heads to Schalke: Zyen Jones

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Schalkamerica?

Bundesliga mainstays Schalke have added yet another American, this one 17-year-old Zyen Jones of Atlanta United. Jones is a forward with the U.S. U-17 national team.

Like Josh Sargent, who signed his deal with Werder Bremen on Tuesday, he’ll head overseas and sign a pro contract on Aug. 25, his 18th birthday.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Jones will join several potential USMNT teammates in Gelsenkirchen, including injured senior team midfielder Weston McKennie and youngster Nick Taitague (19). Forward Haji Wright is on loan at Sandhausen.

Report: Simon Dawkins making move to Minnesota

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The Loons are taking a flier on Simon Dawkins.

The London-born Jamaican international hasn’t done a ton since returning to MLS from Derby County, and turned 30 over the offseason, and Paul Tenorio says the player is on his way to Minnesota United.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

Dawkins scored 14 goals between 2011-12 with San Jose, but scored just five times in his return to California and was blanked in 14 appearances last season. He registered just 10 shots in those matches.

The left winger would join an attack with Christian Ramirez, Kevin Molino, Ethan Finlay, and a pair of Generations Adidas forwards: Abu Danladi (2017 SuperDraft) and Mason Toye (2018).

Champions League Weds. preview: Sevilla-Man Utd, Shakhtar-Roma

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Jose Mourinho says Manchester United is one round away from having legitimate hopes of winning the UEFA Champions League.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

That makes the Round of 16 tie against Sevilla — beginning Wednesday in Spain — a bit of a dream qualifier for the Red Devils.

“I normally say that Champions League dreams start around the quarter-finals and not yet in the last 16,” Mourinho said on ManUtd.com. “Last 16 still looks a long way to go. When a team reaches the quarter-finals, I think it’s the moment where even the teams that are not favourites – which is our case – they start realising that anything is possible.

The injury-hit side got a bit of a boost on Tuesday in Sevilla, where Paul Pogba, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera all trained ahead of the first leg.

As for the hosts, manager Vincenzo Montella admitted that he hopes Pogba won’t play, and joked that he’d prefer to tie up and “padlock” Alexis Sanchez in a bid to defend against the Chilean star.

The final Round of 16 tie to start will be Roma’s pairing with Shakhtar Donetsk, with the first leg taking place in Ukraine.

Shakhtar hasn’t played in some time, but the great equalizer is the bitter cold at Donbass Arena, where the temperature is set to be between 21 and 28 degrees Fahrenheit come kickoff.

Don’t worry, Roma fans, Daniele De Rossi is busy breathing fire into any teammates angling for excuses:

“The cold weather could affect things a little because we’re not used to it but at the end of the day it comes down to how well you perform out there. We must be mentally ready from the get-go because the cold might hit us in the opening minutes.

“If it was that much of a factor, these teams would win the Champions League every year. You don’t go through because of the weather.”