Getty Images

US plan lineup changes with short rest for Mexico match

Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) The U.S. will have to step up when it plays Mexico at Estadio Azteca in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday, and not just because of the altitude.

The Americans will have had just two days off following Thursday night’s 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago at Commerce City, Colorado, which lifted them into the top half of the standings – and one of the three qualifying slots – midway through the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena is planning lineup changes because of the quick turnaround.

“It’s somewhat I think similar to club play in Major League Soccer, where you travel at times great distances in a short period of time and play two games,” Arena said. “However, a typical club team doesn’t have the depth that a national team program should have.”

Christian Pulisic, the emerging 18-year-old star midfielder, scored a pair of second-half goals, giving him seven in just 15 international appearances. Pulisic, who has scored or assisted on seven of the Americans’ last eight goals, insists he won’t have a problem going 90 minutes.

“Absolutely. I’m still young,” he said. “They’re a good team and not easy to beat at home. It’s going to take a lot, but I think with the guys we have and the confidence we have, there’s no reason why we can’t do it.”

Clint Dempsey, 34 and one goal from tying Landon Donovan’s American record of 57 international goals, could get rotated out. Dempsey was unhappy when Arena replaced him with Kellyn Acosta in the 61st minute Thursday.

A hostile crowd, smog and sometimes heat help create among soccer’s bigger homefield advantages at Azteca, which has been reduced from 120,000 capacity to 87,000 during several renovations.

The U.S. was 0-19-1 in Mexico City – getting outscored 81-14 – before a 1-0 exhibition win five years ago.

“It’s fun. I’m sadistic. I like that,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “It’s exciting, because the other side of the fear factor is success and joy, and so we’re going to hopefully have some of that.”

While U.S.-Mexico games at the steep stadium often have been played in under afternoon sun – the Easter Sunday qualifier in 2005 kicked off at noon – Sunday’s match will start at 8:30 p.m. CDT. The U.S. Soccer Federation insisted on a night game as part of the agreement to move the game up two days from the original schedule, a shift that gives El Tri more time to prepare for its Confederations Cup opener against European champion Portugal on June 18 at Kazan, Russia.

The Americans have gained just two points in qualifiers at Azteca, 0-0 draws in 1997 (day game) and 2013 (night).

“We know the conditions will be tough,” right back DeAndre Yedlin said. “We know the ref probably won’t be on our side. We know the fans obviously won’t be on our side.”

Mexico won 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in November in its opening match of the hexagonal, the first home loss for the U.S. in qualifying since 2001. A 4-0 loss four days later at Costa Rica left the Americans last in the standings and caused USSF President Sunil Gulati and his board to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the U.S. coach from 1998-2006.

Missing several regulars because of injuries and illness, the Americans rebounded in March with a 6-0 home win over Honduras and a 1-1 draw at Panama. Arena’s biggest changes have been to install Darlington Nagbe at wide midfield and Jorge Villafana at left back.

Nagbe had been dropped from the roster by Klinsmann. Arena, then coaching the LA Galaxy, noticed Villafana last during during a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Santos Laguna.

“Tonight’s game is basically the first time this group has played together in a qualifying game, so we’re just getting a feel for each other,” Arena said. “If Sunil had hired me much earlier, I would have had a little bit more time with this team.”

Mexico beat visiting Honduras 3-0 Thursday night, changing six starters from its previous qualifier in March and resting forward Javier Hernandez and defender Hector Moreno. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio told Azteca Deportes television after the match that midfielder Andres Guardado and defenders Miguel Layun and Rafael Marquez will miss Sunday’s game because of injuries. In addition, defender Carlos Salcedo left in the 54th minute Thursday after hurting a leg.

AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Commerce City contributed to this report.

Watch Live: Swansea host Manchester United

Leave a comment

Swansea City welcome Manchester United to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with Jose Mourinho’s side aiming to stay top of the Premier League table.

[ STREAM: Swansea v. Man United ]

Yes, it’s early days, but the Red Devils were imperious in their thumping 4-0 win against West Ham United to open their season. Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic dominated and Mourinho’s men are now a powerful, well-oiled machine.

As for Swansea, they struggled at Southampton but came away with a draw, however the main storyline surrounding the South Wales side this week has been losing Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton for over $60 million. Paul Clement will have to act fast to spend that cash wisely, but there is no doubt the Swans will miss their Icelandic playmaker.

In team news Swansea bring in Kyle Bartley and Roque Mesa as they line up in a 3-5-2 formation with Jordan Ayew and Tammy Abraham up top.

Man United are, unsurprisingly, unchanged.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski; Fernandez, Bartley, Mawson; Naughton, Mesa, Fer, Carroll, Olsson; Ayew, Abraham. Subs: Nordfeldt, Rangel, van der Hoorn, Fulton, Narsingh, Routledge, McBurnie.

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Jones, Blind; Matic, Pogba; Mkhitaryan, Mata, Rashford; Lukaku. Subs: Romero, Lindelof, Smalling, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Martial

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

Getty Images
1 Comment

Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.