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USMNT already vindicated in hiring Arena, firing Klinsmann

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It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction from a stellar point away at Mexico in 2018 World Cup qualifying, but this is so much more than that.

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Fans of the U.S. men’s national team will be waking up with a renewed sense of hope on Monday morning as they watched their team implement a solid gameplan almost to perfection in the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca.

Sure, Mexico was missing several key players, had one eye on the upcoming Confederations Cup and already has more than one foot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but it also shuffled its pack marvelously, and bravely, to come away from Mexico City with a valuable point.

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U.S. Soccer got plenty of stick for firing Jurgen Klinsmann back in November 2016 after two defeats to open World Cup qualifying and then going for a blast from the past in Bruce Arena to guide them to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Despite all the critics (in truth, hiring Arena always seemed like the only real option) this is all working remarkably well and much quicker than expected.

Arena, 65, used all of his experience to navigate two World Cup qualifiers in four days at altitude and the length to which he went to make sure this happened smoothly is remarkable.

Players revealed after the game that Arena planned this out three weeks ago when they first met up ahead of the qualifiers. He had two separate teams training in different formations in order to get at least four points from the two qualifiers.

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Arena himself, as he tends to do, kept things simple when speaking after the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca, just the third time the U.S. had got something from their travels to Mexico City in World Cup qualifying.

“We told the team on day one of this camp that we would play that way in this game,” Arena said. “We call the formation a 3-4-3 or a 5-2-1-2, or whatever you want to call it. As long as it adds up to 10, we’re good.”

Arena may have made it sound simple, but it was far from that.

Many threw their hands up in the air when Arena was appointed, stating that the USMNT had gone backwards. But was the past really that bad? After all, Arena had led the U.S. to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002. We all know what happened in 2006 but this current U.S. squad was better than any other.

This is not so much about Arena’s superior game management as it is about Klinsmann’s tactical ineptitude. On a big-picture level Klinsmann did plenty of good for U.S. Soccer as a Technical Director. You can already see that with the youth national teams in recent months and the likes of Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks becoming regulars for the U.S. national team.

But what Klinsmann always lacked is what Arena is great at: organization for individual games and man-management.

USMNT center back Omar Gonzalez spoke of the difference between Klinsmann and Arena following the draw on Sunday night. He revealed that he and others knew for weeks that they would be playing in a three-man central defense, rather than at the last minute under Klinsmann for the home qualifier against Mexico in Columbus back in November.

“I was relieved that I knew that early, for sure,” Gonzalez told Goal.com. “I’ve had three weeks to prepare for this game. It’s just a different environment, and a different mentality you can take when you know three weeks out when you’re going to play, how you’re going to prepare. Sometimes with Jurgen you wouldn’t know until the day of the game. It’s just stressful, so with Bruce here taking that kind of approach here, it’s been helping out a lot…

“Bruce is very open, clear with players, straightforward. I like that approach and it’s been great so far. We’ve turned things around since November. Now we’re in third place (in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying) and I couldn’t be happier.”

Now, we will always be reminded of Klinsmann taking the German national team to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup on home soil but he had Joachim Low alongside him. In the nicest way possible Klinsmann was a figurehead, a cheerleader who galvanized the players and staff, but now we all know Low was responsible for the key tactical decisions and he has shown that in the past 11 years in charge of Germany.

Klinsmann helped set up the system for the young German players to thrive in which the likes of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller soon benefited from. And you could argue the U.S. needed Klinsmann to put a similar rubric in place. You can also argue that having him in charge of the USMNT never really worked and he failed to get the best out of the most talented pool of players the U.S. has ever had.

Just over six months in, Arena is already doing that. Eight points from four World Cup qualifiers points to that, but the main positive is that Arena has the backing of this squad and everyone believes in what he’s doing. He is old school and is keeping it simple.

Of course, there was a certain staleness towards the end of the Klinsmann era. That’s inevitable after six years at the helm and there is usually a short-term boost when a new manager comes in. Arena’s second-coming as U.S. boss feels like he is the right man at the right time.

Looking back at Klinsmann’s reign one final time, there were major ups and downs throughout and he could never get to grips with the ever-changing American soccer landscape. Arena is an old hand at handling that. Under Klinsmann friendly wins against Italy, Germany and Holland, plus the Copa America Centenario run and reaching the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup were scattered among a Gold Cup debacle and humiliating defeats to CONCACAF rivals.

It was probably in doubt before the past week, but now it is clear U.S. Soccer pulled the plug on Klinsmann at the right time.

They could’ve done it sooner but they were all-in on Klinsmann and only inept defeats which showcased a lack of detailed preparation could be the signal for his increasingly inevitable departure. That arrived in November and U.S. Soccer acted swiftly to appoint Arena. He may too have struggled against Mexico and Costa Rica last fall, but what we we have seen across Arena’s seven unbeaten games is exactly why Sunil Gulati and Co. made the change.

The Brooklyn native is brash and bold and not everyone’s cup of tea, but my word he’s getting the job done, once again, for the U.S.

With four qualifiers to go there is still plenty of work to do but after the home game against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 and then the trip to Honduras four days later the U.S. will have a strong idea if they’re going to qualify for the 2018 World Cup automatically.

Arena’s job will be complete if that is the case and anything next summer in Russia is a bonus. That’s a good mindset to have as the USMNT looked rejuvenated and refocused under an experienced coach who is surely the best the U.S. has ever produced.

5th-place San Jose parts ways with Kinnear after 2.5 seasons

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Dominic Kinnear is out after two and a half seasons as head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, despite leading the club to a hugely improved standing 17 games into the 2017 season.

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The move comes 17 hours after San Jose put to bed a three-game winless skid with a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday, a result which propelled them into fifth place in the Western Conference, just two points off second place. After seventh- and ninth-place finishes in Kinnear’s first two seasons back in Northern California (he managed the club in 2004 and 2005 before the club was relocated to Houston, where he would remain for nine seasons, through the 2014 season), this year’s team seemed to be moving in a positive direction quicker than most had previously expected.

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The club has named Chris Leitch head coach and Alex Covelo as assistant coach. Current assistant coach Steve Ralston and goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley will remain in their current roles.

“First and foremost, we would like to thank Dominic for his hard work, professionalism and contributions to this club over the years,” Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli said in a release. “He worked hard this year and was a first-class person all the way. This decision was made after a lot of thought and evaluation. We decided that we wanted to go in a different direction as we continue to build the identity of this club.”

Kinnear is the second MLS coach to be relieved of his duties this season, suffering the same fate as RSL’s Jeff Cassar, who lasted just three games before being fired in March.

FIFA’s video-review system under scrutiny again in Russia

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OCHI, Russia (AP) FIFA’s new video review system is bringing turmoil to the Confederations Cup, with technology designed to deliver quick, clear decisions agitating players and leaving coaches and fans confused.

Perhaps even worse for FIFA, the latest controversy on Sunday – exactly one week after four goal reviews in that day’s two matches – made one of the world’s highest-rated referees look hesitant and wrong.

Wilmar Roldan sent off a Cameroon defender more than three minutes after a high tackle on a German opponent and only after his own case of mistaken identity.

The Colombian official arrived at what was arguably the correct decision following two visits to the touchline to consult video replays and first showing only a yellow card, then a red card, to the wrong Cameroon player.

“I think everyone is confused, including me,” Cameroon coach Hugo Broos said of referee Roldan after a 3-1 loss in Sochi that eliminated his team. “He and he alone can explain what happened there in that moment.”

Cameroon was also involved in two video decisions last Sunday, when possible Chile goals were reviewed for offside rulings. The first goal was disallowed, the second counted in Chile’s 2-0 victory.

Portugal had most to complain about one week ago when a potential opening goal in a 2-2 draw with Mexico was ruled out by an offside judged in an earlier phase of play.

FIFA stressed last week that all decisions proved ultimately correct, and the controversies were simply inevitable overreactions as world football gets used to a new system being put to its highest-profile tests.

Indeed, FIFA President Gianni Infantino felt confident to proclaim video review was “the future of football” and still on track to be approved by the guardians of the game’s laws before the 2018 World Cup.

Human error by Roldan seemed the biggest problem Sunday though it added to the perception that video review is capable of causing as much controversy as it solves.

FIFA has certainly pulled back from its prediction last year that game-changing decisions – goals scored, penalty kicks awarded, red cards, mistaken identity – could be reviewed and resolved in as few as six seconds.

Accuracy is more important than speed, has become the mantra in Russia.

Neither were in evidence Sunday in Sochi as Cameroon defender Ernest Mabouka eventually left the field around three minutes after his boot connected with Emre Can of Germany.

Mabouka’s teammate Sebastien Siani had sarcastically applauded the referee when he was wrongly sent from the field. Eventually Siani’s slate was wiped clean and he completed the match.

Still, the image of a top referee being openly disrespected will not please FIFA.

Roldan arrived at the Confederations Cup trying to rebuild a reputation that was damaged at the 2014 World Cup. There, he was chosen for the second game of the tournament, and incorrectly ruled out two Mexico goals. FIFA did not pick him for another refereeing duty in Brazil.

To further damage Roldan’s standing, Germany coach Joachim Loew said neither he nor Can believed the tackle merited even a yellow card.

“I didn’t have the impression that it was a mean foul with the intent to hurt the opponent. It was not intentional,” Loew said through a translator at the post-match news conference.

Loew, whose Germany team will defend its World Cup title next year, still thinks video review can benefit the game – with one condition.

“I think it can be fine-tuned over time so that decisions can be made more quickly,” the German coach said. “That would be great.”

Mario Balotelli signs new Nice contract

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Italian striker Mario Balotelli has found himself the owner of a new contract after a successful season in Ligue 1 with French club OGC Nice.

Balotelli’s one-year deal was set to expire at the end of June, but he found a career revival in what many believed would be his last chance in major European soccer. The club officially announced his new contract on Sunday, and while they did not release the length of the deal, they confirmed that Balotelli turned down deals from other clubs to stay in France.

The 26-year-old scored 15 goals in 23 league appearances last year, helping Nice to a fabulous third-place finish in Ligue 1, earning them a Champions League playoff spot.

For a player who saw trouble follow him wherever he went, the only trouble he faced last season at Nice was an erratic bout with injury issues including calf and adductor problems. However, the spells on the sidelines didn’t douse Balotelli’s form. The Italian had an incredible start and finish to the season, scoring six goals in his first five appearances of the season and bagging six goals in the last eight games of the year.

The official release by Nice said that Balotelli made “considerable financial sacrifices and chose the sporting aspect with his heart” in re-signing with the French club.

Morris, Acosta, Roldan highlight USA 23-man Gold Cup roster

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Bruce Arena has released his 23-man roster for the group stage of the 2017 Gold Cup, and it appears heavily experimental as expected, with 16 players MLS based.

The experience comes in spurts, with Brad Guzan paired with the less experienced Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid among the goalkeepers. Along the back line, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana all make their way from the World Cup qualifiers to the Gold Cup, joined by Chelsea youngster Matt Miazga and Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow.

In midfield, Kellyn Acosta gets additional international time after positive showings in the most recent World Cup qualifiers. Dax McCarty returns to the national team along with Alejandro Bedoya, while bright 22-year-old Seattle Sounders playmaker Cristian Roldan also makes the squad. In addition, New England Revolution winger Kelyn Rowe and left-sided Kenny Saief could be set for national team debuts. Saief has appeared twice for Israel but has yet to be cap-tied by playing in a competitive match for any country and recently had his one-time switch approved.

Jordan Morris leads the way along the front line, along with 24-year-old Juan Agudelo who has not played a competitive minute for the United States since the 2011 Gold Cup. Dom Dwyer also appears, with the 26-year-old striker also hoping for an international debut. Gyasi Zardes shows up as a midfielder, but provides the United States with another versatile attacker who could play up front.

The United States will take on Panama, Martinique, and Nicaragua in the group stage of the Gold Cup, and once that is complete, Bruce Arena will be able to make changes to the roster should the United States advance as expected. At that time, Arena can swap in up to six players who appeared on the initial 40-man roster, including more experienced players like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey.

Another name who could see time in the Gold Cup knockout round would be goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who does not appear on the initial 25-man roster as his one-time switch paperwork has yet to be cleared by FIFA according to a number of reports. If that happens in time, he can play for the United States. The 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper has played for the Mexico youth setup but has not been cap-tied by either country. After making the 40-man roster, Gonzalez confirmed he would play for the United States should he be called up. However, should he complete the one-time switch, Gonzalez wouldn’t need to be cap-tied, as completing the paperwork is enough to leave him no choice but to play for the United States.

Finally, Christian Pulisic does not appear on the 25-man roster as expected, after Bruce Arena admitted the Borussia Dortmund youngster was unlikely to play for the United States in the Gold Cup. Arena admitted getting rest and then meeting up with his club for preseason was more important for the 18-year-old than playing in the summer international tournament.

Players are set to report to training in Nashville today, with a warm-up match against Ghana scheduled for Saturday in Connecticut before Gold Cup play starts on July 8.

ROSTER

GKs: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid.

DEFs: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Jorge Villafaña, Graham Zusi.

MFs: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Kenny Saief, Gyasi Zardes.

FWDs: Jordan Morris, Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer.