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USA vs. Ghana preview: Gold Cup tune-up

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Saturday at 5:00 p.m. ET in East Hartford, CT the US Men’s National Team will get its final chance to mesh ahead of the 2017 Gold Cup as they take on Ghana in a pre-tournament friendly.

The United States features a young and inexperienced squad for at least the tournament’s group stage, devoid of many national team staples like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and even Christian Pulisic. Thus, this match against Ghana will be an important step for the team to not just experiment but play together as they look towards the competitive games.

Ghana and the US have an intense rivalry – if you can call it that with just five matches between them in recent history. Nevertheless, three of those five games have been of significant importance, and that has stoked the fire between the two nations.

Particularly painful for the current United States manager is the loss to Ghana in the 2006 World Cup that sealed Bruce Arena’s fate in his first stint as national team coach. Again, the US was eliminated by the African nation in the 2010 World Cup, an extra-time defeat in the knockout round, with Asamoah Gyan’s 93rd-minute winner breaking the US’s hearts.

In the 2014 World Cup, the US got revenge, beating Ghana 2-1 in the opening group stage match to help Jurgen Klinsmann escape the Group of death. It was the only victory for the United States in the competition. That defeat for Ghana saw the end of Kwesi Appiah‘s managerial tenure, but he’s back for a second go and will take charge on Saturday.

Now, after years of World Cup battles, Ghana may be able to help their CONCACAF opponents in their first-ever friendly matchup. With Arena hoping to work in a number of fringe players alongside youthful counterparts looking to break into a more prominent role, Ghana’s presence could be of long-term benefit to the US instead of a thorn in the side.

At Arena’s disposal are both well-known players looking to reignite their national team flame, and lesser-known fringe options hoping to boost their stock. The most significant of the former include Matt Miazga who can help make a push towards his high ceiling, and Juan Agudelo who is looking to play his first competitive minutes since 2011 in what to this point has been a career underperformance. Jordan Morris could use a bright tournament as well, having fallen down the striker pecking order thanks in large part to the emergence of Bobby Wood.

Highlighting those looking to become household names is Cristian Roldan, the promising young Seattle Sounders midfielder who could potentially pair with Kellyn Acosta for years to come. Alongside him is Dom Dwyer who has waited a lifetime for his chance on the national team, and now gets that with the tournament calling his name. Finally, defender Matt Hedges has another shot after a knee injury in January camp derailed his first shot at seeing USMNT time.

The Gold Cup will provide all these men and more with the opportunity to push for a spot on the first-team roster with the World Cup just around the corner, but first the tuneup against Ghana will be a litmus test for what is to come in the next month. Look for Anderlecht winger Frank Acheampong to lead the creative attack, most notably on the counter, and Gyan is still a leader for his nation up front.

WATCH: Camila’s wicked swerving goal for Brazil

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The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.

While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.

[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]

The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.

The aesthetics are terrific.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.