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Bruce Arena must mix and match for USMNT qualifiers

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WHIPPANY, N.J. (AP) In addition to being the coach who thus far has turned around the U.S. team’s fortunes in World Cup qualifying, Bruce Arena needs to be a world-class chef.

For each set of two qualifying games, he summons players from all over the place. Europe, Mexico, MLS sites from coast to coast. Then Arena must make sure the stew he is preparing has just the right ingredients.

It’s not an easy chore for any national team coach and it helped lead to the undoing of Arena’s predecessor, Jurgen Klinsmann. Yet, heading into Friday night’s match with Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena, then a trip next Tuesday to Honduras, Arena has made it all taste pretty good.

“The players are familiar with each other and with the various opponents,” Arena said Monday after a light workout as 19 of the 26 roster members were on hand. “Through the week, (information) will get devoured pretty quickly.

“They’ve been together at one time or another this year, that’s a good thing about this group.”

The group includes 18 players from MLS squads, three from England, three from Germany, and two from Mexico. Many were in action with the national team in its most recent qualifiers, a 2-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago and a huge 1-1 draw at Mexico in June. Several others played for the United States in July when it won the Gold Cup, though the strongest national rosters were not involved for that entire tournament.

“There were 18 of them in the Gold Cup,” Arena noted, “and they’ve all been together in different ways over the last couple of months.”

During that span, the Americans have gone 2-0-2, both victories at home, both ties on the road. Those correspond with Arena taking over a last-place team that was 0-2 because of losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, which ultimately cost Klinsmann his job.

The Americans stand third out of six in CONCACAF qualifying with four matches remaining. Mexico leads with 14 points, Costa Rica has 11 and the United States has eight. The top three teams automatically make the field of 32 for Russia 2018. The fourth-place team gets into a playoff for another berth.

Success under Arena, who guided the team to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals before a mediocre performance and first-round elimination at the 2006 tournament led to his departure, is not being taken for granted.

Defender Tim Ream, who has been on and off the team in recent years – but who could start Friday – lauds the coach’s demeanor and style, but recognizes it means little if the guys on the field don’t come through.

“As professionals, you can’t get above yourself and think the job is done. The job is never done,” Ream said. “There are bigger things at stake than your confidence in one game. We know nothing is guaranteed and our approach as players matches as if this can be your last game.”

Ream, like many of his teammates, appreciates that few if any positions are guaranteed – although stars such as Christian Pulisic and Tim Howard aren’t likely to be benched, barring injury.

“If you know you have competition, it keeps you on your toes,” said Ream, currently with Fulham in England. “Competition is important not just at the club level but at the international level. If you know you come in and don’t have a shot (of playing), it’s demoralizing. I know, I’ve been there.

“But they’ve created an atmosphere of competition here all the time.”

NOTES: Arena is from Long Island, and when asked about playing a qualifier for the first time in New Jersey, he playfully said: “I’m from New York. We don’t accept New Jersey as part of New York.” He later expressed confidence that the stadium would provide “good support. We’re well aware there are many Costa Ricans in the New York metropolitan area. I don’t mind playing here, it’s a great venue for getting players in from Europe and from Mexico.”

Manchester United to seek out those who continue offensive Lukaku chant

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Some Manchester United supporters persisting in singing a chant glorifying Romelu Lukaku which has been deemed racist by many for its depiction of the player’s penis size.

Lukaku was among those to ask that fans stop singing the song, as did the club, but it was heard from the away end at St. Mary’s during Manchester United’s 1-0 win on Saturday (where Lukaku scored the winner).

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s gorgeous free kick ]

United responded with vigor after the match, releasing a statement claiming it would request closed circuit footage of the fans in attempts to ban those singing the song based on The Stone Roses’ “Made of Stone.”

WATCH: Coutinho spins gorgeous free kick past Schmeichel

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Minutes after setting up Mohamed Salah for a back door header for a 1-0 lead at Leicestwer City, Liverpool wizard Philippe Coutinho tacked on a goal of his own.

WATCH LEICESTER-LIVERPOOL ONLINE, HERE

Coutinho scored a beauty in the 23rd minute, as the Brazilian lorded over a free kick before spinning a goal just off the top of the wall and past a flying Kasper Schmeichel.

It looked like it was headed for the upper 90 even had it not taking its tiny deviation. The kick was a masterful effort from Coutinho.

Everton’s comeback win puts Koeman “in a totally different world”

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A quiz for you. Oumar Niasse‘s two goals:

  • A) Saved Ronald Koeman‘s job
  • B) Led Everton’s come back win
  • C) All of the above

Koeman admitted “there were a lot of emotions” in Everton’s 2-1 home win over Bournemouth on Saturday, as the Toffees got off the mat to post their first Premier League win since Aug. 12.

[ RECAP: Everton 2-1 Bournemouth ]

After a summer of spending, the Toffees were expected to compete for another berth in a European competition. Instead, a murderer’s row of early fixtures had Everton very low on the PL table.

Was Koeman able to stay calm as his team struggled at home against Bottom Three side Bournemouth?

“Calm after the game, yes. There were a lot of emotions. It was a difficult game, we did not create many chances and we took the right decision after 1-0 down to try something different – play two strikers and go more direct.

“It is a totally different world after winning. You have key moments during the season and this was a big win that will give everyone a boost.”

Apollon Limassol is next for the Toffees, followed by matches against Burnley and Brighton.

Jose Mourinho responds to sending off, Man United win

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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho saw his side battle to a 1-0 win away at Southampton on Saturday as they kept their unbeaten start to the Premier League season going.

Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal of the game after 20 minutes and although Saints had the better of the play in the second half, United’s defense held firm.

Towards the end of the game Mourinho was sent to the stands by referee Craig Pawson for encroachment as he stepped onto the pitch during the action.

What happened?

“I don’t know, you have to ask the referee,” Mourinho said.

He then wasted more time by shaking the hands of every member of Southampton’s coaching staff before he briefly went into the stands before the final whistle was blown.

It remains to be seen if he will face a touchline ban or fine for his actions but speaking to Sky Sports, Mourinho focused on the performance of his team.

“It is not always possible to operate at high quality but fought hard. We did what many teams in the Premier League do for 90 minutes, which was play with five defenders at the back. Credit to Southampton, they tried to play. Pellegrino changed the team and sent on another striker to play more direct.

“It was a hard game but I am really happy. Romelu Lukaku’s work is so important for us. He scored his goal and worked hard like everybody else. Nobody feels the pressure to play always attacking football because so many teams play always defensively. I felt some of the boys were not sharp. I didn’t feel like we could score three or four goals like we sometimes do so the option was to make sure we got the points.”