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USMNT-Costa Rica preview

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The CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table is tight, and will have many U.S. Soccer supporters feeling nervy ahead of Friday’s home tilt against Costa Rica in New Jersey.

With John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin out with injury, the anxiety is a bit higher. And memories of a 4-0 shellacking in Costa Rica that cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job won’t help things, either.

That said… everybody exhale.

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As noted in Wedneday’s Four Keys post, the Yanks of this generation don’t lose meaningful home games to Costa Rica, and Los Ticos have not been impressive in World Cup qualifying aside from that beatdown last November.

In fact, Costa Rica has struggled to perform on away days this year, especially when considering the opposition:

July 22 – at USA – L 0-2
March 28 – at Honduras – D 1-1
March 24 – at Mexico – L 0-2
Jan. 22 – at Panama – L 0-1

Los Ticos like to work the right of the field, putting pressure on the left side of the opposition. That means another big test for Jorge Villafana (probably), as well as left midfielder Fabian Johnson and whoever Bruce Arena slots into left center back.

Six points from these next two matches, Friday and then Tuesday in Honduras, essentially assures the Yanks a berth in Russia (It would take a home loss to Panama and a road loss to Trinidad and Tobago in October plus other results going against them to defy that assertion).

Best case scenario

In fact, the U.S. has a potential major ally in rivals Mexico. Should the Yanks win both their matches and El Tri do the same — Mexico plays Panama and Costa Rica — the table will look something like this come Tuesday. The Yanks would then want T&T to draw visiting Honduras (possible) and beat Panama in Panama (unlikely).

Mexico — 20 points
USMNT — 14 points
Costa Rica — 11 points
Panama — 7 points
T&T — 7 points
Honduras — 6 points

In this scenario, the spot in Russia is clinched and we’re watching Weston McKinnie and Christian Ramirez in October.

Worst case scenario

What does the unlikelihood of two USMNT losses do to their chances? Obviously, it’s not good, and Mexico could become the Yanks’ biggest enemy. In this scenario, Costa Rica wins both their USMNT and Mexico tests, while Mexico draws Panama. Los Canaleros, in turn, smash Trinidad and Tobago in Panama City on Tuesday, with T&T also losing to Honduras, and the table looks like this:

Costa Rica — 17 points
Mexico — 15 points
Panama — 11 points
Honduras — 11 points
USMNT — 8 points
T&T — 3 points

Again… that’s not happening but these are the facts. Even then, the Yanks would control their own fourth place/playoff destiny (at least) with a home match against Panama in October before closing out the Hex at likely last place T&T.

Full schedule

USMNT vs. Costa Rica — 6:55 p.m. ET
T&T vs. Honduras — 8 p.m. ET
Mexico vs. Panama — 9:30 p.m. ET

Honduras vs. USMNT — 5:36 p.m. ET
Costa Rica vs. Mexico — 10:05 p.m. ET
Panama vs. T&T — 10:05 p.m. ET

Ailing LA Galaxy could miss as many as 10 players this weekend

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We’re less than a month into the new Major League Soccer season, and one club is already left scrambling to find players for its next match.

[ MORE: A deeper look at the USMNT roster ]

Between injuries, international call ups and a suspension, the LA Galaxy could be without as many as 10 players this weekend.

Ola Kamara, Romain Alessandrini and Giovani dos Santos are among the notable names likely to be absent for Saturday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, but seven more players could be left unavailable for Sigi Schmid’s squad.

Kamara was the latest player to be named to his respective national team, with the striker being called up to Norway on Monday.

Meanwhile, both Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos have earned call ups to Mexico, and Emrah Klimenta has been selected by Montenegro for its next friendlies against Cyprus and Turkey.

Both Dos Santos brothers are battling injuries of their own, so they may not feature for El Tri, but that won’t necessarily help the Galaxy either as they are kept sidelined.

Of the ten players possibly missing the Whitecaps match, five of them (Michael Ciani, Cole, Gio dos Santos, J. dos Santos and Kamara) started in the Galaxy’s last game — a 2-1 loss to New York City FC.

Report: Chelsea, Real Madrid could make sensational swap

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Real Madrid’s interest in a certain Chelsea star has been well-noted for some time, and with the World Cup nearing this summer, Los Blancos may finally be able to get their man.

[ MORE: Brazil to play Austria in final World Cup tune-up ]

Eden Hazard has long been a Madrid target, and with the Belgium international seemingly more and more interested by a move away from Stamford Bridge, the veteran attacker could see himself join Real after the World Cup in Russia.

According to Spanish outlet Diario Gol, Real could secure a move for Hazard this summer, while sending young attacker Marco Asensio to Chelsea.

While hypothetical at this point, the move makes sense for both clubs, particularly from a Blues perspective as they look for young attacking players.

The 22-year-old Asensio has been seeking regular minutes at Madrid, and with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale regularly included in the starting squad, that has been nearly impossible for the Spanish international.

Meanwhile, Real would be gaining another incredibly talented attacking piece to go along with Ronaldo and Bale, although the latter has been linked with a move away from the Santiago Bernabeu for some time.

Real has also been strongly linked with a move for Paris Saint-Germain winger Neymar, who has spent less than a season in France.

It’s a ways away from happening, but a front three of Hazard, Ronaldo and Neymar would certainly make El Clasico even more intriguing than usual, with Real facing off against a Barcelona squad that currently boasts Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho.

Andrija Novakovich: “It’s a good feeling” to earn USMNT call up

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As the U.S. Men’s National Team continues its transition towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, a new face has emerged for the Stars and Stripes ahead of its upcoming friendly against Paraguay.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Kekuta Manneh to roster ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

Striker Andrija Novakovich earned his first call up on Sunday when U.S. manager Dave Sarachan named the Telstar player in his squad, which will play the South American side on March 27 in Cary, North Carolina.

The 21-year-old forward has been nothing short of brilliant in his first season with the Dutch second-division club, scoring 18 league goals for Telstar — who sit fourth in the Eerste Divisie.

“It’s a good feeling to get the call-up and hopefully it will be a very good experience,” Novakovich said. “They [the U.S. national team] sent the club and myself an email saying that I was on the preliminary roster and we were just waiting, and then this week I got another email saying I was on the final roster.

“I called my Mum right away and she’s proud, she’s happy.

“I’m just there for the experience — of course I want to play, of course I want to get the opportunity and hopefully that will happen, It’s an honour to be called up and I’m very proud and very happy.”

Novakovich, a Wisconsin native, is currently on loan at Telstar from English Championship side Reading.

The young USMNT player moved to England back in 2014 to join Reading’s academy, despite originally planning on playing for Marquette University following high school.

Despite this being his first senior-team call up, Novakovich is familiar with the U.S. national team setup. Novakovich has previously represented the Under-17, U-18 and U-20 national teams.

Lionel Messi suggests 2018 will be his final World Cup

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Lionel Messi’s track record as a professional has encompassed just about every imaginable accolade, but one that has eluded he and his Argentina national teammates is winning the World Cup.

[ MORE: Kekuta Manneh added to USMNT squad ahead of Paraguay friendly ]

The Barcelona star has played a significant role for the Albiceleste since debuting for Argentina back in 2005, and even helped guide the South American power to the 2014 World Cup final, however, harsh criticism from local media could push Messi and many of his teammates towards not returning to the national team.

This wouldn’t be the first time Messi has contemplated international retirement, though.

Following the 2016 Copa America Centenario final — which resulted in a Chilean victory over Messi’s Argentina — the Blaugrana attacker announced his retirement from the Albiceleste. While he has since returned to the international scene, it appears Messi is once again considering a halt from representing Argentina.

“It’s just the feeling that this group of players has. It seems that having reached three straight finals didn’t mean anything,” Messi told La Cornisa TV. “Obviously, we depend on results and unfortunately, we reached three finals and we didn’t win them.

“A lot was said about us. The criticisms hurt back then. But the demand is going to be there for this group to get it done. We think that if we don’t do it, we are going to get a lot more [criticism] and we are not going to have another possibility.”

Argentina has fallen in three consecutive major finals dating back to 2014, including two Copa America competitions and the World Cup.

Messi says these shortcomings have weighed heavily on him, and that winning a World Cup is still the one goal that has left him hungry.

“I’ve cried many times for lost finals,” the Barca forward said. “I cried for not being able to fulfill the dream of our nation. My desire is the same as every Argentine, which is to lift the World Cup.”

He continued: “To win a World Cup is not easy. It doesn’t happen often. The last time we did things well but due to minor details we didn’t get it done. We are very enthusiastic and eager to lift the cup for our country. I hope God helps us and it happens.”

Messi has scored 61 international goals in his international career for Argentina, the most of any player from his native country.