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USMNT World Cup qualifying roster raises eyebrows

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The United States men’s national team won the Gold Cup with a B- or even high-C team, so this is not the end of the world, but Bruce Arena’s latest round of World Cup call-ups should set off alarm bells for those hoping for the Yanks’ best team this summer in Russia.

While perhaps it’s time to stop assuming the Americans will rise to their level in this month’s World Cup qualifiers, we’ll continue to choose the realistic-if-optimistic take that a side with Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, and Michael Bradley should defy CONCACAF opposition almost regardless of their roster mates. And most of the questionable inclusions are unlikely to see more than a few minutes on the pitch.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios for USMNT ] 

Saying that, in some ways it feels like Arena is trolling American soccer with his call-ups, perhaps knowing that the expected success regardless of his roster can make a false statement about the player pool. And there’s a snarky part of me wondering if releasing this roster on Sunday morning instead of during halftime of a nationally-televised MLS match is more than a simple coincidence.

The U.S. has two of its easiest qualifiers left on the docket, with Panama arriving on Oct. 6 and a trip to essentially-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, so Arena can do what he wants despite the desperation.

Arena is a bit shorthanded due to injuries, with star center back John Brooks and sub striker Jordan Morris out. Altidore and Cameron are just returning from injuries, too, but started for their clubs this weekend.

So who’s healthy and gone from last month’s disappointing showing? Johnson and Eric Lichaj.

Who’s in? Michael Orozco, Benny Feilhaber, Juan Agudelo, and Gyasi Zardes.

Who’s been overlooked? Now we move into opinion, but Vitesse center back Matt Miazga, Toronto FC left back Justin Morrow, Seattle’s Cristian Roldan, New England’s Lee Nguyen, and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie all have legit reasons to raise a hand and proffer a, “Uhhhh, coach?”

You might then say, “Woah, Nick, that’s not completely in line with Bruce Arena’s recent expectations that he was going to avoid bringing in new faces and ride with the horses that got him to this point.”

Right, depending on how you read Arena’s comments, but so is the coach.

  • Orozco, the 31-year-old Club Tijuana back, is uncapped under Arena and not currently starting for the Mexican club.
  • Agudelo has one goal since returning from the Gold Cup, and has never played in a meaningful away match for the USMNT.
  • Feilhaber has four caps since the start of 2013.

Zardes had been a long-time part of the side until a post-Copa America Centenario injury, returning to the fold for the Ghana friendly and Gold Cup, so it’s less of a stretch philosophy wise even if he’s being trotted out at right back for the LA Galaxy by Sigi Schmid.

I guess I just don’t get it, even acknowledging that Arena’s forgotten more soccer in his life than I’ve watched in mine.

Even noting his struggles last month, dropping Johnson reeks of the full-blooded American critiques which have always tasted wrong. And the call-up of Orozco is baffling and has the faint scent of expert Jurgen Klinsmann trolling (not that any manager would be so petty in such a big spot). To say something audacious and improbable, I’d keep Morrow over Orozco based only on his Saturday night hat trick alone.

Again, it’s not that this roster dooms the Yanks in its next two matches, or that the same roster couldn’t defeat Syria or Australia if needed in November.

But it’s a troubling idea that Arena, making huge decisions for American soccer, is neglecting one of the generation’s most accomplished players in Johnson and reaching into the MLS bin for players he hasn’t previously used in meaningful matches. It’s the sort of head-scratcher that worries you about summer in Russia, assuming they get there.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.