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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.

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.