Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Protect Pulisic, please! Yanks bemoan fouls, lack of cards

Leave a comment

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) After watching Christian Pulisic repeatedly get hacked down and then removed early for his safety during the United States’ crucial 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Panama, American former goalkeeper Kasey Keller predicted top European clubs may refuse to release players to national teams unless referees in CONCACAF better protect stars.

[ MORE: USMNT routs Panama to boost WC dreams in a big way ]

“We’re not going to let you play in these kind of games with referees and federations that are going to let you get hit like this, because we’re not going to put that investment in a player that then we’re going to lose for stretches,” the ESPN analyst envisioned them saying. “It would be a huge loss, not only for the U.S., but for everybody.”

Pulisic, the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder from Hershey, Pennsylvania, has emerged as the top American player. He helped the U.S. move into position to qualify for its eighth straight World Cup on Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago. Pulisic made his national team debut in March 2016 and already has eight goals in 19 international appearances, including six in World Cup qualifying.

He scored the go-ahead goal in the eighth minute on Friday, then crossed to Jozy Altidore for the goal that doubled the lead in the 19th. Pulisic was kicked in the back of the left calf by Michael Murillo in the 48th minute, earning the defender a yellow card. Down for a minute and needing treatment from head athletic trainer Jim Hashimoto, Pulisic limped when he re-entered the match after a 2-plus-minute absence.

Pulisic was upended by Anibal Godoy’s slide tackle from behind into his right leg in the 51st. Ahead by three goals, U.S. coach Bruce Arena replaced Pulisic with Dax McCarty in the 57th.

“He’s been getting beat up in these games in CONCACAF, and that’s the way it is. It doesn’t look like anything is going to change,” Arena said. “He took a few shots and we thought it was smart to get him off the field.”

[ MORE: Player ratingsThree things we learned ]

Former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox commentator, said violent play in qualifiers would dwindle if video assistant referees were used. Some leagues have adopted the technology this year.

“If that had happened in an MLS game or I guess now in a Bundesliga game or a Serie A game, there would be guys who would have been gone earlier,” Lalas said. “If he’s not to a certain extent protected, as all players should be, then it’s just a matter of time before somebody gets him when he’s not prepared or not looking.”

Pulisic was given a standing ovation by the crowd as he walked off and greeted by Arena with a handshake and an endearing arm around the shoulder. He doesn’t face those type of tackles with that frequency in Germany. He was fouled repeatedly during the March qualifier in Panama City.

“Panama is a physical team, so it’s always tough playing against them,” Pulisic said. “Yeah, got kicked a few times tonight, but I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”

Pulisic has been dubbed “Wonder Boy” by Lalas and current American goalkeeper Tim Howard. Opposing defenses in qualifiers this year have focused on disrupting him.

“He knows it’s coming,” right back DeAndre Yedlin said. “Teams are going to target him, and he’s experienced enough to know that he needs to protect himself, and what sort of tackles to go into and what not. And as you can see, it didn’t faze him. He had a goal and an assist and was a great player for our team.”

Arena faults FIFA’s regulations in which a player earns a one-game suspension for two yellow cards at any point in qualifying, which stretches 16 games over nearly two years for teams in the final round in the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

“It’s the stupidest. I don’t understand it. I’m just happy I haven’t been around this stuff for a lot of years. I’d lose my mind,” said Arena, who returned as U.S. coach in November after a decade at the club level. “The referees aren’t giving out yellow cards, too, because they realize that players will be suspended the next game, so we never know what kind of mentality the referee is going to be.”

Bolt to train with Borussia Dortmund on Friday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) Sprint star Usain Bolt is set to train with German soccer team Borussia Dortmund on Friday.

The Bundesliga club says the eight-time Olympic champion, whose last race before retirement was at the 2017 world championships, will “participate in an open training session” with coach Peter Stoeger’s side.

Bolt posted a picture of himself in a Dortmund shirt on Twitter, saying, “BVB, get ready for Friday.”

Dortmund, which shares a sponsor with Bolt in sportswear giant Puma, had long said that the 31-year-old could train with the team at some stage.

Dortmund’s next game after the international break is at Bayern Munich on March 31. Bayern can secure the league title then if other results go its way.

Can says he wants to play for “very big club” next year

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Liverpool swing man Emre Can – whose contract expires this summer – has not yet found a club to sign with yet, and the future free agent is playing up his own talents while looking for a new home.

“I have the self-confidence to say that my qualities are sufficient to play in a very big club next season,” Can told German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung. “I’m doing great in England. The Spanish league is also attractive. The same applies to Germany, where tactics are concerned, and the Italian club football, which has recently caught up.”

“Incidentally, the same applies to France, this league has now established itself as one of the best in Europe. Therefore, I do not want to exclude anything.”

However, Can also said that the Premier League’s spending power plays a major role, and singled out the German top flight – his home country – for its inability to pay top players.

“Sure, the Bundesliga would interest me, why not? Although I must say honestly that the level has waned in recent years,” he said. “The Premier League has the power to spend more money on players than the Bundesliga. This is very, very important for players.”

Despite those comments, the 24-year-old insists that money is not the ultimate deciding factor in where he will play.

“What counts for me is that I’m an integral part of the team and at a club with a chance of winning the title,” he added. “That’s what every footballer dreams of because that’s the reward of your hard work.”

Can has not ruled out a return to Liverpool, a club that he says “still feels like family.”

Wales boss Giggs claims he wont give in to commercial pressure to play Bale

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wales is among the field of the China Cup, an international tournament in Guangxi, China, to play a pair of international friendlies this week.

New manager Ryan Giggs admitted there is outside pressure to play Gareth Bale in the event at some point, but admitted he will not put the Real Madrid star at risk just to appease sponsors. In fact, the only pressure he’s feeling is from himself.

“Any risks, stupid risks, I won’t be taking,” Giggs said. “But it’s also my first game and I want to get my best team out there.”

Wales missed out on the 2018 World Cup, and there’s little to gain from having Bale out on the field the entire time. Wales will play China in the semifinals on Thursday, and then meets the winner of Uruguay and Czech Republic next week.

According to reports, Wales would lose nearly $150,000 of its $1.5 million participation fee if Bale did not play.

“I’ve not spoken to [Real Madrid manager Zinedine] Zidane, but I’ve spoken to Gareth,” Giggs said. “I’ve been in contact with him regularly in the last few months and I’m not stupid because it’s an important part of the season.”

Bale has been smothered by injuries – mostly calf problems – during his Real Madrid career, missing a stretch of over two months through October and November with hamstring issues. He has been fit since, but Zidane rarely risks Bale for the full 90 minutes. In fact, Bale’s only three full 90’s of the 2018 calendar year have all come in the last three weeks.

The 28-year-old has three goals in his last five La Liga games, including one off the bench in a 6-3 win over Girona last weekend.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine