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Geoff Cameron’s bizarre USMNT omission explained

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Many of you will still be scratching your heads as to why a fully-fit Geoff Cameron flew over 4,000 miles to be an unused sub for the U.S. national team over the past week.

Here are some answers.

Despite playing a full 90 minutes for Stoke City against Southampton before the international break, U.S.defender Cameron did not play a single second for the USMNT as they crashed out of the 2018 World Cup.

Why?

Pro Soccer Talk understands that Cameron, 32, held talks with Bruce Arena at the start of the international break where he was told he was not fit enough to play and Omar Gonzalez would be playing ahead of him. End of discussion.

[ MORE: Was is impact of USA missing the World Cup? ] 

Cameron was, understandably, frustrated with the decision after working his way back to full fitness (after two weeks out with a hamstring injury he suffered against Manchester United in mid-September) and proving his sharpness for Stoke in the Premier League.

Asked for a comment by Pro Soccer Talk, Cameron didn’t want to get too involved in the debate over why he wasn’t used by Arena: “This is not the time for me to get involved in this discussion. It is for someone else to explain why.”

No other center back in the current U.S. squad had more caps than Cameron heading into the last international break and his experience could have made a huge difference.

Shown on TV sitting off to the side of the U.S. bench next to drinks cooler at the archaic Ato Boldon Stadium as the USA’s World Cup hopes faded late on against Trinidad and Tobago, Cameron’s blank expression said it all. He was resigned to watching on in the USMNT’s moment of need.

The former Houston Dynamo star is said to have accepted the decision but it remains a bizarre one. Particularly when analyzed after the fact that Gonzalez scored a horrendous own goal in the defeat at T&T, plus the U.S. defense was generally shaky in both of their final two CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

Arena could have brought in Cameron in place of Gonzalez (who played for Arena at the LA Galaxy in their 2011, 2012 and 2014 MLS Cup winning teams) or even gone with three at the back at T&T in the Hex finale where a point would have been enough to take them through to the World Cup.

Pro Soccer Talk understands the squad has since questioned the tactics from the manager to go gung-ho with the same starting lineup just four days after beating Panama in a draining must-win situation in Orlando. Playing a diamond in midfield and not giving Michael Bradley extra help to protect a shaky back four is also said to have particularly frustrated several members of the USMNT.

When it comes to Cameron’s omission, this is all rather confusing.

Before the international break had even started, and Cameron had even got back on the pitch for Stoke City, Arena confirmed the center back would be in his squad for the crucial games no matter what.

Arena then made a point of calling out his two center backs against T&T, Gonzalez and Matt Besler, in his most specific criticism of the team shortly after their shocking defeat.

“Our center backs were not confident enough with the ball, and often in the first half we were really playing eight against 10 because we needed to carry the ball and bring a player to the ball and move it a little bit quicker,” Arena said.

Cameron is, no doubt, the USA’s best ball-playing defender. Composure on the ball is what he is know for.

So much so that he often excels in central midfield for Stoke City and did so markedly at the end of last season where he won several Man of the Match awards against Chelsea and Liverpool in home games for the Potters. Of outfield USMNT players, only Clint Dempsey has played in more Premier League games all-time than Cameron and he signed a new deal with Stoke last May as he’s now in his sixth-season with the club and hugely valued by Mark Hughes and the Potters’ fans.

There is no doubt Cameron has had some tough times for the U.S. with his display alongside Tim Ream in the USA’s defeat to Costa Rica in September heavily criticized, even if his own mistake came late in the game with the match already lost, but he did come off the bench and played a big part in the U.S. grabbing a point at Honduras a few days later to prove that the Costa Rica performance was just a blip.

He has also put in sublime defensive performances for the U.S. in recent years with one of the best-ever displays from a U.S. player at the Estadio Azteca back in the summer as he held the USMNT’s defense together as they clinched a point at Mexico in a World Cup qualifier. Not to mention his display, and goal, in the 2015 CONCACAF Cup for a spot at the Confederations Cup and his rock-solid partnership with John Brooks in the USA’s run to the 2016 Copa America Centernario semifinals.

All of this adds up to why serious questions should be asked about Arena not starting one of his key players in the USA’s biggest two games of the past three years.

Will Cameron suit up for the USMNT again?

It remains to be seen what lies in store for him and many other U.S. national team veterans such as Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard but the road appears to be coming to an end for most. A friendly game on home soil could perhaps be scheduled next month during the November international break for them to say farewell as they retire from international duty.

As we continue to dissect the decisions on the pitch which cost the U.S. a World Cup spot for the first time since 1986, Arena’s bizarre decision to omit Cameron will be seen as one of the key reasons they didn’t make it to Russia 2018.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly.

Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United. “Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?”

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.