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Portugal-USMNT preview: Turning the page

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On the ride to school this morning, I casually mentioned to my second grader, “U.S. versus Portugal tomorrow.”

To which he replied, “But I though we didn’t make the World Cup.”

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Judging by the vitriol attached to nearly every USMNT post on nearly every soccer web site, much of American soccer would prefer a lack of matches for some time, too, and we’re looking beyond the 7-year-old set.

It feels likely that’s one of the reasons the U.S. didn’t arrange for a second friendly for this window after a reported date Wales fell through. Sure, there’s probably a team that would come to the U.S. for a match, but the Yanks would already be in Portugal and the USSF probably doesn’t want to put its players in front of its stung fans any time soon.

So the Yanks will turn the page on a wasted World Cup cycle, on the road (Though, to quote Bob Seger, they will still feel the eyes upon them as you’re shaking off the cold. They’ll pretend it doesn’t bother them, but they’ll just want to explo-o-ode).

That’s especially decent of them considering this crew doesn’t have much to do with the miserable effort last month, when the inconsistent Yanks followed up a home win over Panama by essentially throwing up on the pitch in Trinidad and Tobago (Next time: Game plan earlier, write open letter guarantees later).

Portugal hasn’t lost since March, a run of 12 matches with just two draws. Fernando Santos’ men have kept four-straight clean sheets, but this won’t be the same bunch of players. Portugal is leaving much of its A-Team behind for a different reason than the U.S., as they want to see who could slip into the First Team for this summer’s World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Cedric Soares, William Carvalho, Nani, Andre Gomes, and Jose Fonte will not be in attendance, joining American regulars Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley at home.

That said, you’ll see some real problems on the flanks. Barcelona fireball Nelson Semedo is there, as is Man City attacker Bernardo Silva. Milan’s Andre Silva, he of the 11 goals in 18 caps, will likely feature, and Valencia’s Goncalo Guedes is also an option.

[ MORE: Players with most to gain versus Portugal ]

Good news! John Brooks is back! The towering 24-year-old Wolfsburg defender was one of those players who could’ve made a huge difference for Bruce Arena last month (the other, Geoff Cameron, was healthy). Brooks will likely pair with Matt Miazga or Tim Ream at the heart of the U.S. defense, with an outside shot that Spurs loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers of Sheffield United could see time.

A good test, to be sure, and DeAndre Yedlin will at least keep Portugal’s left side honest. Yet we really can’t be sure how interim manager Dave Sarachan will line ’em up. This is one of his few chances to run the American national team, something done by just 35 other men in history.

For what it’s worth, two managers have unbeaten marks in U.S. history. John Kowalski went 1W-1D in 1991, and Thomas Cahill did the same in 1916. So Sarachan can join pretty rare and wild company.

It’s going to be a heck of a test for the Yanks on Tuesday.

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

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With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

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“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

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Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

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Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

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On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

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Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.