World Cup qualifying

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Groin injury costs Arsenal’s Welbeck at least three weeks

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When Danny Welbeck landed awkwardly against Chelsea, many Arsenal fans feared another long absence from the English striker.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be too bad.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]

The 26-year-old forward is set for at least three weeks out with a groin injury. Arsene Wenger says his status will be reassessed after the international break ends in mid-October, which doesn’t bode well for his England availability either.

Welbeck had started all five Premier League matches for the Gunners, scoring on Opening Day against Leicester City and posting a two-goal, one-assist day versus Bournemouth.

The Gunners sit 12th with seven points after five match days.

Higuain left out again as Sampaoli looks to save Argentina

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Argentina faces a pair of make-or-break qualifiers as CONMEBOL wraps up its World Cup qualifying in the upcoming international break. Once again, Gonzalo Higuain will be watching from his couch.

Head coach Jorge Sampaoli has left the Juventus striker off the roster yet again as he looks to keep Argentina afloat in matches against Peru and Ecuador. Higuain has two goals in three matches for Juventus to start the Serie A season, but he has found it hard to make the national team in recent times, appearing in just three of Argentina’s last eight matches. He has not scored for the country since October of 2016. Despite that, his scoring record for Argentina remains high-quality, owning a lifetime record of 31 goals in 69 appearances.

[ MORE: Brazil releases roster ]

In Higuain’s place, the Argentine boss did bring in 24-year-old Inter striker Mauro Icardi who has five goals in Inter’s first three Serie A games this season.

Sampaoli also kept PSG midfielder Javier Pastore off despite selecting the 28-year-old last international break and using him off the bench in both matches. Pastore has two goals in four matches for PSG so far this season, but no assists.

Argentina sits in fifth position – only a playoff spot – and is just one measly point from falling out of qualification altogether. That team on their heels is Chile, with Peru in a surprising fourth place, above Argentina only on goals scored, with the two countries level on points and goal difference.

The biggest issue for Argentina has been its attack, with just 16 goals in 16 qualifying games. They’ve scored just a single goal in their last three matches, drawing blanks against Uruguay and Bolivia.

FULL ROSTER

GK: Sergio Romero (Manchester United), Nahuel Guzman (Tigres), Agustin Marchesin (America).

DEF: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Federico Fazio (Roma), Nicolas Otamendi (Manchester City), Gabriel Mercado (Sevilla), Emanuel Mammana (Zenit), German Pezzella (Fiorentina).

MF: Ever Banega (Sevilla), Lucas Biglia (AC Milan), Leandro Paredes (Zenit), Angel Di Maria (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcos Acuna (Sporting Lisbon), Eduardo Salvio (Benfica), Emiliano Rigoni (Zenit), Alejandro Gomez (Atalanta).

FWD: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Paulo Dybala (Juventus), Mauro Icardi (Inter Milan), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City).

Poor qualification means Austria coach Koller is out

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The Austrian federation will not renew the contract of national team coach Marcel Koller, it announced on Friday.

Austria, while mathematically still alive, will almost certainly fail to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. They have won just one of their last six World Cup qualification matches, a 2-0 win against Group D basement-dwellers Moldova. They harshly fell to Serbia, Wales, and Republic of Ireland all by a single goal. The backbreaking result for Koller was a 1-1 draw against lowly Georgia coming 10 days prior to the announcement.

The 56-year-old Swiss will coach the final two games of World Cup qualifying the upcoming international break before the expiry of his contract. He had been in charge since 2011, owning a six-year period of stability with the country not seen since Herbert Prohaska also led the country for six years in the 90’s.

“Koller has to be thanked for his great work but the sober reality is that we won four of our last 18 games. In the end only the results count,” federation president Leo Windtner said after the meeting to determine Koller’s future.

Despite the team’s struggles, the decision was not unanimous. “A majority of the board has decided that the contract will be fulfilled but not extended,” Windtner said, insinuating that it was not a unanimous decision.

Austria has already been eliminated from contention for an automatic qualification place, sitting nine points back of Group D leaders Serbia. In order to secure a second place finish in the group and earn a playoff spot, they would need to win both home vs. Serbia and on the road against Moldova, plus get outside help with Wales losing their final two matches – including one against Georgia – and the Republic of Ireland earn a maximum of one point from its final two games.

Who’s in form and healthy three weeks out from huge USMNT games?

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We’re a little over three weeks away from the United States’ most important World Cup qualifying games in some time.

Consider the matches versus Panama and away to Trinidad and Tobago on our minds, so expect more than a few posts as we build up to the Oct. 6 and 10 matches.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic post-UCL loss ]

In the meantime, injuries continue to pile up. Starting center back John Brooks had already been injured, and backup striker Jordan Morris is also out. Geoff Cameron may be healing quicker than expected, which is good news.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena has maintained that he wants to use players who’ve been a part of the team in qualifying and the Gold Cup, and he’s the sort of defiant character who is likely to stick with that philosophy.

But his center backs, aside from Matt Besler, really let him down in the Yanks’ one-point international break, and Morris’ injury opens the door to someone to join Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood in the strike corps (Chris Wondolowski was also called up earlier this month).

Let’s humor ourselves in spite of Arena’s stated plans, and take a look at Americans in form or back to health, here and abroad:

  • Right-sided man DeAndre Yedlin is back from his hamstring injury and made the 18 for Newcastle last week.
  • Matt Miazga has returned to Vitesse’s Starting XI, and led the back line to its first clean sheet of the season on Saturday.
  • Timmy Chandler has played every minute for Eintracht Frankfurt at right midfield/wingback during the club’s 1-1-1 start to the Bundesliga season, and scored in Cup play.
  • Lee Nguyen is back for New England, and WhoScored rates him as one of only two Americans in MLS’ Top Ten players this season. He has nine goals and eight assists.
  • The leading American scorers in MLS this season? It’s a tie between obviously call-up Altidore and inconsistent but powerful CJ Sapong with 13 a piece. Next is Wondolowski, Dempsey, and Christian Ramirez with 11 each.
  • Not angling for a call-up with this one, but while we’re here spare some positive thoughts for Julian Green. The 22-year-old World Cup goal scorer finally got a start for 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Furth, who broke a four-match losing streak with a 1-1 draw. Green went 90 minutes at left mid.
  • Terrence Boyd has subbed into every 2.Bundesliga match for Darmstadt, nabbing one assist. Lynden Gooch has also been a regular sub in Sunderland’s midfield.

So what’s an early guess at the 23 men Arena will call up next month? Again, this isn’t our 23, just an “Arena’s mind” prediction.

Goalkeepers

Unless Arena has a sudden change of heart and opts for Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath and DC United’s Bill Hamid (or LA Galaxy man Brian Rowe because, well, LA Galaxy), it’ll be the same trio: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando.

Defenders

Nothing’s certain after Geoff Cameron, though educated guesses say Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana are coming, too. Eric Lichaj didn’t get into either qualifier, but could still be in the mix. Was Arena turned off by Tim Ream or DaMarcus Beasley? More importantly, does he see anyone else who’s a clear improvement (Again, does he see them)? Completing our eight will be Chandler and Yedlin.

Midfielders

Arena called up eight earlier this month, and it seems likely he won’t change much from Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic. Wild card looks to Danny Williams (if he can get some Huddersfield PT), Lee Nguyen, Cristian Roldan, or Kelyn Rowe.

Let’s face it: It wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Arena to ditch Johnson for one bad performance, and Rowe could get a chance to build on his Gold Cup. But if there’s a change, it’ll be Jermaine Jones for one last hurrah. That would likely come at the expense of McCarty.

Forwards

Jozy Altidore is due for a big, big performance having taken a terrible yellow card to miss the Honduras draw. Bobby Wood will be there, too, and maybe we’ll see them together. Clint Dempsey makes it three, which leaves a spot for… Wondolowski like last time? Old pal Gyasi Zardes? Sapong?

Lalas uses halftime broadcast to rip on USMNT, “Wonderboy” Pulisic

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Beginning by saying, “It’s time for leaders to step up,” and then branding those leaders as “supposed,” Alexi Lalas lashed into the United States men’s national team during an MLS telecast on Sunday.

Lalas took shots at several individual players — some deserving, some not — as the Yanks prepare for next month’s make-or-break World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

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In terms of coming from the hot takery, the diatribe is most notable not because of what Lalas says, but because of the messenger himself. Lalas is a former national team member, a sort of fraternity which doesn’t often show cracks. Lalas would likely argue the tough love is quite deserved, and he’s a sort of “boots on the ground” man who’s been around enough fans to know the feeling of the most ardent U.S. supporters.

Is Lalas’ criticism warranted? Sure. Will it be constructive? It’s hard to imagine the guys on the team needed to be fired up to avoid becoming national punch lines for their sport, and the rant doesn’t take away any pressure.

Most notable was Lalas saying anyone he didn’t mention doesn’t deserve to be mentioned, then going on to mention say, “That includes you, Wonderboy” in regards to phenom Christian Pulisic. That’s a tough one, as the 18-year-old does need to be described without his age soon, but also was not one of those players skating through the loss to Costa Rica and draw at Honduras.

Lalas also called out Tim Howard in saying the Belgium game was three years ago, which seems rough considering the goalkeeper isn’t known for resting on his laurels. Then again, it’s worth noting that Lalas would know the player a bit better than those of us who see him in locker rooms or read his book.

Of course we understand that the message also happens to boost ratings for MLS and leads to Retweets, Favorites, and posts like this, and it would be naive to say anything less.

What do you think? The full rant is below.