World Cup qualifying

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19:  Bruce Arena the coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy looks on during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between Liverpool FC and Besiktas JK at Anfield on February 19, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Arena: USMNT ‘behind the eight ball’ in World Cup qualifying

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NEW YORK (AP) Bruce Arena opened a binder to a page with 48 names, his depth chart for the U.S. soccer team.

Back in charge for the first time in a decade, he views the Americans’ state as urgent following losses in the first two games of the final round of World Cup qualifying and already has plans.

“We’re fighting for our lives starting March 24. We’re behind the eight ball,” he said. “We’ve got to close the gap, and we get six points in the next two games, the gap is closed.”

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During an hourlong session with reporters Tuesday, Arena said comments he made in 2013 about foreign-born players on the national team were aimed at the U.S. player development system, not a criticism of German-Americans who made up almost a quarter of the 2014 World Cup roster under Jurgen Klinsmann.

“I was told today, somebody, they referenced me in Spain as the Donald Trump of soccer,” Arena said. “I think that I’m at fault obviously for those statements, but I would like to clear that up. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s no way in the way I think.”

“I think the phrase foreign nationals is a very poor term, whoever uses it, and I will not use it. I will not use dual citizens. They’re national team players,” he explained. “The comment regarding foreign-born players, at the time I believe was referencing player development. And I was simply saying that if our senior national team program consists of a large minority of players, large majority of players that were born elsewhere, where are we going with our development? It has nothing to do with who should be playing on the national team, who should not.”

Now 65 and a member of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, Arena coached the U.S. from 1998-2006 and is the winningest coach in team history. He led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, their best finish since the first tournament in 1930, then was fired after a first-round elimination in 2006. He took over from Klinsmann last week following a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 rout at Costa Rica.

“Mexico certainly came out and took control of the game early, and I don’t think that should happen at home,” Arena said. “I think the game in Costa Rica was not good from start to finish. In general, I think the theme in both games: Our back line played poorly, and I don’t think they’re poor players. I think they can play better, so we’ve got to get them organized, get the right players in the right spots and get them playing better as a unit.”

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Arena plans to open training camp in Carson, California, around Jan. 8 and follow with a pair of exhibitions with a roster mostly from Major League Soccer. Qualifying resumes March 24 with a home game against Honduras, followed four days later by a match at Panama.

Feilhaber (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Arena says goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan need competition from the rest of the player pool, 31-year-old midfielder Benny Feilhaber likely will get an opportunity to return after playing just three games under Klinsmann and 35-year-old midfielder Jermaine Jones “certainly still has something to offer.”

He views captain Michael Bradley as a defensive midfielder rather than a playmaker, a role Klinsmann encouraged Bradley to assume.

“He plays an important position and at his best he’s a key figure, and we’ve got to get him at his best,” Arena said.

Settling on the center of the field is one of Arena’s keys.

“We need a better passer in the midfield than we have. We need to have a player in the attacking half of the field that can deliver the right ball at the right time,” he said. “Who that is remains to be seen. There’s a couple of domestic players that are very good at that that we’ll look at in camp in January, and that to me is an area that we’ve got to identify. And that will help establish how we play. Do we play with one striker, two strikers? Do we play with three? How do we define our midfield shape based on that.”

Arena’s office at the StubHub Center moves only about 30 feet from his previous job as coach of the LA Galaxy, and his parking spot remains the same. As he takes over, he wants to change the Americans’ mentality and consistency.

“Too many peaks and valleys,” he said, moving his hands up and down. “We’ve got to get them to level out their performance a little bit more.”

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A former German star player and coach, Klinsmann criticized the level of play in Major League Soccer. Arena said it has come a long way.

“MLS isn’t on the level of the EPL or the Bundesliga or La Liga, Serie A. We know that,” he said. “But right after that, we’re in that area below that, and it will get better.”

Arena doesn’t tweet and isn’t that interested in statistics.

“I’m not a person that digs deep into analytics because I don’t think the sport of soccer is an analytic sport,” he said. “I think baseball clearly is. I think football can be, obviously, basketball a little bit more. I think soccer is a hard one.”

Brazil’s new coach: Bring on Germany, Italy and Spain

Brazil coach Tite gives directions to his players, during a 2018 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Peru, in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)
AP Photo/Martin Mejia
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil’s new coach is tearing up South American World Cup qualifying. In six matches in charge, Adenor Leonardo Bacchi – known universally as Tite (pronounced Chi-Chi) – has won all six.

Now he’s offering to challenge Europe’s best, including defending champion Germany, as the five-time World Cup winners prepare for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where they are likely to be among the favorites.

“Let’s play against Italy away,” Tite said Monday in a 35-minute interview with The Associated Press. “Spain, Germany, Portugal away.”

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Tite also mentioned playing England at Wembley, which he called “the temple of football.”

Tite, speaking in his modest office surrounded by TVs, a blackboard, and books, said he didn’t expect his team’s quick success. But now that it’s come and with Brazil not playing in next year’s Confederations Cup – the World Cup warmup – he must look elsewhere.

“Since we won’t play in the Confederations Cup to feel the heat, the adrenaline, we will try another way.” He said Brazil needs “to play away so we feel that weight. So we have a solid performance in different venues.”

Tite is certainly interested in Germany, which humiliated Brazil 7-1 in the World Cup semifinals 2 + years ago in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte.

“The first step is to play a friendly against them, wherever they want in Germany,” he said.

The European schedule could become a reality quickly. Brazil, which leads South American qualifying, could officially qualify for Russia in its next two qualifiers in March against Uruguay and Paraguay.

Brazil defeated Argentina 3-0 and Peru 2-0 in its last two qualifiers in November, and moved to No. 2 in the world rankings behind Argentina.

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Brazil has become less dependent on Barcelona star Neymar in the last few matches since Tite took over after Dunga was fired.

In the meantime, he has discovered several rising stars that have made Brazil a team – not a one-player show.

“If Brazil depends only on Neymar there will be a problem with Brazil, not with Neymar,” Tite explained. “Brazil needs the individual creativity of Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Douglas Costa. But it needs the collective creativity that sometimes people don’t pay attention to.”

Tite also said that Neymar’s clash with Spanish tax authorities was “personal” though he added that there’s not much he can do about it.

Tite is counting on improvement from his No. 9, 19-year-old Gabriel Jesus, who is moving to Manchester City in January from Brazil club Palmeiras. He expects him to be as good in Europe as he’s been in Brazil.

“His level of performance will be very similar, with some tactical adjustments, of course,” Tite said.

Asked about investigations into CBF President Marco Polo del Nero, who has been indicted by U.S. authorities for corruption, Tite said “those responsible are the ones that have to pay.”

He declined to say more, but last year he signed a petition asking for Del Nero to resign.

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Tite will be on the road in the next few days. On Thursday he is off to Spain to see Barcelona play Real Madrid. A big believer in scouting his players, he also expects to watch Brazilian players at Paris Saint-Germain.

The former coach of Sao Paulo club Corinthians, Tite is also a student of the game. He is reading former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, and the copy already is full of footnotes and notations.

But his main inspiration is Bayern Munich’s coach Carlo Ancelotti, who allowed him to be an observer in 2014 at Real Madrid.

“Ancelotti’s teams are more balanced,” Tite said. “It’s a more Italian defense and creativity from the midfield forward. I admire his work and also his discreet profile. I am also like that.”

When he is not working, Tite clings to his family in Rio. His son Matheus is one of his key scouts. And his wife Rose keeps him down to earth during their early morning walks.

He’s also thinking beyond the 2018 World Cup. But he suggested nothing will be as exciting as the next 19 months.

“I am honestly making a dream come true,” he said. “Anything that comes after Brazil will not be bigger than this.”

Mauricio Savarese on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MSavarese . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/mauricio-savarese

Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP .His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/stephen-wade

Jurgen Klinsmann believes fans, media have overreacted to latest USMNT losses

HAVANA, CUBA - OCTOBER 07:  Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on during the match against Cuba at Estadio Pedro Marrero on October 7, 2016 in Havana, Cuba.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann says he was left “angry” after traumatic World Cup qualifying losses to Mexico and Costa Rica to start Hexagonal play, but he also thinks that fan and media reactions have been harsh.

Klinsmann told Erik Kirschbaum of Reuters that “It’s important to put this in the right perspective” after a late 2-1 loss to Mexico and subsequent 4-0 drubbing in Costa Rica.

“We lost the two opening games and played the two best teams right away. We have eight more games to get the points needed to qualify. We’ve always reacted strongly when things were nerve-wracking. This team is always capable of reacting. We’ll correct this with the two games in March and we’ll take one game at a time from there to get our points. I’m 1,000 percent sure we’ll qualify.”

The U.S. has games against Honduras and Panama scheduled for March. Both those teams have wins thus far, with Honduras topping Trinidad & Tobago, while Panama defeated Honduras and drew with Mexico. The U.S. is currently bottom of the table, without a point and below Trinidad & Tobago with a worse goal difference.

Despite the dire situation, Klinsmann believes that the reaction to the two early losses, which included a number of calls for his job, were too critical.

“When things go slightly wrong, there are some people who come out and are ready to chop your head off,” the German told Reuters. “In the long run, that’s going to make the development of the team difficult. It’s important to stay calm and be patient.

“There are definitely issues to be addressed but there is no reason to exaggerate them or panic,” Klinsmann added. “I’ve been doing this for 35 years and there are always many reasons why certain things happen, both positively and negatively. It’s important to have the end result in mind. And the big picture is the overall development of the team in the four-year cycle between two World Cups. You have to be ready to take some setbacks during that phase.”

Despite Klinsmann’s calm demeanor, those setbacks suffered early in the Hex are indeed serious. Last time through, with teams looking to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, the third and final automatic qualifying spot was given to Honduras with 15 points. To match that this time around, the United States has eight matches to garner the at least four wins likely needed to reach that point total. Four years before that, the third and fourth places both finished on 16 points looking towards the 2010 World Cup, with Honduras earning the final automatic berth and Costa Rica needing to advance via the intercontinental playoff.

In addition, it seems Klinsmann may be molding his words to fit the occasion. In his biography, also written by Kirschbaum, Klinsmann said, “Our players who go to England, Germany, Spain, or France get used to the pressure and are used to getting criticized if they have a bad game. They hear about it from the local people in the supermarket or in the shops or on the streets. The pressure is everywhere. They’re used to having to justify themselves for their performances all the time.”

“If an MLS player has a bad game, we want them to be accountable for that,” Klinsmann continued in his biography. “We want them to be pestered by the people in the supermarket or the baker or the butcher because that’s the way people react to the game all over the world where soccer is the number one sport.”

FIFA opens case for firecracker thrown at Lewandowski

POZNAN, POLAND - MARCH 23: Robert Lewandowski of Poland controls the ball during the international friendly soccer match between Poland and Serbia at the Inea Stadium on March 23, 2016 in Poznan, Poland. (Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images)
Photo by Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has opened a case against the Romanian soccer federation after a firecracker was thrown at Poland striker Robert Lewandowski during a World Cup qualifying match.

The firework exploded close to Lewandowski’s feet as Poland prepared to defend a second-half corner during a 3-0 win in Bucharest on Nov. 11.

The match was stopped for several minutes, and the Bayern Munich forward returned after treatment to score two late goals.

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FIFA says it opened disciplinary proceedings without giving details of the incident at the National Stadium.

Fans from both teams clashed in the Romanian capital around the Group E match, and police used tear gas.

The return match is in Warsaw on June 10. Poland leads the six-team group and Romania is fourth.

Gulati quizzed on Klinsmann; Report claims Arena as fallback

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 13: FIFA Council member Sunil Gulati looks on prior to part I of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 13, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images
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Don’t lose these three Tweets in the social media hurricane that is the aftermath of the United States men’s national team’s 4-0 loss to Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying.

While most expect Jurgen Klinsmann to hang onto his job despite the 0-2 start to the Hex, the final round of World Cup qualifying for CONCACAF, reports say US Soccer may have had a fallback plan if the Yanks lost tonight.

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The Washington Post’s Steven Goff says US Soccer lined up LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena to help stop the bleeding should the Americans fall to Costa Rica, which they did in embarrassing fashion.

And Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl has a quote from Sunil Gulati which definitely leaves the future open for discussion, saying they’d talk with Klinsmann after thinking through the loss.

Finally, intrepid New York Times reporter Sam Borden said Gulati told him that the loss could’ve changed his feelings on the project, though the reporter still feels Klinsmann will stick around.