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3 keys for USMNT vs. Nicaragua

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The U.S. Men’s National Team survived disaster Wednesday night with their 3-2 win over Martinique.

But the performance left much to be desired, and Bruce Arena will again need to tinker with his lineup and tactics to find a more consistent winning formula from this squad of 23 players ahead of Saturday’s match in Cleveland against Nicaragua.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

With a number of the starters resting, the U.S. starting eleven against Martinique looked and played like a team that didn’t have a lot of chemistry together, and it really took until the second half to start finding their flow in the attacking third of the field.

On the other end, centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Hedges and goalkeeper Brad Guzan each had forgettable moments against a team without a heralded set of players, other than Kevin Parsemain.

Here’s a look at three keys to victory for the USMNT when they face Nicaragua:

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CONCACAF rules French Guiana draw a forfeit, bans Malouda

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CONCACAF came out with a strong response early Friday morning to French Guiana’s decision to break the rules and play Florent Malouda Tuesday evening in the Gold Cup.

The CONCACAF disciplinary committee announced that the match between French Guiana and Honduras, which finished as a scoreless draw on the night, would be forfeited by French Guiana, awarding Honduras a 3-0 result.

In addition, French Guiana was fined an undisclosed amount and the 37-year-old Malouda was assessed a two-match stadium ban.

[ MORE: Read PST’s Gold Cup latest ]

“As a consequence of fielding Florent Malouda, who was confirmed by the Disciplinary Committee to be ineligible to play in the Gold Cup 2017 according to the applicable regulations, the Disciplinary Committee has levied sanctions and fines against the French Guiana Football League (LGF) and has suspended the player ruled ineligible,” CONCACAF said in a statement.

Malouda of course earned 80 caps for the French National Team during a long career in Europe where he starred for Lyon and Chelsea, but began playing for his native French Guiana earlier this year, captaining the side to third place at the Caribbean Cup, which served as a qualifying tournament for the Gold Cup.

For whatever reason, CONCACAF allowed Malouda to compete for French Guiana in that competition but has decided to honor FIFA rules, which say a player cannot switch international teams once they’ve played in an official FIFA match, at the Gold Cup, which ruled Malouda ineligible for the Gold Cup. Normally FIFA rules don’t apply to French Guiana because the nation, an overseas department of France, is not a member of FIFA.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

At the same time, Malouda was allowed to be registered on the French Guiana roster, placed on the starting lineup and take the field, even though the game was almost surely going to be forfeited.

The strange situation has perhaps met its end, with French Guiana now with no chance of advancing to the knockout round of the Gold Cup with two losses through its first two games against Canada and Honduras.

French Guiana wraps up the group stage against Costa Rica on Friday evening.

Pontius replaces injured Saief on USMNT Gold Cup roster

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U.S. Men’s National Team debutant Kenny Saief’s CONCACAF Gold Cup is over before it even began.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that Saief suffered a groin injury in the time since making his debut Saturday in the USMNT’s 2-1 friendly victory over Ghana and has been replaced on the Gold Cup roster by Philadelphia Union midfielder Chris Pontius.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s 2017 Gold Cup coverage ]

The outside midfielder, who plays a similar position to Saief, has six assists in 17 Major League Soccer games this season and made his first two USMNT appearances this past January and February in friendly matches against Serbia and Jamaica.

The news is a blow to the American-born and Israeli-raised Saief, who recently completed his one-time FIFA switch to play for the USMNT after making a pair of appearances in friendly matches for Israel.

Meanwhile it’s a boost to Pontius, who is enjoying some of his best soccer since overcoming a number of injury-riddled seasons with D.C. United.

Rafa Marquez, Erick “Cubo” Torres included on Mexico preliminary Gold Cup squad

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The Mexican National Team can’t seem to move on from the Rafa Marquez era.

The 38-year-old centerback was named by the Mexican Football Federation to El Tri’s 40-man preliminary squad for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. If he plays, it would be the fifth time he has played in a Gold Cup.

[ STREAM: Watch El Tri matches live ]

Most of the squad consists of players based in Mexico’s Liga MX, with the top stars of the league as well as Mexico’s European-based players all called in for the Confederations Cup roster in Russia this month. The lone exception to the Liga MX party is the Houston Dynamo’s Erick “Cubo” Torres, who has 10 goals in 14 games with 12 starts so far this season, good for second-best in the league.

Notable inclusions in the preliminary squad are Tigres’ Jurgen Damm, who has been long linked to a move to England and Pachuca’s Hirving Lozano. Orbelin Pineda, one of Chivas’ breakout stars this past season who led the club to the Clausura title, is also in the squad and has been rumored to be a Valencia target.

While the squad isn’t made up of the top players, it should serve as a great chance for the Mexico National Team staff and its coach Juan Carlos Osorio to evaluate the player pool ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Mexico is hoping to improve on its Round of 16 exit from the 2014 World Cup.

Here’s a look at the Mexico preliminary Gold Cup squad:

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Revisiting the USMNT’s Bruce Arena era

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It seems the majority of American soccer fans would endorse the potential firing of USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, or at least a majority would understand why US Soccer would cut ties with the German football hero.

But we wonder how those same people would feel if his successor was former USMNT coach Bruce Arena, the LA Galaxy’s coach and an American soccer legend in his own right. Reports following Tuesday’s loss to Costa Rica claim US Soccer has Arena lined up should it fire Klinsmann.

[ MORE: Who would replace Klinsmann? ]

Arena oversaw the stingiest U.S. tenure (.76 goals per game) in program history, and boasts the best winning percentage in American history. He also has managed the most games (130) and won the most (71).

Away from US Soccer, Arena has five MLS Cups and five national championships as a college coach. So, yeah, he’s about as good as it gets resume-wise, and would reportedly relish another shot at the U.S. gig.

But circling back on Arena’s time with the USMNT, I wonder whether Sunil Gulati’s comments upon his departure won’t be ringing in Klinsmann’s ears.

“It comes down primarily to eight years being a long period,” Gulati said. “I’m not going to say we felt the need to change directions. The direction Bruce has set is very, very positive. We didn’t get the results we wanted in the World Cup, but Bruce didn’t become a bad coach in three games with a few bad bounces of the ball.”

That was after a World Cup in which Arena failed to get the U.S. out of the group stage. The Americans were throttled by the Czech Republic, drew Italy despite playing 52 minutes with one less man than Gli Azzurri, and fell to Ghana 2-1.

Arena oversaw the Americans’ longest run in World Cup history in 2002, when the Yanks beat Portugal, drew hosts South Korea and were blown out by Poland before winning one of the most memorable games in USMNT history: the 2-0 Round of 16 win over Mexico. The Yanks then hung tough against Germany before bowing out 1-0.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley says crisis wrong word for Swansea ]

Outside of World Cup play, Arena had good moments and bad. He won two Gold Cups and was eliminated from a third by Brazil (no shame there).

He led the Yanks on a 16-match unbeaten run between March 2004 and March 2005, a streak which had modest competition but also a Gold Cup and wins over Poland, Mexico, and Colombia. Bob Bradley‘s longest unbeaten run was 11 (10 wins!), while Klinsmann boasts a 12-match win streak.

But for Arena, there was also a three-match Hex losing streak in 2001 — Mexico away, Honduras home, Costa Rica away — and a Confederations Cup in which the Yanks only managed a single point in losing to Turkey and Brazil while drawing Cameroon.

Then there’s that whole “foreign-born players shouldn’t be on the national team” thing. He later evolved on the position, though not in a manner that moved the meter for me.

Both of those final bits of ignominy would’ve been unforgivable if done under Klinsmann, which goes to show how far the German has fallen and how much past victories can gloss over the poor moments in our memories.

So ask yourself, is Arena’s glittering resume enough to give him the nod over another manager? I’ll admit that I’d prefer to see another name, mainly on account of Arena’s previous critical comments at foreign-born USMNT players, but the man is a legend.