U.S. Men’s National Team

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CONCACAF announces League of Nations, replacing friendlies

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We may be seeing a lot more of the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Mexico and less of the USMNT vs. Portugal in the coming years.

CONCACAF on Thursday announced the creation of a “League of Nations,” taking a page from UEFA’s idea to replace friendlies with matches against similar-ranked opponents, with promotion and relegation across three separate divisions. Matches are expected to begin in September 2018, with the schedule released in early 2018.

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The League of Nations was an idea championed by new CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, declaring a focus back on soccer after too much focus on making money in the past.

“This is a watershed moment for CONCACAF.  By focusing on football to provide all our teams with year-round, quality competition, the League of Nations platform means everyone wins,” Montagliani said.  “This new tournament is highly beneficial to all our Member Associations and fans everywhere, since it provides significant opportunities to play important competitive matches with increased regularity throughout the year.”

While this looks like it will have a great effect for smaller CONCACAF nations like Aruba, the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, giving them more regular games to grow their national teams, it could hurt the USMNT, Mexico and Costa Rica in the long run, with no international dates available to face European or South American sides that could provide great challenges and tests to up and coming players.

Perhaps with the UEFA League of Nations snapping up any of the European nation’s available friendly dates, CONCACAF figured they may as well ensure that the big nations play each other more often, but it could hurt the overall growth of the national teams.

Jurgen Klinsmann once said he’d rather play Belgium one time than El Salvador 100 times, and he’s probably right if U.S. fans want to see their players test themselves against some of the best in the world.

Report: USMNT to call up youth-heavy squad for November friendly

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The U.S. Men’s National Team is looking to the future, starting with a friendly next month against Portugal.

According to New York Red Bulls and USMNT beat writer Krystian Dyer, the USMNT is looking at bringing in a younger team to begin preparing for the 2022 World Cup.

While it’s likely that players such as Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore are on the preliminary roster, other young players based in MLS who could get a chance with the USMNT include the Red Bulls’ Tyler Adams, Vancouver Whitecaps centerback Tim Parker and Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan.

Even if USSoccer is waiting on the outcome of the next round of the playoffs, there are a number of young Americans making the breakthrough in Europe that the US can call into camp; Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic, Schalke’s Weston McKennie, Hertha Berlin’s Jonathan Klinsmann, Sandhausen’s Haji Wright, Fulham pair Luca de la Torre, and Marlon Fossey, Tottenham’s Cameron Carter-Vickers, Chelsea/Vitesse’s Matt Miazga and more.

They could also even reach down and give Josh Sargent his senior international debut ahead of his move to Werder Bremen this January.

Wth such a long wait before the next World Cup, now is the time for the U.S. Soccer staff to get a chance to look at and identify which players will be key for the national team come the next World Cup qualifying cycle. By looking at youth in the upcoming friendly, they’re doing just that.

Agudelo: USMNT World Cup failure took away “four years of my life”

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New England Revolution forward Juan Agudelo will be 29 before he has the next chance to play in a World Cup.

The 24-year-old watched helpless from the sidelines as the U.S. Men’s National Team shockingly fell 2-1 at Trinidad and Tobago, failing to qualify for the World Cup after a perfect storm of events. Although Agudelo was called up for both October USMNT matches, he didn’t make the gameday squad of either.

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“The first thing that I thought was that four years of my life had been taken away,” Agudelo told the New England Soccer Journal.

Agudelo’s career is at a bit of a crossroads. The striker is coming off his seventh professional season, almost all taking place in the U.S., and finished with a career-high eight goals this past season. Part of the so called “lost generation,” Agudelo showed great promise as a teenager, even making his USMNT debut as a 17-year-old in 2010, but he’s failed to perform up to expectations, now finding himself on the fringe of the national team.

For a player who should be entering the prime of his career, Agudelo now misses out on a chance to show his talents on the world stage and perhaps earn another chance abroad. In an alternative universe, Agudelo and Jozy Altidore, a pair of former New York Red Bulls players, would be leading the line for the U.S. at the upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Instead, it’s another long offseason for Agudelo and a five-year wait until he can make his first World Cup roster.

Report: FIFA considering updating international rules

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Under current FIFA rules, once a player plays a senior international competitive match, they’re cap-tied permanently to that nation. But that rule could be changing.

That’s according to a report from Reuters, which quotes CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani that FIFA could look into updating some of its nationality laws. Montagliani is the head of FIFA’s stakeholders committee.

“There are so many issues that have popped up over the years because the world is changing, immigration is changing,” Montagliani said. “There are nationality issues that pop up all over the world, in Africa, there are issues in Asia and CONCACAF, so its a good time to have a look at this and see if there are solutions, without hurting the integrity of the game.”

Changing the rules would have a big impact on nations with diverse populations or nationalities with large diasporas.

The report states the Cape Verdean FA requested relaxing the rule of cap-tying a player after playing a competitive game, if that player drops out of the player pool and likely wouldn’t be called up again. Cape Verde relies on a lot of Portugal-based and raised players with Cape Verdean heritage.

A relaxation of the rules could have an affect on U.S. Men’s National Team players as well. In theory, if Kenny Saief decided he wanted to play for Israel again, under a relaxation of the rules, and some sort of proof that a new USMNT coach wouldn’t call him up, Israel could potentially use him. In addition, players such as Cristian Roldan or Jesse Gonzalez could in theory be lost should they fall down the depth chart and other countries they’re eligible for.


USMNT v. Trinidad and Tobago Preview

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For a country that loves dramatic finishes, the U.S. Men’s National Team has sure left it late.

The USMNT heads into its final game in the Hex at Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday evening with its World Cup hopes still up for grabs, although crucially the U.S. holds its own destiny. A win and they’re in. A draw, and anything but the most unlikely scenario puts them through to the next round.

[MORE: 3 keys for USMNT vs. T&T]

But a loss, coupled with wins by Panama and Honduras at home? That could be the dagger for this USMNT.

The pressure of a nation is weighing on the squad as they take the field Tuesday, hopefully not comically surrounded by a moat and waterlogged by heavy rains like it was Monday.

Coincidentally, the U.S. has been here before. The last time the USMNT didn’t have qualifying wrapped up by the last match day was in 1989 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, when Paul Caligiuri saved the day for the U.S. with a 30th minute goal that sent the USA to the World Cup.

This time around, the Soca Warriors and Yanks will reconvene a few miles down the road at the Ato Boldon Stadium.

Unlike the 4-0 win over Panama, the U.S. won’t be playing on a pristine pitch with a fast surface. If anything, expect the ball to bobble more and take unexpected hops while players try to run through the heavy surface, as described by Bruce Arena. This calls for tactics closer to that of the Honduras away match, or perhaps even the Mexico away match where the U.S. came away with a 1-1 draw.

“It definitely changes the way the game is going to look,” Arena said. “It’s going to be a slow game, probably a little bit sloppy. A little bit different than we’ve seen in any of the qualifying games. But we’ll have to adapt to the conditions of the field.”

On the USMNT’s side is history. The last time the USA played a World Cup qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago, they held on for a scoreless draw. The time before that, a 1-0 win in 2009 (Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore started that night).

Overall, the U.S. is 18-2-4 against the Soca Warriors with a 13-1-3 clip in World Cup qualifying. During the side’s last meeting in June in the altitude of Denver, T&T hung in with the U.S. until the second half, when two Christian Pulisic strikes put the game out of reach.

While the conditions will be different, perhaps if the U.S. can control possession or press high up the field, they can tire out Trinidad again and exploit it in the second half.

“Now the pressure is on for us to at least get a point, and we’re not here to get one point, we’re here to get three points,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “I think that’s the mentality and I think going into this game it’s going to be extremely important to remember that.

“The conditions are going to be tough but I think in the end we’ll be able to do what we do best, and that’s take care of business.”

One of the noticeable traits of this current USMNT squad is its experience. 12 players on the roster have made 11 or more World Cup qualifying appearances, led by Clint Dempsey with 42. Centerback pair Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler went through the last round of qualifying and helped lead the U.S. at the World Cup, while Bradley, Altidore and Howard have been mainstays for the past two World Cup cycles.

That experience, especially playing against a young opponent in Trinidad and Tobago with nothing to lose, could give the Americans a leg up on the road in a crunch qualifier.

“It happens throughout one’s career where you play on these type of fields where the ball doesn’t roll, it gets stuck in water,” Gonzalez said. “You just have to play through it. The circumstances are going to be difficult tomorrow but we’re playing to go to a World Cup.

“You have to put it behind us, we have to control what we can control, and that’s our alertness, our competitiveness, how aggressive we are, and the rest we have to roll with it and do what we can to win the game.”