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Closer look at Gold Cup standings

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Through two matches at the Gold Cup, results have mostly gone as expected, with the United States and Mexico at the top of their groups along with Costa Rica in a tie with Canada for first place.

All four nations have a win and a draw to their names through the first two games, with plenty on the line in the final matches of the group stage.

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In Group A, Honduras, participants of the last two World Cups, sit only one point behind the leaders and could force its way into the knockout round with a win over Canada in its next match.

It’s a similar situation in groups B and C.

In Group B, Martinique lost by a goal to the U.S. but can advance to the next round with a win over Panama in it’s last game. And in Group C, El Salvador, which lost to Mexico but beat Curacao, can advance with a win over Jamaica.

There’s plenty of more drama to unfold as the group stage reaches its conclusion in the 2017 Gold Cup. Here’s a look at the current standings below and the final matches of the group stage.

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2017 Gold Cup: Group B Preview

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With the 2017 Gold Cup just two days away, it’s time to take a closer look at this year’s participants.

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Group B includes one of the tournament favorites, the U.S. Men’s National Team, along with Panama, Martinique and Nicaragua.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the start of the tournament:

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USA vs. Ghana preview: Gold Cup tune-up

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Saturday at 5:00 p.m. ET in East Hartford, CT the US Men’s National Team will get its final chance to mesh ahead of the 2017 Gold Cup as they take on Ghana in a pre-tournament friendly.

The United States features a young and inexperienced squad for at least the tournament’s group stage, devoid of many national team staples like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and even Christian Pulisic. Thus, this match against Ghana will be an important step for the team to not just experiment but play together as they look towards the competitive games.

Ghana and the US have an intense rivalry – if you can call it that with just five matches between them in recent history. Nevertheless, three of those five games have been of significant importance, and that has stoked the fire between the two nations.

Particularly painful for the current United States manager is the loss to Ghana in the 2006 World Cup that sealed Bruce Arena’s fate in his first stint as national team coach. Again, the US was eliminated by the African nation in the 2010 World Cup, an extra-time defeat in the knockout round, with Asamoah Gyan’s 93rd-minute winner breaking the US’s hearts.

In the 2014 World Cup, the US got revenge, beating Ghana 2-1 in the opening group stage match to help Jurgen Klinsmann escape the Group of death. It was the only victory for the United States in the competition. That defeat for Ghana saw the end of Kwesi Appiah‘s managerial tenure, but he’s back for a second go and will take charge on Saturday.

Now, after years of World Cup battles, Ghana may be able to help their CONCACAF opponents in their first-ever friendly matchup. With Arena hoping to work in a number of fringe players alongside youthful counterparts looking to break into a more prominent role, Ghana’s presence could be of long-term benefit to the US instead of a thorn in the side.

At Arena’s disposal are both well-known players looking to reignite their national team flame, and lesser-known fringe options hoping to boost their stock. The most significant of the former include Matt Miazga who can help make a push towards his high ceiling, and Juan Agudelo who is looking to play his first competitive minutes since 2011 in what to this point has been a career underperformance. Jordan Morris could use a bright tournament as well, having fallen down the striker pecking order thanks in large part to the emergence of Bobby Wood.

Highlighting those looking to become household names is Cristian Roldan, the promising young Seattle Sounders midfielder who could potentially pair with Kellyn Acosta for years to come. Alongside him is Dom Dwyer who has waited a lifetime for his chance on the national team, and now gets that with the tournament calling his name. Finally, defender Matt Hedges has another shot after a knee injury in January camp derailed his first shot at seeing USMNT time.

The Gold Cup will provide all these men and more with the opportunity to push for a spot on the first-team roster with the World Cup just around the corner, but first the tuneup against Ghana will be a litmus test for what is to come in the next month. Look for Anderlecht winger Frank Acheampong to lead the creative attack, most notably on the counter, and Gyan is still a leader for his nation up front.

Jozy Altidore’s presence missed in USMNT draw with Venezuela

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International friendlies are all about learning. With just days to go before the United States faces another crucial pair of World Cup qualifiers, Bruce Arena experimented a bunch against Venezuela with the idea that he can learn plenty about his current squad.

The 1-1 draw featured heavy United States possession, but nary a true look on goal. As Arena put it, “the final product wasn’t very good.”

The main reason for this? The absence of Jozy Altidore.

[ MORE: 3 more things we learned from the 1-1 draw with Venezuela ]

Altidore, the 3rd-leading scorer in USMNT history, was absent from the squad at Rio Tinto Stadium after missing the early portion of camp due to his brother’s wedding. Therefore, Arena left him out, instead pairing Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood up front in one of those aforementioned experiments. While both Dempsey and Wood are quality players and both showed flashes of usefulness throughout the game, they are also far too similar in style to form an effective partnership at this stage. Both are speedy strikers who make runs through the defense, but neither has the true strength to allow others to get into space.

Clint Dempsey and the USMNT attack struggled mightily in the final third against Venezuela (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images).

Jozy’s hold-up play was the biggest missing piece for the United States against Venezuela, and while he has taken plenty of heat during his time with the international squad (sometimes deserved, sometimes not), Altidore is a critical piece of this USMNT squad, never more evident than just outside Salt Lake City last night.

If the United States is to take a positive points haul against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, they will need Altidore at his best up front, not only scoring goals but also to help turn possession into danger up front, something the US was unable to do against Venezuela. Altidore is often judged by his ability to score goals for the US, but that is not nearly his only contribution to the squad.

Introducing Jozy Altidore back into the starting lineup most likely would see Bobby Wood the odd man out in a fully healthy squad, which is an unfortunate loss, but he and Dempsey simply do not provide enough variance up front. Wood will get plenty of chances in the future with Dempsey’s time eventually up, and he offers a speedy, dangerous option off the bench for the final 20 minutes of an even game.

The bottom line is that, despite his sometimes divisive stance with USMNT fans, the United States needs Jozy Altidore. That was blatantly obvious through 90 minutes in Sandy, Utah.

USL releases plans for USL Television Network, will broadcast in 17 markets

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As the United Soccer League (USL) furthers its push to hold its Division 2 status in the U.S. Soccer chain for years to come, the 30-team league announced an intriguing initiative on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Arena — USMNT should be in discussion for 2026 WC champion ]

Starting in 2017, USL will debut its own USL Television Network in an attempt for over half the league’s teams to broadcast matches in 17 markets across the United States.

The league is believed to have poured over $10 million into the broadcast production of the USL Television Network, which will show over 300 matches this across USL play.

Among the 17 clubs that will show matches locally this season are FC Cincinnati and Phoenix Rising FC, who recently completed the signing of former Chelsea and Montreal Impact striker Didier Drogba.

Both teams are believed to have aspirations of joining MLS in the future, along with several other of the clubs that will broadcast matches on the USL Television Network.

Below is a list of all the clubs that will take part in USL’s latest project:

Bethlehem Steel FC, Charleston Battery, Charlotte Independence, FC Cincinnati, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Louisville City FC, Oklahoma City Energy, Ottawa Fury FC, Phoenix Rising FC, Reno 1868 FC, Richmond Kickers, Rochester Rhinos, Sacramento Republic FC, St. Louis FC, San Antonio FC, Tampa Bay Rowdies, Tulsa Roughnecks FC