USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

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After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.

USMNT fall in latest FIFA rankings

U.S. men's national soccer team coach Bruce Arena, left, talks to captain Michael Bradley during a practice session Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Coach Arena opens camp with the team in the same training complex where he spent the past eight years running the LA Galaxy. Arena returned to the U.S. team in November to salvage its run for World Cup qualification. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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The latest batch of FIFA world rankings have been released following the conclusion of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Bruce Arena’s U.S. men’s national team have fallen one place to 29th, with CONCACAF rivals Mexico climbing one place to 17th and Costa Rica falling two places to 19th.

[ MORE: Why Klopp needs time ]

With the USMNT having two key World Cup qualifiers next month and then the Gold Cup, plus more World Cup qualifiers, to look forward to over the summer, Arena’s men will have ample opportunity to try and break into the top 20.

The top five is unchanged with Argentina in first place, Brazil in second, Germany in third, Chile in fourth and Belgium in fifth. France is the only mover in the top 10, moving up to 6th spot and trading places with Colombia in the process.

There’s no doubt who the big winners are from the latest rankings as the newly crowned Champions of Africa, Cameroon, moved up a massive 29 spots to 33rd, while runners up Egypt moved up 12 places to 23rd. While Burkina Faso moved up 15 places to 38th and DR Congo is up 12 spots to 37th.

Below is the latest list of the top 25 teams in the world.

  1. Argentina
  2. Brazil
  3. Germany
  4. Chile
  5. Belgium
  6. France
  7. Colombia
  8. Portugal
  9. Uruguay
  10. Spain
  11. Switzerland
  12. Wales
  13. England
  14. Poland
  15. Italy
  16. Croatia
  17. Mexico
  18. Peru
  19. Costa Rica
  20. Iceland

29. USA

VIDEO: Bobby Wood’s 7th goal of the season was extremely nice

Moenchengladbach's Christoph Kramer, left, and Hamburg's Bobby Wood challenge for the ball during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Moenchengladbach and Hamburger SV in Moenchengladbach, Germany, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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Don’t look now, but Bobby Wood is making a serious push for back-to-back 15-goal seasons.

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The U.S. national team’s Flyin’ Hawaiian entered Hamburg’s DFB-Pokal (German Cup) against Koln on Tuesday with six goals on the season (all competitions) — two of which were scored in his last five appearances — and now, Wood’s got seven on the campaign, and three in his last six games, in his first season for the (once again) Bundesliga relegation-threatened side. Of course, it’ll be doubly impressive this time around after his move to the top division in Germany (17 goals for Union Berlin in the 2. Bundesliga last season).

[ MORE: USMNT beats Jamaica to close Jan. camp | Three things ]

The 24-year-old picked the ball up inside the center circle; took two touches across the halfway line before laying it off; and proceeded to make the lung-busting, full-speed run through the heart of Koln’s midfield and defense; and needed just three more touches to cover 15 yards and slot the ball past the goalkeeper with ease. Wood’s goal would seal Hamburg’s 2-0 victory, sending them through to the quarterfinals of the Cup.

USWNT reps resume labor talks with new lawyer

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 02:  (L-R) Forward for the Chicago Red Stars Stephanie McCaffrey, midfielder for the Washington Spirit Kristie Mewis, goalkeeper for the Chicago Red Stars Alyssa Naeher, Managing director of operations for the NWSL Amanda Duffy, NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush, CEO of A&E Networks Nancy Dubuc, Sky Blue FC defender Christie Rampone, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, midfielder for the NC Courage Sam Mewis, midfielder for the Boston Breakers Rose Lavelle, and forward for the NC Courage Lynn Williams attend the Lifetime National Women's Soccer League press conference on February 2, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Lifetime)
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Lifetime
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NEW YORK (AP) Contract talks between the women’s national team and the U.S. Soccer Federation have resumed after the players’ union retained a new lawyer.

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U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said Thursday the union is being represented in collective bargaining by Mady Gilson of Bredhoff & Kaiser. The players parted ways in December with attorney Rich Nichols, who had been executive director of the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association since late 2014.

At a news conference Thursday announcing A+E Networks purchase of a stake in the National Women’s Soccer League, Gulati said he was encouraged by progress in talks for a collective bargaining agreement to replace the deal that expired Dec. 31.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT vs. Jamaica — the final tune-up before WCQ resumes ]

“The tone is just completely different, and everyone wants to get a deal done. The players want to play. We want to have a fair CBA, so I have no doubt we’ll get a deal done,” he said.

USA vs. Jamaica preview: Finding the right midfield formula

(Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images
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Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia resumes in March, which means Friday’s friendly against Jamaica (7 p.m. ET, in Chattanooga, Tenn.) will serve as the U.S. national team’s final tune-up — and re-introduction period for Bruce Arena — ahead a monumental pair of games, from which the Yanks almost certainly need a minimum of four points.

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To say the next 60 days are important for the USMNT program, would be a massive understatement.

Most important of all: Mixing up the midfield

In Sunday’s draw with Serbia, one thing became alarmingly clear very early on: despite all the new faces in camp and the starting lineup, the USMNT player pool is still full of too-similar central midfielders, all of whom lack the vision and touch to pick out and play the final pass leading to a clear-cut scoring chance. It wasn’t until Sebastia Lletget (halftime, for Jermaine Jones) and Benny Feilhaber (77th minute, for Sacha Kljestan) entered the game that the ball began to move forward, with purpose, rather than side to side and backward.

[ MORE: USA, Serbia play to scoreless draw | Three things we learned ]

Darlington Nagbe received most of the plaudits as the USMNT’s only consistently dangerous attacker on the day, though his only two “chances” of the game ended up nothing more than speculative efforts from distance. It was a predictable outcome, though, given the number of times we’ve seen the Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones experiment play out over the last five years, and while Kljestan has been an goal-creating machine for the New York Red Bulls the last two seasons, he doesn’t attack opposing defenses with the pressure-creating, straight-ahead approach of Feilhaber. When the European-based players join up for World Cup qualifying next month, the midfield options aren’t suddenly plentiful; this is, for all intents and purposes, the group from which to choose.

Note: Kljestan (family reasons) and Jones (WCQ suspension) each departed camp following the draw with Serbia.


Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)