Racists who support Zenit St. Petersburg say they aren’t racists; you make the call

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“We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition.”

And there you have it. That disturbing message is from the largest supporters group of Zenit St. Petersburg, one of the most successful clubs in Russia, which is site of the 2018 World Cup.

So, I think we can all see the larger issue here.

On the one hand, this is supporters group, not the team itself;  Clearly that’s an important distinction that needs to be circled. Zenit has no official comment on the supporters club’s hateful message.

Still, the absurd demand that Zenit St Petersburg refrain from employing black and gay players underscores the racism and bigotry issues that still infect the game in some parts of Eastern Europe.

Zenit, the two-time Russian champion, is the most prominent Russian club to have never signed an African player. Apparently, recent acquisitions of Brazilian forward Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel brought out the right-wing, nationalist impulses in the supporters’ group Landscrona, who claim not to be racist.

Only, they are.

The statements read, in part:

We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition. It would allow Zenit to maintain the national identity of the club, which is the symbol of St Petersburg.”

“We only want players from other brotherly Slav nations, such as Ukraine and Belarus as well as from the Baltic states and Scandinavia. We have the same mentality and historical and cultural background as these nations.”

U.S. Soccer announces Player of the Year nominees

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The USMNT’s 2018 Player of the Year is going to be one of the new breed, while the USWNT’s list of nominees is a bit unusual as well.

Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Matt Miazga, Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp are the men vying to become the fifth different name to win the Male Player of the Year in as many seasons.

[ USMNT: Player ratings | 3 things ]

There are three players on the Female list to have won the award in previous years with Julie Ertz, Tobin Heath, and Alex Morgan having laid claim to the honor. Megan Rapinoe and Lindsey Horan are the other two nominees.

The two teams could hardly have had more different years, as the USWNT was undefeated behind a prolific season from Morgan.

The men stalled as U.S. Soccer failed to enlist a full-time coach, leaving interim coach Dave Sarachan to meld new players into a “part-time” system.

Steffen is probably the favorite to win the men’s award, though Miazga and McKennie had some high-profile moments in red, white, and blue. Trapp is beloved by the staff and could grab the award as well, while Adams seems a true long shot.

Pulisic talks Dortmund future, pride at USMNT captaincy

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GENK — Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain of the U.S. men’s national team in the modern era on Tuesday, as the Borussia Dortmund star led the side out against Italy in Genk, Belgium.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ] 

Remember: Pulisic is just 20 years and 63 days old.

The USMNT lost 1-0 to Italy, as they conceded a 94th minute goal after soaking up plenty of pressure and having goalkeeper Ethan Horvath to thank for several fine stops.

[ MORE: Sarachan out as USMNT head coach ]

Asked about the moment he became the youngest USMNT captain since 1990, breaking Landon Donovan’s record by over two years, Pulisic was full of pride.

“It is a huge honor to captain this team. I’ve been with these guys for a while and for them to think that I can lead the team, it means a lot to me. It was special but in the end we wanted a better result with the game,” Pulisic said. “For the coaches, staff, team to trust me to be captain of the team, it means everything. I was never a captain in my life. Now, to be captain for the United States national team it is an incredible honor. It doesn’t matter what age you are. I will never forgot this moment.”

Pulisic was one of the few U.S. players (Horvath and Tyler Adams the others) who tried to hold Italy back in a one-sided game where the U.S. had just 26.5 percent of possession.

The Dortmund winger was critical of the U.S. after their defeat to England last week, and he didn’t hold back following the loss against Italy.

“They came out a lot more confident than us and they dominated the game,” Pulisic said. “In the end, we can keep learning things but again it wasn’t good enough. All we can do is look back at our mistakes and learn from them, and now look forward to this new year and we have to become a lot better.”

Asked if adding veteran players into the squad in the coming months was the way forward, Pulisic said it will be up the new head coach to decide.

If he was the coach, he’d definitely give more minutes to experienced players.

“That would be up to the coach, it is impossible for me to see. I don’t think it would be a bad idea,” Pulisic said. “Some guys need the direction and see where this team is going to go. Veteran guys can always help that.”

And what about his own future?

Chelsea have been heavily linked with Pulisic in the past few days, while the Pennsylvania native has also been a long-term target of Premier League powerhouses Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur as his current contract with Dortmund runs until the summer of 2020.

Dortmund’s sporting director released a statement on Monday saying that Pulisic would not be for sale this January, and Pulisic was asked by Pro Soccer Talk if there has been any change in his current situation given the increased speculation.

“I’m still focused on Dortmund. We are doing great this season. Once the break comes [in January], that is always when I will have to discuss with Dortmund and see about my future,” Pulisic said.

The door appears to remain open for a move in the coming months.

PSG’s Neymar, Mbappe injured on international duty

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Not a banner day for Paris Saint-Germain.

Both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar were injured on international duty Tuesday, the effects of which remain to be seen for the Ligue 1 club (Perhaps it could be an opening for American attacker Tim Weah, or a huge opening for Liverpool as the Reds prepare to face PSG in the Champions League).

[ USMNT: Player ratings | 3 things ]

A 1v1 challenge with Uruguay goalkeeper Martin Campana felled the 19-year-old Mbappe, and France coach Didier Deschamps did not have a decent prognosis.

From the BBC:

“He has a sore shoulder, he’s fallen badly. He will have to see with the medical staff. I hope it’s not bad.”

As for Neymar, he suffered “an adductor injury while taking a shot in the sixth minute, and left Brazil’s friendly against Cameroon in England.

Let’s throw it to the most quoted national team doctor in ProSoccerTalk history, Dr. Rodrigo Lasmar:

“He felt discomfort. He will need a bit more time to evaluate it and take a scan, but in principle it is not a serious injury.”

Sarachan confirms he’s out as USMNT coach

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GENK – It didn’t end the way he wanted. But it is over.

Dave Sarachan confirmed his 13-month stint as interim head coach is now over and U.S. Soccer is now expected to announce a new permanent head coach in the coming days.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking after he sent out the youngest USMNT side in the modern era for their 1-0 defeat (courtesy of a 94th minute goal) to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday, Sarachan was asked by Pro Soccer Talk if that was his final game in charge.

“It was my last game. I haven’t been told that, but it is evident there is going to be a change in the very near future,” Sarchan said. “I feel as though this has been a very good year for the program and I feel as the leader over the last 12 months of the program, I feel as though we have moved it forward. It may not look like that to everybody on the outside but to look back on the games we played, the players we’ve exposed to this level, that we brought forth. I am certain it is going to pay dividends down the line. For me, I feel as though when the next person comes in, they are going to have a great starting point. That makes me feel good and the program feel good.”

Sarachan is a fine man and he’s done exactly what was asked of him. If not more. As the president of U.S. Soccer, Carlos Cordeiro and the new USMNT GM Earnie Stewart looked on from the back of the press conference room at the Luminus Arena, Sarachan seemed emotional as he delivered his final comments as interim head coach of the U.S.

His 12 games in charge saw him finish with a 3-5-4 record, with defeats against the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, Colombia, England and Italy the blots on his copybook.

Sarachan was handed the reins last October after the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and he was tasked with one thing: play the kids.

He did, giving 23 players their debuts over the past 13 months and the average age of the team who played against Italy was 22 years, 71 days.

The long-time assistant of Bruce Arena was given an extremely tough situation last fall and in the last 12 games he has had a mixed set of results. But that is to be expected as he brought in youngsters who were barely playing on their club teams and threw them up against some of the biggest nations on the planet, especially in the last few months.

With Sarachan out, it is all about who is next. That announcement is inching ever closer for U.S. Soccer who are now on the clock.