Which “8 or 9” U.S. campers may land on next World Cup qualifier roster?

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When Jurgen Klinsmann says “8 or 9” of the talented Americans taking part in the January camp will land on the World Cup qualifier roster for a trip into Honduras, we understand it’s a ballpark number subject to injuries or other fluid factors.

Still, it’s a number, one that gives us something to grab hold of and build some speculation around.

So let’s have some fun with an exercise that falls somewhere between forecasting and guessing, and look at which players might find their way that list.

Some fall under “no-brainers,” a guy like Graham Zusi, for instance. Others will be determined by performance in the ongoing camp and in the Jan. 29 friendly in Houston against Canada.

So here’s an early look at which “8 or 9” Klinsmann may ultimately name:

  • GK Bill Hamid / or Sean Johnson: Because this will be a clear No. 3, and because at this point, these guys seem to remain interchangeable for purposes of the role (which amounts to “Break glass in case of emergency), it’s hard to make a distinction.  (Klinsmann, by the way, recently talked about the need for taking a third goalkeeper on qualifier trips. Basically, what if Tim Howard is hurt in training a day before the match, or during pre-game warm-ups? In that case, they need a game-day backup, most likely for Brad Guzan.)
  • CB Omar Gonzalez: If Carlos Bocanegra, Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson are healthy, then center back spots are filling quickly. Still, Klinsmann understands the need to begin blooding Gonzalez, so it seems smart to bring him on as many trips as possible. Perhaps this isn’t the best place to make the big change, but bringing the commanding Galaxy center back seems to make sense.
  • DF A.J. DeLaGarza: This is where it all gets a little complicated; Assuming the first choice right backs and left backs are available (roughly speaking, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Parkhurst, Fabian Johnson and Timothy Chandler) ,then there’s little room for all those U.S. outside back hopefuls now in camp: Tony Beltran, Connor Lade, Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow. In that case, the back line may be full. If anyone makes sense, it’s the versatile DeLaGarza, who can play on the right or in the middle. (Then again, so can Michael Parkhurst.)
  • MF Kyle Beckerman (pictured): He has slipped behind Danny Williams in the playing rotation, but Klinsmann loves the Real Salt Lake veteran’s professionalism and consistency in training, which keeps the collective intensity at high rev.
  • MF Graham Zusi: Pretty much a no-brainer based on his rise in 2012 in the program. Not to mention that Zusi can play centrally or, as he has recently in the U.S. shirt, wide on the right.
  • MF Mix Diskerud: It’s probably down to a choice between Benny Feilhaber and Diskerud. Feilhaber is slightly more attack-minded, with a better ability to pass through packed defenses. But Diskerud may be slightly more versatile, which helps.
  • FW Juan Agudelo: Maybe this should come with an asterisk, since the Chivas USA striker isn’t actually in camp yet. He remains in Great Britain on a training spell – and questions linger about whether he will even return to the States or leave on transfer? But for this list, same difference I suppose.
  • FW Eddie Johnson: The quality of competition is clearly better in this stage, but the Sounders striker was productive in two semifinal round appearances last fall. So, he’s earned it.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).

De Ligt reportedly chooses Barcelona; Klopp set at CB

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Liverpool, Manchester United, and pretty much everyone but Barcelona looks set to miss out on Matthijs de Ligt.

De Ligt, 19, has paired with Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk while in the Netherlands national team set-up, but reportedly is opting to join Ajax teammate Frenkie de Jong at Barcelona.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

In the case of Liverpool, Sky Sports says that Reds boss Jurgen Klopp thinks he doesn’t need another center back.

Injuries hit Liverpool’s center backs this season outside of Van Dijk. Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were rated highly and combined for just over 2500 minutes, while young Joe Gomez suffered a long-term injury midway through the season.

If all are healthy, Liverpool has decent depth. Yet even Gomez doesn’t have the upside to shake a stick at De Ligt if the 19-year-old was truly interested in coming to Anfield.

I mean, “Are you interested in this 19-year-old captain of a Champions League semifinalist? He’s interested in coming there” usually doesn’t yield a firm, “No.”

As for Barcelona, it will reinforce its back line a year after allowing 36 goals. That’s pretty decent, but the Blaugranas‘ third-highest total of the last decade.

Mkhitaryan assured of safety by Azerbaijan ambassador

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The Europa League Final in Azerbaijan has not been getting a lot of positive press due to fans unwillingness to travel for the event and Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s fears of stepping foot in the country.

That’s because Mkhitaryan is the captain of Armenia’s national team, and that nation’s long dispute with Azerbaijan.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

Arsenal, of course, plays Chelsea in the May 29 final, and Mkhitaryan already missed an earlier UEL match against Azerbaijan powers Qarabag. He’s played plenty for the Gunners this season apart from a broken foot, and his absence would not be welcome news for this London Derby of a European Final.

Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador Tahir Taghizadeh has guaranteed safety for Mkhitaryan, and said he’d be happy to personally offer assurances to the Armenian. On the other hand, this doesn’t sound like the most positive messaging, via Sky Sports:

“My message to Mkhitaryan would be: you’re a footballer, you want to play football? Go to Baku you are safe there, if you want to play the issue then that’s a different story. What I can guarantee is that the Azerbaijan government will do everything what needs to be done and provide safety and security for every fan, player and staff member coming to this game.”

By using the phrase “play the issue,” it does launch the discussion firmly into political waters. One thing’s for sure: The issue may be debatable, but whether a player feels safe deserves to be his call and his call alone.