Re-evaluating what we know about CONCACAF after round one

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Three surprise results later, it’s far more difficult to know what to make of CONCACAF. Even the results that were somewhat explicable developed in ways that prompted new questions. Are the U.S. defenders a bigger problem than we thought? Is Mexico really that far ahead of the rest of the region? Is Panama ready?

One round into CONCACAF’s final stage, it’s time to pause and reevaluate The Hex – assess our new knowledge and determine to what extend that we need to change our outlook for the rest of the tournament.

Let’s go from winners to losers:

Honduras – There’s a temptation to label winning at home as merely holding serve, a description which might be true for Mexico and the United States. But Honduras is not a perpetual World Cup qualifier, even if they did make 2010’s show. To take three points that their competitors for third are less likely to grab is a huge result. Perhaps more importantly, if the midfield led by Roger Espinoza and Boniek Garcia performs like this through the next nine rounds, the Catrachos are unlikely to be pulled into a battle for third. This is a team that could compete closer to the top of the standings.

Costa Rica – Particularly after failing to qualify for South Africa, the Ticos have become the region’s neglected power. For half an hour on Wednesday, Costa Rica dwelled in realms of the forgotten as they spotted Panama two goals. But coming back to claim a point, the Costa Ricans gave us a nudge, woke us up, and reminded us they’re weren’t that far from qualifying for a third straight World Cup in 2010. While Bryan Ruiz’s overhead, game-tying goal may be the type of effort you can’t write into the game plan, Jorge Luis Pinto’s team put themselves in position to benefit. A valuable road point should open our eyes, a little.

Jamaica – This game had blowout written all over it before kicking off, but Jamaica were able to get the round’s most surprising result. Parts of the Reggae Boyz’ result reek of an underdog riding a goalkeeping blinder, but applying that description to the entire match would understate Jamaica’s performance. They had real chances to take full points, and while earning a surprise result at Azteca shouldn’t vault them to the top of our Most Likely to Qualify lists, the draw was reminds us Jamaica have enough talent and athleticism to frustrate anybody in the region. Even Mexico.

source: ReutersMexico – They came out flat, and their fans let them know it. Second half boos and ironic cheers for the Jamaicans reminded El Tri that they’re playing under higher expectations. Whether the standard’s fair or not, teams like Jamaica aren’t supposed to trouble Mexico, especially at home. Still, it was only 90 minutes of a 900 minute tournament, and while ‘Chepo’ de la Torre’s side performed well below expectations, nothing we saw on Wednesday should convince us their round one disappointment was more than a one-off.

Panama – It’s hard to call any team a “big loser” one match into the tournament, but Panama was the team that lost the most on Wednesday. Not only did they give up a two-goal lead, they capitulated to one of the two teams they should be targeting for third place. We alluded to it in yesterday’s preview: The inability to play to the stakes could hurt the Canaleros early in the tournament. Their inexperience may have cost them two points they’re unlikely to reclaim at Estadio Saprissa.

United States – The somewhat strange-cum-freakish way it happened overshadowed the remainder of a disappointing performance, but Wednesday’s loss didn’t tell us anything new about the United States. They’re still not generating enough chances, have problems in defense, and have a surprising number of questions in midfield (both in personnel and style). But even though the team is not playing to fans’ expectations, they still project as the second-best team in the region. The fact that they almost got a result against a good Catracho team (that got strong individual performances) only affirms that status.

Report: Earnie Stewart in negotiations for U.S. Soccer GM job

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Philadelphia Union sporting director and USMNT centurion Earnie Stewart is reportedly in negotiations to become the United States men’s national team general manager.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The report, from Metro NY reporter Kristian Dyer, says the Netherlands-born executive has the proverbial ball in his court.

Stewart, 49, racked up 103 caps and 18 goals for the Yanks and had a glittering playing career spent between Willem II, NAC Breda, and DC United.

He later had high-ranking positions with NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar.

Here’s Dyer, quoting a source:

The source, speaking to Metro on the condition of anonymity, said that Stewart is believed to be the frontrunner and is in negotiations for the position following an impressive showing during the interview process.

The club, when asked for a comment, told Metro that “Since Earnie’s first interview with U.S. Soccer, we have respected their process, and as such, we will decline further comment until a final decision has been made.”

Stewart scored against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and added markers in qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.

His familiarity with both MLS and European leagues would be a boon for the U.S., and Stewart’s Union has brought along a number of promising young players including Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry (the latter drafted out of Georgetown).

Carrick: Haven’t entertained possibility of Pogba leaving Man Utd

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Michael Carrick is hammering the idea of a Paul Pogba exit from Manchester United.

Pogba’s had his problems with manager Jose Mourinho, but recently praised the boss for the season’s education.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

But is an exit is just not going to happen, says Carrick as he heads toward a coaching role at Old Trafford.

From Sky Sports:

“Of course he’s got a future, he’s a big player for us, he’s a great age, he’s got his peak years ahead of him. It’s not even something I’d give a second thought to, to be honest.”

The retired midfielder also said he’s looking forward to working under Jose Mourinho, whom he calls “the best man to learn from.”

He also said United’s trophy-less season wasn’t ideal, but it’s more about them their competition.

“We’re not looking at City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, anyone. We’re looking at ourselves to improve, we believe we’re capable of improving a lot and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”