Oh, heavens! Who will start along the U.S. back line Friday?

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Tempting though it is to draw a big red circle around the severely thinned U.S. defense and say, “Only Jurgen Klinsmann knows what the American back four will piece together in two qualifiers ahead,” there’s a harder truth to consider here:

The U.S. manager probably doesn’t know either.

But he’ll sort it out over the coming days; next week’s match in Mexico is really just for “bonus points;” no one expects to go into Azteca and get a result, although Jamaica just showed it can be done.

BUT! Friday’s contest in Costa Rica is a must-have for all the reasons we have talked about. Long story short, if Klinsmann’s team ties or loses Friday outside Denver, his boys are staring at the very ugly, and all-too-real possibility that the United States national team will have one or no points after three matches in final round World Cup qualifying – a fine Brazilian pickle, if only for the blow in confidence and the fan and media outrage sure to follow.

The U.S. effort to reach a seventh consecutive World Cup would then hang in the balance.

(MORE: Klinsmann discusses roster on national teleconference) 

Back to the battered back line …

Not to put too fine of a panicked point on this thing, but the six defenders named to Klinsmann’s 23-man roster have a total of 12 World Cup qualifier matches of experience. Half of those are from Geoff Cameron, and he was barely on the team at this point one year ago.

Still, the center back situation is not dire. It’s still young, as noted, but talented.

Cameron (pictured) and Omar Gonzalez, Klinsmann’s preferred pairing until further notice, apparently, is available. Matt Besler is untested in qualifiers but held up in the January U.S. camp. Clarence Goodson is a veteran with plenty of experience; he’s not a world-beater, but you know what you’ll get with Goodson, and that’s pretty solid at home against Costa Rica.

But would Klinsmann move Cameron to the outside, where he plays with Stoke City?

If so, would Maurice Edu dropped into a center back spot, where he’s played before. (A little less likely with the late injury news to Danny Williams, which thins the central midfield corps.)

As it stands, Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow are the only natural fullbacks on the U.S. roster. Morrow is a left back, and that looks like the particularly interesting position. There are plenty of options, although they are all highly imperfect.

(MORE: Injury dented U.S. roster announced Monday)

Brek Shea has played as a left back previously, although hardly extensively. DaMarcus Beasley has filled the role at national team level. Both are on the roster just announced.

Or Klinsmann could throw down a wildcard, the way he did with Jose Torres last year against Antiqua and Barbuda. Torres was effective as an attack-minded outside presence in that one. Clearly, however, Costa Rica is not Antiqua and Barbuda; the Ticos will demand far greater defensive attention.

There is one combination (but only one) available from this roster that would have played together as a foursome. Beltran, Gonzalez, Besler and Morrow started in a January friendly against Canada.

Given that such a foursome would mean excluding Cameron, the second-most experienced back line man at this point – And hows about that! – such an arrangement seems unlikely. Translation: a high probability occurrence of a U.S. back line that has never played together. That is hardly ideal.

In fact, we just saw one of those down in Honduras … everyone remember the defensive fiasco where that one fell to pieces?

The subplot here is Carlos Bocanegra’s absence from Monday’s roster. It’s fair to ask if Bocanegra could assist  here? He has, after all, been a starting center back and left back at international level for a decade.

There’s really no getting around this one. There can be but one reason Klinsmann declined to select the veteran of English, Scottish, French and German leagues (not to mention MLS): The manager believes his former captain’s speed and/or skills have declined to the point that he simply cannot be effective at top level anymore.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE