Clint Dempsey named U.S. captain for Costa Rica, Mexico matches

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With Carlos Bocanegra absent, the United States needed a stand-in captain for their World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. Many put Michael Bradley’s name forward and there were suspicions Jermaine Jones could end up with the armband, but when U.S. Soccer announced that Clint Dempsey would captain the team over the next two days, the decision seemed to be met with a collective “Yeah, that makes sense.”

This is one of those things that only becomes important if you screw it up. It’s not that the captaincy doesn’t matter at all — the attitude within the team means it does, a little — but it only becomes important if the wrong man gets the honor. If the position is handed out carelessly or used by the boss to make a point, the decision could create divisions or undermine other important figures.

That’s not going to happen with Dempsey. Currently the most accomplished player in the team (and the least likely to be left out of a starting XI), “Deuce” getting the armband was the default choice.

“Clint is one of our most experienced players and ready to assume a more vocal leadership role,” Jurgen Klinsmann said in a release from U.S. Soccer. “He has been huge for us in World Cup Qualifying so far and is already one of our key leaders. We know he will do a great job for these two important games.”

Dempsey will be the fifth different player to wear the armband under Klinsmann, joining Bocanegra, Tim Howard, Jones and Kyle Beckerman.

(MORE: Despite scrutiny, Klinsmann may have plan.)

According to German outlet Kicker, Bradley was the only other serious candidate. Based on his presence, experience, and role in the team, it would have been a sensible choice, but in giving the honor to Dempsey, Klinsmann’s acknowledging the player that’s accomplished most. He’s scored in two World Cup, worked his way through English soccer, and is now contributing to a Champions League-level club. Those kind of CV bullets are respected throughout the team and cast him into a de facto leadership role.

To this point, that role may have been confined to leading by example or serving as an important voice in a smaller section of the team. That’s just how the team was set up before. Bocanegra was the captain, and Landon Donovan had his unique place in the team. Everybody else fit in where they could.

Klinsmann may be looking for Dempsey expand that role, something that makes sense given the squad’s turnover. The old dynamic’s being blown up. Now players may move in and out of the team, but no matter how much the squad turns over, everybody’s aware of what Clint Dempsey’s done.

(MORE: Bocanegra speaks out | Howard follows | Bradley: Anonymous critiques ’embarassing’)

If Dempsey can leverage that respect in a leadership role, it could help stabilize the team, and while you want to be cautious about reading too much into a two-game move, words like take “a more vocal leadership role” hints at long-term goals with this short-term move.

Though he’s long been near the center of fan attentions, it may be time for “Deuce” may be asked to move front-and-center within the team.

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

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

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

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.