Most pressure on a U.S. World Cup qualifier in a decade

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DENVER – All World Cup qualifiers come with pressure. The home matches come with extra helpings; everyone knows the recipe for World Cup qualification means picking off points on the road, but it demands wins at home.

So there’s always a load to bear in these things.

But the weight of this one feels different. The United States may not be wearing the heaviness as a burden, not just yet, but it’s there.

I wondered when the last the United States marched into a home stadium for a qualifier with as much pressure attached? Because it has surely been a while.

More than a decade, it seems.

Every round has a match or two where a result is needed or even required, or very bad things will happen. Heck, there was even a scenario last fall where a loss in the semifinal round finale could have seen the American’s (gasp!) tumble completely out of the World Cup. As in, “out!”  No Brazil 2014, no chance at World Cup glory – but firings and recriminations surely arriving in force, at military grade strength.

(MORE: PST match preview with lots of links)

But even then, at home against Guatemala, the United States players and staff had a certain assuredness, and media members who were not prone to dramatic overreaction understood the true odds, which still leaned heavily the U.S. way. Sure enough, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team rolled into the final round with a comfortable win that night  outside  Kansas City.

A loss tonight does not mean elimination. But … Lose tonight and lose Tuesday in Mexico (likely) and things could unravel completely inside a camp already showing fissure. Hard questions about Klinsmann and whether he needs immediate replacement will pepper the U.S. camp, and federation president Sunil Gulati would be forced to think seriously about making a huge move prior to the next team gathering in mid-May.

I talked to Kasey Keller during yesterday’s U.S. practice. The longtime U.S. goalkeeper remembers the qualifier back in October of 2001 as having an enormous weight attached.

The team had lost three in a row, including one at home (the last qualifier loss on U.S. soil, in fact) and were sitting a meager fourth in a six-team group with two contests remaining, perilously close to not qualifying for World Cup 2002 in Asia.

(Plus, no team carrying the United States banner had participated in a major event since 9/11 the attacks, so there was added patriotic weight, as well.)

Before that, the qualifier in Portland back in 1997, where Tab Ramos came through with an enormous lift toward France ’98, started with so much on the line. (Still one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen and felt for a U.S. World Cup qualifier.)

The weight is always there, but rarely is it as massive as this one.

Wynalda named head coach, technical director of Las Vegas Lights

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Las Vegas Lights FC is staying very on-brand as it announces its new head coach and technical director.

After a season headlined by the lights, glitz and glamour off the field while fortunes on the field struggled, the Lights administration announced on Wednesday that it had hired Eric Wynalda to be its new manager. The former U.S. Men’s National Team striker takes over effective immediately, after Lights FC parted ways with Isidro Sanchez at the end of the 2018 USL regular season last Saturday.

[READ: Wenger could return to coaching in January]

Las Vegas made waves ahead of their expansion season by hiring controversial ex-Chivas USA manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, known affectionately as “Chelis.” However, just before the start of the season, Chelis was demoted in a way to technical director while his son, Isidro Sanchez, took over the reigns on the sideline. Chelis was eventually dismissed after a poor run of form and an altercation with a fan led him to receive an eight-game suspension.

However, the hiring of Wynalda perfectly fits within the ethos of the bright and loud club, trying to mimic the stereotype projected by Las Vegas. Wynalda’s comments and opinions on the sport in the U.S. have likely kept him from receiving MLS coaching offers, which is ridiculous because he’s proven to be a successful coach on the field. Not only a great scout of talent, Wynalda is the definition of a player’s manager, a coach that players want to run through walls for. He found success with Cal FC and in a short spell with the Atlanta Silverbacks, where he commuted back and forth from his home in Los Angeles.

Most recently, Wynalda has been out of a job since running for U.S. Soccer president, in which he was defeated early on during the election last February.

There’s likely to be a big overhaul of players this offseason at Las Vegas, but considering Wynalda’s eye for talent, there’s a good chance that the Llamas/Lights should be a more competitive side in 2019.

Mane undergoes hand surgery

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The “FIFA virus” is hitting Liverpool hard this month.

Sadio Mane, who reportedly broke his left thumb on international duty for Senegal, underwent surgery on Wednesday, Liverpool confirmed. The club did not include a timetable for Mane’s return in its press release, only saying, “Mane’s recovery will be monitored over the next couple of days ahead of the Reds’ return to action at Huddersfield Town on Saturday.”

With the injury, Mane joins Mo Salah, Naby Keita and Virgil Van Dijk as Reds to be injured during the international break.

As an attacker, it’s unlikely Mane really needs the use of his left hand other than to protect himself on aerial challenges on bumps from defenders, but depending on the recovery, it may just be a decision of how much pain Mane could tolerate. With matches against Huddersfield, Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff City to come, maybe this is a good time for Jurgen Klopp to rest some of his starters, including the walking wounded like Mane.

Fulham owner withdraws offer to purchase Wembley Stadium

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Wembley Stadium is set to stay in the FA’s hands.

[READ: USMNT 1-1 Peru: Player Ratings]

The FA announced in a press release Wednesday that Fulham owner Shahid Kahn had withdrawn his offer of $790 million to purchase Wembley Stadium. Kahn first became interested in buying the stadium in February 2017, when he and FA CEO Martin Glenn met at the Superbowl. What followed was an informal offer to the FA Board of Directors before a formal offer was made.

The offer has been valued at anywhere from nearly $800 million to nearly $1.2 billion. In a statement, Kahn said that his goal to purchase the stadium was to provide the FA with a large amount of capital which it could use to improve grassroots soccer around the country.

“The intent of my efforts was, and is, to do right by everyone in a manner that strengthens the English game and brings people together, not divides them,” Khan said. “Unfortunately, given where we are today, I’ve concluded that the outcome of a vote next week would be far from sufficient in expressing the broad support favored by the FA chairman to sell Wembley Stadium.”

The FA council was set to vote on the sale next week.

Although it cost the FA and British government more than $1.4 billion (adjusted for inflation) to renovate and rebuild Wembley Stadium, the arena hosted 33 events between July 2016 and June 2017 and in its latest published financial records, the FA recorded an after-tax profit of $21 million. So it seems that along with the sponsorships and broadcast deals, Wembley Stadium is a money maker, which makes it important for the FA to hold on to.

That being said, it’s hard to turn down a deal worth close to $1 billion, even if that’s a lump sum and they won’t receive further investments from stadium revenues in the future. In the future, maybe Kahn or another owner may make another offer, one that the FA council could accept.

Report: La Liga chief going to court to compel U.S. based games to happen

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The head of La Liga is considering taking extraordinary action to ensure that a planned match this year in the U.S. goes off as expected.

[READ: What did we learn about the USMNT?]

According to Spanish radio station Cadena Cope, La Liga president Javier Tebas is set to bring a lawsuit against the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and its chief, Luis Rubiales to compel the federation to approve Barcelona’s match against Girona on January 26, which has been scheduled to be moved to Miami, Fla.’s Hard Rock Stadium.

In a way, it makes sense that Tebas and the Spanish league is considering every possible avenue to ensure that their 15-year marketing rights agreement with Relevant Sports, including league matches played abroad, can move forward as expected. However, it was clear after the announcement in August that all parties involved – especially La Liga, had not thought this through. FIFA, the RFEF, local fans and the Spanish league’s player’s union have all opposed the news, and on Wednesday Real Madrid formally sent a letter of it’s disapproval in moving La Liga matches abroad.

Tebas and La Liga would prefer for this to be resolved legally sooner rather than later, so they can market the Barcelona match in Miami and begin negotiating with the other federations that need to approve. But there’s a decent chance that the other parties – FIFA, and U.S. Soccer – could fail to rubber stamp what would be a first-of-its-kind event. In any case, watch this space.