Which U.S. men can go from Gold Cup to World Cup?

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In terms of a competition, this ongoing Gold Cup is like an NCIS or Law and Order rerun for a lot of U.S. supporters: It’s just something on TV, and they’ll watch because there’s nothing better on.

But that doesn’t mean that the tournament doesn’t have a place in the bigger picture, that it can’t supply some pieces to the big puzzle.

The clear, important subtext of Gold Cup play for the United States is what it could mean for World Cup roster spots that will be announced in about 10 months. (Spots that will announced in about 10 months … and how about that!)

Yes, we’re being presumptuous – the United States is going to Brazil. Get on board … it’s great in here!

Players have worked their way into World Cup spots through this competition previously, and they will again.

(MORE: Gold Cup preview of United States vs. Belize)

For purposes of this exercise, we are going to take Stuart Holden and Landon Donovan off the table. They are going to the World Cup next year unless they fall completely off the table performance-wise. (Or, obviously, if they get hurt.)

Here then are the four men who have the best opportunity to play their way into a World Cup spot over the coming three weeks.

Mix Diskerud: Remember, this young man is just 22, so his best years remain ahead. Diskerud – who has gone from two “Xs” lately to just one – could be passed over for Brazil 2014 and still conceivably play big roles in two World Cups.

That said, he’s got the opportunity dangling now. Diskerud (pictured above) already looks like a Michael Bradley starter kit, a technically adept two-way midfielder, not really a holding man and not really a playmaker, but able to perform either role adequately at present. That versatility becomes useful when managers fill out roster spots No. 18 through 23 at a World Cup.

It’s on Diskerud to show Jurgen Klinsmann he deserves one of those spots over the next three weeks.

Brek Shea: The Stoke City man has already accomplished something with his bright 30 minutes last week against Guatemala, getting Klinsmann to take notice. Shea earned a Gold Cup roster spot with those 30 minutes, plus whatever he demonstrated in a few days of training.

A few more evenings with that kind of attacking desire on display, parlayed with the former FC Dallas’ winger’s natural physical ability, and the manager will be hard pressed not to assign Shea a seat on the charter into Brazil next year.

Jose Torres: Klinsmann is an optimist by nature. So if Torres can finally put on the kind of display the manager keeps asking of him, Klinsmann will be inclined to believe the Texas native will deliver more of the same going forward. But it must happen now!

Torres absolutely, positively has to lean into this one, pressing the attack and finding more ways to impact the game. Leave the safe passes to Kyle Beckerman and the center backs, already! Take on defenders. Change the angles. Open up the defense with some vision. Vary the attack to keep the defense off balance. All in all … just do more to put all that technical craft to better use.

Jack McInerney: Klinsmann knows what Chris Wondolowski can do at striker. He knows, more or less, what Will Bruin can do. Not so with McInerney, now getting his first up-close look from the manager. He’s got the opportunity to knock one of those guys aside in the depth chart ordering.

There are 10-15 U.S. goals out there through three group games, a quarterfinal, a semifinal and final – assuming this thing doesn’t fall off the tracks en route to the July 28 final at Soldier Field. If McInerney can get into the act a couple of times, putting those scorers instincts and that finishing proficiency to use at international level, he’ll make Klinsmann think hard about a roster spot next year.

Khedira laughs off Swedish reporter’s offer of tickets home

AP Photo/Matthias Schrader
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Juventus midfielder Sami Khedira brushed off a gesture from a Swedish reporter, trading a bit of banter ahead of Germany’s big World Cup match against Sweden on Saturday.

Germany fell 1-0 to Mexico in its opener while Sweden beat South Korea, leading a playful Swede to hand Khedira boarding passes for a flight home to Germany.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Khedira’s reply? He joked that Sweden won’t be a problem and he’ll use the tickets after the World Cup Final.

From Goal.com:

“After this bad start, we know that it’s super difficult, but we know that we are a strong team. We analysed the game, we saw Sweden play and we are sure that we are winning this game.

“I think we’ll need them [plane tickets] on the 16th of July.”

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’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 D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.