Rounding up the U.S. national team’s pre-World Cup schedule

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About three months from now, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will gather his team for a pre-World Cup training camp. Yes, it’s just about time to talk about pre-World Cup training camp. Oh. Joy.

Every pre-World Cup camp comes attached to friendlies (usually three) that will help sort the final lineup choices, combinations and such.

There’s still a lot of “I” crossing and “T” dotting for the federation, but we know a lot today about what the U.S. national team’s pre-World Cup schedule will look like.

Remember, unlike other years, there will be no friendly once Klinsmann’s men arrive into Brazil; teams may play friendlies up to five days before the competition begins, and the U.S. arrival schedule does not permit it. (Well, no “public” friendlies, that is, none that any of us will see. The team can play closed-door matches.)

  • The federation has announced a March 5 match in Europe against Ukraine. Circle this one; the roster picked for the match in Ukraine promises to look very similar to Klinsmann’s final 23-man roster.
  • The federation continues to work out details of a proposed early April match with Mexico, most likely in Arizona. As this is no FIFA date, look for an MLS-heavy assembly, similar to the lineup Klinsmann’s deployed in last week’s win over South Korea. (With one big exception: Michael Bradley will surely be part of this one.)
  • The team will gather sometime in early- to mid-May at Stanford University outside San Francisco.  ESPN FC’s Doug McIntyre reported earlier this week that a May 27 friendly would finish off that part of the camp. The report said potential opposition included Sweden, Serbia and Turkey.
  • Word was out a few weeks ago that Red Bull Arena would probably host a match. Still no date for that one, but best bet is June 1. Coaches like to emulate the pace of first round games; June 2 would more accurately emulate actual World Cup schedule, but that’s a Monday.
  • SI.com has reported that the team would depart from Florida for its base in Brazil on June 8, one day after its final match before actual tournament competition. The June 7 contest is all but booked for Jacksonville. You know who likes Jacksonville? Landon Donovan likes Jacksonville! Or have you forgotten about the man’s hat trick against Scotland there two years ago?
  • The ESPN FC report cited Nigeria as the most likely opposition for the Jacksonville contest. That makes sense, as the next time Klinsmann’s bunch is on the field in an actual match, they’ll be up against another African team – in a match they probably have to win for any realistic hope of advancing out of the first round.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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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