A few U.S. national team men desperately need to make big impressions next week

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Every invitation to the United States national team is an opportunity, and every player who has been summoned by Jurgen Klinsmann’s over the last two-plus years should know so. They waste chances at their own peril – because, really, who knows when the next one is coming if you aren’t named Donovan or Dempsey or Howard, etc.?

But some opportunities carry extra weight; Clearly we are at that point when it comes to a few of the U.S. figures who will gather in Frankfurt, and then fly into Cyprus on Tuesday’s for the next day’s friendly against displaced Ukraine.

We are talking serious Last Chance Saloon stuff here for a few guys still straddling the bubble.

(MORE: Klinsmann names squad for Frankfurt camp and Ukraine friendly)

A few of the fellows assembling Sunday in Frankfurt are in, period. Then we have a few are just too far away, without enough time to climb all the way back. But about those bubble types; let’s look at their situations:

Sacha Kljestan: Kljestan never looks bad in the U.S. shirt – but he never looks like a game-changer, either.  If he could so something in camp and (especially) Wednesday against Ukraine, he would go a long way to solidifying his position on that charter into Brazil. His competition for a midfield spot is probably down to Mix Diskerud and Benny Feilhaber, with one or maybe two spots open; Kljestan (pictured) is surely still ahead of Feilhaber but a little  behind Diskerud.

Alejandro Bedoya: Klinsmann needs wingers, figures comfortable attacking from wide areas (who can therefore stretch a defense a bit). And there are precious few of these fellows in the U.S. pool. Bedoya doesn’t really seem to have World Cup quality, but he’s alive in this thing because he does man a position where Klinsmann’s corps are so paper thin. Still, he has to show the manager enough, give Klinsmann reason to feel good about putting him on the plane to Brazil. Otherwise, the manager might just decide that he’s better off with someone else, even if that “someone else” isn’t a flank specialist.

Brek Shea: See Bedoya above … same deal.

Juan Agudelo: Now this could be the late, surprise run from a long-shot figure that we sometimes see. Given the (recent and discomforting) flux of the U.S. forward situation, there’s room for someone like Agudelo (or perhaps Terrence Boyd, who is also in the camp) to work his way up the order with a big camp and / or a goal in Cyprus. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Agudelo to toss in a few goals in the month or so ahead at his new, temporary Dutch home.

Danny Williams: He always seemed capable of getting back into the running, considering the German-American midfielder was a U.S. starter less than 18 months ago. Injuries and instability in his club situation conked Williams on the head, national team-wise in 2013. But here he is … still a young talent, and still blessed with a chance to make a late run if he can get on the field against Ukraine. It’s worth wondering whether Klinsmann might start Williams ahead of Jermaine Jones; the coach knows all too well, after all, what Jones can and cannot do at the holding midfield position.

(MORE: Do not read TOO MUCH into some of these surprise call-ups)

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

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MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.

World Cup: Saudi team safe after plane caught fire mid-flight

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The Saudi Arabian national team arrived alive and well in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Monday after a terrifying incident that saw their plane catch fire in the air.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The blaze was caused by “a technical failure in one of the airplane engines,” which the airline, Rossiya, claims was caused by a bird flying into the engine. Each of the planes engines were reportedly in operation upon landing at its final destination.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation posted a message on Twitter later on Monday, saying they “would like to reassure everyone that all the Saudi national team players are safe, after a technical failure in one of the airplane engines that has just landed in Rostov-on-Don airport, and now they’re heading to their residence safely.”

The Green Falcons will face Uruguay in Rostov, hoping to rebound from their tournament-opening 5-0 loss to Russia on Thursday, in each side’s second game of Group A action on Wednesday (11 a.m. ET).

Seismologists clarify Mexico fans didn’t cause earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s National Seismological Service says there was seismic activity around the country’s capital Sunday, but it wasn’t linked to soccer fans celebrating their country’s game-winning goal vs. Germany at the World Cup.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The service says in a report that there were two small earthquakes at 10:24 a.m. and 12:01 p.m. The goal came around 11:35 a.m. local time.

A geological institute reported Sunday that seismic detectors had registered a false earthquake that may have been generated by “massive jumps” by fans.

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

Mexico’s Seismological Service explained Monday that the city’s normal bustle of traffic and other movement causes vibrations that are detected by sensitive instruments.

It says those vibrations notably quieted during the match as people gathered in front of TVs to watch, and rose after the goal.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 6 — Colombia vs. Japan; Salah’s debut?

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Day 6 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Tuesday — and would you believe it? — there’s another three games on the schedule. This whole “back-to-back-to-back games of soccer” thing isn’t so bad.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Up first, it’s the 2018 debut of Colombia, winners of tens hundreds of millions of hearts in 2014, as they take on Japan. In the day’s other Group H fixture, it’ll be Robert Lewandowski and Poland facing Sadio Mane and Senegal. Star power aplenty.

Then, we swing things back around to Group A, where the hosts Russia will look to continue their hot start against Egypt with Mohamed Salah expected to make his World Cup debut.

Below is Tuesday’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 – Tuesday, June 19

Group H
Colombia vs. Japan: Saransk, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Senegal: Moscow, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group A
Russia vs. Egypt: St. Petersburg, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE