U.S. World Cup 2014 roster outlook: MIDFIELDERS

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Going into the Mexico camp, all us smart guys thought we had a pretty good handle on Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield pecking order. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were the central pair, Graham Zusi was the obvious choice out right, while Landon Donovan and Fabian Johnson appeared to be competing for a spot on the left.

That description alone should have been a warning sign. Trying to describe Klinsmann as having a set anything is precarious, even if he has picked out players like Tim Howard, Bradley, and Clint Dempsey as being part of his core. But at left midfield? Klinsmann may not be looking for answers as much as he’s trying to find options.

Just because the way we write boils discussions down to starters, first choices, and best XIs doesn’t mean a coach thinks that way. At some point, we need to do a better job of saying “we don’t know.” We need to become better writers.

Last week, Brad Davis emerged as one of Klinsmann’s options. At least, he emerged as a more viable option than we’d previously thought. Before Mexico, the Dynamo star was seen as somebody fighting for his place on the plane, but after he got the start ahead of Landon Donovan, his spot needs to be reevaluated.

Donovan’s does, too, though we should tread lightly. The final arguments will be made in next month. For those on the bubble, making it to May’s camp gives you a shot. You don’t need to be in the 23 right now.

Two months before the 2014 World Cup, here’s how we see the midfield:

MIDFIELDERS

Michael Bradley is the obvious starter, and while Kyle Beckerman’s role seemed to free up the Toronto FC star last week, we’ll have to see how Klinsmann uses the Real Salt Lake anchor when Jermaine Jones is an option. While, in theory, the U.S. could use both Bradley and Jones on top of Beckerman, the U.S.’s three-man midfields have tended to leverage Clint Dempsey’s ability to drop back. Jones may not be a fan favorite, but Klinsmann has consistently put him in the starting lineup.

Elsewhere, Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi has the only guarantee, with the rest of the slots open to competition. In theory, Klinsmann needs one more option on the left to provide an alternative to Fabian Johnson (and, potentially, Eddie Johnson). He needs cover for Zusi on the right, and he needs somebody who can work more centrally, likely somebody who can play higher (since all of Beckerman, Bradley, and Jones can play deeper roles).

How many spots that leaves may depend on the forward situation. If Chris Wondolowski goes to Brazil, there are only three open spots in midfield. If “Wondo” (or, potentially Eddie Johnson) gets squeezed out, a fourth spot opens up in the middle.

With so many defenders able to play midfield roles (Beasley, Cameron, Evans, Johnson), Klinsmann can afford to take that extra forward. So who ends up going out of Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona (edge: Bedoya)? Does the battle between Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan claim another spot (edge: Diskerud)? And are we really at the point where Brad Davis and Landon Donovan’s an either-or?

Probably not, but that may be the direction we’re headed. All of these players may need to make a claim in May.

  • Going to Brazil: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi
  • On the bubble (three-to-four spots available): Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Landon Donovan, Mix Diskerud, Maurice Edu, Julian Green, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Danny Williams

MORE: Goalkeepers and defenders | Midfielders | Forwards

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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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