Studs and Duds: How MLS and Premier League players have faired in the World Cup

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Yesterday The Guardian released a highly-addictive World Cup infographic (photo, below) that allows users to track players competing in the tournament based on what domestic league they play in.

Scrolling over each individual entry in the bar graph reveals the player, his position, nationality and club, and updates his country’s status as the tournament progresses. As teams bow out, down goes the strength of each domestic league.

The infographic is particularly interesting when examining how the stars of the Premier League and Major League Soccer have performed on the world’s biggest stage. So with that, let’s take a look at the studs and duds of the World Cup from each respective leagues.

PREMIER LEAGUE: STUDS

The Premier League put 106 players into the World Cup, 44 of whom are already on vacation and 62 who are either moving on to the Round of 16 or in position to do so.

For the Premier League studs, it’s all about Belgium. The contingent of Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku, Nacer Chadli, Eden Hazard, Moussa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen have all enjoyed strong tournaments while Adnan Januzaj and Kevin Mirallas are reserves destined to contribute. Diables Rouge is a squad clicking on all cylinders, holding onto that dark-horse reputaion bequeathed to them months, even years, ago.

One surprise stud nation is Nigeria, with John Obi Mikel, Peter Odemwingie, Joseph Yobo,  Shola Ameobi and Victor Moses all moving on to the Round of 16. Other individual studs out of the Premier League enjoying solid tournaments include Pablo Zabaleta, Tim Howard, Pablo Armero, Hugo Lloris and Per Mertesacker.

PREMIER LEAGUE: DUDS

The Premier League duds are led by the English, who bowed out of the tournament with only two goals to their name, the worst performance ever by an England squad in the World Cup. And while many will point to Roy Hodgson as the primary culprit there were some notably shocking performances from veterans like Steven Gerrard, who appeared burnt out and error prone, Leighton Baines, who looked over-matched and lost, and Joe Hart, whose decision making off the line remains a major problem.

On par with England’s poor display was Spain as Cesc Fabregas, David De Gea, Fernando Torres, Cesar Azpilicueta, Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla are all going home early. The real culprits here are the La Liga based players but outside of Fabregas and Mata’s performance against Australia, the Premier League based players were largely ineffective and unimpressive with De Gea being the only one to get a pass due to injury.

Other Premier Leaguers failing to impress include Edin Dzeko, a no-show in Bosnia & Herzegovina’s first two matches, Dejan Lovren, whose center-back partnership with Verdan Corluka failed to prevent Mexico from a late-match walloping, Shinji Kagawa, who is a shell of his former self, Yaya Toure, who’s shoulders simply weren’t big enough to carry the Ivory Coast, and Antonio Valencia, who at the age of 28 has recently acquired a major discipline problem.

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MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: STUDS

MLS, a league desperate for recognition on the international stage and deserved of much more than it gets, put 21 players into Brazil, seven of whom are going home early and 14 who are either moving on to the Round of 16 or in position to do so.

When talking MLS studs it’s all about Tim Cahill and Clint Dempsey. Scorer of two fantastic goals, one of which was arguably the goal of the tournament, Cahill’s passion and leadership made this Australia team an incredibly tough nut to crack. He and the Socceroos deserved much, much better.

Similarly, Dempsey encompasses everything that is great about the US. His goal against Ghana was sensational while his performance of playing the majority of the match with cotton stuck up his broken nose was heroic. Against Portugal, it was a new position and more of the same story – he was a major disruption, leading brilliantly, scoring a timely goal and flat-out inspiring not just a team but a nation. Other Americans enjoying classy World Cups include Kyle Beckerman, a defensive midfield stalwart, and super-sub Deandre Yedlin, who has the making of a full-back destined for true greatness.

A final MLS stud shout goes out to Julio Cesar, who rediscovered his form while on loan at Toronto FC and has done well so far for the Selecao. If the host nation has any hope of hoisting the cup come July, Cesar’s form will be absolutely crucial.

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER: DUDS

For MLS duds look no further than the Honduran four-some of Marvin Chavez, Victor Bernardez, Boniek Garcia and Jerry Bengsten, all of whom played a signficant role in Brazil. To beat up Los Catarachos may feel a bit harsh but it’s difficult not to at least classify Bengtson’s performance as a major let down. A much more clever player than he showed in Brazil, Bengtson is a veteran who needed to step up if Honduras was to have any chance. He didn’t and they suffered.

Reports: Antonio Conte will be next Inter manager

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According to a number of reports across Europe, including The Guardian and The Mirror, Antonio Conte has agreed to terms to become the next manager at Inter Milan and will take over this summer, with Luciano Spalletti departing.

Conte has signed a four-year deal at Inter that will earn him around $11 million per season, with the Italian excited to return home and face the challenge of finishing the task at Inter. The Italian giants have slumped in recent years, but this year showed promise that the project may finally be coming to an end. Spalletti appears to have turned the team into a Champions League contender again, but there are reports that he is struggling to maintain the support of the locker room and the front office.

Inter’s qualification to next year’s Champions League is no guarantee either, with the club sitting just a point ahead of rivals AC Milan for the final Serie A spot heading into the final week of the season. They have just three wins in their final nine matches, leaving them vulnerable.

Conte most recently managed Chelsea for two seasons, winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup in his first season but missing out on Champions League qualification last campaign before departing. He recently won a lawsuit against Chelsea that will see the Blues pay him an additional $11 million as part of his severance package. Other than his Premier League stint at Stamford Bridge, Conte has spent his entire career in Italy, managing Juventus, Atalanta, and the Italian national team among others. He has eight Serie A titles to his name between playing and managing.

Rumors say that Conte is zeroing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as his first transfer target of the summer.

Red Bulls slump to disappointing draw with Vancouver

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The New York Red Bulls coughed up a second-half lead in a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, pegged back by Freddy Montero’s equalizing penalty in the 61st minute that came just six minutes after the hosts had taken the lead.

New York dominated possession at home, holding just under 70% of the ball, but they struggled mightily in goal. New York had 18 shots to Vancouver’s 13, but could manage just three on target, whereas the visitors put seven on frame. Vancouver jumped in front right on the half-hour mark as Sean Nealis got burned down the left by Joaquin Ardaiz, and while his cross was deflected by Connor Lade, it fell to Scott Sutter at a tight angle for a roofed finish.

The hosts would level things up before halftime, as a looped cross by Kaku found the head of Amro Tarek who powered it on frame, but before it could reach the net it was slightly redirected by Brian White’s head and found the back of the net. In the celebration, a smiling White could be seen sheepishly apologizing to Tarek for stealing what may already have been a goal, but New York wasn’t complaining.

After the break, the Red Bulls went in front on an own goal as White’s effort was redirected into the back of the net by Andy Rose. That should have been the goal to see New York ease past the ninth-place Whitecaps and send New York to a strong fourth-place spot in the Eastern Conference table, but the visitors continued to attack and would eventually find a way through.

First, Luis Robles was required to turn a 8Felipe Martins header off the post and out, before eight minutes later when Montero would be the man to bring Vancouver back level after coming on at halftime. VAR determined correctly that Nealis whiffed on a header attempt and instead got his arm to the ball, giving Martins the opportunity from the spot, which he deposited cooly, sending Robles the wrong way.

That would leave the teams level, with New York desperately looking for more than a point to savor, but they were unable to do so. The draw leaves the Red Bulls in fifth, level on points with cross-town rivals NYCFC and two behind Atlanta United. They remain unbeaten in three, but the opportunity for three straight victories was there. Vancouver, meanwhile, sits in ninth in the West, drawing level on points with San Jose thanks to the road draw.

Ghana striker Gyan changes mind 2 days after retiring

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Two days after announcing his international retirement, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan has changed his mind and been included in a provisional squad for the African Cup of Nations starting next month.

Gyan says his change of heart came after speaking with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The 33-year-old Gyan said Monday he was retiring because he was replaced as Ghana captain by Andre Ayew.

Gyan says he had a phone conversation with Akufo-Addo, who asked him to reconsider, and “a presidential request is one that cannot be disregarded.”

Gyan was named in a preliminary 29-man squad on Wednesday. He made his international debut at 17 and is Ghana’s record goalscorer with 51 goals in 106 games although he hasn’t played for his country since late 2017.

U-20 World Cup preview: Ramos to make history

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The United States U-20 side is set to begin its 2019 World Cup campaign on Friday when it begins Group D play in Poland.

Tab Ramos will make history in the process, equalling the FIFA record of most championship tournaments participated as a player or coach. The 52-year-old will officially take part in his 11th FIFA championship event, matching the record held by Germany’s U-20 women head coach Maren Meinert.

United States

The United States side is one of the best ever on paper, with a mix of emerging domestic talent alongside youngsters from the best clubs in Europe. They will take on Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar in high-leverage group stage play. Riding on the result of group play is a place in the knockout phase, with a massive gulf in difference between finishing first and second in the group. The first-place finisher in Group D draws the strongest third-place side from Groups B, E, and F – possibilities include the likes of Mali, South Korea, Panama, or Italy. Meanwhile, the second-place finisher from Group D takes on the winner of Group E, which will almost definitely come in the form of championship hopeful France.

An exciting group of young American players with more well-known names including Timothy Weah and Paxton Pomykal mixes with supreme talents like Barcelona youth product Konrad de la Fuente in attack and Bayern Munich teen Chris Richards who will look to anchor the defense. While the U.S. isn’t exactly a favorite to win the tournament, they are a strong contender looking to reach at least the quarterfinals if not further.

US U-20 squad

GK: CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Koln).
DEF: Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew/Richmond Kickers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich).
MID: Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas).
FWD: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/Celtic FC)

Potential breakout players

Aside from the United States squad, there is a host of young talent at the tournament in Poland. These are the players you should keep a close eye on.

Diego Lainez (winger, Mexico) – Mexico’s 18-year-old winger has been a fixture for the national team at every youth level, playing every minute for the U-17 side in the 2017 World Cup. He has since earned a quartet of senior side call-ups and looked electric in his time on the field.

Radoslaw Majecki (goalkeeper, Poland) – At just 19 years old, Majecki has been the starting goalkeeper for Champions League regulars Legia Warsaw since he won the job in November. While he has yet to make his CL debut (having earned the starting job after Legia Warsaw was eliminated from the competition in the qualifying stages), he is as experienced as they come for players in this competition and a huge asset for his country.

Jackson Porozo (defender, Ecuador) – The 18-year-old was an absolute monster in the South American U-20 championships back in late January and early February, helping Ecuador keep five clean sheets and finish the competition on a stunning 298-minute streak without conceding a single goal as they shocked the continent by winning the tournament. Porozo, who joined the Santos youth setup last summer, was a man among boys in the South American championships, and long with his goalkeeper Moises Ramirez – who also has high expectations for a solid future – this Ecuador side has a shot at making it out of an absolutely loaded Group B.

Interesting storylines

Group B – The most loaded group in the tournament sees Mexico, Italy, Ecuador, and Japan all come together for a brutal battle. While the top two teams are guaranteed to advance, it could also be a factor for one of the coveted third-place spots, of particular interest to the United States, who would take on a Group B third-place qualifier should they win Group D. Mexico won the CONCACAF U-20 championships, Ecuador stunningly reigned supreme in CONMEBOL over traditional superpowers Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, while both Italy and Japan performed quite well in their own tournaments, each reaching the semifinals. This is easily the most fun early storyline.

France as favorites – Portugal, Poland, Nigeria, and Argentina are all firmly in the mix, but France is considered the favorite according to most oddsmakers. Bernard Diomede will have a challenge as Lyon’s young star Amine Gouiri will be missing as he takes part in the U-21 UEFA championships this summer, but he does have Borussia Dortmund youngster Dan Axel-Zagadou leading the back line. While the French senior side is on top of the world, the youth team has plenty of talent coming down the pipeline.

Can Argentina bounce back? – The six-time champions slipped a bit at the CONMEBOL championships earlier this year, falling to both Ecuador and Brazil in the final stage while beating Uruguay and Colombia by just a goal. The traditionally dominant South American powerhouse has proven fallable over the last year or so, and while they most certainly have a squad capable of placing in this tournament, they will need more consistency. The squad sports Atlanta United winger Ezequiel Barco, who has four goals in eight MLS appearances this season and is in good form. Other big names include Atletico Madrid defender and youth team captain Nehuen Perez, Boca Juniors goalkeeper Manuel Roffo – who trained with the senior team earlier this year – and midfielder Santiago Sosa who has dabbled in the River Plate senior squad at just 19.