2015 Gold Cup: With the rest of CONCACAF making strides, this is USMNT’s chance to show they are, too

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FRISCO, Texas — When the US national team kicks off its 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign against Honduras here at Toyota Stadium on Tuesday (9:30 pm ET, Fox Sports 1/UniMas), there’s more on the line than the matter of defending and retaining their Gold Cup title.

[ PREVIEW: USA to defend Gold Cup title ]

On top of that is the chance to re-affirm their status as CONCACAF’s preeminent, top-of-the-food-chain national power. While Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT has been busy putting together watershed friendly victory after watershed friendly victory after watershed friendly victory over the past four years, the rest of North and Central America and the Caribbean have also been busy closing the gap between themselves and the Americans when it comes to official competitions.

For proof, look no further than last summer’s World Cup, when Costa Rica, CONCACAF’s second-place qualifier to the 2014 tournament in Brazil, took eventual third-place finishers, the Netherlands, all the way to a penalty shootout in the quarterfinal round. Los Ticos outlasted not only the US in the summer of 2014, but fellow CONCACAF giants Mexico, as well.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage | USMNT | Mexico ]

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Costa Rica — 2014 World Cup quarterfinalists

During the 2013 Gold Cup, long-time middling side Panama beat El Tri not once, but twice (once in the group stage and again in the semifinals) as they advanced to the final before ultimately falling to a Landon Donovan-led buzzsaw.

“This region is a very difficult region,” Klinsmann said Monday evening during his pre-game press conference. “It’s very different to Europe, or even to South America.”

So many of the CONCACAF’s “other” nations boast a number of key players plying their trade in some of Europe’s biggest, most competitive leagues — Mexico’s Carlos Vela (Real Socided), Giovani Dos Santos (Villarreal), Hector Herrera (Porto) and Miguel Layun (Watford); Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz (Fulham and PSV), Joel Campbell (Arsenal and Villarreal) and Giancarlo Gonzalez (Palermo); and Honduras’ Andy Najar (Anderlecht).

[ MORE: Previewing USA’s Group A | Group B | Group C | The stars of CONCACAF ]

Meanwhile, a number of key players for Klinsmann’s side have decided to make the controversial career decision of moving to Major League Soccer during the primes of their careers. For the MLS players to show up to this Gold Cup and not only replicate previous levels of performance, but to exceed those accounts of themselves, showing continued growth and maturation as players, is paramount for this tournament and the fortunes of the US program going forward. It’s not going to be easy.

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Michael Bradley, USMNT

“We have a lot of guys who have played in these Gold Cups before,” said newly-named USMNT captain Michael Bradley Monday afternoon. “They’re unique challenges when you factor in everything — the opponents, the climate, the travel, the quick turnaround. We understand that’s how it goes, and there’s certainly not going to be any excuses on our end. We feel like we have a group that is ready in all ways to get going [Tuesday] night and give this thing a real go.”

In the coming years, World Cup qualifying and Gold Cup titles will become yet increasingly hard to come by for the Yanks, as their fellow North and Central American and Caribbean nations continue to trend upward. As for Klinsmann, he’s focused solely on game No. 1 and will cross that bridge when he comes to it.

[ MORE: USA 4-0 Guatemala | Klinsmann “not happy” | Player ratings ]

“I think it’s crucial in a tournament that you start on the right foot,” Klinsmann said of beginning the Gold Cup on a positive note, just as his side did last summer with a 2-1 victory over Ghana in their World Cup opener. “You want to build on that, therefore the first game is always very, very important. Obviously we know that the tournament motus is a little bit different than the World Cup. We’re not in the group of death like we were in Brazil, but you want to get started with three points, there’s no doubt about it.”

Simply showing up over the next three weeks, expecting a coronation and, either 1) laboring to unimpressive victories, or 2) failing to maintain their regional dominance and superiority, would be the worst possible sign for current and future editions of the US national team.

FIFA considering four bids to host 2023 Women’s World Cup

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FIFA has received bids from Brazil, Japan, Colombia and a joint bid from Australia and New Zealand to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Gerrard extends contract amid strong start as Rangers boss ]

Soccer’s international governing body will now assess the bids, which will include visiting each country. Evaluations will be submitted to the FIFA Council and a vote on the host will be held at the organization’s meeting in Ethiopia next June.

Anticipated bids from South Korea and South Africa were withdrawn before Friday’s deadline.

The 2023 World Cup will feature 32 teams, up from the 24 that competed this summer at the tournament in France. The United States won its second straight World Cup title and fourth overall this year, and the event enjoyed unprecedented television viewership of 1.12 billion worldwide.

“France 2019 was certainly a watershed moment for women’s football, and now it is FIFA’s responsibility to take concrete measures to keep fostering the game’s incredible growth,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a statement. “With the FIFA Women’s World Cup generating an unprecedented interest across member associations, we are ensuring that the process to select the hosts is seamless, objective, ethical and transparent. By the time the FIFA Council announces the hosts, there should be no doubt whatsoever as to why that choice was made.”

[ MORE: Ljungberg wants quick appointment of new Arsenal manager ]

The Japan Football Association has already launched a website hyping its bid, which encourages supporters to submit “My Dream of 2023” hopes for the event. Japan’s association proposes using eight stadiums, including the new National Stadium.

Japan is hosting the Olympics next summer.

Football Federation Australia and New Zealand Football announced the co-confederation bid Friday in Melbourne, just hours before the official bid book was submitted to FIFA.

“There is so much untapped potential, not just in Australia but right across Asia and the Pacific region, that I really do believe we would offer something incredibly special,” said Sam Kerr, a striker for the Matildas, Australia’s national team.

[ MORE: Lampard: Chelsea youngsters can’t worry about January transfers ]

Brazil hosted the men’s 2014 World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympics.

The Korean Football Association had initially pushed to jointly host the games with North Korea at the urging of Infantino but strained inter-Korean relations failed to realize a unified bid. South Korea, which hosted the 2002 men’s World Cup with Japan, announced its withdrawal shortly before Friday’s deadline.

South Africa, which hosted the men’s World Cup in 2014, also withdrew an expected bid.

Gerrard extends contract amid strong start as Rangers boss

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Steven Gerrard is quite keen to stick around as Rangers boss following a strong start to his managerial career, leading the 39-year-old first-time manager to sign a two-year contract extension on Friday.

[ MORE: Ljungberg wants quick appointment of new Arsenal manager ]

With his current contract previously set to run through the 2021-22 season, Gerrard’s services have been secured until the summer of 2024.

Gerrard has been largely successful since taking over the Scottish Premiership side last summer, guiding Rangers to their highest points total (78) since returning to the first division in 2016, and a second-place finish (also for the first time) behind rivals Celtic. Rangers reached the Europa League’s round of 32 on Thursday, marking their first trip to the knockout round of European competition since 2011.

That much success so quickly will undoubtedly lead to Gerrard’s name being linked with increasingly large jobs in England, likely prompting Rangers to act preemptively.

“I’m delighted to be extending my stay at this fantastic football club. When the chairman approached me about the possibility of extending my contract with Rangers, it was a very easy decision to make because I’m very happy and feel that we are building something special together at the club.

“I’d like to thank the board for the backing they have given me already in my time at the club and also most importantly, the Rangers fans who have given me and the team such tremendous backing both this season and last.”

Ljungberg wants quick appointment of new Arsenal manager

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Freddie Ljungberg is honored to serve as Arsenal’s interim manager following Unai Emery’s dismissal, but the Swede is also hoping for a speedy conclusion to the club’s search for a permanent replacement.

[ MORE: Lampard: Chelsea youngsters can’t worry about January transfers ]

In theory, taking over the most famous club for which Ljungberg played was a no-brainer. In practice, though, he openly admits it’s been not only a difficult time for everyone emotionally, but also in terms of the staff members available to assist him during the day-to-day grind. Throw in the fact he has no idea whether or not he’ll still have a role at the club when the new manager arrives, and it’s beginning to sound like a no-win situation. Perhaps he’s being considered to remain in the job permanently, but Ljungberg says he’s been given no indication of any such thing — quotes from the Guardian:

“The club have said I have to wait until they make a decision, so I can’t do anything at the moment. I have Per [Mertesacker] but at the same time he is academy manager. He is helping me with the coaching. The club has said when they make a decision then that’s it — or I’m leaving, obviously — and maybe then we can do something with the staff. But it’s up to the club.

“If you look at the person who was here before, he had a lot of staff and maybe I don’t have so many. So if you keep on going like that for months and months, it’s not so easy. But that’s totally up to the club.”

“I haven’t got any indication of if I’m here or not. What I’ve said to the bosses and the club is I will do everything in my power to do as well as I can for this club and the players. Then obviously it is up to them to make a decision. I try not to put any emotions into that.”

Arsenal came back from a goal down (twice) to draw Norwich City in Ljungberg’s first game in charge, then the Gunners were comprehensively beaten (at home) by Brighton & Hove Albion. The bounced back with a win over West Ham United on Monday, but could only draw Standard Liege (albeit with a weakened team) in the Europa League on Thursday.

Lampard: Chelsea youngsters can’t worry about January transfers

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Frank Lampard knows it’s only natural that some of Chelsea’s youngsters will have worries about the January transfer window and the Blues’ newfound ability to sign players, considering they were only afforded a first-team opportunity by the club’s transfer ban.

[ PL Preview: Chelsea v. Bournemouth ]

He doesn’t, however, want those thoughts and fears to dominate their thoughts for the next three weeks, until the window opens and Chelsea can sign players for the first time since January of this year. As Lampard sees it, the fact he has roughly $200 million to inject into the squad doesn’t necessarily mean they promising teenagers and early-20-somethings will immediately be cast aside. It does, however, mean he has to navigate this very unique set of circumstances extra carefully — quotes from the Guardian:

“I haven’t banned the talk [about the January window], but I am not going to set out to engage in it. If players want to come and see me and talk then I will happily have a conversation with them individually, but that hasn’t happened.

“I speak to them regularly. I can be, not hard on them, but I push them because I think they need that. I think they feel the trust I have in them because they know I’m prepared to give them the opportunities if they train well and they come in the team and play well. I think they should naturally feel a little bit of tension all the time so that’s not the worst thing.

“They just need to work and believe in their own talents because their talent is there for all to see. We also have to be patient with that because it may take different periods of time for them to fully blossom as players. They might have a period in and out of the team, have a run of the games and then not. I am prepared to stick with them through that because I really believe in them.”

22-year-old Tammy Abraham currently sits second in the race for the Premier League Golden Boot with 11 goals in 15 appearances. 21-year-old Christian Pulisic, while not an academy product, has shone brightly of late with a half-dozen goals and nearly as many assists to his name in the last two months. 20-year-old Mason Mount was a surprising revelation in the season’s opening weeks. 21-year-old defender Fikayo Tomori has been a regular starter for the last three months. 20-year-old Reece James has made the starting job at right back his own.

While the temptation to sign high-priced replacements for these budding stars will be hard to resist, perhaps Chelsea would be wiser to sign players in other positions and ride the wave of what could turn out to be a golden generation of homegrown products.