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Fabian, Andres, Klinsmann and more: Top 3 things to watch as USMNT faces Mexico

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Is it Saturday yet? You know, the day in which the U.S. and Mexican U-23 sides can clinch Olympic berths.

Oh, and the two senior sides will determine which rival is going to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Yeah, it’s a big one. And we’ve got three big battles (and two bonus things to keep an eye on) as the Rose Bowl plays host to a critical CONCACAF Cup playoff.

  1. U.S. centerbacks vs. Mexico’s strikers: The fact that we don’t know who Jurgen Klinsmann will use as his pairing against Mexico tells you all you need to know about their plight. Ventura Alvarado has had more than growing pains while representing his country, but Klinsmann remains faithful to the Mexican-based back. Could a match-up with El Tri bring out the steady best in him? Matt Besler was a revelation at the 2014 World Cup but fell out of favor with Klinsmann. Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream are steady as it goes, but that seems too easy for the experimenting coach.

    Meanwhile, Mexico is without L.A. Galaxy star Giovani Dos Santos, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the horses to run by the Yanks. Oribe Peralta doesn’t have a great record against the States but seems to have that “clutch” gene for big games. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez will be aching to make his presence felt, too. Their third is a victory the U.S. must win given its big battle in the middle.

  2. Monster midfielders: It’s very difficult to look past El Tri’s midfield unit, with a pair of Porto regulars steadied by PSV’s brilliant Andres Guardado (below), who has six goals in 7 caps this year. Guardado is given more offensive opportunity with Mexico than his club, and he responds well. There may be no better player on the pitch than Guardado excepting, well…

    Whether Guardado or Michael Bradley comes out of this match a bigger presence likely determines who wins this one. That’s not to say a tricky bounce or controversial call won’t lay out the final score, but the U.S. captain will be at his box-to-box best. He’ll also be hoping to make his imprint as skipper after American failings at the Gold Cup and a disappointing World Cup (personally, though not for lack of distance covered).

    Alejandro Bedoya, Andr s Guardado

  3. Fabian forward? How will Klinsmann deploy Fabian Johnson, who is arguably the best player on the U.S. roster and the perfect role model for DeAndre Yedlin? Johnson is fine as wide back with the freedom to advance, but he simply shines as a quasi-wing for Borussia Monchengladbach.

    How does Klinsmann favor Johnson against Mexico in the what is arguably the biggest non-World Cup game of their international careers? That’ll make a huge dent in the game’s outcome, as Fabian deployed favorably and in-form is a question of which Mexico doesn’t have a good answer.

[ EDWARDS: The case for firing Klinsmann (with a U.S. loss Saturday) ]

BONUS 1: Brad Guzan is getting the keys to the 18, one of the clear mistakes in my book. Yes, Guzan is younger, but Tim Howard‘s big game resume is key, and how many people have ever — on even footing — claimed that Guzan is a better shot-stopper. I’ve no beef with Aston Villa’s keeper, but to say he’s better than a historical U.S. hero is tough to fathom.

BONUS 2: Domestic honks/Klinsmann haters like to point to his MLS omissions as Klinsmann’s Euro-snobbery of the highest order. Well, especially at striker, here’s their chance to dance. Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Chris Wondolowski and Gyasi Zardes are your four out-and-out attackers, with Aron Johannsson left home at Werder Bremen. John Brooks is hurt, while Bobby Wood and Alfredo Morales are hanging back in Germany, too.

This is an extreme over-simplification given that a minimum of 11 combined starters will hail from European clubs, but an interesting subplot is this equation:

Twelve MLS (plus two Liga MX) players on the U.S.
+ 12 Liga MX players on Mexico
______________________
= ???

 

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.