Four players with most to lose, gain in World Cup qualifiers

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With the U.S. national team currently in Miami in camp ahead of their first two 2018 World Cup qualifiers, Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad will has a very mixed look to it.

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Veteran forward Clint Dempsey has been left out so Klinsmann can give his young forwards a chance to shine, while other more experienced players such as Alejandro Bedoya, Danny Williams, Nick Rimando and Aron Johansson are all missing for one reason or another.

Coming off the back of a disappointing few months with the fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico and plenty of talk about Klinsmann’s position as head coach, it’s a big international break for plenty of these players.

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Here’s a look at those who have the most to gain and lose over the next 10 days of World Cup qualifiers.

EVERYTHING TO GAIN

Brek Shea – After an injury-hit first season back in MLS with expansion side Orlando City, these two games represent a big chance for Shea to lock down that left back spot once and for all. He has plenty of attacking flair (remember that free kick against Switzerland last year?) and he’s still just 26.

Bill Hamid – With Rimando out through injury, the D.C. United goalkeeper has a chance to stake his claim as a serious challenge for the No. 1 jersey. Yes, he will have to bide his time, but with Tim Howard not getting any younger and some questioning his performances for Everton, plus Brad Guzan criticized by some during the Gold Cup, maybe Hamid gets a look in the opening qualifier. His form for D.C. this season has been sublime.

Switzerland v USA - International Friendly

Matt Miazga – An obvious couple of guys coming up, but the first of the two uncapped players on this roster has everything in his locker to succeed. Miazga is only 20 but both Klinsmann and his trusted assistant, Andi Herzog, rate him highly. Herzog told me so on a recent trip to England as the New York Red Bulls center back has made a rapid ascension through the U.S. national team setup. Let’s see how he handles the step up but he’s calm on the ball and a move to Europe beckons.

Darlington Nagbe – Another newbie, Nagbe, 25, finally has that U.S. citizenship and Klinsmann couldn’t wait to call him up. Here’s a guy the U.S. has been screaming out for. Able to get on the ball and create in midfield and in the final third, Liberian-born Nagbe is itching for the chance to represent the USMNT. His chance has arrived and it’s safe to say he will be around for quite some time.

ON THE EDGE

Miguel Ibarra – Okay, so Ibarra is obviously talented but we haven’t seen his pace and trickery in his brief outings for the U.S. Now is the time to step up. The former Minnesota United forward has only played 126 minutes this season for new side Club Leon in Liga MX. It’s now or never for the 25-year-old.

Kyle Beckerman – It’s easy to pick on one of the veterans but it was genuinely quite a surprise to see Beckerman called back up for the U.S. I love his feel of the game and ability to slow things down and dictate the tempo. However, he is 33 and time seems to be catching up with him. Between Beckerman and Jermaine Jones coming towards the end of their careers, the USA’s midfield will have a very different look in the months ahead.

Mix Diskerud

Mix Diskerud – Look, I like Mix and what he brings to the party but with Nagbe coming in as a creator, you have to think there is pressure on Mix. The Norwegian-American midfielder had a so-so first season in MLS with New York City FC (3 goals in 22 appearances) and despite scoring six times in 36 games for the USA, you wonder when he will get the chance to become a regular starter.

Ventura Alvarado – The Mexican-American defender has come under plenty of criticism after the Gold Cup and after losing his starting spot in central defense to Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron, he’s another player who could be looking from the outside in upcoming squads. Especially given the emergence of Miazga and Tim Ream making his way back into the national team setup. Only 23, Klinsmann sees something there but Alvarado has to show he’s learning from some of the rough defeats he’s been a part of recently.

Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”

Transfer rumor roundup: Sancho to Man Utd; Madrid’s Haaland backup plan

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A roundup of all of Monday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Jadon Sancho is a virtual lock to leave Borussia Dortmund and return to the PL this summer, and the 20-year-old winger will almost certainly command a transfer fee of more than $150 million just three years after signing from Manchester City for just $10 million. Today, it’s Manchester United who are rumored as frontrunners for Sancho’s services, based upon reports that Sancho has “unofficially confirmed” he will choose to join Man United when the transfer window opens.


Updating a transfer rumor from last week, Real Madrid are still very much in on another Dortmund starlet, Erling Haaland, but that doesn’t mean they’re putting all of their eggs in one basket. Los Blancos are reportedly eyeing Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a former Dortmund man himself, as a backup option should Haaland remain at Dortmund or land elsewhere this summer. Aubameyang, who’ll turn 31 this summer, isn’t likely to move for less than $60 million, which could prove a stumbling block.


If the rumors are to be believed, this summer will be a costly one for Man United, who are also interested in Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez. The price tag on the 25-year-old? Close to $170 million. It would seem unlikely that United could afford Niguez (at that price) without getting $100 million (at least) for Paul Pogba.


Another current Arsenal (and former Dortmund) player, midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, hopes to turn his loan to Roma into a permanent move this summer. Arsenal are expected to ask $22 for the 31-year-old, but the Serie A side is hoping to pay closer to $12 million instead.