USMNT preview: USA opens World Cup qualifying vs. CONCACAF minnows

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Who: USA vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
When: Friday, Nov. 13, 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO.

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955 — the number of times we must all go to sleep and wake up once again before the first ball is kicked at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That sounds like a long time to wait, but with the U.S. national team in the 2016 Copa America Centenario next summer and the 2017 Confederations Cup the summer after that, it’ll be here before you know it.

On Friday, Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT faces their best chance to wash the bad taste of 2015 out of their mouths as the third round of World Cup qualifying begins in CONCACAF. In America’s heartland, the gateway to the west, St. Louis, Mo., the USMNT will face CONCACAF minnows St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Busch Stadium, home of Major League Baseball’s Cardinals.

[ MORE: Zardes reportedly the subject of $3-million bid from England ]

Klinsmann announced on Thursday that Brad Guzan will start in goal on Friday, and Tim Howard will assume the starter’s role for Tuesday’s road qualifier against Trindad and Tobago. Elsewhere in the defensive half, Klinsmann’s latest roster (FULL ROSTER HERE) is almost completely lacking in full backs, with only Fabian Johnson fitting the bill out as a natural out wide. The center back partnership of Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron proved formidable in the USMNT’S CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico — as it had done in the past — thus 20-year-old Matt Miazga will likely be delicately eased into international action, rather than thrown straight into the fire.

The other USMNT rookie in Klinsmann’s squad, midfielder Darlington Nagbe, has garnered plenty of headlines since receiving his first call-up, but will also likely start Friday’s qualifier on the bench, with a chance to make his international debut with the result (in theory) well in hand. It’s hard to imagine any one of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones or Kyle Beckerman not getting the nod from the start, as they’ve been Klinsmann’s preferred trio for well over a year now.

[ MORE: Donovan, on U.S. roster: “Where’s Dempsey?” ]

Up top, Jozy Altidore remains the most tenured USMNT striker and likely to start, though youngsters Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood have regularly impressed when called upon since becoming fixtures in Klinsmann’s squads. Gyasi Zardes and DeAndre Yedlin could be the wingers called upon to provide width in the attack.

As my Nicholas Mendola pointed out on Thursday, the USMNT hasn’t always waltzed through the third round of qualifying, despite the often minnow-like competition within. T&T will pose a tougher test on Tuesday, while Guatemala City is never an easy place to go and get a positive result. Three points on Friday is the only acceptable result, otherwise the rest of this round of qualifying becomes unnecessarily complicated.

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 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.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

Frank Lampard
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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”