ProSoccerTalk’s writers preview the Premier League season

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Under 48 hours from now the 2016-17 Premier League season will have begun.

Get a brown paper bag out. Stop hyperventilating. Chill.

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On the eve of the new campaign, we unleashed our writers and asked them several detailed questions about the eagerly anticipated upcoming Premier League season.

[ MORE: Top 10 players | Best managers ever? ]

Here is your definitive guide to the PL season ahead. Take it away, boys…

What are you most looking forward to this season?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Captain Wes Morgan and manager Claudio Ranieri of Leicester City lift the Premier League Trophy after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Nicholas Mendola: The fact that, with so much player and manager turnover, this is the trickiest season to predict in ages. In so many years, sides have to hedge their title bets when turnover is massive, so could a West Ham or Spurs contend for No. 1 based on relative consistency?

Andy Edwards: More than anything, I just need some good soccer back in my life. Copa America and EURO 2016 were fun for the summer, but international soccer can’t hold a candle to elite club soccer. Throw in the fact this should be the most wide open PL we’ve ever known, and Saturday can’t come soon enough.

Kyle Bonn: I’m most looking forward to seeing how Leicester City responds. Their position is probably the most difficult to predict out of any team. I think they succumb to fixture congestion and the loss of N’Golo Kante, but we’ve seen what happens when people doubt Claudio Ranieri. I’m fascinated to see where they end up, and a lot of it will be determined on how these first few weeks go.

Matt Reed: All the big clubs have revamped their lineups but I’m eager to see how Leicester handles being champion and even more importantly how they do so without N'Golo Kante holding down the fort in the midfield. This is still a team loaded with talent, and while Kante is a big loss, I firmly believe they will compete for a top six position up until the final week.

Joe Prince-Wright: I’m looking forward to the fact that we have no idea who will win the title or who will finish in the top four. I can’t remember a season where there was this level of parity right across the league. Specifically I’m looking forward to seeing another “small club” surging into the top four. Stoke, West Ham, Southampton, Crystal Palace… what you got?

So, there’s up to seven genuine title contenders in the Premier League this season. Who are you picking and why?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates with his team mates after he lifts the Community Shield during The FA Community Shield match between Leicester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

JPW: I’ve gone for Manchester City, unlike anybody else on our crew, purely because I think offensively they are stacked. Yes, they have issues in defense but when Kompany returns I think his partnership with Stones will be vital. Plus, if City has a decent start to the season then when January rolls around they will spend big again to push for the title and the UCL. Underestimate the Pep effect at your peril.

AE: Liverpool. Yes, I’m serious. Like I said, I don’t think people understand just how wide open the title race is this season. Here’s why: the three clubs with the “best” squads — Man City, Man United and Chelsea — all have new managers, which will inevitably lead to a surprising number of points dropped through October or November before hitting their respective strides right around the holidays. The door is open for one of Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool to capitalize on those early-season struggles and set the pace in the title race. Of those three, Arsenal are still Arsenal, and Spurs have to juggle the Champions League once again. That leaves Liverpool, who have neither European competition nor a first-year manager.

NM: I’m taking United, because I believe the pieces were there already and the styles of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will almost seamlessly cross leagues.

KB: I picked Manchester United because their transfer window filled the biggest needs. They still need upgrades in defense, but overall that squad is electric, and we all know what Jose Mourinho can do in his first season in charge. Manchester City is a massive contender as well, and I could easily see them taking it all as well. Unfortunately, the rest of the clubs just didn’t do enough this summer to sway me.

MR: I think the additions Chelsea have made could really put them in a good position to win the league. While not addressing the backline up until this point is a bit concerning, particularly right back, Kante’s inclusion in the midfield is massive and Batshuayi is another legitimate attacker Conte has at his disposal to go along with Diego Costa and Bertrand Traore.

When it comes to parity, have things ever been closer in the PL? Apart from those seven title contenders, there’s not much between the next group of 7 or 8 clubs either. Can we expect more upsets?

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26: Jose Fonte of Southampton celebrates as he scores their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Arsenal at St Mary's Stadium on December 26, 2015 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)
(Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

NM: Yes. Don’t expect anything from Leicester, but Ronald Koeman and Idrissa Gueye are major upgrades at Everton and West Ham has so much style.

JPW: As I mentioned, I’m most looking forward to this. Outside of the perennial “big seven” I see no real difference in the teams who will finish eighth to 15th. I expect plenty of upsets and some unexpected teams to get dragged into the relegation battle.

KB: Of course. Upsets have been a growing part of the Premier League landscape, and it’s something we should come to expect moving forward. This league is more of a level playing field than any other major European league by a very wide margin.

AE: This is the massive injection of TV money at work. At some point, the “top” teams could no longer sign “better” players because they were already signing the best players in the world — they hit the ceiling. That didn’t stop the increase in TV money, though, which has now allowed those middle-tier clubs to spend comparably to the top sides and attract the kind of players that Man United, Chelsea et al were fighting for just five years ago. In another 10 or 20 years, the PL will consist of 20 nearly identical teams and a newly promoted side will win the title in their first season.

MR: I’m not sure we’ll ever see another Leicester again. Middlesbrough made a few high-profile moves this summer, but I’m not ready to put big money down on them competing for the league. With all the top clubs having as much money as they do, it’s difficult for the middle and lower-level sides to consistently get in on the action.

With Guardiola, Mourinho and Conte coming in, who do you expect to do better this season?

VIENNA, AUSTRIA - JULY 16: Head coach of Chelsea Antonio Conte gestures during an friendly match between SK Rapid Vienna and Chelsea F.C. at Allianz Stadion on July 16, 2016 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)

JPW: I’ve gone big on Guardiola but I honestly believe all three will succeed. Conte’s defensive system will suit Chelsea and his players will run through brick walls for him, plus Mourinho is already having a huge impact at United with his big name players. However, I just think Guardiola has the x-factor and will gel everything together at City very quickly.

AE: Long term, it’s gotta be Pep, but for this season, I can’t get over how chameleon-like Conte was with regard to his tactics and this summer’s Italy squad. They had no business making the quarterfinals, and if not for a disaster of a penalty shootout, they could have just as easily been semifinalists. I think that’ll help Conte hit the ground quickest of the three, limiting a few of those new-manager growing pains, but come the end of the season, Man City will be absolutely terrifying with the collection of attacking stars they’ve assembled.

NM: This could very well be 1-2-3 in the PL table after the season, but if I had to pick a man to identify and fix what ails a squad in the fastest manner, it’d be Mourinho. How long that lasts is another story.

KB: I think Mourinho simply because he had the better transfer window, but all three of those men are outstanding managers and will improve their respective clubs significantly. Guardiola and Conte are more focused on building for the long-term, while Mourinho is a win-now guy, which is why this first year he will succeed the most.

MR: I think while they’ll all find success, Conte has the tactical genius to make things work at Chelsea. He’s got all the talent he could want and he’s proven to be great when it comes to planning defensive schemes.

This managerial lineup in the PL this season, it has to be the best in the history of any league ever, right?

AE: Without question. Somehow, the PL has survived the departure of Sam Allardyce. I don’t know how they do it.

JPW: I wrote about it here and I can’t remember being this excited to break down tactics and analyze managers. We have a plethora of world-class managers in the PL all at the same time. What a time to be alive.

NM: Yes. The renown of the league and the big money in it – plus the relative UEFA Champions League drought – makes glory seekers like Guardiola and Mourinho salivate.

KB: No question! The league brought in those three world-class managers, while losing Steve Bruce, Manuel Pellegrini, and Louis Van Gaal. Otherwise, the managerial talent in this league is unmatched.

Who will finish higher in the standings: Arsenal, Tottenham or Liverpool? Discuss…

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 05: Arsene Wenger manager of Arsenal and Mauricio Pochettino manager of Tottenham Hotspur shake hands prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on March 5, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

NM: I simply don’t think Spurs have dropped off enough to think Pochettino doesn’t have the edge here. I expect Arsenal to have an off year. It’s been time for a change for a while, and – barring a major transfer in attack – they may miss out on Europe. Liverpool is the hardest squad to predict in the PL this year, in my opinion.

JPW: I’ve gone for Arsenal but there will not be much between these teams. I’m still not convinced about Arsenal’s defense but if Petr Cech stays fit they should hold things together. Going forward Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil will run the show and even though Giroud gets stick, he still scored 15-20 goals each season. If the Gunners can grab a striker late in the window then they’ll finish in the top four. I think Spurs’ youngsters will regress after a fine season last time out and the young English lads may be impacted by their EURO 2016 disappointment this summer. As for Liverpool, they have a fine attacker in Sadio Mane but I’m concerned by Jurgen Klopp‘s inability to properly strengthen his defense. That was a must and he hasn’t done it. Still, all three will be very fun to watch this season.

KB: I think Liverpool made the biggest improvements of the three this summer, but the other two already have plenty of talent on the roster. A lot of it will come down to who stays the most injury-free, something Arsenal has struggled mightily with over the years, but should they stay healthy, the Gunners will finish above the other two.

AE: Liverpool will definitely win the title. Of the other two, St. Totteringham’s Day is Arsenal’s to lose, as always. For all the talent Spurs have, I still feel like the squad is a tad on the small side. 1) Ryan Mason is still in the squad, and just one or two injuries away from seeing the field. 2) This will finally be the breakout season for Erik Lamela, but what if it’s not/he gets hurt? The depth at wing isn’t great. On the bright side, Vincent Janssen at least gives them a replacement should Harry Kane get injured.

MR: Tottenham will slightly edge the two but don’t count out Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp did a tremendous job adding quality players this summer. I just think another season of Spurs’ young guns playing together is dangerous for the entire Premier League.

Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly have all arrived at Old Trafford. Manchester United ready to push for the title?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Manager of Manchester United, Jose Mourinho watches on during The FA Community Shield match between Leicester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

NM: Yes! If their center back situation sorts itself out, I expect Mourinho will work his magic all the way to a title.

JPW: Oh yeah. They will be right up there. I have them getting pipped by City but I can easily see them winning it. With Mourinho and the big name players on the squad, there’s a sense of invincibility about United even before the season has begun. It won’t be vintage stuff but they will grind out a lot of wins.

AE: In so much that I think six sides will finish within seven or eight points of the title? Sure, but we’ve been asking “the Wayne Rooney question” for years now, and we still have no answer.

MR: I don’t see any reason why United won’t compete up until the very last week. Barring injuries or the players simply not acclimating, Mourinho has all the talent he could want.

KB: Yep! And they should take it. We can already see that Zlatan still has his signature electricity despite his age, so a lot of their title hopes will rest on Pogba’s shoulders. The young Frenchman has still struggled on the biggest stages, whether it be in the Champions League with Juventus or in major international tournaments with France. He needs to step up now if Manchester United is going to secure the title.

Talking about Pogba, what will he bring to Man United after his $120 million record transfer?

Paul Pogba, Manchester United (Photo credit: Manchester United / Twitter: @ManUtd)
(Photo credit: Manchester United / Twitter: @ManUtd)

MR: Pogba has not only proven that he’s one of the top defensive midfielders in the game, but that he also provides an attacking spark as well. Mourinho has the freedom him in various roles, which is dangerous for opposition in trying to prepare for him and United as a team.

NM: Just about everything. Pogba is a complete player, and linking up with Zlatan Ibrahimovic from deep-lying positions could be a marvelous thing to watch.

KB: Pogba is the perfect player for a Mourinho squad. He will bring stopping power in the midfield, but more importantly, he brings the ability to run a break effectively by plowing forward with or without the ball, and becoming a target in the box on the counter if necessary. He will be a critical part of that squad.

JPW: Pretty much everything. He offers the full package and it’s hard to find a weakness. The only concern I have is that he’s used in the correct position. France used him as a deeper central midfielder this summer and we didn’t see him at his best. If he plays centrally and is allowed to push forward then he will take control of games. People say he isn’t worth the money but I’m pretty sure United will make back that transfer fee in shirt sales etc. over the next five years. And then some. Smart business.

AE: A reason to watch Man United again? Seriously, halfway through Louis van Gaal’s first season, I flat out stopped watching them unless they played during one of my shifts. If I want to watch a side with 10 men behind the ball fail to create more than one good scoring chance all game, I’ll watch MLS. (Just kidding, I love MLS. Seriously, I watch twice as much MLS as you do.)

Across Manchester, Guardiola is spending big with John Stones arriving ahead of the season. Can Pep create a dynasty at the Etihad? Will he find it tougher than Spain and Germany?

SHENZHEN, CHINA - JULY 27: Manchester City's manager Pep Guardiola attends a press conference for 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at Shenzhen Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Shenzhen, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

NM: Much tougher. Stones is a good prospect and a fine passer of the ball, but is his defense going to be enough at the UEFA Champions League level? I doubt it. He couldn’t even find EURO time with England’s beleaguered backs.

JPW: There’s no doubt he will find it tougher but wherever he has gone Pep has been hungry to adapt his tactics and tweak them slightly. City will have a lot of the ball and teams will sit back against them. What we have seen from his teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich is their ability to destroy the opposition in the final third. With Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane and others, he has a perfect set of attackers to implement his flowing forward play. If he does succeed in England I believe it will be his biggest achievement to date.

AE: Here’s an alternative question: Which will happen first — Pep adapts to the PL, or the PL adapts to Pep? By that, I mean, can Pep thrive while playing the up-tempo style of the PL, or can he impose his possession-possession-possession style on the PL, thus making tiki-taka the flavor of the week in the PL? One thing I know with absolute certainty: They will score goals.

KB: I’m still not at all sold on John Stones, but Guardiola knows his stuff, so City fans should trust his judgement above all else. He will need an adjustment period to acclimate himself to the Premier League, but he should be able to help Manchester City become perennial contenders if they weren’t already. It’s hard to say they’ll become a “dynasty” since there’s so much parity and money spread across the league, but it’s hard to bet against Pep with those resources. What he should do, more importantly, is help them bust through the brick wall they’ve run into in the Champions League – a large reason why Pellegrini was let go.

MR: There’s no question Guardiola will have more challenges than in previous stints in Spain and Germany because the competition is simply better when you look at the entire league. That being said, he has a talented group of players, and the additions of Stones, Gundogan, etc. give the Citizens are very solid shot at not only finishing top four but winning a title.

Big names are arriving and almost $1 billion has been spent already this summer by PL clubs on new players. Which club has made the best moves, so far, and which new signing represents the best value for money?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06: Sadio Mane of Liverpool is closed down by Jeremy Mathieu of Barcelona during the International Champions Cup match between Liverpool and Barcelona at Wembley Stadium on August 6, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

NM: While I don’t expect them to contend for Europe given their depth, Leicester’s acquisitions speak for both now and the future. I also enjoy the shrewdness of Koeman actually improving his defense by adding Ashley Williams while getting crazy money for Stones. The Gueye signing will be huge, too. Liverpool and West Ham have done a decent job as well.

JPW: I think Manchester United have made the best moves. They’ve strengthened their entire spine and look so much more dependable. As for individuals, I really like Ahmed Musa joining Leicester City and Southampton have picked up Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg from Bayern Munich for a bit of a steal at $13 million. Also, West Ham did well to get Sofiane Feghouli from Valencia.

AE: Liverpool could have paid Southampton $100 million for Sadio Mane, and I would have thought they got a steal. Mane was put on this planet to play in Jurgen Klopp’s fast-paced, high-pressing system that’s built around moving the ball from back to front as quickly as possible. When Liverpool win the title this season, Mane will be Player of the Year. I feel like anyone signed by Klopp is a good signing. I trust that guy.

KB: Manchester United has made the biggest splash, of course, but if we’re looking beyond the top few clubs, Liverpool’s business is hard to ignore. Jurgen Klopp is beginning to turn that squad into his own, and the combination of Saido Mane and Georgino Wijnaldum should vastly improve their depth. The acquisition of Joel Matip is a solid bit of business on a free as well.

Alright, Leicester are the reigning champs. How will they do this season?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City poses with the Premier League Trophy as players and staffs celebrate the season champion after the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

NM: If they can navigate the UCL group stage while dealing with the PL schedule, the Foxes will remain a top half team with a legit look at a UEL place. However, their best chance to go back to Europe could be the Cup route.

JPW: I think they will be fine in the league, will finish around midtable after a good start but I do think they got really lucky with injuries last season. With the extra game load from the Champions League, I could see Ranieri’s squad getting a bit thin on the ground around December, January time. They will not get anywhere near to defending their title.

KB: I find it very hard to imagine they’ll be able to manage competing on four fronts and not slip a good deal. Some people have them fighting off relegation, which I can’t at all comprehend, but they will fall. Losing their lynchpin in Kante is a massive blow, but they’ve done well to keep the others on board (thus far). If Mahrez goes, the freefall might be hard to watch, but with him, they’ll stay afloat. I think somewhere in the 7-10 range is a good bet, as competing in the Champions League plus heightened expectations in the Cup competitions (which they crashed out of early last year, something which ultimately helped them) will sap a relatively thin squad.

AE: They won’t get relegated, at least I don’t think they will. N’Golo Kante is, clearly, a massive loss for the Foxes, though they were hardly a one-man team last season. I’ll put it this way: they’ll be a lot closer to 40 points than they are to the title this season.

MR: Losing Kante was a huge blow for Leicester but the Foxes have done a tremendous job in going after affordable additions this summer. Just off of what I’ve seen through preseason, Ahmed Musa appears to be the real deal and will be a big lift to an already dangerous attack after joining from CSKA Moscow. Leicester will contend for a spot in Europe this season, and honestly I still believe that they have what it takes to repeat. That being said, the big boys made too many key additions this summer, so anywhere around 4/5/6 seems reasonable for the Foxes as they vie for a place in the Champions League for the second straight season.

Which club will be the surprise package this season in the Premier League?

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Jordan Ibe of Bournemouth is congratulated by team mate Adam Smith after scoring during a pre-season match between Bournemouth and Cardiff City at Goldsands Stadium on July 30, 2016 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Joel Ford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joel Ford/Getty Images)

KB: There will be far fewer genuine surprises this season than last, but West Ham will be a team to watch. The Cresswell injury is a massive blow, but once he’s back and the club is at full strength, they could potentially challenge for a Europa League group stage position. I would have said Swansea City after their capture of Fernando Llorente, but they turned right around and sold Andre Ayew, essentially cancelling each other out. Middlesbrough’s defense should be enough to keep them out of relegation, a fate many experts have them tipped. But my biggest surprise will be Bournemouth. They’ve had two very solid summers in a row, and now that last year’s buys are healthy again, this is a very strong squad. I have them in 11th, a solid position for a club of their stature, and that will only climb in the coming years. What a job the Cherries have done.

JPW: Stoke City. I know they’ve been on the up for a while but I really think Mark Hughes is building something sustainable and is adding key pieces every season. They make smart moves, rarely waste money and we all know how hard it is to play at Stoke. Expect the Potters to have their best-ever season in the PL.

NM: Everton. Koeman will sort out the defensive issues, and the attack was already decent. Big year for Ross Barkley.

MR: Bournemouth is now in their second PL season in a row, and I like the moves they’ve made. Jordan Ibe and Nathan Ake could both play key roles from the start, while U.S. midfielder Emerson Hyndman grew steadily with Fulham prior to making the jump to the PL.

AE: If Liverpool winning the title isn’t a surprise package, then I don’t know what is.

Any players set to have a breakout season?

AE: Whichever players Southampton signed to replace the ones they sold. (Answer for next year: see above.)

NM: Idrissa Gueye – as you can tell I’m high on him – could have a Kante-sized coming out party now that he’s been freed from Villa. Nathan Redmond could have a very good year at Saints, but I’ve got questions about Claude Puel’s system that can only be answered by time. If Barkley counts, then him. Gundogan and Mkhitaryan at Man City and United. Wouldn’t rule out Michy Batshuayi at Chelsea, but unsure how often he’ll feature.

JPW: I’m not sure how much he will play but look out for the lad Marcus Edwards at Tottenham Hotspur. The pacey winger had a really bright preseason and at 17 he just signed his first pro contract. He reminds me of Raheem Sterling when he burst onto the scene. Also, 18-year-old U.S. youth international Cameron Carter-Vickers could be starting the season at center back for Spurs. Man, that would be epic to see.

KB: A player getting plenty of buzz this season is new Bournemouth signing Lys Mousset. A product of Bob Bradley’s Le Havre, the 20-year-old striker is a bright talent who should lead a very strong Bournemouth attack. Between Max Gradel, Jordan Ibe, Callum Wilson, and Benik Afobe, Mousset should have plenty of service with which to produce. Watch for the young Frenchman.

How will the Premier League teams fare in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League?

MR: Outside of Arsenal, it’s easy to envision either Leicester, Manchester City or Tottenham making a run in the Champions League. City was obviously there a season ago, but Guardiola has made some really additions that could put them over the top. As far as the Europa League, it should be Manchester United’s tournament to lose given their additions.

NM: Spurs and Man City should do fine, with City having the best chance at an extended run. I think Arsenal will struggle to go far, and Leicester will be lucky to get out of the group stage. In Europa, I believe West Ham and Man Utd are contenders to win it, and don’t rule out Saints if they are committed to the tourney.

JPW: I think Man City and Tottenham will do well in the Champions League, while Manchester United won’t take the Europa League seriously. Expect Southampton to make a deep run at the Europa League after they made the group stages for the first-time ever.

AE: Three (Man City, Arsenal and Spurs) in the knockout stage, with one of them making a run to the semifinals.

KB: Premier League clubs have struggled in European competitions of late. That should change. The upper echelon of English clubs have improved more than their European counterparts, and I really like the Manchester City’s chances in the Champions League. I fear for the Europa League participants, however. West Ham has shown signs of weakness.

Aguero, Kane, Vardy, Sturridge, Zlatan… who will be the top goalscorer and why?

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 07: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United scores his sides second goal during The FA Community Shield match between Leicester City and Manchester United at Wembley Stadium on August 7, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

NM: Of that bunch, I think it’s between Kane and Zlatan. Aguero and Sturridge seem to reliably miss games, and Vardy’s magic will be difficult to replicate at King Power.

JPW: I’m going with Aguero based on the fact that if he stays fit, he will score goals galore. Imagine if he had zero injuries the past few years? Zlatan will likely split time with Rashford so not sure about him being the top scorer. Kane will be close and I expect Sturridge to bounce back too.

AE: Kane won last season’s Golden Boot at 22 years old. Until someone else takes it off him, I’m going to pick him ahead of every season for the next decade. There’s no striker in the PL that can score every different type of goal quite like he can do. There are no perfect players, but he’s the most well-rounded player in England.

MR: Zlatan has proven that he can score wherever he goes, so it’s difficult to pick against him.

KB: The only thing holding Sergio Aguero back in recent years has been injury. Should he stay healthy, he should win top goalscorer. Zlatan will be up there as well, since he is by far the target man at Manchester United. Harry Kane’s summer form doesn’t bode well for his season, and until Daniel Sturridge proves he can keep himself on the field even half a season, it’s impossible to tab him for a big year.

How do you think the three promoted teams will fare? Will any of them survive?

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League

AE: Burnley will stay up; Hull (with a record for lowest points total ever?) and Boro (narrowly) will go down.

JPW: I think Hull are doomed and Middlesbrough will battle but just go down. I actually have high hopes for Burnley. They will have learned a lot from their season in the PL two years ago and I think if they add a few more loan players between now and September then they can stay up. Just.

NM: Boro has a good chance to survive if their talent comes together quickly. I don’t like the looks of things with Steve Bruce bailing out at Hull City, and am afraid they’ll go down. Sean Dyche needs a bit more depth for Burnley to survive, but I think Andre Gray has a chance to really make a stamp on the PL.

KB: Middlesbrough has the best shot of the three promoted teams to survive, because they have the best team structure. The other two teams will fall, given their woeful summers. I like Boro though, and they should just stay up.

MR: I can see Middlesbrough staying up because of the additions they made this summer. Even if they do go back down next season, they deserve their props for spending on good players and at least making the best effort.

Finally, which team will be the most entertaining to watch this season and why?

AE: Liverpool, beyond winning the title, will be must-watch television every week. The number of games they’re going to win 3-2 or 4-3 will singlehandedly turn America into a nation of soccer fans. By the end of the season, though, it may well be Pep’s City.

NM: Newcastle United.

JPW: Nick is a Newcastle United fan (my condolences) by the way. I think Liverpool will be the most entertaining team to watch this season. Like Andy mentioned, they are set up for goals galore up top and calamitous defending at the back. Never the best combo but there will never be a dull moment. Also, Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham will be fun to watch.

KB: People love bandwagons, and should the Cherries get off to a strong start, they should be a very fun team. They’re built to attack, and Bournemouth matches will be full of goals. Further up the table, it’s hard to ignore how fun of a team Manchester United will be. Any team with Zlatan and Mourinho is bound to be entertaining, and add in the attacking prowess of Wayne Rooney and Henrik Mkhitaryan, and it’s going to be a fun year at Old Trafford.

MR: Tottenham is bringing back essentially the same squad, along with the addition of Victor Wanyama, and I’m pretty pumped to see what they can do. They’re young, fast and most importantly they have a manager that allows them to play free-flowing football.

Liverpool's Dejan Lovren, left, and Liverpool's head coach Juergen Klopp celebrate after winning the Europa League quarterfinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool FC and Borussia Dortmund in Liverpool, England, Thursday, April 14, 2016 . (AP Photo/Jon Super)
(AP Photo/Jon Super)

The Gregg Berhalter era: USMNT boss’ record leading up to World Cup


United States men’s national team Gregg Berhalter is set to become the 10th man to lead the USMNT into a World Cup when the Yanks take on Wales, England, and Iran for a knockout round spot in this winter’s Qatar-hosted tournament.

It’s a terrific honor and an earned one, as we learned when Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena butchered a tricky but very forgiving route to qualifying out of CONCACAF.

[ MORE: Five questions for the USMNT ]

Rating a USMNT coach is only going to become more difficult in the future given the rocketship-up trajectory of the sport in our country in both investment and development, but also because the Nations League format introduced into Europe and North America limits opportunity for cross-confederation tests.

Berhalter’s USMNT will enter the World Cup having played 56 times across all competitions assuming Tuesday’s Saudi Arabia friendly goes ahead as scheduled in Spain.

Forty-three of those matches will have come against CONCACAF foes. And several of the remaining 13 matches — Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela — came very early in his tenure.

Every one of those non-CONCACAF foes except Qatar, from the 2021 Gold Cup came in friendly competition. A few, like a win over Bosnia and Herzegovina, came outside of FIFA’s international window.

This makes it even harder to evaluate Berhalter’s tenure, especially because he’s succeeded in many of the brighest spots. Most notably, Berhalter led the Yanks to one of the most memorable wins in program history when the USMNT outlasted Mexico to win the first CONCACAF Nations League and soon after won the Gold Cup Final over Mexico with an almost totally different team.

And injury woes for Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams mean two of the side’s most important players leave a smaller sample sizes for scouts.

So what do we really know about Berhalter’s USMNT from on the pitch? Unfortunately for those scouting from Wales, England, and Iran… not a terrible amount. But let’s look at a pretty wild cycle.

Gregg Berhalter record as USMNT coach

Overall: 36W-9D-10L — 115 GF, 36 GA — 2.13 ppm
Friendlies: 12W-4D-5L — 43 GF, 17 GA — 1.90 ppm
World Cup qualifiers: 7W-4D-3L — 21 GF, 10 GA — 1.79 ppm
Nations League: 6W-1D-1L — 25 GF, 6 GA —
Gold Cup: 11W-0D-1L — 26 GF, 3 FA — 2.17 ppm (2019, 2021)

Gregg Berhalter record vs CONCACAF

Berhalter’s record against CONCACAF is pretty exceptional, even if it should be somewhat expected for a USMNT (or Mexico) tenure to include gaudy numbers against the confederation.

The Yanks having a winning record against every CONCACAF foe except for Canada, which is .500 at two wins, a draw, and two losses. Along the way, Berhalter’s men have punked essentially every nation that failed to qualify for the final round of World Cup qualifying.

That’s why Berhalter’s overall (all comps) goal differential is an almost silly +79. The USMNT under Berhalter is a combined 9-0 against Grenada, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Curacao, Cuba, Haiti, and Martinique, rolling up 41 goals and allowing — checks proverbial notes — a single goal.

The U.S. has only lost to five CONCACAF rivals and only Mexico and Canada can boast multiple wins against the Americans (Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Panama have also beaten the U.S.).

Gregg Berhalter record vs everyone else

AFC (Asia)

Qatar 1-0 win
Japan 2-0 loss
Saudi Arabia — 2pm ET Tuesday

CONMEBOL (South America)

Uruguay 0-0 draw
Uruguay 1-1 draw
Venezuela 3-0 loss
Chile 1-1 draw
Ecuador 1-0 win

CAF (Africa)

Morocco 3-0 win

UEFA (Europe)

Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-0 win
Switzerland 2-1 loss
Northern Ireland 2-1 win
Wales 0-0 draw

UEFA Nations League: Schedule, how to watch, stream, TV, standings


UEFA Nations League champions France will not go back-to-back, and Portugal is behind Spain in its bid to return to the throne room, highlighting the odds that a new Nations League winner will be crowned at the end of third edition of the tournament.

England and Wales are also coming to terms with the concept of relegation to UEFA Nations League B after underwhelming campaigns.

France was also in early danger of not making it to back to League A, but can feel better after beating Austria in its final match.

[ MORE: European Nations League hub — Scores, stats ]

Group A4 is the opposite sort of fight, Belgium and the Netherlands have both played very well but the Dutch triumphed down the stretch to advance to the semifinal round.

UEFA Nations Leagues B, C, and D also have drama built into the final days as Ukraine and Scotland are jockeying for promotion in B1; Russia’s punishment has left B2 promotion open to Israel, Iceland, and Albania. B4 sees Erling Haaland, Martin Odegaard, and Norway fighting to join League A for the next cycle.

There’s also drama as Kazakhstan and Georgia currently lead their League C groups, with Latvia and Estonia in League D’s best spots.

UEFA Nations League live: How to watch, stream links

When: June 1, 2022 – March 26, 2024
TV rights: Fox Sports
Stream: Fox Sports Live, Fubo TV

UEFA Nations League A, Group 1

Croatia– 4-1-1, 13 pts [ADVANCED]
Denmark — 4-0-2, 12 pts
France — 1-2-3, 5 pts
Austria — 1-1-4, 4 pts [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

France 2-0 Austria
Croatia 2-1 Denmark

Denmark 2-0 France
Austria 1-3 Croatia

UEFA Nations League A, Group 2

Portugal — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Spain — 2-2-0, 8 pts
Switzerland — 2-0-3, 6 pts
Czech Republic — 1-1-3, 4 pts

Next fixtures

Czech Republic 0-4 Portugal
Spain 1-2 Switzerland

Portugal vs Spain
Switzerland vs Czech Republic

UEFA Nations League A, Group 3

Hungary — 3-1-1, 10 pts
Italy — 2-2-1, 8 pts
Germany — 1-3-1, 6 pts
England — 0-2-3, 2 pts [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

Italy 1-0 England
Germany 0-1 Hungary

England vs Germany
Hungary vs Italy

UEFA Nations League A, Group 4

Netherlands — 5-1-0, 16 pts [ADVANCED]
Belgium — 3-1-2, 10 pts
Poland — 2-1-3, 7 pts
Wales — 0-1-5, 1 pt [RELEGATED]

Next fixtures

Poland 0-2 Netherlands
Belgium 2-1 Wales

Netherlands 1-0 Belgium
Wales 0-1 Poland

Saudi Arabia vs USMNT: How to watch, live stream link, TV, team news


Fair or not, Tuesday’s edition of Saudi Arabia vs USMNT is going to be scrutinized as much as any friendly in recent United States men’s national team history.

Gregg Berhalter’s men looked like sloppy at best and rudderless at worst in Friday’s 2-0 loss to Japan in Dusseldorf and that’s incredibly alarming with the Yanks on the precipice of their World Cup return, a time when teams are usually questioning the fine-tuning rather than, well, a whooooooooole lot.

Let’s be very fair to Berhalter, who has a young team and has overseen some memorable and downright awesome triumphs in CONCACAF: There are injuries right now — Christian Pulisic was rested with a knock on Friday — and the coach does not have access to Timothy Weah, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Chris Richards.

[ MORE: What we learned from Japan vs USA | Player ratings ]

But his judgment is being questioned with Fulham captain Tim Ream, Union Berlin center forward Jordan Pefok, and Benfica back John Brooks healthy and ready to contribute but sitting at home. Berhalter has questioned their fits in the system and also said something nebulous about the team not expressing its “personality” versus Japan and that sounds pretty bad when the system looks awful.

That’s why a big performance against a solid and stubborn Saudi Arabia, a team in theory selected for its similarities to World Cup group stage foe Iran, can really provide a ubiquitous lift to spirits in the world of U.S. Soccer. And while Berhalter might claim that lift is only needed amongst the fans, he’d be kidding himself.

Remember: While the entirety of U.S. Soccer wants the side to go deep in Qatar, this is supposed to be setting the stage for a real challenge for the trophy on home soil in 4.5 years. At the moment, that sounds silly. A year-and-a-half ago, late in the night against Mexico, it did not. Fixing that would be a good first step, and Tuesday’s the next chance.

How to watch Saudi Arabia vs USMNT live, updates and start time

Date: Tuesday, September 27
Kick off time: 2pm ET
Where: Estadio Nuevo Condomina, Murcia, Spain
How to watch: FS1, UnimasTUDN

Saudi Arabia vs USMNT head-to-head record

This will be the seventh meeting between the Yanks and Green Falcons, but the first since 1999 against a national team representing political issues for the United States. Saudi Arabia won two of the first four but the Yanks claimed home soil wins in a 1995 friendly and the 1999 Confederations Cup. All of the on-field mentions above mean absolutely nothing for Tuesday but they are fun to note on a pre-match preview (Upside-down smile face emoji).

The lowdown on Saudi Arabia

This is a very Saudi Arabia experienced side, one that went 13W-4D-1L in World Cup qualifying and have experience in a lot of 1-0 contests including recent Spain-based friendly losses to Colombia and Venezuela. The team will also feel at home in Murcia, where it played those matches and where it had a scoreless tangle with Ecuador four days prior to this tilt. Ecuador outshot the Saudis 11-5 and had 60 percent of the ball but all that will get you an argument that you deserved better than a solitary point that comes from a real match. If you want to see your Yanks break down a sound team, Tuesday’s a good chance.

USMNT team news, injuries, lineup

This is easily the most interesting lineup in some time for the USMNT after Berhalter gave starting looks to some of his lynchpins and got a mixed bag of results, none of which were exceptional aside from goalkeeper Matt Turner (and even he was not at his best in possession on an admittedly poor pitch in Dusseldorf) and Brenden Aaronson if we’re being judicious in the name of optimism. But really, all of the front three were ghosts. Much of is down to the eight men behind them, though, and forgiving glances can be cast at Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna. Jesus Ferreira is not included after missing a chance that would and could be called a sitter if he didn’t have to jump to head it (We kid, but it’s dark humor).

Aaron Long was very poor and Walker Zimmerman uncharacteristically poor next to him, while youngster Sam Vines had a rough first half before Berhalter adjusted his usage from left back to left wing back with emphasis on the wing part. Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams are often the heartbeat of this team but both looked a mix of cavalier and junior varsity. That won’t happen often, and very rarely will occur at the same time.

Here’s what to watch from Berhalter’s lineup choices, presuming he doesn’t change his formation.

  • If Matt Turner starts — and then stays healthy and relatively blunder-free at Arsenal — forget about anyone else starting the World Cup opener in Qatar. If it’s Ethan Horvath or presumed No. 3 Sean Johnson, well, anything’s possible.
  • We’ll see Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, but will it be Luca de la Torre completing the midfield trio? Will Kellyn Acosta or Johnny Cardoso arrive to move McKennie into a different role? Will Malik Tillman get his chance to start? Or will Giovanni Reyna be played in position (please?)?
  • Ricardo Pepi: The way Josh Sargent was plugged into the front three in the second half, it seems like FC Dallas star Ferreira and alum Pepi were meant to trade starts.
  • Christian Pulisic will start on the wing. How does he look, both in form and body language?
  • Sergino Dest and Sam Vines were the fullbacks versus Japan, with Reggie Cannon coming off the bench. Will it be Joe Scally and DeAndre Yedlin to start? Will Dest swap to left back? Antonee Robinson and Dest are the favorites to start in Qatar, but is the latter’s spot on the right now in question?
  • Much of U.S. Soccer, us included, considered this break to be a bunch of center backs bidding to play next to Walker Zimmerman in Qatar. Will it be Zimmerman plus one on Tuesday or something else?

Japan vs USMNT: Alarming defeat for Berhalter’s boys

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The USMNT lost to Japan after a hugely underwhelming performance from Gregg Berhalter’s side just 59 days before they kick off their World Cup campaign.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

Dachai Kamada put Japan 1-0 up in the first half as the Samurai Blue were sharper throughout and the USMNT just couldn’t cope with their high-pressing, as Kaoru Mitoma curled home a beauty to make it 2-0 and seal the deserved win.

Berhalter’s USMNT had zero shots on goal, as they looked disjointed and befuddled throughout a very disappointing display in Dusseldorf, Germany.

With Christian Pulisic missing this game due to an injury, plus many other missing this camp, perhaps the USMNT can point to that having a huge impact on their performance.

However, there are now just 90 minutes of action separating the USMNT from the World Cup and unless they improve dramatically against Saudi Arabia next week, there will be a lot of pressure mounting on Berhalter’s young side.

What we learned from Japan vs USMNT

Huge number of giveaways a massive concern: In the first 35 minutes the USMNT gave the ball away 28 times in their own defensive third. 28. That rose to 39 times in a first half where they just couldn’t connect a pass and in defense and midfield they look so far off it. Weston McKennie’s horrible giveaway led to Japan’s opener and the USMNT never looked comfortable in possession. Yes, the pitch may have been bobbly but that didn’t impact Japan. Gregg Berhalter loves to play out of the back but Japan’s high-pressing befuddled the USMNT and they didn’t have a Plan B. On this showing  Wales, England and Iran press the U.S. high in November, they will have plenty of joy. Yes, the USMNT were missing Cameron Carter-Vickers, Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah due to injury but there is no way this display should have been this disjointed.

Center back remains a big problem: Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman owe Matt Turner a beer, or three, as he made big stops to bail them out. Both of the USMNT’s center backs made huge mistakes in the first half and Turner came up with saves to stop Japan from making the most of it. With all the talk around who will partner Zimmerman at center back in Qatar, we have more questions than answers after this display. There is perhaps a feeling that Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards may actually be a better pairing and Long and even Mark McKenzie may have played themselves out of the World Cup squad.

Japan a clinical finisher away from being very good: Okay, so now is probably not the time to panic for the USMNT as Japan are a very good team. They have a very tough group in the World Cup as they face Spain, Germany and Costa Rica in Group E. On this showing, they will give the powerhouses of Spain and Germany a run for their money. If Japan had a clinical forward, they would cause huge problems for opponents in Qatar. In midfield they are so slick and tidy and cause massive problems with their high-pressing.

Matt Turner is the first-choice goalkeeper: The main positive (perhaps only positive) to come from this game is that Matt Turner is the clear starter for the USMNT. He has only played once for Arsenal so far this season but he looks very sharp, made three important saves and he is ahead of Zack Steffen in the pecking order. Turner will get plenty of minutes in the Europa League and League Cup before the World Cup so he will be ready to roll in November.

Tactical focus

Japan pressed high in a 4-4-2 formation and let Long and Zimmerman have the ball and they were tasked with building out from the back. That did not go well for the USMNT in the first half as the gave the ball away so many times and Japan pressed in numbers, kept the ball well and should have scored a few goals early on. In the second half Sam Vines was asked to push further forward by Gregg Berhalter when the U.S. had the ball and basically play as a left winger. That meant the USMNT played in a 3-4-2-1 formation and although it left them a bit exposed defensively it at least helped them get on the front foot a little more in the second half. Still, there was still no fluency in midfield and attack to sustain any kind of pressure. Japan stopped the USMNT building from the back and the U.S. really had no Plan B.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

What’s next?

A trip to the Murcia, Spain on Tuesday, Sept. 27 as they face Saudi Arabia in a friendly, their final game before the World Cup kicks off in November.

How to watch Japan vs USMNT live, updates and start time

Date: Friday, September 23
Kick off time: 8:25am ET
Where: Dusseldorf Arena, Germany
How to watch: ESPN 2, UnimasTUDN

Japan vs USMNT live analysis! – By Joe Prince-Wright

FULL TIME: Japan 2-0 USMNT. A very disappointing defeat and Gregg Berhalter will have plenty of concerns after witnessing that.

GOALLL! Mitoma curls home a beauty. Game. Set. Match. Japan have been excellent.

Brenden Aaronson whips a shot just wide. That is the closest the USMNT have come in the second half.

20 minutes to go in Dusseldorf. Not much going on for the USMNT.

SAVE! Matt Turner with a fine low stop to deny Kamada. McKenzie with the mistake and Kamada cut inside Cannon but Turner tipped it away. Japan pushing for the second.

Japan have settled down again and are knocking it around nicely. The U.S. bench are screaming for their players to get up the field.

A bit better from the USMNT in the second half. Sam Vines is being asked to push further up on the left flank. The U.S. are exposed defensively but at least have a few more options in attack.

Sargent, Morris, McKenzie and Cannon on at HT for the USMNT. Ferreira, Reyna, Long and Dest subbed off. Big 45 minutes coming up for the USMNT to see if they can get into this game.

HALF TIME: That was very poor from the USMNT. Japan deservedly lead and they should be ahead by more. No attacking intent from the U.S. whatsoever and so many bad giveaways.

Japan are totally in control here. They are knocking it around nicely and the USMNT just can’t keep the ball.

GOALLLL! 1-0 to Japan. Daichi Kamada finishes after another poor giveaway in midfield from USMNT, this time from McKennie. VAR used to give the goal after it was initially ruled out for offside. Japan totally deserve this lead. USA have been absolutely all over the place and could be down by at least a couple of goals.

Japan look so slick on the ball in the final third. USMNT just can’t deal with the speed of passing and movement. Being stretched all over the place.

SAVE! Great stop by Matt Turner to deny Kamada after a terrible giveaway from Walker Zimmerman. Japan should be 1-0 up. USMNT’s center back duo of Aaron Long and Zimmerman have both given the ball away very cheaply already which has led to Japan’s best chances. Not great.

CHANCE! Big opportunity for the USMNT, as Sergino Dest surges down the right and clips in a lovely cross to Jesus Ferreira. Six yards out and unmarked but he heads over. That’s a great chance wasted.

Pretty slow tempo to start this game. The grass looks pretty long on this pitch.

Aaron Long with a bad giveaway and Japan get a shot on target. They should have made more of that.

KICK OFF: We are underway in Dusseldorf! Luca de la Torre surges down the right but his cross is blocked. There is quite a racket inside the stadium with lots of drums but there aren’t many fans.

An update on Pulisic sounds more positive and he could actually face Saudi Arabia next week.

In terms of the actual players who will be facing Japan, there aren’t really any surprises here.

Sergino Dest starts at right back, Walker Zimmerman captains the side at center back and Luca de la Torre starts in central midfield alongside McKennie and Adams. Gio Reyna and Brenden Aaronson start as they will support Jesus Ferreira.

BREAKING team news: This is not great news for the USMNT. Christian Pulisic has been injured in training and will play no part against Japan. U.S. Soccer released a statement saying that Pulisic would be monitored and his availability for the game against Saudi Arabia next Tuesday will be determined soon. More details below, but this is a blow for Berhalter.

Hello and good morning! Get that coffee pot fired up and strap in for a key World Cup warm-up game for the USMNT. Only 180 minutes separates Gregg Berhalter’s boys from the World Cup in Qatar in November and this game against Japan is a huge opportunity for plenty of players.

Key storylines

The big storylines swirling around the USMNT ahead of these friendlies seem to have been swirling around this young team for much of the last two years: who is going to play up front and who will be the second center back?

With red-hot Jordan Pefok surprisingly left off this roster despite his incredible start to the season for Bundesliga leaders Union Berlin, the duo of Ricardo Pepi and Josh Sargent have been given one final chance to prove themselves to Berhalter. Gio Reyna is back in the squad, which is a huge boost, and it gives Berhalter so many options in the attacking midfield areas. How will he squeeze Brenden Aaronson, Christian Pulisic and Reyna into the same starting lineup? Can he?

At center back things have been complicated by injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards, who were set to battle it out to see who starts alongside Walker Zimmerman at the World Cup. The likes of Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie and Erik Palmer-Brown will see this as a huge opportunity to make the roster as it seems unlikely Miles Robinson will make the squad following his Achilles injury. Yunus Musah being out with an injury is a blow as he was certain to start alongside Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie in midfield. In goal, Zack Steffen is out after being out injured and only just returning so Ethan Horvath and Sean Johnson will battle it out for that third and final goalkeeping spot with Matt Turner now looking like the starter as he gets the nod to start against Japan.

Brenden Aaronson explains USMNT’s excitement

Leeds United playmaker Brenden Aaronson has had a fine start to his Premier League career over the last few months and the 21-year-old is fired up with the World Cup just two months away.

“It’s crazy to think how close the World Cup is, it’s at the back of your head,” Aaronson told reporters. “With Leeds at the moment I really haven’t had a chance to think about it but it’s really growing. Seeing the guys again and thinking ‘wow, this is the last two games before the World Cup comes.’ It comes as you fast. I think the preparation and what we’ve done over the last years, we’re all ready to go and we are all looking forward to it.”

Japan vs USMNT head-to-head record

This will be just the third meeting all-time between Japan and the USMNT, as the first meeting in 1993 in Tokyo saw the hosts run out 3-1 winners with Hugo Perez grabbing the USA’s only goal. The last time these teams met was in 2006 as the USMNT won 3-2 in San Francisco as goals from Eddie Pope, Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman put them 3-0 up and the U.S. held on for victory.

The lowdown on Japan

This is a very experienced side with captain Maya Yoshida (114 caps) marshalling the back line, plus full back Yuto Nagatoma (136 caps) and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima (95 caps) also mainstays in this squad for at least a decade, plus Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu a key part of their defense. Daichi Kamada (Frankfurt), Ritsu Doan (Freiburg), Kyogo Furuhashi (Celtic) and Takumi Minamino (Monaco) are attacking talents to look out for. Japan and their boss Hajime Moriyasu know they have been handed a tough assessment at the World Cup but they’re usually very good at exceeding expectations and they breezed through qualifying in the Asian Football Confederation to reach their seventh-straight World Cup.

USMNT team news, injuries, lineup

With injuries in defense and midfield, opportunities have popped up all over the place for USMNT players to make one final statement before the World Cup roster is announced. Many expected  Erik Palmer-Brown and Mark McKenzie to get plenty of minutes at center back, but Aaron Long starts alongside Zimmerman. While there is a bit of a battle at left back with Antonee Robinson missing this squad with injury. Can Joe Scally and Sam Vines give Berhalter even more headaches in the full back area? Following his great start to the season with Antwerp, Vines starts at left back in this game against Japan.

Luca de la Torre starts in midfield alongside Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, while up top is where this will get really intriguing. Berhalter will try to give balance to his side but also get all of his top attacking talents in the game at the same time. Berhalter has mentioned both Reyna and Aaronson will be looked at in a deeper central midfield role but with Christian Pulisic being out with an injury, Reyna and Aaronson start out wide. Duo Josh Sargent and Ricardo Pepi haven’t grabbed the No. 9 jersey from Jesus Ferreira, for now, as the FC Dallas star gets the nod up top.