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Revisiting the USMNT’s Bruce Arena era

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It seems the majority of American soccer fans would endorse the potential firing of USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, or at least a majority would understand why US Soccer would cut ties with the German football hero.

But we wonder how those same people would feel if his successor was former USMNT coach Bruce Arena, the LA Galaxy’s coach and an American soccer legend in his own right. Reports following Tuesday’s loss to Costa Rica claim US Soccer has Arena lined up should it fire Klinsmann.

[ MORE: Who would replace Klinsmann? ]

Arena oversaw the stingiest U.S. tenure (.76 goals per game) in program history, and boasts the best winning percentage in American history. He also has managed the most games (130) and won the most (71).

Away from US Soccer, Arena has five MLS Cups and five national championships as a college coach. So, yeah, he’s about as good as it gets resume-wise, and would reportedly relish another shot at the U.S. gig.

But circling back on Arena’s time with the USMNT, I wonder whether Sunil Gulati’s comments upon his departure won’t be ringing in Klinsmann’s ears.

“It comes down primarily to eight years being a long period,” Gulati said. “I’m not going to say we felt the need to change directions. The direction Bruce has set is very, very positive. We didn’t get the results we wanted in the World Cup, but Bruce didn’t become a bad coach in three games with a few bad bounces of the ball.”

That was after a World Cup in which Arena failed to get the U.S. out of the group stage. The Americans were throttled by the Czech Republic, drew Italy despite playing 52 minutes with one less man than Gli Azzurri, and fell to Ghana 2-1.

Arena oversaw the Americans’ longest run in World Cup history in 2002, when the Yanks beat Portugal, drew hosts South Korea and were blown out by Poland before winning one of the most memorable games in USMNT history: the 2-0 Round of 16 win over Mexico. The Yanks then hung tough against Germany before bowing out 1-0.

[ MORE: Bob Bradley says crisis wrong word for Swansea ]

Outside of World Cup play, Arena had good moments and bad. He won two Gold Cups and was eliminated from a third by Brazil (no shame there).

He led the Yanks on a 16-match unbeaten run between March 2004 and March 2005, a streak which had modest competition but also a Gold Cup and wins over Poland, Mexico, and Colombia. Bob Bradley‘s longest unbeaten run was 11 (10 wins!), while Klinsmann boasts a 12-match win streak.

But for Arena, there was also a three-match Hex losing streak in 2001 — Mexico away, Honduras home, Costa Rica away — and a Confederations Cup in which the Yanks only managed a single point in losing to Turkey and Brazil while drawing Cameroon.

Then there’s that whole “foreign-born players shouldn’t be on the national team” thing. He later evolved on the position, though not in a manner that moved the meter for me.

Both of those final bits of ignominy would’ve been unforgivable if done under Klinsmann, which goes to show how far the German has fallen and how much past victories can gloss over the poor moments in our memories.

So ask yourself, is Arena’s glittering resume enough to give him the nod over another manager? I’ll admit that I’d prefer to see another name, mainly on account of Arena’s previous critical comments at foreign-born USMNT players, but the man is a legend.

Pochettino hopeful Kane can “give us a hand” in UCL final

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Harry Kane returned to training this week as Tottenham continues preparations for the UEFA Champions League final.

The England and Tottenham captain has been out with yet another ankle injury since April 9. Initially feared he would be out for the rest of the season, Kane now looks set to play in the final match of the season, and his manager Mauricio Pochettino is hopeful he can make an impact.

“He’s training and has entered the final stage of his recovery, Pochettino told a conference in Bilbao, via video link, per AS. “We’re hoping he’ll be able to give us a hand – either from the start, from the bench or if not, then by giving us moral support in the dressing room. But we are optimistic that he’ll be able to help us on the pitch.”

Pochettino completed a magnificent feat guiding Tottenham to the Champions League final, but he may have one of the most difficult decisions he has to make in his managerial career ahead.

Should Kane be available to start, Pochettino has to decide whether he should break from the lineup that came back from a 3-0 deficit to Ajax, and potentially put Lucas Moura on the bench. If Tottenham loses, Pochettino is probably darned if he does, darned if he doesn’t with Kane.

Either Kane wasn’t fit enough to play and make a big impact, or he clearly was and he didn’t have enough time in the match.

Regardless, Pochettino will hope to have a full squad available, with Kane able to make a difference should be needed.

 

Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

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Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.