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What is “success” for Bruce Arena’s latest USMNT stint?

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Soccer in the United States carries a lot of fascinating discussion points, perhaps none more divisive than what constitutes reasonable expectations for the United States men’s national team.

As Major League Soccer has grown and American players have developed, so has expectancy for the USMNT in major tournaments. And in the wake of the understandable glee from Jurgen Klinsmann’s critics, fans have to be very careful not to lower the bar for Bruce Arena.

We rightfully compared everything Klinsmann did to his predecessors; His record against top teams (worse), how he fared in major and minor tournaments (similar), the demand for his players overseas (higher), et cetera, et cetera.

[ USMNT: Arena speaks | Stock up/stock down ]

World Cup qualification should be a given, and performance matters at the most important tournament in world soccer.

Bruce Arena is aware of this, and won’t shirk these expectations. He admitted that the player pool is better than ever during a Tuesday conference call, and said the U.S. is edging closer to competing for a World Cup title.

So to avoid regression, it is important that the fan base expects the same from Arena as it did from Klinsmann. So far, we’ve already seen some vocal Klinsmann detractors — again, he earned it — starting to admit things weren’t quite right with the performances of Michael Bradley and other mainstays.

There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful with a changing of the guard. Arena will have a Gold Cup in the middle of World Cup qualifying in which to test his tactics (Is it too late to find a January friendly opponent or two, Mr. Gulati?!?). And several players at positions of need will get a chance to showcase their skills. Names like Eric Lichaj and Dax McCarty should challenge for playing time, and rightfully so.

So what should be expected over the next 18 months?

Carter-Vickers had two EFL Cup appearances for Spurs this season (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Young players: Arena had a reputation for being very selective in handing young players a chance, with select exceptions like Landon Donovan. While Cameron Carter-Vickers soon to break through for Tottenham Hotspur is the most vital in terms of earning caps, given his opportunity to represent England, not shying away from meaningful experience for players like Jordan Morris, Ethan Horvath, Matt Miazga, Keegan Rosenberry to name a few is important. We know Arena has learned a lot in the last decade, because A) he said so, and B) time. This is perhaps the most fascinating thing we’ll experience away from results.

World Cup qualifying: Yes, the team is 0-2 after a visit from Mexico and a trip to Costa Rica. But it should absolutely finish above the other three teams and clinch an automatic spot to Russia. If, given the 0-2 start, you want to say that fourth would be fine, and then judge Arena on whether he gets his tactics right against Australia, South Korea, or Saudi Arabia in an interconfederation playoffs, fine.

2017 Gold Cup: Few are debating whether this generation of Mexican players is ahead of the USMNT right now, so it would be wrong to claim “win the tournament or bust” (even on home soil). The expectations here should be:

  • Win your group comfortably
  • Be a threat to win against Mexico, Costa Rica

2018 World Cup: The Yanks will be headed to Russia. As covered above, anything less would be a tremendous failure and a blight on American men’s soccer. Arena has engineered the most memorable win (opinion) in U.S. history with the knockout round defeat of 2002, and we can bask in those memories, as well as those of the Americans’ game performance against Germany in the quarterfinals. Also, yes, his three-and-out gig at the 2006 World Cup happened, and that can’t be ignored.

An entire generation of U.S. talent in a solid window of their careers will be deployed in Russia. While Christian Pulisic will still be outside his prime (19), the ages of other key pieces say the tournament could be a big one: Jozy Altidore (28), Bobby Wood (25), John Brooks (25), Fabian Johnson (30), DeAndre Yedlin (24), Geoff Cameron (32), Jordan Morris (23), Michael Bradley (30).

That same basic group came through Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. So whether the USMNT gets its best draw (say Saudi Arabia, Colombia, and Northern Ireland) or its worst (imagine Argentina, Spain, and the Netherlands), it’s pivotal to expect a competitive team. And yes, in any middling or better group, you must expect the U.S. to make a knockout round game.

So… am I wrong?

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Ex-England midfielder Gascoigne on trial for sexual assault

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LONDON (AP) — A prosecutor has alleged that former England midfielder Paul Gascoigne sexually assaulted a woman on a train by “forcibly and sloppily” planting an unwanted kiss on her lips.

Prosecutor William Mousley’s comments Monday came as Gascoigne, who has struggled with alcohol and mental-health problems, went on trial at Teesside Crown Court charged with sexual assault of the female passenger.

Mousley said the former England star “put his hands on her cheeks and kissed her forcibly and sloppily on the lips.”

The 52-year-old Gascoigne denies the charge.

The alleged victim has told the court that she froze when the man, who appeared drunk, kissed her in August 2018. She says she did not realize it was Gascoigne until after the alleged incident.

USMNT looks to build with Nations League visit to Canada

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The United States has faced much criticism since failing to miss out on the World Cup two years ago. If Gregg Berhalter is to silence the naysayers, he must use the Nations League as a building block for sustained success with a view towards 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Step 1 was completed Friday with a 7-0 demolition of lowly Cuba, and Step 2 comes Tuesday evening as the USMNT heads to Toronto to meet Canada at BMO Field, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. ET.

[ MORE: An in-depth look at Canada ]

The United States did the job at hand, soundly beating a far inferior opponent, allowing the squad to move forward quickly and emphatically. There is plenty more to prove, but the engine is revved and the gas pedal pressed. Still, Berhalter and company must remember this is a marathon not a sprint, and even the slightest slip in Nations League play will open the floodgates of criticism.

Seeing the bigger picture

The biggest thing for the USMNT to piece together in the Nations League is a sustained run of success that builds not just positive feelings but true momentum born by consistency. It will be fascinating to see the team chosen by Gregg Berhalter as he looks to put together consistent starting lineups that help build not just victories on the scoresheet but also chemistry between players who have a legitimate chance of seeing future lineups in more high leverage matches.

Against Cuba, positive performances can lend themselves to more opportunities down the line, but Berhalter must also be realistic about who has a chance to be contributors not just against the minnows of CONCACAF but also against teams the United States has aspirations of competing with. Against Cuba, Jordan Morris continued his revival as a winger, and he should be given more opportunities to build a relationship with Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic up front. Jackson Yueill is another player who can earn his way into long-term contention, but it remains true that Michael Bradley is still the team’s best option at holding midfielder and requires minutes with the other consistent starters (although it would be interesting to see if the two can play together coherently). Reggie Cannon played well at right-back but incumbent DeAndre Yedlin deserves the chance to prove he’s still the correct choice after returning from a long injury layoff.

A view towards the future must be in the back of Berhalter’s mind, not just looking to achieve results but also achieve results with the right players. Meshing the correct squad now will unquestionably pay dividends down the road as the United States hopes to turn around recent negative results against teams like Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Italy, and Colombia which fans aspire to be competitive against. With the start of World Cup qualification less than a calendar year away, the time is now to end the wild experimentation and begin dividing up the precious minutes between players who are considered legitimate possibilities for the potential 2022 squad.

18-year-old Alphonso Davies represents a youth movement with the Canadian national team that gives fans hope for the future (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Switching gears to Canada

Canada will no doubt present a tougher test than Cuba, but the United States will still be expected to emerge victorious, and anything less will represent yet another two steps back after one step forward.

The northern neighbors have high aspirations, hoping to challenge for World Cup qualification. Head coach John Herdman said in the run-up to Tuesday’s match that the United States may be a rival, but they’re also “standing in the way” of the ultimate goal, confident speech ahead of such a difficult test. LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye took it a step further, saying his play with the Canadian national team over the next few years “is going to help shape the foundation of how Canada is going to be in the next 10 years.”

Canada has a crop of young talent with Kaye joined by 18-year-old Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies and 19-year-old Gent youth product Jonathan David.

Still, they have not defeated the United States in their last 17 tries, dating back to 1985. Their last match was a measly 1-0 victory over the same Cuba squad that was obliterated by the US, forced to play 35 minutes a man down after Vancouver Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry was sent off. Canada still managed to hold a whopping 81% possession in that match, but worked just a single shot on target, which resulted in Davies’ 9th minute opener. They will need to be both more disciplined and more dangerous if they wish to pull off the upset in Toronto.

Projected lineup

— Steffan —

— Yedlin — Long — Ream — Lovitz —

— McKennie — Bradley — Roldan —

— Morris — Sargent — Pulisic —

Brad Guzan started the Cuba match in goal, but Zack Steffan is the true long-term option here and it would be natural to see him return to the lineup against the tougher opponent. Gregg Berhalter loves Aaron Long and his return could also be expected. As stated above, Bradley is a contentious selection among many fans but his presence calms the midfield, and he delivers a long ball forward like nobody else on the roster. The front three played exceptionally well against Cuba and it would be questionable to see anyone but those players start again with Jozy Altidore injured.

Prediction

The United States will no doubt face a tougher challenge, and the young attacking talent will test the in-flux back line. Yedlin at right-back will have the toughest test matching up with Davies defensively which could force him back more than Berhalter wants. It will be imperative for the midfield trio to establish control of the central areas and work forward from there. It can be expected that the United States will control the tempo, and if they stay calm, cool, and collected when Canada counters, they should come away with a nervy 2-1 victory.

Lyon hires Rudi Garcia as new manager

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Olympique Lyonnais has announced they have hired Rudi Garcia as manager, replacing the fired Sylvinho.

Lyon has struggled mightily to start the Ligue 1 season, winning just two of its first nine league games and sitting 14th in the table with nine points. Sylvinho, who was only hired at the end of May, was let go last week.

Garcia has formerly taken charge of Roma, Lille, and St. Etienne, and most recently managed Lyon rivals Marseille for three seasons before departing this summer. He left with Marseille having failed to claim a Champions League place amid the Ligue 1 top three.

“I chose Rudi Garcia because he is a fighter who, like us, has the ambition to win titles and succeed on the European stage,” said Lyon sporting director Juninho. The Brazilian had chosen his countrymate Sylvinho this summer, but made a change just nine matches into the season with the club winning its first two matches of the season and failing to win since. They have lost three of the last four, with all three defeats coming via a 1-0 scoreline. They have scored just five goals in the seven-match winless run, shutout on four different occasions.

The 55-year-old Frenchman will have plenty of proving to do to Lyon fans. Coming straight over from a direct rival, . Fans were outspoken about their cautious feelings, as the introductory tweet was ratio’d by those expressing a distaste for the hire.

“He is an experienced coach who has already won trophies,” added Juninho.“Wherever he has been, he has had above-average performances and has always managed to make the most of what he had at his disposal.”

Garcia’s first match in charge will be a home league match this weekend against Dijon, followed by a Europa League visit to Benfica.

Barcelona denounces Spanish court decision on Catalan independence

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Barcelona released a statement criticizing a recent Spanish Supreme Court decision that saw 12 political activists jailed for their role in the 2017 push for Catalan independence.

The statement said that “prison is not the solution” and called the decision “condemnatory.” Instead, the club said that “the resolution of the conflict in Catalonia must come exclusively from political dialogue.”

The political activists were punished for pushing through an October 2017 referendum in Catalonia that resulted in over 90% of the population voting for independence. The referendum was declared illegal by Spain and seen within the country’s political hierarchy as an act of treason.

As one of the biggest social institutions of Catalonia, Barcelona’s statement on the matter carries significant weight both within the region and across Spain. Barcelona games often feature flags and banners calling for Catalan independence. Catalonia has also made a recent push for an independent FIFA-recognized squad, unsuccessful to this point. However, they played their first match inside a FIFA-sanctioned international window this March against Venezuela.

As a result of the court decision, the Catalan Football Federation suspended all its matches for Monday in solidarity with the accused. This includes only clubs and leagues that fall under the federation, which does not include Barcelona, La Liga, or the Spanish national team.

“FC Barcelona also expresses all its support and solidarity to the families of those who are deprived of their freedom,” the club said in the statement. Gerard Pique re-tweeted the social media version of the statement, adding the caption “Proud to be part of this Club.” Pique is a Catalan native and has appeared for the Catalonia national team 10 times.