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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.

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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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MLS Week 1 preview: New teams, players, and stars

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AThe 2020 Major League Soccer season is here. This weekend, the new campaign gets under way with two new teams, a new defending Supporters’ Shield winner, and a new superstar.

Debuts are the theme as Inter Miami and Nashville SC both take the field for the first time this weekend across Saturday and Sunday. The defending champions Seattle Sounders host the Chicago Fire and their new logo. Chicharito leads the L.A. Galaxy as the visit the Houston Dynamo.

The new clubs both get tough welcomes to the league, with Nashville hosting Atlanta United and Inter Miami traveling to Western Conference finalists LAFC. Atlanta has plenty of new faces of its own, with captain Michael Parkhurst retired while both Darlington Nagbe and Julian Gressel having departed. Miles Robinson is injured to start the season, and given how Atlanta started the season last year, they could be vulnerable this weekend. LAFC has seen Walker Zimmerman and Tyler Miller move on, and after playoff disappointment last season, they have plenty to prove themselves.

Last year’s Eastern Conference regular season champions NYCFC starts the season on the road at Columbus on Sunday afternoon, under new management in Ronny Deila. Gedion Zelalem also joins, although he struggled last season at Sporting KC. The Philadelphia Union, off a 55 point season last campaign, visit FC Dallas who doesn’t have much new of note except new contracts for Paxton Pomykal and Jesus Ferreira.

The defending champs host the Chicago Fire, with Seattle seeing a designated player depart in Victor Rodriguez with Joao Paulo arriving in his stead. RSL, who finished third in the West last season, announced Thursday the addition of Guiseppe Rossi and he could be in line to see time as they travel to Orlando S.C. on Saturday. After a promising season of growth, Minnesota United switched out goalkeepers, bringing in LAFC’s Miller for Vito Mannone. Abu Danladi is also gone, having departed for Nashville in the expansion draft, and Luis Amarilla has arrived in his place with a promise of goals, with a West Coast trip to Portland his first challenge.

Full MLS Week 1 slate

Saturday:
D.C. United v. Colorado Rapids (1:00 p.m. ET)
Montreal Impact v. New England Revolution (3:00 p.m. ET)
Houston Dynamo v. LA Galaxy (3:30 p.m. ET)
San Jose Earthquakes v. Toronto FC (5:30 p.m. ET)
FC Dallas v. Philadelphia Union (6:00 p.m. ET)
Orlando S.C. v. Real Salt Lake (6:00 p.m. ET)
Nashville S.C. v. Atlanta United (8:00 p.m. ET)
Vancouver Whitecaps v. Sporting KC (10:30 p.m. ET)

Sunday:
Columbus Crew v. NYCFC (12:30 p.m. ET)
New York Red Bulls v. F.C. Cincinnati (1:00 p.m. ET)
Seattle Sounders v. Chicago Fire (3:00 p.m. ET)
LAFC v. Inter Miami (5:30 p.m. ET)
Portland Timbers v. Minnesota United (7:30 p.m. ET)

Arteta ‘hurt’ by Arsenal’s Europa League exit

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Mikel Arteta wasn’t shy about his feelings towards Arsenal’s Europa League elimination.

“It hurts, big time,” Arteta said after the match. “We had a lot of hope in this competition. It was a great way for us to be able to go to Europe and it is a very beautiful competition to try to win.”

For much of the second leg against Olympiakos, Arsenal was flat. The Gunners conceded a goal shortly after halftime, and with the aggregate score 1-1 through 180 minutes, the game went to extra-time. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang appeared to have struck the winner for Arsenal in the 113th minute, only for Olympiakos to level the score back up in the 119th minute and go ahead on away goals.

[ ROUNDUP: Early Europa League kicks | Late kicks ]

“I think we did a lot of positive things in the game,” Arteta said. “I think we created enough chances to win, but if you concede two set-pieces again in a tie like this you put yourself in big trouble.”

The Gunners, in truth, did not create much, at least not through regulation. It may have been enough to expect victory, but it was not enough for a team with an attacking mentality. Arsenal racked up 2.19 expected goals through the match, but their two best chances came late with Aubameyang’s last-gasp miss and Alexandre Lacazette failing to strike with a 77th minute diving header.

“This is football and sometimes it is very cruel when the emotions are right here [raises hand high],” Arteta said in the press conference, “then in another moment they’re somewhere else [lowers hand]. You have to able to handle that if you want to be in this industry so now it’s up to us, and up to me, to bring this place back in and move forward.”

The Gunners are still in the FA Cup, with a fifth round match against Portsmouth on Monday. They sit ninth in the Premier League table, four points back of Manchester United in fifth.

Giuseppe Rossi signs with Real Salt Lake

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Former Manchester United, Villareal, and Fiorentina forward Guiseppe Rossi has signed with MLS side Real Salt Lake in yet another bid to revive his injury-plagued career.

Rossi, a New Jersey-born striker who infamously chose to represent Italy at the international level, has struggled mightily for game time over the past few years thanks to a string of bad injury luck. He most recently made 9 Serie A appearances for Genoa through the latter half of the 2017/18 season, without a competitive match since May 20, 2018.

“For me, MLS has been growing every year and has produced an exciting product,” Rossi said upon signing. “I’m lucky enough to have RSL be my first contact in the league during this process. The club’s respect and kindness towards me is something I appreciate immensely. I can’t wait to see and meet the fans and immerse myself in the RSL culture. Along with the rest of the team, I can’t wait to begin this season and enjoy the journey together.”

The 33-year-old has suffered five major knee injuries throughout his career, including three ACL tears. According to the soccer database Transfermarkt, Rossi has missed upwards of 1,200 days due to injuries throughout his career.

The signing represents an exciting moment for Rossi, who despite his struggles is thought to be a supremely talented player when healthy. No matter how this tenure goes, Rossi’s chance to play back in the United States marks a significant transition for a player who has had a contentious relationship with USMNT fans due to his national team decision. While it’s not as exciting a signing as it would have been 5-7 years ago, Rossi’s return to his home nation is a move with plenty of upside.

Through his European career, Rossi racked up 170 La Liga appearances, 62 in Serie A, 16 in the Premier League, and 12 in Champions League play. Rossi has 29 caps for the Italian national team, scoring seven goals including two against the United States in a 2009 Confederations Cup match.

Real Salt Lake starts its 2020 season against Orlando City on Saturday.

Solskjaer unsure on Martial return as United injury situation worsens

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Manchester United is already missing Marcus Rashford for potentially the rest of the season, and now another Red Devils forward is facing a longer than expected road back as well.

Just as he was rounding back into form, Anthony Martial will be sidelined for an unknown amount of time thanks to a thigh injury suffered in training on Wednesday. Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said he’s unsure how long Martial will be out, but muscle injuries don’t just go away in a jiffy.

“I don’t know,” Solskjaer said after Manchester United defeated Club Brugge 5-0 to advance in Europa League play. “He went off during training. He tried to be fit for today, it’s not his hamstring, it’s his thigh and in and around the knee. I don’t know.”

Solskjaer’s mention of the hamstring is notable as Martial missed over a month through September with a hamstring problem.

The Red Devils brought aboard Odion Ighalo in January to cover for Rashford’s injury, and Martial has been a critical figure of the Manchester United attack, starting nearly every game since returning from his hamstring troubles in early October. Since his double on Boxing Day, Martial has scored six Premier League goals plus another in the FA Cup and one in Europa League play coming in the first leg of the Club Brugge matchup.

Manchester United’s upcoming fixtures see them take on Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday, with an FA Cup visit to Derby County next week.