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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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Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

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Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

[ MORE: Premier League summer schedule ]

Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.