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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?

Follow @NicholasMendola

Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League resume this week and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City and Chelsea still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League Round of 16 second legs will take place before mini tournaments begin.

Man City lead Real Madrid 2-1 from their first leg in Spain, while Chelsea trail Bayern 3-0 as they head to Germany for the return game. Man United are all but in the quarterfinals, while Wolves are favored to make the Europa quarters too.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Round of 16 at home venues; Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
Friday, August 7: Manchester City 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1)
Friday, August 7: Juventus 2-1 Lyon (0-1)
Saturday, August 8: Barcelona 3-1 Napoli (1-1)
Saturday, August 8: Bayern Munich 2-1 Chelsea (3-0)


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
Copenhagen 1-2 Istanbul Basaksehir
Wolves 2-0 Olympiakos
Bayer Leverkusen 2-1 Rangers
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Wolfsburg
Basel 1-2 Eintracht Frankfurt
Manchester United 3-1 LASK
Inter Milan 3-0 Getafe
Sevilla 1-3 Roma


Champions League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 7-8)
(-139) Manchester City v. Real Madrid (+320). Tie: +340
(-230) Juventus v. Lyon (+650). Tie: +340
(-150) Barcelona v. Napoli (+400). Tie: +300
(-250) Bayern Munich v. Chelsea (+650). Tie: +410

Quarterfinals (August 12-13)
(+200) Atalanta v. Paris Saint-Germain (+120). Tie: +285
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+133). Tie: 220

Outright winner
Manchester City (+350)
Bayern Munich (+365)
Paris Saint-Germain (+450)
Atletico Madrid (+700)
Atalanta (+950)
Barcelona (+1100)
RB Leipzig (+1500)
Juventus (+1700)


Europa League betting odds

Round of 16 (August 5-6)
(+155) Copenhagen v. Istanbul Basaksehir (+180). Tie: +235
(-134) Wolves v. Olympiakos (+390). Tie: +260
(-162) Bayer Leverkusen v. Rangers (+410). Tie: +310
(+135) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Wolfsburg (+185). Tie: +265
(+155) Basel v. Eintracht Frankfurt (+155). Tie: +275
(-455) Manchester United v. LASK (+1200). Tie: +550
(-143) Inter Milan v. Getafe (+385). Tie: +285
(+110) Sevilla v. Roma (+270). Tie: +230

Outright winner
Manchester United (+160)
Inter Milan (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+700)
Wolves (+800)
Sevilla (+900)

Europa League: Man United, Inter Milan advance to QF

Europa League Man United
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Results from the round of 16 in the Europa League: Man United and Inter Milan advanced to the quarterfinals on Wednesday…

[MORE: Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth ]

Man United 2 (7)-1 (1) LASK

Manchester United had a virtually insurmountable advantage following their first-leg demolition of Austrian side LASK, which gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the freedom to rotate his team ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford.

Philipp Wiesinger opened the scoring not long before the hour mark, and did so in spectacular — if understated — fashion. LASK’s free kick was initially headed out of the penalty area, but the ball fell to Wiesinger with not a single red shirt within 10 yards. The first-time rocket he unleashed couldn’t have been placed any better.

United hit back through Jesse Lingard just two minutes later, though, restoring the five-goal lead and ruining any dreams of a miraculous comeback at the Theater of Dreams. Anthony Martial added to the lopsided final scoreline in the 88th.

United will face Danish side Copenhagen in the quarterfinals on Monday, Aug. 10.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Inter Milan 2-0 Getafe

The first and only leg (due to the previous coronavirus shutdowns in Italy and Spain) of Inter Milan’s last-16 clash with Getafe was played at Schalke’s Veltins-Arena, and Romelu Lukaku proved to be the hero of the day for Antonio Conte’s side as he bagged the game’s opening goal in the 33rd minute. After getting on the end of Alessandro Bastoni’s long ball forward, Lukaku put his left foot through the ball and snuck it just inside the far post.

Super-duper sub Christian Eriksen sealed Inter’s place in the quarterfinals, where they’ll face Rangers or Bayer Leverkusen, with a cool second-chance finish in the 83rd minute.

Other Europa League scores

Copenhagen 3 (3)-0 (1) Istanbul Basaksehir
Shakhtar Donetsk 3 (5)-1 (1) Wolfsburg

Thursday’s Europa League schedule

Sevilla v. Roma — 12:55 pm ET
Bayern Leverkusen (3) v. Rangers (1) — 12:55 pm ET
Wolverhampton Wanderers (1) v. Olympiacos (1) — 3 pm ET
Basel (3) v. Eintracht Frankfurt (0) — 3 pm ET

Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth

Man City sign Nathan Ake
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Man City sign Nathan Ake from Bournemouth: Another day, another potentially transformative signing for Pep Guardiola and Co., as they reload for their quest to reclaim the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal ]

Ake joins Man City after four hugely successful seasons at Bournemouth, which initially took him on loan from Chelsea in 2016 before making the deal permanent for $26 million a year later. With the Cherries relegated from the PL this season, Ake was always going to leave the Vitality Stadium for top-tier pastures.

The transfer fee is said to be in the neighborhood of $52 million, which makes the 25-year-old a relative steal in comparison to fees now being paid for center backs around Europe. Given he has ample experience in the PL, and earned much of it playing in a side that favored a hugely expansive possession style of soccer, Ake should gain Guardiola’s trust and favor rather quickly as we begin to look toward the 2020-21 season.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

John Stones has mostly struggled to impress and raise his level to that of City since moving to the Etihad Stadium in 2016, leaving Guardiola with a serious need at center back alongside Aymeric Laporte. Midfielder Fernandinho was regularly deputized in recent seasons, but that will no longer be necessary with one of the 10-12 best central defenders in the world arriving this summer.

Report: Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal

Arsenal offer Willian
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Arsenal offer Willian three-year deal to join on free transfer: According to multiple reports out of the UK, the Gunners have made the soon-to-be former Chelsea winger a very high priority in the opening hours and days of the summer/fall transfer window of 2020.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup: Gabriel to Arsenal; Lewis to Liverpool ]

With other interest reportedly coming from Barcelona and MLS side Inter Miami, Willian undoubtedly has options as a free agent following the expiration of his Chelsea contract. According to Sky Sports, the weekly wages offered by Arsenal are “still some way short” of those coming from Barca and Miami.

The 31-year-old is said to have been open to remaining at Stamford Bridge, but he was only offered a two-year contract to do so, prompting him to explore possibilities elsewhere.

Despite starting the season at 30 and turning 31 in September, Willian put together his best season for the Blues, at least statistically speaking, in 2019-20. The Brazilian tallied nine goals and seven assists (in 36 appearances) in Premier League action, plus another pair of goals and an assist between the Champions League and FA Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League transfers: Every deal from all 20 clubs ]

Factoring in their willingness to give him the third year he clearly desires, in order to secure his earning power until he’s 35, Arsenal could very well be favorites to land Willian.

Let’s say they’re offering $150,000 per week, which comes out to a little over $7.8 million per year, bringing the grand total to more than $23 million over three years. Even if Barca have offered $200,000 per week for just the two seasons, the total package falls roughly $4 million short over the life of the respective offers. Sure, Willian could take the gamble of the shorter, more lucrative offer and then be available for another move in the summer of 2022, but such a decision would come without the added security given he’ll be 34 years old at the time and could see his abilities and production fall off dramatically.