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Arena: USMNT ‘behind the eight ball’ in World Cup qualifying

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NEW YORK (AP) Bruce Arena opened a binder to a page with 48 names, his depth chart for the U.S. soccer team.

Back in charge for the first time in a decade, he views the Americans’ state as urgent following losses in the first two games of the final round of World Cup qualifying and already has plans.

“We’re fighting for our lives starting March 24. We’re behind the eight ball,” he said. “We’ve got to close the gap, and we get six points in the next two games, the gap is closed.”

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During an hourlong session with reporters Tuesday, Arena said comments he made in 2013 about foreign-born players on the national team were aimed at the U.S. player development system, not a criticism of German-Americans who made up almost a quarter of the 2014 World Cup roster under Jurgen Klinsmann.

“I was told today, somebody, they referenced me in Spain as the Donald Trump of soccer,” Arena said. “I think that I’m at fault obviously for those statements, but I would like to clear that up. It’s absolutely ridiculous. It’s no way in the way I think.”

“I think the phrase foreign nationals is a very poor term, whoever uses it, and I will not use it. I will not use dual citizens. They’re national team players,” he explained. “The comment regarding foreign-born players, at the time I believe was referencing player development. And I was simply saying that if our senior national team program consists of a large minority of players, large majority of players that were born elsewhere, where are we going with our development? It has nothing to do with who should be playing on the national team, who should not.”

Now 65 and a member of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, Arena coached the U.S. from 1998-2006 and is the winningest coach in team history. He led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, their best finish since the first tournament in 1930, then was fired after a first-round elimination in 2006. He took over from Klinsmann last week following a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 rout at Costa Rica.

“Mexico certainly came out and took control of the game early, and I don’t think that should happen at home,” Arena said. “I think the game in Costa Rica was not good from start to finish. In general, I think the theme in both games: Our back line played poorly, and I don’t think they’re poor players. I think they can play better, so we’ve got to get them organized, get the right players in the right spots and get them playing better as a unit.”

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Arena plans to open training camp in Carson, California, around Jan. 8 and follow with a pair of exhibitions with a roster mostly from Major League Soccer. Qualifying resumes March 24 with a home game against Honduras, followed four days later by a match at Panama.

Feilhaber (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Arena says goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan need competition from the rest of the player pool, 31-year-old midfielder Benny Feilhaber likely will get an opportunity to return after playing just three games under Klinsmann and 35-year-old midfielder Jermaine Jones “certainly still has something to offer.”

He views captain Michael Bradley as a defensive midfielder rather than a playmaker, a role Klinsmann encouraged Bradley to assume.

“He plays an important position and at his best he’s a key figure, and we’ve got to get him at his best,” Arena said.

Settling on the center of the field is one of Arena’s keys.

“We need a better passer in the midfield than we have. We need to have a player in the attacking half of the field that can deliver the right ball at the right time,” he said. “Who that is remains to be seen. There’s a couple of domestic players that are very good at that that we’ll look at in camp in January, and that to me is an area that we’ve got to identify. And that will help establish how we play. Do we play with one striker, two strikers? Do we play with three? How do we define our midfield shape based on that.”

Arena’s office at the StubHub Center moves only about 30 feet from his previous job as coach of the LA Galaxy, and his parking spot remains the same. As he takes over, he wants to change the Americans’ mentality and consistency.

“Too many peaks and valleys,” he said, moving his hands up and down. “We’ve got to get them to level out their performance a little bit more.”

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A former German star player and coach, Klinsmann criticized the level of play in Major League Soccer. Arena said it has come a long way.

“MLS isn’t on the level of the EPL or the Bundesliga or La Liga, Serie A. We know that,” he said. “But right after that, we’re in that area below that, and it will get better.”

Arena doesn’t tweet and isn’t that interested in statistics.

“I’m not a person that digs deep into analytics because I don’t think the sport of soccer is an analytic sport,” he said. “I think baseball clearly is. I think football can be, obviously, basketball a little bit more. I think soccer is a hard one.”

Benfica boss: Man City’s Otamendi “could be involved in Dias transfer”

Dias to Man City
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Benfica boss Jorge Jesus expects Ruben Dias to skip town, likely to Manchester City, pending a last-minute turn of events.

He’s hoping that Nicolas Otamendi will head back the other way, validating rumors this week that City had been dangling the Argentine in a hope to land Dias or Sevilla back Jules Kounde.

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Jesus saw academy grad and Portuguese national teamer Dias score in a 2-0 win over Moreirense on Saturday, a goal the defender described as emotional in a nod to a possible departure.

The manager admitted that a Dias sale became likely when Benfica bowed out of the UEFA Champions League and was drawn into a discussion on Otamendi, whose value is being challenged by his lack of import at the Etihad Stadium.

“Otamendi is a Manchester City defender who could be involved in the Ruben [Dias] transfer. He already showed his ability at FC Porto, he plays for Argentina and has been a regular starter most years at Manchester City.

“He has stopped starting now and if it hadn’t been for that, maybe he wouldn’t have been included in this possible transfer.

“Of course, he’s a player we’d like to have. The player who joins us will have to be understand that my ideas are completely different from those at Manchester City.”

So that’s something.

Dias would combine with Aymeric Laporte and/or Nathan Ake to continue City’s center back revolution. John Stones and Eric Garcia are also currently at City with Otamendi and last season’s makeshift center back Fernandinho.

Bamford nods Leeds past Blades in goalkeepers’ duel

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Sheffield United – Leeds United: Patrick Bamford’s late goal gave Leeds an entertaining 1-0 win over Sheffield United in a day dominated by strong goalkeeping at Bramall Lane on Sunday.

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Leeds moves to 2W-1L on the season and keeps its first clean sheet after allowing seven goals through two matches.

Blades are now 0-3 and have not scored a goal.


3 things we learned: Sheffield United – Leeds United

1. (Mostly) Stymied! Leeds has been involved in two 7-goal thrillers and Blades were without two longtime starters at center back, so goals were on the menu. What was served? Enticing, small plates. The football was good but the finishing not there for most of the affair.

2. Bamford perseveres: Chance after chance came for Bamford, who looped a header over the goal and saw another good effort saved by Ramsdale before he pounded a header inside the far post with mere minutes to play.

3. Ramsdale shines: Blades goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale was just okay last season with Bournemouth so it was a bit surprising to see the price tag attached to him. He looked the part on Sunday, making six saves including two inside of the box and would’ve been Man of the Match had Bamford not won their day-long duel.

Man of the Match

Bamford


Sheffield United – Leeds United recap

Leeds was bright and ready, a dynamic long pass to Jack Harrison undone by a rough touch and Blades goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale making a save on an advanced Luke Ayling.

At the other end, John Lundstram hit a shot wide in the sixth minute to signal intent from the hosts.

Illan Meslier made a terrific save in the 29th when David McGoldrick’s cute flick to Lundstram was saved in the heart of the six.

Ramsdale made a good save on Stuart Dallas eight minutes later, both teams finding openings to shoot.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Bamford popped a header over the goal in the first half and challenged Ramsdale to win a corner in the 56th minute.

Basham cleared a Stuart Dallas chance off the line five minutes later, the opportunities certainly real and dangerous.

Bamford found his winner in the 88th, Leeds grabbing a second win on the season off a cross from ex-NYCFC man Jack Harrison.

Tottenham – Newcastle United: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Tottenham – Newcastle United: Can Newcastle United score an upset against travel-weary Tottenham Hotspur in North London on Sunday (Watch live at 9 am ET Sunday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)?

Spurs have gone from London to Bulgaria to Southampton to Macedonia and are now back in London for Sunday’s match-up with a Newcastle team that surprised them at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium a little over a year ago.

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Spurs bent Shkendija in Europa League play on Thursday, with Heung-min Son posting a goal and two assists over 90 minutes. Harry Kane and Giovani Lo Celso came off the bench in what could be a sign of Jose Mourinho’s intent for Sunday.

Newcastle has been off since Wednesday’s 7-0 demolition of 10-man League Two side Morecambe in the League Cup. Steve Bruce did the trick without fitness-question Allan Saint-Maximin as well as rested Jonjo Shelvey and Callum Wilson.

STREAM TOTTENHAM – NEWCASTLE UNITED LIVE

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Tottenham – Newcastle United this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Tottenham – Newcastle United (INJURY REPORT)

Sergio Reguilon makes the bench for Tottenham, but the big news is that Dele Alli has been left off the 18 altogether.

Miguel Almiron finally gets his place back in the Newcastle XI, but it’s only because electric winger Allan Saint-Maximin missed out through injury. Jamal Lewis (eye) makes the bench after a scary injury at the foot of Yves Bissouma, while Andy Carroll heads to the bench for Joelinton.


What they’re saying: Tottenham – Newcastle United

Spurs boss Jose Mourinho on Tanguy Ndombele’s 90 minutes versus Shkendija: “He played very well. Of course in a game where I can imagine our percentage of ball possession was very, very high and our percentage is high he feels obviously much more comfortable. However, even without the ball he had recovery, he had duels, he had defensive transition. It was a really positive game from Tanguy, really happy.

Newcastle’s Steve Bruce on meeting Spurs: “We can’t think we can go and play against the top teams and match them just in a game of football. We have to do something different, tactically. We did it well against the top teams last year. Let’s hope we can do the same again this year.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Newcastle United is not expected to get anything out of this, +600 to win and +360 to take a point compared to Tottenham’s -225 to win.

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Prediction: Tottenham – Newcastle United

The Magpies can take some hope from Palace’s consecutive wins away to Manchester United, but Spurs should deliver the goods. Questions about Saint-Maximin’s fitness even if he does play ask even more, as does the fact that Steve Bruce has been keeping Miguel Almiron on the bench to start matches. Throw in Bruce versus Mourinho and it’s safe to expect Spurs to overcome their travel-weary legs and post a 3-1 win.


How to watch Tottenham – Newcastle United stream and start time

Kickoff: 9 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Former Huddersfield Town boss, USMNT striker Wagner fired by Schalke

Wagner sacked
Photo by Tim Rehbein/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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Lopsided defeats to Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen have cost former USMNT striker David Wagner his job as Schalke boss.

Wagner, 48, was fired Sunday after his league unbeaten run as Schalke manager reached 18 matches through a 3-1 loss to Bremen.

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Schalke gave Wagner a little more time to right the ship after wobbling without a win over the final 16 matches of the 2019-20 season, going from fifth to 12th.

From a Schalke release:

“We had all hoped that we could improve on the pitch together with David Wagner. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the right performances and results from the first two games of the season for this to happen,” explained Jochen Schneider, Head of Sport. “We have therefore decided to make a fresh start. Despite the disappointing results, this wasn’t an easy decision for us to make. I would like to thank David Wagner, Christoph Bühler and Frank Fröhling, who, up until their departure, have done everything they can to get Schalke back on track.”

The eight-times capped Wagner began his coaching career with good friend Jurgen Klopp and took his first managerial position at Borussia Dortmund II.

He was then hired by Huddersfield Town and led the Terriers to the Premier League, keeping them in the top flight for one season before leaving the club midway through their relegation-bound second season.

Hired in May 2019, Wagner and Schalke was third after 13 weeks last season, having drawn Revierderby rivals Dortmund and beaten RB Leipzig. But they sunk quickly and had a run of eight matches in which they scored just two goals.

It’s worth monitoring what’s next for Wagner. Back to the Terriers or a Championship side to test his promotion prowess? 2.Bundesliga for that matter?

His star might have appeared to dip due to this run but Schalke has had to deal with significant financial upheaval and sent Weston McKennie to Juve on a loan-to-buy and Daniel Cagliari to Augsburg. Young goalkeeper Alexander Nubel was also sold to Bayern and the only incoming moves were for Vedad Ibisevic and Goncalo Pacienca.

Another thing to note will be whether this is a positive or negative for young American midfielder Nick Taitague, who has battled injuries but had received first team training. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder has one goal in 10 appearances for Schalke II.