Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

USMNT: Takeaways from Arena’s camp roster

Leave a comment

Bruce Arena released his 32-man roster for this January’s USMNT camp, a group which will provide the lineups for friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica.

[ REPORT: Bradley offered Norway job ]

There are a lot of names which won’t surprise thanks to either regular inclusion or Arena’s awesome Facebook Live sessions and media conference calls where he was wide open about prospects like Keegan Rosenberry or Sebastian Lletget.

He’s here?!? And he isn’t?!?

The heading may lead you to believe the exclamation points are made in anger, but that’s in no way the case; Seeing a new coach’s roster release — especially for an MLS-only January camp — is a fascinating exercise not unlike popping out to the Christmas tree on the morning of Dec. 25.

So, thanks, Santa Bruce Arena.

We’ll get to the omissions — at least perceived ones — in a bit, but let’s start with the names that leapt boldest off the page. Kekuta Manneh is a thrilling prospect, one who would be a household names were it not for injury and his status in the Vancouver market (which is fun to watch for diehards but rarely gets national TV time). Both Manneh (The Gambia) and goalkeeper call-up Stefan Frei (Switzerland) have not yet been cleared to represent the United States.

Vancouver Whitecaps' Kekuta Manneh, of Gambia, celebrates his goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half of an MLS soccer game on Saturday, April 19, 2014, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
Manneh (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

[ MORE: Revisiting Arena’s first run with USMNT ]

There’s also DC United right back Taylor Kemp, who hasn’t had a chance to rep his nation since a 2008 turn with the U.S. U-20 side. Chris Pontius has also battled injury, but DC and now Philadelphia fans will understand why there’s a group which has long-clamored to see him wear red, white, and blue.

Tommy McNamara seems to be getting the most buzz amongst omissions, and others will mention NYCFC teammate and once-future-Landon-Donovan (we kid) Mix Diskerud.

But what about Justin Morrow? From Notre Dame to Toronto FC, the intrepid fullback has succeeded every time he’s asked to raise his game. It’s a crowded midfield, but New England’s Kelyn Rowe is a name that could’ve easily got a look.

Again, some of these names may be dealing with undisclosed injuries, so they may not be true omissions.


It’s different now (in reality and the media)

At the risk of looking like high-level subtweeting, there’s a respected-enough soccer mind in social media who has already begun showcasing the difference in respect between Bruce Arena and Jurgen Klinsmann.

Arena called up Graham Zusi as a right back for the United States national team’s January camp, a move that doesn’t normally need to be justified. National team coaches have needs that cannot be fixed in a transfer market, and the U.S. has a number of unavailable right backs in Europe right now (Eric Lichaj, DeAndre Yedlin, Jonathan Spector among them).

Again, this is totally cool.

Yet if you’re of the mind to say it’s cool because Zusi played a handful of games at right back last season, then you better not have raged when Klinsmann defenders pointed out that left wing Fabian Johnson spent a decent-enough portion of his career at left back.

[ MORE: What counts as success for Arena’s second run? ]

Sporting Kansas City's Graham Zusi, right, avoids a tackle by Los Angeles Galaxy's Tommy Meyer while heading toward the goal during the second half of an MLS soccer game Saturday, July 19, 2014, in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Chris Neal)
Zusi (AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Chris Neal)

Yes, a serious tournament is much different than a January camp that should see the Yanks succeed against Jamaica (and probably versus a much-weakened Serbia, too). And it’s good to have a reminder that a legendary acumen in United States soccer history allows more leeway with fans than a guy who scored a ton of goals in Europe.

No need to name names, let’s be old school and proper, but suffice to say this: we’re in a new era and we clearly all want it to work. Maybe it’s simply a honeymoon stage, but it will be interesting to monitor how quickly it might sour.


And, oh, the super vets

Arena would want to strike a balance between new blood and totally eschewing players who became fixtures under Klinsmann, especially on the MLS side, but it’s still a bit surprising to see Chris Wondolowski and Nick Rimando.

Both are still among the best at their positions in Major League Soccer, and there can be few qualms with their inclusions aside from younger names missing out. There also needs to be a batch of players to show new guys the ropes, yes, even under a new boss.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 19: Bruce Arena the coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy looks on during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between Liverpool FC and Besiktas JK at Anfield on February 19, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Arena (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

With Jones and DaMarcus Beasley, there’s little question they still offer something at a higher class than what’s being left off the roster.

The call-ups of Wondolowski, Rimando, and Chad Marshall show that Arena’s focus is much more short-term, and that’s a hole dug by Klinsmann’s 0-2 start to World Cup qualifying. If the Yanks were 2-0, or had claimed four points from the first two matches, maybe we see Khiry Shelton, Tim Parker, or Bobby Shuttleworth instead.

Plus, the delicious irony and borderline sardonicism of a late rescue goal from Wondolowski in March is too much to pass up.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Bruce explains taking wheel at wobbly Newcastle United

Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Steve Bruce didn’t have it in him to turn down his boyhood club again.

The well-traveled manager and Manchester United legend has taken the reins at combustible Newcastle United after Rafa Benitez walked away from the club this summer.

[ MORE: Sturridge punished ]

Bruce was Sheffield Wednesday manager when that happened, but simply could not resist the lure of managing at St. James’ Park.

He’s also quite confident in his abilities. From The Chronicle:

“I know in some people’s eyes, I’m not Rafa and I know there are big shoes to fill but believe me, I’ll give it everything I possibly can and hopefully I prove the doubters wrong.”

Bruce certainly does not have Benitez’s resume, but has had success in lower leagues. He’s led Birmingham City and Hull City to a pair of promotions each.

If Newcastle backs him as rumored, he may be able to have one of his better Premier League seasons, but his being backed is a wobbly proposition at best (The club is being linked with monster Hoffenheim forward Joelinton).

Bruce knows things have been largely poor at Newcastle United under owner Mike Ashley, and that the club could be taken over by new owners with different ambitions for their manager’s position.

But, again, this is the club he’s supported since he was a boy.

“As I said the easy thing would to have been to say no but I just hope that people show the respect which you obviously only gain by getting results and doing the job, but hopefully that will go hand in hand.”

It’s another Zlatan day, as Galaxy star rips Vela, talks Area 51

Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a shot at his rivals and his league in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Major League Soccer’s hit is down to proximity and not intent, but the LA Galaxy star certainly didn’t disguise his feelings when asked whether LAFC star Carlos Vela is the best player in the league.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Vela, 30, has lit MLS on fire to the tune of 19 goals and eight assists in 19 matches, driving the second-year squad to the top of the Western Conference.

Zlatan and the Galaxy’s seasons have trailed behind, relatively speaking. The third-place Galaxy are 12 points behind LAFC, with Ibrahimovic contributing 13 goals and three assists in three fewer games.

“29, he’s playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?”

Herculez Gomez replies that Ibrahimovic was in Europe (Vela turned 30 in March. At 29, Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in 41 appearances for AC Milan, on loan from Barcelona. At 30, he scored 35 in 44 for Milan).

“Big difference, exactly.”

Vela, for what it’s worth, spent 2005-17 in Europe. Anyway, here is the exchange.

But wait, there’s more.

Zlatan was also quizzed on Area 51 while in a scrum. For those who may not know, Area 51 is a classified United States military facility in Nevada which has long been speculated as the home of extraterrestrial testing and scientific experimentation.

He doesn’t need to worry about going there, because he has his own Area 51 and there is only one Zlatan.

Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?

LIVE — UEL second legs will determine possible Wolves opponents

Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wolverhampton Wanderers will find out its first Europa League opponent on Friday, and the field will be winnowed with a bevy of second qualifying round second legs on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Malmo, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Rangers, Legia Warsaw, and Hajduk Split are the biggest names in play on Thursday, with only the Polish side failing to hold an advantage after the first leg.

American forward Romain Gall is in the mix for Malmo, though he’s been an unused sub of late for the Swedish powers. That could change today, with Malmo in Northern Ireland with a 7-0 advantage over Ballymena United.

You can follow the dozens of ties by clicking the link above.