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Benny Feilhaber among US vets getting 2nd chance under Arena

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CARSON, Calif. (AP) Only a year ago, Benny Feilhaber thought he had no chance to get back in the good graces of Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. national team.

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So the frustrated Sporting Kansas City midfielder let them have it, sharply criticizing Klinsmann’s player selection in an unusual moment of bridge-burning candor for a frustrated veteran athlete.

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One year and one new coach later, Feilhaber has just completed a January training camp with the U.S. men, and he is on the 23-man squad for the first matches in a crucial year of World Cup qualification for the Americans.

“A clean slate,” Feilhaber said with a broad smile.

The U.S. begins the year Sunday with an exhibition against Serbia at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. New coach Bruce Arena’s MLS-based player group is clearly optimistic about the tests ahead, but the U.S. needs immediate improvements after two losses late last year put the Americans at the bottom of their World Cup qualifying group.

“It’s a new vibe,” Feilhaber said. “It’s been great. Everybody is fighting for positions, but united in the knowledge that we need to do something special this year in qualifying, and it starts in this camp.”

Feilhaber is an offensive midfielder who could provide a dimension that seemed lacking in the Americans’ attack in recent months. He is just one of several players getting newfound looks and increased attention after fading from Klinsmann’s favor.

Dax McCarty, Chris Pontius and Chad Marshall also might have thought they were all done with U.S. national team play after getting passed over by the German coach. Other younger MLS-based players, including Sebastian Lletget and Walker Zimmerman, still hadn’t attracted Klinsmann’s serious attention.

When Klinsmann was fired and Arena took over late last year, the veterans had already made their usual January vacation plans – and McCarty even scheduled his wedding this month.

They all reported to the Los Angeles suburbs for the start of another run under Arena, who has been determined to keep an open mind about anyone who could help his team.

“They don’t have to prove anything extra,” Arena said of the second-chance contingent. “But they’ve demonstrated they’re good players, and they’ve convinced me that they’re options. At the end of the day, we’ve got to compile all of this stuff after this camp and then look at our pool of players that are in Europe as well as in Mexico and try to see what makes sense for the games in March. It’s not going to be an easy exercise, for sure.”

The match in San Diego is Arena’s first for the U.S. team since June 22, 2006, when the Americans were eliminated from the World Cup with a 2-1 loss to Ghana at Nuremberg. After his first U.S. tenure ended, Arena moved on to build the LA Galaxy into a three-time MLS champion.

From veteran Jermaine Jones to youngster Jordan Morris, the MLS-based players appear to appreciate Arena’s confident style of management – while realizing the results will determine his real success.

“Bruce is very open with his players,” Feilhaber said. “He lets you know exactly what he expects from you, and he’s been very clear with me what position he would like me to play in, and what my responsibilities would be for the team. It’s very straightforward and easy to grasp what my job is. It’s been very few surprises.”

Hertha Berlin slams racist abuse of under-23 player Ngankam

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BERLIN (AP) Hertha Berlin has condemned apparent racist abuse of its under-23 player Jessic Ngankam from Lokomotive Leipzig fans during their fourth-division game on Friday.

Hertha says on Twitter that, “Ngankam was subjected to racist hostility during the game against Lok Leipzig. As a club, we are completely behind Jessic . The incident was also noted in the match report and a preliminary investigation has since been launched by the league. Lok Leipzig have already given their own statement on the incident. (hash)notoracism”

Hertha executive board member Paul Keuter says the club should have reacted sooner to the alleged abuse, “but nobody should doubt our commitment against racism.”

Hertha player Jordan Torunarigha wrote on Twitter the club is “100% against racism and one shouldn’t argue over why my club is just giving a statement now.”

The 19-year-old Ngankam, who is black, told broadcaster MDR that he was targeted with monkey chants by some fans in the visiting supporters’ block and that he was called an “ape” by an opposing player.

“Of course you’re trained not to react or show emotion. But it still hits you,” Ngankam told MDR. “Insults are unfortunately an everyday occurrence in football, and I can put up with them. But racist abuse is a no-go.”

Lokomotive criticized the abuse on its website, where it reminded its own fans that it has players within the club with roots in 32 countries.

“Only two colors interest us – (club colors) blue and yellow,” Lokomotive said. “Racism has no place among us and everyone knows that! If there are still people who call themselves blue-yellow fans and can’t comprehend that, then it must be clear that (Leipzig district) Probstheida is no place for them.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Champions League permutations: Who needs what?

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Here’s a quick reminder of how many teams from each group have already reached the last 16:

Group A: Paris St-Germain (winners), Real Madrid (runners up)
Group B: Bayern Munich (winners), Tottenham (runners up)
Group C: Manchester City (winners)
Group D: Juventus (winners)
Group E: None
Group F: Barcelona (winners)
Group G: RB Leipzig
Group H: None

And here’s what teams in each group need to do to advance:

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk will reach the last 16 if they win at home against Atalanta, while both Atalanta and Dinamo Zagreb can still reach the last 16 with wins.

Group D
Atletico Madrid will secure their spot in the last 16 if they beat Lokomotiv Moscow at home, but if they draw or lose and Bayer Leverkusen win at home against group winners Juventus, the German side will go through.

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg will reach the last 16 if they beat Liverpool at home, while the reigning UCL champions need just a point to make it to the knockout rounds. However,  if Liverpool lose they will be out unless Napoli lose at home to Genk too or if Liverpool score four away goals or more and only lose by one goal (eg a 5-4 loss) combined with a Napoli defeat they will go through. Napoli need a point in their final game at home against Genk to reach the last 16.

Group F
Inter Milan will make the last 16 if they beat Barcelona at home but if they don’t win then Borussia Dortmund will go through by bettering Inter’s result. Dortmund host Slavia Prague at home.

Group G
Leipzig have already qualified and will finish top of the group with a win. Zenit will reach the last 16 if they win away at already eliminated Benfica, while Lyon can qualify if they better Zenit’s result from the final game.

Group H
Chelsea know they will reach the last 16 with a win at home to already eliminated Lille. Ajax only need a draw to make the last 16, while Valencia need a win at Ajax to advance. Chelsea will also reach the last if they draw against Lille and Ajax beat Valencia.

Champions League score predictions: Matchweek 6

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The sixth and final matchday of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League group stage is here, and two of the four Premier League clubs needing to avoid defeat to go through.

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Fans of Liverpool and Chelsea will both be sweating ahead of their group stage finales.

Below we predict the scores for all 16 UCL games taking place over the next two days, with Tottenham heading to Bayern Munich able to rest players,  while reigning champions Liverpool head to Jesse March’s Salzburg needing a draw to advance but the hosts will go through with a win.

As for Chelsea, they host Lille needing a win to secure their route to the last 16 and a draw could be enough if Valencia lose to Ajax, while Man City travel to Dinamo Zagreb already confirmed as group winners.

Feel free to make your own predictions in the comments section below, too.


Tuesday

Group E
Red Bull Salzburg 3-5 Liverpool
Napoli 3-1 Genk

Group F
Borussia Dortmund 3-1 Slavia Prague
Inter Milan 2-2 Barcelona

Group G
Lyon 2-1 Leipzig
Benfica 0-2 Zenit

Group H
Chelsea 1-1 Lille
Ajax 2-2 Valencia


Wednesday

Group A
PSG 3-0 Galatasaray
Club Brugge 1-2 Real Madrid

Group B
Bayern Munich 3-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Olympiacos 3-1 Red Star Belgrade

Group C
Shakhtar Donetsk 1-3 Atalanta
Dinamo Zagreb 1-3 Man City

Group D
Bayer Leverkusen 2-2 Juventus
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Lokomotiv Moscow

MLS teams learn opponents for CCL last 16

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The draw for the last 16 of the CONCACAF Champions League took place late Monday and some intriguing clashes have been set up to kick off the knockout rounds.

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2019 Supporters’ Shield champs LAFC face Liga MX’s Club Leon, while NYCFC fave San Carlos from Costa Rica, 2019 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders square off with Honduran side Olimpia, the Montreal Impact face Costa Rica’s Saprissa and Atlanta United also have Honduran opponents in Motagua.

Fans of MLS teams will not need reminding that Liga MX have dominated this competition, with a team from Mexico winning this competition each season since 2006.

Below is the schedule in full for the knockout rounds of the tournament, which begin in mid-February.


2020 CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Leg 1: Feb. 18-20; Leg 2: Feb. 25-27. First team listed hosts Leg 2.

  1. Atlanta United (USA) vs. Motagua (HON)
  2. Club America (MEX) vs. Comunicaciones (GUA)
  3. Cruz Azul (MEX) vs. Portmore United (JAM)
  4. LAFC (USA) vs. Club Leon (MEX)
  5. Tigres UANL (MEX) vs. Alianza (SLV)
  6. NYCFC (USA) vs. San Carlos (CRC)
  7. Seattle Sounders (USA) vs. Olimpia (HON)
  8. Montreal Impact (CAN) vs. Saprissa (CRC)

Quarterfinals

Leg 1: March 10-12; Leg 2: March 17-19. Winner of odd-numbered Round of 16 game hosts Leg 2.

  • Winner 1 vs. Winner 2
  • Winner 3 vs. Winner 4
  • Winner 5 vs. Winner 6
  • Winner 7 vs. Winner 8

Semifinals

Leg 1: Apr. 7-9; Leg 2: Apr. 14-16. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner 1/2 vs. Winner 3/4
  • Winner 5/6 vs. Winner 7/8

Final

Leg 1: April 28-30; Leg 2: May 5-7. Hosting determined by performance in prior rounds.

  • Winner SF1 vs. Winner SF2