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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.

[ MORE: David Villa discusses MLS season, La Liga title race and more ]

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.”

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

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MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.

World Cup: Saudi team safe after plane caught fire mid-flight

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The Saudi Arabian national team arrived alive and well in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Monday after a terrifying incident that saw their plane catch fire in the air.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The blaze was caused by “a technical failure in one of the airplane engines,” which the airline, Rossiya, claims was caused by a bird flying into the engine. Each of the planes engines were reportedly in operation upon landing at its final destination.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation posted a message on Twitter later on Monday, saying they “would like to reassure everyone that all the Saudi national team players are safe, after a technical failure in one of the airplane engines that has just landed in Rostov-on-Don airport, and now they’re heading to their residence safely.”

The Green Falcons will face Uruguay in Rostov, hoping to rebound from their tournament-opening 5-0 loss to Russia on Thursday, in each side’s second game of Group A action on Wednesday (11 a.m. ET).

Seismologists clarify Mexico fans didn’t cause earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s National Seismological Service says there was seismic activity around the country’s capital Sunday, but it wasn’t linked to soccer fans celebrating their country’s game-winning goal vs. Germany at the World Cup.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The service says in a report that there were two small earthquakes at 10:24 a.m. and 12:01 p.m. The goal came around 11:35 a.m. local time.

A geological institute reported Sunday that seismic detectors had registered a false earthquake that may have been generated by “massive jumps” by fans.

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

Mexico’s Seismological Service explained Monday that the city’s normal bustle of traffic and other movement causes vibrations that are detected by sensitive instruments.

It says those vibrations notably quieted during the match as people gathered in front of TVs to watch, and rose after the goal.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 6 — Colombia vs. Japan; Salah’s debut?

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Day 6 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Tuesday — and would you believe it? — there’s another three games on the schedule. This whole “back-to-back-to-back games of soccer” thing isn’t so bad.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Up first, it’s the 2018 debut of Colombia, winners of tens hundreds of millions of hearts in 2014, as they take on Japan. In the day’s other Group H fixture, it’ll be Robert Lewandowski and Poland facing Sadio Mane and Senegal. Star power aplenty.

Then, we swing things back around to Group A, where the hosts Russia will look to continue their hot start against Egypt with Mohamed Salah expected to make his World Cup debut.

Below is Tuesday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Tuesday, June 19

Group H
Colombia vs. Japan: Saransk, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Senegal: Moscow, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group A
Russia vs. Egypt: St. Petersburg, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE