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USMNT still adjusting to Arena’s system as WCQ resumes

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) U.S. coach Bruce Arena looked at the rosy side of a surprise draw with Venezuela in an exhibition game over the weekend.

“Good exercise for us,” he said Monday.

[ MORE: USMNT draws Venezuela | Player rating | Three things ]

The Americans are still getting used to Arena’s system, along with playing at a higher altitude. But there’s not much time left, with a World Cup qualifier on Thursday in Commerce City against Trinidad and Tobago.

Neither team has margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings with four points and Trinidad and Tobago last with three points. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“They have to understand the things we’re trying to do, and I don’t think we’re already there,” said Arena, whose team settled for a 1-1 draw with Venezuela on Saturday in Sandy, Utah. “The examples of Saturday’s game is good, to show some of the issues we have and correct them and be ready for Thursday.”

The team elected to switch things up Monday, going with an afternoon practice instead of being put through its paces in a morning session. Anything to that?

“We just wanted to have a meeting in the morning,” Arena said. “Meeting, practice, have lunch and off the rest of the day. Wasn’t rocket science.”

[ EXCLUSIVE: Pulisic talks BVB, USMNT, long career ahead ]

Figuring out what system the Americans may utilize could be, though. At times against Venezuela, the squad employed a 4-4-2 formation. At other times, it was a different alignment.

“It’s better for us if the opposition doesn’t know how we’re going to play, how we’re going to start the game,” midfielder Fabian Johnson said. “It’s positive for us that we have two systems that we can also switch during the game.”

Now, they just need everyone healthy. Central defender John Brooks left Saturday’s game with a bruised quadriceps muscle. Arena doesn’t know if he will be available Thursday, let alone three days later when the team plays in Mexico. But there’s also this: Forward Jozy Altidore is getting up to speed after reporting late to training camp because of his brother’s wedding.

Arena has gradually increased the tempo at practice to get his team acclimatized to the higher elevation. It’s 5,200 feet in Commerce City and a lung-searing 7,820 feet at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The elevation for the exhibition game was around 4,450 feet.

“Of course, it’s hard to breathe, to run,” said Johnson, who recently extended his contract with Borussia Moenchengladbach. “The first couple of days, you can tell in warmups and stuff. You’re breathing hard. But you get used to it.”

[ MORE: Altidore reminds of his importance to USMNT ]

Arena certainly liked the play of 18-year-old Christian Pulisic on Saturday as the midfielder scored the tying goal for the Americans in the 61st minute. Asked how he’s come along over the last six months, Arena responded: “Six months older.”

“He’s stronger physically, mentally,” Arena said. “The young ones make more improvement. I don’t think (DaMarcus) Beasley and (Clint) Dempsey are going to get much better in six months.”

Johnson met with Arena several times in Germany to discuss what’s expected of him. Johnson likes his responsibilities in the midfield, a position that’s relatively unsettled. Sebastian Lletget started against Honduras in March, scoring the opening goal, but injured his left foot in the 6-0 home win and will be sidelined four to six months.

“We have to create more chances, use the space a little bit better,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do on Thursday.”

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Long-term absentee Santi Cazorla will leave Arsenal

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Santi Cazorla hasn’t played a match for the Gunners since suffering a gruesome Achilles injury back in October 2016.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Spanish Chelsea trio ]

And unfortunately for the Spaniard, Cazorla won’t feature for Arsenal again after six years at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal released a statement on Monday revealing the veteran midfielder won’t return to the club in 2018/19, which isn’t unexpected given the extent of his injury.

In his time with the Gunners, Cazorla made 180 appearances in all competitions for the club, and helped Arsenal win two FA Cups.

Cazorla was also a member of the Spanish national team squads that won back-to-back UEFA EURO competitions in 2008 and 2012.

Wolfsburg keeps Bundesliga spot with playoff win

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Wolfsburg managed a 1-0 win (4-1 on aggregate) over Holstein Kiel on Monday in the second leg of its German promotion playoff as the Bundesliga side kept its place in the top flight.

Robin Knoche scored the game-winner in the second leg, which ensured Wolfsburg’s stay in the Bundesliga ahead of the 2017/18 season.

The hosts boasted a number of quality chances in the first half, including David Kinsombi’s close-range shot that tested Wolfsburg keeper Koen Casteels with a save, however, Holstein couldn’t break through.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender John Brooks went the full 90 minutes for Wolfsburg, after the 25-year-old made nine starts this season for the German side in league play.