Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images

USMNT still adjusting to Arena’s system as WCQ resumes

Leave a comment

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.”

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.

Clark County “declines to prosecute” Ronaldo for rape

Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images
1 Comment

Cristiano Ronaldo will not face sexual assault charges for a June 2009 incident in the United States, attorneys say.

An American woman filed a civil lawsuit against the Juventus superstar last year, claiming that Ronaldo forced himself upon her while she was in a prone position in his hotel room.

[ MORE: Bayern keen on Zaha ]

Ronaldo had expressed belief that he would be cleared of the claims, and claimed that graphic documents produced by German publication Der Spiegel were altered and fabricated.

Las Vegas police issued a warrant in a bid to get Ronaldo’s DNA, and the DA’s office says the woman’s refusal to name her attacker stopped them for collecting “vital evidence.” The woman reached a civil settlement with Ronaldo in 2010.

From News3LV.com:

“Based upon a review of the information presented at this time, the allegations of sexual assault against Cristiano Ronaldo cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the D.A.’s office said. “Therefore, no charges will be forthcoming.”

Bayern Munich kicking the tires on big Zaha bid

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A sensational report is linking Wilfried Zaha not just with a move away from Crystal Palace, but a move clear of the Premier League altogether.

90min.com says that Bayern Munich has turned to Zaha, having been rebuffed in their pursuit of Manchester City’s Leroy Sane.

Palace wants $100 million for Zaha, but so far has only received a $50 million offer from Arsenal for his services. Reports Monday said Arsenal is upping its bid, and offering a loan of Reiss Nelson as a make-good. Palace has had good Fortune with loans from the big boys of the PL, in particular with Ruben Loftus-Cheek two seasons ago.

A lot of this makes sense for all parties, apart from Sane, and it will be interesting to see if the report brings a bigger bid from the Gunners.

Zaha is a sensational player, and has created chances year-after-year for the Eagles. He wants to taste the Champions League, but Palace is not willing to let him go for (much) less than its asking price given its sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka to Manchester United.

Bayern will spend less on Zaha than it would on Gareth Bale or Sane, and get a determined player who is very much in his prime. Zaha would also get the chance to showcase himself with actual breathing room on the pitch, thanks to Serge Gnabry, Robert Lewandowski, and others.

And Palace, of course, will end up with between $80-100 million and the knowledge that it won’t need to mark Zaha on a Premier League pitch. More importantly, the money raised from Zaha and Wan-Bissaka will allow them to strengthen at nearly every position (above what they have now, not above AWB and Zaha).