Associated Press

Three key battles in Confederations Cup final

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Germany and Chile both shoot for their first Confederations Cup trophy as they meet on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET at St. Petersburg Stadium in Russia.

The match will no doubt be hotly contested, with Chile looking quality at the back, and Germany impressing despite not bringing their first-choice squad.

So, where will the match be won? There will be multiple points of interest for fans to keep an eye on as the game flows.

1. Alexis Sanchez vs. Josh Kimmich

The Arsenal superstar has had a relatively mum tournament, and while Chile has yet to be beaten, the attack has not entirely impressed. Sanchez will now likely see a lot of young Joshua Kimmich in the final, with the Bayern Munich utility man likely to be deployed on Sanchez’s flank.

At just 22 years old, Kimmich has proven much more than his age would suggest. He is the only German to start the last 18 straight games for the national team, and has played the full 90 minutes or more in each one of those matches. However, the German defense hasn’t been rock solid in Russia. Matthias Ginter has proven vulnerable at times, and even Kimmich has shown a slight weakness in the air (see: Cameroon’s goal).

Kimmich has a tall task ahead of him, but if any 22-year-old can take care of business, it’s the German all-star who has risen to heights so great he’s expected to eventually earn the captain’s armband for his country on a long-term basis. Can he stop Alexis Sanchez, who may be playing to earn a few more Premier League bucks?

2. Gary Medel, Gonzalo Jara vs. Timo Werner

Germany may not have brought it’s “A” team, but Timo Werner is making a case to be a part of the first-choice squad when Joachim Low picks his 2018 World Cup team. The 21-year-old has three goals in the last two games, and looks to be a high quality player for the future, and even now.

Chile’s strength lies in its organization and defense. While the offense hasn’t exactly clicked this tournament, the back line has been solid. They have allowed just two goals all tournament, and the two central defenders have been a big reason why. Both sport over 100 caps, and only a slight injury to Medel has kept the pair from playing every minute together in Russia. They are highly experienced, and will need that to stop the prolific German spearheading the attack.

3. Arturo Vidal vs. Julian Draxler

Arturo Vidal never holds back. He never has, and he never will. Julian Draxler will be the next man to face the Chilean’s wrath as the two meet again. They have faced off many times in the past in Bundesliga play before Draxler’s move to PSG, so these two will be quite familiar with one another.

The 23-year-old German has been prolific this tournament, and although he’s only had a direct hand in two of Germany’s 11 Confederations Cup goals, he has been one of the best players in the side. Draxler’s technical ability and pace on the ball has opened things up in the German attack, and Vidal’s crunching style will be key in stopping his counterpart.

Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

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A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

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Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola