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USA vs. Ghana preview: Gold Cup tune-up

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Saturday at 5:00 p.m. ET in East Hartford, CT the US Men’s National Team will get its final chance to mesh ahead of the 2017 Gold Cup as they take on Ghana in a pre-tournament friendly.

The United States features a young and inexperienced squad for at least the tournament’s group stage, devoid of many national team staples like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and even Christian Pulisic. Thus, this match against Ghana will be an important step for the team to not just experiment but play together as they look towards the competitive games.

Ghana and the US have an intense rivalry – if you can call it that with just five matches between them in recent history. Nevertheless, three of those five games have been of significant importance, and that has stoked the fire between the two nations.

Particularly painful for the current United States manager is the loss to Ghana in the 2006 World Cup that sealed Bruce Arena’s fate in his first stint as national team coach. Again, the US was eliminated by the African nation in the 2010 World Cup, an extra-time defeat in the knockout round, with Asamoah Gyan’s 93rd-minute winner breaking the US’s hearts.

In the 2014 World Cup, the US got revenge, beating Ghana 2-1 in the opening group stage match to help Jurgen Klinsmann escape the Group of death. It was the only victory for the United States in the competition. That defeat for Ghana saw the end of Kwesi Appiah‘s managerial tenure, but he’s back for a second go and will take charge on Saturday.

Now, after years of World Cup battles, Ghana may be able to help their CONCACAF opponents in their first-ever friendly matchup. With Arena hoping to work in a number of fringe players alongside youthful counterparts looking to break into a more prominent role, Ghana’s presence could be of long-term benefit to the US instead of a thorn in the side.

At Arena’s disposal are both well-known players looking to reignite their national team flame, and lesser-known fringe options hoping to boost their stock. The most significant of the former include Matt Miazga who can help make a push towards his high ceiling, and Juan Agudelo who is looking to play his first competitive minutes since 2011 in what to this point has been a career underperformance. Jordan Morris could use a bright tournament as well, having fallen down the striker pecking order thanks in large part to the emergence of Bobby Wood.

Highlighting those looking to become household names is Cristian Roldan, the promising young Seattle Sounders midfielder who could potentially pair with Kellyn Acosta for years to come. Alongside him is Dom Dwyer who has waited a lifetime for his chance on the national team, and now gets that with the tournament calling his name. Finally, defender Matt Hedges has another shot after a knee injury in January camp derailed his first shot at seeing USMNT time.

The Gold Cup will provide all these men and more with the opportunity to push for a spot on the first-team roster with the World Cup just around the corner, but first the tuneup against Ghana will be a litmus test for what is to come in the next month. Look for Anderlecht winger Frank Acheampong to lead the creative attack, most notably on the counter, and Gyan is still a leader for his nation up front.

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

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So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

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Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

Frank Lampard
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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

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Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”