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Three keys for USMNT in 2017 Gold Cup

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Many of the familiar faces aren’t with the USMNT for the group stage of this summer’s Gold Cup, but that shouldn’t stop Bruce Arena’s Yanks from making a run deep into the knockout rounds.

Either the U.S. or Mexico has won 12 of the 13 Gold Cups, but both are sending B-sides to this edition in moves that have sides like Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras hoping to make a memory.

It’s not like Arena nor suspended Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio have selected chopped liver in uniform for the group stages, but the list of who won’t be wearing red, white, and blue for the Yanks is a who’s who: Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Tim Howard. The list goes on.

[ MORE: Gold Cup predictions ]

That does open up the door to so many players, though, some familiar and others not. What do the Yanks need to do to make a deep run?

1) Get off on the right foot (and arrive at the quarters) — The U.S. will progress to the knockout rounds even with a stumble out of the gates against Panama on Saturday in Nashville, but winning Group B is a huge boon to those who fear Mexico’s B-side more than Costa Rica.

The Group B winners could not face the winners or runners-up of Group C — Mexico’s group — until the Final. Even if Mexico faltered big time in group play, El Tri will likely still finish in one of the top two spots. Beating Panama essentially ensures nine points and no worries about a goal differential problem from Los Canaleros.

So, yeah, the U.S. will make the quarters, when any of its roster flaws can be corrected by any number of top assets.

2) Find your central steel — Without Brooks, Cameron, and Bradley, the heart of the defense is a bit of an unknown. Seeing as a successful Yanks run would eventually need to deal with either Costa Rica’s Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell or Mexico’s Erick Gutierrez or Erick Torres, sorting it out quickly is important.

Arena will be tempted to lean on World Cup veteran and long time LA Galaxy buddy Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler has the experience to get the job done as well. But wild cards Matt Hedges and Matt Miazga present different styles of defense and either is four inches taller than Besler, who has been pretty great for Sporting KC this season.

On top of the center backs will likely be Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta, or perhaps Cristian Roldan in a pinch. Again, the skills are there and Acosta will likely be a USMNT player for a long, long time, but he’s still young as we saw when he made a pair of rookie mistakes on Mexico’s equalizer in the last World Cup qualifier at Azteca.

3) Finish chances early — This one’s simple and sweet: Buses will be parked by all three Gold Cup group stage foes, and it’s incumbent upon forwards Dom Dwyer, Jordan Morris, and Juan Agudelo to make sure the might of the Americans is felt within the opening throes of each match. For all of the above concerns with central steel, the absence of Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Pulisic from the substitutes could cause nerves for the attack if it stays 0-0 for too long.

Germany snatches late win over Sweden to avoid elimination

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Germany dodged a fatal bullet on Saturday, coming back from a goal down to Sweden to steal a 2-1 victory at the 2018 World Cup and keep their world title defense alive… barely.

For all of 16 minutes — plus halftime — the Germans were in line to be eliminated with one Group F game still to play, but ultimately, Ola Toivonen‘s unlikely opener was canceled out by Marco Reus in very short order after the restart, and Toni Kroos broke Swedish hearts in the 94th.

Put another way, Joachim Loew survives to manage another day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Sweden felt massively aggrieved to have not been awarded a penalty kick in the 17th minute, when Jerome Boateng took out the legs of Marcus Berg as he bore down on an out-rushing Manuel Neuer. The combination of leg-to-leg contact and a strong push in the back appeared an obvious error for the video-assistant referee to right a wrong, but the call never came.

The opening goal was the direct result of a careless giveaway by Kroos near the center circle, and needed just three touches and two passes to cut through the German defense and spring Toivonen behind Antonio Rudiger. The finish, a perfectly weighted dink — perhaps aided by the slightest of deflections by Rudiger — left Neuer with no chance (WATCH HERE).

Then, with the final touch of the first half, Berg glanced a header from a free kick that was destined to his the inside netting at the far post, but Neuer redefined the phrase “at full stretch” to keep the scoreline 1-1.

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

That save proved invaluable for Joachim Loew’s side, as Marco Reus pulled the defending world champions level less than three minutes into the second half. Timo Werner dribbled to the endline and cut the ball back toward the penalty spot, and Reus got on the end of the deflected cross and struck it home with his knee. A semblance of order restored.

Bedlam ensued in the final 15 minutes, as Boateng was sent off for a second yellow card and Neuer lost his footing while scrambling across the face of goal to make a save, only narrowly preserving the 1-1 scoreline. Robin Olsen one-upped Neuer in the 88th minute, rising to his crossbar to punch Mario Gomez’s header just over.

In the fourth of five minutes of second-half stoppage time, Kroos became the hero. From a nearly impossible angle on the left side of the penalty area, Kroos rolled the ball forward to Reus on the restart, creating an ever so slightly wider angle from which to curl his shot toward the far post. It worked to perfection.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Germany (3 points) will finish group play against fourth-place South Korea (0 points) on Wednesday, while Sweden (3 points) will face Mexico (6 points), who had clinched their place in the knockout rounds until Germany’s late winner.

VIDEO: Toivonen chips Neuer; Germany on brink of elimination

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Germany, the defending world champions, have their backs firmly pressed against the wall, less than an hour away from elimination, in just their second game of Group F play at the 2018 World Cup. As of this moment, they’re set to be eliminated with one game still to play.

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

After losing to Mexico in the opener, Joachim Loew’s side now trails Sweden in game no. 2, just shy of 45 minutes on the clock. As of right now, Mexico and Sweden (six points each) would go through to the knockout rounds, and Germany and South Korea (zero points) would go home.

Die Mannschaft were utterly dominant for the game’s first 30 minutes, holding more than 75 percent of possession, until Ola Toivonen, who scored all of two goals for Ligue 1 side Toulouse this season, got in behind the German backline and dinked the ball over the head of Manuel Neuer for the game’s opening goal.

Report: Player “coup” has Sampaoli on the outs at Argentina

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The Argentina men’s national team has been a mess for some time, with Lionel Messi retiring the last time controversy reared its ugly ahead, but this is something else.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Reports out of Argentina say manager Jorge Sampaoli has lost the team, who is now making decisions on their own ahead of their World Cup group stage finale against Nigeria.

Argentina drew Iceland in its opener before being embarrassed in a 3-0 defeat to Croatia in the second match, one in which Sampaoli’s lineup choice, tactics, and in-match decisions were skewered in the media.

Sergio Aguero was among the players to bristle at talk of the coach after the game.

This just hours after Sampaoli’s lineup to face Nigeria was “leaked” via training ground photos on Saturday.

More to come…

MLS weekend preview: Busy Saturday following the World Cup

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You won’t have to wait too long after the final World Cup game of Saturday to get more soccer.

Major League Soccer is back with a busy night of fixtures.

[ RECAP: Mexico 2-1 South Korea ]

Here are some 1-2 liners to get prepared for what’s in store.

Philadelphia Union vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 5 p.m. ET

Carl Robinson’s rising visitors will hope the inconsistent side of the Union hits the field in Pennsylvania.

New York Red Bulls vs. FC Dallas — 6 p.m. ET

Dallas’ seven-match unbeaten run includes four-straight wins, but RBNY has not lost at home since late April.

Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET

Orlando has not gained a point of its last available 18, while Montreal is slowly finding form.

Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo — 8:30 p.m. ET

The Western leaders host a Houston side with a tough 1-3-3 mark away from home.

Colorado Rapids vs. Minnesota United — 9 p.m. ET

Two-win Colorado has been much better at home than away, and the Loons can’t afford to give the Rapids win No. 3 if they want to stay in the playoff picture.

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 10 p.m. ET

Real has won six of seven at Rio Tinto, and San Jose has just two wins this season (So, MLS rules dictate this will go in the Quakes’ win column).

Seattle Sounders vs. Chicago Fire — 10 p.m. ET

The Sounders’ awful season gets a Chicago with points in five of six.

LAFC vs. Columbus Crew — 10:30 p.m. ET

Traveling across the country without Carlos Vela and beating a very solid Crew side is asking a lot of Bob Bradley‘s expansion side.


Atlanta United vs. Portland Timbers — 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Gio Savarese has manufactured some fine away performances for Portland, but this is a long flight and a tall ask in a possible MLS Cup Final preview.

NYCFC vs. Toronto FC — 5 p.m. ET Sunday

TFC has yet to climb back into the East’s Top Six, but will like its chances to make a statement against Patrick Vieira-less NYCFC on the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium.