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Bruce Arena must mix and match for USMNT qualifiers

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WHIPPANY, N.J. (AP) In addition to being the coach who thus far has turned around the U.S. team’s fortunes in World Cup qualifying, Bruce Arena needs to be a world-class chef.

For each set of two qualifying games, he summons players from all over the place. Europe, Mexico, MLS sites from coast to coast. Then Arena must make sure the stew he is preparing has just the right ingredients.

It’s not an easy chore for any national team coach and it helped lead to the undoing of Arena’s predecessor, Jurgen Klinsmann. Yet, heading into Friday night’s match with Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena, then a trip next Tuesday to Honduras, Arena has made it all taste pretty good.

“The players are familiar with each other and with the various opponents,” Arena said Monday after a light workout as 19 of the 26 roster members were on hand. “Through the week, (information) will get devoured pretty quickly.

“They’ve been together at one time or another this year, that’s a good thing about this group.”

The group includes 18 players from MLS squads, three from England, three from Germany, and two from Mexico. Many were in action with the national team in its most recent qualifiers, a 2-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago and a huge 1-1 draw at Mexico in June. Several others played for the United States in July when it won the Gold Cup, though the strongest national rosters were not involved for that entire tournament.

“There were 18 of them in the Gold Cup,” Arena noted, “and they’ve all been together in different ways over the last couple of months.”

During that span, the Americans have gone 2-0-2, both victories at home, both ties on the road. Those correspond with Arena taking over a last-place team that was 0-2 because of losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, which ultimately cost Klinsmann his job.

The Americans stand third out of six in CONCACAF qualifying with four matches remaining. Mexico leads with 14 points, Costa Rica has 11 and the United States has eight. The top three teams automatically make the field of 32 for Russia 2018. The fourth-place team gets into a playoff for another berth.

Success under Arena, who guided the team to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals before a mediocre performance and first-round elimination at the 2006 tournament led to his departure, is not being taken for granted.

Defender Tim Ream, who has been on and off the team in recent years – but who could start Friday – lauds the coach’s demeanor and style, but recognizes it means little if the guys on the field don’t come through.

“As professionals, you can’t get above yourself and think the job is done. The job is never done,” Ream said. “There are bigger things at stake than your confidence in one game. We know nothing is guaranteed and our approach as players matches as if this can be your last game.”

Ream, like many of his teammates, appreciates that few if any positions are guaranteed – although stars such as Christian Pulisic and Tim Howard aren’t likely to be benched, barring injury.

“If you know you have competition, it keeps you on your toes,” said Ream, currently with Fulham in England. “Competition is important not just at the club level but at the international level. If you know you come in and don’t have a shot (of playing), it’s demoralizing. I know, I’ve been there.

“But they’ve created an atmosphere of competition here all the time.”

NOTES: Arena is from Long Island, and when asked about playing a qualifier for the first time in New Jersey, he playfully said: “I’m from New York. We don’t accept New Jersey as part of New York.” He later expressed confidence that the stadium would provide “good support. We’re well aware there are many Costa Ricans in the New York metropolitan area. I don’t mind playing here, it’s a great venue for getting players in from Europe and from Mexico.”

MLS preview: TFC, Seattle running out of time; Rooney vs. ATL

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Week 21 of the 2018 MLS season features 10 games on Saturday (nine) and Sunday (one). Here’s a few key storylines to keep an eye on…

[ MORE: Miami City Commission sends Beckham stadium to Nov. ballot ]

Jozy’s back, but is it too late?

It’s been nearly three months since Jozy Altidore last appeared for Toronto FC, and not much has changed with regard to the Reds’ place in the standings: they at south of the playoff line then (after going all-in on the CONCACAF Champions League), and they remain there ahead of Saturday’s trip to Chicago. Greg Vanney’s defending champions currently sit 11 points back of sixth place with 15 games left to play.

As for Altidore, he was hugely important in TFC’s run to the CCL final, but it would be a massive oversimplification to say his absence has been the only — or main, even — cause for struggles this season. In fact, it’s been injuries up and down the entire squad (every center back on the roster, multiple midfielders and playmakers, as well as Altidore). Finally, after months of walking wounded, nearly everyone is back and available for selection. TFC’s charge up the stands begins, presumably, soon.

Rooney makes DCU better, but by how much?

As I opined following his D.C. United debut last weekend, Wayne Rooney was quite good during the opening 32 minutes of his MLS career. That was against the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of the slowest playing teams in the entire league, though. On Saturday, Rooney and Co., will come up against something not so dissimilar to European quality and competition in Atlanta United.

There’s the level on competition to consider as Rooney continues on in his MLS journey, but also this: against Vancouver, there was very little flash or attempt at end product from Rooney, which was fine considering he quickly and smartly facilitated play and opened the field up for others to make and score the goals. The questions are: for how long is he happy to be a simple cog in the machine, and are United getting their money’s worth if that’s Rooney’s regular contribution?

What about Seattle?

Just like Toronto, the Seattle Sounders currently find themselves 11 points back of sixth place (though they do have one more game still to play). Just like Toronto, injuries have completely ruined the Sounders’ 2018 season. Just like Toronto, they have been to back-to-back MLS Cups, and won one. Just like Toronto, they can’t really miss the playoffs, can they?

Now, though, Raul Ruidiaz has been added for some much-needed firepower up top (the Peruvian is a back-to-back Golden Boot winner in Liga MX), Gustav Svensson is back from the World Cup, and Nicolas Lodeiro has shown signs of coming out of his slumber in recent weeks. Just like Toronto, Brian Schmetzer’s men have no choice but to begin their playoff chase on Saturday, when Vancouver comes to town.

Full weekend schedule

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United — 3:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 4 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. LA Galaxy — 7 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas — 9 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Montreal Impact — 11 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Los Angeles FC — 7 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Leicester sign Ward from Liverpool; Boufal out on loan

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LONDON (AP) — Leicester signed Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward from Liverpool on a four-year contract on Friday.

Ward dropped in the pecking order at Anfield following the arrival of Brazil goalie Alisson.

Leicester’s fourth signing of the offseason will offer competition to Kasper Schmeichel and Eldin Jakupovic.

Ward will join the team on Monday for a training camp in Austria.

“I’ve come here to develop my allround game and hopefully help deliver some more success,” he said.


Southampton winger Sofiane Boufal was sent to Spanish club Celta Vigo on a season-long loan.

Boufal came to Southampton in 2016 from Lille, and made 59 appearances, scoring four times.

The Moroccan fell out of favor with manager Mark Hughes at the end of last season.

Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press”

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Neymar insists he is going nowhere this summer, that he’ll spend (at least) one more season at Paris Saint-Germain, and he intends to bring another handful of trophies back to the French capital in doing so.

[ MORE: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for N’Golo Kante, but must sell first ]

Speaking during a press conference on Friday, his first media availability session since Brazil were eliminated in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals, the 26-year-old superstar went so far as to say that reports linking him with a move to other European mega-clubs (most notably, Real Madrid) were “invented by the press” — quotes from ESPN:

“Yes, I will stay in Paris. I have a contract with PSG. The speculation? The majority of it is invented by the press.

“I have a contract and people know the objective, the reason why I went to PSG. I want to win with this club and I hope this season will be wonderful.”

While it seems a no-brainer that PSG would want Neymar to stay, there’s unquestionably a case to be made that selling him would give them the financial flexibility needed to address needs elsewhere in the squad. N'Golo Kante, for instance, is reportedly transfer target no. 1 at the Parc des Princes, but sales will have to be made before a fee of that size can be paid, due to financial regulations.

Report: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for Kante, but must sell first

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N'Golo Kante might just be the best midfielder in the world, and he might just be leaving Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain in the coming days or weeks, as French newspaper Le Parisien has reported that the defending Ligue 1 champions are in “advanced negotiations” over a mega-bucks contract with the World Cup winner.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press” ]

The report goes so far as to say that a “provisional contract” has already been agreed. “Provisional,” in this instance, means there has likely been little — if any — contact between the two clubs thus far.

One major sticking point remains: following last summer’s outlandish spending spree, in which they shelled out nearly $500 million to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG are in serious danger of failing to comply with financial regulations set forth by UEFA and could/would be banned from European competition should they fail to achieve compliance.

The likes of Angel Di Maria, Goncalo Guedes, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jese Rodriguez and Alphonse Areola have had their names floated as possible departures to recoup the necessary funds before paying another fee of (presumably) over $100 million.

[ MORE: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled ]

After helping the Blues to the Premier League title two seasons ago (and doing the same with Leicester City three campaigns gone by), Kante was powerless in saving Chelsea from themselves in 2017-18. They finished fifth in the PL and failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.

Given his age — 27 — it’s wholly understandable that Kante would prioritize playing in club soccer’s top competition (while also making even more money) every season going forward. Throw in the fact that uncertainty is the only certainty at Stamford Bridge these days, and trading west London for Paris — where Kante was born — starts to sounds pretty good, pretty quickly.

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