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Who’s in form and healthy three weeks out from huge USMNT games?

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We’re a little over three weeks away from the United States’ most important World Cup qualifying games in some time.

Consider the matches versus Panama and away to Trinidad and Tobago on our minds, so expect more than a few posts as we build up to the Oct. 6 and 10 matches.

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In the meantime, injuries continue to pile up. Starting center back John Brooks had already been injured, and backup striker Jordan Morris is also out. Geoff Cameron may be healing quicker than expected, which is good news.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena has maintained that he wants to use players who’ve been a part of the team in qualifying and the Gold Cup, and he’s the sort of defiant character who is likely to stick with that philosophy.

But his center backs, aside from Matt Besler, really let him down in the Yanks’ one-point international break, and Morris’ injury opens the door to someone to join Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood in the strike corps (Chris Wondolowski was also called up earlier this month).

Let’s humor ourselves in spite of Arena’s stated plans, and take a look at Americans in form or back to health, here and abroad:

  • Right-sided man DeAndre Yedlin is back from his hamstring injury and made the 18 for Newcastle last week.
  • Matt Miazga has returned to Vitesse’s Starting XI, and led the back line to its first clean sheet of the season on Saturday.
  • Timmy Chandler has played every minute for Eintracht Frankfurt at right midfield/wingback during the club’s 1-1-1 start to the Bundesliga season, and scored in Cup play.
  • Lee Nguyen is back for New England, and WhoScored rates him as one of only two Americans in MLS’ Top Ten players this season. He has nine goals and eight assists.
  • The leading American scorers in MLS this season? It’s a tie between obviously call-up Altidore and inconsistent but powerful CJ Sapong with 13 a piece. Next is Wondolowski, Dempsey, and Christian Ramirez with 11 each.
  • Not angling for a call-up with this one, but while we’re here spare some positive thoughts for Julian Green. The 22-year-old World Cup goal scorer finally got a start for 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Furth, who broke a four-match losing streak with a 1-1 draw. Green went 90 minutes at left mid.
  • Terrence Boyd has subbed into every 2.Bundesliga match for Darmstadt, nabbing one assist. Lynden Gooch has also been a regular sub in Sunderland’s midfield.

So what’s an early guess at the 23 men Arena will call up next month? Again, this isn’t our 23, just an “Arena’s mind” prediction.

Goalkeepers

Unless Arena has a sudden change of heart and opts for Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath and DC United’s Bill Hamid (or LA Galaxy man Brian Rowe because, well, LA Galaxy), it’ll be the same trio: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando.

Defenders

Nothing’s certain after Geoff Cameron, though educated guesses say Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana are coming, too. Eric Lichaj didn’t get into either qualifier, but could still be in the mix. Was Arena turned off by Tim Ream or DaMarcus Beasley? More importantly, does he see anyone else who’s a clear improvement (Again, does he see them)? Completing our eight will be Chandler and Yedlin.

Midfielders

Arena called up eight earlier this month, and it seems likely he won’t change much from Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic. Wild card looks to Danny Williams (if he can get some Huddersfield PT), Lee Nguyen, Cristian Roldan, or Kelyn Rowe.

Let’s face it: It wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Arena to ditch Johnson for one bad performance, and Rowe could get a chance to build on his Gold Cup. But if there’s a change, it’ll be Jermaine Jones for one last hurrah. That would likely come at the expense of McCarty.

Forwards

Jozy Altidore is due for a big, big performance having taken a terrible yellow card to miss the Honduras draw. Bobby Wood will be there, too, and maybe we’ll see them together. Clint Dempsey makes it three, which leaves a spot for… Wondolowski like last time? Old pal Gyasi Zardes? Sapong?

Croatian media: Forward Kalinic refused WCup medal

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ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) Croatian media say that forward Nikola Kalinic has not accepted the silver medal his team won at the World Cup in Russia because he was sent home early in the competition.

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Kalinic has reportedly said “thank you but I did not play in Russia.”

Coach Zlatko Dalic sent Kalinic home following the team’s 2-0 victory over Nigeria in their opening match.

Dalic said he wanted to use Kalinic as a substitute in the second half but the AC Milan forward, who was already warming up, told him he was not able to play because of a back problem.

Dalic said Kalinic did the same in a World Cup warmup against Brazil and during training.

Croatia lost 4-2 to France in the final.

Marseille signs Caleta-Car, Fonte joins Lille

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MARSEILLE, France (AP) Croatia defender Duje Caleta-Car has joined Marseille from Red Bull Salzburg, becoming the first offseason signing for the nine-time French champion.

Caleta-Car played a group game at the World Cup with Croatia, which lost 4-2 against France in the final last week.

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He won four Austrian league titles and three national cups with Salzburg.

Terms of the deals were not disclosed but L’Equipe newspaper reported that Marseille agreed to a fee of 19 million euros for the 21-year-old player, who was also targeted by Spanish club Sevilla.

“He is a very good central defender, for now and for the future,” Marseille sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta said. “He is a clever player, who understands football. His very physical skills make him very good in the air and has good passing abilities.”

Marseille finished fourth in the French league last season and lost 3-0 against Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final, missing out on a Champions League berth.

FONTE JOINS LILLE

Portugal defender Jose Fonte is set to continue his much-traveled career in the north of France after agreeing to a two-year deal with Lille.

The 34-year-old Fonte started all four games at the World Cup in Russia as Portugal was eliminated by Uruguay in the round of 16.

Two years ago, he was a member of the squad which won the European championship in France.

Lille said in a statement Fonte will sign “in the coming days” following medical tests.

The former Crystal Palace, Southampton and West Ham center back played only a few matches with Chinese club Dalian Yifang this year before terminating his contract.

He is the second international to join Lille this summer after former France forward Loic Remy.

“I’m very proud to join Lille, which is a great French club,” Fonte said. “It’s a new challenge for me, hopefully it will be successful.”

Naby Keita emulated Gerrard growing up, and will now take on his role

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Naby Keita represents another new face in the next generation Liverpool regime, and he’s taking a page out of Anfield’s past in his approach at the Premier League club.

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When the 23-year-old finally completed his long-awaited move to the Reds in 2018, comparisons to N'Golo Kante quickly arose, a strong compliment for many.

However, for everything that Kante does well, it may actually be unfair to compare Keita to the now-World Cup winner with France.

Keita’s tireless ability to track up and down the pitch, complimented by his incredible skill on the ball and pace make him the ideal box-to-box midfielder, something his new club has been lacking for several years.

“My first mind-set is to defend well and not concede,” Keita told the Telegraph. “As a midfielder, when you have sealed things up at the back, my job is to provide the ammunition for the strikers and forwards, to create opportunities. Also, if I get a chance that comes my way, I want to take it and score. But I am a team player. I think about the team and the group always.”

That player is one Steven Gerrard.

And for Keita, the player that he once emulated as a child has now influenced him into the young star that drove manager Jurgen Klopp towards bringing him in to Anfield.

“When I came here that day I didn’t know Steven would be at Melwood,” says Keita. “It was a surprise to me. It was exciting. He said, ‘Everyone will be here for you, we’re all going to help you develop’.

“I had watched Steven Gerrard growing up as a kid and admired him so that was a special day.

“We used to play in the streets wearing a Liverpool shirt. My dad had a love of Liverpool back then when I was 11 or 12 years old.

“I wanted to be like him. It couldn’t be anyone else. He was always the boss of the team.”

Las Vegas Lights keen on bringing Usain Bolt to USL

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It wouldn’t be the first time a star athlete has made the move to the United Soccer League — the second tier in the U.S. Soccer professional pyramid — however, the magnitude of the deal would transcend soccer.

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Although reported interest from Australia, Turkey and Hungary could derail a move, former Jamaican track star Usain Bolt is being courted by USL side Las Vegas Lights FC, who are currently in their first season in the league.

“Of course we have an interest in Usain Bolt. Why wouldn’t we?” said Las Vegas owner and CEO Brett Lashbrook.

“He’s the world’s fastest guy and he’s trained at some of the best clubs in the world. To come play Division 2 soccer in the U.S. actually makes all the sense in the world. This guy is an absolute specimen of an athlete and we think he could absolutely succeed at the USL level.”

While the possibility of having Bolt play alongside Freddy Adu next to the Vegas Strip is an enticing one, the Jamaican’s salary demands are likely far too much for a USL side to take on.

Lights FC currently sit 13th in the USL Western Conference, eight point outside of a playoff spot.

Bolt is an eight-time Olympic gold medalist, having competed at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.