Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

USMNT World Cup qualifying roster raises eyebrows

3 Comments

The United States men’s national team won the Gold Cup with a B- or even high-C team, so this is not the end of the world, but Bruce Arena’s latest round of World Cup call-ups should set off alarm bells for those hoping for the Yanks’ best team this summer in Russia.

While perhaps it’s time to stop assuming the Americans will rise to their level in this month’s World Cup qualifiers, we’ll continue to choose the realistic-if-optimistic take that a side with Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, and Michael Bradley should defy CONCACAF opposition almost regardless of their roster mates. And most of the questionable inclusions are unlikely to see more than a few minutes on the pitch.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios for USMNT ] 

Saying that, in some ways it feels like Arena is trolling American soccer with his call-ups, perhaps knowing that the expected success regardless of his roster can make a false statement about the player pool. And there’s a snarky part of me wondering if releasing this roster on Sunday morning instead of during halftime of a nationally-televised MLS match is more than a simple coincidence.

The U.S. has two of its easiest qualifiers left on the docket, with Panama arriving on Oct. 6 and a trip to essentially-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, so Arena can do what he wants despite the desperation.

Arena is a bit shorthanded due to injuries, with star center back John Brooks and sub striker Jordan Morris out. Altidore and Cameron are just returning from injuries, too, but started for their clubs this weekend.

So who’s healthy and gone from last month’s disappointing showing? Johnson and Eric Lichaj.

Who’s in? Michael Orozco, Benny Feilhaber, Juan Agudelo, and Gyasi Zardes.

Who’s been overlooked? Now we move into opinion, but Vitesse center back Matt Miazga, Toronto FC left back Justin Morrow, Seattle’s Cristian Roldan, New England’s Lee Nguyen, and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie all have legit reasons to raise a hand and proffer a, “Uhhhh, coach?”

You might then say, “Woah, Nick, that’s not completely in line with Bruce Arena’s recent expectations that he was going to avoid bringing in new faces and ride with the horses that got him to this point.”

Right, depending on how you read Arena’s comments, but so is the coach.

  • Orozco, the 31-year-old Club Tijuana back, is uncapped under Arena and not currently starting for the Mexican club.
  • Agudelo has one goal since returning from the Gold Cup, and has never played in a meaningful away match for the USMNT.
  • Feilhaber has four caps since the start of 2013.

Zardes had been a long-time part of the side until a post-Copa America Centenario injury, returning to the fold for the Ghana friendly and Gold Cup, so it’s less of a stretch philosophy wise even if he’s being trotted out at right back for the LA Galaxy by Sigi Schmid.

I guess I just don’t get it, even acknowledging that Arena’s forgotten more soccer in his life than I’ve watched in mine.

Even noting his struggles last month, dropping Johnson reeks of the full-blooded American critiques which have always tasted wrong. And the call-up of Orozco is baffling and has the faint scent of expert Jurgen Klinsmann trolling (not that any manager would be so petty in such a big spot). To say something audacious and improbable, I’d keep Morrow over Orozco based only on his Saturday night hat trick alone.

Again, it’s not that this roster dooms the Yanks in its next two matches, or that the same roster couldn’t defeat Syria or Australia if needed in November.

But it’s a troubling idea that Arena, making huge decisions for American soccer, is neglecting one of the generation’s most accomplished players in Johnson and reaching into the MLS bin for players he hasn’t previously used in meaningful matches. It’s the sort of head-scratcher that worries you about summer in Russia, assuming they get there.

World Cup’s only black coach says there should be more

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) — The only black coach at this year’s World Cup says there is a need for more in soccer.

“In European countries, in major clubs, you see lots of African players. Now we need African coaches for our continent to go ahead,” Senegal’s Aliou Cisse said through a translator on Monday, a day ahead of his nation’s World Cup opener against Poland.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The percentage of black players at this year’s tournament and with clubs in the world’s top leagues is far higher.

Cisse was captain of Senegal when it reached the 2002 quarterfinals in the nation’s only previous World Cup appearance.

“I am the only black coach in this World Cup. That is true,” Cisse said. “But really these are debates that disturb me. I think that football is a universal sport and that the color of your skin is of very little importance.”

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

FIFA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cisse cited Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress.

“I think we have a new generation that is working, that is doing its utmost, and beyond being good players with a past of professional footballers,” Cisse said. “We are very good in our tactics, and we have the right to be part of the top international coaches.”

Africa’s best performance at the World Cup has been to reach the quarterfinals, accomplished by Cameroon in 1990, Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup,” Cisse said. “It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We have realities that are not there in other continents, but I think that the African continent is full of qualities. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

A lack of minority managers also has been documented at the club level. The Sports People’s Think Tank said in November there were just three minority managers among the 92 English professional clubs as of Sept. 1.

World Cup: Saudi team safe after plane caught fire mid-flight

Photo credit: @SaudiNT
Leave a comment

The Saudi Arabian national team arrived alive and well in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, on Monday after a terrifying incident that saw their plane catch fire in the air.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The blaze was caused by “a technical failure in one of the airplane engines,” which the airline, Rossiya, claims was caused by a bird flying into the engine. Each of the planes engines were reportedly in operation upon landing at its final destination.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation posted a message on Twitter later on Monday, saying they “would like to reassure everyone that all the Saudi national team players are safe, after a technical failure in one of the airplane engines that has just landed in Rostov-on-Don airport, and now they’re heading to their residence safely.”

The Green Falcons will face Uruguay in Rostov, hoping to rebound from their tournament-opening 5-0 loss to Russia on Thursday, in each side’s second game of Group A action on Wednesday (11 a.m. ET).

Seismologists clarify Mexico fans didn’t cause earthquake

Photo by Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images
Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s National Seismological Service says there was seismic activity around the country’s capital Sunday, but it wasn’t linked to soccer fans celebrating their country’s game-winning goal vs. Germany at the World Cup.

[ MORE: Where to watch Tuesday’s games, feat. Colombia and Egypt ]

The service says in a report that there were two small earthquakes at 10:24 a.m. and 12:01 p.m. The goal came around 11:35 a.m. local time.

A geological institute reported Sunday that seismic detectors had registered a false earthquake that may have been generated by “massive jumps” by fans.

[ MORE: Harry Kane “buzzing” after two goals | Southgate encouraged ]

Mexico’s Seismological Service explained Monday that the city’s normal bustle of traffic and other movement causes vibrations that are detected by sensitive instruments.

It says those vibrations notably quieted during the match as people gathered in front of TVs to watch, and rose after the goal.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 6 — Colombia vs. Japan; Salah’s debut?

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Day 6 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Tuesday — and would you believe it? — there’s another three games on the schedule. This whole “back-to-back-to-back games of soccer” thing isn’t so bad.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Up first, it’s the 2018 debut of Colombia, winners of tens hundreds of millions of hearts in 2014, as they take on Japan. In the day’s other Group H fixture, it’ll be Robert Lewandowski and Poland facing Sadio Mane and Senegal. Star power aplenty.

Then, we swing things back around to Group A, where the hosts Russia will look to continue their hot start against Egypt with Mohamed Salah expected to make his World Cup debut.

Below is Tuesday’s schedule in full.

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


2018 World Cup schedule – Tuesday, June 19

Group H
Colombia vs. Japan: Saransk, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Poland vs. Senegal: Moscow, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group A
Russia vs. Egypt: St. Petersburg, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE