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Where did it go wrong? USMNT’s disastrous qualifying campaign

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This is not a nightmare. It happened.

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With the postmortem ongoing as the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, in order to understand the USMNTs demise it is helpful to reflect on a excruciatingly bad qualifying campaign rather than just the embarrassing defeat at Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday which acted as the final nail in the USA’s coffin.

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Below is a look at all 10 World Cup qualifiers as the U.S. won just three games from their 10 matches in the Hex and lost to Costa Rica (twice), Mexico and T&T.


Game 1: USA 1-2 Mexico (November 11, 2016)

A late Rafael Marquez goal handed El Tri victory in Columbus, Ohio as the U.S. fought back well after Miguel Layun’s opener. Bobby Wood made it 1-1 and it felt like Jurgen Klinsmann’s side would push on and grab another win against Mexico in Columbus. Slack defending, which would become a theme of the next 12 months, then struck as Marquez nodded home.


Game 2: Costa Rica 4-0 USA (November 15, 2016)

The game which ended Klinsmann’s reign. Several U.S. players simply threw the towel in as Costa Rica ran riot in San Jose. Johan Venegas’ goal right on half time tipped the game in Los Ticos’ favor and goals from Christian Bolanos and a brace from Joel Campbell in a devastating 10-minute spell meant the end for Klinsmann. Now we can think about it more, was Klinsi sacked too early?


Game 3: USA 6-0 Honduras (March 24, 2017)

Bruce Arena’s first World Cup qualifying game in charge was a huge success. Clint Dempsey scored a hat trick, Christian Pulisic scored and starred as the U.S. led 4-0 at half time. Little did we know this was as good as it was going to get for the USMNT.


Game 4: Panama 1-1 USA (March 28, 2017)

After fine work from Pulisic, Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in Panama but four minutes later Gabriel Gomez made it 1-1 and the U.S. held on for a point. On the scale of things, not a bad result away from home in a hostile stadium but just winning one of these close draws would’ve been the difference between the U.S. making the World Cup and not.


Game 5: USA 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago (June 8, 2017)

Pulisic led the team as he scored twice and the U.S. easily dispatched T&T in Colorado. At this point, it seemed like the U.S. would cruise through CONCACAF qualifying and easily finish third, at the very worst.


Game 6: Mexico 1-1 USA (June 11, 2017)

Bruce Arena mad multiple changes to his starting lineup and it worked at the Estadio Azteca. Michael Bradley’s incredible chip put the USMNT ahead early on but Carlos Vela equalized in the first half. Mexico battered the U.S. for large swathes of this game and Bradley spanked another fine effort just wide, while Hector Herrera’s fabulous free kick stuck the bar. A pulsating clash and Arena was lauded a tactical genius.


Game 7: USA 0-2 Costa Rica (September 1, 2017)

This is when things really started to unravel. A poor defensive display allowed Costa Rica’s Marco Urena to score in each half at Red Bull Arena and the U.S. were suddenly in a perilous situation in World Cup qualifying. The pressure was building.


Game 8: Honduras 1-1 USA (September 5, 2017)

Somehow (don’t ask me how) the U.S. escaped San Pedro Sula with a point. Bobby Wood’s late equalizer looked to have given the USMNT a qualifying lifeline after they were dominated and another shaky defensive display saw them fall behind early on thanks to Romell Quioto’s curler. Then Wood popped up to spare the U.S. blushes and help them go into the final two qualifying games with destiny in their own hands.


Game 9: USA 4-0 Panama (October 6, 2017)

Christian Pulisic scored and assisted early on, Jozy Altidore scored twice and Bobby Wood finished things off with the U.S. totally dominating a stunned Panama side. This seemed like the win which had punched the USA’s ticket to the World Cup as they now only needed a draw in their final game at T&T to make the tournament…


Game 10: Trinidad & Tobago 2-1 USA (October 10, 2017)

This was it. The scenario for the U.S. was simple: beat T&T, the whipping boys of the Hex, and you qualify for the World Cup. Heck, even a draw would virtually guarantee qualification in CONCACAF’s final automatic berth. The U.S. were 2-0 down after 37 minutes in the Ato Boldon Stadium with Omar Gonzalez shanking a clearance into his own net and Alvin Jones spanking home a beauty. Christian Pulisic scored early in the second half to give the U.S. hope and combined with

Report: Newcastle in takeover talks with UAE billionaire

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Reports out of Northeast England say Newcastle United supporters who want owner Mike Ashley out at all costs have new hope.

United Arab Emirates billionaire Sheikh Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan is said to be in talks with Ashley about a takeover of the St. James’ Park-based club, though there’s a lot of work to do for a deal to be complete.

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

One report goes as far as to say Ashley has agreed to accept $444 million for the Premier League club.

Sheikh Khaled, 61, was educated at American colleges Boston University and Michigan State. He’s the cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and was turned down with a $2.5 billion bid for Liverpool last season.

From The Chronicle:

NUFC have confirmed some talks with Sheikh Khaled. But say there is still “some way” to go on a deal. Newcastle United refusing to make any further comment at this time.

Takeover talks are nothing new at Newcastle, and there does seem to be some heat to these reports, but Ashley and his crew have spun these stories of interest in the past. And with Magpies supporters waiting for news on Rafa Benitez‘s new deal, some will be way of a smoke screen for an inability to reach an agreement with the celebrated Newcastle manager.

Wondolowski scores 149th, 150th goals; Earthquakes win

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TORONTO (AP) Chris Wondolowski scored his 149th and 150th MLS goals in the San Jose Earthquakes’ 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday night.

The MLS career goals leader scored both from close range.

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Wondolowski got a yard’s separation from Drew Moor and deftly redirected in Cristian Espinoza’s cross in the 37th minute to tie it at 1. The go-ahead goal in the 81st minute was a virtual replay, with Espinoza finding Wondolowski in space.

The San Jose striker has six goals in two games. He scored all four goals in a 4-1 victory over Chicago last weekend to surpass Landon Donovan’s league record of 145 goals and up his career total to 148.

Richie Laryea opened the scoring for Toronto (5-6-2) in the 28th minute

San Jose (5-6-2) won for the first time in six road games this season.

Chairman Mubarak: Other clubs are ‘jealous’ of Man City’s success

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Manchester City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak believes that other clubs — namely those who have fallen miles back of the back-to-back Premier League champions — are “jealous” of the club’s success.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury ]

The root of the perceived jealousy is, of course, Man City’s seemingly unlimited spending power which dwarves that of just about — if not — every other club in the PL. There’s a growing sense around the league — and around the world — that clubs like City, just to name one, are doing the game a disservice by distorting the transfer market and building an infallible super-team with the aid of unprecedented financial resources.

Mubarak believes that these feelings also stem from other clubs’ failed dealings in the transfer market: spending comparable — if not more — money on players who don’t justify that price tag the same way some of City’s big-money buys have done — quotes from the BBC:

“With success, there is a certain level of jealousy, envy, whatever you call it. That’s part of the game.

“It’s not easy for our competition, we know that. But the reality is, we didn’t buy the most expensive player in the Premier League [Paul Pogba], we didn’t buy the most expensive goalkeeper [Kepa Arrizabalaga], we didn’t buy the most expensive midfielder, we didn’t buy the most expensive striker [Romelu Lukaku].

“People make decisions, they’ve got to live by them. This is a well-run club.”

City’s financial dealings have regularly been in the headlines of late, as they are believed to have circumvented FFP rules by lying about sponsorship deals so as to balance a larger expenditure on transfer fees and player wages with revenue generated by the club.

Valverde under pressure after dismal end to Barcelona’s season

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MADRID (AP) A couple of weeks ago, few questioned Ernesto Valverde as Barcelona coach.

The team had just won a second straight Spanish league title under his command and was close to making it to the Champions League final after beating Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of the semifinals.

The team was also through to the Copa del Rey final, where it would try to win an unprecedented fifth straight title in the competition.

Valverde seemed to be comfortably in control as the club moved closer to winning the treble.

Things quickly took a turn for the worse, though, and Valverde woke up on Sunday under added pressure and facing increased criticism.

Barcelona lost 2-1 to Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on Saturday, a result that followed the disastrous elimination against Liverpool in the Champions League and added to the team’s woeful end to what had been a great season.

“A month ago we were celebrating the league title. Fifteen days ago we were thinking we had a chance at a treble,” Valverde said. “And we came up short in the decisive moments in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.”

The disappointing ending brought out a wave of criticism of Valverde, who last year also finished the season under a cloud after another humiliating Champions League elimination – that time it squandered a big first-leg lead against Roma in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

The criticism seems more pronounced this time, with some fans and local media calling for a change at the helm.

It didn’t take long after Barcelona’s loss to Valencia in Seville for club President Josep Bartomeu to come out and defend the coach.

“Ernesto has a contract and he remains the team’s coach,” Bartomeu said. “This loss was not the coach’s fault. The team created a lot of scoring chances but the ball didn’t go in, and what counts is how many times you score.”

Bartomeu had already defended Valverde after the demoralizing 4-0 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League, saying the club was not considering a change in command for next season.

Valverde said he was not worried and felt supported by the club despite the disappointing ending.

“It’s a bad feeling, we won’t deny it, but we have to stay strong,” he said. “What we want as coaches is to have a chance to come back. It’s tough to lose, it means something went wrong. We have to take the responsibility for it.”

Even if Valverde stays as expected, it doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for Barcelona.

Several players played below expectations this season, especially former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho, who was regularly jeered by fans and whose place with the club remains uncertain.

Bartomeu will likely have to go shopping in the offseason to try to improve the supporting cast for Lionel Messi, who had a fantastic year but wasn’t able to save the season by himself. When Messi looked ordinary, no one was able to take over his role as protagonist, and it proved costly in the decisive moments.

Young midfielder Frenkie de Jong is joining from Ajax and he should significantly boost the midfield, but Barcelona will definitely need to add to its attack, as Luis Suarez was the only true striker who performed consistently well. He couldn’t play in the Copa final after undergoing knee surgery and his absence was felt as the team struggled to capitalize on its scoring chances.

Veteran Gerard Pique is set to return for another season in defense, but there are still doubts about the fitness of Samuel Umtiti, who missed several matches this season because of injuries.

“We’ve been thinking about next season for a while, but it’s not the time to discuss the future,” Bartomeu said. “We ended with the Spanish league title, it was important. We couldn’t win the Copa, but we’ll just move on.”