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Geoff Cameron’s bizarre USMNT omission explained

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Many of you will still be scratching your heads as to why a fully-fit Geoff Cameron flew over 4,000 miles to be an unused sub for the U.S. national team over the past week.

Here are some answers.

Despite playing a full 90 minutes for Stoke City against Southampton before the international break, U.S.defender Cameron did not play a single second for the USMNT as they crashed out of the 2018 World Cup.

Why?

Pro Soccer Talk understands that Cameron, 32, held talks with Bruce Arena at the start of the international break where he was told he was not fit enough to play and Omar Gonzalez would be playing ahead of him. End of discussion.

[ MORE: Was is impact of USA missing the World Cup? ] 

Cameron was, understandably, frustrated with the decision after working his way back to full fitness (after two weeks out with a hamstring injury he suffered against Manchester United in mid-September) and proving his sharpness for Stoke in the Premier League.

Asked for a comment by Pro Soccer Talk, Cameron didn’t want to get too involved in the debate over why he wasn’t used by Arena: “This is not the time for me to get involved in this discussion. It is for someone else to explain why.”

No other center back in the current U.S. squad had more caps than Cameron heading into the last international break and his experience could have made a huge difference.

Shown on TV sitting off to the side of the U.S. bench next to drinks cooler at the archaic Ato Boldon Stadium as the USA’s World Cup hopes faded late on against Trinidad and Tobago, Cameron’s blank expression said it all. He was resigned to watching on in the USMNT’s moment of need.

The former Houston Dynamo star is said to have accepted the decision but it remains a bizarre one. Particularly when analyzed after the fact that Gonzalez scored a horrendous own goal in the defeat at T&T, plus the U.S. defense was generally shaky in both of their final two CONCACAF 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

Arena could have brought in Cameron in place of Gonzalez (who played for Arena at the LA Galaxy in their 2011, 2012 and 2014 MLS Cup winning teams) or even gone with three at the back at T&T in the Hex finale where a point would have been enough to take them through to the World Cup.

Pro Soccer Talk understands the squad has since questioned the tactics from the manager to go gung-ho with the same starting lineup just four days after beating Panama in a draining must-win situation in Orlando. Playing a diamond in midfield and not giving Michael Bradley extra help to protect a shaky back four is also said to have particularly frustrated several members of the USMNT.

When it comes to Cameron’s omission, this is all rather confusing.

Before the international break had even started, and Cameron had even got back on the pitch for Stoke City, Arena confirmed the center back would be in his squad for the crucial games no matter what.

Arena then made a point of calling out his two center backs against T&T, Gonzalez and Matt Besler, in his most specific criticism of the team shortly after their shocking defeat.

“Our center backs were not confident enough with the ball, and often in the first half we were really playing eight against 10 because we needed to carry the ball and bring a player to the ball and move it a little bit quicker,” Arena said.

Cameron is, no doubt, the USA’s best ball-playing defender. Composure on the ball is what he is know for.

So much so that he often excels in central midfield for Stoke City and did so markedly at the end of last season where he won several Man of the Match awards against Chelsea and Liverpool in home games for the Potters. Of outfield USMNT players, only Clint Dempsey has played in more Premier League games all-time than Cameron and he signed a new deal with Stoke last May as he’s now in his sixth-season with the club and hugely valued by Mark Hughes and the Potters’ fans.

There is no doubt Cameron has had some tough times for the U.S. with his display alongside Tim Ream in the USA’s defeat to Costa Rica in September heavily criticized, even if his own mistake came late in the game with the match already lost. But he did come off the bench and played a big part in the U.S. grabbing a point at Honduras a few days later to prove that the Costa Rica performance was just a blip.

He has also put in sublime defensive performances for the U.S. in recent years with one of the best-ever displays from a U.S. player at the Estadio Azteca back in the summer as he held the USMNT’s defense together as they clinched a point at Mexico in a World Cup qualifier. Not to mention his display, and goal, in the 2015 CONCACAF Cup for a spot at the Confederations Cup and his rock-solid partnership with John Brooks in the USA’s run to the 2016 Copa America Centernario semifinals.

All of this adds up to why serious questions should be asked about Arena not starting one of his key players in the USA’s biggest two games of the past three years.

Will Cameron suit up for the USMNT again?

It remains to be seen what lies in store for him and many other U.S. national team veterans such as Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard but the road appears to be coming to an end for most. A friendly game on home soil could perhaps be scheduled next month during the November international break for them to say farewell as they retire from international duty.

As we continue to dissect the decisions on the pitch which cost the U.S. a World Cup spot for the first time since 1986, Arena’s bizarre decision to omit Cameron will be seen as one of the key reasons they didn’t make it to Russia 2018.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 7 — Spain, Portugal aim for wins

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Spain and Portugal got through the toughest match on their Group B dockets, against each other, but now need to stack some W’s.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s EURO champs open Wednesday’s World Cup action with a match against Morocco, and manager Fernando Hierro leads Spain against Iran to close out the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

In the middle, Uruguay looks to suck the drama out of Group A by joining Russia as 2-0 sides.

Below is Wednesday’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 – Wednesday, June 20

Group A
Uruguay vs. Saudi Arabia: Rostov, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Portugal vs. Morocco: Moscow, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Spain: Kazan, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Fortunes up or down? 32 thoughts after first 17 World Cup games

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All it took was one round of games for some favorites to be doubted, others to verify their status, and some underdogs to earn dark horse status.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

While there are valid reasons to make early judgments, it’s important to note that some perceived setbacks don’t change much while others put a serious crimp in tournament hopes.

Group A

Russia (2 games played) — Fortunes way up — Two resounding wins combined with early tumult in Group B could help Russia consider a quarterfinal spot.

Uruguay — Fortunes level — Jose Gimenez’s 89th minute winner may allow the CONMEBOL side to render its group finale moot by hammering Saudi Arabia.

Egypt (2 games played) — Fortunes way down — Could be out of the tournament should Uruguay get a point against lowly Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia — Fortunes down — Unsure anyone figured the Green Falcons as anything other than an obstacle, but their performance against host Russia was miserable.

Group B

Iran — Fortunes up — Carlos Queiroz would’ve circled the Morocco opener as a must-win. Mission accomplished, however it was done.

Portugal — Fortunes level — Needed a PK, goalie error, and wonder free kick to get a point from Spain. Still, got the point.

Spain — Fortunes down — Still look capable of imposing themselves on the tournament, but too many errors in their first outing.

Morocco — Fortunes down — Probably should’ve had a point against Iran, but would’ve wanted three anyway. Very disappointing and now a mountain ahead.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 15: Karim Ansarifard of Iran is challenged by Noureddine Amrabat of Morocco (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Group C

France — Fortunes level — Clearly the better side against Australia, didn’t inspire title confidence but could’ve easily nabbed a three- or four-goal win.

Denmark — Fortunes up — Despite being the second-best side against Peru, now can expect the knockout rounds by beating the Socceroos.

Australia — Fortunes down — France first was always going to be a struggle, but to fight so valiantly and fall to an own goal will be a mental hurdle ahead of Peru.

Peru — Fortunes down — Terrific energy and performance would’ve led to a win with any finishing luck, but getting a result from Denmark was very important. A loss presents a major challenge.

Group D

Croatia — Fortunes up — Its tactical options for the second match against Argentina are wide open after securing three points against Nigeria.

Argentina — Fortunes down — Forget control of the game and Lionel Messi’s 11 shots on target; Not getting full points against Iceland is a significant setback. A group stage without Messi is possible.

Iceland — Fortunes up — It remains hard to picture Iceland getting out of the group, but the UEFA side has now flummoxed Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in successive tournaments. Can they find a win against Nigeria to set up a wild final day?

Nigeria — Fortunes down — Group D was always going to be tough, but a 2-0 loss to Croatia means the margin of error is almost zero.

Group E

Serbia — Fortunes up — Forget how Serbia won, their fortunes have leapt due to Brazil drawing Switzerland.

Brazil — Fortunes down — Drawing their second-trickiest game could see Neymar and Co. in position to finish second in the group instead of first. The only silver lining is that Germany may also fail to claim its group and make runner-up a good thing for the Round of 16.

Switzerland — Fortunes up — Maybe Swiss supporters were expecting it, but a result against Brazil is a positive step for a team that took Argentina to extra time at the 2014 tournament but underwhelmed at EURO 2016.

Costa Rica — Fortunes down — Now needs to beat Brazil to have much hope of anything going into the final group match vs. Switzerland.

Group F

Sweden  — Fortunes level — Beating South Korea was nice and we understand the chemistry argument, but a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve feasted on the spoils offered in the opener.

Mexico  — Fortunes way up — El Tri is a very good tournament team, but if you had them beating Germany 1-0 in the opener you’re a better prognosticator than me.

Germany  — Fortunes down — Still favored to come out of the group and deep enough to repeat as champions, being unable to get a result from Mexico will only raise more questions about leaving Leroy Sane home (fair or not).

South Korea — Fortunes down — Would’ve wanted no less than four points from the Sweden and Mexico encounters, and has zero heading into the second against El Tri.

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD, RUSSIA – JUNE 18: Andreas Granqvist of Sweden. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Group G

Belgium  — Fortunes up — Delivered expected dominance against Panama and could have a spot in the knockout rounds sewn up by the end of Day Two versus Tunisia.

England  — Fortunes up — There will not be Wayne Rooney questions about this tournament’s captain, as Harry Kane scored twice on a day he perhaps wasn’t at his best. Will clinch a berth in the knockout rounds by beating Panama next, you’d have to think.

Tunisia  — Fortunes slightly down — Needed to surprise England or Belgium to get out of the group, and still has a second opportunity after losing late to the Three Lions.

Panama  — Fortunes slightly down — Not sure anyone was expecting a Cinderella story, but even those will feel it more unlikely after a big loss to Belgium.

Group H

Japan  — Fortunes up — Not a bad team at all, but prospects were dim given the talent of the group. After beating Colombia in match one, there’s a house money feel to this one.

Senegal  — Fortunes up — Controversy aside, the Lions of Teranga deserved all three points against Poland and are in pole position to win the group.

Poland  — Fortunes down — Disappointing is an understatement leading into a match versus Colombia which could leave both on the outskirts with a match to go.

Colombia  — Fortunes down — Carlos Sanchez’s third minute red card didn’t ultimately doom them, but the task is tall with equally desperate Poland up next.

Arsenal seals transfer of German goalkeeper Leno

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Arsenal unveiled German goalkeeper Bernd Leno on Tuesday as the latest member of Unai Emery’s unit.

The longtime Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, 26, has six caps for Germany but is not on the World Cup roster.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Leno had appeared in 304 matches for Bayer before the move, which will reportedly cost the Gunners approximately $25 million.

Head coach Unai Emery said: “We are very pleased that Bernd Leno will be joining us. Bernd is a goalkeeper of high quality and experience. He has been a top performer and regular number one goalkeeper with Leverkusen in the Bundesliga for the past seven years. We are all excited that Bernd has chosen Arsenal Football Club and look forward to start working with him in pre-season.”

The Gunners have Petr Cech and David Ospina at goalkeeper, but it’s reasonable to expect at least one to leave town. Emery has already added Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus to help shore up his defense.

Clinical Russia tops Egypt to likely reach knockout rounds

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  • Russia goals: Fathy o.g. (48′), Cheryshev (59′), Dzyuba (62′)
  • Egypt: Salah (PK, 73′)
  • Next: Russia-Uruguay, Egypt-Saudi Arabia

Hosts Russia scored a trio of second half goals to all but seal the first spot in the 2018 World Cup’s Round of 16 with a 3-1 win over Egypt on Tuesday in Saint Petersburg.

The loss means Egypt is 0-2, the Pharoahs unable to find momentum despite the return of Mohamed Salah. Egypt needs a wild combination of factors to stay alive for the knockout rounds, and is likely heading home.

Salah won and converted a penalty for Egypt, while Denis Cheryshev, Artem Dzyuba, and an Egyptian own goal accounted for Russia’s goals.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Some sloppy play out of the back allowed Golovin a shot from outside the 18 but he hit his effort wide of the frame.

Egypt stayed in the mix though, and a Russian mistake  deep in its own end forced Zhirkov to concede a corner with a desperation intervention that stopped Mo Salah from a doorstep opportunity.

Salah then won a yard of space but fired wide in the 42nd minute after Zhirkov stopped him from going to his right peg.

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

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

Russia went ahead through an Egypt own goal from Fathy, who was jostling for position with Artem Dzyuba and turned Roman Zobnin’s mishit inside his net.

After Cheryshev made it 2-0, Dzyuba took an Ilya Kutepov long ball out of the air with his chest before turning past Ahmed Hegazy and blasting Russia’s third goal home.

Salah won a penalty in the 73rd minute, one initially ruled a free kick, and the Liverpool man blasted his shot home.