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Running diary of Sunil Gulati’s conference call

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Hello! You’re on the precipice of some of the biggest decisions in United States men’s national team history.

Bruce Arena failed in his bid to earn the United States a place in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and stepped down on Friday.

Now, in the midst of a mass of supporters begging for more upheaval, president Sunil Gulati is answering questions from the media in a Friday morning conference call.

[ MORE: Cameron’s USMNT omission explained ]

We’ll be laying out the play-by-play of this intriguing call here. Stay tuned, and refresh.

11:25 a.m. ET — The call is slated by 11:30 a.m., and the calming piano hold music is surely not the tenor of this conversation. We’ll let you know if it changes to “Hell’s Bells.”

11:32 a.m. ET — Before taking questions, Gulati makes opening statement. “The end of the qualifying campaign was disappointment to all of us. It’s a shock to the system.”

They full expected to qualify, and Gulati thanks Bruce Arena for what he’s done in the history of U.S. Soccer from college to pro to international soccer.

“It saddens me at a personal level that it ended the way it did Tuesday.”

There will be at least two games in November, the first in Europe and the second likely in Europe. Will announce coach in the next 7-10 days.

“We’re going to look into everything we do on the men’s side and women’s side,” something they do all the time. Says it will be a “deeper dive” and include pay-to-play, college, and more.

11:35 a.m. ET – Question – “Why has the player pool quality spiraled down?”

Gulati, “I wouldn’t identify reason or say the pipeline has dried up.” Mentions Matt Miazga, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and says the Olympic failures hurt them.

“Not going to prejudge that. We’re going to look at everything.”

11:36 a.m. ET – Gulati says he doesn’t plan to resign, takes full responsibility for the World Cup qualifying failure, and it’s “not the right day to say” whether he’ll run for a fourth presidential term in February.

11:38 a.m. ET – Question: “Why will you maybe run again?”

Gulati says just as you can’t judge Bruce Arena’s career on this failure, you can’t judge him on this point. He also says voting delegates can help make that decision (Sounds like he’ll run).

11:39 a.m. ET – Doesn’t say the November coach will be strictly interim, but says they will take their time in naming a coach.

11:40 a.m. ET – He’ll announce whether he’ll run in the “coming weeks.”

11:41 a.m. ET – “Who will choose interim coach, and who will be involved in choosing next permanent coach?”

Gulati – In the end it’s my decision, but we have committees that undertake the process. Three or four people will be involve in “much easier” November decision. May be a change in process, but was never a singular decision on men’s or women’s side.

11:42 a.m. ET – “When people point out that second cycle coaches after the World Cup haven’t done as well traditionally as the first time, it’s a very small sample and it’s a biased sample.”

Says this is because people who have been rehired have done well, so hard to improve. Doesn’t know that “there is a definitive pattern.”

“If you look at Bruce’s record, it’s two cycles plus. Every World Cup run we’ve had since 1990, with the exception of 1998, the margin has been especially narrow.”

11:45 a.m. ET – Question: “Any specific issues when it comes to player development you can point to?” and “Will MLS be involved in whatever changes you are looking at?”

Gulati: “We have far more resources now than we’ll ever had… one because US Soccer has more resources and two because MLS has more resources. MLS and our other professional leagues will certainly be involved. … All of the things that we all talk about, the pay-to-play model, inner city soccer, we’re going to look at all of that.”

Says they will try to get outside expertise as well.

11:47 a.m. ET – On whether MLS has improved CONCACAF rivals too much.

Gulati – It’s good for them, and us, because the competition is better.

“I don’t think there’s any rationale in trying to limit that or prohibit that. Having top players in France in the Premier League helps, but the Premier League would never limit that.”

Says MLS, US Soccer goals will never be 100 percent in sync. Has no doubt MLS has helped the USMNT.

11:50 a.m. ET – Gulati offended by question regarding his mandate to run U.S. Soccer. Mentions fan, independent, player involvement better than other governing bodies. Say the U.S. Soccer mechanism is the best out there.

11:51 a.m. ET – Questions: Is there a profile for a coach in mind? and Are November friendlies set up before or after World Cup failure.

Gulati – No profile, just improve performance and technical skills. … Multiple contingencies based on whether they advanced to World Cup, needed a playoff, or failed.

11:53 a.m. ET – Does this loss give needed push vis-a-vis pay-to-play, other community initiatives.

“It doesn’t happen in most countries that players pay nothing. We need to make sure players are prohibited” from playing based on money. “As things become more expensive, where there’s a roadblock, you’d like to do something about it.”

“Need to find right solutions, what will work” in terms of player development in inner cities, facilities, etc.

Will help overcome political hurdles “because people will see urgency.”

11:56 a.m. ET – Should Gulati’s job be a paying gig to encourage interest?

Gulati – We’re looking at it, and have been reviewing it for some time.

11:57 a.m. ET – Any signs Tuesday that things weren’t well.

Gulati – “Any time you’re playing a do-or-die game, you’re nervous about it. It’s the first time since 1989 that we came down to the last game. In the end we didn’t get it done but no premonition about that.”

11:59 a.m. ET – Question: Technical director role status. Coming back? Separate from head coach? And how busy will USMNT be with long break from meaningful games.

Gulati – “Ideally we’d like to have a technical director. Most of that role (post-Klinsmann) has been filled by Tab Ramos. … We do see two distinct roles if we can find the right people. That role is a very unique and specific role, and harder to fill than national team role.”

“In terms of activity in 2018, we’ll have a full program of games and I expect us to play on all FIFA dates, including dates with teams going to the World Cup or not.”

12:01 p.m. ET – On the nomination process for U.S. Soccer president.

Gulati –  “Up until a year ago, or 20 months ago, we changed our nomination rules to have nominations come long before the annual meeting. The primary reason was to be able to have background checks. Nominations are due I think two months before the election (in February).

“We have probably 120 different member associations that can nominate people, and you need three nominations to be eligible. I don’t think that will preclude anyone.”

Admits he has reached out to people about nominating or endorsing him.

12:03 p.m. ET – Can you understand the point of view of people who think he shouldn’t have his job?

Gulati – “Sure. I can understand the frustration. Sure.”

12:08 p.m. ET – Why do you feel you’re the right guy for this job, given what happened?

Gulati – “Because of where the sport is now, and the role I played in it, plus where it can go if I choose to run.”

12:09 p.m. ET – What do you say to fans who are really upset, and calling for change?

Gulati – “All of us involved in the game are also passionate about the team, and are extraordinarily disappointed in every single way. None of us is happy about not going. This reconfirmed the passion and support of the team has grown tremendously.”

12:10 p.m. ET – That’s all she wrote. Many people not called upon for questions (including me, to be honest). Lot of softballs, to be painfully honest.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”

Euro qualifying: Gundogan saves 10-man Germany, Bale earns Wales draw

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Germany played for much of its visit to Estonia with 10 men as Emre Can was sent off for a bad last-man tackle just 14 minutes in, but Ilkay Gundogan‘s second-half brace saw Germany slide through with all three points on a 3-0 win to jump back on top of Group C. The all-important first came on a deflected effort from just outside the box to the right of center, while his second came minutes later with a shot from nearly the same place but just inside the area. Timo Werner added the third with under 20 minutes to go.

Wales secured a 1-1 draw at home against Croatia, but both sides will have greivences with the refereeing. Daniel James was taken out by Dejan Lovren on the edge of the box eight minutes in and likely should have been a penalty kick as the Liverpool defender barged James over without playing the ball. After Nikola Vlasic put Croatia ahead moments later, Gareth Bale would equalize just before halftime one a silky play through the Croatian defense, but a foul in the buildup wasn’t called that would have stopped play before the goalscoring moment.

There were also a pair of scary moments that involved nasty-looking head injuries. James came together with a pair of Croatians in the first half, and while it looked initially like Borna Barisic and Domagoj Vida had taken the brunt of the clash, James appeared to lose consciousness thanks to a knee in the back of his head. Despite the appearance of a clear distressing head injury, James was allowed to continue. Just second after the halftime break, Ethan Ampadu settled under the ball for a header until Bruno Petkovic blasted through his torso from behind, sending the Welsh midfielder to the ground awkwardly, holding his head in agony. Petkovic came in so hard that he earned a yellow card and maybe could have even seen red on another day. Ampadu was not allowed to continue, replaced immediately by Joe Morrell. Also notable in the match, Mateo Kovacic was taken off at halftime after appearing to pick up a muscle problem.

Austria held on for a 1-0 victory over Slovenia to temporarily jump into the lead in Group G, ahead of Poland on goal differential. Hoffenheim defender Stefan Posch scored the game’s only goal, a 21st minute effort off a corner. The back line did the rest, holding the hosts to just two shots on target in Ljubljana.

Poland secured qualification to the finals with a 2-0 win over North Macedonia behind goals from Przemyslaw Frankowski and Arkadiusz Milik, both which came in the final 20 minutes. The first was a messy finish from Chicago Fire winger Frankowski, collecting a flubbed Robert Lewandowski shot and poking it through past goakeeper Stole Dimitrievski. The second goal was much prettier, with the referee playing advantage after Lewandowski was fouled, and Milik delivered a delicious looper into the far corner.

Click here to see a roundup of the action from the early slate of games, including wins by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Russia.

Full Sunday Euro 2020 qualification scoreboard:

Kazakhstan 0-2 Belgium
Belarus 1-2 Netherlands
Cyprus 0-5 Russia
Hungary 1-0 Azerbaijan
Scotland 6-0 San Marino
Estonia 0-3 Germany
Poland 2-0 North Macedonia
Slovenia 0-1 Austria
Wales 1-1 Croatia

Teams who have secured guaranteed Euro 2020 qualification:

Italy
Belgium
Russia
Poland

Report: Alexis Sanchez out until 2020 with ankle injury

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Alexis Sanchez has targeted a return to form at Inter, but that may be shelved for some time as an ankle injury picked up on international duty could keep him out of action for months.

The Chilean federation confirmed that Sanchez suffered a “dislocation of the ligaments” in his left ankle in the 0-0 friendly draw with Argentina over the weekend, but did not specify a timeframe for his recovery. However, Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri tweeted that Sanchez will not return until the calendar flips to 2020.

The injury is poorly timed for Sanchez who just broke into the Inter squad after being loaned from Manchester United. He scored his first goal in a 3-1 win over Sampdoria in late September before being sent off and suspended a match. The 30-year-old was also quality in the Champions League defeat to Barcelona, assisting Inter’s only goal.

At worst, a three-month injury layoff would see Sanchez return in mid-January, meaning he would miss the rest of the Champions League group stage as well as a host of Serie A matches. A Milan derby in early February would likely be a significant possibility for a late return.