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What now for USMNT? A look at the road ahead

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A youthful U.S. national team drew 1-1 at Portugal on Tuesday in their final game of 2017.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

Now, it’s time to reflect, just as we’ve all been doing since the shock failure to reach the 2018 World Cup in early October.

Interim U.S. boss Dave Sarachan, a long-time assistant of former USMNT boss Bruce Arena, oversaw the draw at Portugal but, like the rest of Arena’s backroom staff who were also in place for the friendly, he won’t be around for much longer.

This is all about the future. The displays of Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Cameron Carter-Vickers against Portugal proved that.

In terms of the next game for the USA, fans will have to wait over two months for a friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina at the StubHub Center in Carson, California on Jan. 28 which will end the USMNT’s annual January camp.

After that, we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen.

The U.S. is unlikely to have a head coach for some time due to the fact that current U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati isn’t expected to run for re-election in the USSF presidential election on Feb. 10, 2018, so there’s a whole lot of uncertainty right now surrounding the men’s national team.

Talk of Sam Allardyce, Michael O’Neill or Laurent Blanc coming in is all academic at this point.

Even having former boss Arena, the man who oversaw the dismal defeat at Trinidad & Tobago last month which ended the USA’s World Cup dreams, on Fox Sports as an analyst for the Portugal game on Tuesday seemed to early. The period of grieving isn’t over yet. Many would say it’s going to get a lot worse for the U.S. national team before it gets better.

Perhaps the best decision is to put Tab Ramos, the current youth technical director of U.S. Soccer, in interim charge for the January camp as plenty of youngsters, who he knows well, will be given the chance to impress just as they did against Portugal.

Around all of this, the future of veterans like Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron and Brad Guzan need to be addressed. Will they be leaned on heavily to help turn this program around? Will some, or all of them, retire from international duty?

What we do know is that there will be at two friendly games in March and probably the same in June 2018, purely as opposition for teams heading to the World Cup. Plus, there is talk of a soccer “NIT” ahead of the World Cup in June but that seems like a long shot. By March or April, things should have settled down with a new USSF president and USMNT coach, and a distinct plan, in place. That’s the hope.

Right now all U.S. fans can do is sit back and watch the anticipation build for the 2018 World Cup draw in Moscow, Russia on Dec. 1.

There is a long, long period for contemplation as U.S. Soccer tries to sort itself out amid the backdrop of a presidential campaign which has seen plenty of candidates throw their hats into the ring to try and solve the problems exacerbated by the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

The road ahead will be long, arduous and not at all pleasant for the U.S., especially as we all watch on at the 32 nations competing in the World Cup in Russia next summer. Sure, the sport in the U.S. will recover and interest in MLS and USL expansion continues and top European teams will make trips Stateside for preseason friendlies.

Sure, all of that is pretty healthy. But we’re focusing on the USMNT here. Arguably the one vehicle with the greatest pull, and level of influence, in how the American soccer pyramid performs.

With no competitive games until the summer of 2019 when the Gold Cup and Copa America roll around, the U.S. national team’s excessive period of reflection and rehabilitation begun as soon as the final whistle was sounded in Leiria, Portugal on Tuesday.

Now it’s about one thing: the future.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).