Getty Images

PST’s 2018 World Cup draw roundtable

Leave a comment

With the draw for the group stage of the 2018 World Cup taking place in Moscow on Friday, there’s plenty of excitement building.

[ STREAM: Draw live, 10 a.m. ET ]

Below our panel of writers discuss the key topics heading into the draw including the lack of the U.S. men’s national team, “Group of Death” scenarios and the dark horses.

[ MORE: Pots for 2018 World Cup draw ]

Here we go.


Here it is, World Cup fever has begun. As journalists who watch the U.S. team closely, has it sunk in yet that the USMNT won’t be at the World Cup for the first time since 1986? What feelings did you have this time four years ago before Brazil 2014?

Joe Prince-Wright: It hasn’t really sunk in yet, to be honest. Tomorrow will be one of the key moments when we sit there and realize ‘damn, the USMNT won’t be at the World Cup.’ It will be a major part of the acceptance stage of this U.S. debacle. Four years ago I was full of excitement to see who the U.S. would get and trying to work out their multiple “Group of Death” scenarios. Now, there’s still plenty of excitement about all of the big players and teams and who they will face, but still a nagging sense that something isn’t quite right. I’m more intrigued to see what watching a World Cup in the USA, without the U.S. participating, will be like this summer.

Nick Mendola: It has sunk in, mostly, but that doesn’t change the anger and distrust toward the team and federation. There are just so many reminders, not the least of which was seeing the U.S. B-Team stick with Portugal’s B-Team in last month’s friendly. Yeah, it’s an odd metric of sorts, but the USMNT finished one point from the World Cup and lost to Trinidad’s B-Team with Geoff Cameron on the bench and both Fabian Johnson and Weston McKennie at home on the couch. Any chance to feel even a tiny bit better about the team was bungled by post-elimination hierarchy press conferences and then Bruce Arena’s decision to go on TV during the Portugal game. Wow. There’s still a lot of anger there. Does that mean it hasn’t sunk in?

Kyle Bonn: The World Cup is the World Cup, and the excitement will always be there, but I can’t lie, it’s slightly mitigated this time around with the US out of the field. There’s always a passion to watch your country play and without that something definitely seems to be missing in the buildup.

Dan Karell: Ugh. Another gut-punch. It’s going to be sad not seeing the words “United States” on a little piece of paper picked out of a pot (Pot 3, probably?) on Friday. Around this time four years ago, I was definitely just looking at all the probabilities and I think like most people, hoping to avoid a group of death. The U.S. showed though that it didn’t matter, and finished ahead of Portugal and Ghana instead of last place where many predicted.

Matt Reed: The more I’ve thought about everything, the more clearly it has begun that there are glaring issues within the U.S. Soccer community that need addressing. Yes, it was and still is a shock that the USMNT did not qualify for Russia, but at the same time, the team’s shortcomings open the door for changes to occur over the next four years and beyond. As we saw in the USMNT’s recent friendly against Portugal, there are some solid young pieces working their way up through the pipeline, including Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, which is a promising stepping stone for the Americans, who already have one of the world’s best young players in Christian Pulisic.

Heading into Brazil in 2014, I was cautiously optimistic about how the U.S. would perform given the sides they were paired with in group play and the talent within the squad. Considering how the USMNT showed in 2010, I thought there was a chance they could build off of their Round of 16 appearance and possibly progress a step further, however, Belgium had a big say in preventing that from happening.


Looking at the four pots of teams, pick out your ULTIMATE “Group of Death” scenario

JPW: There are quite a few here. I’m going with: Germany, Spain, Egypt, Australia. But the following four teams would also be an absolute blockbuster of a group: France, England, Costa Rica, Nigeria. Simply put, the World Cup is stacked, as it should be.

NM: Brazil, Spain, Senegal, Serbia.

KB: Any “Group of Death” starts and ends with Spain being in Pot 2. England too probably counts, but Spain’s presence there spells doom for any Pot 3 and 4 team who finds itself in that bunch. Only 2 European countries can be drawn into the same group, which mitigates things a bit, but here are a few options:

Germany, Spain, Costa Rica, Nigeria
Argentina, Spain, Iceland, Japan
Brazil, Spain, Sweden, Australia

DK: Germany, Spain, Denmark, and Nigeria. All four of those teams are strong and Nigeria could be a dark horse in the knockout round with the likes of Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho launching themselves on the world stage. Germany and Spain are juggernauts as always and we saw what Denmark and Christian Eriksen did to the Republic of Ireland.

MR: Brazil, Spain, Denmark, Nigeria


Which team will you want to avoid in Pot 4?

JPW: Serbia. Nobody has taken them too seriously but they have talented players 1-11, many of whom play at big clubs in Europe. Underestimate Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic and Branislav Ivanovic at your peril.

NM: Serbia. I’ve been so impressed with them, with Matic, Tadic, Kolarov, Milivojevic, Nastasic, Llajic, Ivanovic, and Mitrovic. I believe they can sit in and defend when needed, but also can spring some incredible attacks if they get the final ball from Tadic, Mitrovic or someone else.

KB: Pot 4 is relatively weak this time around, but Japan is quite skilled, Nigeria is always. A threat, and Australia plays with a fire that can cause problems.

DK: I’ll keep it with Nigeria. They were underwhelming at the last World Cup but still made it into the Round of 16, and with a new crop of youngsters, they could be a tough out in Russia.

MR: A number of Premier League talents up front and an experienced midfield give Nigeria an edge over the rest of the Pot 4 nations. The Super Eagles have qualified for six of the last seven World Cups, and advanced to the Round of 16 in three of those appearances. I believe John Obi Mikel and Co. will surprise a few people, although they certainly put themselves on the map in 2014. For those unfamiliar with the side, go back and watch their match against Germany in the knockout round.


What would be the easiest group scenario for hosts Russia?

JPW: Mexico, Iran, Panama would be the easiest group for the hosts. It always helps a tournament if the hosts do well but with Russia the lowest-ranked team (65th) in the competition, they’ll do extremely well to get out of any group.

NM: Russia would love to see Peru, Iran or Costa Rica, and Saudi Arabia. Playing a host city is always tricky, but the politics and patriotism of this tournament make it especially difficult. I think Russia escapes its group at a minimum.

KB: Russia is going to seriously struggle no matter who they draw, but the easiest path to the knockout would likely be something like: Russia, Croatia, Iran, Panama

DK: Well, if Russia hosts England they’ll be just fine…..kidding! Peru somehow is seeded in pot two but they clearly aren’t of the quality to be there, it’s just thanks to the FIFA rankings. Same for Poland/Portugal in Pot 1.

MR: Peru, Senegal, Saudi Arabia.


If you had to pick now (and you do), who contests the World Cup final and who wins it?

JPW: Germany and Brazil. And Brazil wins 2-1. This is a better defensive Brazilian side with revenge on their mind and Neymar is ready to lead the Selecao to glory.

NM: I’m torn between who wins it, but it’ll be Germany and Brazil assuming their paths don’t cross on the bracket en route to the final. Germany is the deepest team and reigning champions with enough returning players to build off that record. Brazil is the best team in the world right now and navigated the toughest qualifying route in the world with style.

KB: Until I am proven wrong, I am sticking with Germany as the best team in the world. Brazil has come a long way since Germany embarrassed them on their home turf, and I would love a Germany vs Brazil rematch, this time in the final.

DK: It’s so hard to tell who will be tired and who will still have gas left in the tank, but I’ll say Brazil vs. France. Brazil under Tite is playing the best soccer in the world and historically they are very serious about their physical preparation and making sure all their players were fit. No one pulled out of Brazil’s last squad for the November friendlies and even the players carrying injuries were treated by the Brazilian staff. I like France because of their talented young players that I think learned good lessons in qualifying and Euro 2016 and could take that into a final run next summer.

MR: Germany takes on France. Les Bleus win in extra time.


There’s always a “dark horse” at every tournament. So, who will surprise everyone at Russia 2018?

JPW: As an Englishman I’m tempted to go with England who are definitely being overlooked, but having low expectations hasn’t worked out well in the last few major tournaments. I do think they could get to the quarterfinals, which would be a very acceptable tournament. As for other dark horses, Serbia, as mentioned previously, plus Egypt and Nigeria could all impress, plus Sadio Mane‘s Senegal have shown their penchant for upsets in the past. So, England, Serbia, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal are the five teams to look out for.

NM: I detailed my belief in Serbia above, but I’ll proffer a second opinion: This tournament in particular seems to be highlighting European and South American teams, and I think an African team has a chance to really do some damage with a Liverpool flavor. Senegal (Sadio Mane) and Egypt (Mohamed Salah) both could do something special. Additional love for Japan and South Korea, and I’m especially excited to see Heung-Min Son on display without Harry Kane and Dele Alli righteously demanding the spotlight.

KB: Dark horse has to be England. That is a much improved team with so many bright young stars, and while everyone makes jokes about how England always flops in big tournaments, they’ll sneak up on everyone. Raheem Sterling is coming up big for Man City of late, and he’ll do so for his country in the World Cup too.

DK: Engla-Nah…they’ll underwhelm like always. Sorry Joe, haha. My dark horse comes from Pot 2. Croatia has one of the world’s best midfields with Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic as well as Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. Mario Mandzukic is one of the world’s best No. 9s and the team’s defending is hard as nails. I think they have the quality to make a deep run, especially with it likely being Modric and Mandzukic’s last World Cup.

MR: Take one look at Croatia’s midfield and tell me that’s not one of the best, if not the best, in the tournament. I’m not overly confident about the team’s front group of Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic, but this team is loaded with talent throughout the squad. Also, the Blazers consistently have best kit in international soccer, so there’s that.

Report: Luiz Suarez to Atletico Madrid

Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Luis Suarez to Atletico Madrid seems just about the perfect fit between a club, player and manager.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Diego Simeone roaring from the sidelines as Luis Suarez scores a last minute winner for Atletico Madrid at Real Madrid. You can see it now too, right?

A report from our partners at Sky Sport in Italy states that Suarez has already agreed a contract at Atletico and will leave Barcelona as a free agent as RAC 1 claim he will tear up his contract which still has one year left on it.

New Barcelona boss Ronald Koeman has told Suarez he was not part of his plans and was free to move on. That decision was said to be one of the big reasons why Lionel Messi wanted to leave Barcelona, as he is close friends with Suarez.

Suarez, 33, suffered with injuries last season but since he left Liverpool in the summer of 2014 he’s been a star at the Nou Camp, scoring 198 goals in 283 games in all competitions for Barcelona.

Per the report, Suarez’s arrival means that Alvaro Morata will be free to depart Atletico Madrid as his former club Juventus want to sign the Spanish international. Suarez had been linked with a move to Juventus but that is now not happening as Suarez would have had a delay in obtaining an Italian passport to make the move easier.

Will Suarez be a hit at Atletico? Well, they have a habit of squeezing extra juice out of star veteran strikers. See: Forlan, Diego. Villa, David. Costa, Diego.

Suarez working for Simeone is perfect. He may not start every game, but he will probably share the workload with Diego Costa and could partner him too. Imagine those two up top together?

With Inter Miami CF going for Gonzalo Higuain as their final DP and Edinson Cavani still a free agent, there are plenty of ageing superstar strikers out there but Suarez is the best one available. If he can regain full fitness then you can expect him to score 20-25 goals in La Liga this season.

El Cholo and El Pistolero firing Atletico Madrid past Real Madrid and Barcelona is a very real possibility, and I’m here for it. Grab your popcorn, folks.

Leyton Orient announce COVID-19 positives, stadium closure before Tottenham game

Leyton Orient
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Leyton Orient have issued a statement after multiple first team players tested positive for COVID-19 and they’ve been forced to shut their training ground and stadium just one day before they were due to host Premier League giants Tottenham.

The fourth-tier club were due to play Tottenham in the League Cup third round on Tuesday but that game is now in severe doubt and the east London club (located 11 miles from Tottenham’s home stadium) said they will be announcing more details in due course about what will happen.

Here is the Leyton Orient statement in full about their current situation:

“Following our game on Saturday 19th September, COVID-19 testing was conducted on all of our first team playing squad. Today (Monday 21st) we received formal confirmation which shows that a number of our first-team squad have tested positive for COVID-19. We have informed the EFL and Tottenham Hotspur and will make a further announcement regarding Tuesday’s match shortly.

“We have also informed Mansfield Town, Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic, our three most recent opponents, prior to the public release of this information. Leyton Orient’s priority is the health and well-being of its players and staff. Those who have tested positive will now strictly follow government self-isolation guidelines. The Breyer Group Stadium and training ground facilities will be closed until further notice. At this time, the club will make no further comment.”

The problem here is that Tottenham don’t have any other available dates to play this game.

With their Premier League and UEFA Europa League qualifying commitments, Tottenham are already stretched to the limits and this game at Leyton Orient is one of four games in seven days for Jose Mourinho’s side.

The rules also state that if a team cannot fulfil the fixture due to COVID-19 positive tests, they will have to forfeit and Tottenham will move on. Leyton Orient are a small team who Harry Kane, a former loanee, has helped raised money for and there’s a very good relationship between the two clubs. This game was also due to be broadcast on TV in the UK and would have helped Leyton Orient out financially at a time when fans still aren’t allowed into stadiums in large numbers. These positive tests have now put all of that in doubt.

Lower league teams will run into similar issues like this when it comes to the FA Cup too, as testing is less prevalent and regulated lower down the professional pyramid in England. EFL clubs are only mandated to test their players during every international break and have stopped testing players twice a week. That has led to Premier League clubs paying for their lower-league League Cup opponents to be tested before games. In this case, multiple Leyton Orient players have tested positive.

Mourinho: Bale could return from injury quicker due to desire

Leave a comment

Bale injury update: So, Tottenham fans would be hoping that a Gareth Bale injury update wouldn’t be coming soon but he is nursing a knee injury he picked up on international duty earlier this month.

Judging by their 5-2 win at Southampton on Sunday, Tottenham will be just fine in attack without the Welsh star they’ve signed on loan from Real Madrid for the 2019-20 season. There is no reason for him to rush back, especially considering his recent history with injuries.

That said, Mourinho is hopeful that Bale can return from injury quicker due to that trust remedy: desire.

“I don’t know when Gareth can be back,” Mourinho said on a Bale injury update. “The only thing that I know is that the motivation is high, he is so happy to be with a club of his heart, he is so happy to play for us and when a player has this motivation, many, many times you can shorten the period of recovering and shorten the period of getting fit and ready to play and we want to help him. So when he is available to train with the team, we are more than happy to have him and to be back to a level that [is] maybe one of the best players in the world.”

This is textbook Mourinho.

It has been noted many, many times that he hates players missing games due to injury and is less than sympathetic when someone is in the treatment room.

This seems like a challenge to Bale, 31, to prove just how much he wants to be back at Tottenham after spending the last seven seasons at Real Madrid. ‘Oh, you want to be back here? Prove it. Patch yourself up and be ready for next week.’ That will definitely probably be Mourinho’s chat with Bale next week.

There is no reason to risk Bale right now but when he is fit, having him play alongside Harry Kane and Heung-min Son in attack is a mouthwatering prospect for Mourinho and Tottenham. Their counterattacking prowess was clear for all to see in the second half at Southampton on Sunday and a fired up and fit Bale will add a lot to this attack.

Hurry up and get that dose of desire rubbed onto your knee, Gareth…

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

Leave a comment

Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.


3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.


Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

Follow @AndyEdMLS