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Ahead of Paraguay friendly, spring is in the air for US Soccer

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CARY, NC — Spring is the season of starting anew.

It’s fitting that the winter muck is finally giving way to warmer weather in Cary, North Carolina ahead of the upcoming friendly for U.S. Soccer against Paraguay on Tuesday. Just yesterday, there was slushy snow plaguing the skies, but today, the sun was shining over WakeMed Soccer Park to warm the air as the team took to the field to train.

There is a strange aura surrounding the USMNT at the moment. Without the hustle and bustle of an approaching World Cup to occupy the focus, there is the tentative feeling of starting anew, with a long journey ahead but new faces ready to stand to the challenges in front of them.

[ MORE: How will the USMNT line up against Paraguay? ]

“It’s been useful to get to know one another, on the field, off the field, a lot of new faces,” said interim head coach Dave Sarachan at his pre-match press conference. “It’s always exciting to build towards something, and that something is tomorrow night against Paraguay. It’ll be a great test for our young guys, and just another opportunity to get on the field and give the guys a real look against a quality opponent.”

Those new guys are abundant. The U.S. roster is chock full of fresh faces, including eight players without a single cap for the U.S. national team, and another 10 with five or fewer caps. The average age of the roster is just a hair over 23 years old. DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood combine for 85 caps – the rest of the roster combines for a total of 77.

With so many young faces, Sarachan was guarded about singling out individuals who have impressed him over the past few days in training, but was open about how this roster brings a completely new outlook to the group, and without the usual faces like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, or other veteran players, the feel of the trip has been turned upside down.

“A few things have stood out to me,” Sarachan said. “One is they have a youthful confidence; they come in from their environments where they’re playing. They’re drawing on a little bit of the past that we had against Bosnia and Portugal with this young group, so there’s a little bit of consistency for a few of the guys, but they come in with what I would say a clean slate in their minds, so they’re looking to impress by pushing each day in training.”

“Obviously with youth comes enthusiasm and energy, but I think the soccer has impressed me so far in training. Now, when the curtain goes up and the lights show tomorrow night, we’ll see how it looks when it really counts, but I think the confidence of the young group and playing without a lot of fear has been the two things that have stood out to me.”

With such a young group, Sarachan refused to really go into the play of any particular players – or get into any specifics of his lineup plan for tomorrow’s game – perhaps to keep the heads of the young players on their shoulders, but he did name drop a few youngsters he hadn’t seen before.

“I hate to single out anyone because that means I’m leaving out a lot of players,” Sarachan said as he thought long and hard about who he wanted to talk about, “but there are some new faces here that I didn’t know well…Antonee Robinson, Andrija Novakovich…maybe some of the guys I’ve gotten to know a little bit, certainly Tyler [Adams] and all the rest I’ve known, but a few guys that we brought in that…even [Erik] Palmer-Brown that I have never personally coached, just to get to know them and get to see them…nobody’s here that shouldn’t be here.”

While the head coach watches with intent, the players are eyeing their opportunity with a vigor not reflected by the atmosphere of the venue.

“Even though a lot of us weren’t involved in the qualifying campaign, we still kind of felt the disappointment and the pain of not making the World Cup,” said 20-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers. “So we definitely feel like we need to work together and work with the coach and work with US Soccer in general to get back on track and get the wheels moving again.”

Without anyone to truly take charge, and with time to develop without the pressure of a meaningful game in the near future, there’s room for the young players to grow into their roles and make an impression, and they are reflecting that.

“We’re all young players, none of us are at the peak of our careers yet, or none of us are playing at the highest level yet,” Carter-Vickers said. “So it’s definitely a stepping stone and just trying to kind of all develop together and grow up as a team and get to a World Cup level.”

So with the U.S. left out this summer and likely another 18 months until qualifying starts for the next cycle, what are the stakes of tomorrow’s match? “Starting over I think, for the whole team” said 18-year-old Tim Weah, “and setting everything straight from the get-go together as a young group.”

“If you look at the rosters at the three friendlies we’ve had,” Sarachan said, “the theme has been giving players the opportunity that we feel are going to be part of the bigger picture. And again, we don’t want to get so far ahead of ourselves. You just can’t predict a year from now, but what you hope is that all these friendlies, and all these matches, and all the programming going through 2018 will pay dividends in terms of the investment we’re making to players that we think when the qualifying begins and the next Gold Cup and all the other competitions, that they will be ready.”

Spring is in the air. The sun is shining. U.S. Soccer is playing a game in North Carolina for the first time in 12 years. There’s a very long way to go, and while the lingering disappointment is still palpable in Cary, a new leaf must be turned, and in the shadows of a college basketball state still focused on the finality of the NCAA Tournament, WakeMed Soccer Field could be the start of a new beginning. Tomorrow will shed more light on just how well the budding talent is growing.

U-20 WC roundup: Barco’s golazo paces Argentina to big win

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action at the U-20 World Cup in Poland…

[ TRANSFER RUMORS: Man United after Portuguese duo; Spurs want Lo Celso ]

France 2-0 Saudi Arabia

While France enjoyed nearly 70 percent of possession, thanks to playing 78 minutes with a man advantage, they were anything but dominant and overwhelming in their 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia.

Les Bleus‘ opener came just before halftime, when Youssouf Fofana (Strasbourg) volleyed home from the edge of the penalty area. Saudi Arabia went dangerously close to equalizing just seconds later, but Illan Meslier (Lorient) made a stellar save to his left to deny Turki Al-Ammar.

The 1-0 scoreline remained all the way until the 75th minute, when finally Amine Gouiri (Lyon) hit a shot off the hands of the goalkeeper and watched as it bounced over the goal line for a 2-0 lead and to complete the scoring.

France will take on Panama in their next Group E game on Tuesday.

Argentina 5-2 South Africa

Ezequiel Barco might have made himself — and Atlanta United — a few million dollars on Saturday, thanks to an otherworldly golazo in Argentina’s 5-2 victory over South Africa.

The 20-year-old hit the following volley from just inside the penalty area to make it 3-1. All you can do is sit back, watch in awe and count up all the extra dollars Atlanta United are now set to make when Barco inevitably moves to Europe, following in the footsteps of Miguel Almiron and his $30-million move to Newcastle United in January.

Fausto Vera (Argentinos Juniors) opened the in just the 4th minute, followed by Barco’s first of the game — from the penalty spot — in the 63rd. The golazo came eight minutes later, followed by late tallies from Julian Alvarez (River Plate) and Adolfo Gaich (San Lorenzo) in the 78th and 90th minutes, respectively.

Next up, Argentina will face Portugal in a battle for Group F supremacy on Tuesday.

Portugal 1-0 South Korea

Much like France, Portugal were made to work mightily hard for their tournament-opening victory over South Korea.

Trincao (Braga) scored the game’s only goal in the 7th minute, when he timed his run perfectly to get on the end of Jota’s (Benfica) through ball. The counter-attack was lightning quick, and Trincao’s finish cool and precise. Portugal had the ball in the back of the net again in the 19th minute, but a look at video review revealed that Rafael Leao (Lille) was offside during the build-up before he picked out Trincao with his cross.

Elsewhere in the U-20 World Cup

Panama 1-1 Mali 0 [ HIGHLIGHTS ]

Sunday’s U-20 World Cup schedule

Mexico v. Japan — 9:30 a.m. ET
Ecuador v. Italy — 12 p.m. ET
Senegal v. Colombia — 12 p.m. ET
Poland v. Tahiti — 2:30 p.m. ET

De Rossi pens emotional farewell to Roma fans before final match

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After 18 years with the club, Daniele de Rossi is playing in his final AS Roma match on Sunday before his contract expires.

Ahead of the game, the 35-year-old midfielder wrote a detailed thank you to fans, team employees, and teammates before his sendoff. “Please, let me say thank you to everyone at Roma that I came to know,” he said before beginning his list of appreciation.

First, Rossi credited his playing mentor Damiano Tommasi, who was at the club from 1996-2006 and made 262 appearances for Roma. The midfielder suffered a knee injury in 2004 which saw Rossi break into the team full-time after making his professional debut in 2002. “[to] Damiano, without whom I would certainly have made fewer appearances for this club,” de Rossi wrote.

He also thanks former captain Francesco Totti by saying, “Thank you to Francesco. The captain’s armband I wore was inherited from the arm of a brother, a great captain and the most incredible footballer I have ever seen wear this shirt. Not everyone gets to play alongside their idol for 16 years. Now, with respect, I will pass this armband on to Alessandro [Florenzi]. Another brother, one that I know is equally worthy of the honor.”

De Rossi mentions Davide Astori, the Fiorentina player who passed away tragically in March of last year, saying, “Thank you Davide, I know you will be alongside me for the rest of my life too.” He also thanks Roma academy director Bruno Conti, saying, “[to] Bruno, who saw something special in me and brought me into this club’s fantastic academy.”

Finally, he thanks the Roma supporters, saying, “Thank you to every Roma fan, my fans. Today, at least, I’ll allow myself to call you ‘my fans’ – because I was one of you, out there on the pitch, and the love you have always shown me helped me to keep on doing that. You are all the reason why I chose this city, this life, time and time again. Sunday will be the 616th time I make that choice, the right choice.”

The emotion poured out in the final paragraph of his letter, referencing a tough time in Roma history where the club finished outside the top four for the third straight season and lost in the Coppa Italia final to Lazio. “A few years ago, May 26 became a day where we all thought we would never be able to smile again. I thought that too, at least until I saw a tattoo one fan had inked that read, ’27 May 2013, and yet the wind continues to blow’. I don’t know the owner of that particular tattoo, but I do know that the wind will still blow again on this May 27. I have never felt your affection like I have done in these last few days, it has truly overwhelmed me and touched me to my core.”

“Never have I seen you all united for a cause like you have been for this. But now, the greatest gift you can possibly give me is to leave that pain and anger to one side, and start again in full support of the only thing we all care about, the one thing that comes before everyone and everything – Roma.”

What a legend this man is. Roma sure knows how to produce a type of player not seen much around the rest of the world.

Celtic win Scottish Cup to secure unprecedented domestic treble-treble

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Celtic came from behind to top Hearts 2-1 in the Scottish Cup final, completing an unprecedented “treble-treble.” They are the first team in Scottish top flight history to win each of the league title, Scottish Cup, and League Cup in three straight seasons.

After a scoreless first half, Ryan Edwards put Hearts in front in the 52nd minute, pouncing on a messy backheel from Sean Clare and scoring the first goal Celtic had conceded all competition.

That jumpstarted the Glasgow giants, with an Odsonne Edouard double leading the way. His first came from the spot in the 62nd minute, just sneaking his penalty past Zdenek Zlamal for the equalizer before he won it with eight minutes to go. The moment came off a powerful Mikael Lustig header from near the halfway line that sprung Edouard free on goal, and the 21-year-old buried the one-on-one.

The victory gave Celtic its third major domestic trophy of the campaign for the third consecutive season, marking the historic achievement. Earlier in the season they had secured the league title by an eight-point margin and beaten Aberdeen 1-0 in the League Cup final, all despite losing manager Brendan Rodgers midway through the year to Leicester City, with Neil Lennon taking over and leading the finish.

Celtic has now won the Scottish Cup a record 39 times, with 50 league titles and 18 League Cups to go along with it.

Derby sued by Middlesbrough over alleged financial transgressions

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Middlesbrough has opened legal proceedings against playoff finalists Derby County over what they allege to be a breach in the Football League’s financial rules.

Boro owner Steve Gibson is taking action over what he believes to be Derby County’s intentional circumvention of financial sustainability regulations by posting an $18.6 million profit last season despite Derby owner Mel Morris selling the club’s ground Pride Park and then leasing it back.

Derby, however, has maintained its innocence, with the club even providing a written offer to all other clubs to review their books, an offer which Derby alleges Middlesbrough declined to take advantage of. “Middlesbrough were offered by us in writing to come with their advisors to go through our submissions for profitability and sustainability, [but] they declined.”

Gibson also attempted to force Derby to submit their financials to an independent inquiry, but all other Championship clubs voted it down. The Middlesbrough owner went after Aston Villa in late April, with Tony Pulis confirming the owner is “not happy” over “rules being broken.” Gibson attempted the same maneuver, hoping to force Villa to submit to an independent financial inquiry, but the other Championship clubs also turned that motion down.

Reports of Morris’s financial troubles with the club came to a head around that time in March when a report suggested Morris wanted out of the club, looking for a buyer after suffering losses of nearly $3.8 million per month as Derby owner. At that point Derby sat seventh in the Championship table and fell to ninth by the end of the month. Now, having recovered to earn a playoff position at the death, they now sit in the playoff final, set to play Aston Villa on Sunday for a spot in the Premier League.