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So… how could the USMNT line up at its next tournament?

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The United States men’s national team has one goal over the next 18 months since they decided to take a break from their regular World Cup participation.

That goal? Qualify for the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar*.

[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards ]

(Insert next full-time coach’s name here)’s Yanks have not one but two paths to that appetizer for the 2022 World Cup. As the 2016 Gold Cup champions, they’ve guaranteed at worst a place in the 2020 CONCACAF Cup against the 2019 Gold Cup winner.

Or, and follow me here, they could win the 2019 Gold Cup and eliminate such a CONCACAF Cup.

Being CONCACAF, any number of things could happen during the tournament, but we learned something when the U.S. was not invited to the 2019 Copa America: Without a second tournament, Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, and friends will have access to their A-plus group of players should they desire to treat the competition seriously.

For the United States and (insert next full-time coach’s name here), it would be embarrassing to do anything less in the run-up to the return of World Cup qualifying the following Fall (though an expanded field could make qualifying for that tournament much closer to “just show up for a third of your games.”).

What will the United States’ top lineup look like come next summer? Well, the next 10-12 friendlies will tell us something, but plenty is up in the air. Assuming health, there are very few certainties in the group. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks are going and probably starting; Matt Miazga and Tyler Adams also seem close to locks.

Player pool (Ages come June 2019 in parenthesis)

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (28), Zack Steffen (24), Alex Bono (25), Jesse Gonzalez (24), Ethan Horvath (24), Jonathan Klinsmann (22), Matt Turner (24).

Defenders: Brooks (26), Yedlin (25), Miazga (23), Shaq Moore (22), Cameron Carter-Vickers (21), Erik Palmer-Brown (22), Auston Trusty (20), Tim Parker (26), Walker Zimmerman (26), Danilo Acosta (21), Geoff Cameron (33), Steve Birnbaum (28), Timmy Chandler (29), Justen Glad (22), Ben Sweat (28), Nick Lima (24), Reggie Cannon (20), Antonee Robinson (21), Aaron Long (26), Keegan Rosenberry (25).

Midfielders: Adams (20), McKennie (20), Marky Delgado (24), Kenny Saief (25), Michael Bradley (31), Paul Arriola (24), Sean Davis (26), Jacori Hayes (23), Brooks Lennon (21), Cristian Roldan (24), Darlington Nagbe (28), Wil Trapp (26), Lynden Gooch (23), Danny Williams (30), Kellyn Acosta (23), Kelyn Rowe (27), Andrew Carleton (18), Luca de la Torre (21), Ale Bedoya (32), Sebastian Lletget (26).

Forwards: Pulisic (20), Tim Weah (19), Bobby Wood (26), Andrija Novakovich (22), Gyasi Zardes (27), Jordan Morris (24), Josh Sargent (19), Jozy Altidore (29), Clint Dempsey (36), Aron Johannsson (28), Terrence Boyd (28), Juan Agudelo (28).

Pick your 23. Here’s our best guess — GK: Steffen, Horvath, Klinsmann. DEF: Brooks, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Cameron, Chandler, Yedlin, Moore, Robinson. MID: Adams, McKennie, Delgado, Bradley, Roldan, Williams, K. Acosta, Saief. FWD: Pulisic, Wood, Altidore, Sargent.

And an XI: I think the captain Bradley is going to have to play his way out of his job at CM (unless his TFC transition to CB become full-time), so we won’t always see McKennie and Adams together is the center of the park. Robinson gets the left back gig unless Danilo Acosta makes great strides or the new coach thinks he can play Moore or Nick Lima on the other side of the pitch. We’ll go hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1, though Pulisic could well get every chance to be a No. 10 (and who knows where he’ll be playing next season in club ball).

Steffen

Yedlin — Brooks — Miazga — Robinson

McKennie — Bradley — Adams

Pulisic — Altidore — Saief

*-They still could move the 2021 Confederations Cup and 2022 World Cup from Qatar. It’s really not too late.

Germany: Below-par Bayern Munich still too good for the rest

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BERLIN (AP) Even a below-par Bayern Munich side was just too good for the rest.

Bayern’s record-extending seventh consecutive Bundesliga title confirmed the distance between the Bavarian powerhouse and its rivals after a season in which it failed to impress as before.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

For the first time in ten years the title race went to the last day of the season, with Niko Kovac’s side missing the chance to wrap it up a week earlier after being held to a goalless draw in Leipzig. His team wasn’t going to miss another chance as it routed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 to clinch a 29th German championship on Saturday.

In the end, Bayern’s 5-0 win at home over Borussia Dortmund, its closest and only challenger, on April 4 illustrated the gulf in class between the sides and effectively decided the league outcome. Bayern should have won by more after racing into a 4-0 half-time lead, but Kovac’s team eased off in the second half with Dortmund in damage-control mode.

It proved to be the title that Dortmund gave away. Lucien Favre’s side had a nine-point lead over Bayern at one stage, but buckled under the pressure of a title challenge and gave away points in games it should have won.

Dortmund developed an unfortunate tendency to concede late goals, and was frustrated in successive draws against Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and lowly Nuremberg, which was relegated at the end of the season.

Bayern President Uli Hoeness had suggested in February that Bayern could “sacrifice the championship for one year” to give veteran players like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha a worthy farewell.

“I have won more than 50 titles in my lifetime, so one or another doesn’t matter,” Hoeness said at the time.

Hoeness needn’t have worried. On Saturday, he was able to give the players a perfect sendoff, with Robben and Ribery both coming on as substitutes to score in their final Bundesliga appearances.

Beer flowed among the tears and confetti and the Bayern veterans bade their farewells and celebrated another championship – for Ribery it was a record ninth league title in 12 years at the club.

It was a happy end to a difficult season. The 36-year-old Ribery made no secret of his wish to stay at Bayern and will have heard how the 40-year-old Claudio Pizarro, who also scored Saturday, agreed a one-year extension to his contract at Werder Bremen the same day.

Kovac has had to endure ongoing speculation over his future after ambiguous comments from his superiors.

“We’ll see,” sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said to repeated questions over Kovac’s future recently, while chairman Karl-Heinz-Rummenigge could only say he has “no problem” with Kovac.

Kovac himself said on Saturday that he was sure he would remain after receiving first-hand information from those responsible, but the lack of public endorsement from the club has done little to stop the speculation.

Even a win over Leipzig in the German Cup final next Saturday might not be enough for Kovac, who has fans’ backing but has struggled for authority at the club since Bayern went four games without a win in late September-early October.

The club lashed out at the media on Oct. 19 for “derogatory, slanderous reporting” of its poor form, while Hoeness was booed and whistled at the club’s AGM in November for the first time over sponsorship deals with Qatar, his railing against the media, and personal tirades against former players and coaches.

Amid the squabbling, Bayern has lost its aura of invincibility. The side’s meek Champions League exit to Liverpool after a 3-1 defeat at home highlighted the need to refresh the squad.

The process is already underway with World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard arriving from Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart, respectively, to shore up the defense. The 23-year-old Hernandez is costing a Bundesliga-record 80 million euros ($90 million) while Pavard is joining from Stuttgart for a reported 35 million ($40 million).

Bayern is also reportedly interested in Germany striker Timo Werner, while Hoeness has hinted at a host of other signings.

After strengthening in the summer, Bayern is likely to be even harder to catch for Dortmund and the rest next season.

“I know the chance was huge this season,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus said.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Bournemouth snap up $15m defender, look to Burnley GK

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Bournemouth is already busy in the transfer market.

Eddie Howe‘s men have added a $16.5 million defender from Championship outfit Bristol City and may soon swoop to buy a $19 million goalkeeper from a Premier League rival.

The latter target is reported as Nick Pope, part of a deep Burnley goalkeeping corps that includes Tom Heaton and Joe Hart.

[ MORE: Kompany signed, hired by Anderlecht ]

The former would be Lloyd Kelly, who racked up more than 2300 minutes for Bristol and is expected to represent England with the U-21 side this summer.

Primarily a left back but capable of defending centrally, Kelly has 48 first team appearances with two goals and two assists to his name.

From The Bournemouth Echo:

“I’m still young and developing as a player but at the same time I feel like this is probably the best place for me to develop those skills, especially being around a Premier League team and playing Premier League sides,” Kelly said. “I feel like it will speed up that process a bit more.”

No Champions League could lead Lacazette from Arsenal

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Alexandre Lacazette could leave Arsenal if the Gunners fail to win a place in the UEFA Champions League.

So says a report out of The London Evening Standard, which notes that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid would be interested in bringing the Frenchman to La Liga.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

Arsenal will participate in next season’s Europa League unless it beats Chelsea in this season UEL Final on May 29 in Baku.

Lacazette, 27, has 19 goals and 13 assists for Arsenal this season and struck up a tremendous partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has not played in the Champions League since 2016-17.

Arsenal is being linked with a big attacking target, too, and is said to be intrigued with Ajax boss Marc Overmars comments that Hakim Ziyech will be allowed to leave if his $28 million release clause is met. From The Evening Standard:

“He is in focus because of his achievements in the Champions League. Many big clubs are buzzing around him, We promised Hakim that we would agree if there is a good transfer,” Overmars told the Dutch De Telegraaf newspaper.
Ziyech has played his entire career in the Dutch Eredivisie between Heerenveen, Twente, and Ajax. He has 12 goals in 23 caps for Morocco and scored five times for Ajax in the Champions League to go with 16 league goals.

Zidane bristles when asked why he didn’t use Bale

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Zinedine Zidane bristled when asked why he did not use Gareth Bale on Sunday in what could’ve been the Welsh forward’s last home match for Real Madrid.

It’s worth noting that Real had just lost 2-0 to Real Betis at the Bernabeu, and Zidane couldn’t have been in a decent mood as the wayward side finished third on the table.

[ MORE: Kompany finds new/old club ]

The 29-year-old Bale did not play in Real’s final three matches of the season, was blanked in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals against Ajax, and has not scored since March. He finished the season with 14 goals and six assists in 42 appearances. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I have counted on other players in more in recent weeks, and if I had a fourth substitute today I would not have brought him on.

“I make these decisions when it is right to do so, and I must act in the best interests of the team at all times.”

Zidane would not commit to Bale being with Madrid for their preseason tour of the United States, saying “anything could happen” while insinuating that the player was part of Real’s past.