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Venting and lamenting the USMNT’s World Cup absence

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Maybe it’s the fact that the night’s already surreal, with the American and North Korean leaders holding a historic meeting and the common bond being a 57-year-old nicknamed “The Worm” who is known for being an excellent rebounder and starring in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the dawn of this summer’s World Cup feels exceptionally dreamlike.

Let’s get some things out of the way: Even with the United States men’s national team failing to make the tournament, I’m still very excited about the World Cup. I’m leaning toward hitching my wagon to Serbia’s dark horse status, but also want to be four years’ worth of correct when it comes to Germany.

I’ve also learned you can navigate the sports version of the grieving process — acceptance is tough, but the hope part is easier — and still ride pretty high on the anger and frustration part of it all.

[ MORE: Sporting Lisbon drama increases ]

Anything can happen in a World Cup. We saw that with the USMNT escaping its Group of Death in 2014 and Costa Rica doing the same, but I can’t help look at this tournament as a chance lost for both CONCACAF and the U.S.

This is subjective, and please feel free to disagree, but the domestic buzz feels minimal compared to a tournament with the United States in the field. In terms of the average sports fan, you can scream Messi or Ronaldo all you want, but the tournament is being sold here like an El Clasico with flags.

We’ve reached the point in the World Cup cycle where I worry how many kids, both fans and players, in that pivotal age bracket of 8-12 are going to potentially miss out on their formative Dos A Cero in Jeonju, or Landon Donovan versus Algeria moment.

The beauty of being a sports fan is the images and characters created by your team or nation on the biggest stages.

For Americans of my generation, we’ve seen our country in every World Cup since we were in grade school. Even tournaments where the USMNT didn’t really ring a bell, like 1994, the World Cup drew us into side stories. I remember sitting in my Uncle Jim’s living room, hoping against hope that Italy would top Brazil, and being fairly bummed when Roberto Baggio sent his effort over the bar

I also often feel compelled to point out that Baggio was the third Italian to miss, and that Italy goes out in the Round of 16 if he doesn’t equalize in the 88th minute and complete his brace against Nigeria in extra time, then scoring the winner against Spain in the quarters, and both goals against Bulgaria in the semis.

And here’s the thing: I barely cared about soccer in 1994. I didn’t start playing until high school, and didn’t fall in love with the USMNT program until qualifying for the 2002 tournament.

There’s a vivid American memory from every World Cup after ’94 for me, often in the form of a question.

1998: “Did we really just lose to Iran?”

2002: “How did the ref miss that %^&%^& handball on Frings?”

2006: “Brian McBride is really bloody”

2010: “AND DONOVAN’S SCORED, OH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

2014:

2018 is gonna be anger and disbelief, a generation deprived of its World Cup from perhaps the easiest qualification format by a defiant coach, his haughty replacement, and a group of players who showed enough effort to get the job done on average once every other game.

Frankly, this probably sounds absurd to some European and South American nations considering some of the World Cup droughts, some still active. Ryan Giggs never played in one. Alfredo Di Stefano, George Weah, and Ian Rush were shut out. Even in the expanded format, current big names like Darren Fletcher, Arda Turan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Christian Pulisic missed his first World Cup? Boo-hoo, say Austria and Wales. David Alaba will be 28 the next time he gets to attempt qualification for his first. Gareth Bale will be 31 and Aaron Ramsey 30.

Robbie Keane got one World Cup. Marcus Hahnemann went to two.

So, yeah, American soccer fans have had it pretty good. I don’t want this to read like, “my tap water in Western New York could be better” when in reality I’d welcome a full-time job of delivering fresh water to the half-globe or more where it is needed by real, true human beings (including Michigan). Rooting for Serbia because the U.S. or Wakanda didn’t qualify is an acceptable enough outcome.

The 2026 World Cup could be coming back to the United States for the second time in 32 years despite this country still just figuring out the sport’s allure. We’re fortunate in so many ways. And, frankly, there’s a very good argument to be made that the country’s federation could use the second swift kick that would come from failing to make a World Cup then blowing a World Cup hosting bid despite overwhelming stores of influence and money.

But for now, all I can think about is what we won’t have this weekend. Very few, if any, city blocks shut down for outdoor viewing party. A similar amount of beer-soaked phone videos of bar celebrations. No John Brooks canceling out Andre Ayew’s late equalizer. No Jermaine Jones rocket against Portugal. Not even a hope-giving moment from substitute Julian Green versus Belgium (Silly dual nationals).

Don’t forget: Some said dual nationals like John Brooks didn’t “care” enough (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

No first World Cup for Pulisic. Maybe no World Cup ever for Eric Lichaj, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Darlington Nagbe.

I mean, shoot, at least when the USWNT took its step back it was just a missed medal at the Olympics, not an entire month of sadness.

The whys are myriad: A national program that got high on its own FIFA rankings supply. A divide between proponents of players playing at the highest level and those who refused to push players there because of the money it made them or their domestic clubs. No one knows if Matt Besler would’ve become the best defender in USMNT history with a move to West Ham — and we do love him for his one-club heart — but there sure is some “What if?” there.

But it’s not about the whys here. It’s about the “What ifs?”

What if the U.S. was drawn in Panama’s place, needing to get past Belgium or England, let alone Tunisia, to make another knockout round? I’m genuinely happy for Panama, even with their ghost goal being the difference, but CONCACAF would likely rather see the Yanks’ buttressing their World Cup host bid with Pulisic as poster boy.

What if the U.S. was drawn in Mexico’s place, a veritable Group of Death for Arena and his proponents to measure himself against Klinsmann and his?

Or what about Costa Rica’s spot, with Neymar’s Brazil joining underachieving Switzerland and dark horse Serbia on the docket?

What if that kid who’s choosing whether to dedicate himself to high school football, basketball, lacrosse, or soccer, doesn’t bother to get misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue because he’s going to opt to go to the Orioles because Croatia-Argentina doesn’t have any significance to him?

$%^$.

Mourinho, Man Utd revel in Pogba performance

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Paul Pogba blessed Manchester United with a powerful performance in the Red Devils’ 3-0 UEFA Champions League win at Young Boys on Wednesday, and it was impossible not to notice his class.

[ UCL: Real rocks Roma, Man City falls ]

Jose Mourinho did, as did several of his teammates on a night the French midfielder scored twice and assisted United’s other goal.

“Solid, class and gave the team the pace we needed at times,” said Manchester United’s manager. “He controlled the tempo and of course it was a very good goal.”

Pogba again captained the side, which has won three-straight and allowed just one goal in wins over Burnley and Watford in addition to Wednesday’s win.

Luke Shaw drew a penalty that Pogba converted for the match’s second game, and loved what he saw from his captain. From the BBC:

“He gets some stick sometimes but we know what quality he has. For me, he is one of the best in the world. He is important as captain. He shows on the pitch what kind of leader he is. Hopefully he can carry that on.”

Mourinho’s praise carries a bit more weight considering he didn’t quite enjoy the competition.

“Job done,” he said. “Not phenomenal but good enough. (Young Boys) were intense, compact and had self esteem.”

UCL wrap: Real rocks Roma, Vlasic finishes CSKA comeback

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What a day in the UEFA Champions League!

CSKA Moscow came from two down to get a draw, Paul Pogba put on a one-man show in Switzerland, Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in Spain, and Manchester City slumped to a home loss.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

And, oh yeah, Real Madrid scored a pair of show-stopping goals in a 3-0 win over Roma that left few worries about life post-Ronaldo.

Young Boys 0-3 Manchester United RECAP

Paul Pogba scored a brace, the first a sensational dribble and drive, as Jose Mourinho’s men had little trouble in Switzerland. The second half saw the Frenchman assist Anthony Martial to help the Red Devils cruise home.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Hoffenheim

Hoffenheim led twice, the second time through Havard Nordtveit, but would only take a point home from Ukraine thanks to an 81st minute goal from 21-year-old Brazilian attacker Maycon de Andrade Barberan.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Benfica 0-2 Bayern Munich

Robert Lewandowski scored in the 10th minute and Renato Sanches after halftime as Bayern eased to a win at the Estadio da Luz.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Viktoria Plzen 2-2 CSKA Moscow

Czech midfielder Michael Krmencík scored twice to give the hosts a first-half lead, but Fyodor Chalov finished a 49th minute chance to pull one back for the Russian visitors. And it was a precursor to another CSKA goal, the leveler coming from Everton loanee Nikola Vlasic and his penalty kick in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Real Madrid 3-0 AS Roma

We need your help deciding whether Real Madrid’s first or third goal was more spellbinding, please.

Gareth Bale scored a second half goal, but it’s impossible to discuss this game without mentioning the delightful free kick goal from Isco and Mariano Diaz’s outstanding stoppage time belter. My goodness.

Valencia 0-2 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo was sent off in controversial fashion, but Miralem Pjanic scored twice from the penalty spot to help 10-man Juve to the win. Wojciech Szczesny stopped a stoppage time penalty to preserve the shutout for The Old Lady.

Ajax 3-0 AEK Athens

Left back Nicolas Tagliafico sandwiched a pair of goals around Donny van de Beek’s 77th minute marker as Ajax scooped up an easy win against Greek opposition.

Manchester City 1-2 LyonRECAP

The French visitors took advantage of sloppy midfield play and an awful clearing attempt from Fabian Delph to build a 2-0 lead, and Bernardo Silva‘s goal from a Leroy Sane feed was all City could muster in its comeback bid.

Pogba runs show as Man Utd cruises

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  • Pogba scores twice, including beauty
  • His first UCL goals since 2016
  • Assists Martial’s second half marker

Paul Pogba scored two first-half goals and assisted Anthony Martial‘s second half marker as Manchester United eased to a 3-0 win over Young Boys at the Stade de Suisse in Bern on Wednesday.

United’s next UCL match is home to Valencia on Oct. 2, the same day Young Boys visit Juventus in Turin.

Summer buy Diogo Dalot made his United debut. The 19-year-old played all 90 minutes for Jose Mourinho’s men.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Pogba’s first goal was a sensational strike with an equally eye-catching dribble to create his yard of space.

Luke Shaw then won a penalty when his cross hit Kevin Mbabu‘s hand before the ex-Newcastle man could get it to his body.

Pogba converted the effort without a problem, and would not need to play the whole 90 minutes. His second half included this assist to Martial.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Man City slumps to home loss vs. Lyon

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  • Cornet, Fekir score
  • City sloppy in midfield
  • Sane-inspired comeback bid falls short

Maxwel Cornet and Nabil Fekir scored first half goals as Lyon stunned Manchester City 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Leroy Sane set up Bernardo Silva to pull a goal back for Man City, but the second did not arrive for the hosts.

Man City is off to Hoffenheim next on Oct. 2, when Lyon will host Shakhtar Donetsk.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

City had a lot of the ball, but a giveaway at midfield helped Lyon go on top.

Kyle Walker didn’t close down his mark on the left, Ederson was slow in acting on the cross, and Fabian Delph made a laughable mess of defending it.

The ball fell to Cornet, who left little doubt with a drive inside the far post.

City was denied an Ilkay Gundogan equalizer when assist man Raheem Sterling was inches offside.

And the hosts took a 2-0 deficit to the locker room with more poor midfield play, with Fekir blasting a Fernandinho giveaway past Ederson.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Anthony Lopes made a fine stop on Gundogan as City pushed to get back into the game.

Mikel Arteta opted for Leroy Sane off the bench as suspended manager Pep Guardiola watched from the stands.

A counter attack nearly saw the score line balloon to 3-0, but Memphis Depay‘s clever bid was touched by Ederson before hitting the post and bounding in front of the line.

Sane was the provider on City’s strike back into the contest, as he cut back for Bernardo to finish.

Riyad Mahrez sent a cross into the box that Sane couldn’t turn on goal, and it remained 2-1 as the 84th minute began in Manchester.

Ederson had another timely intervention on Memphis in the 89th minute to keep City alive.

Sergio Aguero tried to put the game on his back in the 90th, but his shot was touched out for a corner.