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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?

$%^$.

Serie A wrap: ‘Benjamin Button’ Zlatan nabs 2; McKennie debuts for Juve

Serie A results
Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
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Catch up on all you missed from the opening week of calcio with the Serie A wrap.

[ MORE: Serie A schedule ]

Fourteen of the league’s 20 teams debuted this weekend, as European combatants Atalanta and Inter Milan will start the season late along with Serie B playoff winners Spezia.

That leaves opponents Lazio, Benevento, and Udinese also waiting to start their 2020-21 seasons.


Benjamin Button’s brace leaves Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored twice as AC Milan started the Serie A season with a 2-0 defeat of Bologna on Monday.

The humble Swede said that if he were 18 years younger he would’ve scored two more.

“I am not old, I am like Benjamin Button, I start old and die young,” Ibrahimovic said after the win. “Kidding aside, the team worked well, we are not at 100 percent and therefore made some mistakes we usually avoid, but it bodes well.”

Ibrahimovic is 38 years old and demanding he not be held to any less of a standard than his prime, which is incredible considering his prime is better than 99 percent of top soccer careers.

“I don’t want people to talk about my age, I want to be treated at the same level as everyone else,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I am 38, I want to be treated like someone aged 20 and do the same work.”

Milan is coming off seven-straight seasons outside of the top four, six of those coming behind their city rivals Inter Milan.

But Ibrahimovic’s 2019-20 half-season in Italy showed he can still bring the goods, with 14 goals and five assists in 20 appearances

Now he’s scored thrice in two competitive fixtures after opening his campaign with a goal against Shamrock Rovers in Europa League qualifying.

Milan is aiming high and is tied for the fifth-best odds to win the scudetto this season due to a talented squad that features Ibrahimovic, Alessio Romagnoli, Gianlugi Donnarumma, and Theo Hernandez.

“This year, we have to take it one game at a time, play with confidence and treat every match like a Cup Final.”

Serie A results
MILAN, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 21: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images)

McKennie impresses as Juve rolls again

Playing under Andrea Pirlo has started well for USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie.

The 22-year-old Texan went 90 minutes in central midfield with Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot as Juventus beat Sampdoria 3-0 in Turin.

McKennie had 94 touches and completed 88 percent of his passes, with one key pass and four-of-five crosses in that mix.

[ MORE: Americans abroad in Bundesliga, Week 1 ]

He took two shots and converted his lone dribble attempt, the busy midfielderwinning six of 12 duels while registering four tackles, three interceptions, and two clearances. SofaScore did hit him with a “big chance missed” on debut.

McKennie kept some very good players on the bench in the forms of Arthur and Rodrigo Betancur. It’s going to be a battle to keep his place in the Starting XI but it’s clearly one he’s prepared to fight.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Leonoard Bonucci, and Dejan Kulusevski all scored for The Old Lady, who is bidding to win its 10th-straight title. That would double Inter’s second-best five-consecutive title run earlier this century.


Week 1 scoreboard

Fiorentina 1-0 Torino
Hellas Verona 0-0 AS Roma
Parma 0-2 Napoli
Genoa 4-1 Crotone
Sassuolo 1-1 Cagliari
Juventus 3-0 Sampdoria
AC Milan 2-0 Bologna


Week 2 fixtures

Torino v Atalanta — 9 am ET Saturday
Cagliari v Lazio — Noon ET Saturday
Sampdoria v Benevento — Noon ET Saturday
Inter Milan v Fiorentina — 2:45 pm ET Saturday
Spezia v Sassuolo — 6:30 am ET Sunday
Verona v Udinese — 9 am ET Sunday
Napoli v Genoa — 9 am ET Sunday
Crotone v AC Milan — Noon ET Sunday
AS Roma v Juventus — 2:45 pm ET Sunday
Bologna v Parma — 2:45 pm ET Monday


Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Genoa 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Juventus 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Milan 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Napoli 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Fiorentina 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Cagliari 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Sassuolo 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Hellas Verona 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Roma 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Atalanta 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Benevento 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Inter Milan 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Lazio 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Spezia 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Udinese 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-0-0 0
 Torino 1 0 0 1 0 1 -1 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Bologna 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Parma 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Crotone 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Sampdoria 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0

Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

UEFA Champions League qualifying
Photo by Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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The 12 clubs remaining in the race for the final UEFA Champions League group stage slots will be pared down to six in the next eight days.

There are American connections to two of the six ties.

Former USMNT midfielder Jesse Marsch manages Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg toward the next round, while Molde right back Henry Wingo came up with the Seattle Sounders.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Salzburg are significant favorites to advance over two legs, odds accentuated by Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s seven players absent due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Marsch had previously said he did not want to go to Israel due to COVID-19 concerns, calling it “dangerous,” but has accepted the task at hand.

From Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung:

“The moment UEFA said we were going to play in Tel Aviv, it wasn’t a problem for me. Maccabi has a great team. We are not naive. We understand that we have to fight tomorrow.”

At 3:10 in some sportsbooks, Marsch’s men are the only club favored to win the first leg away. Salzburg is led by Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka, who’ve helped the team thrive despite the sales of several stars including Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino.

Molde has a much tougher test with Hungarian side Ferencvaros, who knocked off Celtic. That tie could go either way, while Slavia Prague and Olympiakos are respectively noticeable favorites to beat Midtjylland and Omonia Nicosia.

Dynamo Kiev will be expected to outlast Gent over two legs, while it would be a minor upset if PAOK takes down Krasnodar.


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

Tuesday

Maccabi Tel-Aviv v. Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague v Midtjylland
Krasnodar v PAOK

Wednesday

Gent v Dynamo Kiev
Molde v Ferencvaros
Olympiakos v Omonia

Sept. 29

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv

Bundesliga: Takeaways from Week 1

Bundesliga Week 1
Photo by M. Donato/FC Bayern via Getty Images)
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With all due (and perhaps a bit) biased respect to Giovanni Reyna and Borussia Dortmund’s decisive beating of fellow title hopeful Borussia Monchengladbach, the Bundesliga’s top story came Friday with the champions.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season preview ]

Bayern Munich thumped Schalke 8-0, running its win streak in all competitions to 22. That’s just two behind the world record set by Brazil’s Coritiba in 2011.

It’s not just about the extension of the streak, but about the pure domination from the champs.

Hat trick hero Serge Gnabry and midfield prototype Joshua Kimmich continued to play as well as any midfielder in the world. New pal Leroy Sane played a role in three goals while Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, and Leon Goretzka all scored before German-English teenager Jamal Musiala scored to make it eight.

As a domestic bonus, American defender Chris Richards played the final 17 minutes and completed 95 percent of his passes while making an interception.

[ MORE: Bundesliga odds 2020-21 ]

As for the record, Bayern will have to work for it. The Bavarians need to beat Sevilla in Thursday’s UEFA Super Cup before visiting a decent Hoffenheim side.

If they win both, Bayern will have a chance to set a Guinness Book record by beating… Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup on Sept. 30.

Now let’s talk about Schalke. While sold midfielder Weston McKennie was starring for Juventus, the remaining players had little to like about their day.

A team that failed to win its final 16 league matches of the 2019-20 season, losing 10, was again oh-so-poor.

If manager David Wagner wanted to get some heat off his back after holding onto his position, this wouldn’t have helped things.


Americans Abroad

— Tyler Adams went the distance at midfield in RB Leipzig’s 3-1 win over Mainz. He was typically tidy at 78-of-82 passing including a perfect 4-for-4 on long balls. Adams had four tackles and won 4-of-9 duels.

— Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent was deployed as more of a left-sided attacking midfielder in a lopsided loss to Hertha, making one key pass and putting a matching shot on target in an uneven performance.

— John Brooks helped Wolfsburg keep a clean sheet and posted three clearances, three interceptions, and a tackle at center back. He wasn’t as clean passing as usual, but connected on 7-of-13 long balls.

— There were just a few minutes for 88th-minute Eintracht Frankfurt sub Timothy Chandler. He won his only duel and completed his only dribble in the waning moments of a 1-1 draw with Arminia Bielefeld.

— Reyna scored his first Bundesliga goal and won a penalty in 78 strong minutes that featured a perfect 29-for-29 in passes.

— Bayern’s Richards, 20, went 17 minutes and completed 19-of-20 passes while making an interception.

— Stuttgart manager Pellegrino Matarazzo, a New Jersey-born Columbia University product, saw his promoted side lose at home to Freiburg.

— U.S. eligible Norwegian youth international Julian Ryerson was an unused sub for Union Berlin.

Bundesliga Week 1
John Anthony Brooks (Photo by Peter Niedung/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Player of the Week

Serge Gnabry was absolutely marvelous. Even considering the lack of, well, everything from Schalke, Bayern’s hat trick man had as many key passes as goals.

Gnabry hit 30-of-35 passes in doing all of his damage on 57 touches over 72 minutes.

The German made three tackles and two interceptions to edge opposite wing Leroy Sane’s 1-goal, 2-assist, 5-key pass day and the hat trick produced by Hoffenheim’s Andrei Kramaric in giving his team three leads and the win.


Team of the Week

Casteels (Wolfsburg)

Framberger (Augsburg) — Lacroix (Wolfsburg) — Pieper (Bielefeld)

Kimmich (Bayern)

Kramaric (Hoffenheim) — Reyna (Dortmund) — Cunha (Hertha)

Sane (Bayern) — Haaland (Dortmund) — Gnabry (Bayern)

  • All three of Koen Casteels’ saves in Wolfsburg’s 0-0 draw with Bayer Leverkusen came inside the box, while Lacroix put together a gaudy stat line in front of him: 10 clearances, four interceptions, three tackles.
  • No one completed more dribbles than Matheus Cunha’s five. The Brazilian also scored as Hertha hung four on Werder Bremen.
Bundesliga results
Bremen’s Josh Sargent and Maximilian Eggestein couldn’t stop Hertha’s Matheus Cunha (Photo by PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Week 1 results

Bayern Munich 8-0 Schalke
Union Berlin 1-3 Augsburg
Stuttgart 2-3 Freiburg
Eintracht Frankfurt 1-1 Arminia Bielefeld
Werder Bremen 1-4 Hertha Berlin
Koln 2-3 Hoffenheim
Borussia Dortmund 3-0 Borussia Monchengladbach
RB Leipzig 3-1 Mainz
Wolfsburg 0-0 Bayer Leverkusen


 

Week 2 fixtures

Hertha Berlin v Eintracht Frankfurt — 2:30 pm ET Sept. 25
Bayer Leverkusen v RB Leipzig — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Augsburg v Borussia Dortmund — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Borussia Monchengladbach v Union Berlin — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Arminia v Koln — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Mainz v Stuttgart — 9:30 am ET Sept. 26
Schalke v Werder Bremen — 12:30 pm ET Sept. 26
Hoffenheim v Bayern Munich — 9:30 am ET Sept. 27
Freiburg v Wolfsburg — Noon ET Sept. 27


Standings

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 1 1 0 0 8 0 8 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Hertha BSC 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Borussia Dortmund 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Augsburg 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 RB Leipzig 1 1 0 0 3 1 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3
 Freiburg 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Hoffenheim 1 1 0 0 3 2 1 0-0-0 1-0-0 3
 Arminia Bielefeld 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Eintracht Frankfurt 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 Bayer Leverkusen 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1
 Wolfsburg 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1
 1. FC Köln 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Stuttgart 1 0 0 1 2 3 -1 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Mainz 05 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Union Berlin 1 0 0 1 1 3 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Werder Bremen 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0
 Mönchengladbach 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0
 Schalke 04 1 0 0 1 0 8 -8 0-0-0 0-0-1 0

Guardiola expected Man City rust in ‘good win’ over Wolves

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Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola got what he expected from a 3-1 season-opening win over Wolves at the Molineux.

Kevin De Bruyne won and converted a penalty before playing a role in goals from Phil Foden and Gabriel Jesus.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

City was very good early but Wolves took hold of the game for part of the second half and had the scoreline at 2-1 before Jesus put the result to bed.

Guardiola expected periods like that given Wolves had played more matches. Neighbors Manchester United had that problem for almost all 90 minutes of a loss to Crystal Palace.

“It’s a good win,” Guardiola said, later saying, “In the period that we are and the situation that we had these last two weeks, I expected that in some moments we’d suffer but in general we did well.”

Guardiola was asked about Foden, who was very good.

The English youngster made headlines off the pitch earlier this month but was very good back on it.

He passed at 94 percent, completed 4-of-5 dribbles, and won 8-of-13 duels.

The goal and the second half he played incredibly well,” Guardiola said. “He helped us keep the ball. We could not run much because we’re tired in our legs.”

Perhaps it’s reading too much into it, but Guardiola was short and maybe even a bit testy in his post-match remarks.

“It’s just a 3-1 game so there were 114 points to play for (and) now there are 111.”