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Does Rooney’s England return undermine USMNT friendly?

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When it comes to the announcement that Wayne Rooney will make a one-off return to the England national team for the friendly at Wembley against the USA on Nov. 15, opinions are pretty much split right down the middle.

Many say this is a fitting end to Rooney’s international career, as he will be given a proper send-off as he wins his 120th and final cap and the all-time record goalscorer will be able to say a final farewell to the Three Lions fans at Wembley. The game will also be named the Wayne Rooney Foundation International, with the proceeds from the game given to the charities he supports. Who can argue against that?

On the other hand, many say this not only undermines the fixture against the USMNT but also current England boss Gareth Southgate.

Remember: Rooney, 33, retired from the English national team in August 2017 when he was left out of a few squads despite being told he still had a role to play as Southgate looked at younger options. With his career generally on a downward curve, Rooney then left the national team without a proper goodbye as the most-capped outfield player in Three Lions history was done. To hammer home the fact that the decisions made by Southgate and Rooney were the correct ones, England reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup with a young, hungry side impressing.

That achievement surpassed any tournament finish Rooney had during his England career as penalty kick and quarterfinal heartache came time and time again for the Manchester United legend. Yet you could never question his commitment to England’s cause and, in truth, at times it seemed as though he cared too much and had the weight of the world on his shoulders due to the huge expectations.

“I am truly humbled and hugely excited to play for England at Wembley again,” Rooney said. “I would like to thank Gareth Southgate and The FA for inviting me back and helping to support my foundation in the process. Playing for England was the greatest honor of my career, so winning my 120th – and final – cap will be a particularly special moment for me. It’s fitting that the match will be against the USA and I hope that both sets of fans enjoy the game.”

But what about this specific game against the U.S. men’s national team?

The young USMNT players will still be given a proper test against the no.5 ranked team on the planet, Rooney or no Rooney, with the D.C. United star expected to start the game but it is unclear how long he will actually play. After all, he’s not exactly about to pick up his pension and many of his American opponents will know that.

Rooney just ripped it up in MLS over the past few months (save your jokes about a retirement league for another time, please), scoring 12 times and assisting on six more to lead D.C. United from last place in the Eastern Conference to the playoffs in the 19 games he played. He still has a contract in MLS through the end of the 2021 season, but there is no suggestion that this comeback is anything other than a glitzy farewell.

Does Rooney’s 120th and final cap suggest that England aren’t taking this friendly against the USA that seriously? Absolutely. From a true sporting perspective this shouldn’t be happening and with U.S. Soccer billing this friendly as a huge deal, their counterparts aren’t exactly doing the same as they’ve now moved the goalposts slightly. It already has a testimonial feel rather than being a true test in a hostile environment for a young, developing USMNT side. But with some mocking Rooney’s return and suggesting Gary Lineker and others should get a run out too, that is so far from the truth. Rooney could impact this game and play a full 90 minutes if need be.

Rooney played for England for 13 years and it was due to his decision to retire that he didn’t get a proper farewell game. Southgate and England moved on from Rooney quickly and Harry Kane emerged as their leading striker, along with Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling.

There is a lot to be said about Rooney’s appearance blocking minutes for young England players coming through but, in truth, Kane will just be getting a much-needed rest ahead of England’s big UEFA Nations League decider against Croatia at Wembley on Nov. 18 and Southgate will not risk another forward being injured. And without Jamie Vardy, who recently retired, England don’t have a lot of options up top anyway.

England will likely play many of their squad players against the USMNT with Southgate’s focus firmly on the game against Croatia. That means that any debate about this is a little overblown as Rooney truly deserves a special farewell. If Rooney playing a few minutes at the start of the game is what Southgate and the FA want to do rather than him being honored and clapped on the pitch as he picks up a plaque before the game then walking off, so be it.

This is all very similar to the Landon Donovan situation in October 2014, as he played in a friendly against Ecuador after being ousted by Jurgen Klinsmann. Yet that game was organized exclusively to honor Donovan and we knew what it was going into the match. In Rooney’s case, it is quite clear he decided to walk before he was pushed out by Southgate, so again this slightly undermines the England manager who has done so much to restore pride in the national team over the past 12 months since he took charge.

We have to remember that friendly games are little more than glorified training matches these days and this farewell for Rooney will give England’s game against the U.S. something extra special.

But there’s no doubting this farewell does suggest that England are undermining the visit of the Stars and Stripes later this month.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).