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Preview: USMNT face Italy in 2018 finale

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The U.S. men’s national team end their 2018 campaign with a friendly against Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday at 2:45 p.m. ET.

This is a clash between two teams who failed to reach the 2018 World Cup and have now turned to youth to try and turn their programs around.

[ MORE: How will USA line up v Italy? ]

It has been a strange year for everyone connected with the USMNT, as interim head coach Dave Sarachan has now been in charge for 13 months but still no new permanent coach had been announced and the U.S. were humbled 3-0 by a much-changed England at Wembley last Thursday.

[ MORE: Dortmund issue Pulisic update

Roberto Mancini and the Azzurri are the final test of a gruelling few months for the USMNT, as they’ve now faced Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and England in the fall, winning just one of those games as several youngsters have been given the chance to shine but there’s still no long-term plan.

Christian Pulisic is back in the U.S. setup and will be looking to lead a team which has an average age of just under 24 to an upset of No. 19 ranked Italy. Mancini has sent home several of his more experienced players ahead of this game and will give plenty of youngsters a chance, including teenager Sandro Tonali who Italy have high hopes for as a deep-lying playmaker.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

In team news Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre all left the USMNT squad over the past few days due to injury, but Josh Sargent is fit to play against Italy as the Werder Bremen forward didn’t feature against England due to a small knock. Sarachan has said there will be plenty of changes to his lineup, and it will be intriguing to see if the USMNT players who will be involved in the MLS Cup playoffs next week will feature.

Pro Soccer Talk will be at the Luminus Arena in Genk and you can follow live updates on Italy v. USA here.


What they’re saying…

Dave Sarachan on Italy and possible USMNT lineup: “We respect them. It will be an important test for our guys. We will have a number of changes in the lineup and it will be one of those tests that will go a long way down the road. We are excited about it and it should be a good night.”

Roberto Mancini on giving youngsters a chance: “We are working, trying to renovate the Nazionale with young players and a different tactical approach. We need to get to know them better, to see them in action. Hopefully, many young players will get a chance to feature, as that’ll mean we’ve got a bright future ahead of us. I think there are many talented players out there, they just need to gain some experience.”


Prediction

This is a very tough game to call. There’s no doubt that the USMNT youngsters will want to end a tough year on a high as they try to impress the incoming coach (expected to be Gregg Berhalter) but Italy’s youngsters will want to grab their chance to impress too. Pulisic could be the difference in this game and I’m going for a 1-1 draw in Genk as Sarachan will leave his time in charge of the USMNT with his head held high. A draw would be a very respectable end to a tough 12 months for the U.S. program. 2019 can’t come soon enough as they plan for the long road ahead and a shot at redemption.

Premier League to change VAR from December

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Premier League shareholders met in central London on Thursday and have agreed to change the way VAR is used in the PL.

Owners of all 20 PL clubs met for several hours, as they analyzed how the first few months of VAR being used in the Premier League had gone.

In a statement released by the Premier League, they confirmed that the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) is “committed to improving the consistency of decisions, speeding up processes and increasing communication to fans.”

The league added that PGMOL chief Mike Riley addressed the clubs and accepted improvement is required, with plenty of key incidents such as offside and handball decisions infuriating fans and pundits alike.

Below is a look at the key areas discussed, as small changes will come in to place starting in December.

  • Extra information will be displayed on stadium TV screens for fans. For example when “Checking Penalty” is displayed it will now say “Checking Penalty – Possible Handball.” This enhancement will be delivered in December 2019.
  • Pitch-side TV monitors will continue to be used sparingly by referees, as “ensuring the pace and tempo of Premier League football remains an important focus for clubs.” But it is expected referees will go to the TV monitors more than they have done in the opening months of the season.
  • Premier League revealed that VAR has improved the accuracy of match officials around “key match incidents” (KMI). Last season match officials achieved 82 per cent KMI accuracy. With VAR this accuracy has risen to 91 per cent this season.

Landon Donovan to manage San Diego Loyal

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Landon Donovan will become the first manager of the San Diego Loyal.

Donovan, 37, is part of the ownership group of the USL Championship side, which kicks off its inaugural season in 2020.

Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Donovan confirmed he will manage the newly-formed Southern Californian club and he will also be the VP of soccer operations for the second-tier team.

SD Loyal will hold a press conference on Thursday to officially announce Donovan’s appointment.

The MLS and USMNT legend has retired and made comebacks multiple times in recent years but his playing days are now over and he will focus on leading the USL franchise alongside Warren Smith, who previously founded Sacramento Republic FC.

Donovan has lived in San Diego in recent years and was part of the group who wanted to bring an MLS team to the city as part of a planned Soccer City complex. After that bid failed, Donovan instead put all of his energy into the USL side and he will now be the leading man on the sidelines.

His name has plenty of pull and along with the team calling San Diego home, this team will be a very popular one to play for.

Thierry Henry named Montreal Impact manager

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Thierry Henry has been named as the new manager of the Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer.

Henry, 42, has signed a two-year contract to lead Montreal and has an option to extend his deal to 2022.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Speaking about his return to MLS, this time as a manager, Henry is delighted to be heading to Quebec.

“It’s an honour to coach the Montreal Impact and return to MLS,” Henry said. “It’s a league I know well, in which I had some very nice moments. To be in Quebec, in Montreal, which has an enormous multicultural heritage, it’s extraordinary. I’ve always kept an eye on the club and now I’m here.”

Henry holds his UEFA Pro licence and his previous managerial experience includes being the assistant manager for the Belgian national team before and during the 2018 World Cup and then a brief stint at his former club Monaco.

The latter didn’t go well, with Henry fired less than four months into the job and with Monaco battling relegation in Ligue 1.

Henry has also worked as a TV pundit for Sky Sports in the UK after he called time on his legendary playing career with Monaco, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona and the New York Red Bulls.

But coaching has always been his plan, and now the World Cup winner has the chance, just like his former Arsenal and France teammate Patrick Vieira, to stamp his identity on an MLS club.

It will certainly be interesting to see how the legendary French striker gets on as a head coach in MLS, but at least he knows from his playing days how the league operates and some of the logistical challenges that will face him and his team.

The Impact have missed the MLS playoffs in each of the past three seasons and parted ways with previous boss Wilmer Cabrera, who had taken over after Remi Garde’s tumultuous time in charge.

Players will certainly flock to Montreal to play for Henry, but given some of the reports about his time in charge of Monaco and how strict he was on the training ground, it will be interesting to see how Henry’s approach has developed, if at all.

Senegal, Nigeria win in African Cup qualifying

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Senegal and Nigeria started with wins on the first day of the final stage of qualifying for the 2021 African Cup of Nations on Wednesday.

Senegal was comfortable in a 2-0 victory over Republic of Congo, and Nigeria less so when it came from behind to edge Benin 2-1.

Senegal opened its qualifying campaign less than four months after losing to Algeria in the final of this year’s African Cup in Egypt. Sidy Sarr and Habibou Diallo sealed the win over Congo in Group I with first-half goals. Sadio Mane also played.

Semifinalists at this year’s African Cup, the Nigerians made a fumbling start to the decisive group stage when they went behind in the third minute at home in Uyo to Stephane Sessegnon‘s goal following a defensive error. Victor Osimhen converted a penalty on the brink of halftime and Samuel Kalu scored the winner in the second half to put three-time African champions Nigeria top of Group L.

The result provided some relief for Nigeria head coach Gernot Rohr, whose relationship with the Nigeria Football Federation has become uneasy since failing to make the African Cup final in Egypt.

Cameroon, the 2021 host, was held 0-0 at home by Cape Verde to draw another blank under new coach Toni Conceicao, the second goalless draw in two games under Conceicao. Cameroon has already qualified as host but is playing in qualifying for match practice. The Cameroonians couldn’t find the target again in their Group F opener after a 0-0 draw against Tunisia in the Portuguese coach’s first game in charge a month ago. Conceicao replaced former Netherlands international Clarence Seedorf, who was fired after Cameroon’s title defense at this year’s African Cup in Egypt ended with a round of 16 defeat by Nigeria.

The top two in each group will qualify for the 24-team finals except in Cameroon’s group, where just one other team will make it through. The qualifiers run until November next year.

African champion Algeria starts its campaign on Thursday against Zambia. Egypt plays Kenya the same day and the Pharaohs will be without Mohamed Salah for that game and Monday’s meeting with Comoros, the Egyptian Football Association said, because of an ankle injury. Salah has been wearing a protective boot on his left foot while sitting out training with Egypt.

New coach Hossam el-Badry, a former Egypt player, will take charge of his country in a competitive game for the first time against Kenya as the team moves on from the bitter disappointment of not even making the quarterfinals at their home tournament this year. That failure led to the departure of coach Javier Aguirre and the resignation of the entire EFA board.

There were also wins in Wednesday’s qualifiers for Namibia, Malawi, Sudan, Gambia, Central African Republic and Guinea-Bissau. Sudan provided the most resounding result with a 4-0 rout of 10-man Sao Tome and Principe.

Sierra Leone and Lesotho drew 1-1 in an eventful game in an empty stadium in Freetown. Sierra Leone was ordered by FIFA to play the game behind closed doors as punishment for fans misbehaving in a game against Liberia in September, when they threw objects and invaded the field.

Kwame Quee gave Sierra Leone the lead with 20 minutes to go. Thabantso Jane equalized in injury time and after both teams had a man sent off. Lesotho captain Marepe Basia was given a second yellow for his foul on George Davies in the final 10 minutes. Davies was sent off for retaliating.

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