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Canada coach Herdman aims for 2022 World Cup

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We haven’t talked about 2022 World Cup qualifying in some time, as the focus was on the USMNT finding its coach, then Gregg Berhalter implementing his style, and soon winning the 2019 Gold Cup to ensure a spot in the 2021 Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Montreal adds Serie A striker ]

There should be a ton of focus on the U.S. bounce back for any number of reasons, especially considering that qualifying for the next World Cup may be the last time the U.S. has to truly worry about its berth (unless Gianni Infantino gets his way and miraculously implements an expanded field for 2022. Then Berhalter and Co. are set already).

So with three-and-a-half spots available, it’s of-note any time a manager admits his national team side should earn one of those berths in Qatar.

Today, we’re talking about the biggest underachievers in CONCACAF for the better part of the last 20 years, and that’s Canada. The Canucks are led by John Herdman, and he’s bringing a mentality of expectation that’s been lacking from the unit in some time (although there were strides under Benito Floro) From Sportsnet.ca:

“We don’t have excuses. I don’t want to be that guy making them. At the end of the day if we don’t qualify for [2022], it’ll be a disappointment. To put that level of expectations on the team is critical. The team wants that, they’re ready for it. They know it’s now or never for many of them,” Herdman said.

“So, when you say, ‘how do you know it’s going to happen?’, we have to make it happen. But more importantly, we have to believe, and I think that belief is there from the men who are going to be leading the charge.”

He also, albeit not in so many words, admitted that the Canadians have underperformed in recent cycles.

First of all, no one is catching Mexico this cycle. El Tri are in something akin to a golden generation, and have the following stars in their prime: Wolves’ Raul Jimenez, Diego Reyes, and Hector Herrera, with Hirving Lozano getting there and several veteran leaders on the end of their elite window but still easy CONCACAF stars (Memo Ochoa, Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado).

So that’s 2.5 half spots.

Canada is ranked 78th in the world by FIFA and is 68th in the Elo Ratings. That puts them 8th and 7th amongst CONCACAF sides, as El Salvador is much lower in Elo than FIFA (and Elo is superior as an analytical tool. We’ve placed the chart at bottom).

Considering that the USMNT historically underperformed in 2018 qualification and Panama lucked into the tournament via a goal that did not cross the line, and it’s easy to predict a reverse in fortunes for the those two, but can Canada get in the Top Three (or the playoff spot) by moving ahead of 2-3 of the U.S., Costa Rica, Panama, Honduras, Jamaica (Considering Canada a contender requires they pass El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago).

If anything, the time is now for this group of Canadians, considering they’ll host the 2026 tournament with the U.S. and Canada. Les Rouges have vastly under-performed at two of the last three U-20 World Cups since giving the Americans a scare in the 2013 Round of 16. But they had a quality 2017 Gold Cup, and missed the 2018 World Cup qualifying Hex because Mexico had nothing to play for in the final game and drew Honduras.

Canada is still very low on overall depth and has a generation of player-first entitlement to overcome, but has CONCACAF star power in Alphonso Davies, Junior Hoilett, Scott Arfield, Cyle Larin, and Jonathan Osorio, a UEFA Champions League goalkeeper in Milan Borjan, a rising Liverpool teen in Liam Millar and the wild card of Barcelona property and former Montreal forward Ballou Tabla. Not to mention, the new and promising Canadian Premier League will make it easier for Herdman to scout potential next level stars.

Canada is currently en route for a Pot 3 ranking for the fourth round of World Cup qualifying (the last stop before the Hex). It would be drawn into a group where the main combatants will be one of Mexico, the USMNT, and Costa Rica, and one of Jamaica, Honduras, or El Salvador.

It’s not crazy at all to think Canada would edge Honduras and El Salvador for a top spot, and a group with Costa Rica where points will be live in those two fixtures. And the Canucks have a tactical boss with a chance to outwit another manager.

Hot take: Los Ticos are still long on experience but a bigger question in terms of depth and youth, missing three of four U-20 World Cups. That tournament shouldn’t be the lone arbiter of future goodness, but it’s something.

Even given the 2018 qualifying embarrassment, I fully expect the Yanks to qualify for 2022 in Qatar. Honestly, I think Jamaica might be the third-best group in terms of talent, with Costa Rica and Honduras interesting for different reasons. To borrow from the other football, Panama out-kicked its coverage and should be considered no certainty for the Hex. T&T is tricky at home. If Canada can be, there’s a really good chance they make the Hex.

Jozy Altidore calls out Toronto FC president Bill Manning in scathing postgame comments

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It was supposed to be a happy postgame. Toronto FC topped Minnesota United 4-3 in a wild game that saw Jozy Altidore assist the game-winning goal scored 79th minute, pushing them within a point of the Eastern Conference lead with a game in hand.

For Altidore, though, it was the perfect opportunity to air some dirty laundry.

The United States international sought out reporters in the mixed zone after the game and told the public how unhappy he was at certain decisions made at the club this offseason, particularly regarding the training staff. Altidore singled out team president Bill Manning and criticized the club executive for firing someone he believed was helping the striker off the field.

[ MORE: Toronto FC tops Minnesota United 4-3 ]

“It’s bittersweet because this could’ve been avoided,” Altidore said of the firing of Italian trainer Giuseppe Gueli who was let go after the sale of Sebastian Giovinco this offseason. “You’ll have to ask Bill Manning why it’s not avoided, it’s just disappointing. We had a trainer here the last three years who’s been helping me with muscle injuries, but because he was attached to Seba, he’s not allowed in the club, which I think is ridiculous. And so now this is what I’m faced with, games of egos, and that thing. Hopefully he can put his ego aside and I can get the guy who’s kept me healthy, kept Michael [Bradley] healthy, kept a bunch of the guys healthy, and we can make things move forward.”

“To run a club you’ve got to be able to put your ego aside and put the players first, so hopefully that’ll change,” Altidore said. “I was trying to get through it, I was having trouble all week, but again, like I said, the person I was working with the past three and a half, four years, is not allowed in the building, and it’s just— you give everything for your city, you give everything on the field, you give everything for your teammates, and because of a little whatever, misunderstanding with a guy, the players gotta pay the price. I just think that’s ridiculous.”

Altidore then went after Manning for his lack of accessibility for the players, as Altidore insinuated he made attempts to handle the issue internally but was unable to do so. “You can ask him,” Altidore said when asked if he received an explanation from Manning on the personnel decision. “He’s not here, he’s not around, so you can’t find him. You go to his office, he’s not there, he’s traveling, he’s this and that. I wish I knew, but I don’t know.”

As far as the public has been aware, Altidore and Manning have had a decent working relationship. Local media reported that a sit-down between the two in February helped push through a new contract for Altidore after talks had hit the skids. “I saw the hunger in his eyes and how much he loved it here,” Manning said of Altidore once the contract extension was announced. “And he was willing to work with us. And once we kind of talked that through, we were able to create a contract that made sense for us and made sense for him.”

After Altidore brought Michael Bradley into the mix by mentioning the Toronto FC captain by name, Bradley was asked about the situation, and he confirmed there were internal issues that needed to be taken care of but downplayed the severity of the issue. “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes in terms of trying to make sure that we can have the right medical staff in place,” Bradley said, “and obviously Greg [Vanney], Jim Liston, Ali [Curtis], Bill [Manning], they’re all working hard to try to make sure that as players we have everything we need. Jozy is a guy who feels like at this point in his career he knows exactly what he needs to do day in and day out to keep himself healthy and fit and ready to play at the highest level. I’m hopeful there’s a solution here because I think a lot of us certainly feel strongly, again making sure that the staff behind the scenes is in place and is right.”

Obviously, this seems like – at its base level – a minor problem not to be aired in public, but Altidore is someone who has suffered from numerous muscle problems in the past, and if he is nervous about not receiving the proper medical attention off the field, it could be affecting his mindset or performance. Players who are tentative on the field because of past medical issues can either lose form or actually exacerbate the issue further, so it would be in Toronto’s best interest to cater to Altidore’s requests. At the very least, if a veteran leader is frustrated by a lack of communication from the front office, that in and of itself is a concern the club will want to address as soon as possible.

Toronto FC pulls within a point of East lead with win over Minnesota

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Toronto FC snatched all three points in a wild finish at BMO Field, taking the spoils 4-3 over Minnesota United thanks to a pair of goals each from Alejandro Pozuelo and Jordan Hamilton.

Minnesota struck first through Darwin Quintero in the 17th minute, but Toronto swung back in front on a quickfire double from Pozuelo, striking twice in two minutes right on the half-hour mark. His first was a beauty, carrying the ball all the way down the attacking half himself before a couple stepovers preempted a rifle into the top corner.

Two minutes later he found space in the box, and taking a feed from Justin Morrow, he powered the ball home above Vito Mannone. With that, Toronto went into the halftime break with the lead, and Pozuelo grabbed a club record for fastest brace with just 110 seconds between goals.

Out of the break, it was Minnesota’s turn to swing back into the lead as Angelo Rodriguez bagged a header to the far post as two Toronto defenders misjudged a cross from Romain Metanire. Quintero then hit for the second time in the 70th minute, this time from the spot after Chris Mavinga fouled Rodriguez in the area.

With wild status officially achieved and Minnesota ahead, Toronto snagged control of the match in front of the home fans. Hamilton, who came on in the 73rd minute, had an instant impact, scoring the equalizer just four minutes after entering play. Jonathan Osorio fed him a perfect through-ball between defenders, and Hamilton finished expertly with a chip over a charging Mannone. Hamilton gave Toronto the lead in the 79th minute, although this time the Minnesota defense will want to burn the tape. Jozy Altidore popped the ball over a defender right in front of the goal mouth, and while Michael Boxall had position to clear the ball off the line, Hamilton jumped it and tipped it into the back of the net.

After that, Minnesota melted down. Jan Gregus was shown a straight red card in the 89th minute, and Minnesota was reduced to nine men minutes later after Francisco Calvo earned his second yellow card. The win sent Toronto to second in the Eastern Conference on 13 points, one behind D.C. United for the lead with a game in hand.

Premier League preview: Newcastle v. Southampton

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  • Southampton have won 3 of their last 4 PL games
  • Newcastle has beaten Southampton just once in last 9 meetings
  • Shane Long has scored in his last 2 matches – has never scored in 3

Both Newcastle and Southampton have the chance to all but secure Premier League safety with a win on Saturday as the Saints travel to St. James Park, live on NBC at 12:30 p.m. ET or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE HERE

Southampton has turned a corner under Ralph Hassenhuttl, with eight wins in his first 18 games in charge – as many as the previous two managers put together in 52 league matches. The Saints now sit five points above the relegation zone, and with Cardiff City taking on Liverpool on Sunday, the time is ripe for Southampton to pull away. A victory over Newcastle and a Cardiff City loss would put the Saints eight points clear of the drop, leaving their magic point total for safety at just one over the last three matches.

Hassenhuttl could be without regular defender Jannik Vestergaard who has a groin injury, but otherwise the injury news is light. Midfielder Mario Lemina may not be ready to go from his abdominal injury, having missed all of 2019 so far, but the other injured players in Alex McCarthy, Matt Targett and Charlie Austin are all reportedly ready to go.

Newcastle, on the other hand, can mathematically secure its safety with a win and a Liverpool result, and even a draw will put the hosts in a fantastic position. Sitting two points above Southampton and seven above the drop, there’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding manager Rafa Benitez, but they look set to earn Premier League play next season. The Magpies saw their three-match winless run come to an end last time out with a win over Leicester City, but still they have limped down the stretch with just seven points in six Premier League matches since the beginning of March. They too have good injury news, with just the long-term injuries to Florian Lejune and Sean Longstaff the only players struggling coming into the match.

What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on Newcastle’s relegation battle: “I said 38 points [would be enough] a long time ago. Cardiff have won a couple of games [since then], and now it’s even more important for us to win another game, be sure everything is fine and then we can start thinking about how high we can go.”

Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhuttl on Southampton’s relegation battle: “We have been speaking about the 40 points and therefore we need four more. The good thing is I don’t have the feeling my team is leaning back, they stay focused. Although it is a long season so far, I have a feeling they are very hungry, they want to hunt and take more points. That is a good signal for me.”

Prediction

Home field advantage is massive in these games, and Newcastle will relish having the backing of the home fans. Southampton, however, comes into this game in better form, and will be more motivated to earn points to build the gap. The Saints should come away with a 2-0 win in an exciting game between two scrappy teams.

Preview: Man City v. Tottenham

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  • Man City go top with a win
  • Spurs sit in third
  • VAR drama in UCL quarterfinal second leg

“More of the same please, lads.”

That will be the message from neutrals everywhere as Manchester City host Tottenham on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), less than 72 hours after Spurs got past City at the Etihad Stadium in one of the most dramatic games in UEFA Champions League history.

VAR drama on both Fernando Llorente’s goal which sent Spurs through to the Champions League semifinals and a late strike for Raheem Sterling which seemed to have rescued City caused chaos, but we won’t have VAR this weekend. Next season is a difference case.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Pep Guardiola‘s Man City must pick themselves up and now focus on winning their final five games of the season to win the Premier League title, while Spurs and Mauricio Pochettino need to win to keep their hopes of finishing in the top four alive. That said, Spurs may rest several first team players with their injury-hit squad creaking and the north London side focused on being ready for their UCL semifinals against Ajax coming up.

In team news City could have Fernandinho back, while Zinchenko will be assessed. Spurs are without Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Serge Aurier and youngsters Juan Foyth, Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters could all play with injuries hitting Pochettino’s side hard.

What they’re saying…

Guardiola philosophical on late winner denied by VAR v. Tottenham: “VAR appeared to help try and cut out mistakes. The referees can take time, seconds, minutes to see the images and different angles. If we make a lot of mistakes with VAR then I wouldn’t agree with it. We have to take one minute, two minutes, five minutes, until the right decision is made. But I support it, from the first time and well before. If the goal from Raheem in the last minute, which was offside, ends up being a goal and Tottenham go out because of one offside, is not right. It’s so tough on them and I don’t like that.”

Pochettino on Spurs making the UCL semifinals: “This is a massive example for us – how important it is never to give up, to always have faith and believe in yourself, your teammates, the club, the fans. All our decisions we take are to help the club and this amazing history we are writing today will be a massive example for us in the future.”

Prediction

City will be determined to put Wednesday right, and even though their dreams of a quadruple are over, they can still win the domestic treble. Spurs will be emotionally exhausted after the 4-3 defeat at City which sealed their path through to the Champions League semifinals on away goals, and City have a bigger squad which they can rotate. 3-1 win to Man City.