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Berhalter trying to transform USMNT into possession-based team

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DAVENPORT, Fla. (AP) Gregg Berhalter prepares for U.S. national team matches like a CEO getting ready for a deal.

The new American coach uses video presentations when he meets with foreign-based players via computer. He has tripled the team’s data analysts to three.

Two white boards are on the grass at training sessions, one with the day’s objectives and schedule, the other with magnets to denote formations.

“I’ve been amazed the first few days just how much information he’s got across and how he wants every guy to be on the same page and have a perfect understanding of how we want to go into the game,” star midfielder Christian Pulisic said ahead of Thursday’s exhibition against Ecuador in Orlando.

Hired in December as the fourth U.S. coach in a little over two years, Berhalter has the full U.S. player pool for the first time this week after beating Panama and Costa Rica with a roster entirely from Major League Soccer.

He’s been to Europe twice since he signed on, visiting players in England, Germany and France. He lives in corporate housing near the U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters in Chicago and commutes on weekends to Columbus, Ohio, where he coached the Crew from 2013 through last year. He’s been searching for a home, and his family will make the move to Chicago after the school year.

Players say he contacts them frequently after many of their club matches.

“Greg has been good about if you’d too tired, if you don’t have time to talk, then it’s no problem,” said midfielder Tyler Adams, in his first season with Germany’s RB Leipzig. “I was never going to tell him I don’t have time to talk. I’m going to be willing to take that call at any time.”

Berhalter is bringing a new philosophy to the U.S. team, still recovering from its failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup, a player pool that has been led by Jurgen Klinsmann, Bruce Arena and interim coach Dave Sarachan in quick succession. The team’s mantra has become “disorganize.” Berhalter and players rarely speak for more than a few minutes without uttering the word, which describes what they want to do to their opponents.

“We want to be a team that’s brave, that is attacking-orientated. I think that’s what we want to DNA to be,” Berhalter said.

American soccer players have frequently dropped deep and been content to counterattack, especially on the road and against world powers. Berhalter is emphasizing possession in what he describes as a 4-3-3 when on the attack and a 4-4-2 when defending.

“We’re clearly playing with wingers now,” he said. “Our fullbacks aren’t as high as they used to be in the past.”

The Americans haven’t played a competitive match since the October 2017 defeat at Trinidad and Tobago that cost them a World Cup berth, and they don’t play another until their CONCACAF Gold Cup opener in June. Berhalter considers this the evaluation phase. He is a stylist, employing inverted defenders and wingers fluidly exchanging places with the central attacking midfielders, Pulisic and Weston McKennie.

Gone apparently is the constant chaos of the Klinsmann era.

“That’s a breath of fresh air, because before it was let’s qualify by any means necessary, chop and changing, switching things up, whatever it took. He’s very focused on playing a certain way and sticking to it,” said 31-year-old defender Tim Ream. “America’s known as a run-and-gun, solid mentality, work very hard. You can do those things and still play a good possession-based style. And I hope a year from now that people look at the squad and look at the team and see us play games and think they move the ball really well and they create chances through possession and through making teams disorganized.”

The U.S. had just three practice sessions ahead of the Ecuador match, and some players reported late because of club matches Sunday. The trio of 20-year-olds – Pulisic, McKennie and Adams – figured to start together for the first time, though with Adams at right back and DeAndre Yedlin shifted to winger.

“There is more gray hair on my beard. That’s the stress of getting it all in in a short period of time,” Berhalter said.

Yedlin anticipates by next year’s start of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, American fans will notice the change. By then, the Americans hope they have forged a new identity in the Gold Cup and the new CONCACAF Nations League this fall.

“People are just going to be wowed by the growth,” Yedlin said.

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

Real Madrid confident of signing Pogba, Hazard

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Two of the Premier League’s biggest stars could be heading out this summer, with Real Madrid increasingly confident of signing both Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba.

[ MORE: Has Pogba delivered at United?

With Chelsea star Hazard only having one year left on his contract, it seems he is far more likely to leave, but Pogba’s recent displays and comments after Zinedine Zidane’s return to Real Madrid have certainly set tongues wagging about his future.

Our partners at Sky Sports are reporting that Real are confident that both Pogba and Hazard will arrive at the Santiago Bernabeu this summer. It has been reported that Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has cancelled a meeting between United and Pogba about signing a new contract (Pogba has two years left on his current deal) and is keen for his client to head to Real this summer.

Asked about the recent speculation regarding Pogba ahead of United’s clash with Chelsea at Old Trafford on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reaffirmed his belief that Pogba will remain at United.

But Solskjaer doesn’t seem as sure as he was a few weeks ago when talking about this topic…

“You can’t guarantee anything in football but yes I think Paul is going to be here,” Solskjaer said. “I can assure you he is now very determined to succeed at Man United. I would say yes I can guarantee, but in life you can never. He will be as far as I can answer.”

Which player would be the bigger loss for their respective club?

Hazard, no question. He has scored 16 goals and added 13 assists this season in the Premier League, meaning he has had a hand in just under 50 percent of Chelsea’s goals. With a transfer ban hanging over Chelsea, they won’t be able to replace him either, meaning more pressure will be placed on the likes of newcomer Christian Pulisic and youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek to deliver.

The Belgian star has spent the past seven seasons at Chelsea and many of their fans, although reluctant, will accept it if he tells the club he wants to leave this summer.

As for Pogba at United, even though he’s scored 13 goals in his best-ever return in a PL season and was the only non-Liverpool and Man City player named to the PFA Team of the Year on Thursday, it is tough to say United would be totally lost without him.

If United do want to cash in on Pogba, the time is now. With two years left on his contract, they could probably recoup a large chunk of the $120 million they paid Juventus to sign the midfielder in 2016. Pogba’s influence in the dressing room is huge, with the likes of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard close friends, and the way his dip in form has coincided with United losing seven of their last nine outings under Solskjaer is worrying.

With Zidane undertaking a huge rebuild of Real’s squad which failed so miserably in all competitions this season, it would be a huge shock if at least one of Pogba or Hazard aren’t lining up at the Bernabeu next season. Selling the likes of Gareth Bale could enable Real to spend big, while reports of Neymar also heading to the Spanish capital also continue. In the prime of their careers, Hazard and Pogba seem like prime targets for Zizou to kickstart his rebuild this summer.

Emiliano Sala’s father dies three months after plane crash

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The father of Emiliano Sala, Horacio, has died suddenly in Argentina.

It has been reported that Horacio, 58, suffered a heart attack and died before paramedics arrived at the Sala family home in Progreso, Argentina.

The mayor of Progreso, Julio Muller, confirmed to radio station La Red that Horacio Sala had passed away and that a ‘heart issue’ was the cause.

“The partner of Horacio called me at five in the morning. The doctors were already there. When he left his home, he had already died,” Muller said. “He could never get over Emi’s death.”

This terrible news for the Sala family comes just over three months since Emiliano tragically died in a plane crash in the English Channel. The Argentine striker was flying back from Nantes to his new home of Cardiff, just two days after completing a club-record $19 million transfer to the Premier League side.

An investigation into why the small aircraft flying Sala crashed continues, as his body has been recovered from the English Channel but pilot David Ibbotson, the only other person on board, has never been found.

Cardiff City and Nantes are currently in discussions with legal teams and FIFA over the payment of the transfer fee and other funds that were due to Sala, and now his family, after his big move to the PL in January.

Clubs push for promotion-relegation in European competitions

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LONDON (AP) The head of the European Club Association says the existing Champions League format should be overhauled to introduce promotion and relegation.

ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli, who runs Juventus, wrote in a letter to the organization’s 232 clubs that “European matches with higher sporting quality and a more competitive environment at all levels” are desired.

That points to more games between elite clubs in a formatted Champions League after 2024 rather than less attractive games that can feature in the group stage.

Agnelli wrote “a pyramidal Pan European League System with continuity and opportunity to grow from within enhancement of mobility and dynamism across the system through carefully applied promotion and relegation.”

While stressing that entry to competitions should be on “sporting meritocracy, not historical privilege,” Agnelli says European competitions should be “open to all – keeping the dream alive.”

Agnelli has told his members to boycott a meeting being staged by the European Leagues group in Madrid on May 6-7.

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

U.S. Soccer makes it official: USMNT’s first Gold Cup tuneup to be vs. Jamaica

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It will be a rematch of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup final as the U.S. begins its preparations for this summer’s Gold Cup.

U.S. Soccer announced that the U.S. Men’s National Team will host Jamaica in a friendly match on June 5 in Washington D.C. at Audi Field, the home of D.C. United. Jamaica, ranked No. 53 in FIFA’s latest world rankings, has made the finals of each of the last two Gold Cups, and they’ll be hosting matches at the Gold Cup for the first time in tournament history in this year’s edition.

“As we prepare for the start of the Gold Cup, this is the perfect opportunity in terms of opponent and venue,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said in a statement. “Playing against Jamaica we get exposure to another different style of play, and one that we may see later in the tournament. For us, there’s always something special about playing in the nation’s capital. There have been so many memorable games for the National Team in Washington, D.C., and now we look forward to beginning another chapter in the new stadium.”

For the U.S., it’s a strong test and part of a really solid 1-2 punch of friendly matches, beginning with Jamaica and then Venezuela ahead of the Gold Cup. Berhalter is hoping it will prepare the U.S. for battles with Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Should the U.S. advance, it could face potentially Jamaica, Honduras, or even El Salvador in the quarterfinals or semifinals, with a trip to the final on the line.

Gregg Berhalter has just a few weeks before he has to make one of his first big decisions, albiet one with a lot of flexibility. By May 16, Berhalter must submit to CONCACAF his provisional Gold Cup squad, which can include up to 40 players and four goalkeepers. By Monday, June 3, just two days before this friendly match against Jamaica, Berhalter must submit his final roster of 23 players, including three goalkeepers.

Berhalter, any any coach, has up until 24 hours until the USMNT’s first game (on June 18) to make any emergency replacements. As such, it’s likely that Berhalter will carry more than 23 players with him when the U.S. plays Jamaica and Venezuela.