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Sargent’s Gold Cup exclusion is Berhalter’s first truly baffling USMNT decision

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If this was Jurgen Klinsmann, he’s be absolutely skewered.

Gregg Berhalter made his first true Klinsmann-esque head-scratcher when he released the final 23-man Gold Cup roster, leaving Josh Sargent at home in favor of fellow strikers Gyasi Zardes and Jordan Morris.

It’s an absolutely baffling decision with little upside, foresight, or thought put in the process. If this was Klinsmann at the helm, the pitchforks and torches would be out en masse.

The 19-year-old Werder Bremen frontman was brought into the preliminary Gold Cup squad at the expense of a position with the likes of Timothy Weah and Paxton Pomykal at the U-20 World Cup group, where Sargent would have likely been the first-choice striker ahead of Sebastian Soto. To be fair, Soto is having an excellent U-20 World Cup, with his brace helping topple the favorites France in their Round of 16 meeting.

Yet still, had Sargent been in Poland, he would have received gobs of playing time and been a first-team regular racking up meaningful minutes on the pitch. Berhalter sacrificed that to bring Sargent into the Gold Cup fold, a clear indication that the Missouri-born teen was firmly in the mix for a first-team role. This highlights the first of many reasons Sargent’s exclusion is a massive mistake by Berhalter and his USMNT front office…as a 19-year-old, what Sargent needs most is game time. If the decision-makers wished to sacrifice valuable minutes in a high-leverage tournament with Tab Ramos and company, it should have been to get Sargent time with the senior squad. That doesn’t mean he necessarily had to play a bunch at the Gold Cup; being with the senior squad alone is valuable enough for a player of his age to make a fair trade-off from U-20 World Cup time.

Consider what Tab Ramos said a month ago when the U-20 World Cup preliminary roster was announced, with Sargent’s inclusion. “We weren’t 100% sure because of the playing time situation, so I did put him on the 50-man roster, but it’s clear that he’s going into the summer with the senior national team. So it’s best that he continues to move in that direction.”

Clearly the intent was to have Sargent be with the senior squad for the long-term. Instead, the striker is now sitting on his couch this summer, neither racking up high-leverage minutes in Poland or gaining valuable experience with the senior squad. How does that make any sense? The potential successor to Jozy Altidore‘s throne is simply cast aside.

The above quotes from Berhalter after the loss to Jamaica Wednesday night provide the perfect transition to the second reason this is flat out wrong. Berhalter said Sargent is “the striker for the national team in the future,” yet the new head man would willingly sacrifice his development to include Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes on the Gold Cup roster, like the Gold Cup is some win-at-all-costs trophy that needs even backups and third-stringers to be tip-top game-ready. With the unceremonious death of the Confederations Cup, the Gold Cup is almost entirely meaningless. Yes, it still counts as the confederation’s main continental tournament, and it certainly provides a competitive bridge between four-year cycles to be taken seriously, but the ultimate goal of the USMNT is undoubtedly a successful end to World Cup qualification. Yet Berhalter is treating the Gold Cup like the World Cup itself, taking the very best 23 players instead of building for the future by making sure the team is as prepared as possible to qualify for Qatar 2022.

The Gold Cup should be taken for what it is: a meaningful tournament that gives the team a chance to gain minutes on the field together and prepare the future of the squad for the truly important World Cup qualifiers. Leaving Sargent at home for the likes of Zardes and Morris completely contradicts that. Even if Berhalter sacrificed a wide player like Tyler Boyd or Jonathan Lewis to keep four strikers just so Sargent could be with the team, it would have made more sense…there’s enough width on the roster between Paul Arriola and versatile players like Zardes, Christian Roldan, and Christian Pulisic that the team makeup would remain healthy.

Finally, for Berhalter to suggest that Sargent’s play on the field is far enough behind the likes of Zardes and Morris that it warrants his total exclusion from the squad – after he was kept home from Poland specifically for senior squad experience – is just flat out insulting to U.S. fans who know he could do the job against the likes of Panama and Trinidad & Tobago if necessitated. Surely the staff didn’t decide Sargent’s Gold Cup squad-readiness based on one B-team friendly against Jamaica where the entire attack was bogged down?

At 19 years old, Sargent is a bright talent and clearly Berhalter and company see him as the future of the USMNT attack. He doesn’t need rest after playing just 1,267 professional minutes this past season, including just 205 with the senior Werder Bremen squad. His development is still progressing, and for the kid to reach his full potential, he needs to be treated as the player the national team sees him becoming. Leaving him at home this summer because he’s not a first-team option – which in and of itself is debatable – is incredibly short-sighted and calls the true direction of Berhalter’s staff into serious question. This isn’t yet a fireable offense by any means, but after what fans were put through under Klinsmann, it harkens back to the German’s tenure full of baffling personnel decisions and questionable lineup choices that fans do not wish to be put through again. Recalling the previous incumbency by putting the Gold Cup on such a pedestal that it sacrifices the future of the national team in any way is enough to unearth bad memories and make any U.S. fan groan in disgust.

Spanish FA once again opposes La Liga match in U.S.

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For the second consecutive season, La Liga and Relevant Sports have proposed a league match to take place this winter in the U.S.

And once again, the La Liga proposal doesn’t have the support of its national soccer federation.

[READ: La Liga wants to move Villarreal-Atletico Madrid to Miami]

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), told reporters on Thursday that it would oppose the match taking place outside of Spain’s borders, keeping a consistent line in the sand on how far globalization can go in soccer.

“It would disrupt the competition,” Rubiales said, via AS. “To play a game in Miami, La Liga needs permission from five bodies that it doesn’t have.”

The five bodies Rubiales referred to are the RFEF, FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Last time around, Relevant Sports and La Liga announced a long-term, lucrative marketing contract to expand the brand’s footprint in the Americas, and soon after, petitioned to move Girona’s home game against Barcelona to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, the home stadium of Relevant Sports owner Stephen Ross and his Miami Dolphins.

Ultimately, La Liga president Javier Tebas and Relevant Sports were unable to get permission from the RFEF or FIFA to hold the event outside Spain and it went off as expected in Girona. At the time, Spain’s player’s union and fans groups opposed the move. Tebas has filed a lawsuit in Spain to try to force the RFEF to approve their request, but it seems unlikely to be awarded and it surely doesn’t provide any good will between the two parties.

There’s been plenty of talk about bringing league games abroad before, but it has just been talk so far. The Premier League considered adding an extra game to the season to be played all over the world, but never went through with creating plans for matches.

Associations – not leagues, to be clear – have brought things like Super Cups abroad. For example, the RFEF moved the 2018 Spanish Super Cup to Tangiers, Morocco, while the France Football Federation has brought its national Super Cup match to both the U.S. and Montreal, Canada in recent years. However, the argument in favor of bringing those games abroad is they’re basically meaningless. Meanwhile, one result in a league season could – in theory – determine whether a team is relegated or not, especially if the margin is three points or less.

We could see another legal fight on our hands, so watch this space, there’s plenty more to come.

Rodgers excuses Maddison’s behavior after England departure

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Leicester City and England midfielder James Maddison made headlines for the wrong reasons after he was pictured last week watching the England match at the Czech Republic from a casino.

Despite the negative attention from Maddison’s decision to watch the game at that venue, he has the backing of his club manager, Brendan Rodgers.

“The kid went away with the international team and took ill while he was away,” Rodgers said, via the Guardian. “He wanted to stay and hopefully be ready for the second game. But the England medical staff – which I can understand, as he had flu and they didn’t want that to spread to his teammates – decided it’s best for him to leave the camp. So he leaves, gets some tablets with our guys at the club, then he feels better.

“He watched the game at home on his own on the Friday and then goes out at half-time – probably he’ll make better decisions in his life but he went to a casino on his own to sit and watch the second half by a poker table. The suggestions are he left England purposelessly and then goes to a casino but that’s totally not the case at all. But his eyes have been opened now to the wider world in terms of what he did. He knows in hindsight he’s made a mistake.”

Considering all that went on during England’s international break, from the poor performance in Prague to the horrible racism endured in Bulgaria, this is a bit of a silly scandal. To be honest, as long as Maddison is taking care of his body and himself, why does it matter if he was at a casino, or a pub, or anywhere?

However, there’s no denying that the optics look bad. Folks didn’t know that he arrived to England camp with the flu, or a flu-like illness at least, and the England medical staff are right to send him away to make sure no one else gets sick. He may have been feeling better by Friday and wanted to get out of the house. I think we’ve all been there after being sick for a few days.

The most important lesson for Maddison is to learn that his actions, out of context, can be misunderstood. In terms of soccer, after Ross Barkley’s performance for England, Maddison will have to prove in his club form that he should still have a place in the England team for the near future. There’s only two more international dates left before the 2020 Euros, so time is running out for Maddison to make an impact to Southgate.

Tierney, Lacazette available for Arsenal

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Arsenal are edging closer to finally having a full-strength squad.

Ahead of Monday’s prime-time matchup with Sheffield United, Arsenal manager Unai Emery confirmed that Kieran Tierney was in line to make his Premier League debut, while Alexandre Lacazette was back in full training and should be in the gameday squad.

“Today is Lacazette’s first training back with us,” Emery said in a press conference on Thursday. “He finished it well and he’s feeling well with his injuries. Tomorrow we will be training again and he will be with us. We will decide.

“The most important thing is that first he is training, then secondly it’s whether he can be with us and it depends how he can feel in the next days training with us, whether his ankle is not giving him any more problems.”

This is a huge boost to Arsenal, which has had to rely on some youngsters and have made some lineup changes to accommodate not having Lacazette on the field. Tierney meanwhile could step into a position where there’s already a decent starter, Sead Kolasinac.

Lacazette’s return also couldn’t have come at a better time. In Premier League action, Arsenal’s high-powered offense has been stymied, scoring just two goals in the last two league games. Meanwhile, against weaker defenses in the UEFA Europa League and the Carabao Cup, Arsenal has bagged a total of 12 goals.

The veteran Frenchman has scored two goals in three appearances so far this season, including a big goal just before halftime in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham. However, he suffered a long-term ankle injury in that match that has kept him on the sidelines for more than a month.

“[Tierney is] ready to play,” Emery later said. Now we have two options in that left-back role with Sead Kolasinac and him. We’re going to play a lot of matches after Monday. We will need every player. It depends how he comes into the first training with us, Sead, after his international matches. We now have two players in that position and we can use one on Monday, it depends how they are, one or the other.”

Tierney, the 22-year-old Scottish left back, has made two appearances for the Arsenal first team since recovering from a double hernia operation over the summer. Signed from Celtic for around $32 million, Tierney adds a skill that Kolasinac has struggled with – expert crosser of the ball into the box, where the likes of Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can score when given a decent chance.

USWNT star Rapinoe, boxer Shields win sportswomen of year

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Soccer star Megan Rapinoe and boxer Claressa Shields have been honored as Sportswomen of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

They won in the team and individual categories, the awards coming at the foundation’s 40th annual Salute to Women in Sports.

Rapinoe led the U.S. to victory at the World Cup in France and earned the FIFA Player of the Year award. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and middleweight champion.

Sheila Johnson, part-owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and recent WNBA champion Mystics, won the Billie Jean King Leadership Award. Marta Vieira da Silva, star of the Brazilian national soccer team, won the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award.

Rapinoe thanked her teammates Wednesday night and lauded Marta, a six-time FIFA Player of the Year, calling the Brazilian the greatest of all time and an “absolute hero in our sport.”

John Burke, president of the Trek Bicycle company, received the inaugural Champion for Equality Award.