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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.

Europa League: Rangers, Aberdeen, FCSB advance in first qualifying round

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The first qualifying round of the 2019/20 Europa League wrapped up Thursday as the competition pairs down teams en route to the group stage.

A couple of notable teams lived to see another day, including Steven Gerrard and Scottish side Rangers who passed its test with flying colors, hammering Gibraltar side St. Joseph’s 6-0 for a resounding 10-0 aggregate win. Jermaine Defoe scored a late brace but Colombian international Alfredo Morelos was the man of the hour, bagging a hat-trick including a stunning rabona at the doorstep that probably wasn’t necessary but still found the back of the net.

Fellow Scottish side Aberdeen who topped Finnish club Rovaniemen Palloseura – or RoPS – 2-1 for a 4-2 aggregate victory. English striker Sam Cosgrove put Aberdeen in front from the penalty spot in the 26th minute, and 19-year-old Scottish youth international Lewis Ferguson picked up the late game winner in the 94th minute with essentially the last kick of the game.

FCSB, previously known as Steaua Bucuresti, knocked off Moldovan club FC Milsami Orhei 2-1 for a 4-1 aggregate victory. FCSB, who finished second in the Romanian top flight last season, got the winning strike from 21-year-old Romanian youth international Razvan Oaida in the 42nd minute to give FCSB the victory.

Danish club Brondby advanced despite a 2-0 road loss, topping Finnish side FC Inter Turku 4-3 on aggregate thanks to their 4-1 victory in the first leg. Turku struck twice in quick succession after the break, scoring in the 52nd and 56th minutes, but it was too little too late.

Legia Warsaw shook off a 0-0 first leg draw and secured a 3-0 win over aptly-named Gibraltar side FC Europa. A brace from Spanish striker Carlitos led the way, with goals in the 7th minute and 60th minute to set the pace for the Polish side.

Irish club Shamrock Rovers advanced over Norwegian side SK Brann on a late winner by new signing Gary O'Neil who bagged an 87th minute strike to secure the 2-0 win and lead the Irish side through 4-3 on aggregate. O’Neil only just joined Shamrock Rovers from UCD this summer, and he came off the bench for the final 10 minutes and found the winner.

Swedish club Malmo, famous as Zlatan Ibrahimovic‘s boyhood club, finished off Ballymena out of Northern Ireland 4-0 for a 11-0 aggregate bashing. Malmo featured four different goalscorers, including American international Romain Gall, who picked up his only international cap with a late bench appearances against Italy back in late 2018.

Croatian side Hajduk Split was upset by Maltese club Gzira United 3-1 at home, which gave the visitors the win on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate tie. Gzira striker Ben Hamed Kone struck for a pair, including the game – and matchup – winner in the 97th minute that sent the Maltese side through. The two goals were utterly spectacular, with the first coming in the 69th minute on a bicycle kick from all the way at the top of the box, while his second was a flick from nearly the same position that sent them through.

All Europa League scores (bold team advances)

Rangers 6-0 St. Joseph’s
Ballymena 0-4 Malmo FF
Legia Warsaw 
3-0 FC Europa
FC Milsami 1-2 FCSB
RoPS 1-2 Aberdeen
FC Inter Turku 2-0 Bronby
Apollon Limassol 
4-0 Kauno Zalgiris
Hapoel Be’er 1-0 KF Laci
Hajduk Split 1-3 Gzira United
Kilmarnock 0-2 Connah’s Quay
KR Reykjavik 0-0 Molde
Shamrock Rovers 
2-0 SK Brann
Hapoel Be’er 1-0 KF Laci
Tobol Kostanay 1-1 Jeunesse Eche 
FK Makedonija 0-3 Alashkert FC
Kairat Almaty
2-1 Siroki Brijeg
KS Teuta 1-0 FK Ventspils
FC Levadia Tallinn 3-2 Stjarnan
Rigas Futbola Skola 0-2 Olimpija Ljubljana
Universitatea Craiova 
3-2 Sabail
Dinamo Minsk 1-2 FK Liepaja
Levski Sofia 2-0 MFK Ruzomberok
Cracovia 2-2 Dunajska Streda
FC Vaduz 
2-1 Breidablik
Haugesund 5-1 Cliftonville
Neftchi 6-0 Speranta Nisporeni
Petrocub-Hincesti 0-1 AEK Larnaca
Torpedo Kutaisi 0-2 Ordabasy Shymkent
Zalgiris Vilnius 1-1 Honved
Zrinjski Mostar 
3-0 Akademija Pandev
Progres Niederkorn 1-2 Cork
UE Engordany 0-1 Dinamo Tbilisi
B36 Torshavn 2-3 Crusaders
FK Kukesi 1-1 Debrecen
Hibernians 0-1 Shakhter Soligorsk
IFK Norrkoping 
2-1 St. Patrick’s
NS Mura 2-3 Maccabi Haifa
Vidi 0-0 FK Zeta
FC Vitebsk 1-1 KuPS Kuopio
Shkupi 1-2 Pyunik
Buducnost Podgorica 4-0 JK Narva Trans
FC Spartak Trnava 2-0 Radnik Bijeljina
NK Domzale 1-0 Balzan FC
Radnicki Nis 2-2 Flora

Report: Barcelona logs bid for Neymar

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According to a report by Sky Sports, Barcelona has officially submitted an offer to Paris Saint-Germain for Brazilian superstar Neymar that includes a $113 million cash component as well as a two-player offer that PSG can choose from.

The report states that Barcelona submitted a six-player list to PSG which includes Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Ivan Rakitic, Nelson Semedo, and Malcom. PSG can reportedly pick two from those six players, and the deal would be complete. Sky Sports did not know the identity of the sixth player at the time of the initial report.

Neymar has become unsettled at PSG after his time in France has been marred by suspensions and disappointing results in European play. He was involved in an altercation with a fan after PSG fell to Stade Rennais in the Coupe de France final in May, and has been accused of rape this summer by a Brazilian girl he flew to Paris late last season. Neymar was also suspended for three upcoming Champions League matches for critical comments made on his Instagram page after PSG was beaten by Manchester United this past spring.

Neymar has reportedly told PSG sporting director Leonardo that he wishes to leave the club in a recent meeting following the Brazilian’s late arrival to PSG preseason training. He missed the Copa America this summer thanks to an ankle injury suffered in a pre-tournament friendly against Qatar.

Over the last two years at PSG after joining from Barcelona via a world-record $250 million transfer fee, Neymar has made 58 appearances, scoring 51 goals and assisting 29 more. However, he’s been eliminated from the Champions League Round of 16 both years, finding himself injured for at least the return leg of the knockout matchup in both years.

Watford downed late by Ajax in preseason friendly

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Watford went toe-to-toe with Champions League semifinalists Ajax for most of the match, but capitulated late as Dutch youth international Jurrien Timber scored an 89th minute winner in a 2-1 win for the Eredivisie side in Austria.

Andre Gray put the Hornets up from the penalty spot six minutes before the break as American youth international Sergino Dest was called for an unlucky handball in the box. Abdoulaye Doucoure danced through the box and as he looked to skip the ball past Dest, it popped up and caught the American’s arm. Gray delivered and put Watford 1-0 up at the break.

The lead would only last until the 51st minute when Dusan Tadic found himself on the ball at the end line on the right, and he cut back to Donny van de Beek through the dummy of Kasper Dolberg on the penalty spot for an easy low finish and a 1-1 scoreline. It would stay that way until one minute to go in regulation as Carel Eiting sent a ball into the box where the 18-year-old Timber lept with his back to goal and clipped the ball off the top of his head for the winner, burying the chance inside the far post.

Both teams featured strong lineups, as Watford ran out stars like Gray, Tom Cleverley, Adrian Mariappa, and former Eredivisie veteran Daryl Janmaat while Nathan Chalobah, Gerard Deulofeu, and Jose Holebas came off the bench. Ajax saw van de Beek, Tadic, Dolberg, and Daley Blind all make the starting lineup.

Next for Watford is a match against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday, also taking place in Austria.

Juventus goalkeeper Perin fails medical in Benfica move

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Juventus goalkeeper Mattia Perin, who has struggled with injuries in the past, has failed a medical ahead of a proposed $17 million move to Benfica.

The 26-year-old Italian international, who only joined Juventus last summer from Genoa, landed in Portugal last night ready to complete the singing of a five-year contract, but the shoulder injury he suffered back in April proved worrying to Benfica who said he would need up to four months of recovery in a club statement announcing the failed medical.

The statement said the Portuguese club was still interested in completing the transfer once the player has healed, and reports state he will return to Turin to continue treatment and rehab before making the move in the winter.

Perin spent most of last season backing up Wojciech Szczesny, and with the return of Gianluigi Buffon as backup, Perin found himself in the middle of even more competition. At 26 years old and with two international caps to his name, Perin is wise to seek more playing time to further his career.

Perin has struggled at times in his career with injuries, including tears of his ACL in both knees at separate times less than a year apart.

Benfica has three goalkeepers currently on its roster, with last year’s starter Odysseas Vlachodimos backed up by 22-year-old Ivan Zlobin and 19-year-old Mile Svilar. 24-year-old Bruno Varela was loaned out to Ajax this summer.