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What counts as Gold Cup success for USMNT?

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The United States men’s national team has the good and bad fortune of playing in CONCACAF, which means it will qualify for every nearly World Cup by showing up and playing within a standard deviation of their average.

The same is true for their chances at making deep runs in the Gold Cup. Since 1985, the Yanks have qualified for 11 of 16 Finals, winning six. Only twice has it finished worse than a third place game appearance, not once since 2000.

[ MORE: U.S. falls in FIFA rankings ]

So that’s why looking like a pile of lukewarm leftovers against Jamaica and Venezuela shouldn’t change perspective on this month’s tournament. Not only are Gregg Berhalter’s men at home, but the path to the final gives them three games to prepare for a true knockout round test and — should they find their footing — two more before meeting Costa Rica or Mexico.

That said, the U.S. may well finish second in the group and get smoked by Honduras or Jamaica in the Round of 16. Falling behind both Panama and Trinidad and Tobago in the group stage would be inexcusable and could see Earnie Stewart canning a coach far earlier than expected, though the reasons utilized would be injuries to Tyler Adams and John Brooks.

However, if the reason is because Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes are starting over healthy Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in meaningful matches, well…

Anyway, let’s deal in potential. This is the best possible XI you could cull from the United States’ roster.

Steffen

Lima — Gonzalez — Miazga — Lovitz

McKennie — Bradley

 Pulisic — Holmes — Boyd

Altidore

This is no mere superiority complex: That team, even with Berhalter’s suspected removal of Holmes, Lovitz, and Boyd to play Arriola, Roldan, and Ream, is enough to crush Guyana and handle T&T en route to a group-deciding match with Panama.

The next round isn’t so simple, which is why finishing a tournament history-worst seventh or eighth isn’t out of the question. Honduras or Jamaica will be a challenge at the back, and both have the horses to press a suspect possession team (Hopefully Bradley will help alleviate those concerns).

Prediction after prediction has the United States in the final. And I think the probability points to that. Losing to Jamaica twice on home soil within a month would be really bad, and neither Honduras nor Panama had better World Cup qualifying runs than the Yanks. Honduras, to its credit, was young, but Panama only finished above the U.S. via a goal that did not cross the line. CONCACAF.

As for the other side of the bracket, even second-choice Mexico is too much for this U.S. team (though anything can happen over 90-120 minutes) and Costa Rica. El Tri will be waiting in the final, even having to work out the kinks under Tata Martino.

My main worry is the depth already being tested in this tournament. In my above lineup, Lima and Holmes is only in because Sebastian Lletget, DeAndre Yedlin, and Tyler Adams are unavailable. And Zardes and Jordan Morris as the back-up options to Altidore at center forward present less attraction than Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, and even Tim Weah.

The over/under for matches at the Gold Cup is four, with a push being a legit probability for the first time in a while. Under or a push would be a monumental, unavoidable, and inexcusable departure from the plan for 2022 World Cup qualification.

Which way would you bet? Oddsmakers still have the USMNT as the second-favorite to win the whole thing, closer to favorites Mexico than third-best Costa Rica. One site even has El Tri and the U.S. as joint favorites.

That’s something. And adding Pulisic and McKennie is huge. Should we be hesitant because Berhalter’s half-strength Yanks looked terrible against Jamaica and Venezuela? Probably not, but let’s wait until we see the lineups against Guyana and T&T.

Cole returns to Chelsea as youth team coach

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One of Chelsea’s best players in club history is back at his old stomping grounds in a new role.

Chelsea finally confirmed over their social media channels that former left back Ashley Cole is back at the club coaching in the academy, helping the next generation of stars grow and learn the games. Specifically, Cole is coaching the U-15 squad.

[READ: Top Premier League Storylines]

“I’m also doing my badges at the moment and so being here at Chelsea means I have the chance to coach every day, whereas maybe if I wasn’t working at a club it would be hard for me to get the hours in,” Cole told Chelsea’s website. “I’m learning not just how to be a coach and how to speak to people in a different environment but the side of coaching that you don’t see like planning the sessions and setting up the equipment.

“As a player, you just turn up for a session and do it. If it’s a possession drill, you just arrive and try to keep the ball but now I’m getting to understand that there are always ideas behind a particular session or practice. Organization has to be key and those are the little details that it takes to be a great coach.”

While plenty from Cole’s era have moved into the media for lucrative punditry roles, it’s nice to see players like Cole and his former teammate Frank Lampard, now Chelsea coach, go into coaching to help pass on some of the great lessons they’ve learned during their careers. .

Cole said in the interview that he wasn’t sure what was next after playing three seasons for the LA Galaxy and then joining Lampard at Derby County for the second half of last season. He added that he got his first taste of coaching kids while with the Galaxy, helping some of the academy players and taking part in video sessions.

“The Academy are very good at giving ex-players a route back to the club and a chance to learn as coaches,” Cole said. “They’re eager to bring in people who understand what it means to be at Chelsea and what it means to wear the badge. You have to be a top player to play for Chelsea so they want those top ex-players influencing and trying to help the next generation develop and be better players.”

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.