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New CONCACAF World Cup qualifying structure is downright outrageous

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On Wednesday, CONCACAF released its new model for qualification to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. While the number of qualifying teams stays the same – three-and-a-half – the new method is an utterly baffling concoction of wealth division and competitive nonsense that leaves teams at the bottom with almost no prayer of competing and those in the middle suddenly confused at where they fit in.

CONCACAF released a video combing through its new qualification method, stating that teams will be tiered by FIFA rankings, with those at the top gaining a significant, almost insurmountable advantage. While CONCACAF qualifying has always been segmented in the recent past, with teams like Bermuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, and Montserrat forced to slog through three rounds of preliminary qualifiers before reaching the meat and potatoes, the top teams like Mexico, the United States, and Costa Rica still had to play through a group stage before reaching the famous Hex.

Now, in the new format, the top six FIFA-ranked CONCACAF sides go straight through to the Hex, no group stage needed, with the top three earning CONCACAF’s three automatic qualifying bid. Meanwhile, the bottom 29 – twenty-nine teams! – are unable to earn an automatic bid at all, instead playing a Champions League-like group stage/knockout round combo for a spot in a playoff against the Hex’s fourth-place side for one half-bid, with the winner entering into the intercontinental playoff against a TBA federation. Breathe, you’re not the only one confused.

Right away, the North American federation has succumbed to an outrageous imbalance of power, with the infamously imperfect FIFA rankings dictating who is even eligible for a World Cup automatic bid and who is only good enough for a half-bid via a long and arduous trek through a series of lower-level matches before a playoff against the Hex’s fourth-place finisher?

CONCACAF will argue it is actually doing the lower-tiered teams a favor, giving one of them a better opportunity to reach a World Cup as they are separated from the top teams and able to compete against themselves for the chance at a spot, but in reality, the federation is creating a gargantuan rift that could see an exhausted an ill-equipped team set up for an intercontinental slaughter. While the federation wished to avoid having three-quarters of the teams eliminated two years out from the big dance – a legitimate problem – this new format hardly solves that issue, seeing the bottom-tier group stage concluding by the fall of 2020, with 21 teams eliminated at that point. The knockout stage will then eliminate another four teams in March 2021, and another two in June. For the top teams, they will play six fewer competitive games with the straight shot into the Hex, instead leaving them with just five international windows of Hexagonal games (September, October, and November of 2020 plus March and September of 2021) to savor.

The federation is also robbed of its more intriguing matchups, with the top teams now unable to play the likes of Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, Haiti, or St. Vincent & the Grenadines, all who made the group stage last qualifying cycle and got a chance to pit themselves against the best. Trinidad & Tobago surprised and reached the Hex, while Guatemala and Canada came close in fun matchups that mattered.

In addition, the system creates a confusing dilemma for those teams on the cusp of the Hex. Is it better for a team on the edge like El Salvador, Panama, or Canada to be in the top-tier round robin with a shot at an automatic bid should they surprise over the course of 10 matches? Remember, the bottom two teams in the Hex are fully eliminated. Or is it better to be in the lower-tier creation against theoretically lesser opponents, only able to earn the half-bid but progressing as the favored side for much of the qualifying cycle? If they prefer the latter, would teams throw games between now and then to drop in the rankings and not risk a spot in the Hex?

While there are understandable problems the federation looked to solve with a new qualification format, their creation instead raises far more questions than it solves, and creating a significant power division using an imperfect ranking system spells disaster before the cycle even gets under way. While the old system had its drawbacks, this is unquestionably a step back for the federation that sees competitive balance further eroded instead of progress forward.

Premier League social media wrap: Brighton, teqball, remembering Tiote

Premier League social media
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Premier League sides are fully back in the flow of training with scheduled matches coming within a fortnight.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

So it’s no surprise that banter’s back, too.

That’s where we’ll start Friday, with Irish center back Shane Duffy making sure he’s keeping things light as Brighton and Hove Albion prepares to defend its Premier League place.

Duffy turned a sprinkler on his teammates at training, showing that, yes, your high school career has some things in common with Premier League footballers.

How about some skills as Manchester United gets ready for its return to the PL pitch?

Bruno Fernandes and Andreas Pereira tangled with Fred and Diogo Dalot in a match of Teqball.

You’ll have to watch to see who won.

There’s also a sad anniversary on this day.

It’s been three years since former Newcastle United wrecking ball Cheick Tiote passed away at age 30 after collapsing during a training session with Chinese side Beijing Enterprises, causing shock and grief around the Premier League.

His former teammates were remembering him on Friday, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner was definitely beloved and will always be remembered for his incredible goal to cap off Newcastle’s 4-4 comeback draw with Arsenal.

We’ll start with Norwich City backstop Tim Krul, who spent time with Tiote at Newcastle.

Former Magpies wizard Yohan Cabaye pinned an old memorial to his Twitter wall.

 

Preview: Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha preview, how to watch
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Four Bundesliga teams are unbeaten in their last five matches and Hertha Berlin is the unlikeliest of the bunch.

They’ll tangle with Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday in the latest challenge of the Bruno Labaddia era in Berlin.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Labbadia is Hertha’s third manager of the season and Hertha has played a scrappy brand of football that has punched and counter-punched under his tutelage. That doesn’t mean they’ve failed to find finish, as Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic and Brazilian youngster Matheus Cunha have been potent.

Borussia Dortmund is a bigger ask, though Hertha made RB Leipzig make mistakes in a 2-2 tie.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Will it be able to get a result at the Westfalenstadion? Perhaps this is a bridge too far, because Dortmund’s shown an explosive offense and its defense has been strong far more often than not this season.

That said, Erling Haaland is just returning to fitness and has just one goal since the league’s restart from the coronavirus pause. Mats Hummels will miss with a yellow card suspension and Marco Reus still isn’t back.

Maybe American teen Giovanni Reyna will get prolonged run along with Jadon Sancho. We’ll see!

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin, how to watch

  • TV Channels: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)
  • When: Saturday, June 6 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Dortmund v. Hertha

Sheffield United season restart preview

Sheffield United season restart preview
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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Sheffield United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Blades when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Sheffield United has welcomed itself to the Premier League and put its feet up on the big boys’ tables while asking what’s for dinner. Blades sit seventh and will hope to continue a fairytale which has them on the precipice of the Europa League. Their fixture list in monstrous, especially at Bramall Lane, but Wilder’s proven capable of outwitting even the smartest of bosses for long periods of time. A name to remember is Simon Moore. The backup keeper and starter from Blades’ League One days could become vital should Manchester United defy expectation and pull Dean Henderson home from his loan upon its June 30 expiry.

[ MORE: Ranking every Southampton player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: Chris Wilder has flummoxed many a Premier League manager with his creative use of defenders in attack. United typically uses Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham as a back-3 with Enda Stevens and George Baldock as the two wingbacks. Those players have accounted for six of United’s 18 PL assists this season. For more on the tactics, Wilder laid things out in entertaining fashion for Arlo White late last month.


Possible XI (3-5-2) 

—– Henderson* —–

— Basham — O’Connell — Egan —

— Baldock — Fleck —  Berge —– Norwood — Stevens—

—– McBurnie —– Mousset —–

The challenge here is fitting January signing Berge into the mix, as fellow central midfielders John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, and John Lundstram have been instrumental in this amazing season. Lundstram seems the most likely to cede his spot if someone will, which really says something about Berge’s immense talent. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp have provided a lot up top, so McBurnie and Mousset will see plenty of time on the bench. And the biggest question of all is Henderson, who’s on loan from top seven rival Manchester United.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Sheffield United’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea, Everton
Away: Newcastle, Manchester United, Burnley, Leicester City, Southampton

Predicted finish: The Blades will get the chance to defend their home turf from not one, not two, not three, but four would-be European rivals (It’s a little generous to include Everton, but the talent is there). Throw in Leicester and Manchesteer United away, and there is a huge bridge to cross for Wilder’s men to keep their incredible season on the path toward unprecedented heights. It’s not just about keeping Spurs and Arsenal in the rear view mirror, as Blades meet the next four teams above their seventh-place footing.

Petersen’s header leads Freiburg past 10-man Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach recap
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Nils Petersen’s second half goal led Freiburg to a huge 1-0 win over 10-man Borussia Monchengladbach at the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday.

Freiburg keeps its Europa League hopes alive by moving onto 41 points, one behind sixth and seventh.

Gladbach fails in a bid to go third and remains fourth with 56 points, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential.

A second yellow card to Plea was a double curse to Gladbach, who went down a man and now will miss a star forward against Bayern Munich.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Bayer’s Ramy Bensebaini utilized a slick backheel turn to nutmeg an opponent and send in a cross that was put out for a corner kick.

Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow made a tight-angle save on Alassane Plea just after the quarter-hour mark.

Gladbach saw a chance chalked off after two dangerous bids resulted in an offside deflection into the goal.

Florian Neuhaus came close to scoring again when Lars Stindl headed the penultimate move of a fine team play into the six, but he popped it over the frame.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Gladbach’s second half again settled into the Freiburg final third, but it was a home sub that paid dividends at the other end.

Petersen improved his club record for goals when he nodded Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick home in the 59th.

Stindl wasn’t too far from equalizing with a 17-yard shot at the hour mark, but Plea’s second yellow card damaged Gladbach’s hopes of a comeback.