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Klinsmann: USMNT could have made semifinals in Russia

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In an alternate universe, the U.S. Men’s National Team not only qualifies for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but advances to the semifinals.

This is the universe that’s occupied by former USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann. In a pair of interviews with Yahoo Sports and Sports Illustrated that were posted this week, Klinsmann stated he could see the U.S. making a semifinal in either Russia or the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

[READ: Wilshere disappointed to not be selected for World Cup]

“I realistically saw a group growing into the World Cup 2018 that could go into a semifinal,” Klinsmann said.

Klinsmann added later in the interview, “It was so valuable to play Copa America because it gave the players a sense of where they were, that they can beat South American opponents, good teams like Paraguay, Ecuador,” he said. “I think it was really huge for that group of players.”

Obviously this is bonkers on so many levels. The U.S. were on a downward spiral following the 2014 World Cup and the horrendous defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica back to back to open up the Hex were the last straw.

Due to the “lost generation” of players, Klinsmann and his successor Bruce Arena had to over rely on aging stars like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley as well as young players like Christian Pulisic, who at the time was just 18-years old and was too young to put the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders.

It’s easy for Klinsmann to go on a redemption tour a month out of the World Cup and claim what could have been, and perhaps it’s not necessarily his fault that the likes of Bobby Wood, Brek Shea, Gyasi Zardes, Matt Hedges and many others never developed into top-level players like Dempsey and Bradley. But while it’s likely the U.S. would have qualified, the World Cup squad would have to look a lot younger than the qualifying squad – Arena admitted as much last year.

And it’s unlikely such a young squad could have made a run to the semifinals.

Rivalry Hijinks: Timbers tease the Sounders before match (video)

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The salvos are being launched well before Sunday’s rivalry game between the Portland Timbers and the Seattle Sounders.

It will be the 100th meeting between the two Pacific Northwest teams, dating back to a rainy May day in 1975 when both teams were in the North American Soccer League.

The Timbers put out a mock-documentary about the rivalry Tuesday, poking fun at Seattle’s traffic, the departure of the SuperSonics and even Clint Dempsey‘s ill-fated attempt at rap. It points out that Portland won its MLS Cup championship before the Sounders got theirs.

[ MORE: Rooney’s proposed DC move has good precedence ]

Despite the chiding, the Sounders rule the all-time series 50-35-14 across all competitions. There have been many memorable (or notorious) moments, including the U.S. Open Cup match in 2008 when Seattle’s Roger Levesque mimicked chopping down a tree after scoring on Portland’s field, drawing the ire of fans.

The mockumentary came after the Sounders set up a special (and more serious) website to commemorate the 100th meeting, highlighting mostly Seattle’s triumphs, calling it the “most important soccer rivalry in the U.S.”

Sunday’s match features a pair of teams had appeared headed in different directions.

The Timbers, after losing the first five games of the season (all on the road), have won three straight, including last weekend’s 1-0 victory at San Jose.

“We’ve been building exactly for these type of matches,” Portland coach Giovanni Savarese said. “Once you build the mentality, once you build the group that wants to play together, we go (in the game) with an idea. But the important thing is, throughout the match, the guys have to be mature and be able to achieve a good result.”

The Sounders were struggling with just one victory win this season for last place in the Western Conference, but got a big boost with a 2-1 victory against Toronto on the road Wednesday night. The two teams have met in the MLS Cup finals the past two years.

There’s a twist to this Mother’s Day match: It will NOT be the first of the annual Cascadia Cup competition.

The Cascadia Cup, invented by fans in 2004, goes to the winner of a three-way rivalry with the Vancouver Whitecaps. It is traditionally awarded on points.

But this season the schedule between the three teams is unbalanced. So the Cascadia Cup Council decided in March that this first match between the Sounders and Timbers would not count. Portland is the defending Cascadia Cup champion.

It will be Savarese’s first rivalry match. He joined the Timbers in the offseason after the team parted ways with Caleb Porter.

“For me to have the fortune to be here at this moment, for this game, I’m a lucky person,” Savarese said, “because I understand the importance of the match and I understand the importance for the fans and I understand the importance for our season.”

MATCH OF THE WEEK: In addition to the match between the Sounders and the Timbers, Atlanta United visits Orlando City on Sunday. The Lions have won a club-record six straight games, including last Sunday’s 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake.

Afterward, coach Jason Kreis said Orlando needs to guard against complacency.

“It’s about trying to improve week by week. It’s also about staying hungry, because the truth of the matter is we’ve won six games in a row but we haven’t won anything at all,” Kreis said.

They’ll get a challenge in Atlanta, which was unbeaten in seven straight matches, compiling a 7-1-1 record heading into Wednesday night’s game against Sporting Kansas City.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti has been named the league’s Player of the Week after getting a goal and three assists last weekend in the Impact’s 4-2 victory over the New England Revolution.

The Argentine attacker is tied for the league lead with six total assists this season. He has five goals and is one of just four players this season with a hat trick.

Against the Revolution, he became the third player in team history to reach 100 career MLS games.

ALTIDORE OUT: Toronto forward Jozy Altidore had surgery Tuesday to remove bone fragments from his foot. He is expected to miss four to six weeks. Altidore has five goals in 11 appearances this season. He scored his 50th goal for Toronto in March.

ROONEY RUMOR: The Washington Post reports that D.C. United is in discussions to acquire English striker Wayne Rooney.

Rooney, 32, spent last season with Everton after 13 memorable seasons with Manchester United. He is the top career scorer for England’s national team, with 53 goals in 119 appearances from 2003 to 2016.

He has a year left on his contract with Everton. The transfer window opens July 10.

Championship playoff primer: Who’s coming up?

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The story lines for the 2017-18 Football League Championship playoffs are many.

Aston Villa is looking to return to the Premier League, where it was a mainstay for so long, while Fulham competed in the Europa League within the past decade.

[ MORE: Iniesta to Japan? ]

Derby County has been knocking on the door to return to the top flight on a near annual basis, while Middlesbrough is bidding to go one-and-done in the second tier.

So here’s a bit of a cheat sheet ahead of the weekend’s semifinal first legs, as only one of the quartet can joins Wolves and Cardiff City as promoted sides.

Schedule

Derby County vs. Fulham — 2:45 p.m. ET Friday

Middlesbrough vs. Aston Villa — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Fulham vs. Derby County — 2:45 p.m. May 14

Aston Villa vs. Middlesbrough — 2:45 p.m. May 15

Top scorers

Derby County – Matej Vydra, 21 goals

Aston Villa – Lewis Grabban, 20

Fulham – Ryan Sessegnon, 15

Middlesbrough – Britt Assombalonga, 15

History

Last Premier League season
Middlesbrough 2016-17
Aston Villa 2015-16
Fulham 2013-14
Derby County 2007-08

American connections
Fulham has two Americans on its current roster: mainstay defender Tim Ream and young midfielder Luca de la Torre. Some of the U.S. most recognizable names have played for Fulham, including Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, and Kasey Keller. Eddie Johnson, Eddie Lewis, and Emerson Hyndman have also played for the team once nicknamed Fulhamerica.

Aston Villa was the long time home of USMNT backstop Brad Guzan, and Eric Lichaj also spent a good period of time in Birmingham. Michael Bradley and Brad Friedel also played for Villa.

Derby County‘s American alums include Benny Feilhaber, Eddie Lewis, and Ian Feuer.

Middlesbrough had Guzan on the squad for its 2016-17 relegation campaign.

Best top flight finish
Aston Villa – 7 top flight titles
Derby County – 2 top flight titles
Middlesbrough – 3rd place in 1913-14
Fulham – 7th place in 2008-09

 

So… how could the USMNT line up at its next tournament?

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The United States men’s national team has one goal over the next 18 months since they decided to take a break from their regular World Cup participation.

That goal? Qualify for the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar*.

[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards ]

(Insert next full-time coach’s name here)’s Yanks have not one but two paths to that appetizer for the 2022 World Cup. As the 2016 Gold Cup champions, they’ve guaranteed at worst a place in the 2020 CONCACAF Cup against the 2019 Gold Cup winner.

Or, and follow me here, they could win the 2019 Gold Cup and eliminate such a CONCACAF Cup.

Being CONCACAF, any number of things could happen during the tournament, but we learned something when the U.S. was not invited to the 2019 Copa America: Without a second tournament, Mexico, the U.S., Costa Rica, and friends will have access to their A-plus group of players should they desire to treat the competition seriously.

For the United States and (insert next full-time coach’s name here), it would be embarrassing to do anything less in the run-up to the return of World Cup qualifying the following Fall (though an expanded field could make qualifying for that tournament much closer to “just show up for a third of your games.”).

What will the United States’ top lineup look like come next summer? Well, the next 10-12 friendlies will tell us something, but plenty is up in the air. Assuming health, there are very few certainties in the group. Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, DeAndre Yedlin, and John Brooks are going and probably starting; Matt Miazga and Tyler Adams also seem close to locks.

Player pool (Ages come June 2019 in parenthesis)

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (28), Zack Steffen (24), Alex Bono (25), Jesse Gonzalez (24), Ethan Horvath (24), Jonathan Klinsmann (22), Matt Turner (24).

Defenders: Brooks (26), Yedlin (25), Miazga (23), Shaq Moore (22), Cameron Carter-Vickers (21), Erik Palmer-Brown (22), Auston Trusty (20), Tim Parker (26), Walker Zimmerman (26), Danilo Acosta (21), Geoff Cameron (33), Steve Birnbaum (28), Timmy Chandler (29), Justen Glad (22), Ben Sweat (28), Nick Lima (24), Reggie Cannon (20), Antonee Robinson (21), Aaron Long (26), Keegan Rosenberry (25).

Midfielders: Adams (20), McKennie (20), Marky Delgado (24), Kenny Saief (25), Michael Bradley (31), Paul Arriola (24), Sean Davis (26), Jacori Hayes (23), Brooks Lennon (21), Cristian Roldan (24), Darlington Nagbe (28), Wil Trapp (26), Lynden Gooch (23), Danny Williams (30), Kellyn Acosta (23), Kelyn Rowe (27), Andrew Carleton (18), Luca de la Torre (21), Ale Bedoya (32), Sebastian Lletget (26).

Forwards: Pulisic (20), Tim Weah (19), Bobby Wood (26), Andrija Novakovich (22), Gyasi Zardes (27), Jordan Morris (24), Josh Sargent (19), Jozy Altidore (29), Clint Dempsey (36), Aron Johannsson (28), Terrence Boyd (28), Juan Agudelo (28).

Pick your 23. Here’s our best guess — GK: Steffen, Horvath, Klinsmann. DEF: Brooks, Miazga, Carter-Vickers, Cameron, Chandler, Yedlin, Moore, Robinson. MID: Adams, McKennie, Delgado, Bradley, Roldan, Williams, K. Acosta, Saief. FWD: Pulisic, Wood, Altidore, Sargent.

And an XI: I think the captain Bradley is going to have to play his way out of his job at CM (unless his TFC transition to CB become full-time), so we won’t always see McKennie and Adams together is the center of the park. Robinson gets the left back gig unless Danilo Acosta makes great strides or the new coach thinks he can play Moore or Nick Lima on the other side of the pitch. We’ll go hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1, though Pulisic could well get every chance to be a No. 10 (and who knows where he’ll be playing next season in club ball).

Steffen

Yedlin — Brooks — Miazga — Robinson

McKennie — Bradley — Adams

Pulisic — Altidore — Saief

*-They still could move the 2021 Confederations Cup and 2022 World Cup from Qatar. It’s really not too late.

McKennie, Adams, Miazga in top tier of US Soccer player pool

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CHESTER, Pa. (AP) Midfielders Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams have played their way onto the top tier of the U.S. player pool along with defender Matt Miazga, according to interim coach Dave Sarachan, who says the trio would receive strong consideration for a World Cup roster if the Americans were headed to Russia in June.

[ MORE: Bayern 1-2 Real Madrid ]

With the U.S. rebuilding following its failure to qualify for the tournament, Sarachan will continue to rely on youth for upcoming exhibitions against Bolivia, Ireland and France.

Veterans such as Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley could have a role either in friendlies this autumn or when competitive matches resume in the summer of 2019.

“I do think those guys, some of them, will factor in, in terms of the Gold Cup, in terms of the next round of qualifying,” Sarachan said Wednesday. “I think it would be important to bring some of those veterans guys back.”

Dempsey, who turned 35 last month, is tied with Landon Donovan for the U.S. record of 57 international goals.

“The older guys, they’re valuable in the succession of everything, to mentor, to show these young guys what it really takes and what it is to be a part of the national team,” Sarachan said. “But as far as that goes, you know, sometimes a tie is all right, right? Share the spoils.”

Christian Pulisic, the Americans’ 19-year-old star midfielder, will be on the roster for the May 28 match against Bolivia in the Philadelphia suburbs. Pulisic, who is from Hershey, Pennsylvania, has not played for the national team since the 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October that eliminated the U.S. from World Cup contention.

While U.S. training starts May 21, Pulisic will report late so he can remain with Borussia Dortmund for a postseason exhibition at LAFC on May 22.

“He was pretty gutted after that game,” Sarachan said of the loss in Trinidad. “There’s a lot of demands of a guy like Christian. He’s being pulled in a lot of different directions. There’s still some speculation – this didn’t come from him directly – but I know that there’s some speculation that maybe he’ll move from Dortmund. So I know there’s a lot going on. And I’m trying to be helpful in the process to allow him a little wiggle room in terms of the national team now.”

Josh Sargent, the 18-year-old forward who joined Werder Bremen this year, also will be on the roster. The U.S. plays at Ireland on June 2 and at France on June 9, and Sarachan said many Europe-based players may skip the Bolivia match.

Sarachan was the top assistant to Bruce Arena, who quit after the U.S. failed to qualify. Sarachan would like to be considered for the job going forward, but new U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro plans to first hire a general manager for the men’s national team, a new position.

“I would only be guessing at this point if it’s someone in place before or after the World Cup,” Sarachan said of the GM.

The 63-year-old Sarachan coached Cornell from 1988-97 and the Chicago Fire from 2002-07. He does not consider himself to be an interim coach.

“I don’t like that term personally. I hate using the word interim,” he said. “I’m the men’s national soccer coach until they tell me I’m not. I’m not naive to think that I’m a slam-dunk candidate or not. I try not to even think through that other than at some point I have to figure out my next move if it’s not going to be this.”

Since World Cup elimination, the U.S. has played a road draw at Portugal and home ties against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Paraguay. Sarachan has given national team debuts to nine players, including Adams, McKennie, defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, forward Andrija Novakovich and midfielder Tim Weah – son of former FIFA Player of the Year and current Liberia President George Weah.

“I feel since November, when you could arguably say it was rock bottom in terms of U.S. soccer and the perception of it, I’d like to think that there’s a little more hope, a little more hope with the program, the direction we’re going, with the exciting young talent that’s emerging,” he said. “And that makes me feel proud, because I think the work kind of speaks for itself at this point, meaning young guys are getting great minutes.”