2018 World Cup qualifiers

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Gareth Bale out injured for Wales’ crucial World Cup qualifiers

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Wales will be without their talisman for their final two 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

Gareth Bale will not feature against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland as he has failed to recover from a calf injury he picked up in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win at Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champions League last Tuesday.

This is a huge blow for Chris Coleman’s side as they currently sit four points behind Group D leaders Serbia heading into the final two games of qualifying.

That means Wales are battling it out with the Republic of Ireland, who they host in Cardiff next Monday, for second spot which will likely see them go into a playoff for a spot at the 2018 tournament in Russia.

28-year-old Bale is Wales’ second highest all-time leading goalscorer (just two goals behind Ian Rush’s record of 28) and in his absence the likes of Sam Vokes, Aaron Ramsey and Hal Robson-Kanu will have to step up to try and deliver the goals they need to at least seal a playoff spot.

Bale has scored four of Wales’ 12 goals so far in qualifying but has often been battling through injuries when it has come to international games over the past 12 months.

Now that he is out, the prospect is very real that the EURO 2016 semifinalists are in danger of missing out on qualifying for the World Cup, which would be their first tournament since the 1958 competition in Sweden.

At 0-2, Americans understand stakes in World Cup qualifying

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Michael Bradley sees no reason to keep harping on that 4-0 loss at Costa Rica four months ago.

Yes, it’s still fresh in the Americans’ minds, a night every mistake snowballed into another.

“There is zero point in continuing to look back on that at the moment,” Bradley said. “We are where we are. Now it’s about on Friday night beginning this process of moving ourselves back up the table and stepping on the field from the first minute and playing a really aggressive way that ultimately leaves no doubt as to who’s stepping off the field, win or lose.”

Bruce Arena’s U.S. squad gets a fresh start in World Cup qualifying Friday against Honduras, and the pressure is on following the home country’s first 0-2 start in the North and Central American and Caribbean region’s final round.

“We understand the position we’re in,” Bradley said. “There’s no need for anybody on the outside to put any more pressure on us than we’ve already put on ourselves, because we didn’t start the hex in the right way. We put ourselves behind the eight ball. We’re honest and real enough with ourselves to understand that. Friday night is the beginning of our chance to put things right and get ourselves back in a good position. … We need guys to step on the field and understand the moment, not be fazed by it, go for it in a fearless way and have a big group of guys play really well.”

Forward Jordan Morris’ status for Friday appears in question after he missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. Morris rehabbed in the gym, the U.S. Soccer Federation said.

“Have you followed our team at all the last month? You think that’s going to be something that’s going to bother me?” Arena said at the start of the week when asked about health concerns. “We’re fine. We’re going to have 11 good players on the field on Friday.”

For those who do play, Bradley said it is paramount everybody brings his best game. Same goes for the Americans’ next match in Panama on Tuesday.

While the man in charge has changed – Arena replaced the fired Jurgen Klinsmann in November for a second stint as U.S. coach – and more Major League Soccer players were called upon this time than in November, Bradley insists the approach remains simple: Find a way to win.

“We stepped on the field in Costa Rica wanting to win. That desire to win is obviously still there, so in terms of the basic idea of stepping on the field and trying to play well and go for it in the right way and come away with a positive result, that part’s still the same obviously,” the longtime captain said. “There’s no two ways about it, we let ourselves down in Costa Rica. We didn’t play well enough. Mistakes turned into bigger mistakes, which turned into bigger mistakes, and so it all comes together in a way that you can lose a game in a bad way.”

And, there are many faces who have been on the big stage – Bradley, included.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard started the past two World Cups. Howard, four-time World Cup participant defender DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey played for Arena leading into the coach’s last World Cup qualifying, in 2005. Jozy Altidore brings experience up front.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Howard said. “It’s helpful that we have guys who have been through the hex before, who understand what that takes and the pressures that are on us. Yeah, it’s a big game.”

Bradley isn’t getting fancy when it comes to what the U.S. group must do.

“Winning. Three points,” Bradley said. “That’s it.”

“For us the reality is simple: We let ourselves down in the first two games,” he said. “It means that our margin for error is very, very small, but nothing’s changed in that we still feel good about the team that we have, the group that we are. I think that Bruce has come in and done an excellent job in terms of re-establishing certain things, getting at a few things. The mentality, the spirit in training and around the group both in January and now this week has been excellent, so we’re getting a little excited about the chance to step on the field in a big-time qualifier.”

USMNT, Guatemala roll out lineups for critical World Cup qualifier in Columbus

AP Photo/ Moises Castillo
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The United States men’s national team hopes having its home fans behind them will help them in a match that sees the CONCACAF power with its back against the wall.

Guatemala’s shocking 2-0 home win over the Yanks on Friday means a loss at MAPFRE Stadium tonight would all but end the USMNT’s plans for a eight-straight World Cup berth.

[ MORE: USMNT announces two friendlies, location for WC qualifier ]

The Yanks are making big changes, moving in Brad Guzan in goal and sliding Geoff Cameron central with Steve Birnbaum of DC United.

Kyle Beckerman will sit atop the backs in a three-man midfield with Graham Zusi and Michael Bradley, while Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood flank Clint Dempsey up top.

The visitors are making some changes, moving out Hamilton Lopez and Carlos Ruiz for Mafre Icute and Carlos Castrillo.

LINEUPS

Guatemala: Motta, Jimenez, Hernandez, Castrillo, Cincotta, Marquez, Contreras, Saravia, Morales, Icute, Tinoco.

USMNT reveals location for WC qualifier vs. T&T, friendlies vs. Ecuador, Bolivia

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The United States men’s national team knows the location for what they hope is a meaningful World Cup qualifying match against Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a pair of warm-ups for the Copa America Centenario.

T&T will visit Jacksonville, Florida, for the Sept. 6 qualifier against the USMNT. Assuming a win over Saint Vincent and the Grenadines later tonight, T&T could have a spot in the Hex wrapped up before the game.

[ VOTE: Should Klinsmann be fired? ]

The U.S., of course, is hoping for a win tonight in Columbus against Guatemala, or the T&T visit will be simply academic.

The Yanks will also warm up for the Copa America with matches against tournament participants Bolivia and Ecuador.

[ MORE: Fallout from U.S. defeat in Guatemala ]

Ecuador visits Frisco, Texas, for a May 25 friendly before Bolivia heads to Kansas City for a match at the home of Sporting KC on May 28.

The U.S. then opens the tournament against Colombia on June 3 in Santa Clara, California.

USMNT-Guatemala talking points: Zusi’s return; Not this summer’s Chapines

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With Graham Zusi back in the fold, the United States now has eight available starters who played in the summer’s 4-0 thrashing of Guatemala in the Gold Cup.

The Yanks, however, also have all 11 of the starters who put on the red, blue and black (!!!) of the USMNT for Friday’s 2-0 loss in Guatemala City. Woof.

Those two paragraphs, in a nutshell, are part of the new dichotomy of the United States’ relationship with Guatemala. Twenty-one years of controlling matches, several of them decisive, square up with Friday’s fright show.

[ MORE: Full USMNT-Guatemala preview ]

Here’s the thing that’s been lost in the backlash of Friday’s loss: While the U.S. has no excuses for its performance and deservedly lost, Guatemala only had one starter who played in the 4-0 loss last Spring: goalkeeper and Man of the Match honoree Paulo Motta.

Guatemala is seemingly a much better side now under Walter Claveri, who happens to be reaping the rewards of a breakout few months from attacker Gerson Tinoco. They were far better organized, and didn’t wilt under U.S. pressure (though the Yanks also whiffed on several chances to score, highlighted by Clint Dempsey‘s second-half shot right at Motta).

United States' Geoff Cameron, right, and Guatemala's Jose Contreras jump for the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match at Mateo Flores Stadium in Guatemala City, Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/ Moises Castillo)
Cameron (AP Photo/ Moises Castillo)

But can Guatemala do it on a cold night in Columbus?

[ MORE: Klinsmann defends Friday’s lineup ]

Jurgen Klinsmann’s team needs a win — not even a draw will do — in the worst way come Tuesday in Columbus, and remains without two of its most in-form players now that both Fabian Johnson and John Anthony Brooks have headed back to Germany with knocks.

Klinsmann didn’t have the luxury of consistent veteran Geoff Cameron for the Gold Cup as the Stoke City man took the summer off after a season of injuries at the Brittania Stadium. He’ll easy replace Timmy Chandler (and then some) even after the German defender scored in that March match.

Brad Guzan could be back in goal on Tuesday, as Tim Howard failed to make game-saving saves even if hung out to dry by his defense. Guzan has not shown well for Aston Villa in recent weeks. David Bingham and William Yarbrough are also in U.S. camp, but Klinsmann’s not going to pin a World Cup’s worth of hopes on a lesser-known entity.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings from loss to Guatemala ]

Zusi, honestly, could be a big key to stabilizing the unit. The Yanks went 3-1 when he started in 2015, the lone loss being the Gold Cup shootout against Panama. He played in all four World Cup matches and picked up assists against Portugal and Ghana.

Moreso than the performances, “San Zusi” should bring calm and measured intensity. And even if Alejandro Bedoya can go, Zusi is more comfortable on the left side than the Nantes midfielder. That would allow DeAndre Yedlin to pair up with Bedoya while Zusi works with Edgar Castillo.

Now another big “if” comes in the form of Jozy Altidore, who could start up top with Bobby Wood and move Dempsey either deeper or off the pitch. Dropping Bradley back into the defensive midfield role above Cameron and either Omar Gonzalez or Steve Birnbaum. That would give the U.S. XI more potency on set pieces and in attack overall.

Again, the U.S. should win this contest. Should doesn’t often mean well in recent USMNT history, but that’s what you have to work with until at least Tuesday evening’s kick.