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USMNT primed for big 2020, revive World Cup dream

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After their training camp was moved from Qatar to Bradenton, Florida at short notice, the USMNT are getting focused on a huge 2020 as they aim to rebuild the reputation of the program.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter has already discussed their hope of setting up a training camp in Qatar before the 2022 World Cup, while the U.S. are heading to the Netherlands and reportedly Wales in March as they continue to prepare for a crucial period in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying as the majority of their qualifiers are in the fall of 2020.

LAFC defender Walker Zimmerman has become a reliable presence at the heart of the USMNT defense and he knows the hard work starts now as this young U.S. group focus on 2022 World Cup qualification.

“We talked about it and we have six qualifiers at the end of this year, which is 60 percent of our qualifying process,” Zimmerman said. “It is huge. Everything is in front of us. We have all of our goals in front of us for this year and we have the Nations League in June, which is another chance for us to play in a competitive environment and try to win our first trophy as a group. Then it is all about looking ahead to qualifying. ‘How can we prepare ourselves for these first seven or eight months to head into September ready to go.'”

With a few weeks training followed by a friendly against familiar foe Costa Rica, Berhalter will be hoping to get his message across loud and clear with the MLS portion of his squad.

That’s something he struggled with last season as the USMNT failed to impress with disjointed displays and Berhalter’s philosophy of possession-based, fluid, attacking soccer only appeared in fits and starts.

The USMNT need to start 2020 well and this camp in January and their friendlies in March, with the European contingent involved for the first time, will set the tone for a massive 12 months in deciding whether or not they make a huge leap forwards as they hope to return to the World Cup.

With Christian Pulisic, Sergino Dest, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams all going through battles with injury and form so far this season, Berhalter knows this young USMNT squad needs its leaders to be fit and raring to go when September rolls around.

His time in charge will be judged on how the U.S. fare in World Cup qualifying. That’s it. That’s the job.

USMNT to hold camp in Qatar ahead of first 2020 match

USMNT holding camp in Qatar
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The United States men’s national team has announced its opponent for its annual January camp friendly.

Gregg Berhalter’s men will kick off 2020 much like they did 2019, tangling with a CONCACAF B-side team. This time it’s Costa Rica on Feb. 1 in Carson, Calif., a year after Berhalter debuted his team with a 3-0 win over Panama.

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The Yanks, of course, will also have a largely second team side for all of January camp, with European clubs in action and no formal international window.

U.S. Soccer also confirmed that the side will hold camp in Qatar, still somehow home of the 2022 World Cup. The Yanks will be there from Jan. 5-25 to get a first taste of where they hope to be a part of their first World Cup in eight years.

“Utilizing similar opportunities prior to the World Cups in South Africa and Brazil proved extremely beneficial in the team’s planning and preparations,” the team said in a release.

It will be interesting to see how experimental Berhalter’s roster is in January. While most years would see the camp as reason for a heavily inexperienced squad, Berhalter has to prepare his side for the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals and World Cup qualifying. There’s also an Olympics in there, though Berhalter has allowed Jason Kreis plenty of exclusivity with the U-23s.

It’s also worth noting that lot of things associated with the 2022 World Cup are going to feel unsavory for many national teams. Plugging loads of U.S. Soccer resources into Qatar in prep is just the tip of the iceberg. It will get the Yanks better prepped for the tournament.

USMNT finishes 2019 as FIFA’s 22nd ranked team

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Belgium finishes the year in the No. 1 slot on FIFA’s rankings, something the Red Devils will hope is a harbinger of what’s to come at EURO 2020.

France, Brazil, England, and Uruguay finish second through fifth.

The United States men’s national team finishes the year at No. 22, up three spots from 2018. It’s their highest year-end finish since 2013 (14th) and one spot ahead of their all-time average spot.

The Yanks are ranked 39th by EloRatings, generally considered to be a fairer approximation of strength.

[ RELATED: Grading the USMNT’s 2019 ]

FIFA’s December release sees very few changes, and minimal ones at that. South Korea moves up a spot to 40th, South Africa up one to 71st, and Bolivia nudges its way into the Top 75.

China sinks to 76th, while only one nations moves more than a single spot. Hong Kong dips two to No. 141,

The new rankings again show which CONCACAF nations are on track to participate in the Hex.

El Salvador pulls into sixth place amongst CONCACAF teams with only six months to go until the rankings decide which six teams qualify for the Hex.

Mexico holds tight at 11, while the USMNT sits 22nd. Costa Rica, Jamaica, and Honduras would join El Salvador to round out the Hex if it started today. That would leave Canada, Curacao, Panama, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago playing in the second group of World Cup qualifying.

The winner of that group would play in the playoff against the fourth-place team from the Hex, with the winner of that match playing an interconfederation playoffs for a spot in Qatar 2022.

Russia banned from 2020 Olympics, 2022 World Cup

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Russia has been banned from competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted unanimously to ban the nation from international sport for four years for doping offenses.

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Individual Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under a neutral banner at this summer’s Olympics. The men’s national soccer team will also still be allowed to compete at the 2020 European Championship, where they will be one of the 12 host nations this summer.

The punishment was agreed by WADA’s executive committee at a special meeting at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland. It is the most severe sanction yet against the country after accusations of systemic doping and deleting laboratory evidence.

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WADA president Sir Craig Reedie said, “For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.

“As a result, the WADA executive committee has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts.”

Investigation: Migrant workers still being exploited on Qatar World Cup jobs

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An investigation conducted by Amnesty International, a British organization focused on human rights, revealed that thousands of migrant workers are still being exploited for unpaid labor and poor living conditions related to construction projects for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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Amnesty’s investigation into three Qatari companies — Hamton International, Hamad bin Khaled bin Hamad and United Cleaning — revealed that at least 1,620 workers had filed complaints over months of unpaid wages. Some were eventually paid a portion of what they were owed in exchange for dropping their cases, while some left the country and returned home with nothing.

Qatari officials had repeatedly promised, after nominal pressure had been applied by FIFA, to enforce stricter standards on company’s regarding their treatment of workers.

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“Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers,” Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s deputy director of global issues, said. “Either the reforms are being done very slowly, or they are not being implemented properly or they are not being done at all. As a result of that there are still thousands of workers who are not being paid properly, they are not getting justice, or are living in poor conditions.”