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Costa Rica says coach out after disappointing World Cup

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) The Costa Rica soccer federation says national team coach Oscar Ramirez is out after the team’s disappointing performance at the World Cup.

Federation president Rodolfo Villalobos said Wednesday that Ramirez’s contract has run out and won’t be renewed. Costa Rica compiled a record of 9 wins, 6 ties and 4 defeats in 16 qualifying and three World Cup matches under Ramirez.

Villalobos thanked the coach but said that “it is not convenient for him to remain.” He did not name a potential replacement, but said the federation is looking at a long list of candidates.

Costa Rica was the surprise of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, reaching the quarterfinals. But the team was knocked out in the group stage in Russia, losing to Brazil and Serbia and tying Switzerland.

CONCACAF boss targets 2026 World Cup for better results

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MOSCOW (AP) The head of North American soccer says the region’s teams need until 2026 at a home World Cup to reach their full potential.

Mexico’s traditional round of 16 loss this week left the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) without the quarterfinals place it got four years ago from Costa Rica.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

“All in all, I think it’s par for the course,” CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani said Tuesday of the region’s performance in Russia.

With just three teams at this World Cup compared to four in 2014, Costa Rica was last in a tough group and newcomer Panama lost all three games.

“I think you will see an improvement in four years,” Montagliani told The Associated Press in an interview, though suggesting “eight years is more realistic.”

Elected to lead CONCACAF in 2016, the Canadian official acknowledged the soccer body had too often let down its 35 FIFA member nations.

“Quite frankly, over the last 40 years CONCACAF as a confederation has not really done much to help the federations try to compete at a world level,” Montagliani said of an era tainted by corruption, and leaders indicted by the U.S. Justice Department.

Now moved from Manhattan to Miami, CONCACAF has reformed its business practices and revamped competitions for national and club teams.

A Nations League kicks off next year, designed to raise competitive standards by giving smaller national teams more fixtures and revenue in a two-year cycle.

Four places were added to the marquee Gold Cup, which the United States will host next year with 16 teams.

“Then we will see what we look like eight years from now when we host a World Cup in our backyard,” Montagliani said.

Though Mexico beat Germany 1-0 in a stunning group-stage opener in Moscow, CONCACAF had a bigger win in the Russian capital. Five days earlier, FIFA members picked the joint United States-Canada-Mexico bid over Morocco to host the 2026 tournament.

That 48-team edition will give CONCACAF six guaranteed places – likely with automatic entry for all three hosts – plus two more chances in an intercontinental playoff round in November 2025. Two of six teams will advance, with Africa, Asia, Oceania and South America all sending one entry.

In Russia, CONCACAF was understrength after Honduras lost its intercontinental playoff last November, going down 3-1 in Australia after drawing 0-0 in the home leg.

“It’s really important we get a fourth team (in 2022),” Montagliani said. “I think this year it was disappointing Honduras didn’t take advantage of their home field advantage.”

Four years ago, Mexico grabbed a fourth place for the region when it surprisingly fell into the playoffs as Honduras advanced directly with the U.S. and Costa Rica.

This time, the U.S. slumped in the final qualifying group, letting in Panama which was overmatched in Russia.

“Like most debutants they saw how tough it is at this level,” Montagliani said. “The team that probably should have qualified four years ago was here this year and a little bit old in the tooth. You’re going to see a different Panama now in the next four years.”

So too will CONCACAF on and off the field, the FIFA vice president insisted.

“Our confederation will look differently by the time we get to ’22 and definitely look different by the time we host in ’26.”

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Venting and lamenting the USMNT’s World Cup absence

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Maybe it’s the fact that the night’s already surreal, with the American and North Korean leaders holding a historic meeting and the common bond being a 57-year-old nicknamed “The Worm” who is known for being an excellent rebounder and starring in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the dawn of this summer’s World Cup feels exceptionally dreamlike.

Let’s get some things out of the way: Even with the United States men’s national team failing to make the tournament, I’m still very excited about the World Cup. I’m leaning toward hitching my wagon to Serbia’s dark horse status, but also want to be four years’ worth of correct when it comes to Germany.

I’ve also learned you can navigate the sports version of the grieving process — acceptance is tough, but the hope part is easier — and still ride pretty high on the anger and frustration part of it all.

[ MORE: Sporting Lisbon drama increases ]

Anything can happen in a World Cup. We saw that with the USMNT escaping its Group of Death in 2014 and Costa Rica doing the same, but I can’t help look at this tournament as a chance lost for both CONCACAF and the U.S.

This is subjective, and please feel free to disagree, but the domestic buzz feels minimal compared to a tournament with the United States in the field. In terms of the average sports fan, you can scream Messi or Ronaldo all you want, but the tournament is being sold here like an El Clasico with flags.

We’ve reached the point in the World Cup cycle where I worry how many kids, both fans and players, in that pivotal age bracket of 8-12 are going to potentially miss out on their formative Dos A Cero in Jeonju, or Landon Donovan versus Algeria moment.

The beauty of being a sports fan is the images and characters created by your team or nation on the biggest stages.

For Americans of my generation, we’ve seen our country in every World Cup since we were in grade school. Even tournaments where the USMNT didn’t really ring a bell, like 1994, the World Cup drew us into side stories. I remember sitting in my Uncle Jim’s living room, hoping against hope that Italy would top Brazil, and being fairly bummed when Roberto Baggio sent his effort over the bar

I also often feel compelled to point out that Baggio was the third Italian to miss, and that Italy goes out in the Round of 16 if he doesn’t equalize in the 88th minute and complete his brace against Nigeria in extra time, then scoring the winner against Spain in the quarters, and both goals against Bulgaria in the semis.

And here’s the thing: I barely cared about soccer in 1994. I didn’t start playing until high school, and didn’t fall in love with the USMNT program until qualifying for the 2002 tournament.

There’s a vivid American memory from every World Cup after ’94 for me, often in the form of a question.

1998: “Did we really just lose to Iran?”

2002: “How did the ref miss that %^&%^& handball on Frings?”

2006: “Brian McBride is really bloody”

2010: “AND DONOVAN’S SCORED, OH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

2014:

2018 is gonna be anger and disbelief, a generation deprived of its World Cup from perhaps the easiest qualification format by a defiant coach, his haughty replacement, and a group of players who showed enough effort to get the job done on average once every other game.

Frankly, this probably sounds absurd to some European and South American nations considering some of the World Cup droughts, some still active. Ryan Giggs never played in one. Alfredo Di Stefano, George Weah, and Ian Rush were shut out. Even in the expanded format, current big names like Darren Fletcher, Arda Turan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Christian Pulisic missed his first World Cup? Boo-hoo, say Austria and Wales. David Alaba will be 28 the next time he gets to attempt qualification for his first. Gareth Bale will be 31 and Aaron Ramsey 30.

Robbie Keane got one World Cup. Marcus Hahnemann went to two.

So, yeah, American soccer fans have had it pretty good. I don’t want this to read like, “my tap water in Western New York could be better” when in reality I’d welcome a full-time job of delivering fresh water to the half-globe or more where it is needed by real, true human beings (including Michigan). Rooting for Serbia because the U.S. or Wakanda didn’t qualify is an acceptable enough outcome.

The 2026 World Cup could be coming back to the United States for the second time in 32 years despite this country still just figuring out the sport’s allure. We’re fortunate in so many ways. And, frankly, there’s a very good argument to be made that the country’s federation could use the second swift kick that would come from failing to make a World Cup then blowing a World Cup hosting bid despite overwhelming stores of influence and money.

But for now, all I can think about is what we won’t have this weekend. Very few, if any, city blocks shut down for outdoor viewing party. A similar amount of beer-soaked phone videos of bar celebrations. No John Brooks canceling out Andre Ayew’s late equalizer. No Jermaine Jones rocket against Portugal. Not even a hope-giving moment from substitute Julian Green versus Belgium (Silly dual nationals).

Don’t forget: Some said dual nationals like John Brooks didn’t “care” enough (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

No first World Cup for Pulisic. Maybe no World Cup ever for Eric Lichaj, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Darlington Nagbe.

I mean, shoot, at least when the USWNT took its step back it was just a missed medal at the Olympics, not an entire month of sadness.

The whys are myriad: A national program that got high on its own FIFA rankings supply. A divide between proponents of players playing at the highest level and those who refused to push players there because of the money it made them or their domestic clubs. No one knows if Matt Besler would’ve become the best defender in USMNT history with a move to West Ham — and we do love him for his one-club heart — but there sure is some “What if?” there.

But it’s not about the whys here. It’s about the “What ifs?”

What if the U.S. was drawn in Panama’s place, needing to get past Belgium or England, let alone Tunisia, to make another knockout round? I’m genuinely happy for Panama, even with their ghost goal being the difference, but CONCACAF would likely rather see the Yanks’ buttressing their World Cup host bid with Pulisic as poster boy.

What if the U.S. was drawn in Mexico’s place, a veritable Group of Death for Arena and his proponents to measure himself against Klinsmann and his?

Or what about Costa Rica’s spot, with Neymar’s Brazil joining underachieving Switzerland and dark horse Serbia on the docket?

What if that kid who’s choosing whether to dedicate himself to high school football, basketball, lacrosse, or soccer, doesn’t bother to get misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue because he’s going to opt to go to the Orioles because Croatia-Argentina doesn’t have any significance to him?

$%^$.

NASL reaching out to CONCACAF nations for support with USSF

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Earlier this week, New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso made waves when he offered to invest $250 million of his money and to raise another $250 million in outside investment in order to fund a new or revived American soccer league, provided the United States Soccer Federation agrees to significant changes in several arenas, including how it operates with Major League Soccer, Soccer United Marketing, and promotion and relegation.

[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards ]

The Cosmos are the flagship club of the North American Soccer League, who remains on the offensive as it seeks to return to the playing field by 2019. ProSoccerTalk has obtained a letter from the NASL to a Caribbean Football Association, asking the CONCACAF nation to contact U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro and encourage him to meet with the North American Soccer League and discuss Commisso’s offer.

A source confirmed to PST that similar letters were sent to all of the CONCACAF member nations by NASL commissioner Rishi Sehgal, detailing the accomplishments of their players in the NASL and contributions to the growth of the national team program. CC’d on the letters are CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, CONCACAF secretary general Philippe Moggio, and Commisso.

CONCACAF declined to comment on the story.

The second-tier outfit is locked in legal proceedings with the United States Soccer Federation and MLS over the NASL’s loss of Division 2 sanctioning. It would be interesting to see how U.S. Soccer playing ball with Commisso’s 10-year, $500 million plan would affect the businessman and his league’s lawsuits.

No Mexico, USMNT at next Copa America; Japan, Qatar invited

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The USMNT and its next full-time coach will only have to worry about the Gold Cup in the summer of 2019.

That’s because CONMEBOL decided against inviting CONCACAF teams for next summer’s tournament in Brazil, opting to include Qatar and Japan.

[ MORE: Mourinho rips forwards ]

The USMNT hosted and reached the semifinal round of the 2016 Copa America Centenario, but will not get the chance to repeat its strong showing.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela will complete the field.

The United States won the 2016 Gold Cup and will clinch a berth in the 2021 Confederations Cup if it wins the 2019 edition. Should the USMNT lose, it would face the 2019 Gold Cup winner in the second CONCACAF Cup for the right to go to Qatar one summer before the 2022 World Cup.