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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.

Jamaica’s Bailey says Bayer Leverkusen aiming high

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Bayer Leverkusen got its young speedster back at the right time.

Leon Bailey’s cut through Bayern Munich on Saturday, scoring twice in 63 minutes for a picture perfect return from a two-match red card suspension.

Both goals showed his knack for using the right angles to execute runs with his blazing speed, as the 22-year-old Jamaican scored his 20th and 21st career Bundesliga goals to lift Bayer to within six points of first place Borussia Monchengladbach via a 2-1 win at the Allianz Arena.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

It looks like an open league. And Bailey wants to see his team finish higher than its fourth place standing of the 2018/19 season.

“I see our team being at the highest level,” Bailey tells ProSoccerTalk three days after his big performance in Munich. “We have, of all the teams right now, the best chance to be in the Top Three this year.

“The Bundesliga level is high right now and the points are very close, and even the teams that are behind are doing their best to beat teams ahead of them which makes it more complicated but it’s a very intense league and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Bayer hasn’t had Bailey for much of the season, the Bayern match his sixth league appearance in 13 opportunities thanks to the aforementioned red card suspension and a muscle injury.

He’s also managed just two 45-minute appearances in Bayer’s UEFA Champions League run, which is still alive against the odds.

Bayer lost its first three matches of the group stage and had most leaving it for dead, but beat Atletico Madrid and Lokomotiv Moscow to set up a final match day visit from Juventus.

And Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. aren’t scaring Bailey’s teammates, who need to beat already-qualified Juve and see Atleti drop points at home to Lokomotiv.

“We enter with the same approach toward every game, go into it with 100 percent focus and hopefully we can beat them here at home,” Bailey said.

It’s been a wild ride for Bailey, who started his career with Genk in Belgium, amassing 15 goals and 21 assists in 77 matches.

He’s continued to deliver following a move to Germany, posting 21 and 12 in 92 appearances. That’s seen him linked with a lot of big clubs, including Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

And at long last he’s debuted for Jamaica, earning six caps since the start of the Gold Cup in June.

Bailey assisted against the USMNT in the Reggae Boyz’s 3-1 semifinal loss, and got his first goal in a September win over Antigua and Barbuda in the CONCACAF Nations League.

“It made me learn a lot and I’m grateful that I can actually help my country, be there for them right now, and hopefully we can make it to a World Cup,” he said.

Jamaica’s the fourth ranked team in CONCACAF and will be contesting the Hex in a bid to land its first World Cup bid since 1998, its only appearance in the tournament.

“It would mean everything to me, of course for the country,” Bailey said. “Right now we have a good team, Since I joined the team a lot of English players came and I think we have a good possibility to make it.”

That, most likely, would mean getting the best of Gregg Berhalter’s USMNT.

Bailey says he sees some comparisons between what Bayer did against Bayern and what the Reggae Boyz will need to do to the Yanks.

“They have a lot of quality players and they have a system that reminds me a little bit of how Bayern Munich plays, but we can defeat them if we put our minds to it like we did against Bayern Munich.”

(Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Spanish court to decide fate of Spanish league game in USA

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MADRID (AP) A Spanish court will decide whether the Spanish league will be allowed to play the Villarreal-Atletico Madrid game in the United States next month.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

A court hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Madrid to hear arguments from the league and the Spanish soccer federation, which is against taking the regular-season match abroad.

The league has called for an injunction to force the federation to give its approval. It accuses the local soccer body of unfair competition.

The league also needs the approval of UEFA and American soccer bodies to be able to play the match, which is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Miami.

The commercial court hearing the case is expected to issue a ruling within the next few days.

More AP soccer https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

On This Day: Bornstein becomes national hero – in Honduras

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You know what today is? It’s Jonathan Bornstein day in Honduras.

Ten years ago today at RFK Stadium in our nations capital, a young, hot-shot kid with plenty of hair named Michael Bradley and Bornstein helped the U.S. Men’s National Team come back to draw Costa Rica, 2-2, in World Cup qualifying. In fact, it’s eerie watching Bornstein’s celebration, running to the corner flag and diving headfirst as he’s mobbed moments after by his teammates. It’s a bit similar to what Lanson Donovan did about nine months later.

[READ: USMNT looks to build in match v. Canada]

To add some context, it was the final day of qualifications matches in the Hex. Three days earlier, the U.S. had already secured a place in the World Cup with a wild 3-2 win at Honduras, meaning Los Catrachos needed to win over El Salvador on the final night and hope that the U.S. would keep Costa Rica from winning in the final match.

Who else, but Carlos Pavon gave Honduras a 1-0 win over El Salvador that night. Then, it was Bornsteins goal later that night that put Los Catrachos into the World Cup for the first time since 1982, and left Costa Rica to battle for the shared spot between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL.

In honor of the big day, hundreds of Honduras fans had been mentioning Bornstein on social media, and the veteran defender – currently of the Chicago Fire – retweeted quite a few of the thankful messages to him. Below, here’s video of the call from Honduras TV, as well as from Ian Darke and the ESPN crew.

Unfortunately for Bornstein, this may be the highlight of his national team career. He did make the 2010 World Cup squad and started twice, including the matches against Algeria and Ghana, but he never truly took the next step in his career to become a star left back.

After a calamitous performance against Mexico in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, which also Bob Bradley his USMNT job, Bornstein was dropped and hasn’t been seen from again on the national team stage.

However, even though he’s only a club player these days, he’ll never have to buy a drink in Honduras, that’s for sure.

USMNT continues progression into CONCACAF Nations League

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We’re closing in on ten months with Gregg Berhalter in charge of the U.S. Men’s National Team, and despite all of the results in that time span, give credit to Berhalter for one thing. He’s sticking to his plan.

Berhalter and a young USMNT (with an average age of just 25) open up the CONCACAF Nations League on Friday by hosting Cuba in Washington D.C. at 7:00 p.m. Based on the roster he called up, Berhalter plans to continue drilling his tactical and playing style ideas into his players heads until it becomes second nature. 20 players from the now-25-man squad were in his September camp and per U.S. Soccer, 24 of the 25 players have seen time for the USMNT this calendar year.

[READ: Pulisic details his journey so far]

While the Nations League is a competitive match on paper, there isn’t a whole lot that the U.S. can take away from a game against Cuba at home. All fans and the USMNT coaching staff would see individual performances and how the team performed at executing a gameplan.

It’s this gameplan, along with some of the young stars taking part, that will be most interesting to watch.

With Steffan starting again in goal, Cuba should provide more space or at least a better chance for the USMNT to play out of the box and start the buildup play early. From there, we can see players like Matt Miazga grow some confidence with good passes out of the back into the midfield or the long diagonal pass to the wingers in space.

It’s unclear whether Berhalter will start Bradley, his preferred No. 6, or save him for the game against Canada at his home stadium, BMO Field, on Tuesday. If not, it could be another cap for Jackson Yueill to show off his range of passing and keep the ball moving from side to side.

Speaking of wingers from before, it’s been a roller coaster of a last few months for Tyler Boyd. He completed his one-time switch to join the USMNT, started a few games and even scored in the early Gold Cup match against Guyana. But then he lost his national team starting spot to Jordan Morris, who’s had a terrific second half of the MLS season with Seattle, and Boyd has also struggled with his new club, Besiktas. He has just one start in all competitions since the beginning of September. He didn’t even make it off the bench in Besiktas’ 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the UEFA Europa League last week.

And yet, Berhalter has committed to Boyd and is willing to call him in, whether he’s in form or not. So the match against Cuba could be another chance for Boyd to show what he’s all about.

Somewhat similarly is Christian Pulisic. Everyone has watched as he started the season well but has found playing time hard to get. Even so, when he’s played he’s had an impact, as was seen last weekend in his 15-minute substitute appearance for Chelsea when he set up a goal. Clearly, even if he’s out of form, he is still the best attacking talent the USMNT has and will always be given a chance by Berhalter.

Lastly, there’s the striker position. It was announced earlier that with Jozy Altidore out injured again – missing his second straight USMNT camp, though last time was not injury related – 19-year-old forward Joshua Sargent would start up top against Cuba. This could be a changing of the guard, with Sargent preferred over Gyasi Zardes as Altidore’s backup with the USMNT. Or, it could have been the plan all along to play Sargent against Cuba and Zardes against Canada. We’ll see.

In any case, with Sargent getting starts for Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga, the Cuba match could be his chance to become a household name for many. It’s his first senior international game in a competitive tournament, and his hold up play, the way he reads the game and ability to play off the back shoulder of the centerbacks could lead to a goal or two on the night.

Ultimately, Friday’s test with Cuba will be a study in how this squad continues to absorb and understand Berhalter’s style of play, as he looks to prepare his team ultimately for the start of World Cup qualifying in September 2020.