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USMNT dates to host Cuba, Canada revealed

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MIAMI (AP) The United States will host Cuba on Oct. 11 and Canada on Nov. 15 in the first CONCACAF Nations League.

CONCACAF said Tuesday that the Americans, seeded in Group A, will play at Canada on Oct. 15 and at Cuba on Nov. 19.

Sites have not been determined.

Other Nations League groups are:

B – Bermuda, Mexico, Panama

C – Martinique, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago

D – Costa Rica, Curacao, Haiti

The top team in each League A group advances to the semifinals in March, and the last-place team is relegated to League B.

The U.S. intends to play exhibitions on the September FIFA dates for national teams.

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

Diego Maradona reveals he has three children in Cuba

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So, Cuba should have a pretty good national team in a few years…

All joking aside, the lawyer of Argentine legend Diego Maradona has released a statement confirming that his client has three children in Cuba that he is willing to recognize.

Maradona, 58, spent five years living in Cuba from 2000 to 2005 as he underwent treatment for drug addiction. During his time in Cuba he became close friends with Fidel Castro and has a tattoo of the former President of Cuba on his leg.

His lawyer Matias Moria released the following statement about the previously unknown children of Maradona.

“Maradona has three children in Cuba and they are going to be recognized. There are three children from two women. There has never been any problem. A claim has been lodged, but with lots of respect. Diego is going to take charge of whatever he has to take charge of.”

Maradona now has eight children, one of whom, Gianinna Maradona, joked on Instagram: “You only need three more to make 11, you can do it!”

Dalma Maradona, Diego Sinagra, Giannina Maradona, Jana Maradona and Diego Fernando Maradona Ojeda are the children we previously knew about, and they are aged 31, 32, 29, 22 and six respectively.

He currently coaches a second-tier team in Mexico, Dorados de Sinaloa.

“I like a good pass” — Osvaldo Alonso as undercover MLS MVP

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In a world focused on non-traditional statistics, the most complete and valuable player in this Major League Soccer season is Osvaldo Alonso.

It’s a simple enough statement that may seem shocking, considering the work and prowess of those who have staked claims to the Landon Donovan MVP Award.

[ MORE: Klinsmann unafraid ]

Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa possess electric skill sets and otherworldly production, and are instant all-timers for the nascent league. Next, take the historic traditional numbers posted by the Red Bulls’ Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips, eye-popping stuff.

Then there’s Alonso.

The 31-year-old Seattle Sounders midfielder wasn’t going to get an MVP nod thanks to the weight given to goals and assists (in every league around the globe), but he should be a household name by now.

Not all of that is down to statistics. Alonso has been perhaps the perfect mate for Michael Bradley in the United States men’s national team’s midfield, but has not been given the chance despite earning citizenship in 2012. Alonso defected from Cuba in 2007 after earning 16 caps for the national team, and the island nation has not granted his request for a release (He doesn’t believe it will ever come, either).

As much as a green card should have played a role in his stardom, perhaps it’s yellow and red cards that cost him votes from around the league. Alonso is a midfield menace who plays as if winning the ball grants him access to oxygen.

[ VIDEO: Stunning NCAA comeback ]

FC Dallas forward Maximiliano Urruti (37) and Seattle Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (6) compete for a ball along the sidelines during the first half of an MLS soccer western conference semifinal playoff match Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)
(AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

“My position is different than the forward, but I try to play for me and for the team,” Alonso said.

“My type of game is keeping the ball and is made on winning the ball. I don’t score a lot of goals or do a lot of assists, but I try to provide the rest of my team. We’ve got a lot of players who can score a lot of goals and I’m very happy for them. I’m doing the job the coach told me to do, and I’m very happy to win that way.”

Alonso keeps the ball better than anyone in MLS, at least this season. His 91 percent pass accuracy was only met by Darlington Nagbe, and Alonso completed 20 percent more of his passes than his Cascadia Cup rival. That 60 percent completion mark was also the best in the league.

Rather than risk boredom with a bevy of further stats on tackles, interventions, and passing, let’s look at a chart that sums up his performance from advanced stats site Squawka. Amongst players who made more than 20 appearances this season, Alonso is second only to Giovinco in performance score (both are not MVP finalists, which is inexcusable).

Seattle Sounders Squawka.com
Squawka.com

What’s worth noting, though, is how many other members of the Top Ten earned their keep with a heavy contribution from one area. Alonso is in double digits in all three categories: 27th in defense, 48th in offense, first (by far) in possession.

That last number matters a lot to the MVP suggestion, too. Alonso’s 13.5 score is more than five points better than the closest competitor (Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales).

To sum it up in a colloquial fashion, Alonso is a boss. Given his hard-nosed demeanor, you might think he loves digging into opponents and craves contact. That’s not necessarily wrong, but his answer to the question of what gives him the most joy is interesting.

“For me, I like a good pass. Take the ball from the offense and open the game from the back. But everything I do, I like to do.”

[ MORE: Relegation fears for Leicester City? ]

The love for a game and seeking out a better future for himself is what gave him the impetus to risk it all in defecting from Cuba, famously slipping away from his national teammates on a stop to an American big box store a decade ago.

“It was tough when I came here to make a decision because in that time, it was not sure if I would come back or see my family again,” Alonso said. “I’m so lucky that I did that and I play soccer because not everybody can make that decision to leave behind family, friends, everything in Cuba and come to a new country for a game.”

It’s allowed him to start and raise a family in his new country, one in which he wants to do little else besides play soccer and spend time with his family.

CHESTER, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Midfielder Osvaldo Alonso #6 of the Seattle Sounders FC heads the ball over forward Sebastien Le Toux #11 of the Philadelphia Union during the 2014 U.S. Open Cup Final at PPL Park on September 16, 2014 in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Sounders won 3-1. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
(Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

Alonso’s immigrant story a clear success, there have been repercussions like the aforementioned lack of a release from Cuba. Even at 31, he’s the player the United States needs right now in its MNT set-up. Alonso has spent years waiting for a response from Cuba, and fans even started a Change.org petition hoping for intervention from then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Still, Alonso is fairly sure the door is closed, saying it’s “I don’t know but I don’t think so. It’s going to be difficult.”

[ MORE: Offseason moves paying off for Newcastle ]

So he’ll focus on leading his upstart Seattle Sounders onward into MLS glory. Alonso is one of the few players who was thriving with the Sounders before Sigi Schmid left the club, and his stock didn’t tumble once Brian Schmetzer took the reigns. With Obafemi Martins’ sudden departure and Clint Dempsey‘s heart troubles, Alonso has underscored the adjective in “Most Valuable Player”.

He’ll take the field again in Tuesday’s first leg of the Western Conference final, battling with Jermaine Jones and the Colorado Rapids.

“I’m very lucky to be in this team for a long time, but my main thing is to give everything I have for the team I have,” Alonso said.

Kickoff is 10 p.m. EDT.

Three things we learned from USMNT’s win vs. Cuba

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The U.S. beat Cuba 2-0 in Havana on Friday with Jurgen Klinsmann’s side using their historic friendly as a valuable learning experience for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers to come.

[ MORE: Bradley talks to JPW ]

Second half goals from Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green did the damage as the U.S. now head to RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. to face New Zealand in another friendly next Tuesday.

Here’s what we learned from the USA’s victory as Klinsmann’s boys continue to prepare for their World Cup qualifiers next month.


GREEN TAKES HIS CHANCE

The one U.S. player who always looked dangerous whenever he got on the ball was Julian Green.

Green, 21, hadn’t been involved in any of the USMNT’s 10 games previous to this game in Cuba but he took his chance and proved to Klinsmann he can step up and be an option on the left flank.

Look, when we think of Green all of our minds flash back to him hooking home against Belgium in the Round of 16 loss at the 2014 World Cup. Since then he hasn’t scored again for the U.S., until now, and he totally deserved to get on the scoresheet as he tapped home Wondolowski’s cutback.

Green first had to deal with first being the new messiah of U.S. soccer (magnified by the fact that Landon Donovan’s international career was ended in part due to his arrival) and then being cast aside ruthlessly. When he excelled as a central striker this summer and scored a hat trick for Bayern Munich in a preseason win against Inter Milan in Charlotte, NC, many though he’d get much more of a look-in for the German giants. That hasn’t been the case so far this season under Carlo Ancelotti and after this promising display it is clear that Green needs to get a loan move away from Bayern in January to kick-start his career and stay among the reckoning for the U.S. national team.

The German-American forward did his chances no harm at all in a tough environment in Havana.


FIELD CONDITIONS A LEVELER

Calling it a tough environment is too kind. The pitch in Havana was horrendous. Let’s play it straight. Often a pass would see the ball bounce two or three times, at least, before reaching an opponent.

It was bad and a real leveler between a U.S. ranked 22nd in the world and a Cuban outfit ranked 139th.

With the U.S. players looking more worried about picking up an injury than trying to possess the ball for most of the game — Christian Pulisic was targeted with hefty challenges and his first touch was often off as he was correctly hauled off at half time to avoid any injuries — the message from Klinsmann in the first half seemed to be to pump it long to Jozy Altidore and see what happens. You could hear Klinsmann bellowing from the sidelines to play it long and his defenders didn’t mind. There was no point playing it into central midfield for either Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan to get on the ball, their main strength, because there was no predicting which way the ball would bounce.

That said, the home side made the best of the conditions which leveled the playing field and they hit the post twice in the second half and threatened in the first half with a high line.

In the 34th minute the impressive Arichel Hernandez had a great chance on the break as Cuba played it out wide and he arrived on the edge of the box but saw his shot well-saved by 21-year-old goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. In the second half a counter saw Maykel Reyes stride forward and drive a shot in at the near post which hit the post and rebounded out and not long after Cuba hit the other post as Roberney Caballero arrived at the back post and headed against the upright.

Cuba gave the U.S. a few scares but in truth the USMNT were just pleased to leave the pitch without any scary injuries. This will have been an eye-opener for some of the younger players in Klinsmann’s team as to just how testing conditions in CONCACAF could be. The state of the pitch and a moment of sheer lunacy from the officials summed up how treacherous of an encounter it was for the U.S. Somehow the ref didn’t spot Steven Birnbaum getting scissor kicked in the head late on as Jurgen Klinsmann dropped the F-bomb (picked up clearly on the TV mics) as blood gushed out of Birnbaum’s head. Peak CONCACAF.


DON’T FORGET THESE GUYS

Wondolowski jumped off the bench at half time and did what he does best: score goals.

The San Jose Earthquake captain, 33, has now scored at least 10 goals in each of his last seven Major League Soccer seasons and Wondo chipped in with a goal and an assist to prove he’s not done yet. With Gyasi Zardes, Bobby Wood (he was off target in the first half in the first and second half) and Jozy Altidore mainstays up front and the likes of Jordan Morris and Paul Arriola emerging, Wondo is often the forgotten man. Yes, we all know he missed a good chance against Belgium in the World Cup but he knows how to sniff out a goal and he now has 11 in 35 appearances for the U.S. Wondo can still do a job through World Cup qualifying.

Elsewhere Horvath staked his claim in goal with an assured display and with Tim Howard doing well for Colorado in MLS but no longer first-choice for the USMNT and Brad Guzan not a regular at Middlesbrough, the Molde youngster may just have moved himself up the pecking order. Apart from that, bit-part players didn’t get too long to prove their worth but we will likely see much more from them against New Zealand with youngsters Lynden Gooch, Arriola and Morris all likely to get significant minutes.

Cuba 0-2 USA: Wondo, Green tally in USMNT’s ugly win in Cuba

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Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green got the goals as the U.S. national team picked up an ugly, choppy victory in Cuba on Friday, the first time the senior squad played a game on Cuban soil since 1947.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

For the most part, the Yanks escaped the bumpy, cratered field at the Estadio Pedro Marrero in Havana without incident. Christian Pulisic was clattered by hard challenges on numerous occasions in the first half, and was subbed off after 45 minutes. Steve Birnbaum was less fortunate, as the D.C. United defender received studs to the top of his head, opening up a gushing wound with 10 minutes left to go in the game.

All three of the USMNT’s first-half shots on target came via Green, a surprise inclusion in Jurgen Klinsmann’s starting lineup. The best of the bunch played out in the 23rd minute, when the Bayern Munich youngster broke down the left flank, cut into the penalty area, cut back toward the end line, and fired a left-footed shot low, but right at Cuban goalkeeper Sandy Sanchez, who made the kick save with the ball headed for the far post.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from USA 2-0 Cuba ]

Cuba nearly opened the scoring long after, in the 28th minute, Roberney Caballero unleashed a speculative effort from from outside the penalty area. The ball looked headed for the inside of the far post, but 21-year-old goalkeeper Ethan Horvath, the youngest player to start in goal for the USMNT since 1994 (Zach Thornton), which occurred before Horvath was born, got fingertips to the ball and pushed it wide.

Maikel Reyes went inches from giving Cuba the lead just before the hour mark. The Cruz Azul striker raced down the right side of the field and into the penalty area, where he unloaded on Horvath with a shot to the near post, but came up with only woodwork as the ball clanged off the inside of the post and shot across the face of goal behind an unknowing Horvath.

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Three minutes later, in the 62nd, the Yanks were on the scoreboard. Green cut inside from the left wing to fire a right-footed shot at Sanchez, who made the initial save. The rebound, unfortunately for Sanchez, fell right to the feet of Wondolowski, who hammered the ball into an empty net for the 11th goal of his international career.

[ MORE: Cristiano Ronaldo hammers An-four-a in goal-scoring blitz ]

Green grabbed a goal of his own — deservedly so, it must be said — to make it 2-0 in the 71st minute. It was Wondolowski who provided the assist, a simple cross across the face of goal with Green in all alone at the back post.

The USMNT’s final game before its World Cup qualifying showdown with Mexico, in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 11, will be a friendly against New Zealand at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., (8 p.m. ET) on Tuesday.