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Report: USMNT turned down Lopetegui meeting request

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The United States men’s national team has been missing a full-time head coach for a long time, and is set to appoint a boss — probably Gregg Berhalter — within the next week or two.

But Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl dropped a bomb on a weary and leery U.S. fan base after FS1’s broadcast of the USMNT’s 1-0 loss to Italy in Belgium on Tuesday.

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Wahl says that former Spain and Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui recently approached U.S. Soccer about the vacancy, but was told the program was too far along in its process.

From Wahl on SI.com:

U.S. Soccer, the source said, replied that it was too far down the line in its process to entertain the interest of Lopetegui, who was undefeated in 20 matches (14-0-6) across two years as the Spain coach. U.S. Soccer offered no comment when asked for a response.

The report will only add more consternation as Berhalter, well-qualified in his own right, attempts to right the good ship USMNT.

How in the world, at any point in the process, a program like the USMNT refuses the chance to speak to Lopetegui would be hilarious most times, though it certainly is likely very late in the process (which has not been anywhere near transparent).

If Berhalter had been told he was hired, that’s about the only acceptable answer (and even if he was, some would still have wanted the U.S. to say ‘Tough break, Gregg. We owe the process this conversation’).

Also a former Porto boss, Lopetegui led Spain’s U-19 and U-21 sides to EURO titles. He was fired by Real on Oct. 29, which would’ve given the Yanks a chance to reach out to him.

Again, I think Berhalter has everything it takes to be a wildly successful USMNT boss, but this process has not been covered in glory.

Real Madrid officially fires Julen Lopetegui

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Real Madrid chief executive Florentino Perez is not known for his patience with those who struggle at the helm of his club. He tried to hold out as long as he could as Julen Lopetegui looked for a way through the recent darkness, but a dismantling at the hands of a bitter rival forced his hand.

Following a 5-1 defeat to Barcelona in El Clasico over the weekend, Real Madrid finally pulled the trigger and officially sacked manager Julen Lopetegui on Monday after weeks of speculation as the club has fallen further and further into La Liga obscurity. On the heels of three consecutive Champions League titles, Madrid sits in ninth in the La Liga table, with just a single win over its last seven matches across all competitions – a 2-1 victory over Czech club Viktoria Plzen. Madrid suffered through a near-club-record goal drought of over 450 minutes during that span.

The Spanish giants issued a scathing statement to confirm his departure. “The Board of Directors understands that there is a great disproportion between the quality of the staff of Real Madrid – which has 8 players nominated for the next Golden Ball, something unprecedented in the history of the club – and the results obtained to date.”

Taking over on an interim basis is reserve team manager Santiago Solari. Multiple reports across Europe have claimed that the club is targeting Antonio Conte to take over on a permanent basis, as the former Chelsea man has been without a job since departing the Blues this summer.

Lopetegui’s departure is an expensive one for Madrid. Reports state his contract is worth a whopping $20.5 million, a sum the club will have to pay out to honor his deal.

Lopetegui hopes to save the season (and his job) in El Clasico

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Julen Lopetegui heads into his first clasico against fierce rival Barcelona still believing he can succeed as Real Madrid coach.

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Speculation of his imminent firing has been rampant in Spain since Madrid went on a five-game winless streak that included its longest ever scoring drought.

An unconvincing 2-1 win over Viktoria Plzen this week did little to change the mood that Lopetegui is in serious danger of losing his job.

Lopetegui said on Saturday he still hopes to turn around Madrid’s season a day before his team visits Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

When pressed about his future after the match, he said: “I hope I am still breathing, I don’t think I am going to die. Our situation is not irreversible, we are in October.”

Madrid has fallen to eighth place after back-to-back Spanish league losses against Alaves and Levante. Even so, it is only five points behind new leader Atletico Madrid, which won on Saturday.

Blasted in the Spanish media, Lopetegui has so far maintained the public support of players such as captain Sergio Ramos and heavyweights Marcelo and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon.

“They believe in me and I believe in them,” Lopetegui said. “And that goes to show that we are working well and working hard, and have the motivation to please our fans. We are heading (to Barcelona) with the maximum ambition.”

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Madrid hasn’t lost in its last four visits to Barcelona, although those results came under coach Zinedine Zindane and with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the team that he left in the offseason for Juventus.

Barcelona will also be without Lionel Messi, who is mending a broken right forearm.

That will make this clasico the first to be played without either star since 2007.

Barcelona beat Inter Milan 2-0 this week in its first match since Messi’s injury, but despite the strong performance coach Ernesto Valverde rejects the label of favorite against Madrid.

For Valverde, Madrid is even more dangerous when it is desperate for a victory over its top rival.

“We know how Madrid is, the more badly it is hurt, the more dangerous it is,” Valverde said. “The crises in teams like Madrid are always blown out of proportion, and then the players step up. There were moments at the start of the season when Madrid was playing brilliantly.”

Barcelona, which enters the match in second place at one point behind Atletico, will entrust Luis Suarez to lead the attack.

The only question is whether Valverde will give a second straight start to Rafinha after he scored against Inter, or opt to play forward Ousmane Dembele in Messi’s spot.

“We have to be able to play our style, that is the key,” Valverde said. “With or without Messi, that is what earned us the league title last year.”

El Clasico preview: Familiar heroes absent from rivalry

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El Clasico existed before Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, and Cristiano Ronaldo, and it will exist long after it.

Still, Sunday’s edition is going to be weird.

Four gigantic names are gone from the Barcelona-Real Madrid rivalry, albeit Messi’s absence is temporary, which resumes this weekend at the Camp Nou.

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Messi and Ronaldo have scored the most and third-most goals in El Clasico history, while Messi has delivered the most assists. Messi’s 38 appearances are third-most, tied with Iniesta and Sergio Ramos.

That last name will be there on Sunday, as will Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez, and Casemiro. So it won’t be a new generation of challengers.

Discounting friendlies between the two, the rivalry remains tight. Real has won 95 of 237 derbies, losing 92 and drawing 50.

Barcelona leads the table, tied on points with Catalan rivals Espanyol and four points clear of Real.

The visitors’ manager, Julen Lopetegui, has found no reprieve from his attack’s struggles following a slim 2-1 defeat of Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League.

Lopetegui, 52, has has one point from his last four La Liga matches, and lost at CSKA Moscow in the Champions League.

That has his seat considerably warm, especially with Real president Florentino Perez seemingly fond of switching things up. But his players reportedly very much have his back, Marca report claiming, “Few times in Real Madrid’s history have the key members of the squad been so publicly in favor of a coach under pressure.”

The times number just as few when Real will have a such a good chance to strike success in an away El Clasico.

Report: Lopetegui out at Real Madrid after historic slide

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Julen Lopetegui may not be entirely at fault for the historic skid Real Madrid has found itself in the midst of, but if reports are accurate, he will be taking the fall for it.

According to Sky Sports, Lopetegui is out at Real Madrid, and the change at the helm is imminent. Whether Lopetegui is the main culprit or not, the optics of the last few weeks have been far from pretty.

Madrid has gone five matches without a win across all competitions, four of those losses. They suffered through a club-record 481-minute scoreless streak, which ended on Saturday in a 2-1 loss to Levante.

Earlier in the day, Spanish outlet Marca reported that Lopetegui is on thin ice, saying that he will be fired soon, “if it is not today, it will be tomorrow, or in the next week, or after El Clasico.”

Lopetegui maintained his safe mindset after the Levante loss, telling reporters, “Right now that is the last thing that I’m thinking about. I feel more encouraged than ever to continue because the team gave their heart and soul on the pitch. Sooner or later we will come out of this. The dressing room was sad but the players are keen to lift themselves up and look to the next game. The players gave everything and we will get out of this situation.”

However, there was a Lopetegui quote following the loss to Levante that may reveal a little more about his current mindset. Lopetegui said, “Football will give back everything it has taken from us,” or, in other words, Lopetegui believes that Real Madrid’s performance will advance back to the mean. He clearly believes what is happening at Real Madrid does not need fixing, and if he continues to plow forward eventually things will correct themselves. While that may or may not be true, the points Madrid has lost in the La Liga table, and the positioning it has lost in Champions League play, cannot be recovered. There is serious ground to be made up in league play now with Barcelona four points ahead of Madrid, plus three other teams between the two sides in the standings.

While it was always going to take time to adjust for the loss of star player Cristiano Ronaldo, that alone is not the reason why Madrid has failed to put the ball in the back of the net. There is some bad luck involved as Lopetegui mentioned, considering they put up 3.26 expected goals and hit the woodwork three times in the loss to Levante, but they also had less than stellar performances against Alaves and Atletico Madrid, and they were soundly beaten by Sevilla.

It’s been a rough few months for Lopetegui. His acceptance of the Madrid position this summer resulted in a messy and embarrassing split from the Spanish national team less than 48 hours before the start of the World Cup. He lost his opening match in charge, falling to Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in extra time, and while the club won four of its first five league matches, the dry spell eventually struck, and here we are.

It’s no surprise that Florentino Perez, the firecracker in charge of Los Blancos, has made a move in the midst of the struggles. No matter where the blame ultimately lies, the manager is always going to be the first to take the fall, and that appears to have taken place at Madrid.