8/31/16 US WC Qualifiers Fri 3:30 pm, Tues 8 pm, Indy 11 @ Cosmos Wed 7:30, Champions League Predictions, CHS Boys-Fri 7 pm Free Admission CDC/CFC Players  

Anyone feel like grabbing a late lunch for the US game Friday 3:30 pm?  I was thinking Stacked Pickle on 96th or Chattam Tap in Fishers.

The US National Team has some HUGE Qualifiers this Friday 3:30 pm at St Vincent on beIN Sport and Tues 9/6 in Jax vs Trinidad and Tobago at  8 pm on Fox Sports 1.  What’s at stake – well currently the US is 2nd behind T&T in our group – 2 wins are a necessity to win the Group and guarantee ourselves the top slot moving into the next round (the HEX).  Win both games without our leading scoring Clint Dempsey (who is still having irregular heartbeat tests done) and we advance to the HEX and get to host Mexico on Nov 11 most probably at Columbus. Lose one or lose and tie and qualifying could be in question with Guatamala just 1 pt back in 3rd place.

Locally the Indy 11 travel to league leader NY Cosmos for a midweek game featured on MyIndyTV 23 locally on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm.  The 11 sit just 3 pts back in 3rd place overall and will return for a home game at the MIKE on Saturday, Sept 3rd vs the Tampa Bay Rowdies at 7:30 pm.  Tix just $11.  This Fri, Sept 2   CHS boys host  7:30 pm  PACK THE HOUSE/MAKE GOOD DECISIONS NIGHT with FREE ADMISSION for CDC + CFC players in uniform

So I tried watching some Bundesliga this weekend with the new season opening and lets be real there are more American US National team players playing in Germany than England these days with (D) John Brooks, (M) Fabian Johnson, (F) Bobby Wood, (F) Aron Johannsson, (M) Christian Pulisec (if he plays) and more.  So I watched 2 or 3 games- first time watching entire German league games.  What I saw was interesting – good solid technical soccer – more than EPL, less that La Liga, Huge Stadiums – 75K plus for many of the games – with load boisterous flag waving fans.  In all, while I don’t recognize a lot of the players like I do having watched the EPL for many seasons, it is good soccer.  I think I will start watching the teams with US based players and Bayern Munich of course – seeing as we have what all of 2 American’s in the EPL right now?  So go Champs League squad Bourusia Monchenglab (Fabian Johnson), and Hertha (John Brooks – he was dominant Sun), and newly promoted Hamburg (Bobby wood scored a wonder goal) and Dortmund of course (come on coach give the 17 yo American Pulisec a chance), and Aron Johannsson started for Werder Bremen. I’ll be tuning in 2 weeks when league play resumes after this International Break weekend.

CHS_Pack the House Night Poster

GAMES OF THE WEEK 

Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com

Wed, Aug 31                                        

7:30 pm My Indy TV 23                 NY Cosmos vs Indy 11  Big game for Indy as they chase down NY in standings

Fri, Sept 2 

3:30 pm beIN sport     WCQ – US @ St. Vincent + Grenadines –US needs to seal top spot with wins

Sat, Sept 3                                              *International Break *

7:30 pm Ch 8/ESPN3                       Indy 11 vs TB Rowdies

Sun, Sept 4 

12 pm Fox Sports ? ESPN3           Slovakia vs England

Tues, Sept 6 

8 pm Fox Sport 1         WCQ – US vs Trinadad and Tobago  US needs to seal top spot with wins

8:15 pm beIN Sport                                                  Brazil vs Colombia  -Brazil in danger of missing WC2018

Sat, Sept 10

7 am FS1                                                   Celtic vs Rangers – Ireland’s top Rivalry!

11 am NBCSN                       Man United vs Man City –Manchester Darby between the new mega star coaches

 LOCAL High School

Fri, Sept 2   CHS boys host      7:30 pm  PACK THE HOUSE/MAKE GOOD DECISIONS NITE with FREE ADMISSION for CDC + CFC players in uniform

Sat, Sept 3 Guerin boys        5 pm at Indy 11 – The Mike – Guerin plays Bishop Chatard downtown at the Mike before the 7 pm Indy 11 game.

 U.S. Men

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde FC), 
Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha BSC), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)

Midfielders: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)

Why the US Needs to Win

Who Should Start Where with Dempsey and Bradley out?  Stars and Stripes

US Returns to Regulars for Friday Qualifier

Klinnsy calls on Core for Qualifiers – Straus – SI

Sacha Kljestan replaces injured John Brooks on Roster

Did Klinsy Get it Right on Rosters?  Stars and Stripes

Klinsmann Calls in Safe Squad for Qualifiers  TV

Forward Bobby Wood scores First Bundesliga Goal for Hamburg

American’s Abroad this Week

We Should Appreciate What US Men have done

Dempsey Duece – Out with Irregular Heartbeat

Hope Solo Suspension Seems Hollow – Graham Hayes ESPNW

Hope Solo’s Rant after her Suspension

INDY 11

Indy vs NY Cosmos Preview

Indy 11 3 Things in Tie with Ottawa

Playoff Tickets for Purchase

Tickets for Sat Sept 3 Game vs Tampa Bay just $11

Champions League

Group A  1. Paris Saint-Germain 2. Arsenal 3. FC Basel 4. Ludogorets Razgrad

Group B  1. Benfica 2. Napoli 3. Dynamo Kiev 4. Besiktas

Group C  1. Barcelona, 2. Manchester City 3. Borussia Monchengladbach 4. Celtic

Group D  1. Atletico Madrid 2. Bayern Munich 3. PSV Eindhoven 4. Rostov

Group E   1. Tottenham 2. Bayer Leverkusen 3. Monaco 4. CSKA Moscow

Group F  – 1. Real Madrid 2. Borussia Dortmund  3. Sporting Lisbon 4. Legia Warsaw

Group G –  1. Porto 2. Leicester City 3. Copenhagen 4.Brugge

Group H –  1. Juventus 2. Lyon 3. Sevilla 4. Dinamo Zagreb

Key Early Games Tues Sept 13

Arsenal @ PSG

Celtic @ Barcelona

Sept 14

Monico @ Tottenham

Sevilla @ Juve

Sept 27

Man City @ Celtic

Bayern Munich @ Athletico Madrid

Sept 28

Real Madrid @ Dortmund

Porto @ Leicester City

Marcotti – Why UCL changed the #s

UCL losing the Romance Jon Wilson SI

Predictions Ben Lyttleton SI

Man City Looks good in Group C

Athletico has Tough Draw

Juve should run away with Group H

Europa League Match-up Set

Europa League Draw Results

GOALKEEPERS

Arsenal Keeper Petre Cech – Interview

Top EPL Saves of Week 3

MLS Save of Week 24

Vote Save of Week 25

 More GAMES ON TV

Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com

Wed, Aug 31                                        

7:30 pm CBS Sports Network     Ft. Lauderdale vs Minn. 

7:30 pm My Indy TV                                                NY Cosmos vs Indy 11

Fri, Sept 2 

3:30 pm beIN sport     WCQ – US @ St. Vincent + Grenadines

5 pm beIN Sport                                 Honduras vs Canada

8 pm beIN Sport                                 Haiti vs Costa Rica

10 pm beIN Sport                              Mexico vs El Salvador

Sat, Sept 3                                              *International Break *

7:30 pm Ch 8 ESPN3                                                Indy 11 vs TB Rowdies

Sun, Sept 4 

12 pm Fox Sports 2                           Denmark vs Armenia

12 pm Fox Sports ? ESPN3           Slovakia vs England

2:45 pm Fox Sports 2                      Norway vs Germany

Mon, Sept 5 

12 pm Fox Sports 1                           Spain vs Leichenstein

Tues, Sept 6 

2:45 pm Fox Sports 2                                               Belarus vs France

2:45 pm Fox Sports 1                      Switzerland vs Portugal

8 pm Fox Sport 1         WCQ – US vs Trinadad and Tobago

8:15 pm beIN Sport                                                  Brazil vs Colombia

Fri, Sept 9                                                 

2:30 pm Fox Sport1                          Bayern Munich vs. Schalke 04

Sat, Sept 10

7 am FS1                                                   Celtic vs Rangers – Ireland

11 am NBCSN                       Man United vs Man City

9:30 am fox Sports 1                                                Bayer Leverkusen s Hamburg SV

10 am NBCSN                                        Arsenal vs Southampton, Stoke City vs Tottenham, West Ham vs Watford

12:30 pm FS 2                                       RB Leipzig vs Borussia Dortmund

12:30 pm NBCSN                                Liverpool s Leicester City

7:30 pm YES                                           New England vs NYCFC

7:30 pm beIN Sports   Ft. Lauderdale vs Indy 11

9 pm beIN Sport                                 Futsal World Cup – Colombia vs Portugal

Sun, Sept 11

9:30 am FS1                                            Werder Bremen vs Augsburg

11 am NBCSN                                        Swansea vs Chelsea 

11:30 am FS 1                                       Mainz 05 vs Hoffenhiem

7 pm FS 1                                                                         LA Galaxy vs Orlando City

9:30 pm FS 1                                         Women -Portland Thorns vs NY Flash

Mon, Sept 12

3 pm NBCSN                                           Sunderland vs Everton

Tues, Wed Sept 13/14                   Champions League Group Stage Starts 

Tues -Arsenal @ PSG + Celtic @ Barcelona

Wed- Monico @ Tottenham + Sevilla @ Juve

Sept 27

Man City @ Celtic

Bayern Munich @ Athletico Madrid

Sept 28

Real Madrid @ Dortmund

Porto @ Leicester City

MLS TV Schedule ‘

EPL TV Schedule on NBC + NBCSN

German Bundesliga TV Schedule on Fox Soccer and Gol TV

 PREVIEW: INDY ELEVEN AT NEW YORK COSMOS

Indiana’s Team faces the Cosmos for the second time in 2016

Last Time Out – Ottawa Fury FC 1 : 1 Indy Eleven

Indy faced game #2 of 3 on the road last Sunday against Fury FC in Ottawa, coming away with a deserved point after 90 minutes that featured almost as many rain delays as goals. After a scoreless first half that featured limited chances for both sides, second half substitute Thomas Stewart opened the scoring in the 56th minute following a set piece by Fury FC midfielder Ryan Williams. Ottawa’s No.7 struck the ball hard and over the wall towards Eleven ‘keeper Jon Busch, and the MLS veteran was only able to punch it straight into the air where it then fell into the path of Stewart who made no mistake heading home from close range.However, in the 64th minute Indy earned a set piece of their own on the right hand side. As midfielder Nicki Paterson swung his cross into the center of the box, forward Eamon Zayed headed it backwards in the direction of midfielder Brad Ring, and the American lashed home an effort that struck the underside of the bar and in. Despite a number of substitutes and a delay for lightning, the final 25 minutes saw both teams come close only once, but finish the match with a point a piece – a justfiable scoreline.

Last Time Out – New York Cosmos 6 : 1 Carolina Railhawks FC

Last weekend at Shuart Stadium, the New York Cosmos asserted their dominance against Railhawks FC in a 6-1 thrashing that featured braces by Juan Arango and Jairo Arrieta, and a goal a piece by Andres Flores and Sebastian Guenzatti.Carolina got off to a fast start in the sixth minute when forward Matt Fondy found the back of the net off a pass by Nazmi Albadawi, but it took New York just two minutes to level the score as Arango bagged his first from a Flores assist. As both sides settled into the match, chances would come but none were converted as halftime saw things tied at 1-1.Just inside the hour mark though, the tide began to overwhelmingly turn in New York’s favor as Juan Arango scored his second goal of the match on a skillful solo effort. Four minutes later, Jairo Arrieta brought down a pass from Andres Flores and put New York 3-1 up with thirty minutes to play. After a break in scoring, things resumed in the 79th minute with a goal by Andres Flores this time off a ball by Jairo Arrieta, and three minutes later it was Arrieta again on the scoresheet as substitute David Diosa bagged his only assist of the match to make it 5-1. Putting the finishing touch on the game, Sebastian Guenzatti scored in the third minute of stoppage off a Flores pass, who tallied three assists on the night, to end Carolina’s misery. The 6-1 score shot Cosmos to the top of the table ahead of Wednesday’s clash.

“Climbing the Mountain”

Before Indy challenge New York for the top spot in the table, we throw it back to a phrase used by Eleven head coach Tim Hankinson before the Jacksonville Armada FC game in May – “climbing the mountain.” At that point in time, “Coach Hank” was using the phrase to describe Indy’s Spring Season title challenge and how, as a group, they were looking to climb the mountain and finish the job.Now, Indy is climbing a different mountain – one that requires a much longer trek – the challenge that is the Fall Season. Sitting third in the fall standings, Indy could vault to the top with a win featuring a three-goal margin of victory, but it will take a great deal of effort by the “Boys in Blue” still facing injury trouble among other concerns. While the Cosmos are pacing the league with four wins in their last five games, they will be without a number of players due to international call-ups and injury trouble of their own, meaning Indy needs to throw their all into this fixture if they hope to scrape out their first road win of the Fall Season.

Placing Your Weight

On the other side of the coin, though, is the idea that Indiana’s Team needs to place distribute their weight evenly with a match against Tampa Bay Rowdies looming on Saturday.August was a mixed month for the opponents from the Sunshine State with two wins and three losses, though it’s worth noting the losses were to quality opposition in New York, Minnesota United FC, and FC Edmonton. Former England international Joe Cole helped rescue the three points in their last match against Rayo OKC after finding the back of the net twice and remains the biggest threat ahead of that match, but the point remains that Indy has enough on their plate with three games in the next 11 days.While a win over New York would very much keep Indy in the running for the Fall Season championship, a loss would place them six points off the top of the charts and damage their title hopes. The two Tim’s Hankinson and Regan are now tasked with figuring out how much weight to place both Wednesday and Saturday as the chase continues.

Who to Watch, Indy Eleven edition: FW Eamon Zayed

In the spotlight once again is forward Eamon Zayed, who still sits just one goal off the top of the league scoring charts and will look to continue his form against the Cosmos after his brace in the spring.Zayed has performed well in the fall, often scoring in spurts. Without a goal in the first two games, he would go onto score in three of the next five games with goals against Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and a hat-trick at home against Jacksonville Armada FC. After missing out on scoring against Ottawa and Rayo OKC, he returned to form with a penalty against Carolina. With Wednesday’s match carrying major weight in the fall standings, the Irishman is due for another big performance and has found his stage. Will he deliver?

Who to Watch, New York Cosmos edition: MF Juan Arango

Leading the team in goals (9) and second in assists (4) midfielder Juan Arango is growing as one of the biggest midfield threats on any team in the league.The Venezuelan international nabbed a brace in the Cosmos’ 6-1 win over Carolina and has helped lead the team in their three-game win streak, continuing to push forward and assist the attack on a regular basis. Without Andres Flores, who has been called up to his national team squad, Arango will have to put in an extra shift if the Cosmos are to ruffle Indy’s feathers defensively.

Match-up to Mark: GK Jon Busch vs. FW Jairo Arrieta

Jon Busch won’t forgive himself for the goal Ottawa scored on Sunday, despite the tricky free kick from Fury FC midfielder Ryan Williams being difficult to handle. However, Buschy is looking at a much bigger task on Wednesday in New York – stifling an impressive Cosmos attack that has scored 15 goals in their last five matches.Jairo Arrieta, who also bagged a brace against Carolina, will help spearhead that attack alongside Sebastian Guenzatti, who also scored against Railhawks FC. If the Cosmos are to continue their pattern of dominance at home, making a statement with a win over the Spring Season champions Indy Eleven will likely involve impact by Arrieta.

US MEN – SEMIFINAL ROUND SITUATION: TWO TO GO, AND ALL TO PLAY FOR

Aug 28, 2016

Going into the final two matches of the Semifinal Round of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there is still a lot very much up in the air. Sitting in second place with seven points, the USA’s place in the final round still must be secured. Should the MNT advance, the blue print for the Hexagonal has already been set, and it could start off in massive fashion. Below is an explanation of where we are, where we can go, and what happens after.

CONCACAF Semifinal Round World Cup Qualifying – Group C
Team GP W L D Pts. GF GA GD
Trinidad & Tobago 4 3 0 1 10 11 3 +8
USA 4 2 1 1 7 10 3 +7
Guatemala 4 2 2 0 6 7 6 +1
St. Vincent and the Grenadines 4 0 4 0 0 3 19 -16

The top two teams from the group will move on to the “Hex” that begins in November. In looking at the table, three of the four countries are still alive: Trinidad & Tobago, the USA and Guatemala.  As a reminder the tiebreakers are as follows:  Goal Differential  // Goals For

Here is the remaining schedule:

Sept. 2, 2016 St. Vincent & The Grenadines vs. United States
  Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guatemala
Sept. 6, 2016 United States vs. Trinidad & Tobago
  Guatemala vs. St. Vincent & The Grenadines

What to watch for on Sept. 2

If the United States beats St. Vincent AND Trinidad beats Guatemala on Matchday Five, then both will have qualified. T&T needs only a point from their home match to secure advancement. Any other combination of results would leave the future unsettled for all three teams until the final day.Now, if the MNT and T&T both win and are through to the Hexagonal, the next fight is for first place in the group. Why does that matter? We’ll get to that.If those results happen, Trinidad will be in first with 13 points and the United States in second with 10 points. This would mean that only a U.S. victory on Matchday Six at home would give it a chance to take top spot in the group. As you see above, Trinidad also currently holds the advantage in goal differential (+1) and goals scored (+1). So, keep an eye on not only the results but the scorelines!If the U.S. beats St. Vincent and Trinidad ties Guatemala on Sept. 2, a USA victory at home against T&T would guarantee the MNT first place. If the U.S. beats St. Vincent and Guatemala beats Trinidad, that would leave both T&T and the USA with 10 points and Guatemala with nine. In that case, things get really, really interesting…

What to watch for on Sept. 6

Obviously it all depends on the results from MatchDay Five. For the Guatemalans, a victory away in Port of Spain is vital to substantially keeping their hopes alive, especially with their final match at home against St. Vincent. Two wins in two games gets the job done.

Same goes for the United States. Two wins equals advancement. If the USA beats St. Vincent and ties Trinidad, it can finish no less than tied on points for second place, which then triggers the tie breakers.Regardless of the specific circumstance, the game in Jacksonville will be – how do you say … HUGE!

Let’s get back to why. The schedule matrix for the six teams competing in the Hex has already been established. The random draw took place July 8 in Miami. If the MNT finishes in first place in the group, they enter the final round as C1. And wouldn’t you know which team C1 hosts in the opening game? Think #DosaCero. That’s right – the United States would host Mexico on Nov. 11 at a stadium to be … ahem … determined. Just as intriguing, with Costa Rica in pole position in Group B, the second match for Team 1 would most likely be away to Los Ticos four days later. As it turns out, it doesn’t snow in Costa Rica in November (or any time, for that matter).  Should the U.S. finish in second place, they become C2 and would still be at home. And here comes that Costa Rica game again! The other intriguing part of the C2 schedule is back-to-back home games for Matchdays 3-4, and back-to-back away games for Matchdays 5-6 and 8-9.   So you see, where you finish in the semifinal round matters a great deal on the roadmap to Russia. But to be there, you’ve got to get there, making these next two matches absolutely critical. While it may have seemed September was a sleepy time, the MNT needs your support now more than ever.

Jurgen Klinsmann takes no chances with U.S. squad for crucial WCQs

With a qualifying spot in the next round of World Cup qualifying at stake, U.S. men’s national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has opted for a veteran roster before games against St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2, and Trinidad & Tobago four days later.All told, 26 players have been called in. The group includes Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore but the Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey has been left off due to an irregular heartbeat that was announced by his club on Friday. No timetable has been given for his return. LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes was also left off the roster due to an undisclosed injury he sustained in Saturday night’s 0-0 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps.Altidore has been plagued by hamstring issues for much of 2016 — one such injury caused him to miss the Copa America earlier this summer. But since returning to his club on July 23, Altidore has scored five goals and added one assist in eight appearances, three of them starts. It is expected that he will be relied on heavily to pick up the slack created by Dempsey’s absence, and forward Bobby Wood (fresh off scoring on his Bundesliga debut for his new club Hamburg) will also play a big role. Opportunity will also beckon for Dempsey’s club teammate, Jordan Morris, and FC Utrecht’s Rubio Rubin, with San Jose Earthquake mainstay Chris Wondolowski rounding out the group of forwards.Beyond that, the roster looks very similar to the one that saw the U.S. reach the semifinals of the Copa, with 19 of the 23 players on that roster getting recalls.”We definitely think that the group that got fourth in the Copa America deserves a certain 
priority going on to the next World Cup qualifiers because they did tremendously well [in that competition],” Klinsmann said. “It was an exciting tournament with great games. The whole group learned a lot, playing teams like Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina. This is a big stage, and they deserve to come back and confirm what they did in the tournament in these upcoming, very important World Cup qualifiers.”That list includes captain Michael Bradley, who will serve a one-game suspension against SVG for yellow card accumulation. Michael Orozco is also suspended due to the red card he incurred late in the Copa America third-place match against Colombia.Colorado Rapids midfielder Jermaine Jones has been called in despite not playing for almost two months due to a lingering knee problem. It is expected that he will be checked out by the U.S. medical staff and the hope is that he will be ready if needed. That said, it seems unlikely that he will play in either match.Jones’ injury and Bradley’s suspension mean that Klinsmann will rely heavily on Kyle Beckerman to man the center of midfield against the Vincy Heat. It could also mean that one of Christian Pulisic or Darlington Nagbe will get extended minutes.With regard to the defense, the group that performed so well at the Copa (including Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, and Fabian Johnson) are on the roster. Omar Gonzalez is back in the frame after missing out on the Copa while FC Dallas defender Kellyn Acosta is expected to provide valuable depth at both full-back positions.In terms of unexpected call-ups, both Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola and Caleb Stanko of FC Vaduz are on the roster.The U.S. currently lies in second place in Group C with seven points, three points behind T&T but just one point ahead of Guatemala. A win against the Vincy Heat, combined with a T&T win against Guatemala, would see the U.S. clinch a spot in the final hexagonal round, due to begin in November. Given the edge that the U.S. has over Guatemala in goal difference — currently, plus-six — a win in St. Vincent combined with a draw between T&T and Guatemala would all but guarantee that the U.S. would advance. Should Guatemala prevail over T&T, determining who will advance will come down to the final day.”We are preparing for these two games very seriously with a lot of urgency because we want to finish off our group in first place if possible, and this group of players gets the chance to do that,” said Klinsmann.The U.S. team will be expected to log plenty of air miles over the next week. Because St. Vincent’s airport can’t accommodate jets, the team will stop over in Barbados, where it will take a series of 19-passenger planes — including one just for the team’s gear — to make the final journey to St. Vincent.

U.S. Roster by position

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde FC), 
Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha BSC), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)

Midfielders: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC 

Klinsmann turns to USA’s Copa core, recalls Morris for World Cup qualifiers

QUICKLY – Of the USA’s 23-man Copa America roster, 19 are part of the squad for September’s World Cup qualifiers, though a handful will miss he first match vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines. BRIAN STRAUSSunday August 28th, 2016

It’s been two months since the U.S. national team finished fourth at the Copa América Centenario, but time hasn’t dimmed the accomplishment for coach Jurgen Klinsmann. On Sunday afternoon he named 19 of the 23 men who participated in that competition to the squad that will close out CONCACAF’s semifinal round of World Cup qualifying, and he would have invited more if possible.This year’s leading international goal scorer (and last year’s), Clint Dempsey, will miss out while being evaluated by doctors following the diagnosis of an irregular heartbeat. The 33-year-old forward will be out of action for both the U.S. and the Seattle Sounders for an undetermined period. He’ll be joined on the qualifying sidelines by LA Galaxy attacker Gyasi Zardes, who was a late scratch after leaving Saturday night’s MLS game against Vancouver. Zardes had taken a hard, sliding tackle from the Whitecaps’ Kendall Waston midway through the second half and is being evaluated by Galaxy staff.Otherwise, apart from a few younger players Klinsmann would like to get a look at during this international window, the team aiming to clinch a spot in the Hexagonal is the team that took the field this summer. Midfielder Perry Kitchen and defender Edgar Castillo, neither of whom saw action at the Copa, are the only others excluded.“We definitely think that the group that got fourth in the Copa América deserves a certain priority going on to the next World Cup qualifiers because they did tremendously well,” Klinsmann said. “This is a big stage, and they deserve to come back and confirm what they did in the tournament in these upcoming, very important World Cup qualifiers. We are preparing for these two games very seriously, with a lot of urgency because we want to finish off our group in first place if possible, and this group of players gets the chance to do that.”The U.S. (2-1-1) will gather in Jacksonville on Sunday and Monday and then head to Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, for Friday’s game against the 0-4-0 Vincy Heat. The Americans then will head back to Jacksonville, where they’ll play Trinidad & Tobago (3-0-1) on Sept. 6. Klinsmann’s team is in good shape to finish in the top half of the four-team group, but unless both the U.S. and Trinidad win on Friday, the Americans will head into the finale needing the right result to cement its place in CONCACAF’s final qualifying round.So Klinsmann is taking no chances, and even has called in key players facing suspension (Michael Bradley) or still recovering from an injury (Jermaine Jones). The opposition might not be formidable, but the stakes are enormous.“Our message for players coming into this camp for the two World Cup qualifiers is very clear: approach it with a lot of urgency,” he said. Klinsmann named 26 players on Sunday but said he will take only 23 to St. Vincent. Bradley (yellow card accumulation) and defender Michael Orozco (ejected during Copa bronze medal game) are both suspended for Friday’s match and will be among those left behind. If passage to the Hex is secured in St. Vincent, the manager may send a few players home. The slightly larger squad gives him a bit of leeway for what could be a tense and unpredictable finale.Here’s a look at Klinsmann’s qualifying team:

Goalkeepers

Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde FC), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)

Guzan, the Copa América starter, appears to have maintained a claim on the No. 1 shirt after three consecutive starts for Middlesbrough, his new club. Playing time wasn’t guaranteed with former Barcelona netminder Víctor Valdés and incumbent Dimi Konstantopoulos in the fold. But an injury to the former helped open the door and Guzan has had the opportunity to shake off the summer rust. He shut out West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.

Howard has started just twice for the U.S. this year, but he’s been good for the Colorado Rapids and showed what he still can do with Friday’s spectacular penalty kick save on Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales. Horvath continues to hold off MLS stalwarts like Nick Rimando, David Bingham and Bill Hamid for the third spot.

Defenders

Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)

Arguably the most surprising omission from the Copa roster, Liga MX champion Gonzalez has returned and very well could push Cameron for a starting spot alongside the imperious Brooks. Besler and Birnbaum provide reliable depth, while Johnson and Yedlin have established themselves as the clear choices at outside back—a position where there was considerable uncertainty last year.

Johnson still may be a better midfielder, but the U.S. has more depth further up the field.  He came on as a substitute in Gladbach’s season opening 2-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.

Midfielders

Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Klinsmann has a couple interesting choices to make assuming Jones (knee) isn’t ready to play on Friday. The veteran has been out of the Colorado Rapids’ lineup since early July. His inclusion is testament both to the importance of these upcoming games and to Klinsmann’s faith in the 34-year-old midfield powerhouse.“We will take it one day at a time with him,” Klinsmann said.eckerman may be part of the player pool forever, and he’ll likely be deployed to do Beckerman-type things, giving Klinsmann’s creative players a bit more leeway to push forward. In Bedoya and Nagbe, the U.S. has the talent to carve open the likes of St. Vincent and Trinidad, while Pulisic’s promise is such that Klinsmann has brought him in despite rumors that the 17-year-old could be on the move from Dortmund.The manager addressed that issue on Sunday.“Every time you go into a national team qualifying window in early September is a bit tricky because FIFA has that rule to close the transfer window on August 31st,” he said. “Players who are not transferred before August 31st, or maybe are in jeopardy on not knowing where to go, bring that kind of atmosphere into the national team environment. So this is not ideal. We had this in the past where we had transfers done at the last moment and it was real difficult for players to focus on what is really important, meaning the game. So hopefully our players will be all set as quickly as possible over the next couple of days, knowing where their future takes them, we can focus fully on the World Cup qualifiers.”He obviously has faith confidence in the teenager, who’s been far from overawed in either a U.S. shirt or at the Westfalenstadion.Stanko, 23, is a relatively new name on the senior national team list (he went unused in the pre-Copa friendly vs. Puerto Rico) and will be brought in for evaluation. The defensive midfielder is unlikely to play. The Michigan native moved for Germany’s SC Freiburg in 2011 and now is on loan to Liechtenstein’s FC Vaduz, which plays across the border in the Swiss Super League.

Forwards

Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburger SV)

Dempsey will be missed, certainly, but there are goals to be found among the available forwards. “Clint Dempsey has been back scoring and we wanted to have him here, but of course his health comes first,” Klinsmann said. “We’re thinking of Clint and hoping that he will be okay. With our other forwards, Jozy is back scoring. Jordan Morris is doing really well. Then we’ve had the European-based players Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin starting their season right now. It looks good. Wondolowski is scoring as well … so that’s a good thing for us. We know our strikers are hungry for goals, and hopefully they can start with that right away in St. Vincent.”Wood started off with his new club, HSV, where he left off in the spring, scoring in Bundesliga debut on Saturday. His rise to international starter status represents Klinsmann’s greatest post-World Cup personnel success.

Altidore, who’s been tormented by hamstring injuries at the worst moments, has been strong for TFC in recent weeks and has four goals in his past five games. They may be less inclined than Dempsey to drop into midfield and look to create or facilitate, but that shouldn’t be much of a handicap against opposition that likely will play lower and more compact.

Morris has had a good rookie season and should be up to the challenge, and Wondolowski’s veteran influence ensures he remains in the picture. He has nine goals and two assists for San Jose this season.

3 thoughts on the USMNT’s World Cup qualifying roster

By Rob Usry  @RobUsry Aug 28, 2016, 12:38p  Stars and Stripes

On Sunday, Jurgen Klinsmann named a very interesting 26-man roster for the final two World Cup qualifiers in the semifinal round of CONCACAF. In all honesty, no matter what roster was called up, the United States men’s national team should be heavily favored in both of these upcoming qualifiers.On paper, the U.S. should steamroll St. Vincent and the Grenadines away from home and then should be able to handle Trinidad and Tobago to finish off Group C as the top dogs.However, as we know, in CONCACAF “on paper” rarely means anything. The improbable usually becomes possible in the wacky land of North and Central America.Here are a few thoughts on Klinsmann’s selections:

The Deuce is Lost

The most notable thing when you look at the roster is the lack of Clint Dempsey. As you likely know by now, he has been sidelined with an irregular heart. This means that the onus on finding the back of the net when it matters most will fall on the other strikers. Thankfully the U.S. crop of goal scorers are in rare form with Jozy Altidore at the top of his game at the club level. Then you have Bobby Wood scoring a great goal on his Hamburg debut.Those two will likely be called upon to be the team’s main goal threats. Hopefully they can both translate their recent club success to the national team and continue to bang in the goals. If they do that, there shouldn’t be a problem.Gyasi Zardes is also out with an injury, giving fringe guys like Paul Arriola and Rubio Rubin a chance. While it’s not expected that they’ll play much, it’s good to see them getting the opportunity to shine in training in front of Klinsmann.

Why Wondo Why?

I mean, I get that there are injuries, but why? Why always him? To be fair, Wondolowski has made his national team resume on facing minnows of CONCACAF. Perhaps he’ll be the guy who can slay the mighty Vinny Heat at their place. Sort of like the Alan Gordon of this cycle.

Have you seen Danny Williams?

Seriously, where the heck is he? Caleb Stanko gets a call-up but not him? Jemaine Jones, who has been injured for a month, get a call-up but not him? Kyle Beckerman gets — you get it. I’m thoroughly confused by his consistent omission from rosters. He seems like the perfect two-way midfielder to add depth to the squad. Why is he completely out of the picture? I guess we’ll just add it to the other mysterious Klinsmann roster decisions over the past six years.All-in-all I like the mix of veterans and young guys. It should be more than enough to get a spot in the Hex. I’ll refrain from fully judging the roster and philosophy until the Hex is clinched. Once that’s done, I’d really really like to see him get over the veterans like Wondo, Beckerman, and Michael Orozco. It’s time to find some new squad players who can contribute. October’s friendlies are the perfect opportunity to find some new blood.

US Forward Bobby Wood: Draw spoils joy of first Bundesliga goal with Hamburg

U.S. international Bobby Wood said he would have preferred Hamburg had beaten Ingolstadt after scoring his first goal for the club in Saturday’s 1-1 draw.The 23-year-old hit the back of the net only 30 minutes into his Bundesliga debut for Hamburg following his €3.5m summer transfer from second-tier club Union Berlin.The forward picked up a long ball by Hamburg keeper Rene Adler and scored with a strong finish from inside the box, but he was left with mixed emotions with the draw.”Sure, I am pleased with the goal, but I would have preferred to pick up three points,” Wood said. “I am annoyed, it’s just stupid how we conceded that goal. I don’t know what happened to us in the second half.”Wood’s goal was not enough to secure Hamburg three points on the opening day of the league. With only 11 minutes left, HSV defender Cleber failed to clear an Ingolstadt cross and rather set up Lukas Hinterseer for the equaliser. abbadia said that Wood’s goal was part of the club’s expectations.”We bought him just for that. He’s got pace, and he knows how to use his body,” Labbadia told reporters after the match.On Sunday, Wood left Hamburg and flew to Jacksonville, Florida, where he met up with his U.S. teammates. The U.S. play a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier away at St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Sept. 2, followed by another at home to Trinidad & Tobago four days later.

Tab Ramos urges cautious approach with Christian Pulisic

U.S. fans didn’t see much of 17-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic during June’s Copa America Centenario, but U.S. U20 coach Tab Ramos sure did. Ramos, who for the past five years has served as one of Jurgen Klinsmann’s assistants with the senior squad, got to see the Borussia Dortmund midfielder in training on a daily basis for more than a month, en route to the Americans’ fourth-place finish.”I have to tell you, you would have never known that he’s a 17-year-old kid in practice,” Ramos told insider during a recent chat. “He played like a man. He made plays like a man.”I think it was tough for Jurgen to decide how much pressure to put on him,” Ramos added. “Almost every team we played was a little bit ahead of us, so if you’re asking a 17-year-old not only to play in but to win games like that, that’s a lot to ask. You have to bring him along little by little. That’s the only reason he didn’t play more. He could’ve started every game. I think we’ve made mistakes in the past with young players, and I think we have to take a little bit of time with this one. He’s special.”Unfortunately for Ramos, that’s part of the reason Pulisic isn’t likely to play for the U.S. U20s when it attempts, beginning in February, to qualify for next summer’s FIFA under-20 World Cup in South Korea. The U20s last got together earlier this month, a camp limited mostly to college players and development academy standouts as MLS enters the final stretch of its regular season. And overall, Ramos — the U.S. Soccer Hall of Famer who guided the 2015 squad to a quarterfinal finish at the last U20 World Cup — came away impressed by the country’s deepening player pool.”This is my third cycle as head coach, and every camp it gets a little tougher to decide on players when we put the depth chart together to decide who’s ahead of who,” Ramos said. “It’s getting more competitive. Everybody pushes each other. They’re all getting better.”The list of names unavailable to Ramos for that July 31-Aug. 8 camp in New Jersey is long. Missing were 18-year old Cameron Carter-Vickers, who cracked Tottenham Hotspur’s first-team squad for the new Premier League season, and fellow center backs Justen Glad (Real Salt Lake), Erik Palmer-Brown (Porto, on loan from Sporting Kansas City) and Tommy Redding(Orlando City). Pulisic and Gedion Zelalem stayed with Dortmund and Arsenal respectively, while other eligible foreign-based midfielders like Brooks Lennon (Liverpool), Sebastian Saucedo (Veracruz), Kyle Scott(Chelsea) and forward Mukwelle Akale, who recently made his first-team debut for Spanish side Villarreal, were absent, too. This isn’t anything new for Ramos. The U20s have been shorthanded at every camp he’s hosted over the past year. The team has performed consistently nonetheless, as others seized the opportunity to demonstrate their potential.”Miles Robinson of Syracuse has done well every single camp I’ve had him in,” Ramos said. “He’s becoming one of the leaders of the team at the center back position.”In midfield, Eryk Williamson [Maryland] is taking the leadership-by-example role on the team,” Ramos continued. “He controls the temperament of the team, which is amazing for a player who hasn’t had much international experience.” This last camp also featured 11 newcomers to the U20 squad. Of those, Ramos said Indiana defender/midfielder Jeremiah Gutjahr and Akron forward Jonathan Lewis stood out .Identifying new talent and learning to play without its most experienced professionals is vital for Ramos’ team. European clubs will be midway through their seasons in February, when the CONCACAF U20 championship that doubles as World Cup qualifying takes place in Costa Rica, meaning that Carter-Vickers, Pulisic and Zelalem are unlikely to participate. Ramos has even received pushback from MLS clubs in the past.”Two cycles ago in World Cup qualifying, in the final against Mexico, I think I had only 13 players because teams had already called their players back,” Ramos said, noting that unlike MLS, Liga MX requires its clubs to release players to Mexico’s youth national teams. “Even in the preseason, obviously every MLS coach would like to have their young players participate. There’s not much I can do about that.”The U20s will next assemble in Europe for training and games during October’s FIFA window, and, with MLS on its winter hiatus, host one camp in December and two more in January.”We have to have a fitness camp mostly for MLS players and college players, which will be 90 percent what this team is made up of in February,” Ramos said. “We sort of have to become their club, which is not a good scenario for us because we’ll be playing against countries whose domestic leagues are in season.”Should the Americans successfully reach their third straight World Cup, Ramos is hoping he’ll have his best team available next summer.”I look back three years ago and Paul Pogba was starting for Juventus and he played in the U20 World Cup,” Ramos said. “If France does it, Argentina does it, why wouldn’t we? I think at the World Cup we need to represent ourselves well.”Deciding who goes and who doesn’t will be harder than ever. But as far as Ramos is concerned, that’s a good problem to have.”What’s different about this group than previous cycles is there are three or four guys who can win a game on their own,” Ramos said. “We haven’t had an abundance of those over the years, so I think that’s a good sign for us. And that’s without counting the obvious ones, like Pulisic.”

NOTES

  • Before the transfer window closes on Wednesday, Ramos would like to see the 19-year-old Zelalem, who made 29 appearances (22 starts) for Scottish club Rangers in 2015-16. He was farmed out again rather than remain with the Gunners, where minutes will be hard to come by. “Like any young player, at this point the best-case scenario for Gedion would probably be a loan somewhere,” he said. “I’m hopeful he goes to a good place where he’s playing.”One player not in contention for a spot on the U20 squad — at least right now — is Schalke forward Haji Wright. “He’s someone we’re trying to bring along through our U19s,” Ramos said of the 18-year-old Los Angeles native. “He’s gone through some ups and downs, and it’s difficult to break into the first group.”But I think Haji has a lot of potential for the future,” Ramos said. “He’s got size, speed, all those things. The national team is how well you are doing today, and I have to balance throughout the year the guys who I can project long-term to maybe be on the [senior] team. Maybe Haji Wright can be one of those. As we get closer to qualifying I have to decide who’s going to be good for us now. The sooner Haji is ready, the earlier we’ll call him in.”Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC.

5 big things from Americans abroad this week

Bobby Wood makes his Bundesliga debut in style.By Roderick MacNeil  @rodmacneil Aug 30, 2016, 10:00a

Nordic Wall Restored

Ethan Horvath may have had a fine experience this summer at Copa America. Being named as the USMNT’s third keeper for the tournament was a significant step in his young career. Both his club, Molde FK, and Horvath had enjoyed strong starts to the 2016 Tippeligaen season before the June break. By the time he returned to club action, however, the form of both had suffered as Molde struggled through a six-game winless skid.The month of August has seen a rapid turn for the better. On Saturday, Horvath turned away a whopping 8 shots in a 2-0 win at Stromsgodset. Molde has suddenly won four straight, with Horvath posting clean sheets in two of the last three. The club finds itself back in the thick of the race for Europa League positions, currently in 5th place, yet only 1 point behind 2nd place Odd BK. Horvath now has 4 clean sheets in 17 starts this season. Jurgen Klinsmann noticed, and has rewarded him with yet another call-up for the September World Cup Qualifiers.

AronJo Returns

One could be forgiven for wondering if Aron Johannsson might ever return to the field. His latest injury setback was a frustrating one, dealing with chronic hip issues and associated nerve pain for the better part of a year. In recent weeks, things were finally looking up for Johannsson, returning to full training and seeing some limited preseason minutes.On Friday, Johannsson was, somewhat surprisingly, in the starting lineup for Werder Bremen on opening day in the Bundesliga. After 11 months on the shelf, reclaiming his starting striker role was certainly a moment of great personal satisfaction. Unfortunately, the opposition for the day was mighty Bayern Munich, who were in no mood to be gracious hosts. Bayern would roll 6-0 behind a Robert Lewandowski hat trick. Johannsson would put in a full 90 minutes in a losing effort.But Aron’s back, finally, to full health, and that’s the best news of all.

Wooten Back on the Scoresheet

Remember Andrew Wooten? We last saw him with the USMNT in the fall of 2015, earning a call to Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad after a blistering start to the 2.Bundesliga season. Scoring 5 goals in his club’s first 4 games, and 6 goals overall, Wooten was in sizzling form. Yet mysteriously, after returning from international duty, the well went dry, and he didn’t score again the rest of the season. On Friday, that goal-scoring drought would come to an end:  After nearly an entire calendar year, Wooten, with the help of some sloppy defending, found the back of the net. His 76th minute strike was his first goal for SV Sandhausen since September 11, 2015. The goal trimmed SVS’s deficit to 2-1 vs. VfB Stuttgart, but that’s how it would end.Wooten’s club has its work cut out with a slow start, earning just 1 point in three games, and sits 17th on the 18-team 2.Bundesliga table.

Yedlin’s a Magpie

DeAndre Yedlin is now a former Tottenham Hotspur player. He’s also a former Sunderland player. Last week we finally learned where Yedlin will play his club minutes this season, and it’s on the other side of the Tyne-Wear Derby. On Wednesday came the announcement of a permanent transfer to Newcastle United, now of The English Championship, for a reported fee of about £5 million.While taking a step down from the Premier League has to be viewed as a modest disappointment, it’s a move that can play out well for Yedlin in the long run. Firstly, the Magpies will clearly be a favorite to earn promotion back to the EPL. There’s also the opportunity for starting minutes under the watchful eye of managerial legend Rafa Benitez.Yedlin didn’t have opportunity to train much, if at all, prior to Newcastle’s Saturday clash vs. Brighton Hove & Albion. He did make the bench and made a 3-minute cameo appearance in front of his new home fans. Meawhile, Newcastle showed its excitement over their new acquisition by placing him on the cover of the game day program:

Bobby Wood!

Welcome to the Bundesliga, Bobby Wood!  If you were wondering if Wood’s goal-scoring prowess in Germany’s second division would translate to the top flight, you found out in a hurry. Just over 30 minutes into his Bundesliga debut with Hamburger SV, Wood treated us all to yet another highlight goal:That’s a goalkeeper assist, and a stellar individual effort from Bobby Wood to do the rest. After bringing the long ball down and fighting his way through two defenders, Wood unleashed a rocket with his second touch to give HSV the early lead. A crowd favorite in the making? To be determined, but it’s certainly an ideal way to make your introduction.A late defensive error would cost Hamburg a chance at three points on opening day. It ended in a 1-1 draw against Alfredo Morales’ FC Ingolstadt. Up next: USMNT duty. With Clint Dempsey out, it’s as sure a lock as any that Bobby Wood will be in the XI on Friday vs. St. Vincent & The Grenadines. Right now that’s a scary proposition for any opposing defense.

Wiebe: Seattle Sounders, US must step up in wake of Clint Dempsey news

August26, 20164:57PM EDTAndrew WiebeSenior Editor  Here’s what we know: Clint Dempsey is undergoing medical evaluations for an irregular heartbeat. The Seattle and US national team star will miss Sunday’s rivalry match in Portland between the Sounders and Timbers as well as the US national team’s World Cup qualifiers in September. No additional details are available at this time, and there is no public timetable for his return.In situations like this, what we don’t know is just as, if not more, important than what we do know. “Irregular heartbeat” sounds serious, scary even, but Dempsey – and the rest of us – can do nothing but allow the medical process play out at its own pace.For the time being, it’s time for perspective. We may support different clubs and different national teams, but we’re all members of the North American soccer family.Of course, while Dempsey and his family navigate a trying time, the games will go on. The Sounders will travel to Portland for a massive match against the Timbers, and then proceed with their remaining schedule. The USMNT will gather next week to resume their quest to qualify for an eighth straight World Cup.What role Dempsey will play in either campaign is yet to be seen, but there’s no doubt any prolonged absence will have a very real effect on both squads.After spending much of the first half of 2016 adjusting to the preseason departure of strike partnerObafemi Martins, Dempsey seemed to be reinvigorated by the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro. He scored a hat trick in the Uruguayan’s first match then added two more goals against Portland last Sunday to bring his season tally to eight.Deuce – and his swagger – was back.Suddenly a playoff spot that seemed close to inconceivable a month ago wasn’t just possible but increasingly likely. With Lodeiro pulling the strings and Jordan Morris bullying opposing defenders with his strength and speed, Dempsey appeared poised to do what he’s done throughout his entire career: deliver in big moments.

Then Friday’s news hit and the future – Dempsey’s and the Sounders’ – became murky.For the time being, Dempsey’s teammates have no choice but to do something Dempsey has done more than once in his career: step up. Lodeiro must shoulder the expectations that’ve come with two goals and four assists in his first four games. Morris will have to become a more reliable finisher. Herculez Gomez and Nelson Valdez can’t let a bone-dry 25 matches color their final nine.

For the USMNT, Jurgen Klinsmann will need to find another option as reliable and consistent at putting the ball in the back of the next as Dempsey has been for his country. After all, despite his age, Dempsey is the USMNT’s leading scorer over the last three years.Who’s the US alpha dog now? Who will score the goals they need against St. Vincent and the Grenadines to avoid a nervy final matchday? Will it be Jozy Altidore, healthy and productive again after another hamstring injury rule him out of this summer’s Copa America Centenario? Perhaps Bobby Wood, who’s shown so much promise in the past year?For both the US and the Sounders, there’s an inevitable domino effect that comes with a certain level of reliance on one player. If not Dempsey, then who?We’ll find out the answer to that question this weekend in Portland, and on Sept. 2 and 6 in Kingstown, St. Vincent, and Jacksonville, Florida.In the meantime, get well, Deuce. Your health is more important than a game.

Why UEFA will guarantee Champions League places to the top leagues

UEFA has approved structural changes to the Champions League, with the biggest move being automatic group stage qualification for the top four teams from the top four leagues, beginning in the 2018-19 season. Gab Marcotti looks at how this came about. 

Q: So all has been revealed. Europe’s rich get richer. The top four leagues will all have four guaranteed spots in the Champions League group stage. It’s official now, right?

A: This pretty much confirms what some of us had previously reported. There are still some very minor details to work through, but UEFA interim general secretary Theo Theodoridis says it’s done, and he would know. It’s a brave new world.

Q: So did UEFA just lie down for the big clubs?

A: They would say they haven’t. They had to strike a balance between the big boys, who make the Champions League more attractive to the guys who pay the bills — broadcasters and sponsors mostly — and the small and midsized associations.

“We had one target: Keeping the dream alive,” Theodoridis said. “[That means] Allowing all countries to have access to our competitions and maintaining the champions path [to qualification.]. There is an impact [on smaller and midsized associations], I agree. But we minimized it.”

Q: It’s almost as if he’s suggesting it could have been worse.

A: “Worse” depends on your point of view. Some of the things that were discussed at the request of the clubs would have made the Champions League an even more lucrative competition.

We’re talking about wild-card entries for historically big clubs who fail to qualify; this year, for example, think Milan, Manchester United and Liverpool, who have 15 European Cups between them.

Or playing games on weekends, when they can reach a far greater global audience; Asia is asleep and North and South America are at work or school during Champions League games. Or, heck, playing games in other continents.

None of these things will come to pass at least until 2021, as Theodoridis noted. Nor will clubs be boycotting the Champions League or setting up their own competition.

Q: How real was that threat of clubs pulling out of the Champions League?

A: Theodoridis suggests it wasn’t much more than a negotiating ploy. Others with knowledge of the talks said it was real enough to prompt this compromise.

Q: So I guess the big winners are the top four nations? That’s Spain, Germany, England and, especially, Italy.

A: Yes, provided they stay in the top four. Italy’s case is pretty telling. Right now, they have two guaranteed places, plus another in the playoffs for the third-place team in Serie A. But that side has been knocked out in the playoffs in five of the past six seasons. So, effectively, they’re doubling their presence.

Q: But if the Italian teams aren’t that good and can’t make it past the playoffs, why should they be in the competition?

A: Great question. Because, I think, merit matters less here than money. Italy has the second-biggest Champions League contract, after England. Obviously broadcasters and sponsors will pay more if they know clubs are guaranteed a spot, rather than running the risk of getting knocked out in the playoffs.

Q: Sounds like an unfair system.

A: In some ways it is. But UEFA are also hoping folks will look at it a different way. Having more clubs from big leagues in the competition means the overall revenue will be higher; much higher, they hope. And that means there’s more money to redistribute to clubs.

Q: Didn’t you write last time that 35 percent of the revenue is distributed via that “market pool,” whereby teams from countries with bigger TV contracts get a bigger share?

A: I did. And that’s one thing that has changed. Only 15 percent of revenue will be allocated via the market pool. The other 85 percent will be distributed in prize money, including some 25 percent to be shared equally by all clubs who qualify. So that means teams from midsized leagues that do well in the competition will earn more in two ways: The overall revenues will, UEFA hope, be higher, and teams will get a bigger slice of the pie.

Q: That sounds more fair.

A: It is, although, again, the devil is in the detail. Part of that merit payment will be awarded based on a new coefficient system that will also track historical performance. Which means that, say, Ajax with their four European Cups will get more points than Leicester. It will be weighted and the details, which have not been fully defined, are set to be very complicated.

Q: What else have they come up with?

A: The other big change is that a new company is being set up, half-owned by UEFA and half-owned by the European Clubs Association (ECA), to run the European competitions. So rather than being indirectly represented via their national associations, clubs will effectively be in business with UEFA. (They sort of were before, of course, but now it’s formalized.)

Q: Aren’t UEFA having elections in a few weeks? Couldn’t they wait until they have a new president before they take such a drastic step?

A: Indeed, they’ll be electing a new president on Sept. 14 but, as Theodoridis said, they had been working on this for six months. And, he said, they had to go to market and pitch sponsors and broadcasters. The 2018-19 season is less than two years away and they had to get contracts tied up.

Besides, of the three guys running for president, Holland’s Michael van Praag and Spain’s Angel Maria Villar Llona sit on UEFA’s Executive Committee, so you assume they have signed off on this. And the third candidate, Slovenia’s Aleksandar Ceferin, is supposedly also on board.

Q: So that’s that, then. I guess it at least means we won’t have a breakaway European Super League.

A: At least until 2021, anyway. The hope, I think, is that these changes will boost revenue so much that everyone — primarily the big clubs — will benefit and be happy to the point that they’ll forget about breaking away.

Q: Is that likely?

A: As the saying goes, you can never be too rich or too thin. I think history shows that when clubs get more money, they tend to spend it on wages and transfer fees. And because everybody is spending more, there will be some, even among the big clubs, who will be left behind. And that in turn means they’ll grumble. And we may end up going through this whole thing all over again.  Gabriele Marcotti is a columnist for ESPN FC, 

Champions League draw yields great matchups, top-heavy groups

QUICKLYThursday’s Champions League draw pits powers together, while first-timer Leicester drew a favorable path. None of the recent European powers should have much to fear, though. BEN LYTTLETONThursday August 25th, SI

This was the second year that the Champions League group stage draw put reigning champions in Pot 1, and if the day began with everyone wondering who surprise Premier League champion Leicester City would draw, it ended with some mouth-watering ties to look forward to in the opening round of the tournament.Among them, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City was drawn against his former club Barcelona, while holder Real Madrid faces its 2013 semifinal conqueror, Borussia Dortmund. There were no glaring groups of death to emanate from the bowls in Monaco, and the majority of the groups are rather top-heavy, but there will still be some memorable matches on the way.Here is a breakdown of each group, along with picks for the top two spots and who will advance to the knockout stage:

Group A 

PSG, Arsenal, FC Basel, Ludogorets

Overview: Top seed Paris Saint-Germain sacked coach Laurent Blanc as a result of his side’s toothless quarterfinal defeat to Manchester City. In his place has come back-to-back Europa League winner Unai Emery, and already the difference is apparent. PSG now plays a faster, more direct, and riskier brand of attacking football. With Ligue 1 as good as in the bag, Europe is once again the priority for PSG. The French champion now seems closer to winning this trophy than Arsenal, which is in the group stage for a 19th straight season. FC Basel, whose former players Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny are now Gunners (Xhaka’s brother, Taulant, is still there), could prove to be a dangerous Pot 3 side and may push for a knockout berth.

Match to watch: PSG vs. Arsenal, Sept. 13

The group kicks off with a familiar trip for coach Arsene Wenger, who has turned down offers to coach the French capital side on more than one occasion. The French side will be favored, but Wenger will want to cause an upset.Tipped to progress: PSG, Arsenal

Group B 

Benfica, Napoli, Dynamo Kiev, Besiktas

Overview: One of the most open groups to come out of the draw, with top seed Benfica stumbling early in the league and fourth seed Besiktas among the strongest out of the pot. It will mark an early return for Anderson Talisca, on loan to Besiktas from Benfica.Napoli’s challenge will be to make the next round, with Polish pair Arkadiusz Milik and Piotr Zelinski likely to play important roles. Napoli is also trying to sign Eliaquim Mangala on loan from Manchester City. Dynamo Kiev has sold Miguel Veloso and Aleksandr Dragovic but kept onto Andriy Yarmolenko and has won its first five games of the season. Could it be a surprise contender for the next round?  

Match to watch: Napoli vs. Benfica, Sept. 28

Maurizio Sarri has worked wonders as Napoli boss, but how he copes with the Champions League remains an intriguing proposition. The home tie against top seed Benfica could be decisive, and Napoli should have enough to get out of the group.Tipped to progress: Napoli, Dynamo Kiev  

Group C

Barcelona, Manchester City, Borussia Monchengladbach, Celtic

Overview: Is this the hardest group of the lot? If not, it might be the most passionate, save for City fans whose relationship with this competition, and UEFA in general, remains muted. Barcelona is one of the favorites to win the trophy, deservedly so if it strengthens its squad with the likely signing of Paco Alcacer this week to lighten the load of its three-man, Messi-Neymar-Suarez machine.Monchengladbach is a dangerous dark horse, having coasted through its qualifier against Young Boys, courtesy of Thorgan Hazard and Raffael hat tricks, and the matchups pose a second straight year of challenges–Gladbach drew Man City, Juventus and Sevilla last season. From Pot 4, Celtic and coach Brendan Rodgers will have a tough task.

Match to watch: Barcelona vs. Manchester City, Oct. 19

This marks a return to Barcelona for Pep Guardiola, new goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and City executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain. Barcelona beat City comfortably last season, but this will be a fine opportunity to see how far the English side has progressed under its Catalan coach.Tipped to progress: Barcelona, Manchester City

Group D 

Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid, PSV Eindhoven, Rostov  

Overview: Atletico beat Bayern in last season’s semifinal, and this group pits two genuine title hopefuls against each other. Both sides have bought smartly in the summer, with Renato Sanches and Mats Hummels now at Bayern–coached by European Cup specialist Carlo Ancelotti–while Atletico has brought in Kevin Gamiero and Nico Gaitan, among others.Dutch champion PSV has not had its normal summer fire sale but is unlikely to repeat last season’s European heroics, while tournament debutant FC Rostov, which beat Ajax in qualifying, could make it into the Europa League spots.

Match to watch: Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid, Dec. 6

It figures to be a straight shootout between these two powerhouses for the top spot in the group, and it could well come down to the final matchday. The winner should get the easier draw in the knockout round.Tipped to progress: Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid

Group E 

CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham, Monaco

Overview: How could we forget the craziness of last season’s European ties involving Bayer Leverkusen? It beat BATE 4-1, drew 4-4 with Roma and in the return game lost it 3-2. And it managed to draw with Barcelona along the way. Expect more goals and drama from Roger Schmidt’s highly entertaining side, who could progress from a group that contains one of the weaker Pot 1 sides in CSKA Moscow. Spurs, playing group matches at Wembley Stadium, will fancy itself to qualify, while Monaco will be happy to use this stage to showcase the talents of tomorrow’s stars like Thomas Lemar and Kevin Mbappe. 

Match to watch: Bayer Leverkusen vs. Tottenham, Oct. 18

Schmidt against Mauricio Pochettino: the chances are that in three or four years, these two men could be leading Bayern and Barcelona. This might show why: they both demand high-tempo and attacking football. It will be great to watch, unless you’re a defender.Tipped to progress: Bayer Leverkusen, Tottenham

Group F 

Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Sporting Lisbon, Legia Warsaw

Overview: This is not an easy group for the reigning champion, which faces a highly motivated and well-organized Dortmund side looking to make a big impact under Thomas Tuchel, and a Sporting side that is a much tougher proposition with the charismatic Jorge Jesus at the helm. Madrid might drop points along the way, and Dortmund could push it close for top spot–and might even take it–too.

Match to watch: Sporting vs. Real Madrid, Nov. 22

This will be all about Cristiano Ronaldo, back at the club where he began his career. He may not celebrate when he scores, but then again…  Tipped to progress: Borussia Dortmund, Real Madrid

Group G

Leicester, FC Porto, Club Brugge, FC Copenhagen

Overview: No one said Leicester was lucky to win the Premier League but given the caliber of teams the English champion avoided in this draw, fate was on its side in Monaco. It drew arguably the weakest sides from Pots 2 and 3 and has every chance of making it to the next round. As for who might join it, FC Porto, who destroyed Roma 3-0 in qualifying away from home this week, will consider this a great chance to top the group. Brugge and Copenhagen will be fighting it out for third and a place in the Europa League knockout stage. 

Match to watch: Leicester vs. FC Porto, Sept. 27

With no marquee European name in Leicester’s group, this will be the biggest team to grace the King Power Stadium in the group stage. The normally raucous arena will be in full voice for the Portuguese visitors. The Leicester faithful may not get the result they want, but their side should still go through.  Tipped to progress: FC Porto, Leicester City

Group H 

Juventus, Sevilla, Lyon, Dinamo Zagreb

Overview: This is the season that five-time reigning Italian champion has gone all in to win the Champions League. It has spent the money it earned from the Paul Pogba sale to sign Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic, and maintained the back four that was so impenetrable last season. Its biggest challenge will come from three-time reigning Europa League champion Sevilla, a hugely watchable side under ex-Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli. Sevilla could go deep in this competition if it clicks.Lyon has so far held on to most of its star assets this summer, but the next seven days could determine its level in this group. Dinamo is often the afterthought, but the revenue from qualification at least will keep it dominant in Croatia.

Match to watch: Juventus vs. Sevilla, Sept. 14

This is the real test for Sampaoli–and it comes immediately–to work out a way of beating one of Europe’s strongest sides. Sevilla’s individual components are not as strong as Juventus’s, but Sampaoli is expert at making teams greater than the sum of their parts. Let the games begin!  Tipped to progress: Juventus, Sevilla

 PSG to fend off Arsenal for top spot in Champions League Group A

Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group A. Who do you think will go through?

Predicted finish

  1. Paris Saint-Germain
    Arsenal
    3. FC Basel
    4. Ludogorets Razgrad

Paris Saint-Germain

Laurent Blanc was unseated as PSG manager last season despite winning Ligue 1 by 31 points. It all came down to losing 3-2 on aggregate to Manchester City in the Champions League quarterfinals, and now the pressure will be on new manager Unai Emery to go at least one better than that.Emery’s European pedigree is rich, having led Sevilla to three Europa League titles in a row. The additions of Grzegorz Krychowiak from his old club and Jese Rodriguez from Real Madrid represent a change in focus, as PSG get used to life without Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who departed for Manchester United this summer.

Arsenal

The Champions League has caused Arsenal sincere pain over the years, yet they also boast the proud record of having made it past the group stage in every season since 2000-01. Finishing second in the Premier League in 2015-16 made them automatic qualifiers, though a lack of squad strengthening beyond the additions of midfielder Granit Xhaka and fledgling defender Rob Holding has many fans exasperated and concerned.Wenger is surely nearing the end of his tenure in North London, though a closing date is not yet set on a term that pushes past 20 years next month. The closest the manager has come to lifting the trophy was losing 2-1 to Barcelona in the 2006 final in Paris.

FC Basel

Utterly dominant in Swiss football after seven consecutive title wins and a slippery proposition over the years for teams from bigger leagues having beaten Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United within the last five years. Last season, they failed to reach the Champions League and were beaten in the Europa League by eventual winners Sevilla.

Ludogorets Razgrad

Two seasons ago, they were a fairy tale story when centre-back Cosmin Moti saved two penalties in a shootout and scored his own to qualify them for the group stage after goalkeeper Vladislav Stoyanov had been sent off. They competed admirably with Real Madrid, Liverpool and Basel.Moti and Stoyanov remain, while coach Georgi Dermendziev has returned. Seeing off Viktoria Plzen in the qualifying round made them the first Bulgarian team to advance to the group stage twice.

Game of the group:

PSG vs. Arsenal — There have been times when it was suggested that Wenger might be tempted back to France, but London is his home now. He is a welcome face in Paris, though, and has made Arsenal hugely popular in France. Emery gets the chance to pit himself against the one who got away.

X Factor

Is this finally the year that Arsenal fall at the hurdle of the group stage? Pulling Ludogorets and Basel might make that seem unlikely but both proved problematic for Liverpool when they faced them in the 2014-15 competition. Arsenal cannot afford to start like last season, when they lost their first three matches and needed to rescue themselves.John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter@JohnBrewinESPN

Can Leicester’s title-winning tactics survive UCL Group B challenge?

Take an in-depth look at the UCL draw and see how each of the teams will line up in this year’s competition.Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group G. Who do you think will go through?

Predicted finish

  1. Porto
    Leicester City
    3. Copenhagen
    4.Brugge

Bottom of Form

Leicester City

Can the romance and storytelling of last season’s amazing Premier League title win be sustained in the club’s first ever venture into this competition? Manager Claudio Ranieri, who took Chelsea to the 2004 semifinals, has held onto his stars of last season, aside from N’Golo Kante, who departed for Stamford Bridge. Flying forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez remain, and Leicester’s style of play — which eschews long periods of possession to hit opponents on the break, after defending deep and in numbers — might just cause as much trouble for continental opposition as it did last season in England.

Porto

Porto are inn the middle of what is for them a terrible title drought, having not won the Primeira Liga in the last three seasons; the last time they went longer than that without a domestic championship was in the early-1980s. They have a new manager in former Valencia boss Nuno, but their Champions League prospects might depend on keeping hold of key players like Yacine Brahimi.

Club Brugge

Brugge were runaway Belgian champions last season, winning both the regular season and championship playoffs that take place in the Jupiler Pro League, and are coached by goalkeeping legend Michel Preud’homme. Young defender Bjorn Engels looks to be the latest off Belgium’s production line of talent and refused the chance to join Arsenal in the summer.

FC Copenhagen

Overcoming what was looking like a hex for Danish teams against APOEL Nicosia (it was fourth time lucky in the qualifying rounds), FC Copenhagen made it into the Champions League proper by beating the Cypriots with a late Federico Santander goal. Stale Solbakken remains in charge, and they’ll be looking to repeat the 2010-11 competition when they surprisingly qualified from the group, thanks partly to a draw with Barcelona.

Game of the group: Porto vs. Leicester

Foxes fans did not quite get the glamorous trips to the likes of Paris, Munich or Barcelona they might have liked, but a trip to Europe’s Atlantic coast is not to be sniffed at. Porto, a club with ever-changing personnel, due to their policy on cashing in on talent to survive, have proved themselves tricky, canny opposition down the Champions League years. Escape from there with a point, then Ranieri’s team may be set up for further adventures.

X Factor

Can Leicester be as effective in Europe as they were for the entire nine months of the Premier League last season? Might referees disapprove of the strong-arm defending that is often employed by centre-backs Wes Morgan and Robert Huth? Or will Ranieri return to his old tinkering ways, and mess with a previously successful formula? It is certain that their three opponents have real physical tests to pass in playing them.

Pep Guardiola’s return to Barcelona the highlight of Group C

Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group C. Who do you think will go through?

Predicted finish

  1. Barcelona
    2. Manchester City
    3. Borussia Monchengladbach
    4. Celtic

Barcelona

Last season was a disappointment for Barca, as they became the latest team to fail to retain the Champions League trophy. If anyone looked capable of breaking the hoodoo that has tripped up defending champions since AC Milan in 1990, it was them, but they came up against Atletico Madrid, and were mugged by Diego Simeone’s team in the quarterfinals. The star names remain, aside from Dani Alves, who has joined Juventus. Headline additions of the summer are defender Samuel Umtiti, signed from Lyon, and Villarreal winger Denis Suarez. As ever, Barcelona will look to Lionel Messi to win their sixth European title.

Manchester City

If Pep Guardiola was brought to Manchester to achieve anything, it was to finally establish the club as a European powerhouse. Manuel Pellegrini reached the semifinals last year, yet the meek manner of defeat to Real Madrid suggested a club still struggling in such rarefied air. Not that Guardiola does not have anything to prove. Losing in the semis three years in a row at Bayern Munich represented a failure to meet expectations, having been European champion at Barcelona in 2009 and 2011. City have splashed out over £180 million on new talent for Guardiola to hone and the pressure to deliver is on.

Borussia Monchengladbach

Andre Schubert did a mightily impressive job last season to secure a fourth-place domestic finish, after Lucien Favre had shocked the club by resigning in September, in reaction to a poor start to the season. Schubert couldn’t do much about their European campaign, the whipping boys of a tough group featuring Manchester City and Real Madrid, but they should be in a more secure position this time.

Celtic

Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers is back in the Champions League group stage, as are Celtic, who have been in exile since the 2013-14 season, having suffered failures in the qualifying rounds.This time around was a close-run thing, with Hapoel Be’er Sheva taking Rodgers’ team to the wire, as Celtic escaped Israel with a narrow 5-4 aggregate scoreline. Striker Moussa Dembele was the summer’s flagship signing from Fulham, and all-out attack looks the strategy so far for Rodgers.

Game of the group

Barcelona vs. Manchester City — No questions here. The return of Guardiola to Barcelona’s Camp Nou is undoubtedly the headline event of this group. City’s Abu Dhabi owners were admirers of Barcelona from that 2008-09 season when Guardiola’s team sw

difficult than it should be.John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter@JohnBrewinESPN.

Atletico Madrid out to upset Bayern Munich again in UCL Group D

Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group D. Who do you think will go through?

ept all before them, just as they were setting up their project in east Manchester. Now, after a long wait, they have their man, as he returns to the region of his birth.

X factor

Guardiola — City are on a steep learning curve with Guardiola, with new players coming in and previous mainstays like Joe Hart and Yaya Toure on their way out. At both Bayern and Barcelona, there was a habit of his teams struggling away from home. Might that let in either Monchengladbach or Celtic? Unlikely, but it could make the group stage more

Predicted finish

  1. Atletico Madrid
    2. Bayern Munich
    3. PSV Eindhoven
    4. Rostov

Who will win Group D?

Top of Form

BAYERN MUNICH

ATLETICO MADRID

PSV EINDHOVEN

ROSTOV

Bayern Munich

Bayern have now reached such a point where winning the Bundesliga is the bare minimum expected, and victory in the Champions League is now the primary aim for the Bavarian behemoths. While any debate over whether Pep Guardiola was a success or failure at Bayern, because he didn’t win the Champions League, is surely too binary; the team brass clearly had Europe in mind when they appointed his replacement. Carlo Ancelotti is one of two managers (along with Bob Paisley) to win the tournament three times, but if he manages what his predecessor couldn’t, then he’ll be the first to win it with three different clubs. And all in the Champions League era too.

Atletico Madrid

Usually you might expect Atletico Madrid to be upset at being drawn with Bayern, but Diego Simeone seems like a manager who likes things to be difficult. He has managed to crack the great Spanish duopoly and nearly won a remarkable second Liga title last season, as well as coming within a penalty shootout of victory in this tournament, which would have been even more extraordinary. This summer they have managed to avoid selling their best players, and in Antoine Griezmann they have a forward who looks like he’s about to make the step up to the “Ronaldo-Messi-Suarez-Bale” level of quality. Even with just about the toughest draw they could have been given, don’t bet against them.

PSV Eindhoven

Eredivisie winners by virtue of Ajax fluffing their lines on the last day of the season, to make it two consecutive championships. Coach Phillip Cocu is developing a fine reputation, with May’s triumph achieved having sold previous stars Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum. A predominantly Dutch group of players will aim to match or better last season, when they lost on penalties in the round of 16 to eventual finalists Atletico, having eliminated Manchester United in the group stage.

Rostov

On Wednesday, they positively humiliated four-time winners Ajax with a 4-1 final qualifying round second-leg thrashing. A club with no permanent manager — Dmitri Kirichenko is the current caretaker — enjoyed the most glorious night in their history on the Don River delta. Kurban Berdyev, who guided Rostov to a highest ever league position of second last season, quit on Aug. 6.

Game of the group

Atletico vs. Bayern. The all-conquering Bavarians will expect to clean up, and probably should do given their resources, but Atleti have made embarrassing teams like that their business in recent years. Don’t be surprised if Simeone’s men top the group by beating Bayern.

X Factor

Kingsley Coman. Bayern have an incredible range of options in the attacking third, to the point that some of the most decorated and talented players in the world cannot consider themselves automatic selections for the first team. But Coman, still just 20, looks like something else, and could well take another step forward this season.

Harry Kane can inspire Spurs in Champions League Group E

Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group E. Who do you think will go through?

Predicted finish

  1. Tottenham
    Bayer Leverkusen
    3. Monaco
    4. CSKA Moscow

Tottenham

Back in the competition after a break of five seasons, and automatic qualifiers having finished third in last season’s Premier League, Mauricio Pochettino’s young team has the potential to cause a few ripples among the continent’s established forces.

Striker Harry Kane is the leading man, and will attempt to put his own and England’s troubles at Euro 2016 behind him. Spurs, on their day, can swarm all over their opponents, a little like Borussia Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp and also like Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. However, a small squad may find itself stretched by trying to meet the tough discipline of playing midweek in the Champions League and then at weekends in the Premier League.

Bayer Leverkusen

The “best of the rest” in the Bundesliga behind the big two of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen have been one of the most consistent sides in Germany in recent years. The last time they finished lower than fifth was 2009, but despite being regular qualifiers from the Champions League group stage, they haven’t gone beyond the round of 16 since reaching the final against Real Madrid in 2002. Javier Hernandez missed the start of the season after breaking his hand falling down some stairs, so hopefully their luck will improve

Monaco

Beyond all-conquering Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco look the second-best team in France and once again feature Colombian striker Radamel Falcao in their lineup, after two seasons of anonymous misadventure with Manchester United and Chelsea. Coach Leonardo Jardim is a canny campaigner, and the Stade Louis II Stadium is a tricky away trip for any opposition.

CSKA Moscow

Leonid Slutsky has won the Russian title in three out of the past four seasons but struggled in charge of Russia at Euro 2016, failing to get out of the group stage. Slutsky’s side haven’t managed to reach the knockout round in the past three Champions League campaigns and will have to do without last season’s top scorer Ahmed Musa, sold to Leicester, although Alan Dzagoev and Aleksandr Golovin will be key in midfield.

Game of the group

Bayer Leverkusen vs. Tottenham — This is not a group granted much in the way of glamour ties, though it looks as if it could be quite even between all four teams. However, a battle of the third-best teams from the Bundesliga and the Premier League last season, with highly regarded coaches in Roger Schmidt and Pochettino taking each other on, may serve as an indicator of the respective strength of each country’s league.

X factor

Wembley — Spurs will be playing their home matches at Wembley this season, as White Hart Lane is being renovated, and the change in atmosphere that brings could be a factor. Five years ago, while Gareth Bale tormented Inter Milan, the Lane rocked. When neighbours and rivals Arsenal tried to use Wembley in the late 1990s in this competition, they twice failed to get past the knockout rounds.John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC.

 Group F: Real Madrid go in search of historic Champions League triumph

Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group F. Who do you think will go through?

Predicted finish

  1. Real Madrid
    2. Borussia Dortmund
    3. Sporting Lisbon
    4. Legia Warsaw

Real Madrid

The defending champions and colossus that always sits astride the Champions League, Real will be gunning for their 12th success in the competition, and to be the first team to retain the trophy since the switch in format in 1992. They’ve been unusually quiet in the transfer market this summer, but that may well be because they already have a pretty stacked squad: Alvaro Morata might make a few more starts up front, but this will largely be the side that Zinedine Zidane guided to success last season. A ticklish draw will at least keep them honest in the group stage, but this is less a football club more a Champions League-winning machine, and success for the second year in a row might be their greatest achievement.

Borussia Dortmund

Another summer, another departure of a key player to a big rival. Mats Hummels was the latest to defect to Bayern Munich, but while they might therefore be concerned about their defence, their forward line looks pretty decent. Marco Reus is joined by Mario Gotze and Andre Schurrle, playing behind Pierre Emerick Aubameyang with the hugely promising Ousmane Dembele waiting in the wings. As curious as it sounds, they probably have a better chance of winning Champions League than they do their domestic competition. At home they face an immovable object in Bayern, who will almost certainly prevail during a long season, but in Europe most things are possible.

Sporting Lisbon

Without domestic success in 14 years, even after poaching Jorge Jesus from Benfica, they haven’t had too much luck in Europe either, since making the semifinals of the Europa League in 2012. Sporting have gathered a squad featuring several Premier League outcasts, including Alberto Aquilani, Bryan Ruiz, Sebastian Coates and Joel Campbell.

Legia Warsaw

Poland’s champions were pushed all the way by Ireland’s Dundalk in the final qualifying round on Tuesday. Down to 10 men, a late goal from Michal Kucharczyk in Warsaw made it secure at 3-1 and eventually returned Legia to the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 1995-96 season. This looks a very high step for them to make.

Game of the group

Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid — In the wider scheme of things this match might not actually matter too much, as they should both qualify. But this is why we watch the Champions League, two of the finest teams in Europe slugging it out, and the atmosphere at either ground should be sensational.

X factor

Gareth Bale — Whether Cristiano Ronaldo really is on the wane is open to debate, but if he does slip at all this season then at least Real Madrid have someone already in their ranks to step forward. After such an exhilarating summer with Wales at Euro 2016, Bale has returned to Spain looking sharp and dangerous. This could be his year.

Can Leicester’s title-winning tactics survive UCL Group G challenge?

Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group G. Who do you think will go through?

Predicted finish

  1. Porto
    2. Leicester City
    3. Copenhagen
    4.Brugge

Bottom of Form

Leicester City

Can the romance and storytelling of last season’s amazing Premier League title win be sustained in the club’s first ever venture into this competition? Manager Claudio Ranieri, who took Chelsea to the 2004 semifinals, has held onto his stars of last season, aside from N’Golo Kante, who departed for Stamford Bridge. Flying forwards Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez remain, and Leicester’s style of play — which eschews long periods of possession to hit opponents on the break, after defending deep and in numbers — might just cause as much trouble for continental opposition as it did last season in England.

Porto

Porto are inn the middle of what is for them a terrible title drought, having not won the Primeira Liga in the last three seasons; the last time they went longer than that without a domestic championship was in the early-1980s. They have a new manager in former Valencia boss Nuno, but their Champions League prospects might depend on keeping hold of key players like Yacine Brahimi.

Club Brugge

Brugge were runaway Belgian champions last season, winning both the regular season and championship playoffs that take place in the Jupiler Pro League, and are coached by goalkeeping legend Michel Preud’homme. Young defender Bjorn Engels looks to be the latest off Belgium’s production line of talent and refused the chance to join Arsenal in the summer.

FC Copenhagen

Overcoming what was looking like a hex for Danish teams against APOEL Nicosia (it was fourth time lucky in the qualifying rounds), FC Copenhagen made it into the Champions League proper by beating the Cypriots with a late Federico Santander goal. Stale Solbakken remains in charge, and they’ll be looking to repeat the 2010-11 competition when they surprisingly qualified from the group, thanks partly to a draw with Barcelona.

Game of the group: Porto vs. Leicester

Foxes fans did not quite get the glamorous trips to the likes of Paris, Munich or Barcelona they might have liked, but a trip to Europe’s Atlantic coast is not to be sniffed at. Porto, a club with ever-changing personnel, due to their policy on cashing in on talent to survive, have proved themselves tricky, canny opposition down the Champions League years. Escape from there with a point, then Ranieri’s team may be set up for further adventures.

X Factor

Can Leicester be as effective in Europe as they were for the entire nine months of the Premier League last season? Might referees disapprove of the strong-arm defending that is often employed by centre-backs Wes Morgan and Robert Huth? Or will Ranieri return to his old tinkering ways, and mess with a previously successful formula? It is certain that their three opponents have real physical tests to pass in playing them.  John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC.

 Group H: Juventus plot Champions League glory with Higuain and Pjanic

Now that the Champions League draw has been completed, here’s a preview for Group H. Who do you think will go through?

Predicted finish

  1. Juventus
    2. Lyon
    3. Sevilla
    4. Dinamo Zagreb

Bottom of Form

Juventus

Overwhelming favourites in Serie A, the Champions League is surely Juve’s main priority this season. The purchase of Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic could well have simply looked like bullying their only real domestic rivals, but it also sees them armed with a formidable squad to take a shot at the biggest prize, one they haven’t won since 1996. Two decades is a yawning chasm of time for club of their size to go without success in Europe, even considering the few years when their role in the Calciopoli scandal put them out of continental action. Coach Massimiliano Allegri proved the doubters wrong at home, but the real test for him is now in the Champions League.

Lyon

There are signs of revival in a club that seemed a permanent fixture in the knockout rounds of this competition a decade ago or so. Last season, they finished second in Ligue 1, just as they had the previous campaign, and though that was 31 points behind Paris Saint-Germain, coach Bruno Genesio had taken over from Hubert Fournier in December to rescue the campaign. Whether striker Alexandre Lacazette will be available to Genesio or sold before the transfer window closes is a leading question against them.

Sevilla

It has been all change in southern Spain, as the heart of a team that won three Europa League titles in a row was finally ripped out. Crucially, coach Unai Emery has gone to Paris Saint-Germain and the loss of Ever Banega, Coke, Kevin Gameiro and Grzegorz Krychowiak would be felt by any team. Jorge Sampaoli is in charge now, with Brazilian Ganso perhaps their headline signing. Another drop down to play in the competition they pretty much own may again be in order.

Dinamo Zagreb

After squeezing through their playoff with an extra-time win over Red Bull Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb might just be happy to be in the Champions League this season. Manager Zlatko Kranjcar is back at the club for his third spell as manager (his fourth in total and he also played for them for six years), after a short spell in Qatar. Dinamo is the seventh club he’s managed since leaving the national team job in 2006.

Game of the group

Sevilla vs. Lyon — The winners of Group H should be relatively obvious, so attention turns to who joins Juventus in the next phase. Sevilla of course have European pedigree, but Lyon are a little more stable, and the two fixtures between these two clubs could go a long way to determining who qualifies.

X Factor

Jorge Sampaoli — Sevilla seem to be one of those clubs that barely needs a head coach because they’re so well organised. They’re certainly one of the best equipped to deal with upheaval, but Sampaoli is something of a wild card. Whether they progress in this tournament or drop back into the comfort zone of the Europa League may well depend on how their new man slots in.

As Champions League evolves more for the elite and rich, it loses its appeal, romance

QUICKLY -Only eight clubs have made the Champions League semifinals in the last five years, leaving the tournament without much appeal until the quarterfinals.

JONATHAN WILSONTuesday August 23rd, 2016 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have reached the last four of the Champions League in each of the past five seasons. Barcelona has gotten to that stage three times in that time and Chelsea and Atletico Madrid twice. In the last five years, only eight different sides have reached the semifinal. Three of them are Spanish, two German, two English and one Italian. If it has come to feel that the early rounds of the Champions League lack appeal, that is why.Of course there are intriguing new themes. How will Leicester City fare in its first Champions League campaign? Can Pep Guardiola energize Manchester City into being the power it surely ought to be in Europe (and overcome its fans seeming diffident about the competition)?And then there are reworkings of old themes. Can Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain transform domestic dominance into European success? Can Real Madrid become the first side successfully to defend the Champions League title? Can Borussia Dortmund’s idiosyncratic style thrive outside the Bundesliga?But these are essentially minor variations on well-worn tropes. Familiarity has bred contempt. For the next seven months, there’ll be some vague sparring. Perhaps a giant will fall. Arsenal will almost certainly face some sort of crisis. Leicester’s presence as a top seed may shake up some of the familiar patterns. But the reality is the competition won’t really get going until the quarterfinals in March.UEFA has pulled off a remarkable feat over the past decade, ruining its two flagship tournaments in completely opposing ways. The European Championship has been rendered tedious by the dilution of quality an expansion from 16 to 24 teams entailed, something some have sought to justify by empty calls to some vague doctrine of inclusivity.The success of Wales and Iceland was held up as evidence the bloated new format of Euro 2016 had worked when the fact is that both would have qualified in a 16-team system. Take the best 16 sides in qualifying and compare them to the sides that reached the last 16 of the tournament and 14 were the same; we spent two weeks and 36 games swapping Ireland and Hungary for Austria and the Czech Republic.The Champions League also drags and also feels as though it is overlong. The problem in the club competition, though, is not dilution of quality so much as over-concentration of quality at the top end. A Ludogorets Razgrad or an APOEL simply cannot compete with Bayern or Madrid. It’s been seven years since a team from outside the big four leagues of Spain, Germany, England and Italy so much as reached the semifinal.When European football began, it had the feel of a quest. That’s why the likes of Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Brian Clough developed an obsession with the European Cup. It was difficult. It was hard to get into and once you were there, winning it involved difficult and occasionally dangerous trips to lands that felt very foreign, taking on talented sides that might play in ways with which you were not familiar.Globalization has destroyed that–and probably raised the level at the very top end. It would be absurd now to go back to a structure of one club per country. Nor is anybody suggesting a return to the sort of intimidation and chicanery that was so prevalent in the 1960s and 70s. But at the same time, much of the romance has been lost. European football was supposed to be exotic, not the same old battles between the same old giants.Eight semifinalists over a five-year period is the least diverse the competition has ever been. Between 1982-83 and 1986-87 there were 18 semifinalists. But the problem is not simply that of the Champions League: it’s the problem of all top-level club football in Europe outside the Premier League. It will be a major shock if Bayern Munich fails to win the Bundesliga. It will be a major shock if Juventus fails to win Serie A. It will be a major shock if Paris Saint-Germain fails to win Ligue 1. They are so much richer than their closest rivals that it would take grotesque mismanagement to come second. In Spain, barring another Atletico miracle, Real Madrid or Barcelona will win the league. Those top sides need Europe for affirmation–and revenue.Only the Premier League is genuinely competitive, and, while its level has dipped in European terms, domestic revenues have increased nonetheless. Real Madrid took £81 million for winning the Champions League last season; 10 clubs took more than that in Premier League prize money. This season it’s estimated that even the bottom club will win £97 million. In direct financial terms, football has reached a point where it would make sense for Premier League clubs to prioritize domestic competition.Of course there are indirect benefits to success in the Champions League and still a sense that that’s where the real glory is to be found. But at the same time, Europe’s super clubs are becoming increasingly envious of the Premier League’s wealth, which in part lies behind the proposed changes to the structure of the Champions League from 2018-19 onwards.At the moment that amounts to no more than guaranteeing that the big four leagues will each have four slots in the group stage–a relatively minor adjustment that would continue the process of enriching the rich and stabilizing the status quo.That will not rekindle the romance of the Champions League. On the contrary, it will reduce even further the opportunities for sides from beyond Spain, Germany, England and Italy. There’s no obvious solution: this is the natural outcome of the economic policies football adopted when the Champions League was established in 1992. The paradox is that the more successful it has become, the more parochial it has become, and that, ultimately, may be its undoing.

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