1/27/17 US Men face Serbia Sunday 4 pm ESPN2, FA Cup Weekend in EPL, Liverpool vs Chelsea on Tues 3 pm NBCSN

So the US Men’s National team under returning coach Bruce Arena kicks off with 2 games this week Sunday on ESPN 2 at 4pm vs Serbia and Friday at 7:30 pm vs Jamaica on Fox Sports 1.  It should be interesting to see how the US looks with just MLS players on the field- of course more interesting will be in a few months with the next round of qualifiers.  It’s a FA Cup weekend on Fox Sports so no EPL games to till the Tuesday Liverpool vs Chelsea match at 3 pm.  Chelsea then faces Arsenal with no Arsene Wenger the following Sat, Feb 4 at 7:30 am on NBCSN.  Will see if someone can bite into their lead.  Don’t forget Champions League is back the 2nd week in Feb.

GAMES ON TV this Week 

Fri, Jan 27

2:30 pm Fox Sport 2                         Schalke vs Frankfurt

2:55 pm Fox Sport 1                         Derby County vs Leciester City (FA Cup)

Sat. Jan 28

7:30 am Fox Sport1   Liverpool vs Wolverhampton (FA Cup)

9:30 am FS2                   Werder Bremen vs Bayern Munich

10 am Fox Sport 1      Chelsea vs Brentford (FA Cup)

11 am beIN Sport       Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 1

12:30 pm  Fox Sp 2   Bayer Leverkusen vs Dortmund 

12:30 Fox Sport1        Southhampton vs Arsenal  

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 2

Sun,  Jan 29

6 am beIN Sport          Real Betis vs Barcelona

9:30 am Fox Soccer   Frieberg vs Hertha BSC

11 am Fox Sport 1   Man U vs Wigan Athletic – (FA Cup)

11 am beIN Sport       Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 3

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 4

2:45 pm beIN Sport                          Real Madrid vs Real Sociedad

4 pm ESPN            USA men vs Serbia

Tues, Jan 31

3 pm NBCSN                   Liverpool vs Chelsea

Weds,  Feb 1

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations Semi-Final 1

2:45 pm NBCSN           West Ham vs Man City

3 pm NBC Extra            Man United vs Hull City

3 pm NBC Extra            Stoke City vs Everton

Thurs,  Feb 2

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations Semi-Final 2

Fri, Feb 3

2:30 pm Fox Sport2  Hamburger vs Bayer Leverkusen

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1  USA vs Jamaica

Sat. Feb 4

7:30 am NBCSN            Chelsea vs Arsenal

9:30 am FS1                   Bayern Munich vs Shalke

10 am NBCSN                Hull City vs Liverpool

12:30 pm  Fox Sp 2   Dortmund vs Red Bull Leipzig

12:30 NBCSN?               Tottenham vs Middlesborough  

Sun, Feb 5

8:30 am NBCSN            Man City vs Swansea

10 am beIN Sport       Atletico Madrid vs Leganes

9:30 am Fox Soccer   Frieberg vs Hertha BSC

11 am NBCSN                Leicester City vs Man United

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations FINALS

2:45 pm beIN Sport?                       Juventus vs Inter

USA

US has the Players do They have the Identity However- ESPNFC – Gomez

Has Bruce got what it takes to Turn things Around for the US?

The Question of Commitment when Wearing the Red, White and Blue?  SI

Five Things to know about Sunday’s foe Serbia

US Pulisic signs thru 2020 with Dortmund

Smart Move by Pulisic to Re-sign with Dortmund – ESPNFC Video

Jordan Morris – I made the Right Choice to Stay in Seattle

US Ladies Alex Morgan and GK Ashlyn Harris are Concacaff players of year

US Ladies GK Ashlyn Harris

Champions League

Bayern expects tough match with Arsenal in Champions League

Who will be Upset in the Round of 16 UCL? Video

Can Higuain inspire Juve thru UCL?

Tues,  Feb 14 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Benfica vs Borussian Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         PSG vs Barcelona

Weds,  Feb 15

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Bayern Munich vs Arsenal

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Real Madrid vs Napoli

Tues,  Feb 21 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Bayer Levekusen vs Atletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Manchester City vs Monaco

Weds,  Feb 22

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Sevilla vs Leicester City

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Porto vs Juventus

WORLD

Wenger Gets 4 match Ban

Rooney Becomes Man United’s All Time Leading Scorer with Streak Saving Screamer

Real’s 40 game Streak Comes to End – well below European Records

Real Madrid breaks Barcelona’s Record for No losses at 40

US Coach Bob Bradley Gets Raw Deal at Swansea

Steven Gerrard to Start Coaching at Liverpool

The World Order – FIFA’s Rankings over Time

MLS + Indy 11

China interest in Giovincho is worrisome – EPSN f C

Clint Dempsey Back to Training with Seattle after Heart Issue

US Defender Jonathan Spector Joins Orlando City

Kaka Plans to Stay with Orlando City

Tampa Bay Rowdies hope to be Next MLS Squad

San Diego has Investors with Hopes too

San Antonio Throws Name in Hat

MLS Schedule has Gold Cup Break in July

Indy 11 Season Starts April 1

Franco Returns

 GAMES ON TV  

Fri, Jan 27

2:30 pm Fox Sport 2                         Schalke vs Frankfurt

2:55 pm Fox Sport 1                         Derby County vs Leciester City (FA Cup)

Sat. Jan 28

7:30 am Fox Sport1   Liverpool vs Wolverhampton (FA Cup)

9:30 am FS2                   Werder Bremen vs Bayern Munich

10 am Fox Sport 1      Chelsea vs Brentford (FA Cup)

11 am beIN Sport       Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 1

12:30 pm  Fox Sp 2   Bayer Leverkusen vs Dortmund 

12:30 Fox Sport1        Southhampton vs Arsenal  

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 2

Sun,  Jan 29

6 am beIN Sport          Real Betis vs Barcelona

9:30 am Fox Soccer   Frieberg vs Hertha BSC

11 am Fox Sport 1   Man U vs Wigan Athletic – (FA Cup)

11 am beIN Sport       Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 3

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations QuarterFinal 4

2:45 pm beIN Sport                          Real Madrid vs Real Sociedad

Tues, Jan 31

3 pm NBCSN                   Liverpool vs Chelsea

Weds,  Feb 1

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations Semi-Final 1

2:45 pm NBCSN           West Ham vs Man City

3 pm NBC Extra            Man United vs Hull City

3 pm NBC Extra            Stoke City vs Everton

Thurs,  Feb 2

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations Semi-Final 2

Fri, Feb 3

2:30 pm Fox Sport2  Hamburger vs Bayer Leverkusen

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1 USA vs Jamaica

Sat. Feb 4

7:30 am NBCSN            Chelsea vs Arsenal

9:30 am FS1                   Bayern Munich vs Shalke

10 am NBCSN                Hull City vs Liverpool

12:30 pm  Fox Sp 2   Dortmund vs Red Bull Leipzig

12:30 NBCSN?               Tottenham vs Middlesborough  

Sun, Feb 5

8:30 am NBCSN            Man City vs Swansea

10 am beIN Sport       Atletico Madrid vs Leganes

9:30 am Fox Soccer   Frieberg vs Hertha BSC

11 am NBCSN                Leicester City vs Man United

2 pm beIN Sport         Africa Cup of Nations FINALS

2:45 pm beIN Sport?                       Juventus vs Inter

Sat, Feb 11

7:30 am NBCSN            Arsenal vs Hull City

12:30 pm NBCSN        Liverpool vs Tottenham

Sun, Feb 12

8:30 am NBCSN            Burnley vs Chelsea

Mon, Feb 13

3 pm NBCSN                   Bournemouth vs Man City 

Tues,  Feb 14 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Benfica vs Borussian Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         PSG vs Barcelona

Weds,  Feb 15

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Bayern Munich vs Arsenal

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Real Madrid vs Napoli

Tues,  Feb 21 – Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Bayer Levekusen vs Atletico Madrid

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Manchester City vs Monaco

Weds,  Feb 22

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Sevilla vs Leicester City

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Porto vs Juventus

Weds, Mar 1  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs England Women

7 pm Fox Sports 1      US Women vs Germany

Sat, Mar 4  – She Believes Cup

4 pm ??                             France vs Germany Women

5 pm Fox                      US Women vs England

How might the USMNT lineup against Serbia Sun?

1 CommentBy Nicholas MendolaJan 23, 2017, 9:08 PM EST

It’s six days to Sunday, the first time we’ll see Bruce Arena manage the United States men’s national team since his rehiring late last year.The Yanks host Serbia in San Diego before moving to Chattanooga for a match against Jamaica. Both matches should be open-and-shut wins, as the Americans’ MLS-only lineup get “B-teams” from Serbia and Jamaica.[ MORE: Serbia, Jamaica rosters ]

Possible starting center back Matt Hedges a Carmel High Grad and his FC Dallas teammate, Kellyn Acosta, will miss through injury, while Arena sent Kekuta Manneh to Wales for Vancouver Whitecaps camp.That leaves 28 names — full roster at bottom — and the level of competition means Arena can take risks, like his choice to try Graham Zusi at right back.Arena used several different formations with the Galaxy last season, opting for anything from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-1-1.Here are some options against Serbia.

4-2-2-2

Arena could steady the middle of the pitch while using a pair of attack-minded veteran midfielders with points to prove.

Robles

Rosenberry — Birnbaum — Zimmerman — Beasley

Bradley — McCarty

Feilhaber —————————Kljestan

Morris — Altidore

4-4-2 (diamond) — Veteran heavy

Arena likes his veterans, and may want to give them the benefit of the doubt in front of fans and the eyes of U.S. Soccer.

Rimando

Zusi — Marshall — Evans — Beasley

Bedoya — Bradley — Jones — Kljestan

Altidore — Zardes

4-3-3

Bingham

Rosenberry — Birnbaum — Zimmerman — Garza

Bradley

Nagbe — Bedoya

Zardes — Altidore — Morris

Full roster

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls), Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Greg Garza (Atlanta United FC), Taylor Kemp (D.C. United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders FC), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Jorge Villafan (Santos Laguna)

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

Has Bruce Arena got what it takes to lead the U.S. to World Cup 2018?

By the time his topsy-turvy, five-year reign as United States head coach finally ended in November, Jurgen Klinsmann’s dismissal was greeted with relief and even joy among an overwhelming segment of fans.Bruce Arena’s hiring as Klinsmann’s replacement, however, was more divisiveMany saw the experienced Arena, who was previously in charge of the national team from 1998-2006, as the logical — and perhaps only — choice to steer the U.S. away from the bottom of the Hexagonal standings and back on course to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But others viewed the hire as a step back.”I might be biased, but I don’t think so: The person who can get the most out of this group of players right now is Bruce,” said Landon Donovan, the leading scorer in U.S. history. He debuted under Arena and played for him at two World Cups and during parts of eight seasons with the LA Galaxy. “I can also understand that the people who haven’t been around want to see progress. But this isn’t the time to experiment with a young coach who has two or three years of experience as a professional. This is the real deal, and we need to get to the World Cup.”But Kasey Keller, a National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee and Arena’s starting goalkeeper at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, is less enthusiastic than his former teammate.”It’s hard to look at it with total rose-colored glasses and say we’ve done exactly what we needed to do here to qualify for a World Cup,” said Keller, who was a frequent guest coach on Klinsmann’s staff. “Bruce was successful before as U.S. manager. He qualified the team twice. Bruce was also 26 minutes from getting knocked out before the Hex stage his first time around. So it will be interesting to see how it goes in his second stint. A lot of coaches in all sports have gone around the block a second time and haven’t fared too well.”Other skeptics have cited the fact that Arena has been out of international coaching for over a decade, and he admits the game has changed.”The sport is faster,” he said shortly after taking the job, citing improvements in conditioning and equipment. “Doesn’t mean that the players are better, but it’s a faster game.”The question is: Has Arena also evolved? Donovan believes so.”You can’t be successful for this long if you don’t have a firm belief in who you are and how you do things, but also if you’re not able to adapt,” he said. “[Arena has] continued to adapt to change with the times.”Arena insists he’s a better coach now than he was in 2006, when his contract was not renewed after the U.S. failed to survive the World Cup group stage. After a season and a half with the New York Red Bulls, he took over at the LA Galaxy in August 2008.In the eight full seasons that followed, Arena led LA to three championships and four MLS Cup appearances. He initially brokered a truce between Donovan and David Beckham and, over the years, won the respect of other high-profile players, such as Robbie Keane and Nigel de Jong. On the practice field, Arena’s training sessions became shorter but more intense.The Galaxy’s veteran-laden rosters were part of the reason for that switch, though, which is why it’s fair to wonder if the coach, who made Donovan and fellow 20-year-old DaMarcus Beasley focal points during the U.S. World Cup quarterfinal run in 2002, has become more conservative about giving opportunities to new players.Then again, Arena, who is now 65, helped turn raw college talents such as Omar Gonzalez and Gyasi Zardes into international regulars during his time in L.A. In 2009, Arena persuaded Gregg Berhalter to join him with the Galaxy. Berhalter, a former U.S. defender and current Columbus Crew coach, mentored Gonzalez.Berhalter doesn’t believe Arena will overlook deserving, young talent.”His intensity hasn’t wavered at all,” Berhalter said. “He still knows how to motivate young players. His strength is getting players to perform. That’s clear. He still has that, definitely. He gives young players trust. He gives them backing. And he’s not afraid to put them on the field. Sometimes coaches hesitate to play young players, but Bruce has never done that.”But Arena’s immediate remit is less to do with a process and more focused on results. He wasn’t brought in to groom the next generation; he was hired to get the U.S. to the World Cup in Russia. That means quickly restoring confidence after those ugly November qualifying losses to Mexico and Costa Rica. Two weeks into the national team’s January camp, the process appears to be well underway.”Everybody feels like they’re coming in with a clean slate,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan told ESPN FC last week. “There’s a freshness in the group again.”Part of the reason for that is Arena’s laid-back style. Klinsmann and Bob Bradley, his predecessor, liked to micromanage. But Arena is far less rigid.”He doesn’t over-train players; he’s sort of the anti-Jurgen in that way,” Donovan said. “He lets you be an adult, and that’s one thing that seems to me had gotten away from the team a little bit. It didn’t seem, at least when I was there, enjoyable to be in camp anymore. Bruce makes it fun. You can go have dinner with guys. You knew what you were there for, but he treated you like a professional. And if guys took advantage of it, then they weren’t there next time.”The first impression Arena has made on the camp’s newcomers has also been a good one.”He cracks some jokes here and there,” said Kellyn Acosta, who, at 21, was the youngest player called into the January camp. “He’ll catch you off-guard, like, ‘Did he really say that?'”When it’s time to get serious, though, Arena will ensure that everyone knows what is expected.”He doesn’t beat around the bush,” Donovan said. “If you’re going to play, he’ll tell you. If not, he’ll tell you.”D.C. United coach Ben Olsen, who played for Arena at club and international level, says Arena’s “ability to make players understand their role is very good.””It’s not that he’s not extremely sharp tactically — he is — he just understands that sometimes players need things boiled down and simplified. I don’t know what his secret is,” Olsen added. “He’s unique. Some guys, it’s easy to say he’s a disciplinarian. Or he’s a tactician. But it’s really tough to pigeonhole Bruce’s coaching style”Perhaps Arena’s biggest strength is as a man-manager, skills that will be put to the test when his full team convenes just days before what he has called a “must-win” qualifier against Honduras on March 24. It will mark Arena’s first chance to work with his European- and Mexican-based players and to address any rift either caused by, or at the root of, Tim Howard’s recent comments that suggest division exists within the national team’s locker room.It’s certainly not an ideal scenario but, given the timing and the job itself, Keller admitted that if a change was going to be made, there were not too many other options.”Who on the world stage is going to take this U.S. national team job?” he asked. “Carlo Ancelotti? Jose Mourinho? Where are we in that pecking order? Would Jurgen have taken it if he wasn’t married to an American and living in Southern California? It’s too difficult to say if this or that person is the right guy, because the reality is we’re kind of stuck in the middle as a nation. It’s not a big enough job to go grab these big-name managers, but it’s too big of a job to just give it to anyone.”For now, the job belongs to Arena and, for a side that looked lost at the end of Klinsmann’s tenure, the measure of success could not be more straightforward.”We have a team that can qualify for the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “We have the quality; it comes down to the psychological part of it. That’s a big part of the game. He’ll have the players motivated to perform, that I can guarantee.”And after 2018, it will be someone else’s turn.”If Bruce was the coach for the next 12-16 years, I’d say that’s a problem,” Donovan said. “And Bruce would admit that. He thinks we need to be developing younger coaches, and we are. But right now, his job is to coach, not to teach. He needs to get the most out of these players. And he will.”Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.

The U.S. national team and the uncomfortable question of commitment

AVI CREDITORThursday January 19th, 2017

“Think about who you try to disenfranchise.” – Mix Diskerud to Abby Wambach, December 2015

For over a year, an uncomfortable topic has been debated quite publicly by prominent U.S. men’s and women’s national team players: Foreign-born Americans and their commitment to representing the U.S. national team and the crest over the heart of the jersey they don. In the social-media-charged age of 2017, any public comment along those lines, one way or another, will be interpreted and spun a bevy of ways. And any clarification of comments can easily be viewed as an admission of guilt—a way to backtrack, placate and become more acceptable in the public eye. It’s important to note that not all comments on this topic are created equally. Some absolutely reek of tone-deafness and insensitivity, while others, although not phrased in the most appropriate of ways, may shed light onto deeper chemistry issues inside the locker room.born U.S. players, as he did in interviews in Los Angeles over MLS media day, is he making a sweeping generalization about all U.S. dual-nationals? Or is he, someone who has played for the U.S. for 15 years and seen different iterations of the team, giving a glimpse into the true, harsh reality about the state of the team? Either is possible, but it’s incredibly hard for anyone on the outside to know which it is. No matter, it opens an awkward discussion, one that emits reactions across a wide spectrum, including from those closest to the topic.  “It’s dangerous stuff where you have to be careful what you’re saying,” German-born midfielder Jermaine Jones told ESPN FC, in response to Howard, his teammate for both club (last season in Colorado) and country. “With all the respect for Timmy, I feel it’s not if you’re half American or full-American. It’s more what you have in here [your heart].”If you go on the field and you give everything for this country, then of course sometimes there’s a situation where you’re not playing good. But it’s normal. That can happen to everybody, and that’s what you have to understand.”Jones is absolutely right. Pride in the national team isn’t exclusive to someone born in the U.S., and when things go south, it’s not because of a player’s birthplace.The fact is—as has been reported over the last few years for those following closely enough—the U.S. men’s team has not always been tuned to perfect harmony, and roster overhauls haven’t always been seamless. As with teams in any sport and at any level, cliques and factions may develop, motivations can differ and unity isn’t easily achieved. When results don’t go the right way, these issues rise to the surface. That doesn’t mean it’s only because specific players weren’t born in the U.S., though it is possible that it can be a contributing factor depending on individual situations.  Howard clarified his initial remarks to try and say as much.”Some of them are [dual nationals], but I think others are players who have their roots here in America too. It’s not exclusive to them because some of our dual-nationals have been brilliant,” Howard told ESPN FC. “Jermaine Jones has been a rock for our national team. He’s been one of the heartbeats. Fabian Johnson has been brilliant for us. So, no, that wasn’t aimed at any one person in particular.”When it comes to representing a national team, certainly pride in that country and a stake in its fortunes is a factor. It has to be. For some, that may mean that if you’re involved in representing the U.S. for a longer time, then you’re more personally invested, and you’re more likely to be involved for a longer time if you’re born or grew up on U.S. soil. For example, Landon Donovan told Sirius XM Radio last December that, upon being cut from the U.S. World Cup team in 2014, he told Jurgen Klinsmann: “There’s at least a few players that are on your World Cup roster that are going that don’t care in the same way that I do. I grew up as a part of this whole system. I feel like it is a part of me and I think there’s players in that locker room who if you go three and out in the World Cup they’ll go back to their club teams and won’t even blink twice, whereas if we go three and out I’ll be devastated and I think that’s a piece that’s important.”It’s possible there’s plenty of truth to that. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an attack on all foreign-born Americans, no matter how it’s perceived. It’s an individual’s statement based on a close-up observation, and it will surely irk anyone who won’t entertain the possibility that there’s an unbiased foundation and basis for the remark.  Now, if this proves to be an issue of widespread xenophobia and jingoism on the national team, then that will be an absolute shame and disgrace. This is America, a welcoming melting pot full of differing stories and connections to the nation; and for some foreign-born players, their families have sacrificed an immeasurable amount to represent and protect this nation far from a soccer field. If you go back decades, U.S. players born both here and abroad have been important contributors to the national team and equally passionate about playing for the U.S. One of the indelible images of the 1994 World Cup is German-born Thomas Dooley celebrating the USA’s win over Colombia running around the field while carrying the U.S. flag. “The thought that the sons of American citizens who are overseas because they are serving their country in the armed forces have less of a right to play for the United States than someone else is just absurd,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati told SI’s Grant Wahl in 2014. “That sort of thinking is everything America shouldn’t stand for. [These players] were American citizens the day they were born.”If there are players, foreign-born or not, who see playing for the U.S. as a paycheck or a way to boost their own value and nothing more, then that’s a problem. But it’s not an excuse to generalize and accuse. There’s no place for that, and it’s on the manager—now Bruce Arena, who has had his own previous bout with word choice and opinion on dual-nationals—to navigate the issue with class and complete thought, choosing players he think can make the national team the most successful. It’s O.K. and healthy for him and others to question players’ commitment to the national team. It’s not O.K. to do that solely because of anyone’s origin. No matter if you’re the U.S. coach, a player or a fan, it would be wise to heed Diskerud’s pointed warning from 13 months ago.

Christian Pulisic made the right decision to sign a new contract with Borussia Dortmund

If Pulisic wants to become the best player he can be, he's best served by staying with Dortmund for the foreseeable future.by Kevin McCauley@kevinmccauley  Jan 24, 2017, 12:39pm EST

The United States’ biggest soccer talent will be staying put for a few more years. Borussia Dortmund has announced that Christian Pulisic signed a new contract that runs through 2020, ending speculation about an imminent transfer.Pulisic, just 18, was heavily linked to a Premier League move over the summer. He’s performed well for Dortmund this season so that interest was likely to resume this summer, but his inking of a new contract will probably keep him in Germany through at least one more summer. With Pulisic tied down through 2020, Dortmund now has zero incentive to sell to anyone, at any reasonable price.While Pulisic got a raise, Liverpool — the club Pulisic was most heavily linked to — can pay a lot more than Dortmund can, so it’s fair to say that Pulisic made a decision to prioritize other things over money in the short term. While there’s never anything wrong with players trying to get paid as much as possible, USMNT fans should be happy that Pulisic is currently putting his development as a player ahead of that.And given the playing time he’s getting at the moment, he appears to have made a good decision for the development of his career. If Pulisic moved to another country right now, he’d need some time to adjust and might fail to crack the starting lineup due to factors outside of his control. He’s made 31 appearances at a high level before his 19th birthday, and that’s something he’s probably interested in not messing up.Dortmund also has a lot of young players that Pulisic can grow alongside. It’s unlikely that the team has reached their ceiling. Just look at the ages of his teammates.

JORDAN MORRIS ONE YEAR LATER: “I MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE”

MNT Jan 20, 2017

Perspective is a powerful thing.A year ago, forward Jordan Morris was coming off an NCAA College Cup title with Stanford and found himself in January Camp weighing his professional future.Having already earned seven caps and scoring a goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team, the highest touted collegiate prospect in some time had the option of signing with his hometown club Seattle Sounders FC or making the jump to Europe with German side Werder Bremen.Taking both under serious consideration, Morris actually left MNT training camp to check out the Bundesliga club. Eventually he made the decision to start his career at home in Seattle.A Rookie of the Year award and M.L.S. Cup trophy followed, and as he finds himself back in MNT camp one year later, Morris thinks he took the right path.“I’m 100 percent happy with the choice I made,” he told ussoccer.com. “I have no regrets — it was an awesome season playing in Seattle. Obviously it went well for us, but it’s just so good being around family and being able to play in my hometown. It’s been awesome.”Morris was a clutch performer for Sounders FC, helping the club rebound from being Western Conference cellar dwellers last July to earning a spot in the M.L.S. Cup Playoffs. Once there, Morris put the club on his back, scoring in both legs of the Western Conference Final against Colorado Rapids before Seattle defeated Toronto FC on penalty kicks in the M.L.S. Cup Final.

In total, Morris tallied 18 goals and five assists through 40 matches for the Sounders last year and credited his early National Team experience with preparing him for his rookie campaign.“It helps getting your first games, and then towards the end of the season when the stakes are high it definitely helps to have that experience. I was very fortunate and lucky to have played in some of those games before entering my professional career.”With 12 total caps to his name, the 22-year-old striker has more international experience than 17 players on the January Camp roster, including club teammate Chad Marshall. Currently taking part in his first MNT camp since 2010, Marshall has collected 11 caps. Morris thinks it’s an opportunity well deserved. “That can be a little funny,” Morris said of his 32-year-old teammate. “I think Chad is such a great player and I think he deserved to be in the pool. Obviously he was before, but he’s been out for a little bit. He’s such a great player and 100 percent deserves to be here.Though injuries and time spent with the U-23 MNT limited him to just five senior caps last year, Morris has his sights set one firming up his role with the full team in 2017.“The goal is to keep working and continue to have that confidence. Being in camps before definitely helps me come in and feel more comfortable. It’s just having that confidence to go out and prove that I can play and hopefully get more minutes on the field.”

Bob Bradley reflects on a tumultuous 85 days in charge of Swansea City

In the days following his firing as manager of Swansea City, Bob Bradley ran through the gamut of emotions. There was disappointment that his bosses didn’t stick with the plan agreed when he was hired, plus frustration that he had just 85 days in charge.But in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN FC, conducted in the days after he was dismissed, Bradley also gave some insight into his thinking, his experiences with the players, his hopes for the transfer window and even his approach to stabilizing Swansea’s defense. There was also introspection as to what he would have done differently if he had to do it over again.Wherever Bradley has gone, he has taken great pride in putting his stamp on whatever team he happened to be in charge of. But he admitted that, when he took over at Swansea on Oct. 3, it was obvious there were more pressing concerns. Stability was a priority and so were points. Everything else would have to wait.”The emphasis on everything we did from the time I got there was re-establish good habits, try to restore confidence,” Bradley said via telephone. “We worked in that way, and we were still fighting for consistency. When you have a team that has gone through a tough stretch, when you have a team that now is being scrutinized by the supporters, then as a manager you’re going to stand strong for your players. I made sure of that. I was positive, I took responsibility, I never blamed any players and threw it at them.”With the Swans currently bottom of the Premier League and having fired two managers already this season — Bradley and his predecessor Francesco Guidolin — it’s a squad that, as currently constituted, is facing relegation. The summer departures of defender Ashley Williams to Everton and forward Andre Ayew to West Ham left a void that has yet to be filled. Bradley admitted he was direct in his conversations with the coaching staff, board and ownership that the team needed to be strengthened in January, but wonders if that approach damaged him.”It can hurt you because it can create a feeling that you don’t believe in the squad,” he said. “But I separate two important things. First is the message that you give to the players. I went out of my way with this group of players to be very positive. Maybe even too positive, but I chose that because I knew they were down on confidence and I thought they needed someone to put their arm around them and say, ‘C’mon guys, here’s how you’ve done it in the past, we’re going to do it the same way. As long as we’re in it together, we’re going to make this work.'”Now in other moments, you have meetings as a staff and you talk with the owners and you talk with the chairman, and in those moments, for me, it was important to be very clear, that I felt we needed to improve ourselves. Now if that gets taken wrong, and people say I don’t believe in the squad because I’ve been direct and straightforward, I don’t know how you can get anywhere in football if you don’t have those kind of real discussions. But they have to be done in the right times and they have to be done confidentially. At the same time, I think some of that was taken wrong.”As for where reinforcements were needed, Bradley said Swansea needed help from back to front, but mostly in defense.”Certainly, the loss of Ashley Williams was a big one,” he said. “I felt we needed a central defender who could still, no matter who he played with, make the others better. We talked about possible additions in the midfield. We spoke about some attacking players with some speed who could play on the outside, who were threats to get behind but also worked hard. We talked about different things, and we had some good names. It was going to be interesting to see what we could make happen.”In the meantime, Bradley was left to make do and nowhere were his struggles more profound than at the back. The numbers are brutal no matter how you look at them: Swansea allowed 29 goals during his 11 games in charge.Bradley chopped and changed, using six different back-line combinations among eight different defenders, with centre-back a particular pain point. He initially opted for Guidolin’s approach of using Jordi Amat and Federico Fernandez in the center but, after his first match in charge, a 3-2 away defeat to Arsenal, the new manager didn’t like what he saw.”At the end of that match, I felt like in the center of defense we weren’t strong enough,” he said.The next match was against Watford and, in a bid to combat what Bradley described as the Hornets’ “direct” style, he started Mike van der Hoorn and Alfie Mawson, giving the latter player his Premier League debut. Swansea recorded one of only two clean sheets in Bradley’s tenure with a 0-0 draw and, during the next few weeks, he persisted with that partnership. After losses to Stoke and Manchester United, though, he used the international break to reassess.”I think our feeling was that as much as these young defenders are going in a good direction, it’s too much to expect that they can play all the games,” he said. “Now over that international break, I’ve challenged Fede. ‘We need to get your level higher. I don’t think you’re as fit as you should be.’ Now we have a good chance to work, and when we go and start with Everton, we go back and say, ‘Okay, let’s see if we can back up a little bit in terms of the way we play and see if this makes sense.'”The defense seemed to improve and only a late Seamus Coleman goal allowed Everton to record a 1-1 draw on Nov. 19.A week later came a remarkable encounter against Crystal Palace, a match that proved to be a prime example of a hollow victory. Swansea were up 3-1 and cruising before a period of calamitous defending allowed Palace to take a 4-3 lead. Bradley’s men staged a late fightback to win a thriller 5-4 but, in the manager’s eyes, the manner of the game seemed to blunt the impact of his first Premier League win.”From a confidence standpoint, man if we win that 3-1 or tack on another goal and finish 4-1 it would go a lot more,” he said. “And now, at that point, [Fernandez] breaks his toe, so now we have to make a change again.”A 5-0 hammering at Tottenham was followed by a 3-0 win against Sunderland but then came three straight defeats — against West Brom, Middlesbrough and West Ham — in which Swansea gave up a total of 10 goals.”Without a doubt, the changes that we made were constantly to find consistency and find a group that we thought was going to gel the right way,” Bradley said.The “Swansea Way” has historically been that of a slick-passing, possession-based approach. The team have gotten away from that during the past few seasons and, while Bradley felt that progress was made in that regard, it was overshadowed by bigger problems.”If you don’t combine [possession] with being good in the penalty area on both sides, then you’re not going to win enough matches,” he said. “When I talk about improving ourselves, that’s where we needed to improve.”Bradley also took issue with any assertions that Swansea played too aggressively. The one exception, he felt, was the loss to Tottenham when, with the team down 2-0 at half-time, he challenged his players to take more risks in a bid to get back into the game. Otherwise, the problem was down to basic defensive errors.”We conceded too many goals in terms of defending corners in the second phase, where we actually got our head on the ball first, we didn’t do well enough, and now the ball is still in and around the box, and when we needed to react and finish that part of the play, we were second best,” he said. “That was the very first game at Arsenal — the second goal — that was early on at Stoke to put us behind 1-0. That was a couple of the goals that turned the Crystal Palace game upside down.”And then we conceded too many goals where our initial reaction when a ball turned over, to get back, was very good. But once we got numbers back, our ability to then step up and make the play defensively wasn’t good enough. So those are the two biggest categories in terms of goals we gave up. That gets magnified in situations when you’ve gone down and now you have to take more chances.”Bradley insisted that he had good relationships with most players and that he left on good terms: “I had a number of guys when I shook hands with [Wednesday] when I said goodbye who said, ‘From the day you got here, you challenged us, you were honest with us, training was great, we were prepared, and in the end it still comes down to the fact that we’ve got to be able to do it on the field. We let you down.’ Now, not every player feels that way, not every player says that. But I had a bunch of guys that said that. I had guys on the staff who said that to me.”There’s always going to be some that maybe at the moment aren’t playing as much, or maybe now you’ve had some tough conversations and there’s something in it that they don’t like. This is what happens in football. This is what happens where in moments where some of the agents of those players have certain contacts in the media and put things out there that are totally false. But that’s not just happening to me in my first go-round in the Premier League.”As for what he would do differently, Bradley said there was plenty. Most of it centered on his individual interactions with various people at the club.”You try to tailor your message every day, with the group you have,” he said. “And so you look back on all that, and you think about, ‘This is your work,’ and so you think maybe this didn’t come across right. I think about all that.”When asked for specifics, Bradley dug a little deeper.”I’m not going to give you names, but maybe I showed trust in some players who didn’t deserve it,” he said. “I would say in both France and here, there were also days where I delegated more and I think in the long run that’s important. But does that also mean on a given day that the quality of the training session wasn’t what I thought it could have been or should have been? So yeah, I can think about stuff like that.”Sometimes we had discussions about players like Jefferson Montero and Modou Barrow. (Swansea first-team coach) Alan Curtis, who is a great guy and has been around the club for a long time, I think Alan felt that maybe these are guys that still are best for 30 minutes. I think sometimes I’ve had success in the past where I’d say, ‘Look, I understand that’s what the book says, but I think we need to challenge that to see if we can add to that and make it bigger, make it better.’ We played Mo from the start most of the games I was here and over time we would make a decision as to whether that helped or whether Alan had it figured out at the beginning. So there’s things like that you look back on.”In the upcoming days and weeks, Bradley will now have even more time to analyze his Premier League experience.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

The World Football Order

International football has changed a lot in the past two decades. But some things still seem to stay the same.

JAMES TYLER, WITH JESSICA LOPEZ AND GUS ELVIN

FIFA rankings may not be the perfect measurement of success but without a more coherent way to compare and contrast the world’s footballing superpowers, it’s a decent overview of where everyone stands.Since the late 1990s, the sport’s top countries have experienced significant fluctuations in FIFA’s estimations due to the rigors of tournament play. It’s worth looking at the major patterns to see what’s changed over the past two decades and, in some cases, what’s more or less the same.How far ahead are the top-tier nations? And are teams like the U.S. and Mexico that far behind?

The Rankings

HOW THE CHART WORKS: Check the boxes to the right of each nation to highlight their individual progress. Click the country name to either add or remove them from the visual. Hover over the chart to see year-by-year rankings for each country.

U.S. Vs. Mexico: El Tri Have The Edge

Even though the USMNT enjoy things like “dos a cero” (until 2016, at least) and other notable victories over their neighbors to the south — for example, the 2-0 round of 16 victory at the 2002 World Cup — they have steadily been a cut beneath El Tri in the eyes of FIFA.

Whether it’s the consistency of Mexico’s top players across Europe or the number of notable results in big games (2011 Gold Cup, 2015 CONCACAF Cup), there’s been precious little for the U.S. to celebrate. Beyond Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan and the latest crop of Americans abroad, the efforts of Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen), Rafa Marquez (Monaco, Barcelona), Carlos Vela (Arsenal, Real Sociedad) and the Dos Santos brothers, Giovani and Jonathan have outpaced the Yanks over time.

The best year for both sides was 2005: Mexico hit No. 5 thanks to a brilliant run through World Cup qualification, scoring 67 goals and winning 15 of 18 games en route to a seeded spot in 2006, while the USMNT won the Hex on a tie-breaker. However, a failure to win a single game in Germany that summer saw the Yanks plummet to 31st the following year while Mexico dropped to 20th after a last-16 exit.

The most damning thing for the U.S.? Arena takes over a team ranked worse than the one he took over two decades ago, and with a number of key players (Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard) to eventually replace. Christian Pulisic leads the next generation, but he’ll need help.

England: The Ultimate “Nearly There”

The biggest note for the Three Lions is that they are steadily around the Top 10: in the year-end rankings since 1998, they’ve only been worse than 10th on six occasions. It’s a testament to their consistency in international play but more than that, it’s a comment on the relative ease of UEFA when it comes to qualifying for major competitions.

Whether winning eight of 10 qualifiers en route to a quarterfinal defeat at the 2006 World Cup vs. Portugal (England finished the year ranked fifth overall, their highest mark in 20 years) or going undefeated in 2011 (ranked fifth) before a Euro 2012 quarterfinal defeat to Italy, the pattern keeps repeating: qualify with ease, build expectations and let the nation down come tournament time.

England suffered just five defeats from March 2010 to November 2012, a span of 34 games, but never came close to glory. To wit, their last semifinal appearance at a major competition was in Euro 1996.

Germany: Rebuild Works To Perfection

With the exception of a huge drop from fourth in 2002 to 19th in 2004 after a humiliating group stage exit at the Euros that year, Germany are arguably one of the benchmarks in international football over the past two decades. The story is well-told: a renewed effort by the DFB (Deutscher Fussball-Bund, Germany’s FA) following similar embarrassment at Euro 2000 saw a flood of investment in national talent centers and requirements for Bundesliga clubs to build grassroots academies.

The aim was to “feed” players up through the ranks to the national team, and it worked: the emergence of anchors like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller helped fuel a generation of success: they’ve not dropped lower than sixth in the year-end rankings since 2005, all while continuing to bring new talent through to form the backbone of future generations: Julian Weigl for Schweinsteiger, Joshua Kimmich for Lahm, Marc-Andre ter Stegen for Neuer and, perhaps, Julian Draxler for Muller.

And throughout this renewed focus on Die Mannschaft, only twice (Euro 2002 and Euro 2004) did they fail to reach at least the semifinals of a major tournament, even winning the World Cup in 2014 and finishing second in 2002 and at Euro 2008.

Brazil Fluctuate, Argentina Stay Steady

The Selecao lean on Neymar and as goes Lionel Messi, so goes Argentina. Yet the two stars have lived through wildly different generations with their respective countries.

Brazil were the best in the world at the end of 1998 thanks to their run to the World Cup final, remaining at No. 1 for seven of the nine years that followed including victory at the 2002 World Cup. The transition from Ronaldo to Neymar was a difficult one as they dropped as low as 12th in 2012 but despite having 10 different managers over the past 20 years, their natural talent helped mask any off-field problems. Winning three Confederations Cups and four Copa Americas since 1996 also covered up any apparent volatility or inflated expectations from fans.

Meanwhile, Argentina’s wait for a major trophy — their last World Cup was in 1986, their last Copa America in 1993 — has kept them in that agonizing “nearly there” bracket throughout the international careers of two of their biggest ever stars, Carlos Tevez (debuted in 2004) and Lionel Messi (debuted in 2005). The clock ticks for Messi on a major trophy: they’ve been runner up in four of the last five Copa Americas and never lower than 10th in the FIFA rankings since Bruce Arena’s first appearance as U.S. coach.

It feels a bit like England — great in qualifying, desperately unlucky in competition — only with, you know, Messi.

Spain: Stunning Success, Unsure Future?

La Roja feel like something of an anomaly in international football having won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 with the same generation of players. This never happens on the national stage: too much can go wrong (injuries, loss of form, the ebb and flow of international football) but if anything, Spain have been the ultimate tournament team in modern football, never beaten even when not dominant.But with that sustained success — reflected in the FIFA rankings, they were No. 1 for six straight years, matching Brazil’s run of the 2000s — comes a tricky segue to a stunted generation who’ve waited longer than expected for their turn. As Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Silva (ahem) Fernando Torres fade out, the next wave is still finding its feet, as evidenced by their tepid round of 16 exit at last summer’s Euros.

Don’t Underestimate Star Power

Wales (ranked 112th in 2010, ranked 12th at the end of 2016), Chile (as low as 84th in 2002, as high as fourth in 2016 after back-to-back Copa Americas) and Belgium (steadily rising from 66th in 2009 to first in 2015) all show that you can make waves if you have a handful of world-class talent around which to build a half-decent team.The Welsh boast Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Chile have dominated South America thanks to Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez while the Belgians are enjoying the peak of a “Golden Generation” (Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen, Thibaut Courtois).These clusters of all-world talent may come along seemingly by accident — unlike Germany’s ascent, Belgium’s crop of megastars were largely developed by clubs in other countries — but riding them high up the rankings isn’t a difficult thing to do.

Earn your Degree While You Watch Your Kids Soccer Practice – ½ the time and cost of Traditional Schools

Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com

Proud Member of the Brick Yard Battalion – http://www.brickyardbattalion.com , Sam’s Army- http://www.sams-army.com , American Outlaws  http://www.facebook.com/IndyAOUnite

Advertisements

1/16/17 Indy 11 Back in NASL, 48 Team World Cup ’26

So sorry soccer fans I have been on an extended Holiday as we were traveling for much of the Christmas and New Year’s season.  My return still finds Chelsea on top of a very tight top 6 in the EPL, Real Madrid on top in Spain but finally lost a game for the first time in 40 matches – yes FORTY matches.  That is amazing!!

So the Indy 11 will be back and in the NASL – as it remains in the 2nd Division in US Soccer.  Should be interesting to see where the league goes in the future now that we have NASL and USL both as second divisions.  Bottom line Is we’ll have NASL soccer back in Indy again this season.  So yea!

Interesting move by FIFA to increase the World Cup in 2026 to 48 teams.  Lets hope the US gets to benefit from that by hosting the 2026 tourney.   And lets hope now that Bruce is back in charge we actually make the next World Cup.  I am happy to see an American back in charge of the US National Team.  Bruce took this program to the Elite 8 in his first go round and I think he’s the guy to pull us out of our current Klinsy built funk.

WORLD

Real Madrid’s 40 game unbeaten streak comes to an end

Marcotti’s Musings – Weekend Results

Everton sign Man Us Schneiderlin

Soccer Dates to Remember in 2017

FIFA World Cup Expands to 48 Teams

48 Team World Cup could work – Marcotti – ESPNFC

48 Team World Cup a Horrible Idea  – Macintosh – EPSNFC

48 Team World Cup could ruin FIFAs Showpiece – Grant Wahl SI

Indy 11

Both NASL and USL Granted Division 2 Status by US Soccer

Indy 11 Statement about NASL

NASL Sets New Direction

Indy 11 begins to reset the roster for 2017

Save on Season Tickets Now

MLS

Chicago Fire Release Full Season Schedule – including home games with Toronto FC, Seattle, Dallas, NYCFC

New Official MLS Soccer Ball Released

MLS flying Coach makes them Bush League – Washington Post

Thank You Fans – Video from MLS

US

Bruce Hopes for Quick Start for US –pro soccer talk

Top 10 Goals USWNT

Yanks Abroad

Benny Feilhaber happy with call up to Nats

17 Goals for the Bruce Arena

GAMES ON TV

Weds,  Jan 18

11 am beIn Sport       Gabon vs Burkina Faso African Cup

2:45 pm  Fox Sport 1   Plymouth Arglye vs Liverpool – FA Cup

Thurs,  Jan 19

11 am beIn Sport       Algeria vs Tunisia African Cup

1:15 pm  bein Sport Atletico vs Eibar Copa Del Rey

3;15 pm bein Sport   Real Sociedad vs Barcelona Copa Del Rey

Fri, Jan 20

11 am beIN sport       South Africa vs Congo DR African Cup

2 pm beIN sport          Morroco vs Togo  African Cup

2:30 pm Fox Sport 1    Frieberg vs Bayern Munich

Sat. Jan 21

7:30 am NBCSN            Liverpool vs Swansea City

9:30 am FS1                   Werder Bremen vs Borussia Dortmund

10 am NBCSN                Stoke City vs Man United

12:30 NBC                       Man City vs Tottenham

Sun,  Jan 22

9:15 am NBCSN            Arsenal vs Burnley

9:30 am Fox Sports 1  Bayer Leverkusen vs Hertha BSC

11:30 am NBCSN         Chelsea vs Hull City

2 pm Fox Sports 2      Cameroon vs Gabon

Wed, Jan 25

3 pm ??                             Liverpool vs Southampton League Cup

Arena aims for quick start to save USMNT World Cup hopes

Leave a commentAssociated PressJan 12, 2017, 12:26 PM EST

CARSON, Calif. (AP) Bruce Arena realizes he has very little time to get back into his groove with the U.S. national team. After all, two vital World Cup qualifiers are looming just two months away.Luckily for Arena, he has done this job before. He’s also returning to work in extremely familiar surroundings.“I think it’s a great opportunity for me personally, but it’s an important time for this team,” Arena said Wednesday. “Our goal is pretty clear: We need to qualify for Russia in 2018.”Arena convened the first training camp of his second stint in charge of the U.S. team under sunny skies at its training base south of downtown Los Angeles. The complex also is the home of the LA Galaxy, where Arena served as the coach and general manager of the MLS club for the past 8 1/2 seasons.

Arena took over for Jurgen Klinsmann in late November, accepting the task of salvaging the Americans’ World Cup qualification hopes. Two losses last year dropped the U.S. into last place in its qualifying hexagonal, albeit with eight games to go. The transition isn’t easy, and the stakes are high. But Arena seems to be better equipped for the task than just about anybody.  “I’m having the time of my life,” Arena said with his usual sardonic tone. “I haven’t had to move. The hotel is about a five-minute drive from my house. I’ve been coming here for the last eight years. I had to move about 30 yards from my past office. So life could be worse.”  Although the U.S. players on European club teams can’t attend this camp, Arena held his first practice with 28 players, including several MLS stalwarts who couldn’t crack the Eurocentric Klinsmann’s talent pool.

Sporting Kansas City’s Benny Feilhaber, FC Dallas’ Matt Hedges, the Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget and the Red Bulls’ Dax McCarty will get a look from Arena’s fresh eyes during the monthlong camp. Arena also has changed Klinsmann’s strict rules for diet and fitness, hoping to restore a team spirit that appeared to fade late in the German’s tenure.  “You can expect honesty from Bruce,” said the LA Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes, who broke through on the U.S. team under Klinsmann. “He’s easing us into camp, but he’s already made a terrific speech about knowing each and every player, so you don’t have to impress him. I love playing under him.”  Arena has personal history with several camp invitees. Along with Galaxy stars Zardes and Lletget, Arena previously coached DaMarcus Beasley, Nick Rimando, Chad Marshall, Jozy Altidore and captain Michael Bradley, who had a thick, lustrous head of hair when he got his U.S. break in 2006.

“I’m very excited to be back playing for Bruce,” Bradley said. “He was the one who gave me my first opportunity with the national team, and that’s something you never forget. … He’s going to create an environment where guys are going to compete, guys are going to enjoy themselves, and there’s going to be a real team and a real spirit and a real feeling that we’re all in something together. But when it’s time to work and time to compete, we’re going to do that, and I think he’s going to be very clear and tell it exactly like it is, which is very important, which is exactly what we need.”

Bradley’s father, Bob, replaced Arena as the U.S. coach after the 2006 World Cup. Bob Bradley was Arena’s assistant at the University of Virginia and with D.C. United.“I knew Michael Bradley as a little baby, which is interesting,” Arena said with a bemused smile.  Arena is counting on Michael Bradley and fellow veteran Jermaine Jones to be leaders for the U.S. over the next few months. He also complimented Beasley, the 34-year-old veteran hoping to continue with the American team two years after announcing his international retirement.  “Obviously he’s not the same player as he was (when) playing in the 2002 World Cup,” Arena said. “But good players, guys that can think on the field, know how to compete, use their experience well, are always good to have around.”  The camp will end with friendly matches against Serbia on Jan. 29 and Jamaica on Feb. 3. The Americans face Honduras on March 24 and Panama on March 28 in World Cup qualifiers.

Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup first and foremost for Arena, the USMNT

The United States men’s national team will kick off their 2017 campaign with the traditional January camp, which opens on Friday. It’s a squad in the midst of a rebrand with new (and old) manager Bruce Arena now at the helm after the up and down Jurgen Klinsmann era came to an end in November. There’s plenty to accomplish, and little time to do so. Here are 17 goals for the Americans in 2017.

  1. Qualify for the 2018 World Cup

Klinsmann’s ouster occurred at least in part because the Stars and Stripes lost the first two matches of the final qualification round (“The Hex”) and currently sit in last place. Given the large margin for error in CONCACAF, there’s still plenty of time to qualify for Russia. Not doing so would be a disastrous and embarrassing setback for an American program that hasn’t progressed as much as hoped since 2010. Arena has one priority that rises far above all others: find 15 or so points in the eight matches between hosting Honduras on March 24 and going to Port of Spain to play Trinidad and Tobago on Oct.10th.

  1. Qualify for the 2018 World Cup

So important it gets the top two spots.

  1. R-E-L-A-X

With apologies to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, everyone — players, coaches, media, and fans — should calm down about the state of the U.S. The current squad has one of the most talented cores in the program’s history and the player pool is deeper than ever. The ability is there; the vision and implementation of that vision has been lacking. The Americans at the beginning of 2017 need tweaks, not a dramatic overhaul. Anything more would be overkill.

  1. Win the 2017 Gold Cup

Before the calamitous beginning to the Hexagonal, the low point for Klinsmann’s club had been the fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup. Getting a win at the regional championship (July 7-26) would be an excellent way to prove the U.S. can win something that matters while simultaneously building momentum for the final four World Cup qualification matches.

  1. Figure out the goalie situation

Tim Howard seems to be the number one for now. But the Colorado Rapids netminder turns 38 in March, which isn’t, you know, young. Can he continue playing at the high level the Americans need, especially given the wear and tear his body will take during MLS’s non-stop flying to and from games? If Howard’s skill slips, how quickly will it be before Arena turns to Atlanta FC target Brad Guzan? And is the third-stringer really 21-year-old Ethan Horvath?

  1. Win the U-20 CONCACAF Championship

In mid-February, Tab Ramos’ team travels to Costa Rica seeking to qualify for the 2017 U-20 World Cup in South Korea by finishing as one of the top two teams in a four-team Group B and then as one of the top two in the three-squad classification stage. They should do that, and then take it a step further to take home the trophy. (While we’re here, it would be nice to see the U.S. win the U-17 CONCACAF Championship this spring, then show better than the abysmal one draw and two loss performance they put up during the 2015 U-17 World Cup.)

  1. Reach the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup

Assuming Ramos’ side makes it to South Korea, their goal should be to match the performance of the 2015 team. That group, which featured Gedion Zelalem, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Paul Arriola, Emerson Hyndman, Matt Miazga, and Kellyn Acosta, among others, lost to eventual champion Serbia on penalties in the quarterfinals. This team could be stronger, with Carter-Vickers and Zelalem potentially returning in addition to Christian Pulisic, Justen Glad, Josh Perez, Kyle Scott, Luca de la Torre, Weston McKennie, Brooks Lennon, (and, yes, Jonathan Klinsmann).

  1. Let Michael be Michael

Here’s the thing about Michael Bradley: he can’t be a team’s best player, but he makes everyone else on the field a little bit better. Klinsmann never quite understood this reality, which resulted in Bradley getting put into positions that didn’t take advantage of his unique skill set. Arena, who has watched Bradley play for years in Major League Soccer and is also a better manager when it comes to deploying talent as it should be deployed, won’t make this mistake. If the new coach lets Bradley return to a place where he uses his intelligence and vision to impact the proceedings, he’ll thrive.

  1. Put Fabian Johnson somewhere and keep him there

He’s probably the team’s best player at four separate positions. For the sake of the squad, it’s time to write his name down in pen somewhere permanently. My pick would be left back, although putting him on the wing in midfield is another solid option.

  1. Let Pulisic drive

When it comes to creating chances, both for himself and for his teammates, is there a better attacking player on the U.S. than the 18-year-old? Pulisic is a viciously talented, game-changing winger. Put him there, get him the ball early and often, and get out of the way.

  1. Find out what the MLSers have…

An abridged list of names: Dax McCarty, Keegan Rosenberry, Chris Pontius, Matt Hedges, Walker Zimmerman, Justin Morrow, Robbie Rogers, Juan Agudelo, and Kekuta Manneh. Those are MLSers who might be able to make an impact on the U.S. squad, and Arena will give them a shot. Throw in Benny Feilhaber and Darlington Nagbe, and you get almost an entire starting lineup worth of players who could impact the Russia roster.

  1. …and the Euros, too…

There’s also room for players like Eric Lichaj and maybe Perez — who is making inroads at Fiorentina at just 18 years old — to get a shot, along with players in the Mexican league, including Jorge Villafana and Jonathan Bornstein.

  1. …then limit the pool with an eye toward Russia

This year isn’t a time for finding a ton of new players. Arena has a couple months and a couple camps to figure out his team, then turn his focus to building a cohesive starting lineup and bench depth that can succeed at the 2018 World Cup.

  1. Have a little fun

It’s not fun to lose and international soccer should be taken seriously, but for the last few years, there was little in the way of charm coming from the American locker room. That was partially a function of Klinsmann, who always wanted to be the biggest personality, and partially because of the nature of team leaders like Bradley and Clint Dempsey. Arena is a different type of manager, however, and players — both new and old – might feel okay letting loose a little now. That’s good, as the U.S. desperately needs some levity. (Looking at you, Benny Feilhaber.)

  1. Find their fans

This goal goes hand-in-hand with the previous one. While attendance at qualifiers and the Copa America was strong, the team failed to draw 10,000 fans to any friendly in 2016. There’s clearly an enthusiasm gap, borne out of poor results but also from a lack of excitement. At points, rooting for the red, white, and blue felt like a responsibility. They need to figure out a way to make fans enjoy the games again. Playing in Chattanooga in February, a city that’s seen amazing support for its fourth-division side, is a good start.

  1. Bring Landon Donovan back

I kid. (But also, don’t rule it out.)

  1. Qualify for the 2018 World Cup

Because really, nothing else matters.Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC 

Feilhaber’s second chance with the U.S. could be just what Arena’s team needs

CARSON, Calif. — Benny Feilhaber could barely contain himself as he left his first U.S. national team practice in almost three years.The 1½-hour session was done, but the Sporting Kansas City midfielder looked as if he were ready for another. Feilhaber didn’t have long to wait, as he took part in a second practice later on Wednesday, but he was clearly savoring the moment.”It feels amazing; it’s very exciting,” he told reporters about his return to the U.S. fold. “It’s something I wasn’t sure would ever happen again, so it feels like a second chance and because of that it’s very motivating. So I’m very excited to be back and want to make my stamp in this camp.”That second chance is down to who is in charge. Bruce Arena is now the U.S. manager, replacing Jurgen Klinsmann, who made it abundantly clear with each passing day — at least in this cycle — that regardless of the numbers Feilhaber put up at club level, there was no room for the midfielder.It was a snub that Feilhaber wrestled with privately for the most part, though at last year’s Major League Soccer media day he finally unloaded, saying that Klinsmann didn’t pick the best players. As for his own situation, on that day he described it as “almost sad.” Feilhaber concedes now that he was resigned to his fate.”It didn’t feel like I would be back,” he said Wednesday as it related to the U.S. team. “I kind of turned that page a little bit in my career and tried to focus on the things that I could. I always watched the national team; it’s always something I looked very fondly back on, when I did have my opportunities with the national team with Bob [Bradley], but I had kind of closed that book. To have it reopen again unexpectedly was an amazing feeling.” Feilhaber’s opportunity comes at an auspicious time. The U.S. is in dead last in the final six-team round of World Cup qualifying. His skill set — that of a creative, attacking midfielder — is one for which the U.S. would seem to have a need.Arena remarked that Feilhaber is “a little different than most [U.S.] players,” given his passing and creativity and that he and Sacha Kljestan would both get “a good, hard look in this camp.”The question of course is: Has Feilhaber’s opportunity come too late? Players often find themselves in a race against time, and the midfielder is no different. Physical ability erodes as the years pass, but experience is acquired. It makes for an odd kind of hourglass. The sand is slipping through, but any knowledge gained adds some additional grains to the top and lengthens careers. Feilhaber’s greater attention to his fitness has added some years as well and helped rebuild his career in Kansas City after some barren seasons in Europe and with the New England Revolution.”[Fitness] has always been one of my things that I’ve really had to work on to be at my top game,” he said. “It’s something I’ve definitely taken more seriously as my career has gone on. Other than that I think you get smarter, whether it’s on the field trying to find spaces, trying to find areas where you know you’re good, trying to avoid places where you might not be as good. It’s a lot about being smarter, experiencing those mistakes and kind of learning from them and mostly a smarter player on and off the field at this point.”It’s worth pointing out that the U.S. team’s needs are more immediate at this stage. This is about acquiring results in the short term, and Feilhaber’s attributes could be just what the team needs. He’s shown a greater attention to defensive duties since joining Sporting KC. At minimum, he could be the kind of game-changing substitute he excelled at being when playing for the U.S. under Bradley.”I want to bring what I’ve learned at the club level and my experience at the national team level six years ago to make myself a better player and a more influential player for my team,” he said.”Now he’ll get his chance.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. natinal team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle. 

FIFA Council unanimously approves World Cup expansion to 48 teams

The FIFA Council has rubber-stamped plans to expand the World Cup in 2026 to 48 teams, adding 16 nations.FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s revamp plan received unanimous backing at a meeting in Zurich on Tuesday.Delegates were asked to vote on four proposals to change the existing format or stick with the current format of 32 teams.This is the first time since the 1998 World Cup that changes have been made to the makeup of the tournament, with the 2026 competition set to feature 16 groups of three.Infantino’s preferred option for change was for a 2026 competition featuring 16 groups of three, followed by a 32-team knockout, increasing the number of games from 64 to 80 but remaining inside a 32-day schedule.”We have to shape the football World Cup of the 21st century,” said Infantino, who also promised funding increases for FIFA’s 211 member federations at his election last February.”No guarantees have been made,” Infantino said. “The only sure thing is that obviously with 48 teams everyone will have a bit more than they have today.”There were also options to have a 40-team tournament, with 10 groups of four or eight groups of five, but the only other 48-team makeup would see a 32-team one-game knockout round with the winners joining 16 already-qualified teams.Infantino has also suggested that penalty shootouts be brought in to settle the results of all drawn games, thereby minimising the risk of teams colluding in their final group games to eliminate others from the tournament.The Swiss has repeatedly said his main motivation for expansion is to give more nations a chance of experiencing the joy of a World Cup, which will bolster international football in developed markets and help its growth in new ones.With 80 matches instead of 64, FIFA forecasts $1 billion extra income from broadcasting and sponsor deals, plus ticket sales, compared to the $5.5 billion forecast for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.FIFA’s six continents should find out by May how many extra places they will get.The African and Asian nations are expecting significant increases on their current allocation of four spots apiece, while UEFA wants 16 European teams in the tournament.The other major decision regarding 2026 — who will host the event — is not scheduled for consideration until 2020, with a bid featuring United States, either on its own or in conjunction with one or both of Canada and Mexico, the overwhelming favourite.The European Club Association continued its stance of opposing the move, calling it “regrettable” and claiming it had been made because of “political reasons.”

48-team World Cup will be a good thing if FIFA get details right

Gab MArcotti – ESPN FC – World Cup.Cue the outrage. Cue the anger. Cue the sneers.Because, if it comes from FIFA, it has to be bad. Or self-serving. Or corrupt.In this case, the objection appears to be driven by two things. One is that this was a decision made for the wrong reasons. FIFA boss Gianni Infantino promised to expand the World Cup in exchange for votes from middling nations who want to feed at the trough. He did it to get elected, not for the good of the sport, kind of like politicians who (depending on your political stripe) either cut taxes or increase welfare benefits so they can gain support.And, of course, Infantino also promised that he would increase FIFA’s payments to each member association, which is also a move designed to gain votes, according to the cynics.To do that, however, he needs to grow the pie, and because more than 85 percent of FIFA’s revenues come from the men’s World Cup, the only way to do that is to squeeze more cash out of the biggest sporting event in the universe. The easiest way to do it is by expanding it.The first argument can be thrown at anybody running for elected office. Would it be better if Infantino had promised more World Cup slots and then, once elected, had run out of the room shouting “Ha-ha! Psych! Fooled you guys”? Probably not. He ran on a platform; people voted on that basis; and he’s implementing it.As for the decision being a financial choice, I’m not sure that’s automatically a bad thing. FIFA’s mandate is to grow the game, and giving money back to the member associations is probably more desirable than having it sit and accumulate in a Swiss bank account.Sure, we’ve all heard about mismanagement and corruption and FIFA development funds being wasted or used to enrich friends and relatives. But if Infantino delivers on his promises of more accountability and transparency, effectively telling FAs “you can have this money but you need to account for every last penny and you need to put contracts out to public tender and you must allow for oversight and audits,” then this is far from a tragedy. In fact, it might actually give some of the less responsible FAs the opportunity to grow up and not be run like somebody’s personal bank account.On to the other big complaint: that a 48-team World Cup will dilute the quality of the competition. I’ll say it straight away. There is no rational counterargument because it’s a subjective point to make. But simply pointing to the expanded Euro 2016 as evidence that more teams equals a poor tournament won’t cut it.Why?First of all, because some — including yours truly — enjoyed the tournament.Second, because it’s one tournament. Sample size and all that. Pick and choose your moments and you can prove just about anything, even that Cristiano Ronaldo is technically awful. Third, because two-thirds of the teams at the World Cup won’t be European sides. They might be better, they might be worse, but what we do know for sure is most of the teams in the expanded World Cup won’t be the ones we saw at the Euros. It’s apples and oranges.Fourth, if it was a bad tournament, who’s to say that was down to having 24 teams and not, say, chance or fatigue after the most fixture-packed club season in recent history?Of course, having the top 48 sides in the world means the average side will be worse than if you have the top 32. By that logic, a 16-team World Cup would be even better. Maybe even an eight-team World Cup.But worse teams don’t necessarily engender worse games. Better teams doesn’t equal better games (ahem, remember last year’s Champions League semifinal between Real Madrid and Manchester City? Not exactly a two-legged humdinger, was it?).

What matters is that games will be competitive and we don’t have blowouts like this one. But, in fact, recent tournaments — not just World Cups, but regional competitions, too — have seen the number of one-sided blowouts diminish significantly. Indeed, the one notable blowout from the last World Cup was this one and the team getting stomped happened to be Brazil, who are only the most successful nation in World Cup history.

Other counterarguments?

People raise the issue of a “bloated” World Cup, but we’re talking about 80 games versus 64. The semifinalists will end up playing seven games, just as before. FIFA say they’ll wrap up the whole thing in 32 days, just as they did with 32 teams in 2014. They insist they can do it with 10 or 12 venues, which would be no different from 2014.If FIFA can keep those last two pledges, you can’t really complain about white elephants and overspending, either. What will be more problematic is finding a host nation that can provide 48 acceptable training bases. If 2026 is in the United States — as many expect — that won’t be a problem. Elsewhere, it could be.But, again, there are solutions. A training camp, more than a stadium, offers the opportunity for legacy and some of the extra revenue could be used to provide some to hosts who don’t have enough of them (they’re also considerably cheaper than 40,000-seat stadiums). Or, depending on the host nation, you could have teams based in neighbouring countries flying in for games. That would have the added benefit of spreading some of the World Cup around to smaller nations who won’t ever get to host one.The most valid reason not to do an expanded World Cup has to do with the format. A three-team group lends itself to all sort of chicanery. You want an obvious example? Let’s imagine a group with Klingons, Vulcans and Romulans. Klingons beat Vulcans 1-0. Vulcans draw with Romulans 0-0. Then, in the third game, Klingons fix a draw with Romulans and it finishes nil-nil, allowing both teams to advance.Yes, that’s a risk. It would stink to high heaven. Sure, we’ve had situations like this in past tournaments, such as Germany vs. Austria in 1982 or Denmark vs. Sweden in 2004. These were games where there was a mutually beneficial result to the detriment of one of the other teams. There’s no evidence that anything untoward happened, but it left a bad taste and a cloud of suspicion.

Or you can have a situation in which all three games end in identical draws, in which case how do you decide who advances?

Both situations could arise with the current format, too, but it’s less likely. But there are ways around it. The penalty shootout after a draw solution would have been one, albeit a foolish one.A better option is to minimize the risks by having the top seeds play the first two games. In most cases — you would hope — they’ll win one of the first two, which means the third game will have something at stake for both teams. The other is to eliminate goal difference as a tiebreaker and, instead, if teams finish level on points, determine who goes through based on FIFA ranking. Probably a revamped FIFA ranking — let’s put the eggheads to work — but nonetheless the point would be that if you want to advance, you need to win games.Incidentally, a revamped FIFA ranking would also help with another potential complaint: that World Cup qualifying, already rendered largely irrelevant in many confederations, would become even less meaningful than it is now. If countries were playing for their seeds — and the seeds were more valuable — perhaps we’d see a bit more oomph in the qualifying process.Again, another big if, but if FIFA do this or something like it, the format can work and limit the stitch-ups.We’ve been through the negatives. The positives ought to be obvious. You would have far fewer dead rubbers (provided the top seeds play first). You would have another round of knockout games, which tend to be more tense because the stakes are higher. Most of all, you would turn the game’s global showcase into a truly global event, offering a greater shot to countries who would otherwise only watch it on TV.

It’s the end of the World Cup as we know it: Expansion to 48 ruins FIFA’s showpiece

  • FIFA’s unanimous decision to expand the World Cup to 48 teams has some pros, but it’s outweighed by a litany of cons.

GRANT WAHLTuesday January 10th, 2017

I want to keep an open mind, I really do. Change is inevitable in life, and it isn’t always bad.But I’m worried that January 10, 2017, will be seen as the day FIFA ruined the World Cup.On Tuesday, the FIFA Council made it official, unanimously approving an expansion of the men’s World Cup field. Starting in 2026, the field will increase from 32 to 48 teams. There will be 16 groups of 3 teams, with the top two finishers in each group advancing to a 32-team knockout stage.The number of World Cup bids per continent has yet to be finalized, but reports suggest it could look like this:

UEFA 16 (13 currently)
CAF 9 (5)
AFC 8.5 (4.5)
CONMEBOL 6 (4.5)
CONCACAF 6.5 (3.5)
Oceania 1 (0.5)
Host Country 1 or more if co-hosted (1)

What’s good about the expansion? What’s bad? Let’s break it down:

The Pros

  • If you’re the United States or Mexico and purely looking out for your self-interest, an expanded World Cup means it will be almost impossible to miss out on qualifying for the tournament, as Mexico nearly did for 2014 and as the U.S. may be on its way to doing for 2018 after losing its first two games in the CONCACAF Hexagonal.

What’s more, it will be easier to advance to the knockout rounds with two teams in every three-team group advancing to the round of 32 (as opposed to two of four teams in each group advancing to a round of 16). And with more emphasis on the results of one game—in a sport where crazy bounces, fluke goals and bad officiating often decide games—it could also be easier for the U.S. or Mexico to advance deeper in the knockout rounds against easier teams than they faced before.

  • If you’re a country that has never made it to the World Cup before—and there are plenty of nations in this group—your chances of qualifying just increased immensely. That is no small thing as the world’s game becomes increasingly global. In general, inclusion is a better thing than exclusion.
  • Despite having a bigger tournament, it won’t take any more days to complete. The 48-team World Cup in 2026 will last 32 days, just as many as the 32 days it will take with 32 teams at Russia 2018. The tournament winner will still play seven games, no more than is currently the case, so I don’t totally understand the European Clubs Association’s opposition argument saying that the new format will put more wear and tear on players.

But then there’s the other category, which is a big one:

The Cons

  • Three-team groups are a joke. Why was Euro 2016 so unsatisfying? A big reason was the expanded 24-team field, in which teams that finished third in their four-team groups still advanced to the knockout rounds. Anytime you have more than half the teams advancing to the knockout stage creates a problem, with poorly performing teams being rewarded.

Three-team groups may also incentivize teams to play for 0-0 ties, and they remove the simultaneous final group games, which may incentivize teams to lay down and play for a mutually beneficial result if they happen to be in the final group game. FIFA is considering staging penalty shootouts at the end of any tied group games to help alleviate the problem, but that’s lame and won’t alleviate it entirely.

  • Bad games at the World Cup will become more frequent. FIFA’s own research says the quality of World Cup games will suffer in a 48-team tournament. Look for more blowouts between Germany and, say, Curaçao. Look for more small teams to park the bus and hope for a tie. Look for more mutually beneficial snoozers. Some of these games could be brutal. Too much of a good thing can easily become a bad thing. Again: Look at Euro 2016.
  • World Cup qualifying becomes a joke. Let’s say eight CONCACAF teams end up qualifying for World Cup 2026, with the U.S., the current favorite, as the host. The top eight CONCACAF teams in the current FIFA rankings are Costa Rica, Mexico, the U.S., Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Curaçao and Jamaica. With CONCACAF promising more qualifying games to tiny island nations, look for World Cup qualifying to become a watered-down mess of easy games with next to nothing at stake for a team like the U.S. or Mexico. One of the U.S.’s biggest current problems is it doesn’t play enough games that matter against tough opponents. This system makes that problem even worse.

The club game is already being played at a much higher level than the international game. An expanded World Cup makes that worse, both during the long time period between World Cups and at the 48-team World Cup itself.

  • If you’re FIFA, which has money concerns in the wake of the U.S.-investigated FIFA scandal, you’ll make more money off TV rights (more games!) and sponsorships. And if you’re Gianni Infantino, the recently elected FIFA president, you’ll increase your chances of being reelected, since so many more countries will have an opportunity to reach the World Cup. Each of those countries has a vote in the FIFA election. This is patronage politics straight out of the Sepp Blatter handbook, and it goes along with the massive increase in annual money grants that Infantino promised and got passed for each FIFA nation.

Growth and making money aren’t necessarily bad things, but the biggest problem that Infantino needs to fix is FIFA and confederation corruption—remember, there was a giant FIFA scandal!—and not the size of the World Cup, where 32 teams was just about perfect. Simply following the Blatter patronage blueprint and raising payouts only increases suspicions that the same shady folks at the end of those handouts (and most of them are the same people that there were there during the FIFA scandal) will continue with business as usual.  My hope is that Infantino will use the political support he gains from pushing expansion to address the biggest issues facing FIFA, which include becoming a cleaner organization and building women’s soccer and the role of women in soccer globally. My fear is that he will think his work was done in those areas with the passage of last year’s FIFA reform package, which should be just a start.How would I have changed the men’s World Cup? Instead of expanding it to 48 teams, I would have kept it at 32 and instituted more intercontinental playoffs to give more teams outside of Europe and South America a chance to make the 32-team field. And if the 32-team field absolutely had to be expanded, I would have gone ahead and increased it to 64, which at least is a number that makes for a competitively smart tournament. We’re probably headed for 64 eventually, anyway.But here we are. A 48-team World Cup is now official, and I worry they have ruined the showpiece event of the world’s greatest sport.

48-team World Cup puts greed, awful group stage ahead of common sense

It’s very easy to resist change, especially in football. Partly, this is because we over-sentimentalise the sport in the form it took when it won our heart; we’re blinded to its imperfections because they’re natural to us.Sometimes we should be forced to ask ourselves if it’s the specific change that we fear or the notion of change itself. And, equally, sometimes we should answer back that, if it’s FIFA doing the changing, our fears may well be justified. The decision to expand the World Cup to include 48 teams from 2026 is precisely one of those times.The impact of UEFA expanding the European Championship last year should have been taken as a warning by the game’s governing body, but it’s entirely unsurprising that it was received in exactly the opposite way. Granted, the qualifying stage brought the unexpected bonus of energising nations that had rarely made it to finals previously, such as Iceland and Wales, but the tournament itself was a damp squib.It took a draining 36 group-stage matches to reduce 24 teams to 16, with one of those advancing being eventual winners Portugal, who didn’t need to win a single game in order to progress. On the flip side, it made record profits. And in a straight choice between good sport and big profits, was there ever any doubt where FIFA’s loyalties would lie? It’s not that expansion is wrong as a concept. In 1998, the World Cup’s move from 24 teams to 32 brought a clear increase in excitement for exactly the same reasons that going from 16 teams to 24 brought a decrease at Euro 2016. It’s not how big it is, it’s what you do with it. It’s all about the format.This new, bucket-sized World Cup will feature 16 groups of three with two qualifying for the knockout stage, meaning that we’ll endure an exhausting 48 games to eliminate 16 teams. That’s a lot of low-risk games, in which two 0-0 draws can be enough to qualify for the next stage. In other words, a lot of running around to achieve very little.FIFA has raised the prospect of putting a penalty shootout on the end of every group stage drawn game, like some kind of global Checkatrade Trophy, but when you begin to consider ideas like that, you do wonder if it’s worth having a group stage at all.If results must be distinct and there is nothing to be gained in playing for a draw, why not just have a great big knockout competition to start with? Has enough time really be spent considering other options for the group stage, or are we advancing straight to FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s preferred option?It’s a shame, because the 32-team knockout stage is actually a really good idea. It means we move from 15 to 31 all-or-nothing games where there’s no safety net for elite sides like Germany and a puncher’s chance for perennial failures like, well, England. The only problem for the those watching is that, after 48 cautious qualifiers — one after the other — you might be so footballed-out by then that you’re in need of a break.Less is generally more in football; that’s why we have one-off finals rather than five-match series to determine our cup winners. Excitement is derived from risk and there are far fewer of those in a sprawling group stage where the quality has been diluted and there is larger margin for error.That’s why the current system works. As England discovered in 2014, in a group where only two of four teams qualify, you have to be on your toes from the start. Lose your first game and you go into the second knowing that another defeat will almost certainly send you home.The last World Cup also had a 48-match group stage, but it meant that 32 nations were reduced to 16. It was long, but it had a decisive effect on the field. It made sporting sense. This does not.This expansion will make more money and new, influential friends. If Infantino, whose presidential candidacy included a pledge to increase the World Cup’s size, can offer more nations more chance to qualify, he’ll lock in political support across the confederations.There are far fewer successful nations than there are successful ones. With a three-term limit now imposed on the FIFA presidency, Infantino could oversee the 2026 World Cup and use the tournament to firm up his legacy.FIFA exists for the whole world, not just the glamorous bits. And making money is not necessarily a bad thing, given the good it can do when it’s properly distributed. But this is FIFA, so scepticism is understandable.(Up until recently, remember, one of the organisation’s leading lights was so well rewarded that he rented a penthouse suite just for his cats. FIFA’s record on wealth redistribution leaves something to be desired.) And so FIFA will grow richer and Infantino’s position will be secure for years to come. Smaller nations will do well too, taking their chance to make their mark on the world stage. And the viewers, in the stadiums and on the sofas, will enjoy more knife-edge knockout games than ever before.But that group stage … don’t let anyone try to convince you that there are any positives in that group stage. That interminable dirge will be the price we pay, partly to benefit the global game, but mostly to benefit FIFA itself.Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.

BY THE NUMBERS – Indy 11 A SLEW OF SIGNINGS

Familiar names, faces lead off Indy Eleven’s first round of player signings

Jan 13, 2017

“All around me are familiar faces…”

Gary Jules may have said it with different context in “Mad World,” but the phrase is applicable to the first nine signings Indy Eleven announced during Thursday’s frenzy. All nine players who put pen to paper are familiar to the Indy Eleven fan base – or at least they should be, as they were all a part of the team that helped Indy Eleven rocket its way to a Spring Season championship and, eventually, to a place in The Championship Final.Leading off from the back, IndyEleven.com examines the statistics behind the returning players and what they bring to the fold again in 2017.

The ‘Keepers

Jon Busch
GP/GS: 30/30              Min: 2700        GA: 27             SV: 74              SO: 12

Keith Cardona
GP/GS: 3/3                  Min: 270          GA: 6               SV: 7                SO: 0

Indy Eleven went 2/2 in keeping their ‘netminders from the 2016 season, so we will see both Jon Busch and Keith Cardona commanding the back line for at least one more year.For Busch, this is year #21 of his career, and while it may be his last he is determined to give it everything he’s got. Undoubtedly one of the top three ‘keepers in the NASL in his debut season in Indy, Busch helped Indiana’s Team earn more than its fair share of points with multiple standout performances, including six saves against Fort Lauderdale, five against Jacksonville and New York, and four against Minnesota, Edmonton, and Carolina on separate occasions.Busch helped organize a back line that began the year hot (allowed one goal or less in 12 of his first 13 contests) and finished even stronger (shutouts in his last five games, including The Championship). Constantly proving that age is just a number (he turned the big 4-0 last August), Busch will be the first to tell you there’s no reason he can’t beat those impressive marks in 2017.For Cardona, he will push to see more of the field this year after making just three league appearances plus one in the U.S. Open Cup. The will be 24-year-old Cardona’s third year in Indianapolis, and he will likely want to stake a claim for the future starting right now.

The Defense

Colin Falvey
GP/GS: 24/24              Min: 2146        G: 1                  A: 0                  SH: 5                SOG: 1

Lovel Palmer
GP/GS: 25/250            Min: 1795        G: 0                  A: 1                  SH: 4                SOG: 2

Nemanja Vukovic
GP/GS: 32/31              Min: 2818        G: 3                  A: 3                  SH: 36              SOG: 13

The core of the defense in 2017 is weakened only by the retirement of stalwart Greg Janicki, but don’t undermine the importance of returning experience in leadership in the three players listed above.Another important return that can’t be touched on enough is that of the captain, Colin Falvey. Though he did not score as much as his partner in central defense (just one goal), Falvey gave life and limb to see his team succeed in the fashion that they did in 2016. For added bulletin board material, the Irishman also made it quite clear at the end of The Championship Final that he expected to be back fighting for that trophy the next year… and he’s indeed backing those words up and ready to earn that chance.Lovel Palmer’s tenacity and commitment to his game is matched by few in the league, and his extended stay in the Circle City is just as important. Rotating at right-back with Marco Franco, Palmer was a major part of Indy’s defensive excellence in the Spring Season and also earned some looks at center back near the end of the season – and looked good in doing it. He’s a player who steps up to the call, whether that’s in the starting XI or coming off the bench, and fans won’t be the only ones glad to have ‘Balla Palmer’ back in the lineup.Ending with “Ironman” Nemanja Vukovic, the left back who shattered the record for most Team of the Week honors in one season and put in the most minutes for head coach Tim Hankinson’s side at 2,818 (though Eamon Zayed will tell you he was close behind at 2,776). Vuko’s tendency to fly up the left side of the pitch often allowed him to break forward into enemy territory, hence the high goal/assist return, and also spread the pitch giving his teammates space to work with. Having the Montenegrin back in 2017 will again pay dividends for Indiana’s Team.

The Midfield

Don Smart
GP/GS: 23/18              Min: 1589        G: 2                  A: 3                  SH: 13              SOG: 5

Sinisa Ubiparipovic
GP/GS: 15/13              Min: 912          G: 1                  A: 3                  SH: 5                SOG: 2

The duo of Don Smart and Sinisa Ubiparipovic headline the signings in midfield for the first round. Both had their part to play in Indy Eleven’s success last year and both get their chance to shine as the season wore on, but under different circumstances.One of the original members of Indiana’s Team, Smart comes back after multiple clutch performances in 2016 that included game-winning goals and assists. The steady Jamaican contributed a trio of assists for a third straight season, his nine helpers now sitting second on the all-time Indy Eleven career chart in regular season play. Injury kept him out for the early part of the Fall season, but Smart fired back and became a mainstay in Hankinson’s side by earning all of his five combined goals and assists after July 30.Out of the team through part of the Spring, Ubiparipovic saw his form reinvigorated when coach Hankinson made the move to bring him back into the starting XI on Sept. 17 vs. Miami, and it paid off greatly. Ubiparipovic turned in performances that molded the way his side attacked, and his goal in Indy’s first-ever postseason appearance isn’t exactly hidden on his resume. Should he stay fit, the No.10 has the chance to further influence the midfield this season.

The Forwards

Eamon Zayed
GP/GS: 32/31              Min: 2776        G: 15                A: 6                  SH: 69              SOG: 37

Justin Braun
GP/GS: 26/24              Min: 2111        G: 8                  A: 5                  SH: 51              SOG: 21

It’s no secret that these two formed a budding and productive partnership in the 2016 season, and it should be to the thrill of every Indy Eleven fan that they’re both back and hungry for more. Zayed smashed club records and earned his way to the top of the all-time Indy Eleven career goal scoring charts. In addition, his increasing penchant to dish the ball resulted in six assists, placing him third on the all-time Indy Eleven chart (just below Don Smart’s nine and Dylan Mares’ 13). His pair of hat-tricks last year vs. Carolina (June 11) and Jacksonville (Aug. 3) were the first two in NASL play by an Indy Eleven player, proving that he was indeed the instinctual goal scorer Hankinson brought him in to be. Falling just short of earning the NASL’s Golden Boot last year (a stated goal of his by the way), Zayed wants to make sure he’ll top the chart this time around.  Justin Braun was the perfect complement to his strike partner Zayed, but the Utahan also made a solid name for himself with solid production throughout the season. His five assists put him a tier below Zayed (and Dylan Mares) on the team’s single-season assist record chart, while his eight goals catapulted him to third all-time on the team’s list. A true work horse, Braun’s running and movement off the ball were just as crucial to the strike force as his play when he was on it. The only question remains whether the pair can replicate their remarkable success again this year.

Earn your Degree While You Watch Your Kids Soccer Practice – ½ the time and cost of Traditional Schools

Check out The Ole Ballcoach online www.theoleballcoach.com

Proud Member of the Brick Yard Battalion – http://www.brickyardbattalion.com , Sam’s Army- http://www.sams-army.com , American Outlaws  http://www.facebook.com/IndyAOUnite