8/31/17 US WCQ vs Costa Rica Fri 7 pm on FS1, WCQ Games Worldwide-TV schedule, Champions League Games set 9/12+13, Indy 11 Sat 7:30 host San Fran

No real surprises to the US roster as coach Bruce Arena prepares for the most critical stage of his qualifying with a huge home game vs 2nd place Costa Rica Friday night at 7 pm on Fox Sports 1 and a tough road match at Honduras on Tues 5:30 pm on beIN Sports.  With the injury to John Brooks and Gonzales just recovering from injury Arena has a decision to make in the middle.  Interesting to see if Tim Ream in good form at Fulham, Carmel High Grad Matt Hedges, KC Matt Beesler, or Omar Gonzales gets the start along with Geoff Cameron in the middle.  I think its Beesler in game 1 at least.  Also decision on who starts at right and left back – I still like Eric Leihaj of Nottinghams Forrest on the right while Yedlin is out injured for New Castle, but it will probably be KCs Graham Zuzi – who I will admit serves good free kicks.  I am guessing Jorge Villafaña stays at left back despite losing his job at club while competing in the Gold Cup for the US.   Up front Bobby Wood (2 goals for Hamburg), Jose Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris will battle for starting nods.  I think its Altidore and Dempsey who comes in hot scoring 4 goals in 5 games.  In the midfield Christian Pulisic and Bradley are given.  I think its Kellyn Acosta lining up beside Bradley as a #6 or with Nagbe out on the right and a recovering Johnson coming off the bench.  But lots of options in the strong midfield group.  Of course assume Tim Howard with Guzan as backup in goal.  It’s a MUST WIN at home vs Costa Rica (who embarrassed us 4-0 in CR) for the US – win and draw in Honduras should safely see the US into the World Cup with just 2 easier games left in the group.  Lose both and it could get dicey with the US standing in 3rd place in the group.

USA ROSTER – Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)*, Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)*, Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (D.C. United)*, Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union)*, Michael Bradley (Toronto)*, Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto)*, Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg) * – carrying one WCQ yellow card and facing a one-game suspension with a second caution.

In other World Cup Qualifying games around the world –Italy host Spain in a critical matchup Sat at 2:45 pm on FS 2, England faces Slovakia on Monday on FS1 at 2:45 pm, Argentina is still in must win games in South American Qualifying as they travel to Venezuela Tues at 7:30 pm on beIN Sport.  Mexico can clinch a WCQ spot Fri night with a win vs 4th place Panama on Fox Sport 2 at 9:30 pm right after the US Plays. (See full TV Schedule below

Great to see the Champions League Draw last week – some great match-ups and poor Tottenham gets drawn into the toughest group with 2 time World Champ Real Madrid and Pulisic’s Dortmund. Most of the EPL teams however should feel good about their draws. (see the full breakdown of each group and favorites below). Your Indy 11 are back home Saturday night vs San Fran 7:30 pm at the MIKE as they honor our public safety workers.

PS – Anyone interested in going down to the US Ladies game in Cincinatti on Tues – Sept 19th 7:30 pm?  Tix in the $40 range.  I can drive leave early afternoon come back late.

USA

What are the World Cup Stakes for the US this weekend?  Steve Brisendine MLS.com

US Prepares for Most Important Game in Qualifying – eSPNFC

US Looks to Create Breathing Room with Wins this week – ESPNFC

Pulisic Continues Rice to cusp of Mainstream US Spotlight  – SI – Grant Wahl

4 Keys for US vs Ticos -NBCSN

New Challenge from Familiar Foe the Ticos – John T – the Goalkeeper – Philly.com

No Surprises for US Roster – Brian Straus SI

Johnson, Gonzales Return to US Squad – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

US Brings in Experienced Roster – LA Times

US Roster Experienced and Flexible – Greg Seltzer MLS.com

Johnson expects to Play Midfield not Defender for US

Healthy Again – Bobby Woods Expects to Play Key Role for US-NBCSports

Bradley’s Leadership Key for US – LA Times

What the US Needs to Qualify for the World Cup

US Finally Turns to NY in Huge Must Win Qualifier

WORLD Cup Qualifying

WC Qualifying Which Games Are Important on TV

World Cup Bubble Watch in Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying where do we stand – ESPNFC

South American Qualifying Argentina on the ropes

David Villa nervous on Spain Return

Argentina in must win match-up with Uraguay Thurs

Japan host Australia – Winner Advances

 

The Expensive Transfers this season

Early Rooney Exit from England shows his Class – Marcotti ESPNFC

Champions League Draws

Top Teams Mostly happy with UCL Draw

Real Madrid Set to Win Again – ESPNFC

Stage set for EPL Teams to Advance in Champions League

Position Awards for 2016 Awarded – Buffon, Ramos, Modric, Ronaldo win

Group A – Man United, Benficia, CSKA Moscow, Basel

Group B – Bayern, PSG, Anderleccht, Celtic

Group C – Chelsea, Atletico, Roma, Qarabag

Group D – Juve, Barca, Olympiakos, Sporting

Group E – Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

Group F Man City, Shakhtar, Napoli, Feyenoord

Group G – Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, RB Leipzig

Group of Death H – Real Madrid, Dortmund, Tottenham, Apoel

Champions League Schedule Games start Sept 12/13 2:45 pm Fox Sports

 Tuesday 12 September
Group A: Benfica v CSKA Moskva, Manchester United v Basel
Group B: Bayern München v Anderlecht, Celtic v Paris Saint-Germain
Group C: Chelsea v Qarabağ, Roma v Atlético Madrid
Group D: Barcelona v Juventus, Olympiacos v Sporting CP

Wednesday 13 September
Group E: Maribor v Spartak Moskva, Liverpool v Sevilla
Group F: Feyenoord v Manchester City, Shakhtar v Napoli
Group G: RB Leipzig v Monaco, Porto v Beşiktaş
Group H: Real Madrid v APOEL, Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

  • Other highlights
    Tuesday 26 September: Dortmund v Madrid
    Wednesday 27 September: Paris v Bayern

EPL

Grading the EPL Teams So Far – ESPNFC

Man U shows they are title Contenders

Liverpool Rampant, Arsenal Woeful – Marcotti ESPNFC

MLS

18 of the US players Rostered from MLS

Portland steals a Tie from Seattle as they stay 1 & 2 in West

Can Toronto FC be best Ever?

Toronto tops Power Raknings –ESPNFC

Houston Dash Trade US Star Morgan Brian to Chicago Red Stars

GOALIES

Overhand Throwing Technique

England GK Workout this week

Saves of the Week 18 – NWSL

Top Saves of the Week EPL Week 2

MLS Save of the Week

Goalkeeper Smooth Footwork

Indy 11 Goalie Jon Busch Talks about his 500 appearences in Goal

Indy 11

Public Safety Night Sat Sept 2

3 Things Indy vs Jax

GAMES ON TV  

Thurs, Aug 31       World Cup Qualifying Break

2:45 pm FS2                   Bulgaria vs Sweden

2:45 pm FS1                   Portugal vs Faro Islands

2:45 pm Fox soccer+                       Belgium vs Gibraltar

2:45 pm ESPN News  France vs Netherlands

6:30 pm beIN Sport  Chile vs Paraguay

7 pm beIN Sport Esp                         Uruguay vs Argentina

Fri, Sept 1              World Cup Qualifying

2:45 pm FS1                   Czech Republic vs Germany

2:45 pm FS2                   Denmark vs Poland

7 pm ESPN      USA vs Costa Rica

9:30 pm Fox Sport2  Mexico vs Panama

Sat, Sept 2                       World Cup Qualifying

12 noon Fox Sport 2                         Georgia vs Ireland

2:45 pm ESPN3             Ukraine vs Turkey

2:45 pm FS2         Spain vs Italy        

7:30 pm My Indy TV  Indy 11 vs San Fran (beIN Sport too)

Sun, Sept 3                     World Cup Qualifying

12 noon ESPN                Netherlands vs Bulgaria (Dutch must win)

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Hungary vs Portugal

2:45 pm Fox Soccer  France vs Luxenbuorg

Mon, Sept 4                   World Cup Qualifying

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         England vs Slovakia

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Northern Ireland vs Czech Republic

2:45 pm Fox Soccer  Poland vs Kazakahstan

Tues, Sept 5          World Cup Qualifying

11 am ESPN3                 Uzebekistan vs South Korea

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Italy vs Israel

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Iceland vs Ukraine

2:45 pm Fox Soccer                          Ireland vs Serbia

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Hungary vs Portugal

5:30 pm beIN Sport Honduras vs USA

7:30 pm beIN Sport  Venezuela vs Argentina

10 pm beIN Sport       Costa Rica vs Mexico

Fri, Sept 8

2:30 pm FS2                   Hamburger (Bobby Wood) vs RB Leipzig

Sat, Sept 9                     

7:30 am NBCSN   Man City vs Liverpool

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Freiberg vs Dortmund (Pulisic) 

9:30 am FS2                    Mainz vs Bayer Leverkusin

9:30 am Fox Soccer Borussia Mgladbach (Johnson) vs Frankfurt

10 am NBCSN                 Everton vs Tottenhamm

10 am ???                                                 Leister City vs Chelsea  

12:30 pm NBC      Stoke City (Cameron) vs Man United 

12:30 pm FS1                Hoffenheim vs Bayern Munich

7:30 pm Lifetime       Orlando vs Seattle Riegn (Women’s League)

7:30 pm My Indy TV  Indy 11 vs Jax Armada

Sun, Sept 10

8:30 am NBCSN            Burnley vs Crystal Palace

9:30 am FS1                    Hertha vs Werder Bremen

11 am NBCSN                Swansea vs Newcastle (Yedlin)

12noon  FS2                   Schalke vs Stuggart

1 pm ESPN                                               Columbus Crew vs Sporting KC (Zuzi, Beesler)

3:30 pm FS1                   Atlanta vs Dallas (Hedges, Acosta)

9 pm FS1                           Seattle (Dempsey, Morris) vs LA Galaxy (Zardes)

Tues  Sept 12 Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2?                      Manchester United v Basel

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                        Barcelona v Juventus 

Wed  Sept 13 Champions League

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                        Tottenham Hotspur v Borussia Dortmund

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2?                      Liverpool v Sevilla

Tues, Sept 19

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1  USA Ladies team vs New Zealand (at Cincy tix Avail)

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

EPL 2017 Schedule

See all the Stories online at  www.theoleballcoach.com

U.S. game vs. Costa Rica was always most important in Hexagonal

NEW YORK CITY — When the United States men’s national team takes on Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena on Friday night, the squad needs the three points that come with a victory. Earning them would give the Americans a 96 percent chance to reach the World Cup next summer, according to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI). In other words, coach Bruce Arena and his men could start brushing up on their Russian phraseology with a win.If the U.S. loses, however, their chances drop to just 80 percent with three matches to go. While the red, white and blue would still be favored to reach the quadrennial tournament, they would have little, if any, room for error. A loss would represent a significant step back for a program that’s been trending positively since Arena took over as head coach at the end of 2016.”We’ve worked real hard to position ourselves to be in a position to qualify for the 2018 World Cup,” he said during a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.They have worked hard and smart, and now sit on the verge of qualification. But the truth is that this match against Costa Rica was always going to be the most important game of the Hexagonal round. When the Americans looked at their fixtures against its five CONCACAF foes vying for one of the region’s three places — with the fourth-place team earning a playoff with a team from the Asian confederation — they had to know they’d need these three points to reach Russia. Almost 10 months after the first game of the final round of World Cup qualifying, much has changed, but that fact remains the same.Here’s the conventional wisdom about qualifying in CONCACAF, courtesy of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard: “World Cup qualifying means winning your home games and then getting a point on the road.”That’s a nice and clean narrative, but it’s not exactly true. Finishing in the top three requires somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 points, which is five wins and a draw. In each of the last three Hex rounds, the U.S. has earned at least six points on the road. This means there’s room to slip up — for example, if the team loses its first two games at home to Mexico and away at Costa Rica.While those were tough defeats, with the first two ultimately costing Jurgen Klinsmann his job, they weren’t as detrimental to the American’s chances as they seemed. The two fixtures were the most difficult home matches the U.S. would play and the second-most difficult road match (and there’s a case to be made that the Americans have had less success in Costa Rica than they have had in Mexico over the last decade). Zero points from two games looked bad — and the capitulation at the end of the match in San Jose was one of the more depressing 30-minute stretches in U.S. soccer history — but the return leg against Costa Rica is the real must-win.Despite recent history, getting a positive result against Mexico in Columbus was a 50-50 proposition at best, perhaps less given both team’s form at the time. After that loss, the simplest way to the World Cup was to take 12 points from the four remaining U.S. home games, and then earn a couple strong road results. Arena’s squad had the firepower, the discipline and the understanding to do so, and they are already halfway there. The roa would get a lot clearer with three points on Friday night.It won’t be an easy game. Real Madrid star Keylor Navas returns to goal for Costa Rica. He missed the United States’ 4-0 win over the Ticos at the Copa America Centenario and the 2-0 American victory during the Gold Cup semifinal. The visitors had excellent support during a 1-0 win against Honduras during the group stage of the Gold Cup at Red Bull Arena. They’ll have at least some of the crowd behind them again when they take the field in three days.The U.S. team understands how important the match is, too. They’ve known they needed a win here since the first time they saw the draw. They stumbled along the way, and then picked themselves up, and haven’t lost this calendar year. There’s only a little further to go.”We’ve gotten this far,” captain Michael Bradley said. “We’ve turned it around in the right way. We’ve got to make sure that we finish the job.”The U.S. can’t finish the job officially in New Jersey, but they can get very, very close. The path they took to this spot wasn’t expected. The place they are now, however, is exactly where they always knew they’d be.Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC and deputy editor at American Soccer Now. Twitter: @Noahedavis.

U.S. with opportunity to create some breathing room in upcoming qualifiers

In what has become a timely honored tradition, right when you are settling back into the rhythm of a new European campaign and/or enjoying the fast-paced final quarter of the MLS season, FIFA slams the brakes on everything with an international break.But there’s no reason to fret; it’s not a lame slate of friendlies but rather a pivotal week of World Cup qualifiers on the docket, especially for the United States men’s national team.The old saying is familiarity breeds contempt, so by that logic the level of acrimony between the U.S. and Costa Rica should be at an all-time high when they meet this Friday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.The stakes will be very high for the U.S. on Friday. Currently third with eight points, a victory could potentially move the U.S. into second place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal (Costa Rica is currently +5 on goal difference, U.S. is +3). More importantly, it would likely pad the Americans’ slim one-point advantage over fourth-place Panama. The Canaleros have to travel down to the Estadio Azteca to face Mexico and knowing El Tri’s history of defending home turf, a Panama win would be a stunning upset.It all goes back to the meat and potatoes of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying: Defend your home turf and then find a couple results away from home. In the Bruce Arena 2.0 era thus far, it has been a successful formula.However, Costa Rica is a better caliber opponent than Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago, who the U.S. defeated in March and June, respectively. It’s also important to remember that Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas was not on the field when the U.S. trounced the Ticos 4-0 in last summer’s Copa America Centenario, nor was he in goal for this summer’s Gold Cup semifinal won by the U.S. 2-0.A failure to collect all three points would put the U.S. in the very uncomfortable spot of heading down to San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, Sept. 5 to face Honduras. Panama will likely still be lurking in the rearview mirror while Honduras will be desperate to get back into the mix for at least a playoff spot.The last qualifying clashes between the U.S. and Honduras in the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano have been memorable. In Oct. 2009 the U.S. clinched qualification for South Africa 2010 after emerging with a wild 3-2 win at night in which the Catrachos missed a late penalty.Three-and-a-half years later in the midday heat, the U.S. wilted late, losing 2-1, which turned out to be the first crisis of the Jurgen Klinsmann era.While the U.S. could still withstand winless outings against Costa Rica and Honduras, it would make for a white-knuckling final two matchdays in October at home against an equally desperate Panama, who you know would just love to return the heartbreak of 2013, before the finale in Trinidad.etting aside doomsday scenarios and World Cup qualification probabilities, within the U.S. roster there is also a lot at stake. Some of the players who stood out during the Gold Cup, and even some who did not, form part of Arena’s 26-man roster and there is no question that a strong performance at Red Bull Arena or in San Pedro Sula could be the difference between a trip to Russia or not next summer.Defender Eric Lichaj, midfielders Kellyn Acosta and Cristian Roldan and forward Jordan Morris all come to mind. In limited action at the Gold Cup, Lichaj was susceptible to errors, but the injury to right-back DeAndre Yedlin could provide the Nottingham Forest man another shot, of which he’d need to make the most. Acosta was more of a regular during the Gold Cup, but his performance was average and since returning to club side FC Dallas, he has not had the same impact as he did in the first half of the MLS season.Roldan’s improvement with the Seattle Sounders led to a Gold Cup call-up and he would be an intriguing inclusion in midfield. There could certainly be a nice battle brewing between Roldan and Acosta, while Morris’ Gold Cup final heroics have for the moment pushed him to the top of the list of fringe forwards.In the end though it all comes down to team, and the qualification fears that have haunted the U.S. since last November could be driven away with another home win/road draw week. If not, it’ll be a tense October.Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .

Four keys for the USMNT vs. Costa Rica

By Nicholas MendolaAug 30, 2017, 6:54 PM EDT

A win over Costa Rica in Friday’s CONCACAF World Cup qualifier moves the United States men’s national team into second place on the Hex table, a far cry from the basement positioning when Jurgen Klinsmann still led the side.The USMNT has found its footing since Klinsmann was fired, with Bruce Arena overseeing home wins against Honduras and Panama and road draws with Mexico and Panama.Now the Yanks have a chance to avenge one of the most egregious USMNT losses in recent memory, the 4-0 smashing at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica last November.How can they do that?

Mind the left

Take away Costa Rica’s 4-0 thrashing of the USMNT and Los Ticos are averaging a goal scored per game in qualifying and just a plus-1 goal differential. The lone loss came at Mexico, when El Tri jumped out to an 8th minute lead and carried a 2-0 advantage to the break.Mexico used a 4-3-3 to take the match to visiting CRC, which used a 5-2-2-1. That’s a bit less packed in than the 5-4-1 that buried the Yanks in November, but gives you an idea of what to expect.The stats say Costa Rica attacked the United States’ left side through Randall Azofeifa more often than not, going after Christian Pulisic, Fabian Johnson, and Matt Besler. It’s the same tactic Los Ticos tried against Mexico, and were shutout.Why? Suffice it to say Hector Moreno, Miguel Layun, and Hector Herrera are a trickier trio to handle than a teenager — even a sublime one — playing his first Hex road match, a left midfielder, and a decent MLS center back who had been in-and-out of the USMNT side since the 2014 World Cup.What’s this mean for Friday? Likely a lot of pressure for DaMarcus Beasley or Jorge Villafana, with Johnson sitting at left mid and either Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, or Besler up for a very stiff and focused test.

Suck up the space, don’t sleep on the counter

One thing that’s seemingly found the U.S. at sixes and sevens more and more often than not is counter attacking play. Kevin Parsemain blew by Matt Hedges in the buildup to one of Martinique’s Gold Cup goals, and Kellyn Acosta and Co. had a nightmare versus Javier Hernandez and Carlos Vela in the Mexico equalizer at Azteca.

A lot of this should be settled by center back Geoff Cameron and defensive mid Bradley, but keep an eye on who Arena pairs with each player. And keep an eye on how much room the Yanks, especially presumed right back Graham Zusi, give Bryan Ruiz and the other Costa Ricans to attempt shots from distance. We don’t expect the Americans to give up goals with the run of play, even given Marco Urena’s instinctive runs and blazing speed, unless they allow the cannons to fire…

Work on set piece defending, Mr. Arena

Even amongst those who didn’t want to see Bruce Arena take over as USMNT coach, there was little doubt the LA Galaxy man would stop the Yanks from their sad habit of hapless set piece defending.He hasn’t… yet.Je-Vaughn Watson for Jamaica in the Gold Cup Final (corner kick) wasn’t against the Yanks’ top unit and Asamoah Gyan’s free kick in a June friendly was borderline unstoppable and against second-choice backstop Brad Guzan.But it was Fabian Johnson who was lost on Jose Manuel Velazquez’s corner kick goal for Venezuela. Gabriel Gomez bested Villafana and Tim Howard in the WCQ at Panama off a long throw-in.That’s eight total goals conceded against Arena’s USMNT, four off set pieces, and that’s not counting several errors that didn’t come back to haunt the Yanks. Sort it out, Bruce.

Don’t overthink it

The United States should win the game. It’s a fact backed by essentially every visit from Costa Rica in a meaningful match for this generation of national team players.

2017 Gold Cup — USMNT 2-0
2016 Copa America — USMNT 4-0
2013 Gold Cup — USMNT 1-0
2014 World Cup qualifying  — USMNT 1-0
2010 World Cup qualifying — 2-2 draw

That’s not to say Costa Rica isn’t a good team, and Los Ticos won Group D over Uruguay, Italy, and England to become one of the darlings of the 2014 World Cup.But if Arena, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley prepare the side for this match the way they likely should, one game at a time against an inferior visitor, it’s a straightforward win and a foothold in Russia.With three matches to go, the Yanks would have 11 points. Trips to Honduras (next week) and Trinidad and Tobago remain, as well as an October visit from Panama. With Mexico hosting Panama on Friday and Honduras off to T&T, the table would look like this with three to play should the U.S. handle Costa Rica:

Mexico — Low: 14 points, High: 17 points
USMNT — 11 points
Costa Rica — 11 points
Panama — Low: 7 points, High: 10 points
Honduras — Low: 5 points, High: 8 points
T&T — Low: 3 points, High: 6 points

That means the likely 4th, 5th, and 6th place teams would remain on the U.S. docket. Book your tickets to Russia.

No Surprises as Bruce Arena Names USA Squad For Crucial World Cup Qualifiers

Brian Straus,Sports Illustrated 21 hours ago

There’s no surprise, controversy or confusion, and it’s a roster free of eye-openers, head-scratchers or jaw-droppers.   The core is solid and in-form. A depth chart has been more-or-less established. Momentum has been generated by a 14-game unbeaten streak, a climb to third place in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal and a Gold Cup title. And the task ahead is crystal clear. Thus, no one needed to be near a crystal ball to predict the USA squad unveiled Sunday by coach Bruce Arena. The 26-man team is stocked with the names you know.The Americans (2-2-2) face second-place Costa Rica (3-1-2) on Friday at Red Bull Arena and then visit fifth-place Honduras (1-3-2) on Sept. 5, and the results will go a long way toward determining the USA’s World Cup fate. Even qualification is possible with two wins and favorable results elsewhere. Arena has been working for nine months to identify the right mix and roles for just such an occasion.“I think we have a good roster. The decisions are simply based on the fact that we need our best roster possible in order to achieve what we want to achieve here, and that’s to earn points in both games,” Arena said. “Everyone here is experienced inside the group. They know what needs to be done, what’s expected of them, our style of play, and how we go about doing things. I think since everyone’s been with us now in 2017. It’ll make what is a really difficult week a little bit easier.”Arena faced a couple minor complications when compiling his team. The first was the injuries suffered by two potential starting defenders, John Brooks (thigh) and DeAndre Yedlin (hamstring). They’re likely the best at their respective positions but each has started for the USA only three times this year. Arena is accustomed to going without them. The second issue is the absurd yellow-card accumulation rule that would see the likes of Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler or Jozy Altidore suspended in San Pedro Sula if they’re cautioned on Friday against Costa Rica.“Our back line has had some injuries over the past month that will hurt us a little bit, but I think if everyone comes into camp healthy, we have good options in our back line and good depth,” Arena said. “We’ve called 26 players because we come into camp with six guys that have yellow cards, and we also have some players that are dealing with injury so we have to be smart.”There’s sufficient quality and experience to survive suspensions or substitutions ahead of the Honduras game. But the three full days between matches should prevent Arena from having to platoon his players like he did in June. Save Brooks and Yedlin, the best team Arena can field should be on the pitches at Red Bull Arena and the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano.“I think the experiences we’ve had together during the year will allow us to deal with any kind of issues that may arise as we get involved in these next two qualifying matches,” he said.A dozen players have more than 10 qualifying appearances, led by Clint Dempsey’s 39, and 18 of the 26 played in the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico. There will be no surprises, and no excuses. At least three points is essential, and four is quite attainable. Here’s a look at men expected to get it done:

Goalkeepers

Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

It wouldn’t have been a much of a shock if Arena had called in Bill Hamid or Ethan Horvath as the No. 3 goalie, but the decision to invite Rimando hammers home the win-now atmosphere surrounding these two games. Although the RSL stalwart has never appeared in a qualifier, his 22 caps and years of national team camp seasoning make him the obvious option if catastrophe strikes. After taking over from Guzan following the Gold Cup’s group stage, Howard has the inside track to start against Costa Rica.

Defenders

DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Yedlin still may be the first-choice right back, but Zusi has grown into the position following his winter switch for both club and country, and his 11 appearances under Arena this year are tied for most on the current roster. He’ll likely be the choice against Costa Rica as the USA will expect to have more of the ball. If Arena opts to make a change against a Honduran side that might be a bit more of a threat on the wings, he can turn to veteran fullback Eric Lichaj or perhaps the 3-4-3 he deployed in June at the Estadio Azteca.Alongside Zusi at the top of the caps chart this year is Villafaña, who took a significant step toward starting for the USA when he worked his way back into the Santos XI last week. He went 90 minutes against both Chivas de Guadalajara and Club León. Beasley also is a good bet to get some qualifying time.The Americans are well stocked centrally despite Brooks’ absence. Cameron and Besler could very well start with Gonzalez and Ream providing capable depth.

Midfielders

Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

Arena’s key midfield cogs are in form, from Bradley—who won the Golden Ball at the Gold Cup—to Pulisic, who’s off to an excellent start in Dortmund. Johnson has only recently returned from injury but Arena said the winger was “ready to go.” He started and played 74 minutes in Gladbach’s draw against Darmstadt on Saturday, and Arena will have all week to gauge how Johnson best fits in once training begins Monday in New Jersey. Johnson has appeared for the USA only twice this year. His availability forces Arena into a couple difficult decisions, from how/whether to use Nagbe to how many forwards to deploy.There isn’t an obvious partner for Bradley in the middle, which leaves Arena with some good options. The captain has played with Pulisic, Acosta or Nagbe in recent matches, and each offers a different wrinkle. The versatile Bedoya could factor in as well—he had some good moments as a playmaker during the Gold Cup’s group stage—while McCarty and Roldan provide defensive depth.

Forwards

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

The USA has never been blessed with a larger crop of quality, in-form forwards.“Our strikers have started off well,” Arena said.Altidore, Dempsey and Morris all showed well at the Gold Cup and Wood just scored the game-winner in HSV’s triumph over Köln on Friday. That was his second goal in three games at the start of the 2017-18 season. Wondolowski is there in case of injury or if Arena needs a late body in the box. He has two goals in his past four MLS matches and just hit double-digits for a record eighth consecutive regular season.With his next goal, Dempsey will break the program record he now shares with the retired Landon Donovan. And if he plays against Costa Rica or Honduras, the Texan will equal the Californian’s American appearance record in World Cup qualifying. Dempsey already has a combined 10 goals against the upcoming foes.

Brisendine: What are the stakes for USMNT in next Hexagonal matches?

With four matches to go in the Hexagonal stage of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, the US men’s national team is in decent shape.

Decent, not great. Great, with two matches to go, is going to require a pair of good results next month.Sitting in third place on eight points, six behind leaders Mexico and three behind Costa Rica, the Yanks need good showings in their early September matches to reduce the danger of having to face a two-leg elimination series as the fourth-place side – or worse, missing the finals for the first time since 1986.Both matches – against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 and at Honduras on Sept. 5 – are important, but the first of the two carries the most weight.There’s the place on the table to consider, obviously. A victory against the Ticos moves the US into a second-place tie – and with first place pretty much out of reach after an 0-2-0 start, that’s a big deal. A three-point take at home is doubly critical in that the US haven’t fared better than a draw on the road yet in Hexagonal qualifying.Yeah, they beat Honduras 6-0 at Avaya Stadium in March, which means somewhere between nada and squat going into the Sept. 5 matchup. Central American teams are always – always – tougher at home, and the US don’t want to go into the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula needing a win to salvage this slate of games.There’s also a load of psychological value riding on the Costa Rica match. A 4-0 mauling at the hands of the Ticos last November spelled the end of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, opening the way for Bruce Arena to retake the Yanks’ helm. His squad need to win, and win convincingly, answering one punch with another.Could the US take two points out of this round and be okay? Depends on whether your definition of “okay” is “Hey, now we get two more matches to play our way in!”Three points are the bare minimum; four would be solid. Six won’t get them past Mexico when all is said and done, but it would pretty much lock up a trip to Russia with a couple of matches to spare.(Notice that I didn’t say the US couldn’t beat Honduras.They have the talent to do it, especially if Christian Pulisic is in the ridiculous form he’s shown early in the Bundesliga season. I’m just saying that if you go into Central America banking on three points, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.)Bottom line: No matter what happens, the US will still be breathing after this round. How easily depends on what they do on the first night of September.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena calls up deep, experienced roster for World Cup qualifiers

Kevin BaxterContact Reporter

The time for Bruce Arena to experiment with his national team roster is over, so the team the U.S. coach called up Sunday for the resumption of World Cup qualifying is older, deeper and more experienced than the one he used in July’s Gold Cup.A dozen of the 26 players Arena summoned have made 10 or more appearances in World Cup qualifying, five have more than 100 international caps overall and 19 players are age 27 or older. Compare to the team with which Arena started the Gold Cup. That roster included 13 players who had appeared in fewer than 10 international games and 11 who were no older than 26.“We have a good roster,” said Arena, who is unbeaten (9-0-5) since taking over the national team in December. “We need our best possible roster in order to achieve what we want to achieve here, and that’s to earn points in both games.”The U.S., third in the CONCACAF qualifying table six games into the 10-game tournament, plays Costa Rica in Harrison, N.J., on Friday before meeting Honduras in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, on Sept. 5. Mexico leads the six-team standings with 14 points followed by Costa Rica (11), the U.S. (8) and Panama (7). The top three automatically qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia.But if there were few surprises in the team Arena selected, there are some holes, especially on the back line where John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Michael Orozco are unavailable because of injury and Timmy Chandler was omitted from the roster. Two other defenders, Omar Gonzalez and Fabian Johnson, are coming off injuries of their own.That could leave Arena to piece together a starting backline from a group of nine defenders that includes 35-year-old DaMarcus Beasley, who has played in four World Cups, and two others – Matt Hedges and Eric Lichaj – who have never even played in a World Cup qualifier.The U.S. also has six players coming into camp carrying yellow cards, meaning another caution against Costa Rica would disqualify them from the game in Honduras.Up front, however, the U.S. is loaded, with Clint Dempsey, the national team’s all-time scoring leader; Seattle teammate Jordan Morris, who scored the winning goal in the Gold Cup; and Toronto’s Jozy Altidore. The midfield includes captain Michael Bradleyand Christian Pulisic, who had a goal and assist in his Bundesliga opener with Borussia Dortmund, while Tim Howard and Brad Guzan are once again the anchors in goal.“We’re far from being in Russia,” Arena cautioned. “Things can change real quickly over these next two games. We have to make sure we’re the team that secures points at home and hopefully get some points on the road.“If we do that, we’re a lot closer to Russia. No one is safe and this point and a lot of things are going to happen over this weekend.”

The roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)*, Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)*, Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (D.C. United)*, Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union)*, Michael Bradley (Toronto)*, Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto)*, Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)

* – carrying one WCQ yellow card and facing a one-game suspension with a second caution.

 Fabian Johnson, Omar Gonzalez return to United States squad for qualifiers

United States manager Bruce Arena has named a 26-man roster for a pair of critical World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras.The U.S. will face the Ticos at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on Sept. 1, and then travel to San Pedro Sula to take on Los Catrachos four days later. The U.S. currently finds itself on eight points in the final round of World Cup qualifying, occupying the third and final automatic qualification spot. But they are just one point ahead of fourth-placed Panama, leaving them with little room for error.”I think we’re bringing in a good roster, one that has depth in every position and in which all 26 players have been with the national team in 2017,” Arena said. “I think we have the right understanding as a group as to what needs to be done, and hopefully we can be successful in these next two games.”The three extra bodies are reflective of the fact that the U.S. has six players that are one yellow card away from suspension, as well as the uncertainty facing the fitness of several players.  Midfielder Fabian Johnson just returned to the field last weekend after missing the start of the Bundesliga season due to a back injury. He came on for the final 10 minutes of Borussia Monchengladbach’s 2-2 draw with Augsburg.The news is even better for Pachuca defender Omar Gonzalez, who made his first start since Aug. 9 in his side’s 2-1 defeat to Club Tijuana.  But Arena will have to assess Gonzalez’s overall sharpness as it relates to the roster’s other center-backs, a group that includes Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron, Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler, FC Dallas’ Matt Hedges (FORMER CARMEL HIGH PLAYER), and Fulham’s Tim Ream.”We have to be smart,” said Arena as it relates to those players who have been dealing with injuries.As expected, Wolfsburg defender John Brooks, Newcastle United outside back DeAndre Yedlin, and Club Tijuana defender Michael Orozco were all left off the roster due to injury. Brooks is recovering from a torn thigh tendon that will keep out for several months. Yedlin misses out due to a hamstring injury that has just recently seen him return to training.  Otherwise, there were few surprises, as Arena brings in his big names for the two matches, including mainstays, Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Cameron and Tim Howard. Altidore, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, Bradley and Cameron are the players sitting on yellow cards.  All told, there are 12 players on the roster with 10 or more appearances in World Cup qualifying. Eighteen players on the current roster earned a winner’s medal at the 2017 Gold Cup.

Seltzer: Arena’s US national team choices high on experience, flexibility

August 28, 201710:25AM EDTGreg SeltzerContributor

As the US national team gets set to tackle the next-to-last pair of World Cup qualifiers in this cycle’s decisive CONCACAF Hexagonal, head coach Bruce Arena has filled his latest squad with 26 players that combine to offer two key intangibles: predictability and flexibility.The Nats currently hold the third slot in the standings, which at the end will be good enough to grab the last automatic ticket to Russia 2018. The margin for error is slim, though, with Costa Rica set to invade Red Bull Arena on Friday (6:30 pm ET | ESPN, UniMás, UDN). They stand just one point ahead of fourth place Panama (who sit in the playoff spot) and three up on Honduras, whom they’ll visit on Tuesday, Sept. 5 (5:30 pm ET | beIN SPORTS).With so much on the line during these next nine days, let’s look at how Arena has opted to shrewdly play this all-important selection.

Experience Counts

Put simply, the USMNT is looking to set up their stretch drive to Russia in these next two games. Therefore, Arena will bank on a lot of guys who know how to advance from a Hex. A dozen players on this roster have more than 10 World Cup qualifying caps, while both Alejandro Bedoya and Christian Pulisic will join that club with their next one.In fact, seven of the players called in to this group saw playing time back in four years ago when the US topped Mexico 2-0 to clinch their 2014 World Cup invite. And for that matter, 14 of them appeared at those finals in Brazil.

Familiarity Breeds Content

Klinsmann couldn’t help himself, always experimenting even when things were going well. That constant deck shuffling doesn’t work in the international game, which typically features players coming from several different countries for short camps and a couple of games together before they go separate ways back to club life for weeks or even months apart.Even with several injuries to regulars this time around, introductions will not be necessary with Arena. Ten players have played in at least eight of the 14 games since he took over for Klinsmann. Three of those are defenders and one is Michael Bradley, whose job it is to protect the backline and spark the transition game into attack.What’s more, Arena has summoned 18 players that took some part in the team’s 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup title run (including six defenders and Bradley). As a result, the chance the US will be hurt by communication errors or some pair of players lacking familiarity has been substantially decreased.

Wiggle Room

Since taking over for Klinsmann last November, Arena has used no less than five different formations. He hasn’t stayed married to a single game plan, choosing instead to cater the tactical shapes to opponents and/or situations. And with this selection, he’s given himself the ability to use any of those sets and styles. You want to lean on the foe in a 4-3-3? Fabian Johnson and Pulisic can run the flanks, and Clint Dempsey can play in the hole behind Jozy Altidore while Darlington Nagbe acts as the two-way conduit between Bradley and the attack. Or Arena can shift Nagbe out wide and hand Pulisic the keys as a No. 10, leaving Deuce as a supersub.You want to go five at the back? Tim Ream can be a ball-moving defender, while Johnson and Graham Zusi are tailor-made for true wingback roles. How about the old 4-4-2 empty bucket? Bobby Wood can give defenders headaches by running off of Altidore, and Arena has a variety of choices to fill the midfield slots around Bradley.You get the idea. Because of how this roster is staffed, there is virtually no limit to how the team could operate in these two games. As he’s done all year while posting a 7-0-3 competitive record, Arena can continue to keep opponents guessing.

U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals) 

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC; 14/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 36/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)

Defenders (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 34/6), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 11/1), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 22/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 15/0), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas; 0/0), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 0/0), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 5/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 3/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 18/3)

Midfielders (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 4/0), Paul Arriola (D.C. United; 3/1), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 9/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 35/7), Fabian Johnson (BorussiaMönchengladbach/GER; 16/1), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 7/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 9/5), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC; 0/0)
Forwards (5): JozyAltidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 38/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 39/18), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 10/4)

Christian Pulisic Continues his Rise While Moving to Cusp of Mainstream USA Spotlight

Is it possible that Christian Pulisic may actually be UNDER-hyped considering what he’s achieved? No matter, he won’t be out of the mainstream U.S. spotlight for long, with a World Cup on the horizon.GRANT WAHLTuesday August 29th, 2017

NEW YORK CITY — This may seem like a strange thing to say, but here goes:

Christian Pulisic feels like an under-publicized story right now on the American sports scene.

We are less than 10 months away from a World Cup. The best player on the U.S. men’s national team is an 18-year-old who only broke into the starting lineup last fall. He is improving every day, starting games and scoring goals for Borussia Dortmund, one of the world’s best club teams, where he’s ably filling the shoes of a teammate who was just sold for more than $115 million to Barcelona.In his last five games for the U.S., Pulisic has scored or assisted on seven of the team’s 11 goals.In the past 16 months, Pulisic has already accomplished enough to become the best chance the U.S. has ever had of producing its first global men’s soccer superstar. And yet the turnout for Tuesday’s U.S. press conference with Pulisic in Manhattan’s trendy Meatpacking District was surprisingly sparse. In the media capital of the world, there were empty seats.Don’t get me wrong. There are obviously more important things going on right now in Houston, and if we’re being honest, under-hype for a U.S. soccer prospect isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But covering Pulisic now feels a little like covering LeBron James when he was a high school junior. You know that Pulisic’s life is about to change in the most dramatic of ways—as long as the U.S. can continue its 2017 resurgence and qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Russia.In the U.S. sports landscape, what Pulisic does for the national team—and especially what he could do at a World Cup—attracts so much more attention than what he accomplishes at Dortmund that it’s almost laughable. According to Google Trends, the seven biggest spikes of interest in Pulisic in the United States going back to the start of 2016 are for things he has done with the national team—from his two goals in June’s qualifying win over Trinidad and Tobago to his U.S. debut in March 2016.It’s as though Germany and Dortmund are in a parallel universe. Per Google, Pulisic got more interest in the U.S. for scoring two international goals against a terrible St. Vincent & the Grenadines team than he did for scoring the goal that clinched a Champions League quarterfinals berth for Dortmund in March.If Pulisic scores again in this Friday’s qualifier against Costa Rica (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Univision), more Americans will discover who he is than the number who did after he was one of the best players over the first two weeks of the Bundesliga. That’s just the nature of the beast.As we heard on Tuesday, Pulisic is already spoken of in glowing terms by the most senior figures on the USMNT. Listen, for example, to captain Michael Bradley:“He has surprised me for sure just in terms of how good a player he is and ultimately how quickly he’s been able to find the right ways to come into our team and make a real impact even at this level. I can remember watching him with the Under-17s at the World Cup … and you could see his talent, his ability, that was so clear. But you never know for sure how quickly some of the other stuff comes along.”“From the first camp that he’s come in with our team, he has found a really good way to fit into the group,” Bradley continued. “You can see what a good kid he is, how much he loves to play, how much he enjoys the time with our group … We want to put him in the best possible condition so he can play and enjoy himself and ultimately make the biggest difference for our team.”Can Pulisic handle the pressure? Well, he does just fine playing in front of more than 80,000 Dortmund fans, the highest average attendance of any club in the world.When asked about how he deals with all the attention, Pulisic had a simple enough response.“Of course, I hear about all this stuff,” he said on Tuesday. “People talk about this kid, there’s hype, whatever. But I just try to keep it out of my mind as much as I can, because that doesn’t really matter to me. I put enough pressure on myself. … I just try to do the best I can for myself and the people around me. I think I have a lot of things to improve on, from just growing physically and being stronger to continuing to improve on doing what I do best, finding new ways to attack defenses and help my team on the offensive side.”At this rate, Pulisic will be the U.S. posterboy of World Cup 2018. But his life hasn’t changed just yet. Not like it will next summer. Right now Pulisic feels like a powder keg ready to explode into the consciousness of mainstream America.

Healthy again, Bobby Wood figures to play key role for USMNT

Associated PressAug 30, 2017, 9:30 PM EDT

WHIPPANY, N.J. (AP) Bobby Wood still refuses to say whether he was playing with an injured knee last spring.Enjoying a breakout first season in the Bundesliga, the 24-year-old American forward missed a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March because of a back injury, then didn’t score in Hamburg’s final nine games. German media reported he had hurt a knee, and Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol said in May: “He’s trained for weeks on painkillers. He plays on painkillers.”Wood didn’t look sharp when he returned to the U.S. national team for qualifiers in June, but scored twice in Hamburg’s opening three games of the new season.“He’s back at full speed and ready to go,” American coach Bruce Arena said Wednesday, two days before World Cup qualifying resumes with a match against Costa Rica at nearby Red Bull Arena.Wood is among five forwards in camp, joined by Jozy AltidoreClint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski.“He has more pace than me, probably covers more distance in the game,” Dempsey said. “A physical player – challenges everything. Runs down lost causes and is good in front of goal. So he’s a player that I see continue to do well for many years.”Born in Hawaii, Wood joined 1860 Munich’s youth academy in 2007 and made his professional debut with the club in a second-division match four years later. He was loaned to second-division Erzgebirge Aue for the second half of the 2014-15 season, then signed with another second-division team, Union Berlin, in July 2015.He scored 17 goals in 31 league games in 2015-16, earning a contract with Hamburg. He had five goals and set up two more in 28 games in his first Bundesliga season.But he didn’t score after March 12 and was given poor ratings by German media. Asked about the knee Wednesday, Wood said: “Yeah, I guess it was a little bit of a problem” and then chuckled.“It certainly slowed him down a little bit,” Arena said.Wood made his national team debut in August 2013 and scored his first goal two years later, a 90th-minute strike that gave the U.S. a 2-1 exhibition win at the Netherlands. He has eight goals in 32 international appearances, starting alongside Altidore for the first two games of the hexagonal last November, a 2-1 home loss to Mexico in which he scored the American goal, and a 4-0 debacle at Costa Rica that caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the U.S. coach from 1998-2006.“We’ve got to take that loss as a learning session and kind of know you can’t just go out there and play,” Wood said. “You’ve got to mentally be ready for a very tough Costa Rican team.”When qualifying resumed in June, Arena used Wood as an 83rd-minute substitute for a 2-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago and started him as the lone forward three days later in a 1-1 draw at Mexico.Arena compliments “his pace, his quick, sharp little running behind back lines, his aggressiveness.”“He’s a guy that you need to focus on for 90 minutes,” Arena said. “He’s very active in his movement. He’s goal dangerous.”The U.S. has moved up in the standings since Arena took over, winning two home games and drawing twice on the road. If the Americans win at home this week and get at least a tie on Tuesday at Honduras, they would head into the round’s final games in October on track for an eighth straight World Cup appearance.Wood and Hamburg played under pressure last May. The club has never been relegated but was in danger of the drop until a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg on the season’s final day.After the season, Hamburg gave Wood a new contract until 2021. He scored against third-tier Osnabrueck in the German Cup, then got his team’s second goal in a 3-1 win at Cologne on Friday that gave Hamburg a 2-0 Bundesliga start. Wood isn’t looking ahead just yet to a stress-free club season.“Doesn’t keep you in the league winning two times,” he said. “It’s only six points.”

Michael Bradley’s leadership and play has keyed turnaround for U.S. men’s soccer team

Kevin BaxterContact Reporter

If last fall wasn’t the lowest point of Michael Bradley’s soccer career, he could certainly see the bottom from where he stood.His club team, Toronto FC, had just become the first to lose an MLS Cup final despite not giving up a shot on goal. A month earlier, the U.S. national team had become the first to open the final round of World Cup qualifying with consecutive losses.As the captain of both teams, Bradley had gone down with the ship twice. And he had grown tired of it.So less than 10 months later, Bradley has willed himself and those around him to new heights: Toronto is on pace to become the most successful regular-season team in MLShistory and the national team, which returns to World Cup qualifying Friday, is unbeaten this year.Bradley says he’s not surprised by any of that.“Yeah, I did envision it this way,” he said this week. “When you go through moments where things don’t go your way, there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself. There’s no time to stop.“When you have a group of guys who understand that, who embrace that, who come in every day ready to leave everything else on the outside and give everything they have to make the group better, that’s when it starts to get fun.”It’s certainly starting to get fun with the national team, which can move a big step closer to an eighth consecutive World Cup appearance with a victory over Costa Rica on Friday at Red Bull Arena. With four qualifiers left, the U.S. trails Mexico and Costa Rica in the six-team tournament, which will send three teams to Russia 2018.“You get to this point in qualifying and it’s all there,” Bradley said. “All the work that we put in this year was for these next four games.“It’s been a good year so far. But I also understand that we’ve not done anything yet. The biggest games are still to come.”Bradley, 30, has done more than just talk a good game since Bruce Arena returned in December as coach of the national team. He has become a much better player.As the midfield motor he has long been responsible for making the national team go, yet he disappeared for long stretches under former coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who often played him out of position. Arena, however, has dropped Bradley deeper and surrounded him with help and he has responded with some of the best soccer of his career.“This is the same Michael Bradley that I’ve known for a long time. He’s been on an upward trajectory,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said of Bradley, whose father Bob coached the U.S. in the 2010 World Cup. “When you’re captain of your club and captain of your country and the son of a national team coach, there’s a lot of criticism that falls on your shoulders. And I think he’s handled it.”Bradley’s impact extends far beyond the field. His intensity and piercing stare has unsettled more than a few teammates, not to mention journalists. He’s also among the most thoughtful players on the national team, answering questions in a quiet, deliberate style in which he parses every word, searching for just the right tone and meaning.But he feels a responsibility to speak out, in words and deeds, on issues that go beyond sports, something he did last summer when he wore a rainbow captain’s armband after an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and later when he called for national unity in the wake of the presidential election.“He’s been one of the greatest captains I’ve played for,” said Howard, who has played behind Bradley on the national team since 2006. “To be a good leader is very hard. You have to wear it all the time. There’s no off-days in that regard. That’s what stands out most about him.“He’s always training to make the team better, whether it’s a small conversation in the lunch room or whether it’s getting into a guy in the dressing room. He’s always on and I think that’s important [to being] a captain.”If the last 10 months have shown Bradley anything, though, it’s that while captains get the credit when things go right, they also get the blame when things go wrong. And that’s a tradeoff the reinvigorated Bradley is comfortable with, especially now that the U.S. team appears to have found smooth sailing on its voyage to Russia.“I continue to get better as I get older,” he said. “I love to play. I love to train. I love to compete. When those are your starting points, then it doesn’t feel like work.“It’s never a burden for me to wake up in the morning and go off to training because it’s genuinely what I love doing.”

U.S. soccer team’s latest World Cup qualifier vs. Costa Rica brings new challenge from familiar foe

Updated: AUGUST 30, 2017 — 6:10 PM EDTby Jonathan Tannenwald, STAFF WRITER  @thegoalkeeper |  jtannenwald@phillynews.com

It seems almost absurd that the U.S. men’s soccer team is set to meet Costa Rica in a game of consequence for the fourth time in the last 15 months.They’ve met in the Copa América Centenario. They’ve met in World Cup qualifying. They’ve met in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. You can even add a friendly match played in October of 2015 to the list — in part because it also took place at Red Bull Arena, the site of Friday’s World Cup qualifier. The stakes have only grown each time. So when Alejandro Bedoya called this round “probably the biggest game so far,” it wasn’t just hype.“We control our own destiny,” said Bedoya, who played in the Copa América Centenario matchup last summer. “That’s one of the games we must win. We’re coming in with good spirits, and I think it bodes well for us. A lot of the guys are playing well right now.”Indeed they are — and some of the U.S. team’s most important players are at the top of the list.Christian Pulisic has enjoyed a stellar start to Germany’s Bundesliga season with Borussia Dortmund, while Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore have helped Toronto FC compile Major League Soccer’s best record.Altidore is on a particularly hot streak. He has 12 goals in 25 games this year for Toronto, including two tallies in the last week; and struck for the national team in the Gold Cup semifinals and final.“He’s been banging in goals left and right,” Bedoya said. “Sometimes he doesn’t get the credit he deserves — he’s a great hold-up player and a great passer as well. If he’s in form like this, it’s only going to help the national team.”Many players on both teams have crossed paths in MLS. Eight players from the Ticos’ squad call the league home or used to. Four of them are club teammates with players on the U.S. squad.“It helps in that way; I think it also helps them,” U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan said while in Philadelphia for Atlanta United’s recent game against the Union. “It’s good to be able to see these guys play week in and week out, and see the video of their club games, but it makes their team a better team because they’re playing in a competitive league, and they’re helping their MLS teams.”Guzan was in the net for the U.S. during the 4-0 World Cup qualifying blowout loss in Costa Rica last November. He was also on the right side of a 4-0 score at the Copa América Centenario last summer.“We take a little bit from each game, and we understand their team a little bit more every time we play them,” he said. “But when you play qualifiers, [they] have a different meaning than playing in a Gold Cup or playing in a friendly, or playing in any other type of game.”This matchup comes with the added complication of being played in a part of the country that has the nation’s largest Costa Rican expatriate population. Of course, New York has large immigrant groups from everywhere, which is why there has never been a World Cup qualifying game in the region until now. U.S. Soccer has feared that their U.S. fans would be drowned out in their own building, and for good reason. But maybe not this time, Most of the 25,189 seats at Red Bull Arena were sold to the American Outlaws fan club, season-ticket holders of New York’s pro teams, and youth clubs across the region. Bedoya expects a pro-American crowd, though he admitted he wouldn’t mind if some Costa Rican fans get stuck in rush hour traffic ahead of the 6:55 p.m. kickoff. “Red Bull Arena is a great little stadium — it reminds me of the European stadiums,” he said. “I definitely think our crowd will out-number them, and they’ll help us get through the game.”

United States vs. Costa Rica

6:55 p.m. Friday at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.

TV/online streaming: ESPN (English) and UniMás (Spanish); WatchESPN.com (free with TV provider authentication), UnivisionSports.com (free with authentication), Univision NOW (paid subscription)

United States record: 2-2-2, 14 points; 3rd place
Costa Rica record: 3-1-2, 11 points; 2nd place

All-time series: United States 15 wins, Costa Rica 15 wins, 6 ties
In the United States: United States 15 wins, Costa Rica 5 wins, 4 ties
World Cup qualifiers in the U.S.: United States 6 wins, Costa Rica 1 win, 1 tie

Costa Rica players to watch

Goalkeeper Keylor Navas: There are more famous players in CONCACAF, but none plays for a more famous club. Navas backstops Spanish superpower Real Madrid, and has helped the team win back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles.

Defender Kendall Waston: The 6-foot-5 centerback is a beast for his national team and his club, MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps. His duels against U.S. striker Jozy Altidore will be one of the marquee matchups in this game.

Midfielder Bryan Ruiz: He orchestrates the attack, sometimes as a playmaker and sometimes as a second striker. The Ticos’ captain will be a handful for U.S. captain Michael Bradley and whoever plays on the American back line.Read more by Jonathan Tannenwald

USMNT Finally Turns to New York Area for Key World Cup Qualifying Match

  • S. Soccer has spanned the country for key qualifers and Gold Cup matches, but Friday night vs. Costa Rica will mark a long-awaited first in the New York City area for the USMNT.SHAREGRANT WAHLTuesday August 29th, 2017

NEW YORK CITY — It is the largest metropolitan area in the United States, a symbol of America around the globe and one of the world’s great soccer cities. And yet, amazingly, until this week the U.S. men’s national team has never played a game that matters with its best possible team in the New York City area.Not in the 104-year history of U.S. Soccer.Oh, the U.S. has certainly played in the NYC area before: 21 times going back to 1925 (see table below). But none of those games truly mattered. No fewer than 18 of them have been friendlies, and three were knockout games in the dreaded B-team Gold Cup tournaments in 2005 and ’09 in East Rutherford, N.J.When the U.S. meets Costa Rica in a World Cup 2018 qualifier at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., on Friday (6:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, Univision), the A-team will be on the field in a game that counts: Christian Pulisic, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and the rest. For those of us who call Gotham home, we’ve got three words for you:

It’s about time.

Look, we understand why it has taken this long. The beauty of the Big Apple is its diversity. Every country in the world has a presence here, including the actual United Nations. Why play in front of a hostile crowd in your own country? There’s a reason Columbus, Ohio, has hosted so many big USMNT games over the years, and it’s not the amenities at Mapfre Stadium.But come on. Other U.S. cities have significant immigrant populations, and that hasn’t kept them from hosting games. If we consider USMNT games that truly matter—in other words, non-friendlies with a U.S. A-squad that aren’t a third-place game or a qualifier in which the U.S. had already clinched a World Cup berth—39 U.S. cities in 27 metropolitan areas have hosted USMNT games that truly matter over the years:

Commerce City, Colo.; San Jose, Calif.; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Fla.; Houston; Seattle; Philadelphia; Chicago; Santa Clara, Calif.; St. Louis; Atlanta; Baltimore; Kansas City, Kan.; Foxboro, Mass.; Frisco, Tex.; Sandy, Utah; Tampa, Fla.; Pasadena, Calif.; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Nashville, Tenn.; Bridgeview, Ill.; Carson, Calif.; East Hartford, Conn.; Salt Lake City; Birmingham, Ala.; Miami; Kansas City, Mo.; Portland, Ore.; Palo Alto, Calif.; Richmond, Va.; Pontiac, Mich.; Dallas; Los Angeles; New Britain, Conn.; Torrance, Calif.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; San Diego; Long Beach, Calif.

On Friday, you can add the New York City area to that list—and in October you can add Orlando, which is hosting the USA-Panama World Cup qualifier in its brand new soccer stadium. Once that happens, the only MLS market yet to host a USMNT game that truly matters will be Minneapolis-St. Paul, and you can be certain that will change soon after Allianz Field opens in 2019. (Who’s up for a March 2021 qualifier in the snow against Mexico?)

Other U.S. metro areas that have yet to host a truly meaningful USMNT game are: Phoenix; Charlotte, N.C.; San Antonio; Pittsburgh; Sacramento, Calif.; Cincinnati; Las Vegas; Austin, Texas; and Cleveland.Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer president, said a number of factors came into play when the federation decided to finally host a World Cup qualifier in the NYC area.“We wanted to play qualifying games in venues where would have a pro-U.S. crowd,” Gulati told SI.com on Monday, “and generally that meant playing in smaller stadiums, which points to MLS stadiums when you combine it with the fact that you want a top-level venue and a top-level field surface.“Point two is we wanted to be on the East Coast with the short window between now and Friday,” Gulati continued. “We’ve got players even coming in today. So that makes the travel shorter: They don’t have to change planes for most of them, and it makes the trip much easier. And three, we haven’t played here in a long time in a competitive game, and given the ability through Red Bull [New York] season-ticket holders and our own lists and presale, we think we’ll have a very pro-U.S. crowd. Will it be 100%? The answer is no.”

USMNT HISTORY IN THE NYC AREA (7-8-6 ALL TIME)

2015 (Harrison, N.J.) Costa Rica Loss 1-0 Friendly
2014 (Harrison, N.J.) Turkey Win 2-1 Friendly
2011 (Harrison, N.J.) Ecuador Loss 1-0 Friendly
2011 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Argentina Draw 1-1 Friendly
2010 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Brazil Loss 2-0 Friendly
2009 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Mexico Loss 5-0 Gold Cup final (B Team)
2008 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Argentina Draw 0-0 Friendly
2005 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Panama Draw 0-0 (Won 3-1 on PKs) Gold Cup final (B Team)
2005 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Honduras Win 2-1 Gold Cup semifinal (B Team)
2002 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Jamaica Win 5-0 Friendly
2000 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Mexico Win 3-0 Friendly
1989 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Peru Win 3-0 Friendly
1984 (Long Island, N.Y.) Ecuador Draw 0-0 Friendly
1984 (East Rutherford, N.J.) Italy Draw 0-0 Friendly
1979 (East Rutherford, N.J.) France Loss 6-0 Friendly
1968 (New York, N.Y.) Israel Draw 3-3 Friendly
1964 (New York, N.Y.) England Loss 10-0 Friendly
1953 (New York, N.Y.) England Loss 6-3 Friendly
1949 (Randall’s Island, N.Y.) Scotland Loss 4-0 Friendly
1926 (Brooklyn, N.Y.) Canada Win 6-1 Friendly
1925 (Brooklyn, N.Y.) Canada Win 6-1 Friendly

U.S. coach Bruce Arena may be a local as a Long Island native, but he wasn’t exactly celebrating the decision to stage Friday’s game here when asked about it on Monday. Arena’s initial response: “It was done without my input. It was already established.”Prodded to elaborate on what he expects from the stadium environment, Arena said, “We’re going to find out on Friday. My sense is we’re going to have good support. When we played Honduras in San Jose [in March], there was concern there would be a big Honduran population attending the game, and that wasn’t the case [in a 6-0 U.S. victory]. I think we had a favorable crowd in Denver [for the U.S.’s 2-0 win in June against Trinidad and Tobago]. I would anticipate it’s going to be favorable for us. We’re well aware of the fact there are many Costa Ricans in the greater New York area. But that’s all part of the exercise.”The U.S. fan base has also changed in recent years. Simply put, it’s a lot bigger. Nearly 4,000 of the stadium’s 25,189 tickets were issued to the American Outlaws, the biggest U.S. supporters group, which will have members flying in from around the country for the game. To try to ensure a pro-U.S. crowd on Friday, U.S. Soccer also held a ticket presale with several groups: U.S. Soccer members (a paid program that includes presale access as a benefit); season ticket holders for the New York Red Bulls, NYCFC and the New York Cosmos; U.S. Soccer sponsors; state association members in the immediate New York and New Jersey areas; and individuals on U.S. Soccer social media accounts.According to a U.S. Soccer spokesperson, the “vast majority” of the tickets were sold in the presale before the tickets went on sale publicly. As of Tuesday morning, 24,500 tickets had been sold, with most of the remaining seats having obstructed views.Does that mean there will be Costa Rica fans will be in the stadium? Yes. You can’t stop people from buying tickets on the resale and public markets. But the majority of fans will likely be cheering for the Stars & Stripes.From a historical perspective, Friday won’t mark the first time a U.S. national team has played a game that truly matters in the NYC area. The U.S. women beat Denmark 3-0 at a sold-out Giants Stadium in the first game of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. But Friday will be a first for the USMNT—unless you’re Bruce Arena.“I’m from New York, so we don’t accept New Jersey as being in New York,” Arena cracked to a round of laughter on Monday.

Why U.S. Soccer Is Forfeiting Revenue To Face Costa Rica At Red Bull Arena

Filip Bondy , CONTRIBUTORI write articles and columns about soccer and other beautiful sports  Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Choosing a venue for a critical World Cup soccer qualifier is not an exact science, but math is definitely involved. U.S. Soccer wants to maximize revenue while minimizing travel distances for its own players and limiting the number of hostile fans.It also helps if the visiting team is not entirely comfortable.In the case of Saturday’s game between the U.S. and Costa Rica, it turned out that Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., fit the bill for the Americans – if not quite the seating capacity.“There was not really super magic to choosing it,” said Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer. “We wanted to play in a small stadium with a terrific grass field. We wanted to be on the East Coast, because a number of our European-based players (such as Christian Pulisic, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Eric Lichaj) were involved and this provided easier flights. “We also wanted some place we knew we’d sell out with a pro-U.S. crowd.”  This last preference, Gulati said, was assured by a private pre-sale of a “huge percentage” of tickets. Selected customers were from a loyal supporters’ group, American Outlaws, and season-ticket holders for the Red Bulls of Major League Soccer.

As for the gate revenue, higher prices make up somewhat for the building’s capacity – which is a relatively modest 25,189. Tickets to this particular qualifier were not cheap. One week before the match, there were still seats available through the official public seller, Ticketmaster – but the cost of each ticket ranged from $171 to $1143. Total gate revenue should easily surpass $5 million, not counting income from parking and concessions.“Ticket prices may be higher in New York, as they were higher for the Bay Area in San Jose,” Gulati said, referring to a March qualifier against Honduras in northern California.  While revenues are important to U.S. organizers, projected game-day conditions are even more critical. This is a key, difficult match for the Americans, against a Costa Rican side that handed the U.S. team a humbling, 4-0 defeat when they met last November in a qualifier in San Jose, Costa Rica. A victory by the Americans would lift them ahead of the Ticos into second place in the Hexagonal standings on a tiebreaker – while alleviating much of the pressure going into their final three qualifiers. Anything less will double-down on the tension.

Traditionally, U.S. Soccer has, whenever possible, chosen to stage important qualifiers in smaller, remote sites likely to provide pro-American audiences and favorable conditions. To better the odds of victory, the federation has forfeited some revenue that could be wrung from mega-stadiums in urban settings. Those giant venues simply present too great a risk. When U.S. Soccer staged a qualifier in 2009 at Soldier Field in Chicago against Honduras, an enormous crowd of 55,647 showed up to fatten the coffers of the federation. There was just one hitch: the vast majority of fans were there to cheer on Honduras, and to jeer the Americans. The U.S. managed to eke out a 2-1 victory before the hostile audience.  There are clearly ways to control the demographics of an audience. In the past, Hispanic supporters have charged they were denied the chance to purchase tickets to U.S. qualifiers. While the federation denies such specific exclusionary practices, it readily admits to private sales to well-known, pro-American groups. The fans may be selective and partisan on Saturday, but the weather should be equitable and good for soccer. The last time the U.S. played Costa Rica in a home qualifier, during the 2014 World Cup cycle, the warm-blooded Costa Ricans were forced to play against the Americans in a driving March snowstorm in Commerce City, Colo., where capacity at Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium is a paltry 18,000.

“Honestly, it was robbery, a disgrace,” Christian Bolanos, the Costa Rica midfielder, said about a blizzard-driven, 1-0 defeat for the Ticos. “You couldn’t see the ball. If we had played without snow, we would have won, I am sure.” To be fair, U.S. Soccer chose Colorado as much for its altitude as for its unpredictable, late-winter climate. The Americans were scheduled to play a few days later in the high elevations of Mexico City and wanted to be acclimated to the thinner air. Besides, every CONCACAF federation makes a point to schedule qualifiers in similarly tilted conditions: in high altitude (Mexico), or in jungle-like environs (Guatemala), or in the heat of the day (Honduras and Mexico), or on a field that is more straw than grass (Jamaica).“The climatic issue frankly with us is overplayed because of one cold game we played in Columbus against Mexico,” Gulati insisted, referring to a frigid qualifier won by the Americans in February 2001. “We’ve played in Columbus every cycle since.”As for Red Bull Arena itself, the building is a fantastic soccer stadium. The pitch is immaculate, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Those 25,189 fans will sound like 50,000-plus because of the acoustics.And because this is summer in New Jersey, the Costa Ricans won’t have to worry about any snowstorms. Just the mosquitoes.

 

The most important World Cup qualifiers of the August-September international break

Henry Bushnell,FC Yahoo Tue, Aug 29 6:02 PM PDT

World Cup qualifying is about to go from 0 to 90 in the blink of an eye. There are 103 matches between Thursday, Aug. 31 and Wednesday, Sept. 5 across six confederations. And many of those 103 – from France-Netherlands and Spain-Italy to Uzbekistan-South Korea and New Zealand-Solomon Islands – are meaningful. Very meaningful.Below are the 33 most meaningful, with information on when and how you can watch them in the United States. And if you’d like to know why they’re meaningful, our World Cup Bubble Watch is a great place to start.All times ET. All games on ESPN networks can also be found on WatchESPN. All games on Fox networks can also be found on Fox Sports Go. Cable subscriptions may be required.

THURSDAY, AUG. 31

Japan v Australia | 6:30 a.m., ESPN3 — Japan can qualify with a win. Australia would be in great shape with a draw.

South Korea v Iran | 8 a.m., ESPN3
Uganda v Egypt | 9 a.m., BeIN Sports Connect

France v Netherlands | 2:45 p.m., ESPNNews — If the Dutch lose, they risk falling six points behind both France and Sweden with only three matches to play. The 2010 finalists and 2014 semifinalists are in danger of not even qualifying.

Chile v Paraguay | 6:30 p.m., BeIN Sports

Uruguay v Argentina | 7 p.m., BeIN Sports en Español — The Uruguayans could go four points ahead of Argentina. Depending on results elsewhere, that could dump Lionel Messi and company out of fifth place and, tentatively, out of the World Cup.

FRIDAY, SEPT. 1

Nigeria v Cameroon | 11:30 a.m., BeIN Sports Connect
Tunisia v Democratic Republic of Congo | Noon, BeIN Sports Connect

Denmark v Poland | 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 2 — Poland all but locks up its spot in Russia with a win. Denmark is looking to challenge the Poles atop UEFA Group E, but the gap is currently six points.

Slovakia v Slovenia | 2:45 p.m., ESPN3
Czech Republic v Germany | 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 1

USA v Costa Rica | 7 p.m., ESPN — A pivotal game for the Yanks. If they win, they’re basically in the clear. If they lose, the game at Honduras four days later would become a very nervy occasion.

Mexico v Panama | 9:30 p.m., Fox Sports 2 — Mexico can clinch a World Cup berth with a win and a Honduras loss or draw against Trinidad and Tobago.

SATURDAY, SEPT. 2

Spain v Italy | 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 2 — Tied atop Group G, Italy and Spain square off with a chance to more or less punch a ticket to Russia. The loser will almost surely still head to the UEFA playoffs, so the stakes here aren’t as high as they are for France-Netherlands. But this is as high-profile as qualifiers get.

Ukraine v Turkey | 2:45 p.m., ESPN3 — Tied on 11 points in Group I, but tied for third place. If there’s a loser, that loser is in trouble.

Senegal v Burkina Faso | 4 p.m., BeIN Sports Connect

SUNDAY, SEPT. 3

Netherlands v Bulgaria | Noon, ESPN3 — If the Dutch don’t get three points in France – and it’s likely they won’t – they’ll absolutely need three against a Bulgaria side that is not a pushover.

Greece v Belgium | 2:45 p.m., ESPN3 — The Greeks need an upset if they are to catch Belgium atop Group H. They sit four points back heading into the international window.

MONDAY, SEPT. 4

Cameroon v Nigeria | 1 p.m., BeIN Sports Connect — Every African matchup during this window is a home-and-home. Cameroon, therefore, gets two cracks at Nigeria in a span of four days, and probably has to take four points from those two matches to have a chance at qualifying ahead of the Super Eagles.

England v Slovakia | 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 1 — If Slovakia can get a shock win at Wembley, England could be in trouble.

Northern Ireland v Czech Republic | 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 2 — A win might secure the Northern Irish a playoff place, and would bring them within one aggregate victory of a first World Cup since 1986.

TUESDAY, SEPT. 5

Uzbekistan v South Korea | 11 a.m., ESPN3 — Winner probably goes to the World Cup.

Saudi Arabia v Japan | 1:30 p.m., ESPN3 — The Saudis probably blew their chance with a deflating loss to UAE this past Tuesday. But if Japan doesn’t beat Australia on Aug. 31, Saudi Arabia can still qualify with a win here.

Democratic Republic of Congo v Tunisia | 1:30 p.m.
Burkina Faso v Senegal | 2 p.m.
Egypt v Uganda | 2 p.m.

Ireland v Serbia | 2:45 p.m., Fox Soccer Plus — Tied atop Group D and four points clear heading into the window. The Irish, who’ll be at home, could put themselves in prime position to qualify for their first World Cup since 2002.

Iceland v Ukraine | 2:45 p.m., Fox Sports 2 — Level with Croatia in first place in UEFA Group I, Iceland might just follow up its Euro 2016 fairy tale by qualifying for the nation’s first-ever World Cup.

Turkey v Croatia | 2:45 p.m., ESPN3 — Croatia is the most talented team in Group I, but a trip to Turkey is a tricky one. And if the Croats don’t get a result, they could be in trouble.

Colombia v Brazil | 4:30 p.m., BeIN Sports en Español — Brazil has already qualified, but will send a strong squad to Colombia. The Colombians, meanwhile, could put themselves on the brink of joining Brazil in Russia.

Honduras v USA | 5:30 p.m., BeIN Sports — The import of this game for the Americans depends heavily on their result against Costa Rica. But regardless of earlier results, it will be critical for Honduras.

Paraguay v Uruguay | 8 p.m. — On Aug. 17, Barcelona ruled Luis Suarez out for a month with an injury. On Aug. 25, Uruguay announced that Suarez would join up with its squad for World Cup qualifying. And would you really be surprised if Suarez came off the bench in Paraguay to score a winner?

Costa Rica v Mexico | 10 p.m., BeIN Sports

Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

World Cup qualifying, one year out: Where things stand across the globe

With one year to go until the World Cup kicks off, we asked writers from around the world to summarise the state of qualifying play in their region. • World Cup qualifying — How it works

EUROPE: 13 World Cup places

 

Who’s on track to qualify?

Most of the major nations are on course, though Euro 2016 finalists Portugal and France may require second-place playoffs to make it. France’s 2-1 loss in Sweden on Jun. 9, courtesy of a last-minute howler by Hugo Lloris, saw them lose the initiative in Group A, while European champions Portugal are three points behind Switzerland in Group B. Elsewhere, Spain and Italy are on level-pegging in Group G.

Who has work to do?

Netherlands are three points behind Sweden and France in Group A are in danger of missing out completely, just as they did Euro 2016. Perhaps in greater jeopardy are Wales, semifinalists in France last year, who lag behind Serbia and Ireland in Group D. Poland, who have not qualified for the finals since 2006, are streaking away in Group E, while Northern Ireland, absent since 1986, are within reach of a playoff in Group C. England, Germany and Belgium lead their respective groups.

— John Brewin 

 

SOUTH AMERICA: 4.5 places

Who’s on track to qualify?

With four of the 18 rounds still to play, Brazil have already booked their place in Russia, putting together a memorable sequence of eight consecutive wins after coach Tite took over. But who will join them? Starting to find some form, Colombia have climbed to second. After three straight defeats, Uruguay have fallen to third, while continental champions Chile are fourth, mixing attacking brilliance with defensive vulnerability.

Who has work to do?

All eyes with be on Argentina now that the bold and fascinating Jorge Sampaoli has become their third coach of the campaign. Now fifth, they will hope to climb at least one place but will not want to need anything going into the last round, a trip to altitude to face Ecuador. The early pace-setters have fallen back into sixth. Peru and Paraguay hope that a late surge will put them into the mix, but, as it stands, five teams are fighting for 3½ slots. It will surely go right to the last kick for some.

— Tim Vickery

 

CONCACAF: 3.5 places

Who’s on track to qualify?

A sense of normalcy is returning to CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying. While it’s no surprise to see the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica leading the table and creating a bit of separation from the trailing pack, a slow start for the U.S. meant it was in only the most recent pair of fixtures that the Americans moved into the top three. Each of these three teams is now a heavy favorite to secure one of the three automatic qualification spots. Mexico, already on 14 points, could clinch during the next round of fixtures while simply taking care of business at home could see both Costa Rica and the U.S. wrap up qualification with a game to spare.

Who has work to do?

The U.S. isn’t completely home free just yet in terms of securing the third and final automatic qualifying spot. Another slip-up at home — it faces a tricky encounter against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 — would see it dragged back into a dogfight with Panama and Honduras, as those three teams are currently separated by three points. Yet the spot appears to be the U.S. team’s to lose, leaving the remaining teams to slug it out for fourth place, which would result in a playoff against a team from the Asian Confederation. Panama seemed to be in good shape, but Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at home to Honduras has given some new life to the Catrachos, who had struggled for much of the final round. Trinidad & Tobago aren’t completely finished yet either, but they but need to start picking up points both at home and on the road.— Jeff Carlisle

AFRICA 5 places

Who’s on track to qualify?

Nigeria look to be the best-placed African team that can qualify first for Russia 2018. They lead a tough Group B with six points and need to win just two more games, beginning with their home fixture against second-placed Cameroon who are four points behind them.

DR Congo and Tunisia are neck-and-neck in Group A, with six points each, and either of those two could qualify. The same is true of Burkina Faso, South Africa and Senegal in Group D.

Who has work to do?

Giants Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana have their work cut out. The Elephants hold a two-point lead in Group C, but have Morocco breathing down their necks. Meanwhile, Kwesi Appiah needs to find a way to dig the Black Stars out of a one-point rut after two rounds of matches with Egypt sitting comfortably in pole position with six points, two ahead of second-place Uganda.We should get slightly more clarity from the next round of games.— Colin Udoh

ASIA 4.5 places

Who’s on track to qualify?

Iran have already taken one of Asia’s four automatic spots in Russia — and in fine fashion. Under Carlos Queiroz, the team has not conceded a single goal in eight games so far and has been dominant. At the moment, Iran look to be Asia’s best bet of going to the knockout stage next summer. The identity of the three that will join Iran in Russia is much less clear. Japan are on top of the other group, but the advantage is just a point, and they have to take on second and third in the final two games. The Samurai Blue will qualify in August with a home win against Australia, but the two teams habitually draw. Then Japan travel to Saudi Arabia for the final game in the Middle East. By that time, Japan may need to win, draw or be already through.

Who has work to do?

Everyone! In Group A, South Korea are somehow still second despite losing three of their eight games. If they defeat Iran in August — a big if — a ninth successive World Cup will be certain if third-place Uzbekistan lose. Whatever happens, if Korea win in Uzbekistan in September, they will go through. Uzbekistan, also unimpressive, probably have to win both their games while Syria have an outside chance of third. In Group B, Saudi Arabia and Australia can both progress if they hold Japan to a draw and win their remaining game. Australia should defeat bottom team Thailand at home, though the Saudis have a tougher task against rivals the United Arab Emirates, who have a theoretical chance of third. In practice, though, it is not going to happen.— John Duerden

OCEANIA 0.5 places

New Zealand, who went undefeated in group play at the 2010 World Cup, will playoff over two legs vs. Solomon Islands in late August and early September. The winner of that tie moves on to face the fifth-place team from South America — currently Argentina — again over two games.

World Cup Bubble Watch: Who is in line to qualify for Russia 2018?

Henry Bushnell,FC Yahoo 19 hours ago

If qualifying ended today, Lionel Messi and Argentina would be forced to win a playoff or miss out on the World Cup. (Getty)

The 2018 World Cup is still over nine months away, but in just 11 weeks, the 32-team field for Russia will be set. Beginning Tuesday, qualifying ramps up and hits its home stretch. Crucial group matches and playoff ties will be contested over the coming eight days, then again in early October, and finally in November, when the last 11 spots will be claimed.But with only three international breaks remaining, 29 of the 32 spots remain up for grabs. That’s a lot. Qualifying is still one big, jumbled mess. So over the next two and a half months, we’ve taken on the task of sorting through the chaos.  Welcome to World Cup Bubble Watch.  Before and after every round of fixtures, we’ll dissect the qualifying landscape, assess the World Cup hopes of the dozens of countries still alive, and break the field down into eight categories – from nations that have already qualified to those long since eliminated and everything in between.

As of Tuesday, Aug. 29, 117 of the 211 FIFA members that entered the 2018 World Cup have been eliminated. Three have already qualified. That leaves 29 vacant spots for 91 teams. By our count, heading into the August-September window, 61 of those 91 retain a realistic shot at qualifying. Those 61, and the four categories they occupy, are the bubble. And here’s the bubble breakdown:

Making travel reservations (2): Germany, Mexico
Feeling optimistic (17): France, Switzerland, Portugal, Poland, Spain, Italy, England, Belgium, Colombia, Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica, USA, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Japan
On the bubble (20): Sweden, Northern Ireland, Serbia, Ireland, Croatia, Iceland, Turkey, Ukraine, Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Senegal, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Australia, Saudi Arabia
Fretting (22): Netherlands, Czech Republic, Wales, Austria, Montenegro, Denmark, Slovakia, Slovenia, Scotland, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Peru, Paraguay, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, Cameroon, Algeria, Gabon, Morocco, Uganda, Ghana, New Zealand

[MORE: The 33 most important qualifiers of the window, and how to watch them]

Now, to dive in further…

EUROPE

World Cup berths: 13 (plus host)
Structure: Nine groups of six. Each group winner qualifies directly. Eight best runners-up go into playoffs for final four spots.
Status: Six of 10 group games have been played. Matchdays 7 and 8 in August/September, Matchdays 9 and 10 in October. Playoffs in November.
Table | Fixtures

Already qualified: Russia (host)

Making travel reservations (1)

Germany — The Germans haven’t dropped points, and in winning their six Group C games, they’ve accumulated a goal differential of 26. Northern Ireland is five points behind in second and the Czech Republic is nine points behind in third. Germany could potentially qualify with wins over the Czechs and Norway.

Feeling optimistic (8)

France — Group A is a minefield, but France has navigated it reasonably well. It’s tied on 13 points with Sweden, while the Dutch lurk on 10. So why are the French in the “feeling optimistic” category while the Swedes are on the bubble? Simple: they’re a much better team. Even if they don’t win the group, they’ll be heavy favorites in a two-leg playoff.

Switzerland and Portugal — The Swiss are the only other European side perfect thus far, but Portugal is only three points behind in Group B, with a far superior goal differential, and with a home game against Switzerland on the final matchday. (The Swiss won the first meeting back September 2016 in Basel). Both are in good shape, because both will finish top-two and the runner-up will be favored in its playoff. But there is still work to do.

Poland — The Poles are six points clear atop a weak Group E, and if they get a result at Denmark on Friday, they can start booking hotels in Russia.

England — Two points ahead of Slovakia and three ahead of Slovenia, England has to like its chances to top Group F. It travels to Malta, then gets the Slovaks at Wembley on Sept. 4. Six points would all but lock up a berth.

Spain and Italy — The two European giants drew 1-1 in Turin last October, and have been flawless against the rest of Group G since. They meet in Madrid on Saturday, essentially with a secure spot in Russia on the line. The loser, though, will go to a playoff that it’ll be expected to win.

Belgium — Four points separate Belgium and second-place Greece in Group H. The only worry for Roberto Martinez’s side is that it already drew the Greeks at home in March. The Belgians travel to the banks of the Aegean Sea on Sept. 3 for the return fixture, and if they get beaten, there’ll be slight worry, especially with a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina on the horizon in October. But they should be fine.

On the bubble (8)

Sweden — Level with France, but only one home game remaining. And one of the three road trips is to Amsterdam on the final matchday. Sweden is smack dab on the bubble.

Northern Ireland — Northern Ireland has conceded just two goals in six games, both to Germany in a 2-0 away defeat. It has little hope of catching the Germans, but is four points up on the Czechs – whom it gets at home on Sept. 4 – for a playoff place. And its FIFA ranking of 23 could see it seeded for the playoff draw. Northern Irish World Cup dreams are very real.

Serbia and Ireland — Tied atop Group D on 12 points, and with a showdown looming on Sept. 4 in Dublin. Both are four points clear of third place, and therefore seemingly in good shape for at least a playoff berth. But either would likely be an underdog in that playoff.

CroatiaIcelandTurkey and Ukraine — Croatia and Iceland sit on 13 points. Turkey and Ukraine sit on 11. Group I is in desperate need of some separation, and it could get it during this window. There are three matches between the four nations – Ukraine vs. Turkey on Matchday 7, and Iceland vs. Ukraine and Turkey vs. Croatia on Matchday 8. We’ll hopefully have clarity and movement by next Wednesday.

Fretting (11)

Netherlands — Three points back of two teams, and with those two teams already having played each other twice. The Dutch need at least a draw in France on Thursday, and will probably need some help further down the line. But they’re certainly capable of stringing together a few wins and streaking into the playoffs.

Czech Republic — The Czechs need to make up four points on Northern Ireland just to make the playoffs, and have a do-or-die pair of fixtures upcoming: home against Germany on Sept. 1, and at Northern Ireland on Sept. 4. They must win one of the two, and preferably the one in Belfast.

Wales and Austria — They need one of Serbia or Ireland to slump, and need to start winning themselves. But only one can, because they’ll take the pitch opposite each other in Cardiff on Saturday. If there’s a loser, that team will be hanging on for dear life.

Montenegro and Denmark — Neither will make up a six-point gap and catch Poland. One will almost certainly take second in Group E, but remember, only eight of the nine runners-up qualify for the playoffs. With 10 points, Montenegro is currently ninth of the nine.

Slovakia and Slovenia — Slovenia has extracted six of its 11 points from the ever-so-benevolent Malta. Slovakia has won six of its 12 off Lithuania. The two will clash in Slovakia on Friday, but the winner merely has an inside track to underdog status in the playoffs. Sure, England’s grip on first place is somewhat tenuous, but it’s tough to see either of the Eastern European nations surpassing the Three Lions.

Scotland — While Slovakia and Slovenia duke it out, and while the Slovaks travel to Wembley, Scotland gets its golden opportunity in the form of matches against Lithuania and Malta. There’s an outside chance six points could vault the Scots all the way into second place. At the very least, two wins would put them within shouting distance of a playoff place.

Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina — The issue for sides like Greece and Bosnia is that, although they appear to be on the bubble at first glance, they are battling for second place. Let’s say that battle is 50/50. Then, even if we give the winner a 50 percent chance in the playoff – probably generous – each has a 25 percent chance to qualify.

Dreams fading (5): Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Romania, Armenia, Cyprus
Still alive, but only technically (14): Belarus, Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia, Andorra, Moldova, Norway, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Albania, Israel, Estonia, Gibraltar

SOUTH AMERICA

World Cup berths: 4.5
Structure: One group of 10. Top four qualify directly. Fifth goes to intercontinental playoff vs. Oceania.
Status: 14 of 18 games have been played. Matchday 15 on Aug. 31, Matchday 16 on Sept. 5, Matchday 17 on Oct. 5, Matchday 18 on Oct. 10. Intercontinental playoff in November.
Table | Fixtures

Already qualified: Brazil

Feeling optimistic (4)

Colombia — The Colombians trail only Brazil in the table, but are closer to eighth-place Paraguay than the pace-setting Brazilians. They’re at the forefront of a cluster of five teams within four points of each other, and only four of the five can make the World Cup. Colombia is the most likely of the five to qualify, but outside of Brazil, nothing in CONMEBOL is guaranteed.

Uruguay — The Uruguayans will probably be without Luis Suarez for clashes with Argentina and Paraguay. They enter the window in an advantageous position, but can’t afford to drop both matches.

Chile — The Chileans are significantly more comfortable than they were a week ago. That’s because at this time last week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was deliberating over a 2016 FIFA ruling that had gifted Chile two points. A 0-0 draw in Bolivia became a 3-0 win because the Bolivians had fielded an ineligible player. In March, the Bolivian FA appealed to CAS, but the initial ruling was upheld on Tuesday. So Chile heads into matchups with Paraguay and Bolivia on 23 points, level with Uruguay and one ahead of Argentina.

Argentina — Speaking of appeals … Lionel Messi won his, got his four-match ban overturned, and will be available to face Uruguay in Montevideo on Thursday. The Argentineans currently sit fifth, and face a grueling trip to Ecuador on the final matchday. But their next three games are winnable, and even if they settle for the playoff place, they’ll waltz around New Zealand.

On the bubble (1)

Ecuador — The Ecuadorians are just barely on the outside looking in at the moment, and still must travel to Brazil and Chile. But all it takes is one upset and one slip-up from any of the four teams directly ahead of them.

Fretting (2)

Peru and Paraguay — Four points (and Ecuador) separate Peru and Paraguay from fifth. That’s not an insurmountable deficit. But it’s not one that’s likely to be surmounted either.

CONCACAF

World Cup berths: 3.5
Structure (current round only): One group of six. Top three qualify directly. Fourth goes to intercontinental playoff vs. Asia.
Status: Six of 10 “Hex” games have been played. Matchdays 7 and 8 in September, Matchdays 9 and 10 in October. Intercontinental playoff in November.
Table | Fixtures

Making travel reservations (1)

Mexico — Mexico can officially qualify on Friday with a win and a Honduras loss or draw at Trinidad and Tobago.

Feeling optimistic (2)

Costa Rica — The Ticos might not be booking flights just yet, but they’re researching options. The only thing giving them pause is the fixture list, which presents them with the U.S. and Mexico four days apart. If they can beat either of the two CONCACAF giants, they’re in outstanding shape. Even if they can’t, there’s no need to panic.

USA — With both Mexico matches out of the way, the U.S. is in great shape, despite being just one point above fourth place. Simply taking care of business at home – against Costa Rica on Friday, and then against Panama in October – might be enough. The Yanks’ performance under Bruce Arena has assuaged all early concerns.

On the bubble (1)

Panama — The definition of “on the bubble.” One behind the U.S. for direct qualification, two ahead of Honduras for the playoff spot.

Fretting (2)

Honduras — It’s been a stressful and disappointing campaign for the Honduras so far, but the Hex is so forgiving. One win changes the landscape.

Trinidad and Tobago — Three points from six games, and no improvement in sight. Again, a win or two drastically changes the conversation, but it’s not looking good for T&T.

AFRICA

World Cup berths: 5
Structure (current round only): Five groups of four. Winners qualify directly.
Status: Two of six games have been played. Matchdays 3 and 4 in August/September, Matchday 5 in October, Matchday 6 in November.
Table | Fixtures

Feeling optimistic (3)

Nigeria — The Nigerians have taken their Group of Death by storm, beating Zambia and Algeria while Cameroon could only pick up two draws. The final round of African qualification is a sprint, and a four-point lead out of the blocks is massive.

Ivory Coast — The Ivorians were the only team in Group C to win a game on the first two matchdays. They sit atop that group with not only a two-point advantage, but also a talent advantage, and appear to be on their way to a fourth straight World Cup.

Egypt — Four years ago, under American boss Bob Bradley, Egypt won all but one of its World Cup qualifiers … and still didn’t make the 32-team field. After that abomination, CAF altered its qualification structure to all but prevent a repeat, and the new format is treating Egypt well. The Pharaohs have won two of two, and are already five points ahead of Ghana – who, ironically, was the team that dumped Egypt out in the playoffs four year ago. Unless something goes terribly wrong, the Egyptians seem destined for their first World Cup in 28 years.

On the bubble (5)

Democratic Republic of Congo and Tunisia — Both took six points from a possible six to open Group A. But only one can go to the World Cup. The first of two showdowns is Sept. 1 in Tunisia. The other is four days later. Buckle up.

Burkina Faso, South Africa and Senegal — Burkina Faso and South Africa are on four points. Senegal is on three. Group D is very much still up for grabs.

Fretting (6)

Cameroon and Algeria — That Algeria, Cameroon and Nigeria are all in the same group is ridiculous. All three appeared at each of the last two World Cups. Yet the draw (and the format) guaranteed that two will miss out this time around, and Cameroon and Algeria are already in four- and five-point holes, respectively.

Gabon and Morocco — Both are on two points, with the Ivory Coast on four.

Uganda — Surprisingly, the top challenger to Egypt in Group E.

Ghana — Ghana hasn’t missed a World Cup since 2002. If that streak is to continue, the Black Stars probably have to win out, and even then, they’ll need either Uganda or the Congo to win points off Egypt.

Dreams fading (6): Guinea, Libya, Zambia, Mali, Cape Verde Islands, Republic of the Congo

ASIA

World Cup berths: 4.5
Structure (current round only): Two six-team groups. Top two in each group qualify directly. Third-place teams advance to intracontinental playoff. Winner of playoff advances to continental playoff vs. CONCACAF.
Status: Eight of 10 games have been played. Matchdays 9 and 10 in August/September. Intracontinental playoff in October. Intercontinental playoff in November.
Table | Fixtures

Already qualified: Iran

Feeling optimistic (1)

Japan — Japan’s final two games are against the two teams sitting at one point below it in Group B, Saudi Arabia and Australia. A win in either one locks up a spot in Russia. But two losses, and maybe even two draws, would force the Japanese to win both an intracontinental and intercontinental playoff to qualify. Talk about high stakes.

On the bubble (4)

South Korea — The Koreans are on 13 points. Uzbekistan is on 12. One of the two will likely be the second team out of Group A. The Koreans play already-qualified Iran at home on Thursday before traveling West for a showdown with the Uzbeks on Sept. 5.

Uzbekistan — Uzbekistan has a perfectly average qualification record: Won four, lost four, scored six, conceded six. And somehow, if it just keeps that up, there’s a chance it could qualify for its first ever World Cup. AFC qualifying is remarkably easy.

Saudi Arabia and Australia — Tied on 16 points in Group B, one behind Japan, Saudi Arabia and Australia have everything to play for. The Saudis already blew their penultimate game, losing 2-1 to UAE on Tuesday. But they and the Aussies will each get their own crack at the Japanese. Australia’s other fixture is against hapless Thailand down under.

Dreams fading (1): Syria
Still alive, but only technically (3): Qatar, China, UAE

OCEANIA

World Cup berths: 0.5
Structure (current round only): Two three-team groups. Winners advance to intracontinental playoff. Playoff winner advances to intercontinental playoff vs. South America.
Status: New Zealand and Solomon Islands won the two groups. Intracontinental playoff in September. Intercontinental playoff in November.
Table | Fixtures

Fretting (1)

New Zealand — The Kiwis will in all likelihood trounce Solomon Islands. But how do you like their chances against Argentina? Or Chile? Or Uruguay?

Still alive, but only technically (1): Solomon Islands

Henry Bushnell covers soccer – the U.S. national teams, the Premier League, and much, much more – for FC Yahoo and Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

Chasing History: Toronto FC on pace for one of the greatest seasons ever

August 27, 20177:14PM EDTMLSsoccer

With seven matches left to play in the 2017 regular season, Toronto FC are currently on pace to log one of the greatest single seasons in MLS history.Having already captured the 2017 Canadian Championship crown back in June, here are some of the other all-time marks within reach of the Reds:

Supporters’ Shield

No Canadian club has ever won the trophy awarded to the team with the best record during the regular season. Toronto FC are nine points clear with seven matches to go.

  1. Toronto FC: 56 pts
  2. New York City FC: 47 pts
  3. Columbus Crew SC: 42 pts
  4. Seattle Sounders FC: 42 pts
  5. Chicago Fire: 41 pts
  6. Portland Timbers: 41 pts

Most Points

Toronto FC are chasing the LA Galaxy’s 68 points in 1998 (shootout era) and the 67 points by the 2011 LA Galaxy (post-shootout era). Toronto FC are currently at 56 points with 21 points still available for the taking.

  1. LA Galaxy (1998): 68 pts
  2. LA Galaxy (2011): 67 pts
  3. San Jose Earthquakes (2012): 66 pts
  4. San Jose Earthquakes (2005): 64 pts
  5. Seattle Sounders (2014): 64 pts

Most Points Per Game

Only three teams in MLS history have registered 2.0 points per game or more. Toronto FC are currently second all-time:

  1. LA Galaxy (1998): 2.13 ppg
  2. Toronto FC (2017): 2.07 ppg*
  3. Miami Fusion (2001): 2.04 ppg
  4. San Jose Earthquakes (2005): 2 ppg

* = 7 matches left to play

Most Wins

In the post-shootout era (since 2000), this record is held by the 2014 Seattle Sounders with their 20 wins. Toronto FC are at 16 wins with seven matches left to play.

  1. Seattle Sounders (2014): 20 wins
  2. LA Galaxy (2011): 19 wins
  3. San Jose Earthquakes (2012): 19 wins
  4. Six teams tied with 18 wins

Fewest Losses

Toronto FC will need to go undefeated the rest of the way to own this mark all by themselves:

  1. Toronto FC (2017): 3*
  2. FC Dallas (2010): 4
  3. Real Salt Lake (2010): 4
  4. San Jose Earthquakes (2005): 4
  5. Five teams tied with 5 losses

* = 7 matches left to play

Most Goals Scored

With 55 goals scored and seven matches left to play, Toronto FC will like their chances of breaking into this all-time Top 5:

  1. LA Galaxy (1998): 85 goals
  2. C. United (1998): 74 goals
  3. San Jose Earthquakes (2012): 72 goals
  4. C. United (1997): 70 goals
  5. LA Galaxy (2014): 69 goals

Best Goal Differential

The 1998 LA Galaxy (+41) and the 2014 LA Galaxy (+32) logged the best goal differential totals in league history.

After their 3-1 win in Montreal on August 27, Toronto FC are currently at +29 (55 goals scored vs. 26 goals allowed).

  1. LA Galaxy (1998): +41
  2. LA Galaxy (2014): +32
  3. Toronto FC (2017): +29*
  4. San Jose Earthquakes (2012): +29
  5. C. United (1998): +26
  6. Real Salt Lake (2010): +25

Toronto tops unchanged top of MLS Power Rankings, while slumping Fire tumble

Little change from the top four, but Real Salt Lake, Portland and Columbus move upward while Chicago suffers a big drop.

  1. Toronto FC(no change): Hands down the most dominant team in MLS. Toronto followed up its midweek 3-0 win over Philadelphia with a 3-1 thrashing of Canadian rivals Montreal. There’s just no stopping them.
  2. New York City FC(no change): It wasn’t pretty but the 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena showed NYCFC can still get a result even when they’re off their game.
  3. Seattle Sounders(no change): The unbeaten streak continues; now 11 after Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Portland. Midfielder Victor Rodriguez looks like a very savvy addition.
  4. Sporting Kansas City(no change): Hurricane Harvey forced the cancellation of their visit to Houston. The Cascadia draw is a favorable result.
  5. Houston Dynamo(+3): The Dynamo showed some serious resilience in a comeback 3-3 midweek draw at FC Dallas. The city of Houston will surely do the same in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
  6. New York Red Bulls(+1): The Red Bulls outplayed city rivals NYCFC and were unlucky to earn just a point in a 1-1 draw. They continue to look better each week when at full-strength.
  7. Atlanta United(-1): A bad 1-0 midweek loss to D.C. United was followed by a last-gasp 2-2 draw at Philadelphia. Next six are at home though.
  8. Vancouver Whitecaps(+2): Vancouver did well to grab a 1-1 draw midweek against Seattle after going down a man, and then making the long trip to Orlando and picking up a 2-1 win.
  9. Portland Timbers(+3): The Timbers gutted out a 1-1 draw on the road to Cascadia rivals Seattle after a midweek 2-1 home win over Colorado. Trending upward.
  10. Columbus Crew SC(+3): Columbus had arguably the best week in MLS, with two excellent home wins to rise to third in the East. No one is talking about this team, which probably suits them just fine.
  11. Chicago Fire(-6): Biggest drop of the week after losing 2-1 at home to Minnesota. Veljko Paunovic’s team has lost four straight and suddenly a playoff spot — once thought to be a certainty — could be in jeopardy.

Three Things – #INDvJAX

Trey Higdon’s takeaways from Indy Eleven’s 3-2 loss against the Jacksonville Armada FC

Published Aug 28, 2017

WELCOME TO THE “BOYS IN BLUE”, ADRIAN ABLES

Looking past a defeat at home, Saturday became a night to remember for one member of “Indiana’s Team”. New to Blue midfielder Adrian Ables made his Indy Eleven debut after subbing in for forward Eamon Zayed in the 67th minute. Coming on immediately after Indy scored their first goal in the 66th minute, Ables rejuvenated Indy’s attacking efforts with fresh legs and added agility. Though Ables didn’t connect with any chances in front of goal, the Oklahoma native completed all of his passes and crosses to his teammates.Prior to joining the “Boys in Blue”, Ables made his professional debut with the defunct NASL side Rayo OKC. However, Ables only played a total of four minutes at OKC after he subbed in for former teammate Derek Boateng in the 86th minute in Rayo’s 3-2 home win against Jacksonville Armada FC on September 11, 2016.While Ables may be new to Indy Eleven, his connection to the Hoosier state predates his professional career. Prior to signing his first professional contract in Oklahoma, Ables spent his collegiate career playing for DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. Over his four-year stay, Ables scored 18 goals and had 17 assists in 75 games for the Tigers before graduating in 2015.

THE FIGHTING SPIRIT

Trailing 0-2 at the half and having the opposition pick up another goal soon after the match restarted can be demoralizing to most teams, but for Indy, it lit a fire. By the 62nd minute, Jacksonville Armada FC midfielder Jack Blake had just scored his hat-trick, giving Armada FC a dominating 0-3 lead at “The Mike”. With such a deficit at hand and two pairs of fresh legs from forward Justin Braun and midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic on the pitch, Indy began a full-forced retaliation. In the 66th minute, just minutes after Blake’s third goal, Indy midfielder Ben Speas found the back of the net with the help of Braun. A beautifully laid through ball from Braun around the center circle split through two Armada defenders as Speas dashed ahead to meet the pass, before putting the ball between the posts from the left.The momentum from the first goal would quickly fade as Braun was forced off the pitch due to injury. To make matters worse, Indy had just used their third substitute, leaving the home side down a player for the remainder of the evening. The score line would remain 1-3 for the remainder of the 90 minutes.

One final twist came as, to Indy’s advantage, an additional eight minutes was added to the clock due to the stop in play for Braun’s injury in the 74th minute. Wasting no time, Indy continued to fight with their efforts quacking paying off. In the 92ndminute, Speas came running along the right side of the pitch towards the right corner of the field. With defenders closing in, Speas sent a cross in towards the left post of Jacksonville’s goal, over the head of midfielder Adrian Ables, meeting the forehead of forward David Goldsmith before soaring past the goal line. With the score now narrowed between the two teams, Indy began an onslaught of offensive plays. Unfortunately, the last minute attacking efforts were not enough to level the score and the Armada walked away with three points on the evening.

WHERE WE STAND

After the first five matches of the Fall Season, Indy Eleven currently sits at the bottom of the table in 8th place with 4-points. With a record of 1W-1D-3L and injury plaguing the team once more, the “Boys in Blue” struggle to find the winning form they achieved at the end of the Spring Season. However, things aren’t as bad as it seems. True, the Eleven sit at the bottom of the table, but a single win could see them in the 4th place position pending other results throughout the league. 11 games remain in the Fall, meaning that there are still 11 more chances for Indy Eleven to surge towards the top of the table.On a broader scale, Indy has kept their 6th place position on the NASL combined table. After collecting 24-points over 21 games, Indy sits just 5-points off of a Top 4 finish and a coveted NASL Playoff spot in the post season. Much like the Fall Season, the “Boys in Blue” could find their way back to the upper echelons of the NASL table with just a few favorable results.

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