World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying slideshow

Bruce Arena reflects on USMNT World Cup qualifying failure

Former U.S. men's national team coach Bruce Arena took some blame for the failure, but he also said the team chemistry was off.

Bruce Arena reflects on USMNT World Cup qualifying failure

Bruce Arena reflects on USMNT World Cup qualifying failure

Bruce Arena reflects on USMNT World Cup qualifying failure

Bruce Arena reflects on USMNT World Cup qualifying failure

Bruce Arena Laments USMNT's Chemistry, 'Bad Eggs' in Reflecting on World Cup Failure

PHILADELPHIA — It was a loss that was almost impossible to believe but which, in hindsight, Bruce Arena might have seen coming. And at least one of his players may have anticipated it as well, according to an anecdote shared Friday by the former manager. Following the October World Cup qualifying disaster that continues to reverberate through American soccer, that player told Arena, “This was a culture you couldn’t change in a short period of time.”

Perhaps. But that broken culture, to whatever extent it existed, had been papered over sufficiently to get the USA to within one point of a 2018 World Cup berth. All the Americans needed was a draw against a shorthanded and eliminated Trinidad & Tobago side in the finale of last year’s Hexagonal.

The USA had lost its first two games of CONCACAF’s final qualifying stage, resulting in the dismissal of coach Jurgen Klinsmann. It then went 10-1-6 under Arena. That run included a Gold Cup title and a 3-1-3 mark in qualifying. Only Trinidad remained, and Arena acknowledged during a Q&A here at the United Soccer Coaches Convention that, “There are a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day you find a way to get off that field with a point.”

But the USA “laid an egg” in a 2-1 loss, and in his most candid and constructive comments since that October catastrophe, Arena accepted some of the blame in addition to casting a wide, deep net as he ran through the potential explanations. He included Klinsmann, the attitude and talent level of certain U.S. players, their performance on the day, and even the federation’s social media choices when discussing the reasons for the most significant failure in American soccer history.

The most pressing problem, he said, was one of chemistry.

“I never felt real comfortable with the team along the way,” Arena said. “We had eight [qualifiers] to get it right and had a very small margin of error.”

He said last July’s Gold Cup, which concluded with a dramatic 2-1 win over Jamaica, was when he felt best about his team. But that was a squad absent the vast majority of Arena’s European players. Their September re-introduction, plus injuries to the likes of John Brooks, Jordan Morris and Sebastian Lletget, among others, injected too much volatility into the player pool, Arena claimed.

“It wasn’t the same team with the right chemistry. It just didn’t seem like everyone was on the same page with the right mentality and the same understanding of what everything was about,” Arena said Friday. “The chemistry of the group wasn’t right. It wasn’t the character you see out of a U.S. team. And the second part, realistically, was that we didn’t have the most talented players and when we had injuries, it hurt us.”

He said that only one player who appeared in Trinidad, Christian Pulisic, would’ve been a shoo-in starter on the 2002 USA squad that advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals.

“You think over 15 years it would look different. So what’s going on?” Arena asked, adding that superior sides representing Mexico and Costa Rica left the less-talented Americans battling for CONCACAF’s third and final automatic World Cup berth. But it was a berth they were on the verge of claiming after a 4-0 demolition of visiting Panama in the ninth game of the Hex. In the end, the ease of that win may have been a curse in disguise.

Arena had been shuffling his lineups during previous qualifying windows, planning ahead for both contests and introducing fresh players for the second (road) game who were focused on performing in a particular venue against a particular opponent. The USA earned draws in Mexico, Panama and Honduras as a result. But that tactic was abandoned in Trinidad.

“Everyone checks out fine physically and everything else. So do you make a change to that team? We considered possible changes,” Arena said. “Perhaps [Brad] Guzan in goal. [Tim] Howard checks out fine, wants to play, ready to go. Perhaps [Geoff] Cameron in the back. Our defenders are ready, want to go. Perhaps [Alejandro] Bedoya in the midfield … Perhaps [Clint] Dempsey can come in. We always think Dempsey at this point in his career is better coming in as a reserve. So we stick with the same team and reward the team that won 4-0.”

It was a fatal mistake. The U.S. looked slow and listless on the wet, heavy Ato Boldon Stadium turf. Omar Gonzalez—playing instead of the benched Cameron—scored an own goal, and Howard couldn’t get to Alvin Jones’s 37th-minute blast. Bedoya would’ve been a smart addition. The USA hadn’t played a road qualifier without a second holding/box-to-box midfielder in at least five years. But it did so against T&T and, predictably, the Americans lacked structure, rhythm and options.

The errors didn’t end there.

“Behind the scenes there were mistakes on our part, probably,” Arena admitted. “Our social media, our communications department, sent out everything humiliating the Trinidad federation on the training facility, which was the game field for that day. It got them all fired up and when we kicked off on that day, it was a battle.”

Pulisic’s second-half goal offered a lifeline, but the introduction of Dempsey and Benny Feilhaber wasn’t enough.

“You’ll coach many years. Some days it works—hopefully more times than not it works—and some days it doesn’t. And I can’t explain why it didn’t work. We had a number of guys that had bad games on the day—the same team that had a remarkable performance four days earlier. I can’t explain it,” Arena said. “I will never listen to anyone the day after the game with all the answers. You got some answers for me the day before the game? During the game? I’m listening. Everyone the day after, you’re a bunch of phonies. I don’t want to hear about it the day after. We’re all the best coaches the day after.”

But there were some potential problems Arena noticed well before the Gonzalez own goal or tweets about the puddles.

“If you have a team of quality with the right chemistry, you battle through that game and get a point,” he said. “That to me was the most disappointing thing. I saw that in the beginning of the Hex in the games against Mexico and Costa Rica, and it came back in the end.”

The team was flawed, Arena said, and he was having enough trouble forging that chemistry with what he had. There certainly wasn’t time to add too much new blood.

“The team we had not the field against Trinidad at the end, [compared] to a team that would’ve been on the field at the opening game of the 2018 World Cup, there’d be as many as seven changes. … We knew we had to get better, but we had to somehow manage to get through 2017 and qualify and try to make our team better for a World Cup. I would say we weren’t going to be in a great position to get out of group play in a World Cup, but that all depends on the draw as well. There was a mountain to climb. We got most of the way up there but then slid down at the end.”

The locker room was decent, Arena claimed, but “there were a couple of bad eggs like you have on every team. We were well aware of it.” Team leaders like Howard, Michael Bradley and Dempsey set the right examples and Arena stressed, “I do not question their character at all.” Others, however, didn’t rise to the occasion.

“We understood the magnitude of the game. Trinidad played us very well when we played them in Denver. They played very well against Mexico in the previous game. And I told them we’re going to find a team that’s going to play their best game against us, and we’ve got to be ready to play,” Arena said. “I just think a lot of pressure built up on some players, especially when we conceded the first goal. … Some people cracked.”

In the end, there were mistakes made top to bottom, from the U.S. Soccer authorities who enabled and extended Klinsmann, to Arena and his players and, if you believe the latter, plenty of people on the talent development side and elsewhere. It was a collective failure. But it almost wasn’t. And for that, Arena said he’ll shoulder the blame.

“I accept that responsibility. That’s why I resigned so quickly. I accepted my responsibility. That’s the way it goes. I don’t feel good about it, but that’s life. I’m not embarrassed by it because I think we as a coaching staff, and as a team and an organization, we really put in everything we had. We were in a difficult position to get our team to qualify. We fell short.

“Maybe we’ll learn something from it. There’s a lot to learn. There’s still a a lot for us to learn to get our act together to make the sport better in our country.”

Michael O'Neill to talk to SFA over vacant Scotland manager job after Irish FA agree compensation fee

The Scottish Football Association has been granted permission to talk to Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill regarding its vacant manager's position, Press Association Sport understands. O'Neill is the SFA's number one choice to replace Gordon Strachan, who left his position after an unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign. An official approach came in November and after a compensation package was agreed, O'Neill looks set to meet the SFA next week. After Scotland made clear their interest in the 48-year-old last year, the Irish FA responded with a new contract offer of its own. O'Neill has two years left on his current £500,000-a-year deal and was offered a new four-year extension. He has previously said he wanted his future sorted by the end of January. Gordan Strachan left his position as Scotland manager by 'mutual consent' after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup  Credit: PA  O'Neill has been a wanted man after his impressive work as Northern Ireland boss, having been linked with recent vacancies at Sunderland and West Brom. After taking over from Nigel Worthington in 2011, he guided his country to Euro 2016 in France - their first major tournament since 1986 - but missed out on the World Cup after a play-off defeat to Switzerland.

Michael O'Neill to talk to SFA over vacant Scotland manager job after Irish FA agree compensation fee

The Scottish Football Association has been granted permission to talk to Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill regarding its vacant manager's position, Press Association Sport understands. O'Neill is the SFA's number one choice to replace Gordon Strachan, who left his position after an unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign. An official approach came in November and after a compensation package was agreed, O'Neill looks set to meet the SFA next week. After Scotland made clear their interest in the 48-year-old last year, the Irish FA responded with a new contract offer of its own. O'Neill has two years left on his current £500,000-a-year deal and was offered a new four-year extension. He has previously said he wanted his future sorted by the end of January. Gordan Strachan left his position as Scotland manager by 'mutual consent' after they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup  Credit: PA  O'Neill has been a wanted man after his impressive work as Northern Ireland boss, having been linked with recent vacancies at Sunderland and West Brom. After taking over from Nigel Worthington in 2011, he guided his country to Euro 2016 in France - their first major tournament since 1986 - but missed out on the World Cup after a play-off defeat to Switzerland.

Exclusive: Phil Neville emerges as leading candidate to be next England Women manager

Phil Neville has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next permanent manager of the England Women’s football team. The Football Association is stepping up its efforts to find a full-time successor to Mark Sampson, who was sacked in September for an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with a former player at Bristol City, and following separate allegations by Eniola Aluko. Mo Marley was put in temporary charge, but it is understood former Manchester United and England defender Neville is now the favourite to land the permanent post following productive talks with the FA.  Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Chelsea left-back Claire Rafferty suggested Neville is under consideration by saying: “Phil Neville’s in the running for it.” She added that she did not know how much truth there is to the rumour, but Telegraph Sport understands Neville is interested in the post and is now keen to finalise an agreement. Mo Marley is in temporary charge of England Women Credit: PA Marley, who has overseen 4-0 and 5-0 World Cup qualifying victories over Bosnia and Kazakhstan, has also applied for the full-time job and FA chief executive Martin Glenn this week explained why the process has taken so long by saying: “We absolutely want to get the right person. We have got great ambitions for the women's team. “We believe we can win the World Cup so we have to get the right person with the right set of skills. “We are lucky we have had a great interim in Mo Marley, so that has allowed us to spend that bit more time to make sure we are assessing all of the talent across the world.” Neville has held coaching positions at Manchester United and Valencia, and is keen to find the right opportunity to find a way into management, despite thriving in his work in the media. His sister Tracey is the head coach of England’s netball team and his brother Gary was part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff with the England men’s team. Phil Neville (right) coached at Valencia with his brother, Gary Credit: AFP England Women are ranked third in the world and are second in the World Cup qualifying group, a point behind Wales with a game in hand and the two sides face each other on April 6. Neville would comfortably be the highest-profile male to coach a women’s team, although Neil Redfearn became the first former English Football League first-team manager to take charge of a women’s side after being appointed by Doncaster Rovers Belles last month. Redfearn previously managed Leeds United and Rotherham United before moving into women’s football. On the switch, Redfearn said: “Even though people might think you are jumping from men's football to women's football, the fact of the matter is that it is irrelevant. “These are elite players, elite athletes within their environment. I think the standard is unbelievably good. Women's football in general is on an upward curve. It is a real opportunity for a coach to go and learn how other players learn and try to ply your trade at this level.”

Exclusive: Phil Neville emerges as leading candidate to be next England Women manager

Phil Neville has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next permanent manager of the England Women’s football team. The Football Association is stepping up its efforts to find a full-time successor to Mark Sampson, who was sacked in September for an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with a former player at Bristol City, and following separate allegations by Eniola Aluko. Mo Marley was put in temporary charge, but it is understood former Manchester United and England defender Neville is now the favourite to land the permanent post following productive talks with the FA.  Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Chelsea left-back Claire Rafferty suggested Neville is under consideration by saying: “Phil Neville’s in the running for it.” She added that she did not know how much truth there is to the rumour, but Telegraph Sport understands Neville is interested in the post and is now keen to finalise an agreement. Mo Marley is in temporary charge of England Women Credit: PA Marley, who has overseen 4-0 and 5-0 World Cup qualifying victories over Bosnia and Kazakhstan, has also applied for the full-time job and FA chief executive Martin Glenn this week explained why the process has taken so long by saying: “We absolutely want to get the right person. We have got great ambitions for the women's team. “We believe we can win the World Cup so we have to get the right person with the right set of skills. “We are lucky we have had a great interim in Mo Marley, so that has allowed us to spend that bit more time to make sure we are assessing all of the talent across the world.” Neville has held coaching positions at Manchester United and Valencia, and is keen to find the right opportunity to find a way into management, despite thriving in his work in the media. His sister Tracey is the head coach of England’s netball team and his brother Gary was part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff with the England men’s team. Phil Neville (right) coached at Valencia with his brother, Gary Credit: AFP England Women are ranked third in the world and are second in the World Cup qualifying group, a point behind Wales with a game in hand and the two sides face each other on April 6. Neville would comfortably be the highest-profile male to coach a women’s team, although Neil Redfearn became the first former English Football League first-team manager to take charge of a women’s side after being appointed by Doncaster Rovers Belles last month. Redfearn previously managed Leeds United and Rotherham United before moving into women’s football. On the switch, Redfearn said: “Even though people might think you are jumping from men's football to women's football, the fact of the matter is that it is irrelevant. “These are elite players, elite athletes within their environment. I think the standard is unbelievably good. Women's football in general is on an upward curve. It is a real opportunity for a coach to go and learn how other players learn and try to ply your trade at this level.”

Exclusive: Phil Neville emerges as leading candidate to be next England Women manager

Phil Neville has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next permanent manager of the England Women’s football team. The Football Association is stepping up its efforts to find a full-time successor to Mark Sampson, who was sacked in September for an ‘inappropriate relationship’ with a former player at Bristol City, and following separate allegations by Eniola Aluko. Mo Marley was put in temporary charge, but it is understood former Manchester United and England defender Neville is now the favourite to land the permanent post following productive talks with the FA.  Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Chelsea left-back Claire Rafferty suggested Neville is under consideration by saying: “Phil Neville’s in the running for it.” She added that she did not know how much truth there is to the rumour, but Telegraph Sport understands Neville is interested in the post and is now keen to finalise an agreement. Mo Marley is in temporary charge of England Women Credit: PA Marley, who has overseen 4-0 and 5-0 World Cup qualifying victories over Bosnia and Kazakhstan, has also applied for the full-time job and FA chief executive Martin Glenn this week explained why the process has taken so long by saying: “We absolutely want to get the right person. We have got great ambitions for the women's team. “We believe we can win the World Cup so we have to get the right person with the right set of skills. “We are lucky we have had a great interim in Mo Marley, so that has allowed us to spend that bit more time to make sure we are assessing all of the talent across the world.” Neville has held coaching positions at Manchester United and Valencia, and is keen to find the right opportunity to find a way into management, despite thriving in his work in the media. His sister Tracey is the head coach of England’s netball team and his brother Gary was part of Roy Hodgson’s backroom staff with the England men’s team. Phil Neville (right) coached at Valencia with his brother, Gary Credit: AFP England Women are ranked third in the world and are second in the World Cup qualifying group, a point behind Wales with a game in hand and the two sides face each other on April 6. Neville would comfortably be the highest-profile male to coach a women’s team, although Neil Redfearn became the first former English Football League first-team manager to take charge of a women’s side after being appointed by Doncaster Rovers Belles last month. Redfearn previously managed Leeds United and Rotherham United before moving into women’s football. On the switch, Redfearn said: “Even though people might think you are jumping from men's football to women's football, the fact of the matter is that it is irrelevant. “These are elite players, elite athletes within their environment. I think the standard is unbelievably good. Women's football in general is on an upward curve. It is a real opportunity for a coach to go and learn how other players learn and try to ply your trade at this level.”

The Most Intriguing Elements of USMNT's 2018 January Camp

Make no mistake, this is not a U.S. January camp like most others kicking off a World Cup year.

For starters, (in case you missed it!), the U.S. isn't going to the World Cup. Its interim manager most certainly isn't sticking around for the long haul and the whole leadership structure of U.S. Soccer is headed for a transition period, with the presidential election exactly a month down the road.

Making matters even more complicated, on the day U.S. Soccer revealed the camp call-ups came word that prized 18-year-old midfield prospect Jonathan Gonzalez was electing to play for Mexico instead of the USA. Gonzalez made that official on Tuesday, and regardless of whether he blossoms into an international star, the optics are terrible.

So, no, the camp that kicks off this week doesn't have its typical focus and isn't surrounding by the usual talking points. Instead of wondering who will use the annual camp as a launching pad to future caps, there appears to be more of a hesitancy to place an iota of importance on the training over the next few weeks, which culminates with a Jan. 28 friendly vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina.

That's not entirely fair to the players who are reporting, starting on Wednesday, though. So here, in no particular order, are the five most intriguing individuals and elements heading into camp as U.S. Soccer's world continues to turn:

Rubio Rubin

It wasn't long ago that Rubin was the USA's teenage attacking star on the rise. He had made a move to Utrecht in the Eredivisie in 2014 and appeared to be in line for a regular place on the national team for years to come. Then injuries and club uncertainty derailed Rubin's career, and he's without a team as he enters camp. The 21-year-old Oregon native and former U.S. Soccer Young Male Player of the Year surely has plenty left to offer, and perhaps a national team camp can provide the confidence boost necessary to find both his scoring stroke and a sound club situation.

Christian Ramirez

Long overlooked after years of torching goalkeepers in NASL and MLS alike, Ramirez finally gets his shot in a national team camp. For those questioning the validity of his goal totals in NASL due to a perception of the competition, he answered them with 14 goals in Minnesota United's expansion season in MLS. At 26, he's not a prospect on the rise, but he can certainly prove himself to be a valuable contributor over the next four years.

The goalkeepers

It's 2018, and there's still no hands-down successor to Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. A rotating door of third keepers has spun for years at camps, both vital and not, and the heir never emerged. Enter the four contenders in California: Alex Bono, Cody Cropper, Bill Hamid and Zack Steffen.

The latter two figure to have a leg up on the competition. Hamid, at 27, is the elder statesman and is on the cusp of his first venture overseas, with Danish side Midtjylland after a career spent at D.C. United. Steffen, 22, was the breakout performer in the 2017 MLS playoffs and certainly passes the eye test when it comes to what you're seeking in a No. 1 goalkeeper. Bono has been stellar since taking the reins at MLS Cup champ Toronto FC, and Cropper has been in and out of the national team program over the years but has yet to achieve consistent club success. Camp will dictate plenty, but one should expect Hamid and Steffen to split time vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina if the next couple of weeks goes as anticipated.

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The burgeoning crowd

Much has been made over the 15 uncapped players in the 30-player camp, and there's plenty to be said for bringing in the new blood. But it's the crowd that was just starting to get its feet wet over the last six months or so that should garner more of the attention.

The likes of Tyler Adams (18 years old), Cristian Roldan (22) and Paul Arriola (22) could be fixtures in the midfield (along with 19-year-olds Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie and 22-year-old Kellyn Acosta) for years to come. Dom Dwyer showed his goal-scoring touch and work rate up top last summer in his brief pre-Gold Cup and tournament group stage opportunity but then was hardly heard from again. Like Ramirez, he's not a young buck anymore (he's 27), but he has productive years left in the tank.

(UPDATE: Dwyer has since withdrawn from camp with a hamstring strain and will not be replaced. That opens more reps in the attack for Rubin, Ramirez, Juan Agudelo, Jordan Morris and CJ Sapong.)

Instead of these players using camp to prove their worth ahead of a May World Cup roster selection, they're doing so with an eye on the long game, but they've got a leg up on their uncapped competition.

The true meaning of this camp

Depending on who takes the reins of the national team program, whether it be in the spring, summer or fall, talent evaluation of this camp could either prove to be very meaningful or have no meaning whatsoever. If the next coach and any potential technical director/general manager-type is a familiar face in U.S. Soccer circles, such as Tab Ramos, then this camp could be very indicative of who will be donning the red, white and blue in the years to come. If they come from the outside and are starting with a fresh slate, then the purpose of this camp will be to get 30 players in a national team environment and have them prepared should the opportunity arise again. But beauty is in the eye of the decision makers, and coaches will often go with their own guys or what they've seen personally, not what a predecessor or–even more specifically–an interim predecessor has chosen.

These are unique times in U.S. Soccer, and that much is reflected in the approach to this camp. We'll only know months from now whether these few winter weeks wind up having a lasting impact.

Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman is stretchered off injured

Football Soccer - Republic of Ireland v Wales - 2018 World Cup Qualifying European Zone - Group D - Aviva Stadium, Dublin, Republic of Ireland - 24/3/17 Republic of Ireland's Seamus Coleman is stretchered off injured Reuters / Clodagh Kilcoyne Livepic/Files

U.S. Soccer, Carter Deny Martino's Assertion That SUM Influenced World Cup Qualifying Site

U.S. Soccer, Soccer United Marketing and USSF presidential candidate Kathy Carter issued strongly worded denials of significant allegations made by candidate Kyle Martino on Monday in his response to a survey of all the candidates posted by the federation’s Athlete Council.

“Categorically false” and “irresponsible” were the words U.S. Soccer used to respond to Martino’s allegation that SUM—U.S. Soccer’s marketing partner, which is owned by MLS owners—had decided to stage September’s U.S. World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., to prioritize profit by hosting the game in a location that Martino said would draw the most Costa Rica fans.

“Any assertion that Soccer United Marketing has ever decided the location of a U.S. national team match is categorically false,” the federation said in a statement. “U.S. Soccer unilaterally selects the venues for all home national team matches, working closely with our senior team coaches to make the decisions that we believe will provide the greatest opportunity for on-field success. Claims to the contrary are irresponsible and misleading.”

Carter, who was still in her position of SUM president in September before going on leave during the campaign, issued her own statement to SI.com: “As U.S. Soccer has made clear, the federation alone decides where games are played. The U.S. Soccer community deserves leadership that is honest, open, fact-based and responsible. I am bringing those qualities to the campaign and urge all candidates to do the same. As candidates, we have a responsibility to the women and men who have committed their lives, as volunteers or professionals, in service to our game to be accurate and honest.”

Meanwhile, a SUM spokesperson also denied Martino’s claim that “U.S. Soccer and MLS leaders one time sat on SUM board with an equity stake in the company, which could still be the case.”

The SUM spokesperson responded: “Soccer United Marketing is owned by MLS club owners. No U.S. Soccer and MLS leaders have ever had an equity stake in SUM.”

SI.com asked Martino how he acquired the information he alleged in the public survey, which had not previously been reported anywhere.

Martino responded in a statement: “Hosting the WCQ against Costa Rica in New York was clearly the wrong decision, and one I would have never endorsed as president. I made that clear in my answers to the Athlete Council so won’t do it again here, though I will elaborate to say that I know from talking with Bruce Arena that he personally lobbied to have that venue changed and was told no.

“The suggestion that this decision was in part made by SUM is based off several conversations with people close to the decision-makers or included in past decisions. These accounts do not qualify for proof, which is why I said the following in my submission: ‘To be clear, I am not accusing anyone of unethical behavior as I don’t have a complete understanding of the relationships involved. I have a lot of respect for the leadership of SUM, MLS, and U.S. Soccer and their contributions to the game in this country.’ In context, this case was included as an example of the ways in which a lack of clarity of the relationship between SUM and the USSF creates a perception of decisions not being made for the right reasons. In this case, we have a remarkably bad decision but no context or understanding of why it was made (or at the very least reversed after consulting with our national team coach.)

“If what I’ve said is inaccurate as Kathy Carter and U.S. Soccer suggest, I call on them to provide the requisite transparency to debunk this. Those who know me and have worked with me know I am a man of integrity and honesty and I would not have made this comment without the information of credible people. I will be the first to formally apologize if there is no truth to what I wrote. In fact, I would find it heartening to be wrong. But even if the information I have received is unfounded, the fact that it is out there circulating at the highest levels of our game is disconcerting and evidence of the corrosive nature of these perceived conflicts.”

U.S. Soccer's Uncertainty Could Prove Costly in Jonathan Gonzalez Battle vs. Mexico

As the sun rises on a new Liga MX season, Jonathan Gonzalez looks to build on a stellar 2017 Apertura campaign with Monterrey, in which he proved himself to be not only one of the league's rising stars but also one of its top players, period. The new season also comes with him at the center of the latest USA-Mexico international soccer tug of war.

For those not familiar with Gonzalez, the 18-year-old California-born midfielder established himself as one of the more consistent, reliable players in all of Liga MX while starting regularly for league power Monterrey. Los Rayados wound up losing to Tigres in the playoff final and winning Copa MX, and Gonzalez rose to prominence, being declared as a league Best XI performer all while increasing his appeal for the international level with his stout play in central midfield. And that's where things start to get messy.

As a dual national, Gonzalez can represent the USA or Mexico at the senior international level. He's played for the USA on the youth level sparingly before, which is why, according to Goal.com, he would need to apply for a one-time FIFA switch if he is to play for Mexico, even in a friendly such as the one El Tri is playing in late January against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Doing so would lock him into Mexico for the remainder of his international career, though playing in a friendly for the USA at this point would not change his status one way or the other.

But let's dial it back a bit. Why, if Gonzalez is so good, has he not been called into a senior U.S. camp before? And why, if he seemed committed to representing the U.S. before, as has been reported, should the USA fret at all?

To answer the first question, one has to look at the USA's World Cup qualifying stumbles. Turning to Bruce Arena as Jurgen Klinsmann's replacement always meant limiting the wild cards and unknown variables. Arena, for better or worse, had always shown little interest in stepping out of the box and instead was more comfortable going with "his guys." And with the U.S. desperate for points after the winless start two Novembers ago, Arena calling on known commodities for the must-have games in the fall was the surest bet one could have made.

Going back even further, the U.S. could have theoretically called on Gonzalez for the Gold Cup, which would have cap-tied him, but he hadn't yet made his mark at Monterrey. In fact, it was because of the Gold Cup, and a lineup opening at Monterrey, that Gonzalez even got his chance to begin with–and he took it well. The argument could be made that he should have been tabbed for the October qualifiers after a couple of months of impressive play, but, like in the case of Schalke rising star Weston McKennie, Arena was never going to turn the midfield keys over to players he'd never coached before for the most important games of the cycle. Hindsight is 20-20 on that one, but the thinking at the time was understandable.

All of this brings us to the post-qualifying fallout. Gonzalez told Soccer America this week that he was never contacted by U.S. Soccer regarding November's meaningless, lame-duck friendly vs. Portugal, which came a few weeks after the Americans' shocking elimination from World Cup qualifying. With an interim coach, Dave Sarachan, leading a team mixed of untested youth players and largely overlooked veterans for the game, it could have been a chance to give Gonzalez a look. But with the Liga MX playoffs on the horizon and absolutely no competitive element to the match, there was ample reason to leave Gonzalez behind–just like players who were still involved in the MLS playoffs at the time. Sarachan shouldn't be taking the fall for that, though a phone call just to touch base could have prevented any future uneasiness.

As for the answer to the second question, the USA's failure means another competitive match in which Gonzalez could be cap tied and prohibited from playing for Mexico won't be played until the new CONCACAF League of Nations, which commences after this summer's World Cup. And until then, there might not be a permanent head coach in charge. With the U.S. Soccer election next month resulting in a new president for the first time in over a decade and a potential alteration to the technical structure for the national teams, the U.S. men are in an unprecedented period of limbo and uncertainty in the modern era.

So, Gonzalez has a choice to make: Does he see a path to the World Cup with Mexico this summer, file the switch and flip to El Tri? Or does he trust that however U.S. Soccer's transition period shakes out, he'll be valued enough to be part of a rising crop of midfielders that includes McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams–all teenagers poised for big roles in the 2022 cycle?

There's also the Juan Carlos Osorio speculation wild card. Plenty have wondered whether his next step after leading El Tri at the World Cup will be coaching the U.S. men. Without a president or USMNT technical staff in place, it's impossible to know whether he'd even be considered, and he if succeeds with Mexico amid a tough group this summer and wins over his doubters, perhaps he's even blessed with a new contract. But if Osorio does want the USA job, would he consider trying to flip Gonzalez to Mexico now if it could come back to haunt him in the long run? It's a stretch to think about now, but it's worth keeping in the back of the mind–especially for such a meticulous planner like Osorio.

Of course, nobody knows how players' international careers will pan out. USA-Mexico tugs of war in the past involving the likes of Jose Torres, Edgar Castillo and Miguel Angel Ponce haven't exactly been essential to the success or failures of either program. But all signs point to Gonzalez being on the path to stardom, and this is a tug of war in which the U.S. hopes to be the one left holding the rope.

Should Gonzalez opt to play for Mexico, the retroactive finger-pointing will be plentiful, and yes, there will be plenty of blame to go around. But it won't just be a simple case of mindful negligence. The confluence of factors and some awkward timing will surely be a significant piece of the puzzle.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

The Top Football Moments of 2017

For the last Kick Off of 2017, we’re revisiting the biggest stories of a wild year in soccerl. In 2016, the football world wept for Brazilian-side Chapecoense. But in 2017, you probably wouldn’t know, but Chape made an impossible comeback. Speaking of impossible, USA, Italy & Chile supporters are still hoping to wake up from World Cup Qualifying nightmares. Meanwhile, somewhere Neymar and Mbappe are cuddling their cash and Financial Fair Pillows. And for a year that gave us a lot to complain about, at least there were memes.

What Will Happen Around Planet Fútbol in 2018? 10 Fearless Predictions

It’s a special feeling that you get whenever this time rolls around. We’re on the cusp of a World Cup year. Actually, we’re on the cusp of two World Cup years: 2018 and 2019, the men’s World Cup in Russia and the women’s World Cup in France, and after two Mundial-free years in a row, well, we’re ready for soccer to take center stage again for the next two summers (even if the U.S. men won’t be in Russia).

Here are my 10 fearless soccer predictions for 2018:

Spain will win the men’s World Cup.

The 2010 champions won’t be the first choice of all the pundits, but they are my choice. Let’s eliminate the other top contenders: France is loaded with young talent, but it won’t be consistent enough to avoid a stinker in at least one of its four knockout round games. (You saw that 0-0 home qualifier against Luxembourg, right?) Brazil rolled through South American qualifying and appears reborn under Tite, but there are questions in the back, and the mental scars of 7-1 haven’t disappeared yet. Argentina just isn’t good enough. And Germany? It may be the heavy favorite to repeat, but there’s something about the defense that seems beatable. Spain has flown under the radar under Julen Lopetegui, but the spine is strong with David De Gea, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Isco, Andrés Iniesta and Álvaro Morata. By the end of Russia 2018, that Spanish pratfall in 2014 will be a distant memory.

Christian Pulisic will join a Premier League team.

Don’t look for it to happen in the January transfer window, but rather in the summer. As you could tell by reading Pulisic’s heartfelt piece in The Players Tribune, the 19-year-old U.S. men’s player of the year wants desperately to win. That hasn’t been happening nearly as much this season at Borussia Dortmund, even as Pulisic has become one of the club’s most important players. Everyone knows that Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp covets Pulisic, which would make LFC his most likely Premier League destination, but Pulisic wouldn’t be out of place either at Arsenal, Manchester United or Manchester City. What’s more, while the main reason for a move would be Pulisic’s fit on the field, no club that’s interested in becoming bigger in the United States can ignore that signing the best U.S. men’s prospect of all time could help on the business side.

The new USMNT coach will be Juan Carlos Osorio.

He won’t be hired until after the World Cup, where Osorio will lead Mexico to the Round of 16 before falling to Brazil. But even though Mexico will play well in Russia and compete toe-to-toe against Brazil, the Osorio-hating Mexican media will drum him out of the position and set him up to take over north of the border. Osorio’s hire for the USMNT will make sense. He knows the U.S. game well, having coached two MLS teams, but he’s also deeply familiar with the European and South American games and will push talented U.S. youngsters to challenge themselves in Europe (just as he has done with Mexico’s young players). Osorio knows CONCACAF, too, and he won’t let the U.S. be overtaken in World Cup qualifying by Panama and Honduras again.

Whoever wins the U.S. Soccer presidential election won’t matter as much as people think.

You can understand why the February 10 election is drawing so much attention, given the rich plotlines following the men’s World Cup qualifying disaster, the withdrawal of longtime president Sunil Gulati (who would have predicted that a year ago?) and the eight (eight!) candidates who will stand in the first contested election for U.S. Soccer president since 1998. Whether it’s the competing philosophies for the federation’s future, the horserace coverage or the scrutiny facing the candidates and the current U.S. soccer infrastructure, there’s a ton to talk about. But in reality, there will be plenty of checks on the president’s power, no matter who wins the election. The U.S. Soccer board of directors will remain largely intact, and we already know that several board members want to introduce a new general manager(s) role. That would reduce the president’s power, as would a likely return to a more circumscribed presidential role more in the mold of Dr. Bob Contiguglia (1998-2006), instead of the sweeping role that Gulati had from 2006 to ’18.

Manchester City will end up losing at least once in the Premier League but will win the UEFA Champions League.

Yes, Pep Guardiola’s City has been magnificent in the league, with 19 victories and just one tie in their first 20 games of the 38-game season. Yes, it would be a brilliant achievement to repeat the feat of Arsenal’s unbeaten Invincibles from 2003-04. And no, I don’t think it’ll happen. Part of the reason will be City’s deep run in Champions League and the priority of winning it, which will happen as an English team wins the European Cup for the first time since Chelsea in 2011-12. But that focus will cause City to put less focus on the league, which it has already essentially won. There’s too much quality in the Premier League these days for a team that’s not using its best lineup every week to go undefeated. City will have at least one slip-up in the league, and it might not even come against one of the top six teams.

MLS will have a completely different look in Ohio.

The Columbus Crew will go ahead and make it official, with owner Anthony Precourt announcing that he’s moving the team to Austin in 2019. Meanwhile, Cincinnati will be awarded an MLS expansion team, beating out a Sacramento bid that couldn’t get its financial backing fully in order in time. Meanwhile, David Beckham’s Miami bid will finally get full approval from MLS owners as the league’s 26th team. The frontrunners for teams No. 27 and No. 28 will be Detroit and Sacramento, although some in Sacramento will question whether it’s worth continuing after being passed over again for No. 25. During the time it takes for Sacramento to get the nod, MLS officials will privately hope that another fat-pocketed bid like Nashville’s emerges.

Egypt will be the surprise team at the men’s World Cup.

The Pharaohs may not have competed in a World Cup since 1990, but that’s no reason to write them off in Russia. When you have one of the world’s top forwards, you’ll always be in games, and Mohamed Salah has become one of the world’s top forwards. But there’s quality in other positions for Egypt, too, including midfielder Mohamed El Neny and defender Ahmed Hegazi. Nor does it hurt that Egypt drew a relatively easy group with Saudi Arabia, Russia and Uruguay.

More USWNT players will join Lyon.

Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe have already spent time at Olympique Lyonnais, and owner Jean-Michel Aulas has been flamboyant in his public desire for more U.S. players to follow. Morgan Brian is set to join Lyon in January, and the wave could continue with Lyon and other European clubs investing more and more each year in their women’s teams. That could cause consternation, however, with U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who would prefer to see her national team players in the NWSL during the year before a World Cup.

LAFC will be the new Atlanta United.

The crowds in L.A. won’t be as big as the ones Atlanta had in 2017—that’s simply because LAFC’s new stadium is smaller than Atlanta’s—but the buzz around LAFC will be just as gigantic. Bob Bradley and John Thorrington are assembling a solid roster with DP signings Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi and a solid centerback tandem in Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman. (Omar Gaber and Marco Ureña will be useful contributors as well.) More acquisitions are on the way, obviously, but this team appears to be doing things right on and off the field. There’s a real excitement in Los Angeles about the team, and the presentation of LAFC—from the stadium to the black-and-gold colors to the GIF-able cap tilt player presentations—is legit cool. Here’s hoping the crosstown rival LA Galaxy can keep up.

Rose Lavelle will fully break out for the USWNT.

Call it a breakout deferred in for the 22-year-old Lavelle in 2017. The inventive midfielder had some fantastic moments for the USWNT in the first half of the year, providing two goals and an assist in seven games, and she got off to a great start for the Boston Breakers, winning the April NWSL player of the month award. But injuries slowed Lavelle down for country and club, and she ended up playing just 10 of 24 games for the Breakers. Ellis loves her, though, with good reason, and Lavelle could be a cornerstone for the national team by the time the World Cup qualifying tournament rolls around in October.

What Will Happen Around Planet Fútbol in 2018? 10 Fearless Predictions

It’s a special feeling that you get whenever this time rolls around. We’re on the cusp of a World Cup year. Actually, we’re on the cusp of two World Cup years: 2018 and 2019, the men’s World Cup in Russia and the women’s World Cup in France, and after two Mundial-free years in a row, well, we’re ready for soccer to take center stage again for the next two summers (even if the U.S. men won’t be in Russia).

Here are my 10 fearless soccer predictions for 2018:

Spain will win the men’s World Cup

The 2010 champions won’t be the first choice of all the pundits, but they are my choice. Let’s eliminate the other top contenders: France is loaded with young talent, but it won’t be consistent enough to avoid a stinker in at least one of its four knockout round games. (You saw that 0-0 home qualifier against Luxembourg, right?) Brazil rolled through South American qualifying and appears reborn under Tite, but there are questions in the back, and the mental scars of 7-1 haven’t disappeared yet. Argentina just isn’t good enough. And Germany? It may be the heavy favorite to repeat, but there’s something about the defense that seems beatable. Spain has flown under the radar under Julen Lopetegui, but the spine is strong with David De Gea, Gerard Piqué, Sergio Ramos, Isco, Andrés Iniesta and Álvaro Morata. By the end of Russia 2018, that Spanish pratfall in 2014 will be a distant memory.

Christian Pulisic will join a Premier League team

Don’t look for it to happen in the January transfer window, but rather in the summer. As you could tell by reading Pulisic’s heartfelt piece in The Players Tribune, the 19-year-old U.S. men’s player of the year wants desperately to win. That hasn’t been happening nearly as much this season at Borussia Dortmund, even as Pulisic has become one of the club’s most important players. Everyone knows that Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp covets Pulisic, which would make LFC his most likely Premier League destination, but Pulisic wouldn’t be out of place either at Arsenal, Manchester United or Manchester City. What’s more, while the main reason for a move would be Pulisic’s fit on the field, no club that’s interested in becoming bigger in the United States can ignore that signing the best U.S. men’s prospect of all time could help on the business side.

The new USMNT coach will be Juan Carlos Osorio

He won’t be hired until after the World Cup, where Osorio will lead Mexico to the Round of 16 before falling to Brazil. But even though Mexico will play well in Russia and compete toe-to-toe against Brazil, the Osorio-hating Mexican media will drum him out of the position and set him up to take over north of the border. Osorio’s hire for the USMNT will make sense. He knows the U.S. game well, having coached two MLS teams, but he’s also deeply familiar with the European and South American games and will push talented U.S. youngsters to challenge themselves in Europe (just as he has done with Mexico’s young players). Osorio knows CONCACAF, too, and he won’t let the U.S. be overtaken in World Cup qualifying by Panama and Honduras again.

Whoever wins the U.S. Soccer presidential election won’t matter as much as people think

You can understand why the February 10 election is drawing so much attention, given the rich plotlines following the men’s World Cup qualifying disaster, the withdrawal of longtime president Sunil Gulati (who would have predicted that a year ago?) and the eight (eight!) candidates who will stand in the first contested election for U.S. Soccer president since 1998. Whether it’s the competing philosophies for the federation’s future, the horserace coverage or the scrutiny facing the candidates and the current U.S. soccer infrastructure, there’s a ton to talk about. But in reality, there will be plenty of checks on the president’s power, no matter who wins the election. The U.S. Soccer board of directors will remain largely intact, and we already know that several board members want to introduce a new general manager(s) role. That would reduce the president’s power, as would a likely return to a more circumscribed presidential role more in the mold of Dr. Bob Contiguglia (1998-2006), instead of the sweeping role that Gulati had from 2006 to ’18.

Introducing SPORTS ILLUSTRATED TV, your new home for classic sports movies, award-winning documentaries and original sports programming such as Planet Futbol TV, SI TV’s weekly soccer show. Start your seven-day free trial now on Amazon Channels.

Manchester City will end up losing at least once in the Premier League but will win the UEFA Champions League

Yes, Pep Guardiola’s City has been magnificent in the league, with 19 victories and just one tie in their first 20 games of the 38-game season. Yes, it would be a brilliant achievement to repeat the feat of Arsenal’s unbeaten Invincibles from 2003-04. And no, I don’t think it’ll happen. Part of the reason will be City’s deep run in Champions League and the priority of winning it, which will happen as an English team wins the European Cup for the first time since Chelsea in 2011-12. But that focus will cause City to put less focus on the league, which it has already essentially won. There’s too much quality in the Premier League these days for a team that’s not using its best lineup every week to go undefeated. City will have at least one slip-up in the league, and it might not even come against one of the top six teams.

MLS will have a completely different look in Ohio

The Columbus Crew will go ahead and make it official, with owner Anthony Precourt announcing that he’s moving the team to Austin in 2019. Meanwhile, Cincinnati will be awarded an MLS expansion team, beating out a Sacramento bid that couldn’t get its financial backing fully in order in time. Meanwhile, David Beckham’s Miami bid will finally get full approval from MLS owners as the league’s 26th team. The frontrunners for teams No. 27 and No. 28 will be Detroit and Sacramento, although some in Sacramento will question whether it’s worth continuing after being passed over again for No. 25. During the time it takes for Sacramento to get the nod, MLS officials will privately hope that another fat-pocketed bid like Nashville’s emerges.

Egypt will be the surprise team at the men’s World Cup

The Pharaohs may not have competed in a World Cup since 1990, but that’s no reason to write them off in Russia. When you have one of the world’s top forwards, you’ll always be in games, and Mohamed Salah has become one of the world’s top forwards. But there’s quality in other positions for Egypt, too, including midfielder Mohamed El Neny and defender Ahmed Hegazi. Nor does it hurt that Egypt drew a relatively easy group with Saudi Arabia, Russia and Uruguay.

More USWNT players will join Lyon

Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe have already spent time at Olympique Lyonnais, and owner Jean-Michel Aulas has been flamboyant in his public desire for more U.S. players to follow. Morgan Brian is set to join Lyon in January, and the wave could continue with Lyon and other European clubs investing more and more each year in their women’s teams. That could cause consternation, however, with U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who would prefer to see her national team players in the NWSL during the year before a World Cup.

LAFC will be the new Atlanta United

The crowds in L.A. won’t be as big as the ones Atlanta had in 2017—that’s simply because LAFC’s new stadium is smaller than Atlanta’s—but the buzz around LAFC will be just as gigantic. Bob Bradley and John Thorrington are assembling a solid roster with DP signings Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi and a solid centerback tandem in Laurent Ciman and Walker Zimmerman. (Omar Gaber and Marco Ureña will be useful contributors as well.) More acquisitions are on the way, obviously, but this team appears to be doing things right on and off the field. There’s a real excitement in Los Angeles about the team, and the presentation of LAFC—from the stadium to the black-and-gold colors to the GIF-able cap tilt player presentations—is legit cool. Here’s hoping the crosstown rival LA Galaxy can keep up.

Rose Lavelle will fully break out for the USWNT

Call it a breakout deferred in for the 22-year-old Lavelle in 2017. The inventive midfielder had some fantastic moments for the USWNT in the first half of the year, providing two goals and an assist in seven games, and she got off to a great start for the Boston Breakers, winning the April NWSL player of the month award. But injuries slowed Lavelle down for country and club, and she ended up playing just 10 of 24 games for the Breakers. Ellis loves her, though, with good reason, and Lavelle could be a cornerstone for the national team by the time the World Cup qualifying tournament rolls around in October.

Christian Pulisic Reunites With His Dog for Holidays With Help From Twitter

Christian Pulisic is in Washington, D.C., for the holidays, more than a two–hour drive from his hometown of Hershey, Pa. That left him roughly 130 miles from his dog—and as any dog owner would tell you, that's 130 miles too far.

So Pulisic turned to Twitter for some help. On Friday, Pulisic asked his followers whether anyone would be able to drive his dog from Hershey to D.C. for the holidays.

And someone actually did it!

Landon Donovan approved.

That's an even better assist than Pulisic's exquisite pass to Jozy Altidore in front of net against Panama in October. If I were running for U.S. Soccer president, I'd propose hiring someone whose sole responsibility would be to drive Pulisic's dog around wherever the 19-year-old desired.

Column: Recognizing the best - and worst - of sports in 2017

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, Italy's Ciro Immobile, foreground, and Andrea Belotti, seated left, react to their team's elimination in the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

FILE - In this Nov. 13, 2017, file photo, Italy's Ciro Immobile, foreground, and Andrea Belotti, seated left, react to their team's elimination in the World Cup qualifying play-off second leg soccer match between Italy and Sweden, at the Milan San Siro stadium, Italy. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, File)

Football Soccer - China v Iran - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Asia Zone - Group A

Peru’s Guerrero set for World Cup after doping ban gets cut

Guerrero was Peru's top scorer in World Cup qualifying with six goals.

Peru’s Guerrero set for World Cup after doping ban gets cut

Guerrero was Peru's top scorer in World Cup qualifying with six goals.

Peru’s Guerrero set for World Cup after doping ban gets cut

Guerrero was Peru's top scorer in World Cup qualifying with six goals.

Peru's Guerrero set for World Cup after doping ban gets cut

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 file photo, Peru's Paolo Guerrero trains for his upcoming World Cup qualifying match in Lima, Peru. Peru captain Paolo Guerrero will be eligible for next year's World Cup after FIFA reduced his suspension for doping from one year to six months. FIFA announced Wednesday, Dec. 20 that its disciplinary committee considered the six-month ban a proportionate sanction "after taking into account all circumstances of the case." (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, file)

FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017 file photo, Peru's Paolo Guerrero trains for his upcoming World Cup qualifying match in Lima, Peru. Peru captain Paolo Guerrero will be eligible for next year's World Cup after FIFA reduced his suspension for doping from one year to six months. FIFA announced Wednesday, Dec. 20 that its disciplinary committee considered the six-month ban a proportionate sanction "after taking into account all circumstances of the case." (AP Photo/Martin Mejia, file)

Meet the Final Candidates Vying to Become U.S. Soccer's Next President

And then there were eight.

On Wednesday, U.S. Soccer announced the official candidates who will stand in the election for federation president that will take place on Feb. 10 in Orlando, Florida. To become an official candidate required receiving three formal nominating letters of support and passing a background check. The deadline to supply those nominations was Dec. 12, but the time required to complete the background check process resulted in the delay of revealing the qualified candidates. Out of the initial group of nine people who claimed they would run, only Paul Lapointe did not reach the final stage.

In the coming weeks, SI will continue its series of interviewing all of the candidates, with Kathy Carter, Steve Gans, Kyle Martino and Eric Wynalda appearing thus far on the Planet Fútbol Podcast.

Here are the official candidates vying to replace Sunil Gulati, who has been the federation president since 2006 and announced earlier this month that he will not seek re-election (in alphabetical order):

PAUL CALIGIURI

A former national team standout who famously scored the goal that sent the U.S. to its first men’s World Cup in 40 years in 1990, Caligiuri has provided fewer details of his candidacy than former players Wynalda and Martino. He is in favor of promotion and relegation and includes having the USWNT win World Cup 2019 and the USMNT win World Cup 2022 as planks in his platform. Among the former players running, Caligiuri will face a challenge gaining the support that Wynalda and Martino have in the race.

KATHY CARTER

The on-leave president of Soccer United Marketing, MLS’s marketing arm, Carter has a long track record on the business side of American soccer, and she also played the game at William and Mary. Critics will argue that Carter would only strengthen the concern that for-profit MLS/SUM and non-profit U.S. Soccer are too cozy, and her business acumen may be viewed as less important at a time when it’s the soccer side of the federation that needs improvement. Carter, who is vying to become the first woman to be president of U.S. Soccer, will have to persuade voters outside the Pro Council that her plan to be inclusive on decision-making (including on technical matters) will work.

CARLOS CORDEIRO

The current vice president of U.S. Soccer and a former Goldman Sachs executive, Cordeiro split from longtime ally Gulati to announce his candidacy before Gulati pulled out of the race. Cordeiro has plenty of experience inside U.S. Soccer—he has been on the board since 2007—but, like Carter, he will have to convince voters that he can provide effective leadership on the soccer side. (Cordeiro has proposed more inclusive decision-making and having a “general manager” in charge of technical decisions.) Carter’s late entry into the race hurts Cordeiro more than anyone else, but Cordeiro can argue that he’s not part of the MLS/SUM group whose influence on U.S. Soccer has raised questions about the federation’s independence.

Introducing SPORTS ILLUSTRATED TV, your new home for classic sports movies, award-winning documentaries and original sports programming such as Planet Futbol TV, SI TV’s weekly soccer show. Start your seven-day free trial now on Amazon Channels.

STEVE GANS

Neither a federation insider nor a former national team player, Gans is a Boston-based lawyer and former COO who has advised the business sides of youth soccer and Premier League clubs. He’s also the lone candidate who can say he had the vision to get into the race before the U.S. men’s failure to qualify for the World Cup. Gans did play professionally in the indoor game and wants to address the pay-to-play issue in part with money from the federation’s $130 million surplus. His challenge will be to find a path to victory despite not having the voter pull that comes with being a federation insider or recognition as a former national team player.

KYLE MARTINO

On leave from his job at NBC as a Premier League analyst, Martino is a former national team player who has drawn support from several former star players, including David Beckham, Thierry Henry and former U.S. men’s and women’s standouts, many of whom remain unnamed due to concerns about angering the federation's political establishment. Martino is convening sessions of influencers to help produce a “Progress Plan” for U.S. Soccer that he will release publicly. Critics of Martino note his lack of experience in business or running an organization.

HOPE SOLO

Perhaps the greatest U.S. goalkeeper of all time and the most famous person in the race, the polarizing Solo was a late entry into the campaign but gained the necessary nominations to be an official candidate. Her candidacy announcement focused on improving the financial challenges facing youth soccer players that she herself experienced growing up in Washington.

MICHAEL WINOGRAD

A corporate attorney in New York City who played in Israel, Winograd is an outsider to the federation who nevertheless combines experience in legal negotiations with coaching at the youth and collegiate levels and administration at the lower-league pro level. Winograd has gained some momentum at speaking events involving the candidates, and his ability to land the necessary nominations will give him about two more months to build on his longshot candidacy.

ERIC WYNALDA

On leave from his job at Fox Sports as a soccer analyst, Wynalda is a former national team standout who has put in extensive work meeting with Adult and Youth Council voting representatives to turn himself into a credible candidate. Wynalda has leveraged a populist appeal to those who are angriest over the U.S. men’s World Cup qualifying failure and the influence and business relationships of MLS/SUM with U.S. Soccer. Supporters of Wynalda will say he has the soccer chops and the boldness to improve what ails U.S. Soccer the most. Critics will argue that he doesn’t have the temperament or the experience to run an organization effectively.

Ange Postecoglou took Australia through World Cup qualifying

Ange Postecoglou took Australia through World Cup qualifying

Ange Postecoglou took Australia through World Cup qualifying

Ange Postecoglou took Australia through World Cup qualifying (AFP Photo/WILLIAM WEST)

Watch: Christian Pulisic Scores Winning Goal in 89th Minute for Dortmund

It's been quite the week for Christian Pulisic.

He won the U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year honor Thursday and then scored the winning goal for Borussia Dortmund on Saturday in the 89th minute against Hoffenheim.

The 19-year-old from Pennsylvania was able to help his club complete a comeback when he got the ball past the goalkeeper and scored on a touch after knocking the ball in the air to himself. It's his third Bundesliga goal of the season.

With the win Saturday, the club sits at third in the Bundesliga table, 13 points behind league leader Bayern Munich.

Pulisic helped Dortmund to the German Cup this year and aided the U.S. national team during its failed World Cup qualifying campaign.

Watch: Christian Pulisic Scores Winning Goal in 89th Minute for Dortmund

It's been quite the week for Christian Pulisic.

He won the U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year honor Thursday and then scored the winning goal for Borussia Dortmund on Saturday in the 89th minute.

With a touch, he took the ball past the goalkeeper and scored.

It's his third Bundesliga goal of the season.

Pulisic helped Dortmund to the German Cup this year and aided the U.S. national team during its failed World Cup qualifying campaign.

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