World Cup excitement — can you feel it yet?

Well, perhaps not, and much of that is due to an unusual schedule change: For the first time in history, the World Cup will not be a summer tournament.

Even with the change, however, the United States men’s national team is marking its return to the competition for the first time since 2014. Three friendlies this summer, starting with tonight’s match against Morocco, are the final games the team will play on home soil ahead of the World Cup.

Does this mean the American players who shine in these friendlies will claim spots on the team plane to Qatar? Of course not, but these games will go a long way toward those final roster decisions (though it’s likely former Union star Brenden Aaronson is a lock).

The Inquirer’s Jonathan Tannenwald is on site with all the latest news.

— Andrea Canales, @phillysport, sports.daily@inquirer.com.

❓Will the USMNT triumph over Morocco? What’s your score prediction? Email us back for a chance to be featured in the newsletter.

Fleet Street

It is possible that the United States men’s national team gets more respect from peers abroad than from some of its own fans.

While a certain number of supporters were so devastated by the USMNT missing out on the 2018 World Cup that they’re now seemingly afraid to believe that the squad might be decent, opponents seem to have no such qualms. Morocco’s Romain Saiss described the American team, for example, as having “quality players.”

Jonathan Tannenwald has insight from both the USA and Morocco camps ahead of the international friendly in Cincinnati.

Next: U.S. vs. Morocco, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2, UniMas, TUDN).

Are the big leagues next for Appel?

Mark Appel was going to be a star. The Astros counted on it by selecting the nation’s top college pitcher with the first pick in the 2013 draft. But it didn’t work out that way and the guy taken ahead of Kris Bryant, Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge never reached the major leagues. Nine years later, with his 31st birthday on the horizon, Appel is just enjoying playing baseball as a reliever for triple-A Lehigh Valley and might just make the bigs after all with the Phillies.

The Phillies are pushing back on minor-leaguers’ criticism of their housing plan, insisting hotel rooms are necessary because of the limited availability of apartments.

We all know that the Phillies’ bullpen has had its struggles this season. Phillies relievers have the eighth-highest ERA in baseball (4.23) and rank third in walks (91). Pitching coach Caleb Cotham says it would help immensely if they would get ahead in counts.

Yet again in what is becoming an epic losing streak, the Phillies lost it late.

Next: The Phillies wrap up their series against the Giants at 6:05 p.m. Wednesday (NBCSP). Aaron Nola (2-4, 3.56 ERA) will start against Giants left-hander Carlos Rodon (4-4, 3.60).

Embiid’s summer of recovery begins

After the healthiest regular season of his professional career, Joel Embiid suffered several injuries during the 76ers’ postseason run, including a torn ligament in his right thumb and a concussion and orbital bone fracture. That combination of injuries hampered Embiid in the Sixers’ playoff series against the Miami Heat and contributed to his team’s second-round exit.

Now that the Sixers are in the dead of the offseason, Embiid has started to receive the corrective procedures necessary to start his road to recovery. The big man underwent surgery on his right thumb and had a separate procedure to repair an injury to his left index finger. There will be more injury updates to come after a taxing postseason.

Next: The Brooklyn Nets will determine Wednesday whether they want to keep the Sixers’ first-round pick or defer to next year.

Worth a look

Happiness matters most: Penn swimmer Lia Thomas has heard all the whispers and rumors about why she transitioned and she’s now speaking out on her reasons.

Jimmy Buckets: Sixers fans should lament, Mike Sielski writes, because Butler may indeed be the ultimate competitor that got away.

Didn’t see it coming: The airwaves are a-changing, as Mike Missanelli and his namesake program are going off the air.

What you’re saying about Joe Girardi, still

The Phillies keep losing, and readers keep having thoughts on manager Joe Girardi. Here’s a sampling.

If I’ve learned anything in my 43-years in business it’s - an organization is successful if, and only if, the top management is ‘expert’ in their business; tuned in to the times; prepares for the future with reality, not hope; treats employees fairly; listens to suggestions; creates a working environment that stimulates and provokes thought and contribution.

These concepts are, and have been, absent from the Philadelphia Phillies corporation for years. Jettisoning Joe Girardi is akin to IBM firing a department manager when the company is on the verge of filing a Chapter VII. Joe isn’t even a symptom of the Phillies’ ills. What happened to the Farm System that was the envy of MLB? Defense, plus pitching - both starting and relieving - has been assigned a back-seat, vis-a-vis, the slugger-nation of offense. Player talent evaluation is abysmal, it runs neck-and-neck with the team’s management talent. Keep Joe, fire Joe, the results will remain the same. Next man up? — Richard S.

He is a lousy manager. But it is not all his fault. DD has not fixed the bullpen and some of these sluggers should never play in the field. The Phillies’ future is dim. — Wendell I.

We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Jonathan Tannenwald, Mike Sielski, Rob Tornoe, Scott Lauber, Alex Coffey, Gina Mizell, and Keith Pompey.