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U.S. under-23s: If the London-bound train gets back on track, they’ll need reinforcement

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Putting the ol’ cart before the horse is part of the human condition. We just can’t resist.

So we talked at will of over-aged players for the U.S. under-23 side, which we always presumed would become the U.S. Olympic side – and would therefore be positioned to summon its three, permissible over-aged incredibles.

Well, that cart and the horse went off in a ditch Saturday.

It’s just a ditch, though; nobody spilled fully over a cliff here. There’s time and opportunity to put things right tonight, move into Kansas City this weekend and book a sweaty passage to London, even if the mission is tougher today than it seemed Saturday afternoon.

Should things go horribly askew this evening and the United States fail to move forward, we’ll fill up pages with second-guess discussion points.

But bummer of bummers: supporters and media will be denied their given right to discuss and debate these over-aged selections. What a shame, too, because this is a trusty favorite of quadrennial talking points for domestic soccer fans.  It’s a real-life opportunity to play fantasy sports: you study the team, pick apart its weaker points and add feel good about adding the necessary reinforcement.

I’m quite sure Caleb Porter will appreciate the assistance.

So we cannot be denied this chance!

Especially today, as we know much more about where those three over-aged spots should go. Two qualifying matches have taught us so much.

Assumption: Landon Donovan and / or Clint Dempsey would be needed to beef up the attack, to add some veteran wile and big game experience.

Confirmation: And how. Coaches will tell you that skills get you only so far. The game requires problem solving. It’s one of the things that make soccer unique. Timeouts in basketball and the very nature of football make those a “coach’s game.” In soccer, the man on the bench can only do so much once the referee blows his whistle. The players must think their way around the chessboard. The must quickly assess: What’s working on a given day? Where are the spaces to exploit? Where are the matchup problems? Who is “feeling it.”

Potential resolution: Donovan and Dempsey possess that faculty. And, of course, they own world class ability, as well.

Assumption: Center back was an issue. Carlos Bocanegra (above right) would be required.

Confirmation: Yup.

A veteran center back seems an absolute must. But should it be Bocanegra? This one deserves further thought.

The longtime U.S. international could clearly assist back there, adding much needed organization, leadership and plenty of solid tackling. On the other hand, he’ll be 33 by this summer. His shrewd positioning can help him mitigate a clear speed advantage some of the young blazers will enjoy – but he’ll still be exposed here and there.

Plus, this will be a busy summer to the Rangers man. He’ll surely be involved in U.S. World Cup qualifying contests. And who knows what might happen with Rangers, the fiscally fallen Scottish giants, now on the verge of financial ruin? A huge summer sale-off of big contracts (like Bocanegra’s) seems imminent. Not only will Bocanegra need time to change clubs and get himself established at a new address, he’ll need some time off during the summer. And that seems difficult if he’s busy leading the London effort.

Potential resolution: Geoff Cameron or Clarence Goodson.

Assumption: The midfield is solid, so the over-aged spots can be dispersed elsewhere.

Confirmation: Not so much.

The “Mix” was off Saturday, in more ways than one. Canada’s stacked midfield reduced Mix Diskerud’s influence as a linking presence. Further, the midfield never really found its rhythm or basic construction; credit Canada’s diligence and frustrating tactics for some of that.

Jared Jeffrey as the lone holding man never adjusted accordingly, never “found” the game he was in, giving away too many balls and failing to make a difference on the attack.

Potential resolution: Where is the United States’ particularly strong at the full international level? Central midfield. So, Michael Bradley, anyone? For that matter, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu or Kyle Beckerman might move things in the right direction.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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