The Big Three: trio of talkers in U.S. romp over Scotland

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There will be more analysis to come; for now, let’s talk about the three major take-aways from a real eye-opener.

(See first-half notes here for more PST analysis.)

Transition game is flying high

We really should start here: Scotland is somewhere south of “just OK” at the moment, I mean, not to be rude, but … yeah.

So let’s filter all this, put a small governor on the engine as we all race to Vegas with fists full of cash to bet “United States to make the World Cup semifinal!”

Still, it really was something else to see the United States overwhelm, completely dominate a mid-level European side. This is what American sides do to CONCACAF minnows. Usually, anyway. But not European teams whose rosters are stocked with players from top-tier UEFA associations.

It wasn’t just the score that matters – it was the stylistic manner of achievement.

I’ve never seen the United States transition into attack so quickly. The American players raced aggressively, confidently into position upon gaining the ball.  It really does make for a more entertaining visual. More importantly in the bigger picture, it can be very effective, especially in breaking down those CONCACAF underdogs who sit back, parking-the-bus style.

And that’s not an easy thing to accomplish, to fashion a system around just a few shared practices over nine months. It’s surely a credit to coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who has apparently put the emphasis in all the right places.

Said Landon Donovan: “The three guys in the middle really did a great job of moving and passing quickly. It really made it easy for Jose and myself wide. When you get that much space out there, you’re going to score eventually.”

Landon Donovan, of course … but there was another eye-popping performance

Donovan will earn all the Man of the Match mentions, and rightly so. His hat trick was just the start; the program’s all-time leading scorer was a direct contributor on the other two goals, as well.

But Michael Bradley’s night deserves special mention, too. He was an absolute force in midfield, with the ball and without it.

When you hit a goal like Bradley’s, a sublime half-volley highlight-maker that curled beautifully into goal, and that’s not even the man’s most significant contribution of the night, that says so much.

But it was, indeed, his overall body of work that helped manufacture such a night of overwhelming soccer. His tackling was forceful but prudent; the tendency to collect needless cards was something he needed to prune away from his game. Saturday, Bradley managed it beautifully, seeing the passing lanes and stepping into them and directing the team on when to press collectively and when to sit back and organize.

With the ball, he was the best at moving possession quickly, creating the tick-tick-tick connections that slowly degrade a defense. Again, don’t underestimate how important that will be against teams that dig in defensively; quick transition is so often the key to getting around those sides, speeding past them before they organize defensively.

Also file under “good performances”

Fabian Johnson may just make everyone forget about Timmy Chandler after all. Again, Scotland wasn’t the toughest of tests; Brazil is a different level, a challenge now dangling just days away.

And eventually, Johnson will need to be even more assertive in the offensive end; that 4-3-3 Klinsmann deployed Saturday depends on fullbacks for width in the final third. For his starting debut, however, Johnson did plenty.

Terrence Boyd doesn’t always make the best choices near goal, a measure of his youth and inexperience. But he’ll learn. For now, there’s so much to like, so very much upside in his energy, enthusiasm and ability to find great spots.

Maurice Edu was positioned perfectly all night, embracing his duties of “screen and distribute.” We’d probably be talking about how well Jermaine Jones performed two-way duty, except that Bradley’s blue ribbon work partially obscures some of the good doings of his central midfield mate. Truly, all three men in the U.S. triangle were on top of things.

Jose Torres had his moments, creative and quick — although he did seem stronger in the first 30 minutes than in the last hour.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

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