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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.