The Big Three: Trio of talkers on U.S. loss to Brazil

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  • Where the big problem on the U.S. back line lies now

Remember when we all sat around straining our brains to fix the gaping hole along the back line, the one at left back? Timmy Chandler came along … and then dumped us like a cheating girlfriend. No matter, though, because Fabian Johnson rode in to the timely rescue. The Hoffenheim man has little wrong over two matches, strong in one-on-one defending, reasonably well positioned, troublesome on the attack, etc.

But there’s still a bugger of a problem back there; the trouble spot just shifted into the middle.

I’ve already written the early, brutal details about Oguchi Onyewu’s night to forget. He was a little better in the second half … until the moment when he was late stepping forward, leaving Tim Howard stranded to stop an unchallenged shot that turned into No. 4.

Carlos Bocanegra still has something to offer, but his speed will become an increasingly liability unless Jurgen Klinsmann can find a quality partner to situate alongside him, one with a little more speed. Maybe it’s Clarence Goodson. Or maybe it can be Cameron with a little more top-level experience.

Either way, the case is being built that it just isn’t Onyewu.

  • The imperfect midfield fix

The United States still has spots that are weak and vulnerable. Center back is not the only one.

The midfield mix was good enough against Scotland, but suffered severely Wednesday. Much of the trouble can be traced to Jermaine Jones, who lost too many balls, took way too long to catch the pace of the game (much faster than Saturdays) and wasn’t in the right spots, providing the requisite cover at the moments his team needed it most.

Meanwhile, Michael Bradley had another strong match. Mostly, at any rate.

More from U.S.-Brazil: 
Match report: United States 1-4 Brazil 
Bradley gets PST’s USMNT Man of the Match

There are times when Bradley didn’t move out of the center channel to pressure (or better yet, forcefully eliminate) a Brazilian advance. It underscores a point I think we’re all learning: he’s not a defensive midfielder. Not that he can’t be serviceable there, but it’s not Bradley’s ideal positioning.

Bradley has evolved into a two-way man, and a darn good one. I know the Jose Torres backers may take issue, but Bradley is the best passer on the U.S. team. His ball into Fabian Johnson to start the U.S. goal was pinpoint perfect. Looking back over his body of work in the U.S. shirt, who can deny what he offers going forward, in arranging goals and scoring them?

The three-man arrangement looked better Saturday when Edu was the holding screener and Bradley’s starting positions were higher up the field. (Wednesday, Edu and Jones played ahead of Bradley in the triangle.)

  • Too much whining, not enough “getting on with it.”

The United States looked a little undone by the early penalty kick decision. Good call or bad, they have to get past it.

Landon Donovan was complaining too much, throwing his arms around when he needed total focus on that bunch of yellow wizards. He must have thought he was back in the L.A. Galaxy uniform; they do a lot of that stuff.

Donovan struggled to get anything going against Marcelo, among the globe’s top left backs, so some frustration may be understandable. Then again, as the most experienced U.S. man, he’s got to provide a better example.

Jones kicked into his bad old habit of lashing out temperamentally, crunching Neymar along the sideline.

Bradley has trimmed that petulant element from his game, and thankfully so. Jones, 30, may be what he is, unable to turn that stuff off at this point. It’s another reason Klinsmann would do well to keep looking for a third central midfielder.

Bottom line: this is big boy soccer, and the stakes will rise dramatically in just over a week. Things won’t always go the U.S. way, and they just have to get on with it.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday