Five points to ponder from U.S.-Antigua & Barbuda

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TAMPA, Fla. – The basic theme from U.S. players and manager Jurgen Klinsmann after Friday’s soggy 3-1 win to open World Cup qualifying: It was far from perfect and needs to get better, but “mission accomplished” just the same.

“We know we have to step it up a lot going into Guatemala, which we’ll do,” Klinsmann said.

All that does sound reasonable enough. Qualifying for a World Cup is a long slog, more marathon than one-game sprint.

Here’s what else I’ll take away from the win over tiny Antigua and Barbuda.

Let’s salute Carlos Bocanegra

Who cares if Carlos Bocanegra, at age 33, it already on the downslope of his pro career? He is so valuable to this team.

Not only is Bocanegra the unquestionable anchor that holds down the U.S. back line (along with co-anchor Steve Cherundolo, I suppose). It was Bocanegra who sneaked around to the back post to get that important, pressure-venting early goal – which the captain himself said just 24 hours earlier would be so critical.

By the way, that was No. 13 for  him in a U.S. shirt, and that ties him with Marcelo Balboa for most career goals among American defenders.

Oh, and he can still play left back in an emergency, too. Clearly.

Landon Donovan remains a valuable contributor – but in spurts

Donovan’s signature bursts of “caffeinated Donovan” helped create two goals: the first half penalty kick and Herculez Gomez’s second half goal of persistence. (Gomez had three bites off the apple of opportunity, staying with the play long enough to get the ultimate reward.)

Still, it’s OK to ask why Donovan can’t be a little more assertive a little more often. That is, in matches like this one. Why can’t the uber-Donovan make a few more appearances? With the L.A. Galaxy man, it’s always about motivation and mindset. I guess he had just enough of it Friday.

How many more chances will Oguchi Onyewu get?

At this point, what’s the point? Seriously. He was in for about 10 minutes when he made complete Raymond James hash of a play that reasonably could be expected to be contained. Peter Byers exposed Onyewu’s failing foot speed and his decision making, stepping around the center back to break in alone on Tim Howard and make the margin just one goal in the second half – not a comfortable place for the Americans.

Klinsmann is always positive, always a glass-half-full kind of guy. But surely that has its limits.

Klinsmann says he knows Onyewu is still “catching up,” after a long series of injuries. “We are not expecting everyone to play perfect games. If there is a mistake, it happens.”

Well, sure. But what if these happenings keep happening?

The sharpness must improve in the final third

Klinsmann said at halftime what everyone in U.S. fan nation (and everyone along press row) was saying throughout the first 45: They need to get their shooting shoes on and aim a couple more efforts toward goal. Klinsmann talked to Dempsey about it during the break; the striker pointed out they were trying to shoot more, but that two or three Antiguan bodies habitually in the way was problematic.

“We created enough chances, but then you’ve got to be clinical enough to put them away,” Klinsmann said.

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s Guatemala test

Tuesday’s match will look nothing like this one … well, unless it’s played in a monsoon. Then it might bear a certain resemblance. But not otherwise.

Antigua was committed defensively, and semi-well organized, at least. Mostly, they just got a lot of numbers back, often in a five-man back line look. Guatemala on Tuesday? As Clint Dempsey said afterward: “I doubt they’ll sit back at home.

We have more on this match:

Here, on Terrrence Boyd

Here, on Jose Torres

Here, on Man of the Match Landon Donovan

Here, on Donovan and Clint Dempsey

And here, on Jozy Altidore’s slippage on the depth chart

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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