The World Cup qualifying effort is back on track

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Was it all a bunch of wasted worry? Was all the teeth gnashing, nervous tummy tumbling and nail biting all so unnecessary after all?

The United States’ World Cup qualifying effort, looking unsteady and unbalanced for a few days, is back on solid ground following a 1-0 win over Jamaica in Columbus.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s men were dominant for 65 minutes. In fact, dominant doesn’t tell the story as the United States completed a stunning 91 percent of its first half passes against a Jamaican team that sat in a surprisingly passive and defensive crouch. An otherworldly combo of post- and crossbar-rattlers (three of them in the first 45) and spectacular stuff from Reggae Boyz goaltender Dwayne Miller kept the United States out of goal before the break.

(MORE: Highlights from last night’s match)

Finally, Herculez Gomez scored unquestionably his biggest goal in a U.S. shirt – and probably the biggest U.S. goal since Landon Donovan’s late strike against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. That was the breakthrough – and the United States is now tied atop the group once again, along with Guatemala and Jamaica.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match, Herculez Gomez)

The job isn’t done, but Klinsmann’s kids do have two winnable matches remaining, at Antigua and Barbuda and then back at home against Guatemala. Both games are in October.

More on those later. For now, here are 10 talking points on Tuesday’s massive win.

1.  – If U.S. fans feel a bit conflicted about this one, it’s about those final 20 minutes, when the United States lost initiative, backing off following the breakthrough goal. Some was down to Jamaica pressing higher, but the response just wasn’t as convincing as it needed to be.

2.  – Clearly not satisfied with his things from last Friday, Klinsmann made five changes in the lineup, introducing Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams, Graham Zusi and Jose Torres.

3.  – Check marks on the U.S. side for Geoff Cameron, Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Williams, Zusi and Herculez Gomez. All had convincing nights. Cameron’s work was particularly unimpeachable, and Cherundolo was near-perfect against Luton Shelton, a man much faster that the U.S. right back.

4.  – Torres, a polarizing figure among U.S. fans, did nothing like the night he needed. The U.S. left-sided midfielder wasn’t bad – but it simply wasn’t enough in a night of U.S. dominance. And isn’t this (“not enough”) always the story with Torres? Klinsmann even said as much last week. For all the U.S. possession, Torres just never manufactured the big moment in the final third. Zusi, playing Torres’ equal on the opposite side in the U.S. 4-4-2, managed to make things happen in ways Torres never did. Plus, the ball often slows down when it reaches Torres (and Jermaine Jones, too, for that matter.) Torres was removed after 65 minutes. If he was running out of chances before, where does leave him now?

5.  – Jones? What does Klinsmann see in him? Please submit answers to ProSoccerTalk HQ.

6.  – Even before Gomez’s crucial goal, his free kicks were impressive, creating threatening U.S. chances. His first-half ball into Jones (Jones!) was deadeye perfect; The U.S. midfielder whiffed on the header from top of the six-yard box when he had perfect inside position on his man. (Seriously, Jones is still more liability than asset. The only way the United States was ever going to lose was for Jones to do something stupid and red-card worthy. I said on Twitter in the first half that exact thing – and put the chances at 27 percent.)

7.  – The Cherundolo-Zusi combo was flat out devastating in the first 45. They looked like they had been playing together since YMCA soccer in grade school. Zusi had the first U.S. chance, banging one off the cross bar in the 6th minute. Meanwhile, Cherundolo was adding so much more push up the right side that just wasn’t there on Friday.

8.  – Williams was the primary holding man in a 4-4-2 and had his best night in the U.S. shirt by a long way. That shouldn’t be so surprising since that’s his position in Germany; Klinsmann, with a wealth of central midfielders has usually played Williams out wide. I think we just saw that change. If so, one of the usual central midfielders is odd man out, either Jones, Maurice Edu or Kyle Beckerman.

9.  – Not so sharp? Clint Dempsey did what he could, but his touch and timing are clearly not Dempsey-esque. You really have to wonder about the choice to play him all 90 minutes Tuesday, especially after he went all 90 tough minutes on Friday. That man was wiped out by the 60th minute in Columbus by the look of it.

9a.  – Bocanegra was similarly stale. Not bad, just not World Cup qualifier sharp, with a bad choice here and there while bringing the ball out of the back. And he got dragged out of position once, stranding Cameron behind him as Jamaica buzzed in dangerously.

10.  – In the last 20 minutes the United States looked nervous as schoolboys at the junior high dance. Credit for the three points, which was always the bottom line. Still, you’d like to see the American manage things better late, more convincingly nursing home the 1-goal margins. Maybe that’s a nitpick, but it’s not much of one.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.

Alaves eyes upset of Barcelona in Copa del Rey final

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) The final of the Copa del Rey pits Barcelona’s star power against a tiny Basque Country club whose biggest weapons are its grit and gnawing hunger for a taste of glory.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Win or lose, Alaves is savoring the cup final on Saturday as the perfect finish to its first season back in Spain’s topflight in an decade.

[ MORE: Three key battles ahead of Chelsea-Arsenal FA Cup final ]

But to have a chance of winning the first major trophy in its 96-year history, Alaves’ ragtag collection of journeymen has to be squeezed of every ounce of effort by coach Mauricio Pellegrino to upset the cup-holders led by Lionel Messi.

One statistic illustrates how daunting their task will be: Messi, all by himself, has scored exactly as many goals as the entire Alaves squad this season, with 53 across all competitions.

“We will need to play a very complete match to have a chance, but we are a team that always competes to the maximum,” said Pellegrino, who is completing a noteworthy first season with the club.

The final will be the last competitive match at Atletico Madrid’s Vicente Calderon Stadium. An exhibition match the next day will be its farewell before demolition.

The final will also be the last match for departing Barcelona coach Luis Enrique, who could bow out with a third straight Copa del Rey.

Here are some reasons Alaves can believe in an upset for the ages:

DONE IT BEFORE

Alaves has already toppled Barcelona this season.

A shocking 2-1 victory at Camp Nou on Sept. 10 was Alaves’ first win since its return to the first division following 10 years in the second and third tiers.

That surprise victory set it on its way to overachieving all campaign. It reached the Copa del Rey final by defeating the more talented Celta Vigo in the semifinals, and finished the league in a meritorious ninth place.

The bad news is that Barcelona showed no mercy back in Vitoria, where Luis Suarez scored twice in a 6-0 rout.

NO SUAREZ

But Suarez won’t be available for Barcelona on Saturday, when he serves a one-game suspension after being sent off during the semifinals against Atletico Madrid.

Luis Enrique could start Paco Alcacer in his place up front alongside Messi and Neymar.

OLD AND YOUNG

Alaves is not devoid of talent.

The 19-year-old right back Theo Hernandez, who is playing on loan from Atletico, is drawing rave reviews and interest from European powerhouses, including Real Madrid.

Marcos Llorente, a 22-year-old Madrid reserve player also on loan, has impressed as a defensive midfielder.

Captain Manu Garcia, at 31, is the only player who has been with the team through its rise from the third tier in 2013.

“Our coaches are telling us that by working as a team just like we have all year, we have a chance to win,” Garcia said.

OH SO CLOSE

Alaves came ever so close to winning the 2001 UEFA Cup when it defied expectations in its first European campaign by reaching the final against Liverpool.

Jordi Cruyff, son of Dutch great Johann Cruyff, scored late to level the thriller at 4-4 and force extra time, only for Alaves to succumb on an own goal by Delfi Geli.

“I want our fans to enjoy the day,” Garcia said. “I remember (the final in) Dortmund from when I was young. I have many memories of that day and that’s why I ask our fans to be proud of Alaves, and that they make the Calderon into our stadium because that is what we will need it to be.”

MLS at Week 13: Rivalries all around, TFC goes for eight games unbeaten

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Week 13 is here and we’ve got ourselves some pretty tasty matchups, after the weekend got off to a fast start on Thursday night when the Chicago Fire downed FC Dallas.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings — Week 13 ]

Meanwhile, the match of the weekend likely comes in the form of Toronto FC taking on the Columbus Crew, as Greg Vanney’s side puts their seven-match unbeaten run on the line at BMO Field.

Several other intriguing fixtures, including multiple rivalries, will take place as well, particularly in the Pacific Northwest as the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers do battle.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew — 7 p.m. EDT on Friday

It’s been seven straight matches for the Eastern Conference leaders since they last lost and Toronto FC has become the clear favorite to hoist MLS Cup through the opening two months-plus. Of course that can change in the blink of an eye. We’ve seen that with the Crew as of late, who started out hot before losing four out of their last six and falling to fifth in the East.

Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers — 2:30 p.m. EDT on Saturday

There’s nothing like a Cascadia Cup match. Although both clubs aren’t exactly up to par at the moment, it’s still a rivalry match. That has to mean something, right?

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. D.C. United — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Whitecaps have picked up some steam lately, winning three of their last four, and unfortunately for D.C. they haven’t had any similar fortunes. Ben Olsen’s group are at the bottom of the East, and had it not been for the Rapids there would probably be more attention on how poorly they are playing.

New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Jesse Marsch’s club picked up an important tie against a red-hot Toronto last time out, but now they’ll meet a familiar rival on Saturday as they try to get back to winning ways. Meanwhile, the Revs have played significantly better as of late, scoring six goals in their two most recent outings.

Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Simply put, they only good thing the Rapids have on their side is that the match is at home, where the team has captured both of their wins this season. Sporting KC, meanwhile, continues to tear it up at the top of the West.

Minnesota United vs Orlando City — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

Orlando has come back down to earth recently, so it’s time for Jason Kreis and co. to reset. Adrian Heath and the Loons continue to suffer through the growing pains of being a new side, something Kreis can relate to from his time in New York, but Minnesota has shown positive signs during the young season.

Real Salt Lake vs. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Union are looking really good as of late, and the winners of four straight could very well keep it up on the road against RSL, who have struggled to pick up results for much of the season.

San Jose Earthquakes vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. EDT on Saturday

The Cali Clasico takes shape at Avaya Stadium as both west coast sides look for bragging rights out west.

Atlanta United vs. New York City FC — 5 p.m. EDT on Sunday

It was Patrick Vieira’s side that got the best of Atlanta when the two clubs met a few weeks back, and it’s bad news for Tata Martino’s men as NYCFC has caught more steam as they continue to rack up positive results in the Eastern Conference.

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo — 8 p.m. EDT on Sunday

We’ve got ourselves a Texas Derby down in Dallas, and this could be quite the interesting matchup as both sides enter Sunday on a bit of a downturn. It’s evident both clubs have exciting offensive firepower but which side will come out on top?

Emre Can’s insane bicycle kick wins 16/17 PL Goal of the Season

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It was about as good a finish as you’ll see in any season, and Emre Can was properly rewarded by the Premier League for his efforts.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

The Liverpool midfielder won PL Goal of the Season on Friday for his audacious and seemingly impossible bicycle kick against Watford.

The goal came off a routine cross from Lucas Leiva into the Hornets penalty area, but what Can did next was simply astonishing as contorted his body and acrobatically finished an overhead kick that was the talk of the PL for the rest of the season.

Can, 23, finished the 2016/17 PL season with five goals in 31 matches for Jurgen Klopp‘s side but none can compare to what he achieved at Vicarage Road.