At some point, the goals need to come for the USMNT

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If you’re still basking in the joy of last night’s victory, you may want to come back to this post a little later, because this is where we starting picking things apart. The first stop is attack. After three straight one-goal performances, it’s worth considering whether goal scoring a problem for the United States.

And, of course, there are two ways to look at the issue. The U.S.’s six goals through four qualifiers is tied for third in the region. Only Mexico and El Salvador have scored more in third round play, and with the U.S. closing the round with two games where they’ll be reasonably heavy favorites, you’d expect the States to increase their production.

But that’s the relative view. The absolute view sees one goal performances against Guatemala and Jamaica (twice) and asks what that means for the hex, when competition will be tougher. The only match this round where the U.S. has found multiple goals was hosting Antigua and Barbuda, who lost 3-1 in both Tampa and Guatemala City. Antigua and Barbuda is the least hex-y team in the group.  Can the U.S. expect to increase their production when the games get tougher? That’s usually not how things work.

Subtly concerning: the scorelines against Antigua and Barbuda are not the only similarities between the U.S. and Guatemala. The teams  have identical records, equal numbers of goals scored and allowed, and both lost 2-1 in Jamaica. It’s a faltering comparison for Guatemala, who have never qualified for a World Cup, but the U.S. is trying to make their sixth straight finals. Most fans wouldn’t be happy with insinuations the U.S. is playing at Guatemala’s level.

Back to the one-goal games. Even if the rest of the region were scoring exactly one goal per match, it would still present a tactical problem. As we were reminded in Jamaica, a team doesn’t necessarily need to dominate a game in order to turn around a one-goal deficit. A couple of set pieces, a defensive mistake, or just the fluke nature of the sport could see that lead disappear, particularly if you have to defend it for 89 minutes. Clearly, second goals are good.

So how does the U.S. go about getting more second goals? If we knew that, we’d be on Klinsmann’s staff. But getting Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan healthy will help. If Klinsmann and Jozy Altidore can find a role for the prolific AZ man, that would help, too. And once he’s fully settled in at Tottenham, Clint Dempsey will improve (though goal scoring wasn’t a problem for him this week).

The biggest issue might come back to style. On Tuesday, the U.S. generated a number of chances on Dwayne Miller but still weren’t able to get an open play goal. It’s something we’ve seen throughout Klinsmann’s tenure: The Arsenal-esque inability to convert good build up into goals.

The answer may be something Klinsmann told Monica Gonzalez at halftime on Tuesday. He wanted his team to play faster, to pass and moved with a higher tempo. In theory, that would help alleviate one of the issues faced by teams who rely on short passing to build play: Allowing the defense time to set up (regain their shape) as they’re being pushed back. Get rid of the ball quicker, run into the spaces before your defenders get there, and you’ll start taking advantage of the style.

All of that comes down to comfort in the system. The U.S. has gotten used to what Klinsmann wants, but they’re not experts, yet. We’re still not seeing the off-the-ball movement that opens up defenses. We’re still not seeing quick passes being strung together. We’re still not seeing a familiarity with each others’ movements.

Even though we’re over one month into the Klinsmann era, these things are still going to take time. The U.S. hasn’t played many matches that have mattered. Now, with the pressure of World Cup qualifying, the learning process accelerates.

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