Jurgen Klinsmann, Eddie Johnson

Tick, tick – what’s that? The sound of the U.S. attack clicking


For a few minutes on Tuesday, it finally came together. And by a few minutes, I mean almost a full half. Fourteen months of promises that we’d see a different kind of soccer started to manifest into real, tangible results. The emphasis on sharper attacking that had come to the forefront after mixed performances in qualifying finally took hold. From the first movement, when Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson hinted they might be anticipating instead of reacting to each others’ movements, the U.S. Men’s National Team started to transcend the rhetoric.

Given what happened five minutes later (Carlos Ruiz putting Guatemala in front), you can understand why the attack didn’t steal headlines. After coming face-to-face with the reality of elimination, advancing was the big story, not the improvement. In the big picture, however, a huge step forward for Jurgen Klinsmann’s rebuild is a bigger than the qualification of a team that’s habitually in The Hex.

Perhaps it was the frustrations of St. John’s. Maybe three days of hearing their coach’s admonitions sank in. Maybe the team just got tired of know-it-all bloggers chirping. Whatever happened between Friday and Tuesday, it led to a U.S. attack that finally showed what the future might hold.

That future is effort, the type that Herculez Gomez used to win the corner kick ahead of the States’ opening goal. That future is decisiveness, as we saw from Eddie Johnson in creating the second goal. It’s the ability to get people forward, like Michael Bradley did on the third goal. It’s executing the little things in those final, most important moments at the end of attacks, as we saw from Clint Dempsey all night. And perhaps most crucially (as it concerns Klinsmann’s desire to change the foundations), it’s quick, progressive, decisive play throughout the team. Let the actions match the words.

It’s not as if we’ve never seen those qualifies before. But we haven’t seen them used as the team’s foundation. We haven’t seen them leveraged so effectively, so exclusively. Last night U.S. soccer fans were given reason to think a new, more proactive era is close. At least, it’s closer than it looked on Friday.

There are a couple of caveats, though. Since Eddie Johnson was put in the starting lineup, the U.S. has been playing more long balls forward. That first movement I alluded to above? It started with a long ball targeting Dempsey, not that playing a occasional long ball an anathema to what Klinsmass is trying to do. Part of the reason the new coach has been so discouraging of such tactics is the team’s previous dependence on them. It’s hard to claim your being a revolutionary if you turn your head to the ills of the old regime. In this transition phase (perhaps before the U.S.’s backs were against the wall), Klinsmann couldn’t walk that middle ground. In his ideal world, though, he’ll want all weapons at his disposal.

The other caveat that’s already being leaned on, one I completely discard, is the opposition. It’s only Guatemala, you’ll read. It’s not Mexico, as if we need to be reminded that competition in third round qualifying is not the same as The Hex’s.

The reminders need to go the other way. Everybody is aware Guatemala is not an elite soccer nation, but we’re also aware that the U.S.’s changes are a process, something we’ve been reminded of by the series of mixed performances throughout the round. Nobody’s expecting the States to become Germany in 14 months, which is why Tuesday shouldn’t be discounted. If, at next summer’s Gold Cup, the U.S. is still having problems with the Antiguas and Guatemalas in the world, break out the told you sos.

For now, look at that first half and see the future. At least consider it a proof of concept. That performance needs to become the rule rather than the exception, but for one night, the team showed it’s possible. That’s progress.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

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Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]