United States-Russia: What we learned from Wednesday’s draw

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A 2-2 draw might slightly flatter Jurgen Klinsmann’s team, but a road draw against a quality European team is always a good result for the United States.

Tim Howard and Michael Bradley were the stars of this one, which went all kinds of sideways in the feeble first 30 minutes. But the U.S. gamely regrouped, providing room for Bradley to hit a fabulous equalizer and later for late sub Mix Diskerud to claim a late leveler once the Americans had slipped behind again.

Here are the important, early elements we can take away from Wednesday’s draw with Russia in Krasnodar.

(MORE: Man of the Match, Michael Bradley)

This is not Guatemala or Antigua or …

We have all spent so much time over the last few months analyzing matches, dissecting the collective performance and the individual abilities in varying situations. But here’s the rub:

The games are getting more difficult. So are the choices.

The lesser CONCACAF teams have been dispatched. The opposition in World Cup qualifiers ahead will be closer to Russian in terms of collective ability. And they will ruthlessly punish mistakes – just like Wednesday.

Young Danny Williams, for instance, seems to have taken hold of the central, holding midfield position. And he has previously performed those duties adequately against … Guatemala and against Antigua and Barbuda, etc.  But these are better players, faster, stronger, more tactically astute. And under the guidance of better managers. Fabio Capello may not have gotten it done for England, but he’s certainly got something between his soccer ears.

Wednesday, the young midfielder looked overwhelmed.

Here’s another good “for instance:” We saw Eddie Johnson excel in a wide role, roughly the same role where Herculez Gomez failed to make an imprint in the first-half Wednesday. But we simply cannot make too much of Johnson’s performance against such unequal competition.

In some ways, we can take a lot of what we learned in the last qualifying round and toss it out. The stakes are rising – and so is the quality of opposition.

Center backs. We are still talking about center backs …

Geoff Cameron did enough in his latest start centrally. We can nitpick here and there – a few too many “thump aways” that needed be controlled and spun into attacker starters, for instance. But generally, Cameron was solid against a quality bunch.

Past that? Just not good enough – to the point of being alarming

The midfield shape and performance left the American back line with lots to do, admittedly. (More on that below.) Still …

Carlos Bocanegra started but soon left injured. Coming in cold was no easy assignment for Clarence Goodson, but he was still erring late in the match, after plenty of time to warm up, adjust and take control.

Rather, he gave the ball away too much, sometimes too casually, lost his position too often and gave away a potentially devastating penalty kick (at a moment when Howard seemed to have the situation covered).

Is Goodson still the U.S. third choice center back? That’s probably the bigger question. Omar Gonzalez, not available for this one due to MLS playoffs, cannot get back into the U.S. fold quickly enough.

The three-man midfield still a work in progress.

Results have been mixed, at best, when Jurgen Klinsmann deploys some version of a 4-3-3, using three across the middle who are more or less defensive-minded. It seems to work at home when Bradley’s starting positions are slightly more advanced, where he can perform a little more as a playmaker and linker, a little less as a redundant defensive screener.

(Actually, the three man midfield probably isn’t going to work at all , in any form or alignment lean, if Bradley isn’t in the mix. Again, I say, he’s the most important U.S. man these days, not Clint Dempsey, not Landon Donovan and not Howard.)

(MORE: Video of Bradley’s breakthrough goal)

But on the road, when all three midfielders are saddled with heavy defensive duty, it tends to fall apart. As we saw in some of the qualifiers, the shape and organization can get shoddy. Where is the pressure and where is the support? Who is tracking whom? Who is organizing?

Williams, for his talent and potential, may not be the commanding presence to hold things together and ask teammates to be accountable. And we can ask questions about whether he gets too timid in the 50-50 challenges.

Distribution out of the back looks untidy — but some of that is down to midfield shape, where outlets seem less available than they should be. It seems to be all improvisation, less plan and pattern.

Important point here: Maurice Edu certainly has his flaws as a midfielder. But the moment he replaced Williams in the second half, things began to look more settled and organized. He wasn’t getting drawn out of position as Williams was.

He looked like the leader that Williams, 23, isn’t quite ready to be.

(MORE to come from ProSoccerTalk, including thoughts on Josh Gatt, who earned his first U.S. cap Wednesday)

AT HALF: Gabbiadini puts Saints up; Foxes lead (video)

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Five Premier League matches are sandwiched between Manchester United’s early demolition of Swansea City and a 12:30 p.m. ET kickoff between Stoke and Arsenal on NBC.

[ STREAM: 10 a.m. ET matches ]

Southampton 2-1 West Ham United

Saints are up a man and a goal after Nathan Redmond found Manolo Gabbiadini for a classy early finish, and Marko Arnautovic was sent off for a needless elbow to the neck of Jack Stephens.

Dusan Tadic converted a penalty on his 100th Premier League appearance, getting his 15th goal following a Jose Fonte foul on Steven Davis. Call it a gift from the longtime Saints defender to his former club.

Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez netted his first West Ham goal when Fraser Forster pushed Michail Antonio‘s left-footed shot onto the path of the Mexican national team star.

Burnley 0-0 West Bromwich Albion

Ben Foster‘s nice save on Johann Berg Gudmundsson keeps it scoreless at the break.

Liverpool 0-0 Crystal Palace

It’s no surprise that the Reds look the better money for a win, but a finish hasn’t come yet.

Bournemouth 0-0 Watford

Not much cooking at the home of the Cherries.

Leicester City 1-0 Brighton and Hove Albion

It took less than a minute for Shinji Okazaki to put the 2015-16 Premier League champions ahead of the newly-promoted Gulls.

VIDEO: Christian Pulisic scores Dortmund’s first goal of the season

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The kid just can’t help himself, can he?

Christian Pulisc, still just 18 years old, scored Borussia Dortmund’s opening goal of their Bundesliga campaign at Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

The U.S. national team star picked up the ball on the edge of the box and smashed home across goal, hitting the far post before the ball hit the back of the net.

Take a look at the video below to see the Pennsylvanian playmaker strutting his stuff for Dortmund.

Who needs Ousmane Dembele anyway?

Jose Mourinho: Man United “let the horses run freely”

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This season we will get used to seeing Jose Mourinho nodding his head in approval as it looks like he has a nasty smell under his nose.

[ VIDEO: United destroy Swansea

The Portuguese coach is feeling his Manchester United team, and rightly so, and images before the game show him pretending to smoke a cigar as he laughed and joked with Swansea boss Paul Clement.

Mourinho watched on as his side won 4-0 for the second-straight game to open the 2017-18 Premier League season, with a flurry of late goals in a three minute and 41 second spell doing the damage.

Speaking after the game Mourinho to BBC, the Red Devils boss is happy to let his side roam free after they dominated the game.

“During almost 90 minutes, I don’t say 90 because there was a moment when they had a chance and we lost a little bit the confidence,” Mourinho said. “They were waiting with class, calm and consistency for the moment to kill the game. Swansea played with five in the back and they had a moment when they felt they had to change and when they did we had more space and killed the game.

“I felt in control, if you had a chance to look at me and my body language I think you could see that. Football is football and when you make a mistake you can concede so I never felt totally relaxed. I had players on the bench who could help me. Happiness in our play. It happened to me so much with my teams, you winning 1-0 and you can can concede. There was no need to close the door, just let the horses run freely.”

One of those horses who galloped gallantly was Paul Pogba who dinked home a wonderful goal late on to make it 3-0 and he put in a dominant display with Romelu Lukaku (four goals in three official games for United) and Anthony Martial also scoring and Marcus Rashford once again impressing.

“We had a very good result. 4-0 again. We carry on this road. We want this and we have to carry on like this,” Pogba told Sky Sports. “We are more confident and we know each other more. First year you have the first year for the manager, you have to train the team, it is not easy but we still won trophies. This season we are more confident and we know the team very well. Everyone knows each other and we work for each other and that is easier for us.”

Henrik Mkhitaryan, who was named the man of the match with two assists late on, believes United are now getting some more luck after they drew plenty of games they should have won last season.

“The team spirit, that’s what we need. Of course we had it last year but now we have a little bit of luck where we are scoring the chances we are creating. We started very well and most important we keep doing the same,” Mkhitaryan added.

VIDEO: Man United score three in less than four minutes

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It took 3 minutes and 41 seconds for Manchester United to totally destroy Swansea City.

Leading 1-0 at Swansea as they entered the final 10 minutes, Jose Mourinho’s side were always in control.

Then they exploded into life.

[ RECAP – United batter Swansea 4-0

Henrikh Mkhitaryan set up Romelu Lukaku (he has three goals in his first two Premier League games for United) and Paul Pogba in a few moments, watch their goals in the video above, then Anthony Martial finished things off with a fine goal.

Click play on the video below to see Martial score for the second-straight game off the bench.