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)

Sean Dyche signs new contract at Burnley

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Burnley have extended Sean Dyche‘s contract until the summer of 2022.

It is believed the Englishman was on a 12-month rolling contract, but given the Clarets being around the top six for most of this season, plus Dyche linked with previously vacant positions at Everton and Leicester, the Lancashire club have moved to lock down the “Ginger Mourinho” long-term.

Speaking to Burnley’s website about signing the new contract, Dyche, 46, was delighted to commit himself to the Turf Moor club.

“I am quite young in management terms. I am still learning and still improving, I believe, so for my personal reasons, as well, I think it’s the right place to be,” Dyche said. “It’s a very good environment and I enjoy it and I enjoy the connection I’ve had with this area. There’s lots of work to be done, but I’m definitely ‘in’ for the work to be done.”

Dyche has been in charge of Burnley since October 2012 and has led the Clarets to two promotions to the Premier League, building a solid squad and turning his team into a steady PL club while balancing the books. A recent bad run of form has seen Burnley drop to eighth place, but they are still comfortably in line for their best-ever finish in the PL era.

We can get used to hearing Dyche’s gravely voice for many years to come as he now has the chance to build on his success at Burnley.

In the Premier League only Arsene Wenger and Eddie Howe have been in charge of their clubs longer than Dyche, as continuity has bred success at Burnley.

Arnautovic joins Lanzini, Carroll, Antonio on injury list

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Multiple reports claim that Marko Arnautovic could be out for several weeks with a hamstring injury.

West Ham’s striker played the full 90 minutes in their 1-1 draw with Bournemouth last weekend but scans appear to show the Austrian international could spend over three weeks out, according to the London Evening Standard.

The Hammers are already without strikers Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio, plus attacking midfielder Manuel Lanzini who came off against Bournemouth with a hamstring injury and will be out for several weeks.

David Moyes now has to rely heavily on Javier Hernandez, Diafra Sakho and Andre Ayew, all of whom have been linked with moves away.

West Ham face Crystal Palace, Brighton and Watford in their next three Premier League games, as well as facing Wigan in the FA Cup this weekend.

Arnautovic has been flying in recent weeks, with four goals and three assists in his last four appearances in the PL. Lanzini scored twice in the recent win at Huddersfield and the duo have been a main reason why West Ham have climbed to 11th place in the table with just one defeat in their last nine PL games.

Building a team: LAFC kicks off with its first practice

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Diego Rossi drew the attention of scouts worldwide last year while playing a prominent role in Penarol’s championship season in his native Uruguay.

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So why would a touted teenage striker choose to continue his rising career at Los Angeles Football Club, which has never played a game and hasn’t even revealed its jersey?

“To write the history,” Rossi said Monday after the first training session in franchise history.

Nearly 39 months after a deep-pocketed ownership group secured Major League Soccer’s 23rd franchise, LAFC finally took the field on a sunny January morning at UCLA for its inaugural workout under coach Bob Bradley.

The club doesn’t yet have a fully stocked roster or a finished stadium, although both of those projects will be completed shortly. Building a true team will take a bit longer, but Bradley is confident he has a group that can make an immediate impact in the growing North American league.

“I’ve seen a lot of first days, but I thought overall, there were some good signs,” said Bradley, the former boss of Swansea City and the U.S. national team. “Of course, I see all the things that still need work, so there was a little bit of yelling and screaming and demonstrating, but that’s all part of the work every day.”

Bradley is the only coach in MLS history to win a title with an expansion club, leading the Chicago Fire to a championship in 1998. He hasn’t coached in his domestic league since leaving Chivas USA in 2006, but LAFC seems to have the ingredients to build another compelling team immediately .

LAFC might not have jerseys yet, but Rossi’s shorts featured a No. 9, underlining his expected role as the striker. The No. 10 shorts were worn by Carlos Vela, the versatile Mexican playmaker who left La Liga’s Real Sociedad to become LAFC’s first designated player.

Rossi and Vela could be a compelling tandem, but they’re only part of a roster already studded with international talent including Belgian defender Laurent Ciman, Egyptian midfielder Omar Gaber, Costa Rican forward Marco Urena, Ghanaian forward Latif Blessing and Americans Benny Feilhaber and Walker Zimmerman.

“The (other) players’ names come pretty easy to me,” said Feilhaber, a UCLA product who had mixed emotions about leaving Sporting Kansas City after five seasons. “We’re still getting to know each other, but it’s fun to get out on the field with players that are as talented as this. We’re just getting our feet wet, but it’s going to be exciting.”

Gaber played for Bradley on the Egyptian national team, and he was excited when LAFC acquired him from FC Basel in Switzerland’s top league.

“Once they started to speak with me, I felt they are so professional,” Gaber said. “I felt for sure I had to come. Yes, maybe it’s a risk to be with a new club, but we have very good players, coaches and staff. The people are so professional. We have big ambitions, and we want success. I am sure we will achieve good things together.”

LAFC isn’t done building, either.

Rossi filled the club’s second DP spot, but a third remains open. The club hasn’t decided whether to fill it now or after the World Cup, but there’s little doubt LAFC has the financial might to contend for top MLS-level talent.

The club’s resources also will be on display in late April when Banc of California Stadium opens in downtown Los Angeles. Located next-door to the historic Coliseum, LAFC’s privately funded, soccer-specific home is expected to be a festive gathering place for LA’s burgeoning downtown population of relocated professionals and locals alike.

After a handful of preseason friendlies, LAFC will open its first season with six road games, starting in Seattle on March 4 and including its first date with the LA Galaxy on March 31.

“I’m excited about the potential of this club,” Vela said. “I think it’s going to be incredible.”

Chelsea update on transfer deals for Dzeko, Palmeri

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Chelsea are keeping their cards close to their chest when it comes to the potential arrival of Roma duo Edin Dzeko and Emerson Palmeri.

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It has been reported that Chelsea have bid $72.5 million for the pair, with Dzeko, 31, fitting the ball for the target forward they’ve been searching for.

Speaking to the media ahead of Chelsea’s League Cup semifinal second leg at Arsenal on Wednesday, Conte was tight-lipped over the approach for Dzeko and left back Palmeri.

“I don’t know. As you know very well about the transfer market, if there are news the club will inform you,” Conte said.

As for Roma, they have acknowledged that Dzeko, the former Manchester City striker, has been impacted by the talks surrounding his future.

Speaking ahead of their game against Sampdoria on Wednesday, manager Eusebio Di Francesco had the following to say about Dzeko’s future.

“As things stand at the moment, he will. Obviously I’m going to have to assess things and see what frame of mind he’s in. I’ll speak to him about it,” Di Francesco said.

With Roma fighting for the Italian title and in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it’s tough to understand why they would want to offload Dzeko in January. However with Dzeko now 31, Roma could recoup all of the $40 million they paid to Man City (and then some) for the Bosnian forward in 2015. That’s a decent deal for them after getting two-and-a-half seasons and 61 goals in 117 appearances in all competitions (46 goals in 88 Serie A games) from Dzeko.

The man who won the Premier League title twice with Man City may also feel like he has a little left to prove in England as he fell behind Sergio Aguero and many others in the pecking order towards the end of his time at the Etihad Stadium. It is also believed Dzeko will almost double his wages if he moves from Roma to Chelsea.

With Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll mentioned as potential signings for Chelsea as Conte looks for a big man to mix up his attacking options, Dzeko is by far the most prolific name mentioned and he must have previously impressed Chelsea this season after scoring twice against them in a 3-3 Champions League draw at Stamford Bridge in October.

Alvaro Morata is out of form and has struggled with injuries, plus Michy Batshuayi has struggled to deliver whenever he has stepped in so far so this season, getting a reliable back-up striker has become the main aim for a Chelsea side in third place in the Premier League table and still in the FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League.

As for Palmeri, the deal for the Brazilian born left back, 23, will see him become a valuable squad member and add depth at left wing-back with no real options to back up Marcos Alonso. Think of a left-footed Davide Zappacosta who steps in admirably for Victor Moses at right wing-back whenever needed.

With Cesar Apzilicueta now a permanent fixture at center back, Conte needs help at left back, especially as he revealed on Tuesday that a loan deal for Kenedy to Newcastle United is all but complete.