Flashes and questions define Josh Gatt’s U.S. debut

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It was long awaited, but on Wednesday, we finally saw Josh Gatt’s U.S. Men’s National Team debut. The 21-year-old winger, much-discussed among USMNT fans since making his mark in Norway, started on the right in Russia, slotting in on the attack’s right in Jurgen Klinsmann’s 4-3-3.

Making his debut – on the road, against tough opposition – you’d expect Gatt to struggle. At times he did, but the bigger picture was an encouraging if mixed bag. Against a team that’s in the middle of an impressive qualifying run, Gatt was able to show a number of qualities that could position him as an alternative to Brek Shea. With the effort and awareness he showed over his 63 minutes, Gatt already looks like a good late-match (defensive) option for CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying.

MORE: What we learned from the U.S.’s trip to Russia

Here’s the good, the bad of Josh Gatt’s senior national team debut:

PLUS COLUMN

Speed, width, movement – Oh my, an actual wide player. Where did this come from?

Since the start of World Cup qualifying – when we began seeing less of Brek Shea on the left – we haven’t seen true wide players for the U.S.  Gatt, however, provided a legitimate wide (if imperfect) presence on the right, showing flashes against a opposing player (Dmitri Kombarov) who, as a converted midfielder, was more than capable of following him up-and-down the flank.

Gatt also added some much-needed speed to a team which lacks attackers who can blow by a defense. Twice Gatt was able to get on balls lofted behind the defense, and while Russia’s back line isn’t known for its light feet, the Molde winger would be one of the U.S.’s better options against similarly vulnerable defenses.

Ability to move across the pitch – Thirty minutes in, Gatt left his right wing and moved to the left, with Klinsmann’s front three of Gatt, Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore showing more fluidity than we’re used to seeing from U.S. attackers. Early in the second half, Gatt was even seen dropping back for a ball from a central position, hinting he may be able to challenge the slower players that tend to occupy a team’s central defense.

Defending –  We saw it in the third minute. As the U.S. defense pushed after a corner, a ball was swung in from Russia’s right targeting a man that seemed open wide of the far post. Gatt, however, made up the ground and helped kill an opportunity before it came off, effort that was saw replicated throughout his hour of play.

MORE: USMNT Man of the Match – Michael Bradley

MINUS COLUMN

First touch – Like his teammates, Gatt was having trouble managing the passes played to him. At one point early in the first half, a pass up to him went right off his foot and out of bounds for a Russian throw in. It could have been the ball, the field, or the conditions – who knows? For whatever reason, the U.S. had trouble with their first touch. Gatt was no exception.

No aggression in attack – His runs off the ball? Some where very good. With the ball, Gatt showed no aggression. There were multiple times where he had his many isolated and should have taken him on. It never happened. Once, it seemed Gatt was setting up to attack Kombarov, but got the ball caught in his feet. That happens to everybody, but on Wednesday, it was exemplified Gatt’s attacking contributions.

No crossing – Near half time, Gatt got a ball wide of Kombarov and had a perfect chance to take a touch toward the goal line before putting in a cross. Instead, he cut the ball back to the middle. It was the most egregious but not only time Gatt avoided playing a ball into the box.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.

Wenger called ref Dean “not honest,” “a disgrace” to earn ban

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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accused a referee of being “not honest” and called him “a disgrace” in a rant inside the match officials’ changing room that led to a three-match touchline ban for one of English soccer’s most experienced coaches.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

The English Football Association published Tuesday the written reasons behind its decision to ban Wenger for being abusive toward referee Mike Dean after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Dec. 31.

In his match report given to the FA, Dean said Wenger “was pointing aggressively at me saying, ‘You’re not honest’ on numerous occasions.” Dean then said Wenger said “you’ve done this to us many times before, you’re supposed to be professional, you’re a disgrace.”

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

Wenger had been incensed at Calum Chambers being penalized for a handball and West Brom converting the resulting penalty to equalize late in the game.

The FA said “there is simply no justification for this behavior” and considered a stadium ban for Wenger.

Wenger was also fined $54,200 for his conduct.

FA Cup: Leicester, West Ham survive replays to reach 4th round

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Two more Premier League sides reached the fourth round of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Tuesday, winning their respective replays and joining 10 other top-flight clubs already through to the next round…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town

Kelechi Iheanacho moved to Leicester from Manchester City for $33 million this summer and has, through his first half-season in the East Midlands, failed to live up to that price tag. In nine PL appearances, he is yet to score his first league goal. Tuesday, however, saw the 21-year-old Nigerian international put forth a bit production and performance more befitting a player of his promise and pedigree.

Manager Claude Puel picked a side consisting of first-team regulars and lesser-used squad players for the Foxes FA Cup third-round replay against League One side Fleetwood Town. It was Iheanacho, who started alongside/just behind target man Islam Slimani, who shown brightest with a pair of goals, in the 43rd and 77th minutes, to send Leicester into the fourth round. Iheanacho’s second, the one that put the game away for Leicester, was originally ruled out for offside, but was eventually after consultation of the video-assistant referee.

Leicester will travel to League One side Peterborough in the fourth round, on Sat. Jan. 27.

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town

It took far longer than Hammers fans would have liked — or expected — but West Ham, over the course of 120 minutes, survived the Cupset bid of third-division Shrewsbury Town. With eight minutes remaining before Tuesday’s replay went to penalty kicks at the London Stadium, 21-year-old defender Reece Burke fired home from inside the box to break the scoreless deadlock.

West Ham will be away to the winner of the replay between Bournemouth and Wigan Athletic (Wednesday), on Sat. Jan. 27.

Elsewhere in FA Cup replay action

Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Wednesday’s FA Cup replay schedule

Chelsea vs. Norwich City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Swansea City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 2:45 p.m. ET
Wigan Athletic vs. Bournemouth — 2:45 p.m. ET

Report: Newcastle sale talks between Ashley, Staveley collapse

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Talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley over the much-desired and -rumored sale of Newcastle United are off, according to a report from Sky Sports and various other UK news outlets.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Sky has quoted a source close to Ashley as having said: “Attempts to reach a deal (with Staveley) have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time.” (Full quote below)

Ashley, the club’s current and long-beleaguered owner, has been seeking a potential buyer since putting the club up for sale back in October. Staveley emerged as the front-runner (the only runner, perhaps) in the days following Ashley’s announcement, and reportedly tabled an offer of $335 million in early December before reportedly offering something closer to $400 million a couple weeks later.

Ashley selling the club — and doing so before the end of the January transfer window, which now appears nigh impossible — appeared to be one the few scenarios in which Rafa Benitez would remain the Magpies’ manager beyond the end of the current Premier League season (Newcastle currently sit 15th, just three points clear of relegation) after constant rumors of his discontent and lack of financial backing last summer.