PST USMNT Man of the Match: Michael Bradley

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Michael Bradley’s place at the top of the U.S. Men’s National Team pecking order is becoming undeniable, with Wednesday’s performance in Russia serving as the latest plank in his platform. A 76th minute volley that careened in off Vladimir Gabulov’s right post would have been enough to take Man of the Match honors on a normal night, but on a day when Tim Howard’s seven saves were kept the U.S. afloat, it was Bradley’s command of midfield that allowed the U.S. to transcend being a Russian annoyance to taking a point from a team that’s still perfect in UEFA World Cup qualifying.

So while it was Howard that administered life support, it was Bradley that picked the team up and pushed them to another memorable road result. This wasn’t be as memorable as beating Mexico at Azteca or defeating Italy in Genoa, but scoring twice on the road against a Russian side that has yet to concede in World Cup qualifying should open eyes. Not only was it a great way to end a successful 2012 (the U.S. posting a 9-2-3 record this year), it was a surprising output for a team that’s struggled to convert possession into goals.

Not that the possession led to goals on Wednesday. Instead, it was some retro-long ball that got the U.S. on the board, with Bradley involved in each goal. In the 76th minute, Bradley’s stab at a ball knocked down by Juan Agudelo nailed Gabulov’s post, giving the Anzhi Makhachkala keeper no chance to prevent the equalizer. In stoppage time, a Bradley ball lofted toward Terrence Boyd ended with Mix Diskerud’s more stoppable but equally well-placed goal.

MORE – VIDEO: Another highlight reel goal for Michael Bradley

But particularly with Bradley, the scoresheet can only tell so much. He was the best of a U.S. midfield which, thanks to Danny Williams’ worst showing in the national team shirt, struggled for most of the day. Bradley was the only midfielder that got forward, and while that may have been a product of Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan, Bradley’s ability to cover ground sideline-to-sideline in the left-center role further distinguished his performance. His 47 completed passes were far better than Jones (27) and Williams (25).

Perhaps the most notable thing about Bradley’s say wasn’t something he did individually; rather, it was the team’s performance in the absence of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. When Michael Bradley was missing from the men’s national team, the dip in quality was clear despite the U.S.’s depth in central midfield. When Bradley was out of the national team, the States offered nothing going forward from midfield.

MORE: What we learned from Wednesday’s result

Against Russia, with the U.S.’s two most recognizable players not called in, there was no discernable drop off. Tthe U.S. looked their normal selves, and while taht still leaves a lot of room for improvement, it implies that Bradley may be even more important to the team than we’d previously thought.

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

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Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

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Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.

Marseille making Olivier Giroud top transfer target this summer

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Marseille did well to bring in one star this season but could the French side have another trick up its sleeve this summer?

Sky Sports is reporting that the Ligue 1 club is preparing to sign Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud over the summer and the sixth-place side is “willing to pay up to £20m (roughly $25 million).

Marseille made a splash this season when the club re-signed Dimitri Payet, who was playing with Premier League side West Ham at the time.

The team does boast several quality attacking options such as Payet and Bafetimbi Gomis, but Giroud could serve as an ideal target man in the Marseille attack.

Prior to joining the Gunners in 2012, Giroud starred for Montpellier and with a potential link-up in the attack with a creator like Payet, it could present a dangerous attacking threat to the rest of Ligue 1.

Giroud, 30, has scored 95 goals in all competitions since arriving in London with Arsenal.

Report: Chicharito talks heating up with Los Angeles FC

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We’ve seen MLS teams make major splashes in the past, and one of next year’s newcomers could be a really big draw if they can manage to seal the deal on a Mexican international.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS and more in interview ]

According to Metro New York, Los Angeles FC is continuing its talks with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez about a potential deal that would prove massive in terms of MLS spending.

While LAFC won’t debut in MLS until 2018, the club could potentially make the Mexico striker the highest-paid player in league history with an average salary of roughly $10 million.

The 28-year-old Hernandez currently plays in Germany with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, where he’s plied his trade since joining the club during the 2015/16 season.

Additionally, the former Manchester United man has dominated the international scene for El Tri, scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances for the CONCACAF nation.