Stop us if you have heard this before – and you certainly have if you read ProSoccerTalk:
Michael Bradley is the most important man in a U.S. shirt these days. Apologies to Tim Howard, who was in caped super-hero mode once again on Wednesday. But it’s Bradley who makes this team go.
When he’s not in the lineup, the U.S. side simply cannot get the darned hand-brake released.
Not only does Bradley work, organize, tackle, track and link with the some of the game’s top two-way midfielders now, not only is his variety in passing (short, long and medium) essential to the effort, but his timing and technique in the final third remains peerless on the U.S. side.
That’s always been the hallmark of his game, as longtime Bradley followers know, that instinctive and disciplined ability to hold the run and then surge into position just in the nick of time. Still, it takes pinpoint technique to make something happen from there.
Watch his wonderful strike from Krasnodar; talk about craftsmanship in the execution.
Azpilicueta: Biggest thing is “we haven’t conceded goals” since 3-4-3 switch
Since changing his system to a 3-4-3 following Chelsea’s gutting 3-0 defeat against Arsenal last month, the Blues have gone on to win three straight Premier League matches, including a recent 4-0 drubbing of Manchester United on Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge.
As important as the results are for Chelsea at the moment, the even more impressive aspect is the way that the Blues are winning matches. In their three consecutive victories, Conte’s side has failed to concede a goal, which has helped bring Chelsea to within a point at the summit of the PL.
Not only do the supporters appreciate Conte’s willingness to adapt and build a team that plays up to its greatest potential, but defender Cesar Azpilicueta is one of the many players that have uttered similar sentiments about the Italian’s tactics.
“I find it good. The most important thing for me is the team and since we changed the system we haven’t conceded goals in the Premier League,” he told Sky Sports.
“I try to play my part in the team. The most important part of the system is the spirit of the team and the way we work. The tactics make a difference but what was most pleasing was the way the team work made it happen. Some players have different roles now but we have all week to work on that and we have a very clear idea what to do in the game. We have different options from the attacking fullbacks now.”
Azpilicueta has been one of three key figures for Chelsea at the back since Conte made the switch defensively, joining Gary Cahill and David Luiz in a partnership that looks hard to crack at the moment.
Despite some talks linking a possible two or even three nation bid for the 2026 World Cup, Mexico has opened the door for El Tri to host the world’s biggest football competition for a record third time.
Mexico Football Federation president Decio de Maria recently told ESPN that he and his country are prepared to go ahead with a bid for the 2026 edition of the tournament with or without any hypothetically joint bid.
“I don’t know [whether we would pursue a joint bid] but the rules are already open to it,” De Maria said. “What was agreed upon makes the path perfectly clear.
“Mexico will be in the hunt to host the 2026 World Cup.”
In addition to Mexico, the United States has been considered an early favorite to be named hosts in 2026 after losing out to Qatar for the 2022 competition. The U.S., Mexico and Canada have also been linked with a joint bid between the three CONCACAF nations, as the region looks to bring the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994 (when the U.S. hosted).
Mexico previously hosted the World Cup in 1970 and 1986, and is one of four nations to have held the tournament on home soil more than once.
According to SunSport, Barcelona is prepared to approach Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne during the winter transfer window as the Spanish giants look to lock down the right back position.
The 25-year-old is reportedly seen as a significant upgrade from Sergi Roberto and Aleix Vidal, both of whom have been tabbed as starters this season for Barcelona.
Clyne has appeared in 12 matches this PL season for the Reds, who currently sit tied atop the Premier League with Manchester City and Arsenal on points.
In addition to Clyne, SunSport reports that Glen Johnson is also a consideration for the Blaugrana, however, the 32-year-old is certainly not a first option for Enrique and Barcelona given his age and drop in form.
Toronto FC and New York City FC have squared off five times in a nascent rivalry which has seen plenty of thrills, including a 4-4 draw in NYC last season.
TFC has three draws but is yet to top NYCFC. There are so many reasons to love this match-up: the tactical face-off between Patrick Vieira of NYC and Greg Vanney of Toronto; the combined firepower of David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore, and Andrea Pirlo.
Aside from the postage stamp pitch at Yankee Stadium for the second leg, almost everything about this is wonderful.
The other Eastern Conference semi sees the Montreal Impact building off its upset of DC United with a pair of matches against high-flying New York Red Bulls.
The first match is in Montreal, and the Stade Saputo is a big, loud place. Didier Drogba is no longer featuring for the hosts, but Ignacio Piatti has been as good as any players in the league (He deserves MVP consideration but it seems politically difficult to imagine it will go anywhere besides a New York team or Giovinco).
The Red Bulls haven’t lost since July 3, and feature a dominant group up the middle which includes Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestand, and Bradley Wright-Phillips. This, too, shall be fun.
Over in the West, we see suddenly starring Landon Donovan and the LA Galaxy opening up against surprising Colorado Rapids.
A Donovan vs. Tim Howard match-up is in some ways an Evertonian and USMNT fan’s dream, but this will be more about whether Colorado’s “no-name” — outside of Howard and Jermaine Jones — team can stare down the star power of the Galaxy. Look for sneaky star Shkelzen Gashi to make his name known a bit more for the Rapids.