Canada v United States

Good performances hard to find in U.S. draw with Canada

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If the idea of a January match is just an exercise in January camp motivation, a way for U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann to get his players through three tough weeks of conditioning with a little more skip in their daily step, then Tuesday’s dullard of a friendly hit the note, I suppose.

On pretty much any other account from the U.S. side, there wasn’t much good to say about this one, a scoreless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium against a visiting Canadian that should have been easily overmatched.

Credit to well-organized and hard-working Canada for a worthy response after getting the maple leafs knocked out of them against Denmark just three nights back. Even so …

These matches aren’t about results, of course. But they are about opportunities, about getting a couple of individuals to distinguish themselves. The chances to do so were certainly there for U.S. attackers as Canada happily ceded possession.

Finding someone in the U.S. blue to take advantage? Those were pretty tough to pinpoint out there.

Three take-aways from the match in which plenty of opportunities turned into swinging misses:

(MORE: Individual opportunities wasted; too few sharp edges)

The lineup didn’t work. And then some.

What an interesting choice by Klinsmann to put Brad Evans in the chief playmaking position, at the top of a midfield diamond. The versatile Seattle Sounders’ midfielder may be a lot of things, but he’s not the guy to punch holes in tightly packed Canadian defensive stack-up.

The Canadians played a relatively high line and dropped their attackers – few that they were – back. So it was up to the U.S. midfield and overlapping backs to break through 10 Canadians in a 30 to 40-yard box. With Kyle Beckerman almost always making the safe choice, and with Graham Zusi reliably restrained on the right, unable to find a bit of joy in getting past Nik Ledgerwood, there just wasn’t much happening.

If Klinsmann’s lineup selections were all about rewarding performance over three weeks of training, fair enough. But as a tactical selection for a one match, Benny Feilhaber or Mix Diskerud would have been a better central, attacking choice.

Even Evans’ positioning relative to strikers Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson indicated “safefy first,” as he was generally too far away.

Quite a few U.S. men showed their offensive limitations.

Evans … we already addressed. And he wasn’t much better as a right back, although that’s not his position, so it’s a tough ask. Johnson can clearly be dangerous around goal, but he’s not as adept in a game that requires the United States to handle the ball most of the time. Same with Wondolowski.

Zusi was wide right in the 4-4-2 and simply wasn’t effective, mostly just stuck in the mud over there, so to speak. Some of that was due to Tony Beltran being less aggressive than Justin Morrow on the other side in pushing into attacking spots.

Nor could Beltran manage to release the crosses when he did get forward, which he did a bit more after about 30 minutes. Beltran, who had such a good camp, was subtracted at halftime.

Further back, as the ball moved back and forth across the field, Beckerman rarely turned with the ball or pushed aggressively toward the few gaps in Canada’s alignment. As we’ve seen, at the international level, Beckerman is a better in a match where the United States is defending more than attacking, where he’s more destroyer and less distributor.

It was crowed and tough out there, no doubt. But this is where Zusi and Brad Davis, who similarly failed to distinguish himself, needed to show something. Something!

None of the forwards did any distinguishing either. Wondolowski needed to do better with a couple of half chances that came his way. Juan Agudelo, in for the last 30 minutes, did not look particularly sharp.

Good nights? Yeah, a couple.

Matt Besler was the best passer, managing at least to look occasionally for the passing lanes that would help break up the logjam. Morrow was easily the best offensive threat of the two U.S. outside backs.

Omar Gonzalez demonstrated that he can be a bother at international level on those attacking set pieces, which we’ve all seen him do in MLS.

Josh Gatt certainly kept his stock pointed in the right direction, enlivening the left side. He was easily the best U.S. man at taking on defenders and showing a willingness to ask some questions of the Canadian back line.

Feilhaber looked OK in possession, and his set pieces fell dangerously.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET