Will Costa Rica try to exploit a vulnerable U.S. back line?

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Opposition styles are fairly predictable when small nations come visiting the United States for World Cup qualifiers.

Unless we’re talking about Mexico, the smaller nations of Central America and the Caribbean typically fill the field with clogging elements. They attack cautiously, content to sit back absorb more than their fair share.

It the smart way to approach things. They nominally “concede” things on the road against Mexico and the United States, then look to find their points at home or on the road against other light and middleweights. When they visit the big bullies of the block, it’s more about hoping to pick off a draw or maybe even trace the occasional serendipitous path to win. (The United States has not lost a home qualifier since 2001, so it doesn’t happen often.)

But will things look differently Friday at DSG Park outside Denver?

Considering the U.S. injuries and a back line that is likely to be some highly inexperienced patchwork job, will the Costa Ricans take things to the United States.

The Ticos certainly have enough talent to expose a vulnerable back line. Columbus striker Jairo Arrieta has been in MLS less than a full season, but his strike rate in that time (10 goals in 21 games) has been impressive. At roughly a goal every two matches (historically a worthy target for strikers) it’s about the same as U.S. man Eddie Johnson, who has 15 goals in 30 games over the last two MLS seasons.

Then there’s Alvaro Saborio, among Major League Soccer’s top scorers over the last four years. (More on that later at ProSoccerTalk.) With all that, the Ticos’ top attacker is Fulham man Bryan Ruiz (pictured here with Costa Rica). So the Costa Rican front line cupboard is full.

This affects how the United States prepares. Because that back line will need plenty of protection, especially if Costa Rica gets aggressive and looks to exploit a vulnerable host. Does the United States go without a true holding midfielder? (With Danny Williams out due to stomach flu, Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman are the options.)

Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones could play as two-way men in the center (without a midfield screener, that is, rotating as the holding man). But one moment of inattention could undo the whole qualifying effort, and even Jurgen Klinsmann has conceded that “who goes, who stays” communication between Bradley and Jones has not always been tippy-top when they man the middle together.

And what about Eddie Johnson along the left, where he’s been for the last couple of U.S. qualifiers? Whoever ends up at left back will presumably require more protection than Johnson, a natural striker, can offer.

Best guess is that Klinsmann will use Edu in a holding role, then station Jones and Bradley right and left, tucked inside in a diamond midfield, with Brek Shea or Johnson slightly higher up the field.

MLS Playoff bracket, dates set: Chicago, Vancouver host Tues.

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Major League Soccer’s playoff bracket is set. Our staff predictions are coming Tuesday before the first round match-ups, but here’s what we’ll be watching…

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The chase begins with Chicago and the Red Bulls, and San Jose heading to Vancouver. The Quakes drew the ‘Caps just over a week ago, on Oct. 15.

First round
(E3) Chicago vs. (E6) New York Red Bulls — 8:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(W3) Vancouver vs. (W6) San Jose — 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday
(E4) Atlanta vs. (E5) Columbus — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday
(W4) Houston vs. (W5) Sporting KC — 9:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Conference semifinals
(W1) Portland vs.  San Jose, Houston, or Sporting KC
(W2) Seattle vs. Houston, Sporting KC, or Vancouver
(E1) Toronto vs. New York Red Bulls, Atlanta, or Columbus
(E2) New York City vs. Atlanta, Columbus, or Chicago

Conference finals
Eastern Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 or 29
Western Conference — Nov. 21 and Nov. 30

MLS Cup Final
At finalist with best record — 4 p.m. ET Dec. 9

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Who will replace Koeman at Everton?

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Where will Everton turn in search of their next manager?

U23s coach David Unsworth is the front-runner to take over, according to several betting sites — not that we’d partake in such madness — and the 44-year-old boasts 312 career appaearances for the Toffees.

[ MORE: Everton sacks Ronald Koeman ]

As for who else could be in frame for the gig, there are names (quite) familiar and new.

David Moyes — This one is an eyebrow-raiser, as Moyes has had little if any success since leaving Everton and ended his time at Sunderland with a sexist takedown of a journalist. But the 54-year-old Scot spent more than 11 years at Everton before leaving for Manchester United, and it’s not like the Toffees wanted him to skip town. He was thrice League Manager of the Year at Goodison Park.

Sean Dyche — The Burnley boss has overachieved time and again at Turf Moor, and the Clarets are one of the smallest outfits the Premier League has ever seen. A move to Everton could be a big and safe enough step to warrant his affection.

Carlo Ancelotti — He’s said he’s not returning to a manager’s seat this season, but the Italian may relish the chance to take a skillful team and organize it into its rightful potential. And we think he’s do a magnificent job.

Chris Coleman — He’s waffled on staying in his position at Wales, and the club’s absence from this summer’s World Cup must have him eyeing the club scene. He’s hasn’t led a club since 2012, having led AEL, Coventry City, Real Sociedad, and Fulham.

Phil Neville — The Manchester United and Everton playing legend doesn’t have first chair experience, but may be able to rally the troops. His latest stint was as an assistant in brother Gary’s tough, short campaign at Valencia.

Although… his recent prediction record isn’t hot.

Longshots: Mikel Arteta, Luis Enrique, Eddie Howe, Thomas Tuchel, Sam Allardyce, Manuel Pellegrini, Frank De Boer.

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Three seriously injured, 120 detained in Bruges hooligan riot

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BRUSSELS (AP) Authorities are investigating a hooligan riot which seriously injured three people and forced Brugge police to detain 120 following the match between Club Brugge and Antwerp.

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Local police chief Dirk Van Nuffel says one policeman was among the seriously wounded as authorities sought to contain a brawl between Belgian fans reinforced by others who had come from the Netherlands.

By Monday morning all were released but investigators were still seeking to see who was at the core of the fighting. Van Nuffel says such hooligan fighting “hadn’t been seen for years.”

Everton fires Ronald Koeman

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A 5-2 home loss versus Arsenal sent Everton into the Premier League drop zone, and that’s apparently a bridge too far for the Toffees when it comes to their managerial position.

Ronald Koeman is out at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Who will replace him? ]

Everton sits 18th in the Premier League with eight points, it’s minus-11 goal differential second-worst in the top flight. Its 18 goals conceded are third-worst, and only three clubs have scored fewer goals than its seven.

The Toffees won two rounds in the Europa League, beating Ružomberok and Hajduk Split, but have lost to Atalanta and Lyon while drawing Apollon Limassol in Group E play.

Everton faces Chelsea in League Cup play on Wednesday before a critical early season match at Leicester City on Sunday.

[ MORE: Mbappe named Golden Boy ]

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