Belgium v United States

Goals galore: United States rebounds, defeats Germany 4-3 in Centennial match

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In a result that was unforeseeable in the wake of a Wednesday dismantling at the hands of Belgium, the United States produced one of the more memorable wins of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, though not without some drama. At one point leading by three goals, the U.S. were left to sweat out the last few minutes against visiting Germany, eventually downing the world’s second-ranked team 4-3 in front of 47,359 at RFK Stadium.

The match was part of U.S. Soccer’s 100th anniversary celebration, the first of a doubleheader that concludes with the U.S. Women’s National Team’s visit to Toronto to face Canada. The game also marked Klinsmann’s first meeting against his former team, the Nationalmannschaft’s former star player and boss producing a confidence-boosting result against a world power.

The highly-touted Germans were short-handed, with many of the team’s stars left in Europe. But coming off a lopsided win over Ecuador on Wednesday, Joachim Löw’s side had proven themselves dangerous, with most considering the visitors the likely winners ahead of kickoff in Washington, D.C.

But over the first 75 minutes, that danger rarely bore out, with the U.S. carrying a three-goal lead into the match’s final act on the back of tallies by Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey (two) and German `keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who was at fault on an early own goal.

(MORE: United States Man of the Match, Jozy Altidore)

Late scores from Max Kruse and Julian Draxler built on Heiko Westermann’s early second half header, saving the Germans from what would have been an embarrassing result. When the final whistle blew, however, Germany had suffered their first defeat since losing to Argentina in August.

The two teams came into the day’s match off drastically different mid-week results. Germany scored four goals in the first 24 minutes against Ecuador in Boca Raton ahead of a 4-2 win on Wednesday. That night, the United States gave up three second half goals en route to a 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland.

Coming off the defeat, Jurgen Klinsmann made a number of changes to his starting XI, welcoming Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and, at left midfield, Fabian Johnson back into the team. The U.S. head coach also made two changes to a defense that struggled mid-week, starting Matt Besler over Clarence Goodson in central defense along with Brad Evans over Geoff Cameron at right back.

They were part of the team that faced a largely second-choice German squad, no players from Bayern Munich in attendance, all but one of Borussia Dortmund’s stars out, and neither of Real Madrid’s Mesüt Ozil or Sami Khedira in Joachim Löw’s starting XI.

The U.S. changes brought immediate improvement over Wednesday’s match, with confident play from Jozy Altidore helping the U.S. establish early possession in their attacking third. Combined with a defensive intensity that was absent against Belgium, the U.S. were the better side from the opening kickoff.

But the Germans nearly offset that in the 11th minute, with Per Mertesacker given a chance to open the scoring from nine yards out. As Tim Howard challenged, the Arsenal defender pulled his shot wide left, giving the U.S. and early reprieve.

The States took advantage. Two minutes later, a ball out of the U.S. end for Altidore near the center line was laid off for Clint Dempsey, the U.S. captain carrying the ball on the counter from inside his own half to the edge of the German area. Dempsey then played the ball wide right, with Graham Zusi crossing for Altidore at the penalty spot. Having peeled off Mertesacker, Altidore created enough room to put a right-footed volley into Ter Stegen’s side netting, the German keeper with no chance to prevent the U.S.’s opener.

The goal marked the end of a prolonged drought for Altidore. The 23-year-old forward, who has scored 51 goals over the last two seasons with AZ in the Netherlands, had yet to score an open play goal under Klinsmann. The only other time Altidore had scored since his head coach took over in July 2011 was a spot kick against Slovenia in November 2011. His last open play goal for the U.S. came under Bob Bradley, against Guadalope in June 2011 at the last CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Three minutes after Altidore ended that slump, the U.S. doubled their lead. Or, more accurately, the Germans doubled the States’ lead, with a bad response to pressure off a goal kick ending with Ter Stegen’s poor handling of a Benedickt Howedes back pass – an innocuous ball from just outside the penalty area rolling into the German goal, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

Andre Schurrle nearly pulled the gift back in the 19th minute, a move from the right that went through Demarcus Beasley and around Matt Besler leading to a shot from 15 yards out. The Chelsea target pushed his shot just wide of Howard’s left post, leaving the U.S. up two.

Before halftime, Altidore would generate a 20th minute chance for Dempsey and German striker Miroslav Klose would see a goal waved off for offside. As the clock approached the 45th minute, the pace slowed amid the late spring Washington D.C. heat, the teams fading into halftime with the score 2-0.

The U.S. made one change at halftime, a forced substitution as Fabian Johnson came off with a hamstring injury. Brad Davis, who started Wednesday against Belgium, came in to what began as a very different half.

Whereas the U.S. were the aggressors at the opening kickoff, the 46th minute started with the Germans in control. Pressing for the quick score that would halve the States’ lead, Löw’s side converted a 52nd minute corner, Heiko Westermann getting space on Omar Gonzalez at nine yards out to head the Germans within one.

Though Germany initially continued their control after the goal, Westermann’s score evolved into a wakeup call, with the U.S. able to quell  German momentum after a set of 56th minute substitutions: Eddie Johnson coming on for Zusi; Edgar Castillo replacing  Beasley. With Johnson proving valuable for a team forced to rely on their transition game, the States were able to restore their two-goal lead at the hour mark.

In the 69th minute, a long ball from Jermaine Jones found Altidore isolated against Philipp Wollscheid. Able to bring the ball down and work his way to the byline, Altidore eventually played a pass back across the German area to Dempsey, whose right-footed shot from just inside the penalty area beat Ter Stegen into the left of goal, giving the U.S. a 3-1 lead.

The score pulled Dempsey even with Eric Wynalda for second on the U.S.’s all-time goal scoring list, a status that would last four minutes. In the 64th minute, Dempsey was given too much time on a left-footed shot from 24 yards out, curling his 35th international goal around Ter Stegen to give the U.S. a shocking 4-1 lead.

In the 79th minute, well after what seemed to be the match’s denouement, Werder Bremen attacker Max Kruse broke through with his first international goal. Allowed to cut across the defense from the left at the top of the penalty area, Kruse was given little resistance before letting go of a 19-yard shot that beat Howard into the left of the U.S.’s goal, cutting the States’ lead to two.

Less than two minutes later, Sidney Sam was allowed to make a similar move to Kruse’s, cutting in from the right side ahead of a left-footed shot from just outside the U.S. area. Howard’s push save left the ball at the edge of the six-yard box, allowing Draxler to make it 4-3.

Like Westermann’s early second half tally, the Germans’ late onslaught seemed to awaken the U.S., who eventually generated a chance for Eddie Johnson as they sought to reestablish a hold on the match. Yet over the the game’s final 10 minutes, fans were left gasping as speculative shots gave Germany faint hope of pulling off the huge comeback.

Shortly after the 92nd minute, however, after Howard had played a final, relief-granting ball out of the back, the U.S. heard the final whistle and were able to claim a huge, bounce back victory, capping their centennial celebration.

Beyond getting a much needed victory, the U.S. can look at the play of Altidore, the match’s best player, as a much-needed awakening. The AZ star had struggled under Jurgen Klinsmann, at one point left out of a squad last fall as he struggled to be productive in his new coach’s scheme. Even after reclaiming a regular place in the national team, the 23-year-old had struggled to make an impact.

With today’s performance, however, Altidore hinted his club influence may start to translate onto the international stage. Active as a outlet  and productive both producing and providing for goals, Altidore had his best performance in two years. It was  one of the best performances of his career.

For a U.S. team that has struggled to produce goals, it is difficult to imagine a more positive development coming out of Sunday’s friendly. Ahead of Friday’s World Cup Qualifier in Kingston, an Altidore awakening couldn’t have come at a better time.

Copa America trip helped convince Lodeiro of Sounders move

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 22: Nicolas Lodeiro #10 of the Seattle Sounders gets control of the ball during a match against the Colorado Rapids in the first leg of the Western Conference Finals at CenturyLink Field on November 22, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. The Sounders won the match 2-1. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Nicolas Loderio is getting set to play in the MLS Cup finals, something that only came to pass with a team visit to the United States, and the assistance of Luis Suarez.

According to Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey, he spoke with Lodeiro often in his attempts to bring the 27-year-old from Boca Juniors to Major League Soccer. The moment that swayed him was a trip to the US. A business trip.

With Uruguay competing in the Copa America Centenario, it allowed the two to speak more frequently, but when the Uruguayan became frustrated with his own handle of the native language, a friend stepped in to help. He asked national teammate Suarez to help translate, and thus the transfer came to pass.

“You don’t have body language, it’s harder than it is straight to the face and so he just got frustrated that he couldn’t understand everything that I’m saying,” Lagerwey told MLSSoccer.com’s radio show. “And so he says, ‘Hold on, speak to my friend,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I have no idea what’s happening. And Luis Suarez gets on and says, ‘Hi, this is Luis Suarez, how are you?’ And I’m like, ‘Morning, Mr. Suarez, how are you?’ And he was our translator.”

Lodiero has been a revelation for the Sounders since joining in the summer. A creative force all season, the Uruguayan has scored four goals in five playoff matches, bursting onto the national scene on the biggest stage.

“It was just funny. Nico and I, we talked fairly regularly during the process, in part because it took four months for the thing to play out,”  “And he was in the US for the Copa America with Uruguay, obviously, and in hindsight that ended up being a big deciding factor for him, because he brought his wife and his little son and they got to see America and I think liked it and developed a comfort level with it. And I think that’s what ultimately pushed them to make the leap, but I was talking and Nico’s English is actually pretty, pretty good, but he isn’t always so comfortable on the phone.”

With over 50 caps for the national team, Lodeiro is a well-known presence with the Barcelona striker and his other national teammates. The two have hooked up on the field as well, with Suarez assisting Lodeiro’s fourth national team goal back in October.

Zidane’s Madrid on cusp of setting new unbeaten record

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03: Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is one match away from coaching Real Madrid to a new unbeaten record.

When Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez midway through last season, the inexperienced former midfield standout got off to an auspicious start with a 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.

Eleven months and one Champions League title later, Madrid faces Deportivo again at home on Saturday with the chance of surpassing its longest unbeaten run since the club was founded in 1902.

On Wednesday, Madrid equaled a club record of 34 games without a loss set in 1989 under coach Leo Beenhakker when it drew 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund.

“It’s important to continue to make history and continue our good run,” Zidane said after the match. “I don’t think it’s very important for me to leave my mark. What interests me the most is to continue with this great run that we’re on.”

Last season, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez tapped Zidane to take over a struggling team, the decision smelled of desperation.

A fan favorite from his playing days as part of Madrid’s “galaticos” bunch, Zidane was promoted from coaching the reserve team to take over a side that was lurching from one embarrassing episode to the next.

Madrid’s 2015-16 campaign had started with Perez flubbing his play to sign away Manchester United goalie David De Gea. The team was then disqualified from the Copa de Rey for fielding an illegible player, and it endured a 4-0 defeat from Barcelona at home as it failed to click with Benitez.

Perez needed to make an impact move. But instead of searching for a veteran manager, he charged the unproven Zidane with turning around Madrid’s group of talented underachievers.

At first, the team remained erratic, and even looked set to bow out of the Champions League after a shocking 2-0 loss at German side Wolfsburg.

But that defeat on April 6 proved to be a catalyst. The team hasn’t lost since, recovering to claim its 11th European Cup and almost nip Barcelona for the Spanish league crown, before roaring out to lead la Liga this season.

Zidane, whose top-tier coaching experience had been limited to his stint as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, has now reached the half-century mark as head manager. During that 50-match period, he has overseen 37 wins, 11 draws and only two losses. That other loss came at Atletico Madrid in February.

“The players have to be congratulated. They’re the ones out on the pitch, it’s them who run, fight and dig in,” Zidane said. “We also have to thank the fans, who always get behind the team and support us. They’ve got to take some credit for what the team is achieving”.

Gifted with world-class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, Zidane focused on getting more from Madrid’s supporting cast. He put a new emphasis on defense in his midfield by favoring Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro over flashier playmakers James Rodriguez and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, and he has helped the little-known Lucas Vazquez blossom into an important piece of its attack.

“(Zidane) has gotten us to work hard and for things to go well for us, and that is paying off with this run of 34 unbeaten games,” defender Dani Carvajal said. “Everyone on the team has words of praise for him.”

Whereas the draw with Dortmund was disappointing because it cost Madrid a first-place finish in its Champions League group, its 1-1 stalemate earned last weekend at Barcelona tasted of victory. The “clasico” draw kept Madrid six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish table.

After it plays Deportivo, Madrid heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.

If Zidane sets the new club mark, his next goal would be the milestone held by Barcelona under counterpart Luis Enrique, whose 39-game unbeaten run was ended by Madrid last April.

Top 5 Premier League storylines for Week 15: Chelsea top, Leicester tested

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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This weekend is absolutely critical for the Premier League. Last time out, the top of the table kept pace and little changed. This time around, there is danger lurking for much of the top. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs all have difficult tests, but can Tony Pulis be the one to pin Chelsea back?

Spurs and Manchester United 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com) meet with both teams clawing for scraps from those above them. These two teams very well could be battling it out for a final Champions League place at the end of the season, meaning this matchup could go a long way in building a true gap in the table.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho failing to adapt at Manchester United ]

The bottom of the table is fascinating as well. Bob Bradley has his biggest chance yet to pull the Swans off the bottom against Sunderland amid the noise, while Hull City and Crystal Palace have a key meeting.

1. Moving day for Chelsea

Chelsea vs. West Brom — 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

Chelsea is in the best form of any Premier League team in years. Their clean sheet streak predictably ended two games ago, but it hasn’t stopped the Blues’ fine run. They’ve won eight in a row and look impossible to stop. Can Pulis-ball keep the Blues at bay? They’re three points on top of the table, and another win would likely give them even more space considering tough matches for the other top teams.

2. Any magic left in the tank for Leicester City?

Leicester City vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

The Foxes topped their Champions League group, but things continue to look more and more bleak in league play. Claudio Raneiri admitted they’re in a relegation battle with the Foxes just two points above the drop. But we’ve learned not to count this team out already, and a win against Pep Guardiola‘s stumbling team could be more than just three points.

Speaking of Manchester City, Pep was pipped by fellow first-time Premier League manager Antonio Conte last weekend, and then held to a 1-1 draw with Celtic in midweek Champions League action. However, City has taken care of business so far this season against weaker opponents, and the Foxes certainly seem to be just that at this point.

Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

3. Will Arsenal stumble against Stoke?

Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

For all the heat the Gunners have (unfairly?) taken this season, Alexis Sanchez has them just three points off the top. For Arsenal to still be one game off Chelsea despite the Blues’ fabulous run is somewhat remarkable, and for them to have thus far weathered the storm, it would be truly something to see them capitalize on a slip-up from Conte.

[ MORE: Sanchez among Premier League’s best 5 players ]

However, Stoke has been here before. The Potters have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches, including a pair with clean sheets; if anyone can stop Sanchez’s amazing form, it’s the Mark Hughes and the defensively stout Potters. A win for Stoke could potentially see them jump as high as sixth, could they go on the road and halt the Gunners? It’s possible, but a 315-minute shutout streak vs. Stoke for Arsenal puts things squarely in Arsene Wenger‘s favor before kickoff.

4. Bob Bradley’s golden opportunity

Swansea City vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

Bob Bradley has taken plenty of flak at Swansea City, and rightly so. Since his anointment as the first American manager in England’s top flight, the Swans have picked up just five points and still sit bottom of the table, two points back of anyone else. But to be fair, the competition has been tough. The four losses since his appointment have come against Arsenal, Stoke City, Manchester United, and Tottenham, and he picked up a pair of points against 8th placed Everton and 11th placed Watford. Now is his chance to pick the Swans off the bottom with a win against those directly above him.

[ RELATED: Swansea issues vote of confidence for Bob Bradley ]

Sunderland visits Wales sitting in 18th, and should Swansea win, they would jump above the Black Cats. The task is no given, however, with Sunderland owning three wins in its last four, meaning they’ve picked up nine of their 11 total points in the last month. Bradley fended off much criticism the past week, and if he’s going to silence those calls for his job after just two months, this is a must-win.

5. West Ham finishes gauntlet stretch

Liverpool vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

The Hammers are in the midst of a brutal run of matches where they have just two points, putting them a single point above the relegation zone. The teams they’ve played? Everton, Stoke City, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal. Yikes. And yet, if West Ham aspire to the heights they reached last season, Slaven Bilic will expect better. Can the Hammers get a result against the high-flying Reds? Liverpool sits four points off the top, but goalkeeper Loris Karius was exposed last week in the stunning Bournemouth comeback, and it’s possible that disappointment leaves a lasting impact. Who will prevail?

FA bans Leeds owner Massimo Cellino 18 months

LEEDS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Massimo Cellino President and Director of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Fulham at Elland Road on December 13, 2014 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
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Leeds United may be making a push to return to the Premier League, but they’ll have to do so without their owner.

Massimo Cellino, who took over Leeds in February of 2014, has been banned for 18 months by the English FA for his involvement in the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham later that summer. He was also fined $315,000 and required to complete a course outlining the duties and restrictions for owners in the English league.

During McCormack’s sale, a significant payment was apparently paid to unlicensed agent Barry Hughes, facilitated by McCormack’s official licensed agent Derek Day, who was also banned for 18 months, although 11 of those are suspended, leaving him sidelined for seven months should no other infractions arise.

This likely will only serve to accelerate the current potential sale of Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani, with both sides having publicly acknowledged discussions are ongoing.

Leeds is currently in fourth in the Championship table, having won five of their last six matches. McCormack, meanwhile, scoring a whopping 42 goals in 100 appearances over two years before making a big-money move to Aston Villa this past summer, where he has slumped at Villa Park, owning just two goals over 13 Championship appearances this season and losing his place in the team. To be fair, he struggled in his early days at Fulham as well, scoring just twice in his first 15 matches before exploding in his second season at Craven Cottage with 21 league goals.