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Three huge positives to take from USA’s convincing win over Panama

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In a match that sent the United States to the top of the hexagonal table, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men showed they belong in the group’s elite.

With the 2-0 win over Panama, not only are the Stars and Stripes primed to control their own destiny on their way to Brazil 2014, but the numbers are with them as well.  According to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, which uses computer simulations to predict outcomes, the United States now have a 98.5% chance to qualify for the World Cup. I’d say those are pretty good odds.

As the hosts held home turf yet again, Seattle showed their atmosphere is possibly second to none despite a bit of controversy surrounding the venue prior to kickoff. Nothing is a given in the Hex on the road, but at home, the United States has done their job.  They’re undefeated in World Cup qualifiers since 2001, going 22-0-2 during that span. Tuesday night was no different.

It was a total dominance, as Panama had difficulty establishing a presence, and other than a short period before halftime and another short spell before the final whistle, they offered little in the attacking third.

Even though the visitors offered little quality to challenge the U.S., there were still things to be learned about the squad.

1) Role players are ready to step up anywhere they’re needed

With Graham Zusi and Jermaine Jones out, a couple of players shuffled positions with positive results.  Geoff Cameron played out of his mind in the holding midfielder role, allowing Michael Bradley to venture up forward.  This had a positive effect on the club in two separate ways.

First, Cameron’s ball-winning skills were on display.  He stepped in front of countless passes, and made tackles to keep Panama from building.  A quality holding midfielder can have a massive effect on a match, usually quite under the radar, because when there is no buildup it often goes unnoticed.  Cameron kept Panama from even attempting to create many chances.  His passes were off on occasion, especially in the beginning, but he gets a pass on that (sorry, that was awful) because of his absolutely brilliant ball to Eddie Johnson for the second goal.

Second, Bradley in the attack was a welcome sight for USMNT fans.  He had a number of venomous shots on goal from distance, including one that would have gone in had Clint Dempsey been gifted with reflexes just a split-second quicker.  In addition, Bradley’s chance creation skills were beautifully displayed all match. For example, in the 79th minute Bradley played a long ball out to Altidore, who connected with a running DaMarcus Beasley in search of a third goal, although the shot clanged off the post.  With Cameron back, Bradley grabbed the limelight – exactly how Klinsmann drew it up.

Whether it’s a first-team regular or an injury replacement, Klinsmann’s shown he’s willing to ride the hot hand, and between Cameron, Beasley, Altidore, Besler, Zusi, and both Fabian and Eddie Johnson, he’s got those who are clicking on the pitch out there and it’s working. The bossman will need more of the same against Honduras as Beasley will miss the next match due to yellow card accumulation.

2) Jozy Altidore is bursting with confidence

The 23-year-old forward, with the monkey off his back, has now scored in three straight international matches.  It started with the goal against Germany, a straightforward yet difficult volley into the top corner off a wonderful cross.  That goal has done a world of good for Jozy’s confidence, and it grows with every match.

It’s no coincidence the New Jersey native continues to find space in the box for these shots – Jurgen Klinsmann even mentioned in the postmatch press conference Tuesday night about how Jozy’s now not only using his vision to find space, but using his body as well.  Klinsmann said he spoke directly with AZ Alkmaar technical director Earnie Stewart – a Dutch-American with 101 USMNT caps to his name – about improving Jozy’s physical presence, and it’s working wonders.

Need proof? There were two obvious moments in the Panama match.  First, his goal.  A cool finish from a tight angle, even with the goal gaping, any hesitation from that angle and he’s on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10 plays.  Instead, it’s cool as a cucumber for the opening goal.

Second, he had a chance to put the U.S. three up with a long-range strike that stung the hands of keeper Jaime Penedo.  The rebound fell to Clint Dempsey who bounced it just over with a volley.  Nobody takes that kind of distance shot without oozing confidence, which is exactly what Jozy did. ‘Nuff said.

3) The team doesn’t look at the clock or the scoreboard

I mean this in a very positive way.  2-0 up at home against a Panama side struggling mightily, Klinsmann could have easily shut down shop, putting on an extra defender and closing the book. Instead, he went for the jugular, and I love it.

The U.S. men could be 2-0 or 12-0 up and they’d be looking for more.  It almost cost a goal in stoppage time, but I think Klinsmann knows that inviting pressure with the intent of staving it off is asking for trouble, and goal difference could mean the world with the way the hex is shaping up. Keep it up boys.

AFCON wrap: Ghana books place in quarterfinals, Egypt edges Uganda

FORTALEZA, BRAZIL - JUNE 21:  Asamoah Gyan of Ghana celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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One Group D side has already sealed its fate in the final eight, while another squad moved on step closer to the African Cup of Nations knockout phase on Saturday.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Ghana 1-0 Mali

The Ghanaians ensured their place in the knockout round after Asamoah Gyan scored for the Black Stars.

Gyan, 31, nodded home a Jordan Ayew cross in the 21st minute, giving Ghana its second straight win in the competition.

Mali will need a victory in its final group stage match against Uganda in order to have a shot at advancing to the last eight.

Egypt 1-0 Uganda

Abdallah El Said played hero on Saturday for Egypt after scoring in the 89th minute to lift Héctor Cúper’s side past Uganda.

The Al Ahly forward finished off Mohamed Salah‘s cross in the game’s dying moments to give Egypt a strong shot at advancing out of Group D.

The Egyptians currently sit second in the group on four points, while Uganda has officially been eliminated from advancing.

Sunday’s AFCON schedule

Cameroon vs. Gabon — 2 p.m. ET
Guinea-Bissau vs. Burkina Faso — 2 p.m. ET

PL Saturday roundup: City, Spurs finish level; United drops points at Stoke

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City walks off after the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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League leaders Chelsea weren’t in action on Saturday, but things couldn’t have possibly gone any better for the Blues.

With Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United all dropping points in their respective matches, Antonio Conte‘s men have the opportunity to widen the gap atop the Premier League on Sunday as Chelsea faces Hull City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Here, we take a look back at Saturday’s action from around England’s top flight.

Manchester City 2-2 Tottenham — RECAP

The Citizens will surely feel disappointed in referee Andre Mariner’s lack of a penalty decision, and more so both sides are feeling the affects after finishing level at the Etihad Stadium. Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris had a rough go of it early in the second stanza after two goals to Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne just four minutes apart. Luckily for the visitors, Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son each netted for Tottenham to give Mauricio Pochettino‘s side a share of the points.

Liverpool 2-3 Swansea City — RECAP

It was bound to end some time but Liverpool certainly wasn’t expecting a fight from the Swans on Saturday. Unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what they got. And more. Swansea picked up its first ever top-flight win at Anfield, and the victory couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Fernando Llorente netted twice for the visitors, while Gylfi Sigurdsson played hero on the day for the Swans. The loss for the Reds snapped a 25-match unbeaten streak at home, while also opening the door for Chelsea to extend its lead at the top of the PL.

Stoke City 1-1 Manchester United  — RECAP

Wayne Rooney was the star of the show, but the veteran attacker’s moment of achievement was overshadowed by his side’s failure to pick up three points. Rooney’s 250th goal was surely the day’s biggest talking point, but Juan Mata‘s earlier own goal ensured United that a draw was their fate on the day. The Red Devils currently sit 11 points out of the top spot in the PL, while the draw keeps Stoke in ninth.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Seamus Coleman of Everton (R) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Mason Holgate of Everton (L) during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Everton at Selhurst Park on January 21, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Everton 1-0 Crystal Palace — RECAP

The Toffees have found new life a recent string of victories but it’s Palace that has become the bigger story on Saturday after falling into the depths of the relegation zone. Seamus Coleman sealed the victory for Everton after Tom Davies picked out the veteran Toffee for the match’s lone finish. Outside of Crystal Palace’s FA Cup victory over Bolton, the Eagles have lost eight consecutive PL fixtures, prompting the team’s fall into 18th place.

West Brom 2-0 Sunderland — RECAP

Goals from Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt kept the Baggies on the top half of the table as Sunderland continues its relegation woes. The Black Cats now sit three points buried at the bottom of the PL following Saturday’s defeat.

West Ham 3-1 Middlesbrough — RECAP

The Hammers moved into the top half of the PL courtesy of goals from Andy Carroll and Jonathan Calleri, while the Boro couldn’t keep up with Slaven Bilic‘s surging side. West Ham has now moved up to 10th place after winning five of its last seven league matches. Christian Stuani managed Middlesbrough’s lone tally on the day, however, the club now sits just four points above the bottom three.

Bournemouth 2-2 Watford — RECAP

Four straight draws between the two sides have left very little between the mid table clubs but Saturday’s encounter surely had its share of entertaining moments. The Hornets led twice on the day with goals from Christian Kabasele and Troy Deeney, however, Bournemouth managed to fight back on both occasions to record the draw. The Cherries currently have a two-point advantage over Watford in the table, with the two clubs sitting 11th and 14th, respectively.

Bundesliga wrap: RB Leipzig keeps pace, BVB rises

Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer, right, challenges for the ball during the German first division Bundesliga soccer match between RB Leipzig and Eintracht Frankfurt in Leipzig, Germany, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)
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Neither Werder Bremen nor Hamburg could ease historic relegation fears as 12 more Bundesliga sides played their first matches since the winter break.

[ WATCH: Lewandowski wins it on Friday ]

RB Leipzig 3-0 Eintracht Frankfurt

The winter break didn’t slow RB Leipzig, who leapt off the mat to bury Eintracht Frankfurt in a battle of surprise top-end contenders.

Defender Marvin Compper put Leipzig ahead in the sixth minute before Timo Werner netted his 10th of the season. A late own goal finalized the score line, as Leipzig kept pace with Bayern.

Werder Bremen 1-2 Borussia Dortmund

Andre Schurrle scored early for BVB, and a 39th minute red card to Bremen’s Jaroslav Drobny seemed to indicate that the visitors would be well on their way to three points.

Yet Fin Bartels scored in the 59th minute to put a bit of unease on Thomas Tuchel’s crew. Lukasz Piszczek found the winner a minute after a pair of attacking substitutes entered the game.

USMNT winger Christian Pulisic went 90 minutes for the victors, and had the most runs of any player in the match with 95. He puts three shots on target.

BVB pulls to within a point of third place, still 12 behind Bayern Munich.

Wolfsburg 1-0 Hamburger SV

Mario Gomez’s 82nd minute boosted Wolfsburg six points clear of 16th place in a relegation six-pointer.

Elsewhere
Freiburg 1-2 Bayern Munich — RECAP
Augsburg 0-2 Hoffenheim
Schalke 1-0 Ingolstadt
Darmstadt 0-0 Borussia Monchengladbach
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hertha Berlin — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Mainz vs. Koln — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Bayern Munich 17 13 3 1 40 10 30 7-2-0 6-1-1 42
 RB Leipzig 17 12 3 2 34 15 19 7-1-0 5-2-2 39
 1899 Hoffenheim 17 7 10 0 30 17 13 4-5-0 3-5-0 31
 Borussia Dortmund 17 8 6 3 37 20 17 5-3-0 3-3-3 30
 Hertha BSC Berlin 16 9 3 4 24 16 8 7-0-1 2-3-3 30
 Eintracht Frankfurt 17 8 5 4 22 15 7 5-3-0 3-2-4 29
 1. FC Köln 16 6 7 3 21 15 6 4-4-0 2-3-3 25
 SC Freiburg 17 7 2 8 22 29 -7 5-0-3 2-2-5 23
 FC Schalke 04 17 6 3 8 21 19 2 5-1-3 1-2-5 21
 Bayer Leverkusen 16 6 3 7 23 24 -1 3-2-3 3-1-4 21
 FSV Mainz 05 16 6 2 8 26 30 -4 4-1-2 2-1-6 20
 VfL Wolfsburg 17 5 4 8 16 24 -8 2-2-5 3-2-3 19
 FC Augsburg 17 4 6 7 13 19 -6 2-3-4 2-3-3 18
 Mönchengladbach 17 4 5 8 15 25 -10 4-3-2 0-2-6 17
 Werder Bremen 17 4 4 9 21 36 -15 3-1-5 1-3-4 16
 Hamburger SV 17 3 4 10 14 32 -18 2-2-4 1-2-6 13
 FC Ingolstadt 04 17 3 3 11 14 28 -14 1-2-5 2-1-6 12
 Darmstadt 17 2 3 12 11 30 -19 2-3-4 0-0-8 9

Walker, Guardiola, Pochettino react to non-PK call in Man City-Spurs

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A thrilling match has ended with an unfortunate focus on officials.

Kyle Walker shoved Raheem Sterling on a second-half breakaway, but a stumbling Sterling still poked the ball at Hugo Lloris.

Referee Andre Marriner didn’t make the call, and moments later a potential 3-1 became 2-2 when Heung-Min Son equalized at the other end.

[ RECAP: Man City 2-2 Spurs ]

Man City boss Pep Guardiola was furious, and went off on the fourth official. Walker, it seems, knows he was guilty.

“I wasn’t going to get him otherwise,” Walker said. “You just have to try to put him off as much as possible.”

Then there’s Pep, who tried to avoid speaking about the penalty.

“We made an outstanding performance. It’s a pity what happened. … We’re upset, sad at what happened, but I am so, so proud of what we did.”

Later he was told that Walker admitting to pushing Sterling, and said with a smirk, “In this country you appreciate honesty. Thank you to Walker for being honest.”

Finally, Pochettino seems to think there wasn’t a problem at all, except when City was allowed to score when Hugo Lloris headed a ball off Leroy Sane’s hand before Sane scored.

Cheeky.

“The first goal we conceded was handball. We can’t start to see every single detail, in England it’s different. It wasn’t a penalty. From my side, there’s no complaint about from me about the referee.”

Sure, Mauricio. Sure.