United States national team player ratings vs. Panama

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GK Tim Howard (7): Just a night at the office for Jurgen Klinsmann’s first choice in goal, with only some routine catches and one punch to manage until stoppage time. Howard was quick off his line to stuff Luis Tejada, who sneaked in behind the U.S. in the 92nd minute.

RB Brad Evans (4): If Panama wasn’t so punchless in attack, this whole thing could look quite different. Because the Sounders man’s early defending went from splotchy in the first 15 minutes to downright exposed later in the half. Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron rushed over to help several times. Not much of a factor on the U.S. attack.

CB Omar Gonzalez (7): As mentioned, he provided lots of help for Evans and was solid and well-positioned. The Galaxy man did get caught unawares late on Tejada’s sneaky run behind the back line. Otherwise, confident and mistake-free in the tackles and aerial challenges.

CB Matt Besler (6): Usually the better passer of the U.S. center backs Tuesday. The Sporting KC defender was pushed a little once Panama brought on its second striker, and the communication with Gonzalez remains a work in progress. A little smaller than Gonzalez, he probably benefitted more from Blas Perez’s absence along Panama’s front line.

LB DaMarcus Beasley (6): Two inviting crosses early warned Panama that it would need to be alert, and that opened up space for Fabian Johnson and Dempsey.  All the defensive trouble came down the opposite side as Panama clearly had Evans targeted. His 70th minute dash was a lung buster, and Beasley was very nearly rewarded for it (but hit the post on Jozy Altidore’s nifty pass). One demerit for Beasley, whose late yellow card was silly; now he’ll miss next week’s match in Salt Lake City.

MF Geoff Cameron (8): Who saw this coming? What a breakout night from the guy who had such a tough night two weeks ago as a right back against Belgium. His tracking, tackling, defensive position and ability to cover plenty of ground were superb. How many times did he stretch those long legs in to nick something away? The communication with Michael Bradley appeared spotless as Cameron worked just in behind the U.S. midfield leader. Cameron’s early passing was way too loose, although he made up for some much of it with that awesome ball into Eddie Johnson for a second U.S. goal. Like Gonzalez, he was diligent in offering assistance for Evans. (Almost forgot: Cameron won the second ball and immediately pushed it to Bradley for the first U.S. goal.)

MF Michael Bradley (8): Is there a time when Michael Bradley is not in the right spot, on offense or defense? Probably … but it sure doesn’t happen very often. He is always an available outlet and almost always moves the ball along with a clarity of choice. (Someone check the stats, because he may not have given away a possession all night!). Bradley’s 22nd minute shot looked goal-bound, but hit Clint Dempsey, and the timing on runs into the 18 carried its usual effectiveness.

RW Eddie Johnson (7): The hometown hero looked surprising comfortable in his wide role as a winger or midfielder or something in between. There was a good variety to his game, one that mixed short passing with timely dribbling, a couple of crosses and mostly good choices. And the goal, of course! Johnson was not always in the best spots to help Evans, but what do we expect? The guy is a forward, after all.

MF Clint Dempsey (7): Worked his usual spots behind Jozy Altidore, combining wonderfully through the night with the U.S. striker and with Fabian Johnson on the left, too.  Panama never seemed to find the U.S. captain, who got on the ball in different spots and didn’t ever hit his “default,” which is to try doing too much on his own. Dempsey’s near-post run was critical in that first-half goal, by the way.

LW Fabian Johnson (6): Responded critically to a challenge from Klinsmann, who asked him to find more ways to get involved. That’s always like a Klinsmann “yellow card,” meaning the young midfielder was close to fumbling away his starting spot. Sure enough, Johnson crushed an early shot, but went high with it. His crossing wasn’t always the best, but he got into position with varied runs and was certainly laser-targeted with than left-footed cross to Altidore. His relationship and chemistry with Beasley happened fast, and it’s quite something.

FW Jozy Altidore (8): If the young U.S. striker can nail the balance he found Tuesday, with wonderful technical work, parlayed with smart decisions and lots of hard work, he’ll be an automatic choice for the United States for a long, long time. Altidore found a variety of ways to get involved, running at defenders here and there, working the combos in the 20- to 30-yard range and popping out wide just enough to be difficult to track. Other than scoring in his third consecutive match, the AZ striker probably should have won a 34th minute penalty kick, too.

Subs:

Brad Davis … late sub for Fabian Johnson

Joe Corona … late sub for Eddie Johnson

Stuart Holden … late sub for Altidore.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

  • Columbus Crew SC win vs. New York City FC on Sunday and …
  • Chicago Fire tie or lose vs. Houston Dynamo on Sunday and …
  • Atlanta United tie or lose vs. Toronto FC on Sunday
Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).

Bilic, Fonte react to brutal home loss to Brighton

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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Jose Fonte tried to shoulder some of the blame after West Ham United piled more pressure on its manager with a 3-0 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Friday.

“It’s not only the manager, it’s the players as well,” Fonte said. “We have an unbelievable squad and should not be in this position.”

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

Fonte said he understands why fans are booing the club, which has eight points and sits in the bottom half of the Premier League.

Given the club’s summer spending, with Javier Hernandez, Joe Hart, and Marko Arnautovic amongst the buys, pressure’s been on Bilic to deliver the goods. So far, the Irons have not.

Bilic did not deny his role nor his responsibility. From the BBC:

“It’s very hard for me to say anything clever now. I take full responsibility for it. I don’t want to hide.

“It is not a good situation and the board will do what they are going to do. It’s their decision.”

Not a man who feels like he’ll have his job much longer, but is it fair? A lot of West Ham’s key pieces are new, but surely they are not a club who should be peering over its collective shoulder to see the drop zone.

West Ham 0-3 Brighton: Gulls fly past Irons

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  • Murray heads Gross free kick
  • Izquiero strikes from distance
  • West Ham blanked at home
  • Murray earns, converts PK

Glenn Murray scored twice and Jose Izquiero also scored to lead visiting Brighton and Hove Albion past West Ham United 3-0 at London Stadium on Friday.

The loss will do nothing to ease the pressure on West Ham manager Slaven Bilic.

Brighton moves into 10th with 11 points, behind Newcastle United on goal differential. West Ham’s eight points keep them ahead of 16th place Everton, also on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton took a lead in the 10th minute when Premier League veteran Murray lost Pedro Obiang and turned Pascal Gross‘ free kick across a diving Joe Hart and inside the far post.

Murray now has PL goals for Brighton and Hove Albion, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace.

West Ham had chances from Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, and — perhaps most dangerous, a left-footed rip from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez that nearly saw its way inside the far post.

And then… well, wow. Izquierdo darted inside from the left and hit his hard shot at Hart, who could only slap the ball inside his goal:

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Manuel Lanzini threatened with a slightly deflected 65th minute free kick, and the Irons wasted the ensuing corner.

A dizzying, creative run by Anthony Knockaert provided Murray a 1v1 with Hart, but a second touch allowed the keeper to close down the Englishman.

Murray earned Brighton a PK within a minute, unable to get past the block of Pablo Zabaleta. He took his shot well.