FBL-WC2014-QUALIFIER-USA-PAN

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.

Seven unheralded stars of this Premier League season

during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Tottenham Hotspur at Vitality Stadium on October 25, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.
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Look, it’s been a crazy year in the Premier League. Leicester City is top by five points, Chelsea is a bottom-half side, and not one of the league’s top three scorers hails from a team in last season’s Top Four.

So it follows that among the league’s other statistical leaders — advanced and traditional — are some surprisingly shining stars.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Or at least they aren’t mentioned a ton. We plan to rectify that here. By no means do we claim these statistical leaders without fault this season, but hats off to the good they’ve done (or, in some cases, the pain they’ve felt).

Most saves in a starring role

You wouldn’t know it from the goal totals these past few weeks, but Stoke City’s Jack Butland has been playing otherworldly between the sticks. His 87 saves lead the Premier League, and the Potters would be in the thick of a relegation battle if he hadn’t shone as brightly.

Ironman

Eleven players have played every minute of their side’s Premier League campaign this season (a 12th, Gareth Barry, has played all but one). Four of those 11 are goalkeepers, and six more are defenders. The only midfielder? Bournemouth’s South African standout Andrew Surman (above).

Top thief, too

Surman is also the league leader in interceptions with 92. The next seven players on the list, headed by Chris Smalling, are all defenders.

The most under-appreciated of the underdogs

Kante (Mark Thompson / Getty Images)

Leicester City has been fantastic, and people are quick to name Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy as big parts of the table-topping effort at King Power Stadium. Then, perhaps they’ll say something about goalkeeper Kaspar Schmeichel or defender Wes Morgan.

But how about the Premier League’s leader in tackles. Midfielder N'Golo Kante (right) has 115 tackles, 12 more than second-best Yohan Cabaye of Crystal Palace.

An all-expense paid journey to the massage parlor for…

Five players have been fouled more than 50 times this year, and you need to be around the ball a lot for that to happen. The four also-rans are Southampton’s Sadio Mane, Swansea City’s Andre Ayew, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Mahrez, but the man who deserved to skip to the head of the ice bath line is from Crystal Palace: Wilfried Zaha has been fouled 59 times. And that’s the amount of times the foulers were caught in the act.

Let Newcastle United’s captain climb in second, though; Fabricio Coloccini‘s 47 blocked shots are eight more than runners-up Neil Taylor (Swans) and Christian Fuchs (Leicester).

A man possessed

He hasn’t been heralded like a year ago, and most witnesses would tell you the midfielder’s been playing much worse. No, touches don’t equal success, but Cesc Fabregas‘ 2,027 credited touches are 74 more than the next player despite the fact that he’s the only player in the top four to have started less than 25 matches. He’s also completed 83 more passes than the closest competitor (Surman).

All-around stars

Advanced stats site Squawka uses an algorithm to generate statistics on who just might be the most complete player in the Premier League.

It’s certainly not foolproof, but the best player per-90 minutes would likely surprise you: Mousa Dembele of Spurs (Minimum 15 matches).

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As for who’s produced the most when numbers are averaged out over the entire game, one man rises to the top: Ross Barkley.

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Oft-targeted in the Premier League, Carvalho extends deal at Lisbon

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William Carvalho has been running through the rumor mill for ages, and Sporting Lisbon has made sure they’ll get their due if he ever stops somewhere else.

The Angola-born Portuguese defensive midfielder with 15 caps has extended his contract with Sporting through 2020, a date that carries him through his 28th birthday.

[ MORE: West Ham 3-2 Liverpool | Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

Carvalho is 23 now, and has been linked with loads of big name clubs from Manchester United to Chelsea, Arsenal to PSG.

His new buyout clause is said to be as high as $53 million, and Carvalho hopes his commitment calms his supporters.

“Sportinguistas, I say to you that I am very happy with the deal which I signed up to 2020 and that you will have total effort on my part to be champions.”

Sporting is tied with Benfica atop the Portuguese table, second on goal differential. The club leads third-place Porto by six points, and is still alive in the Europa League. Bayer Leverkusen is up next.

Klinsmann hints at Euro-heavy roster for World Cup qualifiers

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Danny Williams #14 of the United States looks on before an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
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If your favorite Major League Soccer players don’t make the cut for Jurgen Klinsmann’s next roster, don’t think you won’t see them in the red, white and blue this summer.

[ JPW: What’s the best XI for USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers? ]

Perhaps it’ll be different for the players who were a part of January camp — stars Lee Nguyen and Steve Birnbaum chief among them — but Klinsmann says the late start of the MLS season can affect fitness for the critical qualifiers home and away to Guatemala.

That means there’s a better chance to see in-form Championship midfielder Danny Williams (above) or Pachuca’s Omar Gonzalez then, say, Orlando City’s Brek Shea or Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman.

From USSoccer.com:

“We are basically looking all over the place. We monitor all the players in Europe. We monitor all the players in Mexico, and obviously we can’t wait until MLS starts as well. It’s really kind of crucial that we see everybody getting in the best shape possible, everybody getting into a rhythm and making statements.

“Then you say, ‘Is the roster you see at the end of March the same one as Copa America?’ Probably not. The end of March comes early for MLS players. The European players are in the full swing, and also Mexican players because they started already a month ago with Liga MX. So we’ll be monitoring everyone.”

We’ve already covered the obstacle that is the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL Olympic qualifying playoff occurring at the same time as the Guatemala matches, but this is still good news for players in England, Germany and other European locales seeking caps in March.

Klopp on struggling Benteke: “He wants to score and we need him to score”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Christian Benteke of Liverpool reacts as he foiled by goalkeeper Darren Randolph of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp had his appendix removed this weekend, but it’s doubtful he’s feeling as sore as his big Belgian striker.

Christian Benteke had the opportunity to put himself in the good graces of Liverpool fans with a number of decent chances in Tuesday’s FA Cup loss to West Ham, but couldn’t get the job done.

[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Coutinho’s slick free kick ]

In one case, Benteke put himself in a prime spot only to lash his shot wide of the post. Instead, he’s now at 11 appearances without a goal (despite ripping nine shots against the Irons).

From the BBC:

“I don’t believe in the easy goal. He has to carry on like this. It’s not the nicest moment in his career but he has to work hard. He wants to score and we need him to score. We will work on it in the days, weeks and months.”

Klopp maintained that Liverpool was “the better team” on the night — counterpart Slaven Bilic disagreed — despite conceding a pair of very similar looking goals.

The game could’ve avoided extra time through Benteke’s boots and body, but he couldn’t find his finish again.

The 25-year-old has seen his goal production drop by nearly half since joining from Aston Villa in the summer, and it’s sure to return… just maybe not under Klopp.