Both Michael Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann believes the tough test against Scotland is great preparation for teams the USMNT may face in Brazil next summer.

United States player ratings vs. Honduras


SANDY, Utah – How the United States men did individually in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium:

GK Tim Howard (7): Was only asked to do something beyond routine when Andy Najar got loose late in the first half, parrying the Honduran blast, and in stoppage time in pushing away a ball with a heavy-impact collision surely coming. Otherwise, claimed a couple of potentially dicey, low crosses after the break and beyond that … just offered some pats on the back here  and there for the inexperienced center backs in front of him.

RB Brad Evans (5): As a stop-gap defender, the Seattle Sounders’ utility knife did fine once again. But there were definitely times when Evans needed to be more aggressive with the ball, to turn and take on a defender rather than playing balls safely rearward, to push further up the wing the way Fabian Johnson was on the other side. This is where Steve Cherundolo was so sorely missed – because the veteran right back would have been more comfortable in adding further push up the right side.

CB Omar Gonzalez (6): Still some wobbles here and there in his game, like the bad give-away that led to an early Honduran free kick in a spot where no team wants to face them. Afterward was happy to distribute with the safety cap on, so to speak, allowing Michael Bradley and Matt Besler to direct the chancy stuff the rest of the half. A couple of nice passes early in the second half seemed to restore confidence to his efforts out of the back.

CB Matt Besler (7): Sure-footed, confident clearances marked a very good night for the emerging U.S. international, who was better than his central partner in this one. (And some of those clearances were quite important ones, not the easiest to handle, either.) Easily the better passer of the two central stoppers. One hiccup was a big one, dispossessed by Andy Najar, and the former D.C. United midfielder got a good chance out of it.

LB Fabian Johnson (7): Once again tucked into the left back slot (for the suspended Damarcus Beasley), Johson may have been the top U.S. attacker in the first half, combining well with Eddie Johnson in front of him and delivering several well-placed balls into scoring areas. Honduras paid more attention to Johnson after the break, but he picked his spots and was dashing once again into position as Graham Zusi dummied Clint Dempsey’s through ball, leaving it for the U.S. left back to arrange a game-winner. Defensively he was solid, with just a couple of lost challenges.

MF Jermaine Jones (5): Jones has been sharper with the ball; a few too many forced efforts toward Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore marked this night. And giving up two free kicks in the defensive third could have turned to disaster. He did have his moments, like winning a bunch of midfield headers, and like a big 33rd-minute run through the heart of the Honduran defense.  That one earned the United States a dangerous free kick and saw the first visitor booked. Managed to keep his cool despite some rough stuff inside. And Tuesday saw a return to some of the old communication issues with Bradley, as in, who holds the screening job and who pushes forward?

MF Michael Bradley (6): As usual, he called the shots in midfield, although finding the holes in a well-organized defensive midfield triangle (within Honduras’ 4-3-3) proved tricky. Pushed forcefully with the ball through midfield twice in the first half as a useful change of pace, something Bradley appears to have added to his game lately. Tried the Route 1 approach a few times with marginal success as the United States probed for ways through. Mostly, Bradley was his usual tidy and considered self in possession.

RW Graham Zusi (7): He was one of the main guys who “turned up the tempo,” as manager Jurgen Klinsmann said, after intermission. Rather tame in the first 45 (other than those sharp set piece hits, which are almost always well targeted), Zusi found more places to be effective. He suffered in the first 45 a bit from Evans’ inability to get forward more aggressively, which would have prevented Honduran left back Emilio Izaguirre from latching onto Zusi so tightly.

MF Clint Dempsey (6):  While Dempsey didn’t always find ways to be useful beyond the 18, and while he wasn’t always expertly linked into Altidore’s movements, he certainly managed to find opportunities near goal – which really is what Dempsey’s game is about. Probably should have done better with an uncontested header off Zusi’s corner kick just 8 minutes in. On the other hand, he probably should have earned a penalty kick during that mad scramble-jamble of the 64th minute, when his header near goal hit Wilson Palacios’ arm. Dempsey did work more into the game in the second half, and it was his shrewd through ball that sprang the only goal.

LW Eddie Johnson (6):  Started on the left, swapping sides from last week but in the same essential role. And he swapped liberally with Zusi throughout Tuesday. Drew an early foul for a U.S. free kick (but soon fouled Roger Espinoza to create an early, dangerous free kick for the visitors.) Found ways to put his speed to good use at times and was generally good in possession.  Johnson did fall asleep once on defense, and was beaten here and there, but that’s what you get when you ask a striker to fulfill additional defensive duties as a winger/midfielder.

FW Jozy Altidore (8): Where would the United States qualifying be right now if not for this guy? There was precious little room between Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares and the far post, but the United States’ brilliantly in-form striker found it with the well-targeted, calm and technical finish. (The U.S. striker also had a sweet finish in the 59th minute, but he was two steps offside on Dempsey’s through ball.)  Altidore was not as proficient as a week ago with the little flicks and the other technical work 20-30 yards form goal, but he still managed some effective target play. Oh! And the game-winning goal, of course.


Brad Davis, 73rd minute for Zusi (6) – A swell run in the 82nd minute earned a great scoring chance on a free kick. Tracked back like a pro to help kill the game.

Geoff Cameron, 73rd minute for Jones (7) – By his third minute, had already delivered more telling balls forward than Jones. The guy really covers ample ground with those long strides. Another solid shift as a holding mid.

Edgar Castillo, 87th for Eddie Johnson (NR) – Brought on late for additional defensive help.


‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).