Fighting regression: Theories why McInerney, Magee can keep up their rates

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Among the three-way tie atop the league’s scoring charts, Marco Di Vaio’s name stands out. He’s the one established sniper, and although his goal rate was down over his last days in Italy and his initial arrival in Montréal, many picked the Bologna icon to have this type of effect when he arrived in North America. Through 13 starts this season with the Impact, the 36-year-old has 10 goals.

Jack McInerney, however, was mostly promise coming into the season, while Mike Magee was an established workhorse. Back in February, nobody picked either to challenge atop the league’s scoring charts. That we inch toward July with each challenging Di Vaio is surprising, with many expecting the duo to regress from their current rates.

This isn’t a law of averages thing. It’s not about things evening out. It’s about assessing capabilities. Is Jack McInerney really somebody who’s a two-in-three type of scorer right now? If you think so, then his current standing shouldn’t surprise you. And is Mike Magee really a player who, for the first time in his career, can get you three or four goals a month? That one seems harder to sell.

There are, however, reasons to believe each could sustain a high goal rate. Perhaps two-in-three is too much, but with changes each player has experienced in their club surroundings, it becomes easier to explain improvement over their previous totals.

Let’s start in Philadelphia, where a hot four months has Jack McInerney in the Gold Cup picture. His early returns, however, were based on a shots-on-goal conversation rate of over 50 percent. Whether it was especially good chances or improbably good finishing, the numbers said McInerney would slow up.

Now those numbers have slipped, down to 43.4 percent, yet JackMac is still atop the scoring charts. The reason may be something more sustainable. As Goal.com’s Keith Hickey describes at the end of his recent Union feature, the connection between McInerney and his head coach, John Hackworth, may be a factor, with the man who oversaw some of his training at Bradenton showing new confidence in the 20-year-old:

Hackworth oversaw McInerney as a high-schooler at Bradenton, was instrumental in drafting him as a Union player in 2010, and has built a bond that has been rewarded on the field. The key to unlocking the potential of his star striker it seems, is trust …

“Trust is not something you can develop with a conversation or in a short amount of time. It takes some time. I think there’s a reason that some players on this team and our staff have that level of trust. It’s because we, through different teams or situations, interacted with each other and had built up a lot of that trust… Jack is obviously an example of that and doing very well.”

McInerney’s conversation rate is regressing, but he’s also being used better than he was under Peter Nowak. That means more confidence, more chances, and a better chance of maintaining his goal rate.

Mike Magee’s situation has some similarities. Though his previous coach, Bruce Arena, didn’t lack for confidence in former Galaxy man, he was never seen as somebody to rely on for goals. (Oh, the luxuries of being a team with Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan.) Yet in Chicago, he’s immediately been installed as the focal point in attack, playing ahead of players like Chris Rolfe, Daniel Paladini, and Joel Lindpere – players who can create chances for him.

Put simply: All of Magee’s career numbers were accrued as a complementary player. Now, he’s the main man. Is he really that type of player? Somebody with skills to justify installing him as a focal point? In this discussion, it doesn’t matter. He’s certain to get more and better chances to score goals in his current job than he’s had at any other point in his career.

Their current rates will be near-impossible to maintain, but there’s reason to believe McInerney and Magee’s regressions won’t be as steep as their pasts suggest. There are narratives to support their newfound production.

Aguero left off Argentina starting XI to face Bolivia

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Sao Paolo striker Lucas Pratto will receive a fantastic opportunity on Tuesday when Argentina faces Bolivia in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT travels to Panama in CONCACAF WCQ ]

It just so happens that Pratto’s gain is a major letdown for one of the Premier League’s top strikers. The 28-year-old is tied for second this qualifying campaign for Argentina with two goals.

La Albiceleste have announced their starting lineup ahead of tomorrow’s clash in Bolivia, which features mainstays Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

Meanwhile, Aguero — who started in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Chile on Thursday — is the lone change from manager Edgardo Bauza.

The Copa America runners’ up are currently depleted with a combination of injuries and suspensions. Four players will miss Tuesday’s meeting in La Paz due to suspension, including Gonzalo Higuain, Nicolas Otamendi, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia.

Elsewhere, Gabriel Mercado and Emmanuel Mas will each miss the match after sustaining respective hamstring and knee injuries.

Argentina currently sits third in the CONMEBOL table while Bolivia is in danger of elimination with a loss on Tuesday. La Verde have managed just seven points in the first 13 rounds of World Cup qualifying.

Three keys for USMNT against Panama

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Coming off of Friday night’s dominating effort against Honduras, the U.S. Men’s National Team looks for their second win in five nights when Bruce Arena and co. head to Panama.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT goes for second win in Hex on Tuesday ]

Strong performances from players like Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic have USMNT fans buzzing ahead of Tuesday’s clash in Panama City, but there are several questions that lie ahead for Arena as the U.S. goes for its second win in the Hexagonal.

How does Arena cope with injuries?

The only downside of the team’s 6-0 win over Panama on Friday was the aftereffects if the match. John Brooks, Sebastian Lletget, Michael Orozco and Jordan Morris are no longer with the USMNT after sustaining injuries/illnesses, leaving Arena shorthanded as the Stars and Stripes head into the Estadio Rommel Fernández.

While Clint Dempsey’s emphatic national team return will provide Arena with some assurances up front, along with the emergence of Borussia Dortmund star Christian Pulisic, there are some questions in the midfield and defense for the U.S.

Jermaine Jones is available to return from his one-match suspension and could potentially fill the void left by Sebastian Lletget after his injury on Friday. While, Alejandro Bedoya — who replaced Lletget in the Honduras match — will also be in line for a starting spot.

Defensively is where it gets a bit tricky though, as Arena has to make up for an already-depleted backline. There was no DeAndre Yedlin or Fabian Johnson coming into this round of qualifiers, and John Brooks’ release from camp leaves the defense even thinner. Tim Ream appears to be Arena’s next choice to start at centerback with Brooks unavailable, but will he stick with Omar Gonzalez in the center or slide Geoff Cameron back into the middle?

It seems like the latter choice, especially given Cameron’s experience in the central defense, but that would mean Arena has to slot somebody else into the right back position. Graham Zusi has had slight experience in that role as of late, but it could be a bit of a gamble for Arena in another high-stakes match.

Bradley must control the middle once again

Forget Michael Bradley’s superb goal, which lifted the U.S. lead to 2-0 on Friday, it was the captain’s overall performance that is exactly what should be expected from the center midfielder.

Bradley completions/MLSSoccer

In 90 minutes of play against Los Catrachos, Bradley only missed on six passes while also making several successful tackles and recoveries to limit the Honduras attack.

The loss of Lletget is definitely a significant one for the Americans, given his lively movement going both ways. However, LA Galaxy teammate will likely be in line to replace the vibrant midfielder on Tuesday as he returns from a one-match suspension.

In regards to Bradley though, the U.S. veteran is at his best when he is able to move freely throughout the midfield, but Jones’ inclusion could present more of a burden for the Toronto FC player.

Jones is still a very capable midfielder, but he simply doesn’t have the pace to match that of a Lletget, which leaves Bradley more liable for covering ground defensively in front of the backline.

On top of that, the back four will see more changes on Tuesday after Brooks’ exit from the USMNT, making Bradley’s role all the more critical when facing players like Luis Tejada and Gabriel Torres.

[ MORE: CONCACAF qualifiers resume Tuesday afternoon ]

Dempsey/Pulisic bond continues to evolve

It couldn’t have gone much better for the pair on Friday night as Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic were directly involved in five of the game’s six goals.

The budding relationship between the two key attackers though is an intriguing one, and will likely determine just how successful this USMNT can be down the road. At 34, Dempsey is certainly on the back end of his career, however, his effort against Honduras shows just how dangerous the Seattle Sounders man can be, even after missing significant time due to a heart problem.

Meanwhile, Pulisic continues to shine in European with giants Dortmund, appearing both in the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. The two likely won’t be together on the international scene for long, perhaps only until the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but the partnership is something to monitor over the next year-plus.

Not only does the duo represent a dangerous one-two punch in the attack but also a changing of the guard. Dempsey has been one of the most talented USMNT players in the nation’s history, and many believe Pulisic has the talent to match or even surpass that of the 55-time goalscorer.

We’ve seen it before when Landon Donovan was phased out of the U.S. squad and Dempsey was essentially handed the reigns of the attack, and this time Pulisic will be doing so with much more time to make an impact. The 18-year-old already has four international goals in 12 appearances, and if he improves on that goalscoring pace the U.S. will be enjoying his presence for many years to come.

At long last, Butland returns to full training with Stoke

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Stoke City’s long-coming goalkeeping dilemma will come to a head soon, as Jack Butland is back in training.

A year ago today, the Potters confirmed that star backstop Butland would miss EURO 2016 with a broken ankle. He’d need multiple surgeries as recovery dragged on and on.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

That was more palatable thanks to the play of Lee Grant, who arrived on loan from Derby County but became a permanent Potter in January. Grant has been a key part of Stoke’s season.

Butland is contracted to Stoke through 2021, and he’ll ascend to the starting gig sooner rather than later. But Grant is in the catbird seat for now, and at least will have made himself attractive to other clubs seeking a keeper.

Report: Everton linked with $4 million swoop for Canada’s Larin

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The Sun only hits on a few of the many transfer rumors it tosses around, but this one bears a second look for fans of Everton, MLS, and Canada.

Everton is already eyeing replacements for Romelu Lukaku, according to the report, and is hunting for a bargain in Canadian national teamer Cyle Larin.

Larin, 21, was the first overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by Orlando City SC after an electric career at UConn.

[ MORE: Complete Panama-USMNT preview ]

He’s since scored 35 goals in 63 matches for the Lions, picking up three in his first two matches of the 2017 season. The 6-foot-1 Ontario native has five goals for Canada in 19 caps.

The Sun says Larin would cost close to $4 million, a fraction of what the Toffees will get if they sell Lukaku.