U.S. player ratings from Tuesday’s big win over Belize

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Game grades from Tuesday’s 6-1 victory at Jeld-Wen Field against over-matched and eventually overrun Belize. Remember, it’s just Belize. (NOTE: when rating players against under-strength opposition, we have to be a little picky. They should be doing most everything right.) 

STARTERS

GK Nick Rimando (7): Didn’t need his hands for more than 20 minutes, but did have to be alert in keeping  a 23rd minute deflection from sneaking under the cross bar. Also contributed a wonderful, flying save in stoppage time. Mostly, Real Salt Lake’s No. 1 had the quiet night everyone expected.

RB Michael Parkhurst (5): No trouble defensively, but he just isn’t the man for these matches at right back, simply not comfortable pushing the attack and taking on defenders. Almost always chooses the nice, safe pass rather than something more aggressive or adventurous. A misplaced pass here and there, too.

CB Michael Orozco (7): Slipped and lost his mark once when Belize got its first shot directed toward Rimando and got turned once in the midfield, but was otherwise solid. Managed to be around the ball a lot on offensive set-pieces and got his reward with the fifth U.S. goal.

CB Clarence Goodson (7) Good about pushing aggressively into Belize’s half, even getting to within 30 yards of goal at times.  Helped set the aggressive, high line Klinsmann wants and his passing was assertive once again.

LB DaMarcus Beasley (7): Once again the U.S. veteran was easily the better outside back in terms of throwing himself into the attack, confidently moving into attacking spots along the flank. Very little to do on defense.

DM Kyle Beckerman (6): The more defensive-minded of the central pairing, as you would expect. But Beckerman did add some offensive dash to his usual bag of tricks at international level, like a couple of skillful through balls or the terrific, early cross for the second U.S. goal. Tended to pass to the right a lot, for some reason. (Perhaps by tactical design?)

CF Mix Diskerdud (5): Active in showing for passes and finding ways to be involved, usually playing a little higher than Beckerman in the alignment. While his positioning was nominally central, Diskerud tended to drift to the right, probably because Beasley was keeping more pressure on the U.S. left side than Parkhurst could along the right. Needs to tidy up the possession just a little.

RM Joe Corona (6): Played along the right in the U.S. 4-4-2. His ability to rise and head Torres’ early cross provided the rebound that led to an 11th minute U.S. goal. His crossing was zippy and generally accurate, although the young Liga MX attacker could have been more opportunistic on his shooting.

LM Jose Torres (5): Playing along the left, tucked away inside, the Tigres man was a little slow in arriving into the game, although it was his cross that initiated the first U.S. goal. Generally though, same old Torres, just not doing enough to stamp his imprint on the night. For instance, he needed to finish from right in front of goal in the first half. Clearly, Torres can make the passes that open up a defense – he just needs to try ‘em a little more often.

(MORE: A few takeaways from the United States’ win)

FW Landon Donovan (7): A lot of technical craft, combining, turning, crossing, mixing in a little flick here and there, always doing his part to keep Belize under constant pressure. Donovan worked the channels and drifted wide as needed while Wondolowski took up positions around the 6. Donovan made smart runs, rarely lost the ball, collected two assists and converted the highly dubious PK for a sixth U.S. goal.

FW Chris Wondolowski (8): The man who has struggled to match his past scoring numbers in MLS this year had a hat trick within 40 minutes, doing exactly what he needed to climb up the striking depth chart. The scoring surely had “Wondo” feeling good, for his hold-up play was confident and effective. Not as active in the second 45, but it’s hard to criticize a striker who hits for three.

SUBSTITUTES

Stuart Holden (7): Entered at halftime for Beckerman and needed just more than 10 minutes to score. Didn’t need even that long to get on the ball a lot; good anticipation in stepping into passing lanes. The central midfield shape was more a true 4-4-2 when the Bolton man came on, with he and Diskerud exchanging spots in the middle. That allowed Holden to find some spots near Belize goal. Another nice step in his long climb back.

Brek Shea (6): Entered in the 61st minute for Torres. Didn’t see a bunch of the ball as the U.S. attack continued to lean right. But generally, his direct style provides a nice change of pace, especially when he replaces someone like Torres, who is more chisel than hammer in his attacking movements.

Alejandro Bedoya (6): Entered in the 66th for Corona. Nearly got into the scoring within seconds of his introduction.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

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Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

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MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

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Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

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  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.