Looking forward, United States in good shape for Gold Cup’s final rounds

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That was the last of the U.S.’s warmups. With the exception of the last group game against Costa Rica, a match with the convenient safety net of having already qualified for the quarterfinals, the Gold Cup’s been a walk. The U.S. is 4-0-0 and has a +14 goal difference, the kind of dominance that had us drooling over the Mexico’s team during the last tournament (El Tri was also +14 after four matches). If this wasn’t a weaker, in-World Cup Qualifying Gold Cup, U.S. fans would be doing back flips over the team’s performance.

But it is a down Gold Cup, meaning there’s only so much we can take beyond the confines of this six-match gauntlet. Within those confines, however, we can ask how ready this U.S. team is for the big step up that’s about to happen.

Come the semifinals, there are not more El Salvadors, and the days of Belize and Cuba are long gone. Panama and Mexico occupy one side of the bracket, while the U.S. face either an always difficult Honduras or a Costa Rican team unlikely to rest Álvaro Saborío and Michael Barrantes on the bench again. All have World Cup-caliber talent. All have a chance to win this tournament.

If today was any indication, however, the U.S. appears to be in good shape. They look as good as anybody other team in the tournament, and if it wasn’t for a couple of uncertain moments from a relatively untested defense, there would be few worries going into the final matches. With Omar Gonzalez set to join the team in Texas, however, there’s reason to think the defending can improve (even if Gonzalez has had his own problems with lapses during qualifiers).

The attack, however, is where fans can find be encouraged. Sixteen goals in four games provides superficial proof, but if anybody needs more proof of the team’s capabilities, consider the first 30 minutes on Sunday. The team looked assured, confident, enacted a plan that leaned heavily on building down the right, and most importantly (given what we’ve seen from Klinsmann’s teams since his arrival) executed. They actually translated control into goals.

Landon Donovan deserves much of that credit on Sunday, but there were other positives, mostly from players who had been questioned by fans in the lead-up to the match. Jose Torres may not have been the most influential of players, but he was solid, and his ability to come in and contribute centrally while ostensibly being a left midfielder is particularly valuable if the team continues leaning right. Kyle Beckerman’s not going to win over Stuart Holden’s ardent supporters, but his distribution at the base of midfield proved the right choice today. And while Joe Corona’s production has been questioned, his has quietly put together a solid tournament, one that included a goal on Sunday.

Chris Wondolowski’s lack of influence was mildly concerning considering a history of waning influence against tougher And if the U.S. really remains so right-leading, you wonder if Edgar Castillo might be a better choice at left back. (Cue the obligatory backlash every time Castillo’s mentioned.) Still, with Castillo in reserve and Eddie Johnson in the team, Klinsmann has options, should he need to tweak as the stakes are raised.

Regardless, the U.S. is in remarkably good shape headed into the semifinals. While you could still see a Honduras or Costa Rica pull off an upset in Texas, the basics seem to be in place. If the U.S. can execute over the next 180 minutes as well as they did in Baltimore, they should reclaim the Gold Cup.

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.

Ballack acknowledges difficult decision ahead for John Terry

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For the better part of 19 years John Terry has been a staple of Chelsea’s backline.

[ WATCH: Zaha nets first international goal for Ivory Coast ]

With his future at Stamford Bridge becoming more and more in doubt though, it appears it’s time for the 36-year-old to move on from his longtime club, and that’s a decision that another former Chelsea player doesn’t envy.

[ MORE: Everton’s Coleman breaks leg on Ireland duty ]

Ex-Blues midfielder Michael Ballack knows that Terry has options, whether it be in Major League Soccer, the Chinese Super League or even with another Premier League club, but the German says it’s difficult because of what the centerback has meant to Chelsea.

“He is a player with that history and charisma,” Ballack, who spent four years with Chelsea during his playing days, told Sky Sports. “He’s such a Chelsea boy and they love him there.

“I know what it means if your career comes to an end and you’re getting older. You don’t know whether you extend your contract, play for another club or go abroad to America.

“I’m sure he has some options but if you think long-term, you have to feel comfortable with the decision.

For the first time in years, Terry has failed to establish himself as a first-team regular largely due to Antonio Conte‘s three-back system. The 36-year-old has appeared in just five PL matches this campaign, while making 10 appearances overall for the Blues, who currently sit atop England’s top flight and are in position to go for the double with the FA Cup semifinals lurking.

Terry himself has acknowledged that his career is nearing its end, but knowing the competitive drive that has made the Englishman great throughout his almost 20-year career, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll just give up his playing days without a fight.