What we learned from Sunday’s United States Gold Cup victory over Panama

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  • It’s a final, and we know what those look like

The Gold Cup may be only a “tournament-lite” in that the regional big boys chose to send the junior varsity. But the rule on finals – teams get tight and the action bogs down, generally producing matches that are decidedly, well, less than lovely – still applies in lesser tournament. And how.

Sunday’s 1-0 U.S. win at Soldier Field looked nothing like Wednesday’s mostly wide-open semifinal win over Honduras.

A championship is a championship, and good on the United States, clearly the Gold Cup’s top team. But as aesthetics go … well, no need to save this on the DVR.

  • Jurgen Klinsmann (and staff!) keeps making great decisions

One week ago, Eddie Johnson scored 14 seconds after coming onto the field against El Salvador. Check the box on “Great sub!” with that one.

Sunday in Chicago, Brek Shea need a bit longer – just over 40 seconds. Check that box again.

I mean, this kind of prescience would scare the bejeebers out of Las Vegas!

In the bigger picture, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have the Midas touch with his choices. Brek Shea (pictured) was a late Gold Cup roster addition; he scored two goals. (Yes, one was tap-in … but being in the right places counts for something, and Shea’s straight-line approach to opposition goal paid off twice.)

Adding Matt Besler and Eddie Johnson for the elimination matches looks smart, given the results. Hard to argue that Clarence Goodson over Omar Gonzalez in Sunday’s lineup was the right choice given the result. And Gonzalez’s insertion late at Soldier Field proved worthwhile as the big Galaxy center back thumped away several of Panama’s late probing balls of desperation.

The bigger-picture choices on guys like Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden seem validated, too. (Fingers crossed for Holden, of course.) But there will be more time to discuss that. Back to Sunday …

(MORE: United States Man of the Match — Alejandro Bedoya)

  • Kyle Beckerman does his job

I know it’s not enough for some people, who continue to want the Real Salt Lake man to be more, do more, try more, etc.

But that positional discipline, that ability to win the ball, win tackles, distribute simply and wait for the next chance to do it all again … all that stuff is so critical in a match like Sunday’s, when less disciplined men might grow impatient and wander too far forward. That is exactly what Panama wanted, to defend and defend and hope to catch the United  States leaning too far into the attack.

Teams need balance and Beckerman provides a bunch of it. No, he’s not about to displace Michael Bradley or even Jermaine Jones on coming World Cup qualifier rosters. But for depth in the pool, Beckerman as a holding midfield specialist provides essential value.

  • Michael Parkhurst is solid defensively, but …

I was surprised at the apparent surprise that Michael Parkhurst lacked initiative in pushing up the right and overlapping Sunday, unable to create that critical defensive confusion while working in tandem with Alejandro Bedoya.

Because he’s just not that guy. Don’t we know that? When he can barely dent the game against the small fries of the tournament (on offense, that is), do we really believe he is going to unleash some secret, here-to unseen attacking arsenal against what was clearly the second best team at the Gold Cup?

Parkhurst is what he is: a converted center back who is adequate at defense chores along the right, although vulnerable to faster feet.

(MORE: Shea goal guides U.S. to fifth Gold Cup title, 1-0 win over Panama)

  • Eddie Johnson still has some volatility about him

U.S. striker Eddie Johnson has a lot going for him right now. He’s third-ish on the pecking order of U.S. strikers. (The top choice for a Gold Cup final but still behind Jozy Altidore and probably Herculez Gomez in Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board of options.)

He’s a valued member of the Seattle Sounders club, about to be out of contract and highly desirous of remaining with the club that helped him resurrect a wayward career. Clearly, he wants to find his way into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, having played in 2006 but then bypassed for 2010. All that is to say, he is highly motivated.

So wouldn’t it be ashamed if Johnson let’s a dangerous propensity for losing his cool get the better of him. There’s just a lurking volatility about him, one that could be harmful to a team in an instant. We saw it again late Sunday when he got into a completely unnecessary set-do, issued a yellow card for retaliation indiscipline.

Don’t think future opponents won’t take notice and target Johnson as a man to pick on, to potentially incite. That’s not what you pinned on the opposition corkboard.

(MORE: Landon Donovan claims Gold Cup MVP honors)

  • Jose Torres’ stock is falling

Coming into this year’s Gold Cup, wouldn’t we all identify Jose Torres as the creative man of the moment, the guy to slice up defenses with those killer, targeted back line beaters?

Well, Sunday’s match was begging for such a guy – and Torres was nowhere to be found. Time and again in the tournament Torres did OK, but not much better than that. What we know about Klinsmann is that he is absolutely, positively not OK with just OK.

The proof was there Sunday. Joe Corona and Alejandro Bedoya got the starts. Brek Shea got the call off the bench when Corona was proving less than effective.

None of this is great news for Torres, but you cannot say the man didn’t get his chances.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

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.