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Jozy Altidore hat trick pushes U.S. to 4-3, comeback win over Bosnia and Herzegovina

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The United States men’s national team’s 11-match winning streak was threatened early Wednesday night, the CONCACAF champions going into halftime down two. Then the summer of Jozy Altidore continued, with three goals and an assist in the second half extended the U.S.’s record streak to 12, the team going to Sarajevo and handing Bosnia and Herzegovina a 4-3 loss.

The result was one of the most dramatic turnarounds of the Jurgen Klinsmann era, with a team that looked decidedly second best through 45 minutes finding four second half goals, giving the U.S. their first come-from-behind victory on European soil. It also have the U.S. a surprisingly strong result against FIFA’s 13th-ranked team, a likely-Brazil 2014 qualifier who started most of their best players.

First half goals from Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic gave Bosnia and Herzegovina a two-goal, halftime lead, though a halftime adjustment from Jurgen Klinsmann saw early Eddie Johnson and Jozy Altidore pull the U.S. even within 13 minutes of half time. A free kick in the 85th minute and a close-range finish a minute later completed Altidore’s second international hat trick, mimicking his April 1, 2009 performance in World Cup qualifying at Trinidad and Tobago.

Eddie Johnson recorded the U.S.’s first goal, pulling the team within one 10 minutes into the second half. Dzeko’s second goal, a 90th minute header flicked into the right of Tim Howard’s goal, pulled Bosnia back within one after Altidore’s second half explosion had put the U.S. up two.

Lineup and debuts

A mostly European-based lineup saw 20-year-old John Anthony Brooks get his first senior cap at kickoff, the Hertha Berlin defend who scored on his weekend Bundesliga debut starting to the left of Geoff Cameron in central defense. Fabian Johnson and Brad Evans completed the defensive line in front of Tim Howard.

In midfield, Gold Cup standouts Eddie Johnson, Mikkel Diskerud, and Alejandro Bedoya formed the attacking midfield’s line of three in front of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, with Jozy Altidore left alone up top.

Though he didn’t start, AZ Alkmaar striker Aron Jóhansson later joined Brooks in earning his first senior cap, the Iceland youth international having completed his one-time switch to the United States on Tuesday. Entering in the 63rd minute for Eddie Johnson, Jóhansson became permanently committed to the United States.

Defense fails U.S. early

After an even start that saw the U.S. gain traction down their right, a mistake by Eddie Johnson just outside the U.S.’s 18-yard box practically gifted the hosts their opening goal. Standing above the ball six yards from the edge of the penalty area, Johnson hesitated and elected to take an extra touch before being dispossessed. Two touches later, Zvjezdan Misimović put Dezko through on Howard. Through the U.S. number one made the initial stop, a rebound straight back to Dezko allowed the Bosnian star to give his team an eighth minute lead.

It was part of a rough start for Johnson, who also hesitated twice when given the chance to go one-on-one against Biram Bikacic in the left of the Bosnian penalty area. On the other side, however, Bedoya was continuing the strong Gold Cup form that earned the new Nantes winger a start on the right.

Bedoya wasn’t the only American who showed signs of life after Bosnia and Herzegovina’s opener. Altidore was proving troublesome of for the Bosnia defense, drawing fouls from his opposing central defenders, including a 27th minute yellow card from Bosnian captain Emir Saphic. In the 17th minute, Diskerud nearly generated a chance before being ridden off the ball by Elvir Rahimic in the Bosnian penalty area. As the U.S. dictated possession, Michael Bradley controlled the game in front of a deep-sitting Bosnian block.

The U.S. control was rendered irrelevant in the 30th minute, however, when a Bosnian with strong U.S. connections doubled his team’s lead. Vedad Ibisevic, who went to St. Louis University and maintains family in the area, cut in front of Geoff Cameron on a cross from his team’s right flank. Although relays showed Ibisevic may have been offside, the assistant referee’s flag stayed down. Ibisevic’s header give Bosnia and Herzegovina a 2-0 lead.

The rest of the first half was defined by Bosnia’s danger on the counter, the team getting out on four dangerous transitions over the half’s final 15 minutes. Twice Brooks intervened. Another attack failed to generate a chance, while a 35th minute movement from the right after a  Jones turnover allowed Miralem Pjanic a shot from just to the right of the penalty spot. While Roma attacker was unable to bend his shot inside the right post, the U.S. defenders were still left flat-footed by two quick passes and a run through the middle by Pjanic.

The U.S. eventually survived into halftime only down two, but the team hadn’t shown well. Beyond Altidore and Bedoya, nobody stood out, while the struggles of Jones, the central defenders, and Fabian Johnson left the team’s winning streak in doubt.

Klinsmann’s key halftime adjustments

Jurgen Klinsmann adjusted at halftime by switching formations, going from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2. To do so, Klinsmann sacrificed Diskerud in favor of Edgar Castillo, whose insertion at left back pushed Fabian Johnson into midfield. That freed Eddie Johnson to join Altidore up top.

The tweak paid off early in the second half. Bradley, standing over a ball just inside the Bosnian half in the 55th minute, lofted a pass just inside Begovic’s area for Altidore. Though the keeper came for the ball, he couldn’t prevent Altidore from touching a pass to his right for Eddie Johnson, who finished into an open net, making it 2-1.

Three minutes later, the U.S. had their second goal, with Fabian Johnson’s pass into the area finding Altidore cutting in front of Rahimic. The Sunderland striker’s first time, left-footed finish into the right of goal made it 2-2.

Soon, Klinsmann started making chances. In the 63rd minute Jóhansson and Joe Corona were on for Eddie Johnson and Bedoya. Seven minutes later, Sacha Kljestan was on for Jones. By that time, Bosnia had responded to the U.S.’s opening second half surge, but with both managers turning to their benches, it looked unlikely that the deadlock would be broke.

Jóhansson, however, did his best to do so. Two strong shots on goal early in his shift didn’t trouble Begovic, but hey showed more initiative than most were providing over the match’s final half hour. Bosnia tested Howard twice, too, but when Bosnia’s defense was sent sprawling in the 81st minute to deny one of his attacks, Jóhansson looked like the likely game-winner.

Altidore’s late explosion

Two minutes later, however, Altidore stepped back into the spotlight. Taking a rare free kick 21 yards out, Altidore went up-and-over the Bosnia wall to finish into Begovic’s upper-left hand corner, giving the U.S. a chance to extend their 11-match winning streak. When, one minute later, Bradley set up Altidore in the right of the area — much like Altidore had set up Eddie Johnson on the U.S.’s opening goal — Altidore had the 23rd goal of his international career, his scoring streak extended to five games.

Bosnia made it a match four minutes later when Dexko flicked home his second goal of the match, but in the tall striker’s celebration, you could see the match was over. Rather than running to the ball to retrieve it ahead of a quick kickoff, Dzeko’s immediate reaction was relief. Shoulders slumping as he exhaled, Dzeko gave the appearance of a man happy to have stopped the U.S. onslaught.

That onslaught maintains the U.S.’s momentum ahead of the resumption of World Cup Qualifying next month. The U.S. travel to Estadio Nacional in San Jose to face Costa Rica on Sept. 6, returning to Columbus four days later to face Mexico.

What lies ahead for USMNT in January camp?

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Bruce Arena’s reign as the new U.S. national team head coach is well under way and the veteran seems to be enjoying his second stint in charge after 10 years away.

[ MORE: Europe’s 100 most valuable ]

The USMNT have been training in Carson, Calif. over the past five days and a pretty cool behind-the-scenes video of the opening day of training was released by U.S. Soccer (see above) to show how Arena has been getting on.

With 31 players currently in camp, Arena is enjoying himself (banter with DaMarcus Beasley and waxing lyrical about Jermaine Jones says as much) but he already has one eye on the two crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama coming up in March.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

This camp will be key for the MLS-heavy contingent, with the likes of Chad Marshall, Benny Feilhaber, Dax McCarty and Juan Agudelo getting another chance to impress for the Stars and Stripes. So many youngsters have emerged from these camps in the past, with Kekuta Manneh, Keegan Rosenberry and Walker Zimmerman just some of the young talent looking to not only make their debuts but also become regulars in the USMNT setup.

Veterans Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and others are all around and ready to prove their worth to the new boss too.

Below is a quick look at what lies ahead for his team during January camp (and beyond) as they prepare for two friendlies against Serbia and Jamaica to tune themselves up for the World Cup qualifiers when the European contingent will join the squad.


Training

  • Jan. 11-28 – Carson, Calif.

Friendlies 

  • Jan. 29 – Serbia in San Diego, Calif.
  • Feb. 3 – Jamaica in Chattanooga, Tenn.

2018 World Cup qualifiers

  • Mar. 24 – vs. Honduras in San Jose, Calif.
  • Mar. 28 – at Panama in Panama City

Study reveals Europe’s 100 most valuable players

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (L) celebrates scoring his sides fourth goal with Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur (R) during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on January 14, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Wait, what?

[ MORE: Title race over for City? ]

A study from the International Center for Sports Studies (CIES) has slapped valuations on Europe’s top stars and both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo aren’t the most valuable.

Hmm.

The guys over at the Football Observatory, the soccer arm of CIES, always do a great job with these kind of studies and below you will find who they’ve ranked as the 100 most valuable players in Europe’s top five leagues.

CIES take players’ performance on the pitch, contract length, age and many other factors into place when ranking them and in the extensive study 10 Premier League clubs have players included as stars from Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur feature.

In total, 38 PL players are in the top 100.

Neymar is the most valuable player in Europe as the Barcelona star has a valuation of $261.5 million, which puts him way ahead of Lionel Messi who sits in second place with a value of $180.6 million.In third place is Manchester United’s Paul Pogba who has a value of $164.5 million, while Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez round out the top five.

Below is the top 100 list in full, courtesy of CIES, with their club, age and when their current contract runs out listed.

Do you agree with their valuations?


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Too early for Guardiola to concede Premier League title?

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Pep Guardiola suffered his worst-ever league defeat as a manager on Sunday as Manchester City were hammered 4-0 at Everton in the Premier League.

Post-game he was understandably glum.

[ MORE: Klopp slams United ]

Guardiola even appeared to concede the Premier League title, as the preseason favorites for the crown have now fallen 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 17 games to go.

When asked if City’s title hopes were over after a fifth defeat of the season, the Spaniard’s answer was emphatic.

“Yes. Ten is a lot of points,” Guardiola said. “The second one [Tottenham] is three points. We have to see. I spoke to my players the last three weeks or a month, forget about the table. Focus on the next game and try to do our best to win the games and after that at the end of the season we are going to evaluate how our level and performance was — how was the coach, how was the players and after we are going to decide.”

It seems like Guardiola has already decided that the title race is over for City, but has he thrown in the towel too early?

With just five points separating second-place Tottenham with sixth-place Manchester United, it appears City’s primary focus will now be to finish in the top four as a mammoth battle ensues in the final third of the season.

Yet, we have seen some miraculous comebacks from teams in the past to win the title. These stats could give Pep hope.

In the 1997-98 season, Arsenal were 12 points behind United after 21 games of the season (United had played a game more) but roared back to win the PL by one point. And of course, City’s two PL crowns came courtesy of stunning late surges in the season with thanks to Sergio Aguero’s magic on the final day in 2011-12 and then Liverpool’s collapse in the closing weeks of 2013-14.

Pep, don’t lost the faith. It can be done.

However, if City lose to Tottenham next weekend and Chelsea extend their lead over Pep’s boys to 13 points by beating Hull City, it is curtains.

Such is the dominance of the big boys this season, City pretty much have to go unbeaten for the rest of the season to have a shot at winning the PL. Given their recent defensive displays that seems unlikely.

We all know Pep is an idealist when it comes to how he wants his team to play but now we are seeing he is a realist too.

Conte urges players “money is not everything” amid Costa rumors

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 04: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea reacts during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on January 4, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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While new reports are suggesting that China will have to curb its massive spending, Antonio Conte has urged his players that they don’t have to be tempted by the Chinese Super League.

[ MORE: United, Liverpool finish level after late Ibrahimovic equalizer ]

Chelsea currently sits atop the Premier League — seven points clear of Tottenham and Liverpool — but the club has recently been at the center of controversy as star striker Diego Costa has been linked with a move away from the club.

[ MORE: CSL set to limit number of foreign players per team ]

Costa missed his side’s 3-0 win over Leicester City on Saturday after several outlets reported a rift between the Spaniard and Conte.

The Chelsea manager told reporters following the match that Costa wasn’t available due to a back injury he suffered in training, but there has been continued speculation that the 28-year-old could head to China.

Conte has made it clear to his squad though that the quality of competition in England supersedes the money offered abroad.

“The money is not everything,” Conte told reporters. “When you play for a great team like Chelsea, you must be pleased.

“I think we are a great club and it is a great honour to play for Chelsea. For this reason I don’t see [China] as a threat for my players.

The Blues have lost a number of high-profile players over recent seasons to the high spending of Chinese football, including Brazilian duo Oscar and Ramires, as well as John Obi Mikel.

Oscar departed Chelsea this month to join Shanghai SIPG for a reported $72 million.

“I have to look at the past,” Conte said. “Oscar played with us, had a good offer from China and he went.

“But this league is really competitive and every player wants to come and play in this league.

“This league is the first in the world because of a lot of positive things, so I don’t think these offers from China are a threat for our league.”