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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.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”

Report: China tempting TFC’s Giovinco with big offer

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Union during the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match in Toronto, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Could Sebastian Giovinco’s chances of another MVP award be diminishing?

It wouldn’t be on account of a lack of production, rather massive money coming his way from the Chinese Soccer League.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

Great, and right when we were daydreaming about how Toronto FC’s Italian attacker could run a revenge tour on the folks who somehow left him out of the MVP finalists last year.

Giovinco turns 30 on Thursday.

From The Toronto Sun’s Kurtis Larsson:

“The Chinese club seems to be very interested, but I don’t think it’ll be easy to take him away from Toronto,” Giovinco’s agent, Andrea D’Amico, told the broadcaster.

“We received an important offer from China and we’ll talk to Toronto to decide, along with Sebastian, what to do.”

Giovinco is with Toronto FC for preseason training camp, and both the club and player have shown no interest in moving on from the diminutive winger and 2015 MVP.

But if China comes calling with crazy money, say a $25-30 million transfer fee, shouldn’t TFC think twice? Any figure above $25 million would be more than the sum of the three biggest incoming transfer fees in MLS history (Miguel Almiron, Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe).

AFCON wrap: Ivory Coast bounced, DR Congo wins Group C

Congo's soccer players celebrate after scoring a goal against Togo during the African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match between Congo and Togo at the Stade de Port-Gentil, Gabon, Tuesday Jan. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
AP Photo/Sunday Alamba
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Down went another knockout round mainstay from the Africa Cup of Nations, as the Ivory Coast failed to capture one of the top two spots in Group C.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Morocco 1-0 Ivory Coast

Needing a win to move on, the Ivory Coast fell in its final group match. Rachid Alioui scored a 64th minute goal that meant the Ivory Coast needed two to advance to the quarterfinals. The goals didn’t come, and Morocco will face the Group D winner next.

Togo 1-3 DR Congo

Junior Kabananga, Paul-Jose M’Poku, and Ndombe Mubele scored as the Leopards finished the group stage with an unbeaten record of 2-1. DR Congo will face the runner-up of Group D in the quarterfinals.

Wednesday’s matches

Ghana is through with six points, while Uganda is out. Egypt will go through with a result against Ghana, while Mali needs a win and an Egypt loss to get to tiebreakers.

Egypt vs. Ghana — 2 p.m. ET
Uganda vs. Mali — 2 p.m. ET