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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.

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

Barcelona reportedly seeking out Nice winger Hatem Ben Afra

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Lost in the 2015-16 campaign has been Nice attacker Hatem Ben Afra.

[ MORE: Leicester can provide more magic at home vs. Everton ]

While Paris Saint-Germain has stolen the spotlight in France for much of this season, the former Newcastle midfielder has been nothing short of special for Les Aiglons.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks are in for Week 37 ]

That has left La Liga giant Barcelona contacting the 29-year old Frenchman over his services, according to Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere.

Rivere told France 3 he wouldn’t mind Ben Afra exiting the club:

“I would be very happy for him and for Nice if this move comes off,” Rivère said. “You do not reject Barcelona, but it is up to him to decide. If I was a player and Barcelona was offered to me I would not ask questions, I would go! But it is not yet done according to what I am told.”

In 32 appearances this season for Nice, Ben Afra has notched 17 goals and added five assists. He ranks third in goals, only behind PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.

Barcelona could very well be the frontrunners to acquire the talented attacker, but several European sides have also expressed interest in Ben Afra. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as AC Milan have also been named as potential suitors.

[ MORE: What do other PL teams have to say about Leicester? ]

Ben Afra’s age may be a bit of a concern for the Blaugrana though, in addition to the fact that this current season is the only time in his career that he has tallied double-digit goals. The Lyon academy product could provide solid depth to Barcelona’s attack should a deal get finalized.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Everton

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  • Leicester simply playing for home pride
  • Everton seek top-10 finish

Leicester City host Everton on Saturday from the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) in hopes of providing its fans with a season-capping victory, after winning the Premier League title on Monday.

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By now everyone has seen Christian Fuchs‘ video of the Leicester players in celebration mode, but there are still two games left to play. The match against Everton may be more about pride than anything else, but it can still represent an important feat for the club and serve as a true celebration in front of their home supporters.

Jamie Vardy‘s return will provide the fans with yet another moment to applaud and you’d expect the Leicester forward to want to add to his 22 PL goals.

[ MORE: Norwich in desperate need of three points vs. Manchester United ]

The Foxes will be met by an Everton side that don’t really have anything to play for either. Toffees manager Roberto Martinez will surely be looking for a win with his job on the line, however, it’s left to be seen whether or not he can actually maintain his position. Everton has finished in the PL top 10 each of the last eight seasons, and a finish outside of that mark would be a huge setback for the club.

What they’re saying…

Ranieri on his team competing: “Inside me there are two people. One is a very aggressive, I want to win, I won the Premier League but now I want to win on Saturday.”

Martinez on Leicester not letting up: “I’m sure any sort of celebration could affect you in the long term if you had to face a difficult month. In a 90-minute game where the stadium is going to be an historic environment, I’m sure that can only be positive for the home team.”

Prediction

The title is already theirs but why wouldn’t Leicester win this match? The KP Stadium will be rocking into the night and the Foxes will come away with a convincing 3-0 win against Everton.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Norwich City vs. Manchester United

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  • Norwich sit two points out of 17th place
  • United in battle with West Ham for Europe
  • Canaries are losers of three straight

Norwich City host Manchester United from Carrow Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as the Canaries seek Premier League safety with two weeks remaining.

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With their season on the line, Norwich is facing desperation as they meet Manchester United. The Canaries posted just one win in four matches in April, leaving them 19th in the PL. While neither Newcastle nor Sunderland were able to create separation between themselves and Norwich, a win against United is a necessity with three games left to play.

Goals have come at a minimum this season for the Canaries, leaving Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani in need of a big game. Each player has notched five goals this season for the side.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s on-field changes as manager have propelled Leicester ]

Disappointment has surrounded United for much of the 2015-16 season, however, the Red Devils still have important matches to play down the stretch. That starts with Norwich. Sitting four points behind fourth place Manchester City and holding a game in hand, Louis Van Gaal‘s club can close the gap on the Citizens with a strong performance on Saturday.

What they’re saying…

Neil on match’s importance: “Everybody knows the situation, so I don’t think it is going to have massive difference in terms of how we would approach the game or they (relegation rivals) would approach the game. What it does do is apply pressure to their game, but there will be pressure on that anyway. They will recognise and we recognise that all the teams need to win games to stay in the division.”

Van Gaal on injury struggles: “I always talk about facts, not about hypothetical circumstance and activities. I can only say that in the end of November we had first position, after that we had a big decline.”

Prediction

Despite playing in front of a feisty home crowd at Carrow Road and picking up a 2-1 victory early this season against United, the Canaries chances aren’t too optimistic. Norwich hasn’t scored in three straight matches, all of which were losses. With United still playing for something I don’t expect the Red Devils to drop this match. Give United the points on the road, 3-1, leaving Norwich to rely on Aston Villa and Chelsea to pick up wins.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

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