Three things we learned from USMNT 3-1 loss at Costa Rica

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The United States were outpaced, out-passed, out-coached, and ultimately out-played en route to a 3-1 loss to Costa Rica Friday night.

And while it’s only one loss on the road in CONCACAF play – which certainly puts this sole match into perspective – there are still many things that Jurgen Klinsmann can take from this.

First off, it was reaffirmed that Michael Bradley is without a doubt the most important player in the United States squad.  I tackled that in another post, so what else did we come away with from this loss?

1) US defenders need to return to the basics

Very fundamental mistakes proved to be the undoing of the USMNT defenders at Estadio Nacional.  On the first and second goals, marking in the air was a struggle for Gonzalez and Besler.  Not only was jumping an issue, but tracking back with the ball in the air was a serious problem as well – especially on the second goal.

DaMarcus Beasley found himself out of position quite often. It’s not just his fault, as Beasley was often forced to cover for Fabian Johnson, who ran wildly around the pitch in all sorts of positions.  However, Beasley also needs to do his part on the edge, where Costa Rica repeatedly targeted as points of weakness.  The two of them need to figure out where their best and most comfortable position is, and soon. Overall, the organization from the back four wasn’t there.

The final goal was the biggest mistake, however.  Many will crucify Tim Howard for not coming out of goal to collect, but that aside, both Gonzalez and Besler were caught way too high up.  Sure the scoreline had something to do with that, but for a Costa Rican clear to find the feet of an attacker and nobody behind him is unacceptable.

2) The depth, while improved, still isn’t stellar

It’s almost impossible for any team to replace their star anchorman when injured, but the missing pieces were never replaced adequately.  Imagine if – knock on wood – Jozy were to get injured long-term? There’s no replacement up front other than moving Dempsey to striker, where he more often than not gets lost.  Geoff Cameron wasn’t able to come close to filling Bradley’s shoes, and now the US will even be without the Stoke man for Tuesday.

With Besler also suspended, it appears the most likely replacement will be a call up for Clarence Goodson.  The names emerging as tactical substitutions are decent, but when absences are compounded, the squad still looks dangerously patchwork.  It’s a lot better than it used to be, but still has a ways to go to be able to cope with losses of this magnitude.

3) It’s not all so bad

On the surface, most people will remember what stood out – the two goals inside 10 minutes for Costa Rica to begin the match, when they battered and bruised the US into submission, and the visitors were never able to recover.  That may have been the case, but the United States had plenty of bright spots, and if it weren’t for the outstanding goalkeeping of Keylor Navas, this match could have been wildly different.  He saved a bullet volley by Fabian Johnson in the first half which was headed for top corner, and had help from the post on Dempsey’s line drive towards the end.

Given all of the hardships the US were supposed to overcome – Bradley’s absence, Jozy’s fitness, the Orozco right-back experiment (which went poorly), Donovan’s lack of playing time with the first team – it wasn’t a terrible result.   Sure, the first 20 minutes were a train wreck, but once they settled in to match Costa Rica’s blistering start, the build-up was there…sort of.

Right then, it’s on to Colombus. The loss is but one match on the road in a very hostile environment, and with it over the shoulder and in the past, a date with a struggling El Tri looms.  It will be a test for both sides…

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.