What we learned from the United States win over Mexico

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — From Landon Donovan to Mexico’s sorely lacking belief, a few take-aways from the United States’ 2-0 win Tuesday over Mexico:

The United States still needs Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan, like so many of the U.S. men, labored a bit in the muggy Ohio evening. But he made things happen in the moments that mattered most, with a goal and assist in yet another memorable performance (personally and for the team) against Mexico.

His set piece deliveries arrive in the intended places, and that’s so huge in World Cup soccer. His element of speed changes the way defenses react. Plus, the awareness that he’s around opens up just a little more space for guys like Clint Dempsey.

“We always said Landon is an important part of our team, and the things he went through were his decisions, and we were totally fine with that,” U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “But he also had to understand that he isn’t getting anything [for free]. He has to work his way back, to fight his way back, and that’s what he did.”

“He understands the message clearly, that nobody has a spot guaranteed. It’s all down to performance every game. … He understood that. He’s smart. He understands the moment.”

Teams bound for a World Cup need depth

When we talk about World Cup teams, too often it’s about the first 11. Then we tend to narrow the focus even more, concentrating on how the brightest stars might ride in heroically, in this case guys like Donovan, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, etc.

But World Cups, the “getting there” and the tournament itself, are about a bigger squad, and we sure saw that Tuesday. Clarence Goodson wasn’t even among the first 23 called in for these two qualifiers. And yet there he was at Crew Stadium, well-positioned, clearing everything that came near him and finding his passing feet after a couple of early, errant long balls.

Alejandro Bedoya did the hard work along the right, even if he wasn’t much of an attacking threat. Kyle Beckerman did his part on defense, making life hard on Gio Dos Santos and Mexican midfielders who wanted to take their preferred rout down the middle.

Jurgen Klinsmann is likely to use 19 or 20 guys at next year’s World Cup; it usually works out that way. He’ll need more than 11 sharpies in Brazil.

Mexico is a team seriously lacking in belief

The visitors had things in surprisingly in hand for about 20 minutes Tuesday. The United States, badly out-played in midfield, needed some strong goalkeeping from Tim Howard to keep the match level.

But when El Tri didn’t score, heads dropped. Believe drifted away like the odor from one of the smoke bombs set off in the American Outlaws section. Once they didn’t get the goal, the opportunities came at a drip. And once Eddie Johnson struck his goal, they didn’t come at all for Mexico.

The fact that the game was in Columbus, where Mexico never wins (and has yet to score) made it that much worse.

“You could see it in the body language of the Mexican players,” Kinsmann said, “Once they didn’t get a goal that they tried really hard for in the first 20-25 minutes, they got heavier and heavier. You could see that psychological load in their minds, that they started to doubt themselves. The first touch wasn’t there anymore from players who usually have a fantastic first touch.”

 

Europa League final: Man United too tough for Ajax, qualify for UCL

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Though it may have required a minor detour in the journey to the intended destination, Jose Mourinho’s first season as Manchester United manager ultimately reached the promised land: qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League.

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Once it became clear that Man United’s season was unlikely to result in a top-four finish in the Premier League (they eventually wound up sixth), Mourinho put every Mancunian egg into the Europa League basket, and it paid off on Wednesday, as United topped Ajax, 2-0, in the Europa League final inside the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden.

Paul Pogba put United 1-0 ahead after just 18 minutes (WATCH HERE), benefitting from a wicked deflection off a defender’s shin, and Mourinho’s famously rigid, organized midfield and defensive structure frustrated a young Ajax side (a starting lineup with an average age of just under 23 years old) that reached the final on the back of a free-flowing, attacking tidal wave.

[ WATCH: Pogba gives United an early lead ]

Down just a goal, Ajax needed little more than a moment of brilliance from any number of rising stars sure to fetch massive transfer fees and land big-money contracts elsewhere in Europe, in the not-so-distant future.

That hope lasted less than 180 seconds into the second half, though, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan doubled the lead, thanks to some unbelievably quick reflexes and a tidy overhead kick from three yards out. Ajax would manage just two shots on goal all night (four for United).

Not only did Mourinho deliver Champions League qualification, alongside a European trophy, United also claimed the EFL Cup back in February. With the allure of UCL football next season, expect another busy (and expensive) summer of spending at Old Trafford.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

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After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.