Italy: Roma still perfect, Napoli stumbles, Juve fights back at Chievo (Video)

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Europe came into its midweek matches with four perfect teams across its top five domestic competitions. On Tuesday, Spain’s pair of perfectionists emerged unscathed, with Barcelona posting a 4-1 win over scuffling Real Sociedad while Atlético Madrid moved to 6-0-0 with 2-1 win over Osasuna.

On Wednesday, it was time to test Italy’s perfect duo, Napoli and Roma, who each entered the mid-week round not only perfect in four matches but also having cleared significant weekend hurdles.  Compared with this weekend’s trip to Milan, a visit from newly-promoted Sassuolo should have been a breeze for the Neopolitans, considering Inter had just run out 7-0 winners at Sassuolo this weekend. Roma has just downed rival Lazio but were in greater danger of losing their perfect start, with a Sampdoria playing at the Luigi Ferraris theoretically more capable of derailing the Giallorossi.

[MORE: Wrapping up last weekend’s action in Serie A.] 

But for the second game in a row, Roma responded to a scoreless second half with a 2-0 win, particularly interesting considering Rudi Garcia made five chances the team to that won this weekend’s Rome Derby. Like that team, today’s was better throughout, finally breaking through via a piece of Mehdi Benatia brilliance in the 65th minute (that’s a defender doing that, below). Arsenal refugee Gervinho doubled his team’s lead two minutes from time, keeping Roma at the top of the league.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Cue6Oj4ISE]

The 5-0-0 record is the best start in Roma’s history; or, put more precisely, the longest into a new season they’ve maintained a perfect start. That they’ve done so while operating under a new coach after selling one of their best attackers (Erik Lamela) and best defender (Marquinhos) explains while most are surprised. Having yet to face another of Serie A’s emerging top five, there are still questions, but with 15 points from five games, Garcia and Roma are certainly building  a margin for error.

“I’m really happy with the five consecutive wins, but I’m more interested in making history at the end of the season,” Garcia told the assembled media after the match.

“It’s too early to start assessing things, but I’m happy for the team.”

That happiness was not replicated in Naples, however, as Napoli suffered their first stumble of the season, drawing a game many saw as their easiest to date. And when Blerim Dzemaili cleaned up a poor, 15th minute clearance to give the partenopei and early lead, the result did seem a foregone conclusion.

That all changed five minutes later, with Pepe Reina allowing a shot form a sharp angle from Simone Zaza to go high an under the cross-bar for an unlikely equalizer (insert credit to Zaza here, because it was a surprisingly great shot). The Spanish international would make up it in the second half, but the fact he was needed only spoke to the extent to which Napoli were off their game. The 1-1 result was a reflection of a patient, dangerous performance from Sassuolo as well as Napoli’s inability to forge a winner.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cuWs1UcfRsc]

It was only a draw — in the big picture, not a huge deal — but it’s a result that leaves Napoli two points behind Roma. And now, only three teams in Europe’s big five remains perfect in their league campaigns.

JUVENTUS FIGHT BACK TO CLAIM FULL POINTS AT CHIEVO

When Chievo went up 1-0 in the 27th minute through Cyril Théréau, you knew what was going to happen. We’ve seen this performance before. Whether through skill or brute force, execution or fortune, Juventus was going to come back. And by the 65th minute, they had. Juve went on to beat the Flying Donkeys, 2-1.

But today’s performance, as controlling as it was after Juventus ceded the lead, still required more fortune than they would have liked. The 48th minute equalizer from Fabio Quagliarella wasn’t part of that, though, as Juve practically brute-forced the goal past Christian Puggioni. Besides, Quadliarella and Andrea Pirlo nearly had that equalizer just before halftime, going tantalizingly close on a sequence that ended when Pirlo went over the crossbar.

The winner, however, came via an Alessandro Bernardini own goal, a score that doubled-down on Chievo frustrations after their own go-ahead tally had been waved off. Earlier in the second half, the Donkeys, seemingly taking advantage of another disappointing performance from Gianluigi Buffon, had buried a ball spilt in front of goal only to see the assistant referee’s flag lifted overhead.

Still, as they have when they’ve converted other sub-par performances into results, Juventus deserve credit. As we see with Napoli’s result, it’s not uncommon for a good team to struggle and drop points against inferior competition. But Juventus avoided that fate today. By whatever means necessary, skill or fortune, they got three, not one. As a result, they’ll pulled even with Napoli on 13 points, just behind Roma.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VhHWjgpOz0]

ELSEWHERE IN SERIE A

  • Bologna 3-3 AC Milan: The Rossoneri again are left to fight back late, with 26-year-old Ignazio Abate’s first goal for Milan (149 appearances) giving Max Allegri’s team a stoppage time equalizer.
  • Lazio 3-1 Catania: The Aquile bounce back from derby disappointment through Ederson and Senad Lucic before Hernanes added late insurance against the 10-man Elephants.
  • Livorno 1-1 Calgliari: Andrea Luci and Victor Ibarbo trade goals as Livorno get their eighth point of the season (2-1-2).
  • Torino 2-2 Hellas Verona: Alessio Cerci’s up to three goals in two games for Torino after today’s brace, but Jorginho Frello’s second half penalty conversion allows Verona to escape with a point.
  • Parma 4-3 Atalanta: Thanks in part to a first half double from Marco Parolo, Parma went into half up 4-2 but came out of intermission made to hold on. Amauri’s straight red in the 52nd minute allowed Atalanta to control the rest of the game, but only a 79th minute goal from Marko Livaja saw the visitors make any progress.
  • Udinese 1-0 Genoa (Tuesday): Antonio Di Natale’s late restart went off Emanuele Calaio and into his own net, the own goal deciding an otherwise mundane affair 11 minutes about time.
  • Inter Milan – Fiorentina (Thursday):  Coming off their 7-0 win, Inter gets their second match of the young season against one of the league’s big five. Thankfully for them, both this and Sept. 14’s meeting with Inter take/took place at the San Siro.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo
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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

[ MORE: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.