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Young’s blast, Evra’s insurance see Manchester United into League Cup semifinals

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Second half goals from Ashley Young and Patrice Evra completed a surprisingly easy day at the Britannia Stadium for Manchester United, the Red Devils’ 2-0 victory over Stoke City putting David Moyes’ team into the League Cup semifinals. Holding their opponents without a shot on goal, United move one step closer to their first major piece of silverware under their new boss, with the Potters providing little opposition to a team that only sits five places above them in the Premier League.

On Wednesday, however, the divide may as well have been that which existed between last year’s league winners and a relegation battler, with a slow start from the visitors giving way to a comfortable victory. Though Manchester United’s early control produced few good chances, the favorites eventually adjusted to their host’s passive if dogged play, the game’s final goal the result of the Red Devils having finally figured out Mark Hughes’s side.

As a result, Manchester United move into the League Cup semifinals, where they were drawn against Sunderland, the Black Cats having eliminated Chelsea on Tuesday. In the other half of the draw, Manchester City, 3-1 winners on Tuesday at Leicester City, will face West Ham United, who won at White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

[MORE: Late Jarvis, Maiga goals see West Ham past Tottenham, into League Cup semifinals]

[MORE: League Cup draw: Manchester rivals stay on course to meet in final]

The game started with a much-changed United team in a slightly unfamiliar formation, David Moyes choosing a three-man midfield to play behind Danny Welbeck, who was alone up top. With Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia flanking the young England international, United nearly took an early lead, Welbeck’s play wide right to Young ending with the winger’s fourth minute shot into outside netting.

Initial troubles with surprise, high pressure from Stoke devolved into United holding more of the ball as the Potters regressed into a more passive posture. But without Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, or Shinji Kagawa in the team, the Red Devils lacked a way to unlock their hosts, a better safe than sorry save from Thomas Sørensen in the 22nd minute the closest thing United had mustered to a threat on target.

source: AP
Near the half-hour mark at the Britannia, Mark Clattenburg pulled Stoke and Manchester United players from the field as a momentary hailstorm halted the game. (Photo: AP)

As the half-hour mark approached, Stoke-on-Trent became Istanbul, with referee Mark Clattenburg pulling the teams off the field as the Brittania came under a flash hailstorm. While the storm fell short of the weather that forced the cancellation of last week’s Galatasaray-Juventus Champions League match in Turkey, visibility had begun to be impaired by the density of the falling pellets. Amid objections from a few players, including Stoke’s Jon Walters, the players retreated to their dressing room, returning five minutes later once the storm had passed.

The 15 minutes before halftime saw Manchester United resume a somewhat benign control of the ball, possession they were able to hold above the penalty area rarely bothering Sørenson. Stoke were able to create as many problems for United going back the other way, though their crosses in transition were equally tepid. Come minute 45, the players were again returning to the locker rooms scoreless, United left ruing a stoppage time misplay by Jonny Evans that should have converted a corner kick into a goal.

Seven minutes into the second half, a sudden blast off the right boot of Ashley Young cut through all of United’s middling efforts, firing the Red Devils in front. Off a restart just inside the Stoke half, Young played a long one-two with recent substitute Javier Hernández, a connection that was more a missed touch from the Mexican international than the product of clear intent. Regardless, Young was able to run onto a ball at 20 yards out just before ‘Chicharito’ had a chance to make amends, the winger’s blast giving Sørensen little chance before rocketing past the Stoke keeper into goal.

For Young, it was the culmination of one of his most active days of the year, though the shot was still a surprisingly strong one. Occasionally, soccer gives a moment that causes a collective pause – stadium, announcers, and players momentarily hesitating to consider what they’d just seen. On a play that looked broken because of Hernández’s poor touch, Young nailed that pausing-giving rocket, leaving Sorensen no time to react to a ball few imagined would head toward goal. Instead, the shot burst off the winger’s laces and into the back of the net, the large space between ball and left post rendered meaningless by the sure speed of the blast.

In the 78th minute, Evra provided insurance, though Stoke’s defending played the bigger part in Manchester United’s second goal. Circulating at the edge of their attacking third, much as they’d done throughout much of the first half, United eventually worked the ball left to Young, who carried it toward the flag, dragging two defenders with him. This gave Evra room to cut toward the penalty area, and when Young’s return pass failed to draw a defender, the France international had a surprisingly easy opportunity from the middle of the box. Twelve minutes before full time, the match was effectively over, Stoke having allowed United a 2-0 lead.

Holding the Potters without a shot on target, it was an unexpectedly easy day for the Red Devils, one that was reflected in the lack of urgency they showed throughout the match. But given the changes Moyes made to the team, one that was playing without many of their most creative players, the victory could also be seen as a confident, assured one. Although the first half was pointless and the weather threatened to end the spectators’ misery, the second half was a telling one, with Manchester United easing into the League Cup’s semifinals.

Germany GK Zieler in Leicester for medical with Premier League champs

SANTO ANDRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 11:  Goalkeeper Ron Robert Zieler makes a save during the German National team training session at  Campo Bahia on June 11, 2014 in Santo Andre, Brazil.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images
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Kasper Schmeichel is a Premier League-winning goalkeeper, just like his even-more-famous father, Peter, and no one can ever take that away from him.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

What can always be taken from the big Danish shot-stopper, though, is his starting job at Leicester City. That’s where Ron-Robert Zieler, a six-times-capped goalkeeper and 2014 World Cup winner with Germany, comes into play.

27 years old and out of contract after the expiration of his deal with Hannover, Zieler is set to become the Foxes’ first signing of the summer as Claudio Ranieri and Co. prepare to defend their PL title next season. (It’s still weird to say that, in case you were wondering.)

[ MORE: Rashford to be handsomely rewarded for breakout season ]

Zieler arrived in Leicester on Sunday, according to Hannover’s official website, and was set to undergo a medical examination before signing a long-term contract. An established Bundesliga starter since the age of 22 (started all 34 league games each of the last five seasons), Zieler will arrive at the King Power Stadium with expectations far loftier than those of the man he’ll battle for the starting job next season, if not comparable name recognition.

With neither ‘keeper north of 30 years old as of yet (Schmeichel will turn 30 in November), it would seem that Ranieri can do no wrong in choosing either one of the combatants his no. 1 ahead of the 2016-17 season.

Report: In-demand Man United starlet Rashford to sign long-term contract

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Marcus Rashford of England gestures to a team mate during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
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Understatement of the year alert: It’s not a bad time to be Marcus Rashford, right now.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage | EURO 2016 ]

From his breakout season at Manchester United, to winning the FA Cup, to making and scoring three minutes into his England debut, and now on the brink of being chosen to represent his country at next month’s European Championship in France (manager Roy Hodgson will announce his final 23-man squad on Tuesday), the first five months of 2016 have treated the 18-year-old pretty well.

Now, with just one year remaining on his current Man United contract, Rashford is set to capitalize on all of his successes and become a very, very rich boy. According to reports out of the UK, United have already offered the Manchester-born and -bred striker a long-term contract extension worth nearly $30,000 per week.

[ MORE: Rashford, Rooney propel England to victory over Australia ]

After scoring eight goals in 18 appearances (all competitions), including five in the Premier League, for United this season, 19 other top-division clubs would have knocked the door down to snatch Rashford up at the expiration of his current contract.

Also reportedly in line for a new deal — though surely nowhere near the size of that of Rashford — is 19-year-old defender Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, who made 14 appearances for United this season, including 10 in the PL. Like Rashford, his current contract is set to expire at the end of the 2016-17 season.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-2 Orlando City SC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC tries to keep the ball as Scott Caldwell #6 of New England Revolution defends during the inaugural game of the New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on March 15, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City.The New York City FC defeated the New England Revolution 2-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): “It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up.” If that is indeed the way the world works, New York City FC will be given every opportunity to prove themselves again and again and again. When they’re not losing 7-0 to their rivals, they’re blowing two-goal leads (and the simplest of chances to go 3-0 up — check out the videos below for more on that) inside the final 20 minutes at home a week later. Orlando City SC have made a habit of scoring stoppage-time goals this season (Sunday’s 94th-minute equalizer in the Bronx was their fifth), so you’ll have to excuse all of us who wholeheartedly expected NYCFC to snatch this 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory. With the draw, NYCFC remain fourth in the Eastern Conference, a point back of the New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact for second and third, while Orlando City inch to level on points with sixth-place Toronto FC.

[ MORE: USMNT 4-0 Bolivia | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

42′ — Brilliant heads home not long before halftime — Everything seemed fine for NYCFC

66′ — Pirlo’s beautiful ball sets Villa up for 2-0 — Class. Pure class from everyone involved. Everything is fine.

70′ — Villa sends his PK effort sky high — What more can you say? Everything is still probably fine.

72′ — Baptista fires low to make it 2-1 — Villa left the door wide open, and Julio Baptista was quick to walk right through two minutes later. Everything is less fine.

90+4′ — Molino heads home with no time left — As soon as Villa missed the penalty, it was always going to end like this. Nothing is fine.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa (for a variety of reasons)

Goalscorers: Brilliant (42′), Villa (66′), Baptista (72′), Molino (90+4′)

Klinsmann excited about USMNT’s promising youngsters ahead of Copa America

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States Men's National Team watches his team play against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The U.S. national team’s last 135 minutes of game time — the final 45 minutes of a 1-0 victory over Ecuador, followed by Saturday’s 4-0 dismantling of Bolivia here at Children’s Mercy Park — have supporters across the country harboring unfamiliar feelings these days: cautious optimism ahead of this week’s 2016 Copa America Centenario.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

It’s the best three-half stretch Jurgen Klinsmann’s side has enjoyed (against top-80 opposition, according FIFA world rankings) since … well, come to think of it, I’m not really sure when. In the last 24 months, the Yanks have lost away to Guatemala, drawn away to Trinidad & Tobago, lost the CONCACAF Cup to Mexico on home soil, finished fourth at the Gold Cup on home soil, and wrapped up 2014 with just one win in their last eight games of the calendar year, including three of four World Cup fixtures.

(When you write it all out like that, it sounds really bad. It’s been really bad.)

Yet, here stands the USMNT, five days from kicking off the centennial edition of Copa America, and a few pieces are beginning to fall into place for Klinsmann and Co. I waxed poetically about Saturday’s victory and all the positives it highlighted.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Listening to Klinsmann and a handful of players speak after the game, there was a similar sense of confidence among the men on the field that a workable, sustainable formula had indeed been realized.

“The atmosphere is really good,” the 1990 World Cup-winning German said. “Fine-tuning elements, every training session helps you. I think no team will come into Copa America 100 percent or perfectly prepared. … It’s a bit tricky.”

[ MORE: Ranking Copa America contenders — what are USMNT’s chances? ]

Perhaps no player on the USMNT’s Copa America roster has come further under Klinsmann’s tutelage, and in such a short period of time, than striker Bobby Wood, who has scored all five of his international goals inside the last five months and on Saturday assisted on Gyasi Zardes’s strike for a 3-0 lead with a quality cut-back cross from the end line — Wood, speaking after the game:

“I think as a team, we’re pretty confident,” Wood said. “We wanted to continue growing as a team with each game before the tournament. With these results, I think we did a good job to be confident going into the Colombia game. … I actually think two games ago, we were still pretty confident. Maybe the outside is putting pressure on us, but as a team inside the locker room, we’re pretty confident to do well. I think everyone is pretty hungry for Copa to start.”

It’s the USMNT’s current crop of youngsters like Wood, the 23-year-old now-Hamburg man, that gives American fans hope beyond Copa America with an eye toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The average age of the scorers of the USMNT’s last eight goals: 23 years old. No one is more excited by that progression than Klinsmann, who raved about Christian Pulisic after the 17-year-old became the youngest goalscorer in USMNT history on Saturday.

[ MORE: USA 4-0 Bolivia | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

“What is wonderful to see is the growth of [the young] players over these last one or two years — how they improved their game, how they’re becoming more adult[-like], obviously stronger physically, but also becoming more confident,” he said of players like Wood, Zardes, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, among others. “This is a process. The process is never-ending, but the first couple of years when you grow, it’s a big learning curve. How far this process takes us into Copa America, we’ll take it one step at a time. We put the pieces together the best way that we get the right results.

“I think over the next couple of weeks, they will definitely get their opportunities to play minutes, leave an impression, and to push more and more the established players toward the edge, which is their job. It will be a very intense and interesting next couple of weeks.”