U.S. Men’s National Team defense remains unsettled after Mexico draw

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One of the biggest question marks surrounding the U.S. Men’s National Team heading into this summer’s World Cup in Brazil concerns the team’s backline. Last night’s 2-2 draw with Mexico did little to shed light on this growing worry.

Jurgen Klinsmann came into last night’s match with a MLS stable of six defenders to choose from: Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Clarence Goodson, Tony Beltran, Michael Parkhurst and DeAndre Yedlin.

This meant more than a few key faces were missing, namely, Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron and Hoffenheim’s Fabian Johnson, who remained with their clubs in Europe, Seattle’s Brad Evans, who is recovering from a calf injury sustained during a game against Toronto FC on March 15, and Puebla’s DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco, who were not released by their club because the friendly did not fall on a FIFA international match date.

Klinsmann, therefore, opted to start a center-back partnership of Besler and Gonzalez, with Parkhurst on the left and Beltran on the right.

Gonzalez began the game strong, looking much like the player who impressed in the 0-0 draw with Mexico in 2013 and the 2-0 win over El Tri on September 10th. His second half, however, was a complete horror show as he lost track of Rafa Marquez on Mexico’s opener in the 49th minute and got caught ball-watching on Alan Pulido’s 68th minute equalizer.

Marquez’ goal highlighted Gonzalez’ inability to use the body he’s been blessed with. Despite his 6’5″, 205 lbs. frame, Gonzalez remains reluctant to bust through the opposition with Marquez easily evading him by running a pick around Kyle Beckerman and Juan Valenzuela. It was a simple move by a crafty veteran that Gonzalez should have had the strength to either blow straight through or the agility and wherewithal to skip around. Instead, he was left flat-footed, miles away from Marquez.

On Pulido’s strike, Gonzalez either fell asleep or gave up. Either way, he looked totally perplexed at how Pulido had gotten around him and silly with his hand held high in the air, begging for offside.

Besler, on the other hand, continues to impress despite his relative inexperience at the national team level. The smooth passing Sporting KC center-back is blessed with brilliant timing and, unlike his partner last night, is rapt with attention the entire time he’s on the pitch. In the first half Besler denied Pulido a clever chance and throughout the game showed the poise of a man ready to lead in Brazil.

The problem was that Besler’s night was cut short by Klinsmann’s decision to swap him out for Clarence Goodson. Like Besler, Goodson has a quiet confidence to him, no doubt the result of a 31-year-old with a diverse soccer CV. Goodson’s consistency is his best trait and while nothing about his performance last night will raise red flags, his similar style to Besler, minus perhaps an ounce of the tenaciousness, makes him feel like the third center-back option in Brazil.

The most likely partner for Besler come this summer is Cameron, who, despite playing right-back for his club, has the versatility (and the desire) to play in the center of the defense. Cameron’s speed, grit and experience make him feel like the right compliment to Belser but if this duo is to lead the Stars & Stripes in Brazil, they’ll need to begin fusing a proper partnership, and quick.

Parkhurst, starting at left-back, is another player who didn’t hurt his chances for Brazil. The Columbus Crew captain went 90 strong and generally held down his side of the field, which wasn’t easy considering the pouring forward of Mexico as the game matured. Yet given the presence of players like Johnson and Beasley, who remain the most likely left-backs to start in Brazil, Parkhurst is still a player on the bubble.

Beltran had some decent moments but was largely an inconsistent figure. His defending was average and Mexico looked to exploit him down the right side of the field. Yedlin was impressive when he came on for Beltran in the 71st minute, putting together a few trademark scampers up the pitch although his inexperience remains a worry. One for the future, no doubt, but as far as selection for this summer goes, Yedlin is another who will need a big spring to punch his ticket to Brazil.

As the USMNT enters its final prep phase for World Cup 2014, the time has come for Klinsmann to settle on a back four that can gel. Besler and Cameron feel like a solid combination, although Goodson could also do the job if Cameron is used as a right-back with Johnson on the left. If Cameron stays in the middle, Johnson on the left and Evans on the right could work, or, Beasley could go left with Johnson right.

Either way, Besler, Cameron and Johnson remain the three key pieces to the Nats back four. Who that fourth player is and what permutation the USMNT will ultimately feature in Brazil remains in the trusted hands of Klinsmann.

 

Premier League AT HALF: Newcastle, Liverpool, Brighton lead

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Relegation scraps are on the menu this Saturday as a trio of bonafide six-pointers dot the docket

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The lone top-end contender in action, Liverpool, has already opened up a lead at Anfield.

Bournemouth 0-2 Newcastle United

Ex-Cherries man Matt Ritchie has been lively for his new club, and assisted Dwight Gayle‘s effort to put Newcastle up, and Gayle doubled the advantage at the break when he tapped Ayoze Perez’s pass home.

Liverpool 1-0 West Ham United

The Irons have offered little in the final third aside from a Marko Arnautovic miss, and Emre Can nodded a back post corner kick besides Adrian to open the scoring at Anfield.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Swansea City

Glenn Murray‘s penalty kick went right down Main Street to boost the Gulls hopes of a home win.

West Brom 0-0 Huddersfield Town

Not much going in this relegation scrap.

Burnley 0-0 Southampton

Cagey as expected, with the Clarets aiming to control dangerous but finish-challenged Saints.

Watch Live: Five Premier League games at 10am ET

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Five Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and you can watch them all live online.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Liverpool host West Ham, Brighton and Swansea clash in a massive game at the bottom, while Bournemouth welcome Newcastle to the South Coast, Burnley host Southampton and West Brom play Huddersfield Town.

The big team news from United’s game is that Paul Pogba has been dropped to the bench and so have several other first team regulars following their defeat at Tottenham Hotspur in midweek.

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You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for all five games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham United – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Swansea City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold  [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-1 Stoke City: Foxes fight back

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  • Butland own goal rescues point for Leicester
  • Shaqiri’s third goal in three games have Stoke lead
  • Potters remain in bottom three

Leicester City fought back to draw 1-1 with Stoke City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday, with an own goal from Jack Butland in the second half canceling out Xherdan Shaqiri‘s opener.

Stoke took the lead just before half time with a beauty from Shaqiri but after Butland misjudged a cross to knock the ball into his own net, Leicester came alive and hit the post twice late on.

With the draw Leicester momentarily move up to seventh place on 36 points, while Stoke remain in 19th place on 26 points and are without an away win since October.

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A cagey start to proceedings in the sun saw Riyad Mahrez and Badou Ndiaye both go close from distance as Leicester had plenty of corner kicks but couldn’t get behind a solid Stoke defense.

Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy launched counter attacks when they could but the Algerian was off target on a few occasions as Claude Puel‘s men toiled without much reward in the afternoon sun.

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Stoke then delivered a hammer blow just before half time as Shaqiri picked up a pass from Joe Allen, drove towards the Leicester defense and curled home his third goal in as many games to give the Potters a half time lead.

A perfect opening 45 minutes for Lambert’s side as Shaqiri had his seventh goal of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half Leicester battled back into the game but Stoke almost went 2-0 up as Kasper Schmeichel‘s loose pass found Shaqiri and his long-range effort skipped just wide of an empty net.

The Foxes were then gifted a way back into the game as Albrighton’s powerful cross from the right was towards Vardy and although the English striker didn’t touch the ball, he did enough to put off Butland as the ball hit him and went into his own net to make it 1-1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]  

Energized by the equalizer Leicester battered the Stoke goal as Butland saved superbly from Mahrez, then Vardy drilled an effort across goal which found Harry Maguire who hit the post with a shot.

Late on Charlie Adam‘s backward header let Mahrez race clear but a combination of Butland and Kurt Zouma kept him out and from the resulting corner Matty James hit the post with a header.

VIDEO: Thirsty goalkeeper concedes bizarre goal

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Rule number one for a goalkeeper: always pay attention to the action if you’re going to take a swig from your water bottle in the net.

Duisburg goalkeeper Mark Flekken didn’t pay attention and he will see this clip played over and over again as he conceded a bizarre goal in the German second tier against Ingolstadt.

Take a look at the video below to see the unbelievable scenes as the commentary team sum it up best with  their stunned reaction.