USMNT

With the 23-man set, how does the USMNT line up for the World Cup?

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Now that we’ve all taken a deep breath from the Landon Donovan news this evening, it’s time to look big picture with the squad.

Agree or disagree with Jurgen Klinsmann’s omissions, it is what it is, and it’s important to look at how things go forward.

Thing is, after what we saw today, it just became that much harder to figure out what’s going on in Klinsmann’s head when it comes to who he believes is the best at each position.

There are a number of positions that we thought were solidified, but now that we know the skipper’s not afraid to shake things up, may not be so easy to call after all.

In addition, given either injury or performance at any of the friendlies the USMNT has scheduled before they make their way to Brazil, things could change then as well.

Nonetheless, we’ll do our best to analyze how each position will break down as we see it now, and how the US formation could play out.  First, let’s take another look at the roster:

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Ale Bedoya, Brad Davis

Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Julian Green

There are many questions going forward.  For example, who plays on the outside of defense? Who plays next to Besler in the middle? Is Altidore alone up front? Where does Klinsmann use Dempsey? All of those will be discussed here briefly.

But first, for a point of reference, here’s how the team lined up in their most recent competitive match that really had something riding on it, a 2-0 win over Jamaica in  World Cup qualifying:

……………………Howard……………………
Evans – Cameron – Besler – Beasley
………………Diskerud – Jones……………..
Johannsson – Donovan – Bedoya
…………………..Altidore…………………..

Remember, Michael Bradley was injured at the time.  Now, here’s what I believe to be the best lineup from this 23-man roster:

…………………..Howard…………………..
..Johnson – Cameron – Besler – Beasley..
………………Bradley – Jones……………..
……Johannsson – Dempsey – Zusi……
…………………..Altidore…………………..

There are plenty of questions that I keep asking myself with this roster. Here they are:

source: AP
Jozy Altidore struggled with a lack of service at Sunderland. Is it ok to leave him by himself up front?

1) Leaving Altidore isolated at the top is dangerous, is it really the right choice?

It’s been shown before that with Altidore as a lone striker, he will get much too isolated if the opposing midfield pegs the US back in possession.  If he doesn’t get service at the top, he’s on an island, and will get disheartened quickly.

However, I still don’t think Clint Dempsey’s best position is at the front of the attack, and with Johannsson pushing up the right and feeding the middle, the attack shouldn’t be too starved at the front.

2) Who is the best option at RB?

The question on many US fans’ minds is, who is the best person to cover Ronaldo against Portugal? He will likely be on the left wing, which means the right-back is going to be tasked with covering the winner of the Ballon d’Or.

Let’s start by saying this: nobody can cover Ronaldo. Flat out, end of, stop.  Therefore, the question may not be at RB, but at LB.

Both Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler are right backs by trade, and Beasley plays on the left. It follows then that to start both Chandler and Johnson, one of them (Fabian) would have to move to the left, and I don’t think Chandler is anywhere close to being able to cover a star left winger.  Therefore, I went with Beasley on the left and Fabian on the right.

Judging by how Chandler fared in the heat against Mexico (hint: not so well), I personally hope Klinsmann doesn’t pick him in the jungle climate against Cristiano Ronaldo.

3) Is it possible to find room in the midfield for Kyle Beckerman?

I still can’t get out of my mind how well Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman paired up in the match against Mexico. Having Beckerman at the back end of the diamond allowed Bradley to get forward and make things happen in the 18-yard box.

However, Bradley’s a lock obviously, and at this point Jermaine Jones still ranks above Beckerman in the midfield pecking order.  It’s possible Klinsmann could spot-start Beckerman in one of the matches if he chooses to play a possession game and get Bradley farther forward, but at this point Jones is the penciled-in starter. Also, ask Landon Donovan what Klinsmann thinks of pecking orders…

4) Where the heck is Clint Dempsey’s best position?

As someone who has watched Clint for years at Fulham as well as with the USMNT, I still have not figured out where he slots in best.  Clint’s put in wonderful performances from striker, from the attacking midfield, and from the left wing.

However, in my experience watching Clint, at striker he feasts mostly upon lesser talent, and in a stacked group, there will be no lesser talent to feast upon.  He’s a great feeder on the wing, but often you lose his goalscoring ability sticking him on the touchline.  Therefore, I think sitting behind Altidore is the best spot for him, where he can both dish to Jozy/Aron/Bradley, and also take feeds from those men if he wishes to have a go himself.

As the captain of this team, Dempsey needs to take charge, and slotted just behind the striker is the best spot to do that.

source: AP
Teen phenom Julian Green made the 23-man roster, but will he see the field much in Brazil?

5) Who comes off the bench?

As something not addressed above, it’s also prudent to see who is first off the bench in certain situations.

When the team needs a spark, Wondolowski appears to be first off the bench in crunch time when the team needs a goal. As one of the two lone strikers on the roster, this one is pretty obvious.

But is there game time for the others?
-Mix Diskerud and Kyle Beckerman would be first in line for central midfield legs when someone needs relief.
-Brad Davis and Ale Bedoya would appear to be the wing relievers/sparks. Hard to see Julian Green getting much time, unless Klinsmann sees something we don’t (which, admittedly, is very likely).-Gonzalez is the third CB, unless Klinsmann chooses him over Cameron to start.
-On the edge of the back line, it’s tough to see time for Yedlin or Brooks, but they’ve both made it this far, so who knows. One would imagine that whoever doesn’t start of Beasley/Chandler/F. Johnson will still see the field a decent amount, but the rest are on the outside looking in.

6) Does the diamond work with this group?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s trademark in his tenure with the United States has been the diamond midfield formation.  As you can see, the formation I put up above does not exactly follow that tactical choice, instead going with a conventional 4-2-3-1.

Things would be drastically different with a diamond.  The biggest difference would probably be figuring out what to do with Clint Dempsey.  If he moves up front alongside Altidore, then Bradley or Jones would slide into the space behind the strikers as an advanced center-mid.  If Dempsey moved to the wing, Zusi would likely sit and Wondolowski would come in as a second striker, although that is not ideal because Zusi is a winger built on possession, perfect for the diamond.

That formation complicates things a little, and he very well may decide to employ that tactic.  But for right now, there are too many unknowns involved in that decision.

How can you see the US lining up? Will Klinsmann go back to the Beckerman/Bradley diamond that worked so well against a struggling Mexico? How will he deal with Cristiano Ronaldo? Is it ok to leave Jozy Altidore by himself up front after struggling so badly at Sunderland?f

These are all questions that must be answered by the skipper, and for the time being, they’re ours to try and answer as well.

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]