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U.S. vs. Azerbaijan: Three things that could matter, come Brazil

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The big lesson from Tuesday night? The U.S. has a lot of work to do. There’s no way a performance like tonight’s against Azerbaijan carries water in Brazil; then again, it doesn’t have to. The U.S. has three weeks to improve before meeting Ghana on June 16. Tonight established a baseline, but it’s not the level the team will take into Natal.

That doesn’t mean tonight’s performance was irrelevant. In addition to that baseline, there were some small, subtle indicators of what the U.S. might look like when they finally face the Black Stars. Between the play of its new right back, the positioning of its wide midfielders, and the ease of its center backs, Jurgen Klinsmann’s men provided some hints of what the team might look like 20 days from now.

[MORE: Diskerud, Johannsson come through | Player ratings | Subs shine]

Here’s three things we learned on Tuesday night that may matter in Brazil:

1. The new right back can sure cover some ground …

We all knew Brad Evans was a midfielder doing his best in an improvised role, but it’s still amazing to be reminded how much ground an athlete like Fabian Johnson can cover at right back.

For those who watched Hoffenheim this season, this is no revelation, and fans who’ve called for Johnson to get the call on the left did so remembering his ability to get up the field on that flank. At right back, however, it’s been a while since the U.S. has used somebody that can so effortlessly get from penalty area-to-byline. Johnson, mostly a left-sided player before tonight for the U.S., looked like a solution.

2. … which is good, because the “wingers” are going to have to be very strong in the middle.

U.S. Soccer advertised tonight’s formation as a diamond midfield, but given the depth at which Michael Bradley was playing, this was closer to a setup we’d see on Bob Bradley than something from Jason Kreis’s whiteboard (even if it wasn’t that, either). Regardless, the widest midfielders — Alejandro Bedoya and Graham Zusi, in the starting XI — were often staying as narrow as the defense’s channels, setting up in a formation that will rely almost on its fullbacks for width.

Given the pair Klinsmann’s starting there, it’s not the worst idea. Why not use players like Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley to help the team better use that space in front of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones? If the U.S. can rely on its midfielders-cum-fullbacks to man the flanks, Klinsmann can get numbers in the middle.

3. The new center back tandem looked comfortable together, but they were untested.

Given how little Azerbaijan threatened the U.S., there’s almost nothing you can say about the team’s starting center back tandem: Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron. Almost.

If you’re looking for a reason to be encouraged, look at not only duo’s play on the ball (aside from a few Besler miscues) but the times Cameron jumped into midfield to try to keep possession in the Azerbaijani half. The thin, perhaps premature lesson: After two weeks working together in Palo Alto, the Cameron-Besler pair looked like a tandem that’s used to playing with each other; or, at least, a duo that knows what it wants to become.

Big, huge caveat, though: It’s only Azerbaijan.

VIDEO: Henrikh Mkhitaryan scores beauty for Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Manchester United controls the ball under pressure from Aaron Cresswell of West Ham United during the EFL Cup quarter final match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on November 30, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Here he comes.

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed for Manchester United in the summer big things were expected.

It’s taken him a while to settle but now the Armenian playmaker has scored his first goal for United with a stunning superb solo effort against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday in the UEFA Europa League.

Watch the video below to see Mkhitaryan put United 1-0 up.

What a goal.

VIDEO: Is this the worst open goal miss in history?

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My goodness.

You truly have to see this a few times to believe it is possible.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars

Stunning footage from a game between National Vatera and Makedonikos Kozanis in Greece’s four-tier last weekend has emerged as Kozanis striker Thanasis Takidis goes clean through on goal, gets one yard out but then somehow delays his shot and is blocked on the line by a defender, then the ball gets away from him.

Watch the clip above to see probably the worst miss you will ever see.

I mean, come on man…

Kashima beats Auckland City 2-1 in opener of Club World Cup

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 08:  Daigo Nishi of Kashima Antlers heads the ball over Angel Berlanga of Auckland City during the FIFA Club World Cup Play-off for Quarter Final match between Kashima Antlers and Auckland City at International Stadium Yokohama on December 8, 2016 in Yokohama, Japan.  (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)
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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) Japanese champion Kashima Antlers beat Auckland City of New Zealand 2-1 in the opening game of the Club World Cup on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Kim Dae-wook headed Auckland ahead five minutes after half time, but substitute Shuhei Akasaki equalized for the J-League champions in the 67th minute.

Fellow sub Mu Kanazaki then completed the comeback in the 88th, heading home from close range after Shoma Doi nodded a deep Shuto Yamamoto cross from the left back.

Kashima advanced to a quarterfinal against African champion Mamelodi Sundowns in Osaka on Sunday.

The winner of that game will face Copa Libertadores winner Atletico Nacional in the semifinal Wednesday. European powerhouse Real Madrid also enters the tournament from the semifinal stage.

The use of video replays was available during the match but there were no official reviews. The technology is there to be used only for correcting clear errors in game-changing decisions.

Previews of all 10 Premier League games – Week 15

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 10:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (10) reacts after a challenge during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on April 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Week 15 of the Premier League season has arrived with Manchester United hosting Tottenham, Liverpool welcoming West Ham and Leicester City and Manchester City clashing at the King Power Stadium.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live, here ] 

With some intense relegation battles between Swansea City and Sunderland and Hull City and Crystal Palace, there is plenty on the line as the festive season really starts to heat up.

Below are previews, score predictions and everything else you need to know about all 10 games this weekend.


Chelsea vs. West Brom

Leicester City vs. Manchester City

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool vs. West Ham

Arsenal vs. Stoke City

Southampton vs. Middlesbrough

Swansea City vs. Sunderland

Watford vs. Everton

Hull vs. Crystal Palace

Burnley vs. Bournemouth