Turkey v United States

Nothing To Lose: USA shows swagger, answers questions, in win over Turkey

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HARRISON, NEW JERSEY —

There were a lot of questions. So many, in fact, it was hard not to feel, at least a little, like the US Soccer public might be going a bit batty.

Then again, it is just under two weeks until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

This is what we do. We fret. We over-analyze. We find narratives in every dusty corner of the room and we convince ourselves, masochistically at times, that they all matter.

Because they do. Going into Sunday afternoon’s match with Turkey, the 39th ranked team in the world, the US Soccer public was abuzz with everything from chatter about Julian Green’s (realistic) value in Brazil to who should start at left-back.

And, of course, diamond midfields. We love to talk us some diamond midfield.

Most of the time the questions nearly stockpile with international friendlies. Too many elements – two teams with very different motives, trying out different shapes, formations, and many times blooding new players.

It wasn’t perfect. The defense still needs work. Our outside mids remain unsettled. And Turkey was one notch above crap. But on this picture perfect 75 degree day at Red Bull Arena, a number of issues were resolved.

source: Getty ImagesMichael Bradley and Fabian Johnson were fantastic

Michael Bradley proved to everyone in the building, once again, why he is The General. The lifeblood of this Yanks squad, the Toronto FC midfielder was box-to-box with ease. Creating going forward, ripping tackles on the back-track. An inspiring performance all around, highlighted by a Barcelona-esque link-up with Fabian Johnson to snatch a 1-0 lead in the 26th minute.

The goal was simply sublime. Dare I say, world class.

From his position at right-back, Johnson stopped the ball on the right side of midfield and looked up at his options. Bradley’s dome was unmistakable, unmarked in the center of the park. With pace, Johnson put in a low, driven pass to the feet of Bradley, and then took off, blazing up the right side of the pitch. Bradley, with an uncanny understanding of Johnson’s idea, did well to flick the ball inside the box, directly into the on-rushing path of the Monchengladbach defender. With one touch, Johnson hammered a left-footed into the left corner.

Red Bull Arena exploded. From journalist’s row five rows up on the midfield, it was impossible not to stand and applaud. A fantastic strike.

Bradley may have been the Man of the Match but it was a tough call given the performance of Johnson, who proved he’ll be just fine as the US team’s right-back. Or left-back. Or right midfielder. Or left midfielder.

Fact is, along with Bradley, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson is one of the best players on this squad. It’s about time people start recognizing that.

source: Getty ImagesCameron-Besler is, hands down, the best US center-back partnership

To the left of Johnson was Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler, both of whom put in strong shifts at center-back. For me, there is no center-back dilemma. Cameron and Besler is the partnership for Brazil.Apologies to Omar Gonzalez, but this became abundantly obvious on Sunday.

Cameron is a born leader and he spent the day keeping the back four in line, barking out instructions, making sure everyone was on the same page. After the match I spoke to the Stoke defender about his role as a leader on the Yanks and he admitted it was one he coveted but was quick to note that every member of the back four needed to lead.

I’m huge on Cameron. The kid is hungry. He’s willing. And he’s got the goods to be a very, very good center-back.

In his 45 minutes on the pitch, Besler was his typical trusty self. Positionally secure. Crunching in the tackle. Focused. Determined.

He was removed at half-time in favor of John Anthony Brooks, who enjoyed his best performance every in a Yanks kit. At 6’4″, the 21-year-old is a massive presence in the back but was impressively mobile against Turkey’s pesky front line. In a two minute span between the 75th and 77th minutes, two superbly timed sliding challenges by Brooks denied Ahmet Ozek and Mustafa Pektemek dangerous crosses into the box.

Not sure if Brooks will see a minute in Brazil but he’s certainly one for the future.

source: Getty ImagesChandler struggles, Dempsey impresses, and US strong up the spine

Timmy Chandler struggled.

Deployed as a left-back, he was caught out on a number of occasions and gave the ball easily, almost foolishly, at times. And of course, he was to blame on Turkey’s goal.

With Chandler, however, US fans shouldn’t worry too much over Sunday’s performance. He’s a quality player who simply had a bad day. He needs to simplify his game, let it come to him. Stop trying to do too much and listen better to Besler and Cameron.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad for Chandler, whose probing cross in the 52nd minute had Turkish center-back, Hakan Balta, all bent out of shape and led to Dempsey’s toe-poke goal. It was promising stuff from Deuce, who looked particularly lively early on, dancing on the ball, showing the Turks that quintessential Nacogdoches swagger. At one point in the first half the Sounders striker even managed to pull a full Maradona in the box, leaving his Turkish defender in a heap.

Pushed high up the pitch, Dempsey and strike-partner Jozy Altidore exerted some impressive pressure on the Turkish defense. Throwing defenders aside with ease, Altidore battled hard up top and showed some flash and grit throughout. Promising stuff despite his failure to score.

Behind Jozy and Deuce were Bradley and Jermaine Jones, who put out a rather unremarkable performance. While the Besiktas man didn’t do anything to solidify his starting role at the fulcrum of the midfield, he didn’t do anything to lose it, either. Jones did well to keep his discipline and his presence alongside Bradley afforded him more freedom moving up the pitch.

At half-time Kyle Beckerman came on for Jones and provided his typical dirtdog outing. The jury is out as to who Bradley works better with – Jones or Beckerman – but when the latter is on the pitch the diamond shape flattens out a bit. Which is perfectly fine.

In his post-match presser, Jurgen Klinsmann enlightened everyone with a simple explanation to his desired midfield: a diamond going forward and a flat four dropping back. Simple. Smart. But it certainly asks a heck-of-a-lot from Bradley. Thankfully, the 26-year-old has a third lung and is more than happy to oblige.

Between the sticks Howard and Guzan split time, both registering a few good saves and looking all the part like a top keeper. Turkey’s goal, a smashed penalty by Selcuk Inan in the 90th minute, was unstoppable. The referee pointed to the spot after Chandler coughed the ball up to Pektemek, who was in clear on Guzan, and hit his shot off the arm of Cameron. Nothing you can do about that.

source: Getty ImagesMight Brad Davis be poised for a World Cup breakout?

Another place where the competition for starting spots remains red hot is on the outside midfield. On Sunday, Klinsmann opted to start Brad Davis on the left and Graham Zusi on the right.

Zusi put in a decent performance. He and Johnson seem form an interesting partnership with the former cutting inside to allow the latter to scurry up the wings. Zusi played some good early balls in to the forwards and came close to scoring, hammering a 54th minute opportunity wide and into the side netting. Mix Diskerud spelled Zusi for the final 20 minutes and did quite well, playing some brilliant balls into space for the strikers to run on to. For now, Zusi and his tenacious style has him feeling like the starter but the creativity of Mix is unmistakable and could be quite useful against a more technical side like Portugal.

Davis – who played 64 minutes before ceding to a tentative, somewhat detached Julian Green – was very impressive and feels to me like a potential breakout star in this World Cup. Sounds a bit crazy, I know, but the Dynamo winger brings a brazen approach to his game: running at defenders, getting them their heels, opening them up, causing problems.

After the match I asked the 32-year-old about whether he’s thought using Brazil as a platform for an international breakout. “Of course, it’s something I’ve thought of…” Davis said with a smile before turning pragmatic, “but more than anything I concentrate on doing the simple things well every time I play. I take that mentality to Brazil, and yeah, if things go well, then maybe I get that international breakout and the European clubs come calling.”

Not that Davis has any interest in moving across seas. From all indications Davis is incredibly happy at Houston, where he’s played since 2006. But seeing that twinkle in his eye, it’s hard not to route for Davis. Like the rest of his teammates, when it comes to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, he has nothing to lose. And everything to gain.

Napoli fans wear Koulibaly masks to support defender after racial abuse

NAPLES, ITALY - FEBRUARY 07:  Fans of Napoli  during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and Carpi FC at Stadio San Paolo on February 7, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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Napoli fans showed their support for Kalidou Koulibaly on Sunday after the Senegalese center-back was the subject of racial abuse in a match against Lazio last week.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

The Lazio match was temporarily stopped in the second half as Lazio supporters hurled racial insults at Koulibaly.

At Napoli’s match against Carpi on Sunday, fans wore Koulibaly masks and painted signs in his honor to show their support for the 24-year-old defender.

A statement from Napoli’s supporters’ group read: “Everyone in Naples is offended by what happened to our young star. Because of this, we want to show our full support to Koulibaly.”

[ VIDEO: Van Gaal rips journalist who questions his Manchester United future ]

Lazio was fined more than $50,000 and will be forced to close certain sections of their stadium for the next two league matches because of the incident.

Afobe says he scored 15 goals a game with Harry Kane at the Arsenal academy

during the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on February 2, 2016 in London, England.
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Benik Afobe and Harry Kane are Premier League foes, but as kids, they were teammates.

Now Afobe is at Bournemouth and Kane at Tottenham, though both strikers played together with the Arsenal U-9 team as children.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-2 Arsenal ]

While Kane left Arsenal at 10 and eventually settled at crosstown rivals Tottenham, Afobe stayed under contract with the club until 2015 despite never making an appearance for the Gunners.

Afobe went on six loan spells before moving to Wolverhampton last season, then joining Bournemouth in January.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

With three goals in his first five Premier League matches for the Cherries, Afobe is no stranger to scoring, as he said he would combine with Harry Kane for 15 goals a game back in the day.

I’ve got pictures of us from Arsenal.

He was so small at the time, a bit of a late developer, but he’s always loved scoring. The scores used to be 17-15 and stuff – we just knew we’d score in every game.

But it’s weird because he used to play in goal sometimes, and wasn’t bad actually. You wouldn’t think it – remember that goal he let in for Tottenham a couple of years ago (against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League) when he had to play in goal.

I think Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs’ supporters are happy Harry Kane chose to play striker over goalkeeper…

[ MORE: Deficiencies visible on both sides as Chelsea draw Manchester United ]

Kane has proven that he is an elite goalscorer in the Premier League, and Afobe is off to a fine start himself. With both players just 22-years-old, we’ll likely be seeing many more goals to come from the duo.

Gary Neville under pressure as Valencia without a win in nine

EIBAR, SPAIN - DECEMBER 13:  Head coach Gary Neville of Valencia CF reacts during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and Valencia CF at Ipurua Municipal Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
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Gary Neville was appointed manager at Valencia on December 2. He is still yet to win a La Liga match.

After falling 1-0 to Real Betis on Sunday, Neville is now winless in nine league matches at Valencia as pressure grows on the new boss.

[ MORE: La Liga & Serie A roundup ]

Some have called for Neville to step down from his position, as the club has fallen from 8th to 13th and now sit just four points clear of the drop.

However, the former Manchester United legend has said he has been judged too quickly and will work hard to turn things around.

I said before I came that I would be judged in five months. I have been judged in six weeks.

There’s no doubt that at times like this everyone needs to stay together.

Everyone suffers. It’s just not going for us at the moment. I continue to work, I continue to have belief.

Conversations with the owners are between me and the owners. We have to turn it round quickly, I understand that. It is hard to explain the defeat. It will turn.

Not only has Neville struggled in La Liga play, but he has also seen Valencia bounced from the Champions League and saw his side smashed 7-0 by Barcelona in the Copa del Rey semifinal.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United ]

Valencia’s next league match is on Saturday against Espanyol, who sit three points below Valencia and haven’t won a match since December. If Neville fails to win again, there could be some real trouble at the Mestalla.

PSG down Marseille 2-1 for ninth-straight Le Classique win

HARRISON, NJ - JULY 21:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic #10 of Paris Saint-Germain is congratulated by teamamte Maxwell #17 after Ibrahimovic scored a goal in the second half against AFC Fiorentina during the International Champions Cup at Red Bull Arena on July 21, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.Paris Saint-Germain defeated ACF Fiorentina 4-2.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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France’s biggest rivalry has been quite one-sided, as Paris Saint-Germain defeated Marseille 2-1 on Sunday to take their ninth-straight Le Classique.

Marseille’s last win over PSG in Ligue 1 play was in November of 2011.

[ MORE: Juve win 14th straight ]

PSG got off to a dream start in Sunday’s Classique as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in the opening two minutes to give the Le Parisiens an early lead. It was Zlatan’s league-leading 21st goal of the season.

On loan from Newcastle, Remy Cabella equalized for Marseille in the 25th minute. Cabella scored on a brilliant individual effort, taking the ball from his own half on a solo run to the PSG box before firing a low shot into the bottom corner.

[ RELATED: Lewandowski’s agent confirms contract talks with Bayern Munich ]

However, PSG pushed on and claimed the win thanks to a 71st minute goal from Angel di Maria, who has been impressing in his first season in Paris. With eight goals and ten assists in Ligue 1 play, only Zlatan has been involved in more goals than di Maria.

Through 25 matches, PSG hold a ridiculous 24-point lead at the top of the Ligue 1 table.