The US is peaking at the right time, and above everything, that’s most important

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla — On a night where talk of formations, positional awareness, and confidence dominated the narrative landscape, one thing stood above all.

Form.

They say “form is temporary, and class is permanent.”

The focus of that saying is usually to explain how a certain player or team will be able to pick themselves up during a difficult stretch, but not often is it used to describe positive runs of play.

If the United States is to advance through one of the most difficult groups in 2014 World Cup play, they will need to not only match up with the other team tactically, but they’ll need to be on their very best form as well.

That’s why, after a performance like the US’s 2-1 victory over Nigeria, it’s important to point out that the pathway to Brazil has included a steady improvement culminating in one of the more solid performances the US has produced in some time, against a fellow World Cup opponent.

“We were very fortunate to have the progression of Azerbaijan into Turkey into Nigeria, that worked out really well,” said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “At the same time it’s nice that we got away with wins, but there’s always something you can take away.”

This kind of steady improvement doesn’t happen just on the pitch.  There is so much behind the scenes the public doesn’t see, and it all comes to fruition in the form of chemistry between the players.

Nowhere in this send-off series was that chemistry apparent than here at EverBank Field against Nigeria, where every piece to the puzzle came together in the first 70 minutes to build a comprehensive performance that gave supporters a real boost of confidence.

“We see that the team is making real progress the last three-and-a-half weeks,” Klinsmann said. “Everybody’s growing in his own role within the team of 23 guys.  They see that everybody’s so important to the chemistry, to every training session, to the environment, and when you know you have a striker that had a tough year at Sunderland…we see he’s back on the right track, he’s happy here, and he takes that spirit with him to Brazil.”

With that mention of Jozy Altidore, Jurgen gave airtime to one of the most confidence-relient players in the squad, and his two goals – whether he admits it or not (which he didn’t) – is exactly what the doctor ordered for the 24-year-old who hadn’t scored for anybody since December 4 of last year.

Nothing about this match was perfect – things broke down late when substitutions came pouring in and the shape was disrupted – but as a whole the team has shown that the past 30 days haven’t gone to waste.

In fact, every training session, every beep test, every team meal, it’s all built towards this moment.  That’s why they call it the Send-Off Series, because they built towards the moment where the team leaves for Brazil.

Had the US blown out Azerbaijan like everyone expected, then struggled against Nigeria, the tune would be completely different.  Instead, they made mistakes, fixed them, made different mistakes, covered those up, and worked towards a more complete result. They didn’t blow out Nigeria by any means, but 2-1 might look closer than it really was.

“Obviously the Turkey game was a lot more open because we left too much space open,” Klinsmann said. “So we worked on it the last few days, we explained a lot on the whiteboard as well, and I think [the players] took it really well. They had the right focus, and it wasn’t difficult for them to open things up again.”

Form is temporary, class is permanent.

These players have the ability, but to be riding the best form of the summer into Brazil is exactly how Jurgen Klinsmann drew it up. It doesn’t last forever, and the team better ride it now while they can because they’ll need every bit of it when Group G comes to play.

Spurs’ Alli wins PFA Young Player award for 2nd straight season

Photo credit: Tottenham Hotspur / Twitter: @SpursOfficial
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Dele Alli joined Wayne Rooney on Sunday as the only repeat or back-to-back winners of the PFA Young Player of the Year award winners since the turn of the century.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Alli showed in 2016-17 — much like his Tottenham Hotspur teammate and 2014-15 Young Player of the year winner Harry Kane — that he’s much more than a one-season wonder, improving upon 2015-16’s goal and assist numbers (10 and 9) with a 16-goal, 5-assist season this time around.

Alli was signed by Tottenham (out of League One and relative obscurity) for a fee just north of $6 million in 2015. Recent rumors have linked the 21-year-old with a move to join the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, for a transfer fee well over 10 times what Spurs paid to MK Dons.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

Between Alli and Kane, Spurs players have won the last three Young Player of the Year awards, and five of the last six (Gareth Bale in 2012-13; Kyle Walker in 2011-12). Only Eden Harzard could break up Spurs’ stranglehold on the award, in 2013-14.

El Clasico: Messi scores 499, 500; Barca, Madrid level on points

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After 31 (and 32, respectively) games played, three points were all that separated Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the table in La Liga.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

After another 90 scintillating, pulsating, thrilling, plot-twisting minutes of El Clasico on Sunday, there’s not a single thing to separate the two sides (other than Barca’s current tiebreaker on head-to-head meetings, and Madrid’s game in hand). This time, it was Lionel Messi who outshone Cristiano Ronaldo in the meeting of the world’s brightest stars, the former scoring twice and reaching the 500-goal mark in his Barcelona career (all competitions).

Casemiro opened the scoring with a tap-in into an empty net in the 28th minute. Marcelo floated a ball to the back post, where Sergio Ramos made clean contact but came up with nothing but hit nothing but woodwork. Fortunately for Los Blancos, the ball ricocheted off the post, bounced across the face of goal and found the Brazilian midfielder all by his lonesome.

The lead was short-lived, though, as a bloodied Messi scored yet another of his patented Messi goals just five minutes later. With two touches atop Madrid’s penalty area, he slalomed past and beat three defenders before applying the cool finish past Keylor Navas with that magical left foot of his.

Following the halftime break, the balance of play tipped in Barca’s favor. Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez went oh so close to putting the visitors ahead either side of the hour mark, but Navas produced a pair of stunning saves that’ll (perhaps) go a long way toward silencing his increasingly vocal critics.

[ MORE: Griezmann scores no. 25 as Atleti win to hold onto 3rd ]

There was absolutely nothing the Costa Rican no. 1 could do about Rakitic’s 73rd-minute strike, though. Cutting inside onto his left foot, the Croatian caressed and curled the ball toward the far post, where it made a hard right turn at the last possible second and nestled itself into the

Already up a goal, the game appeared to swing totally in Barca’s favor just four minutes later. Sergio Ramos, the most Sergio Ramos player to ever Sergio Ramos, went lunging in, with two sets of studs exposed, on Messi. He was rightly shown a straight red card.

Another pair of plot twists were still to come, though, as James Rodriguez got on the end of Marcelo’s cross and slammed the first-time finish past Marc Andre ter Stegen with four minutes of regular time remaining.

Then, with all of 13 seconds remaining in stoppage time, that man — the undisputed best player in the world and the greatest of all time — broke Madridista hearts once again. Sergi Roberto started the sequence all the way back in midfield, and Jordi Alba supplied the cross to the top of the box, and Messi drove that same left foot through the ball to beat Navas for the last-kick winner. The shirt-off-held-aloft celebration was simply salt in the wound.

MLS Snapshot: Larin outduels Villa in Orlando’s win over NYCFC

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The game in 100 words (or less): I’ve been saying it since the preseason: Cyle Larin is going to Europe, and it wont be long before MLS’s best young striker since… ever(?) makes the jump across the Atlantic Ocean. Canada’s greatest-ever hope for international soccer relevance bagged a brace (31st and 51st minutes) on Sunday, bringing his 2017 season total to six goals (37 for his career, which is just over two full seasons old), as Orlando City SC narrowly edged New York City FC, 2-1 at Yankee Stadium. He’s also scored nine goals in seven career games against NYCFC. Larin wasn’t the only star striker on display, and the scoresheet, though, as David Villa provided NYCFC’s lone goal of the game which made the final 15 minutes mighty interesting. If not for Joe Bendik’s stunning, point-blank save in stoppage time, Villa would have drawn NYCFC level and stolen a point.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

31′ — Larin finishes from close range for 1-0 — Scott Sutter provided the cross into the box, and Lain found space between two defenders for the easy finish.

51′ — Larin brushes off Wallace, heads home for 2-0 — Larin versus an opposing winger (Rodney Wallace on this occasion) is a mismatch that Orlando will look to exploit every single time. 9 times out of 10, it’ll end up like this.

74′ — Villa finishes a brilliant set-piece routine — Maxi Moralez couldn’t have hit a better ball into the box, and we couldn’t have expected any better finish from Villa.

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Man of the match: Cyle Larin

Goalscorers: Larin (31′, 51′), Villa (74′)

LIVE: Real Madrid host Barcelona in El Clasico

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Let’s go.

Real Madrid host Barcelona at 2:45 p.m. ET on Sunday in the final installment of El Clasico this season in La Liga.

[ LIVE: Follow El Clasico, here ] 

With Barca three points behind their bitter rivals who top the La Liga standings and also have a game in hand with six weeks to go, nothing but a win will do for Luis Enrqiue’s men.

All of the talk before this game has been about the absence of Neymar as Barca have decided to not put the Brazilian forward in their squad after they appealed his three-game ban but have yet to hear back on his suspension.

Aside from that bizarre situation, it’s been a mixed week for the Spanish giants in the UEFA Champions League.

Barca were knocked out by Juventus at the quarterfinal stage, while Real Madrid got by Bayern Munich in an exhausting clash at the Santiago Bernabeu which required extra time to set up a semifinal tie against Atletico Madrid.

The stars will come out to play as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will collide.