USMNT

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.

Report: Aguero seeking Real Madrid move at season’s end

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Sergio Aguero of manchester City in action during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Gabriel Jesus was a revelation for Manchester City before suffering an injury, but even with a spot in the lineup for the time being Sergio Aguero may not be coming back to Manchester City next season.

[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]

According to the Sun, Spanish giants Real Madrid are eyeing up a move for Aguero in the hopes that the Argentine striker will join the club at the conclusion of the Premier League season.

Prior to joining City back in 2011, Aguero played five seasons in La Liga with Atletico Madrid, where he scored 101 goals in all competitions for the Rojiblancos.

While Aguero is likely to hold his starting spot for some time due to Jesus’ injured metatarsal, manager Pep Guardiola had heavily favored the young forward over Aguero since officially joining the club in January.

U.S. U-20s paired with Mexico, El Salvador in CONCACAF knockout round

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Tab Ramos’ side completed their first task, but now the U.S. Under-20 national team has its next challenge lying in front of them.

[ MORE: Whitecaps acquire Brek Shea from Orlando City in trade ]

The U.S. U-20s finished second in Group B at the CONCACAF U-20 Championship after winning two of its three group stage matches.

Now, Mexico and El Salvador await the U-20s in the classification stage with a spot at May’s Under-20 World Cup in South Korea on the line.

During the classification round there will be two groups of three teams, with the top two teams advancing to the World Cup. Each group winner will meet in the CONCACAF Championship final.

Classification stage schedule

Group D

Feb. 27 — U.S. U-20s vs. Mexico

Mar. 1 — Mexico vs. El Salvador

Mar. 3 — U.S. U-20s vs. El Salvador

Group E

Feb. 27 — Panama vs. Honduras

Mar. 1 — Honduras vs. Costa Rica

Mar. 3 — Panama vs. Costa Rica

Claude Puel calls for video replay after Gabbiadini goal called off

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  Manolo Gabbiadini of Southampton takes on Eric Bailly of Manchester United during the EFL Cup Final match between Manchester United and Southampton at Wembley Stadium on February 26, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Manolo Gabbiadini performed brilliantly in Sunday’s EFL Cup final, but was the Southampton striker unfairly gipped of a hat-trick?

[ MORE: Lucky Man United, Mourinho begin trophy haul ]

Saints manager Claude Puel certainly believes so.

[ MORE: Three things from Man United’s win vs. Southampton ]

While the back-and-forth final between Southampton and Manchester United presented a tremendous matchup, the Saints had every right to be furious with the officiating in the early going after Gabbiadini’s 11th minute finish was called off for offsides.

“I would like, of course, video in the future for these situations,” said Puel. “It’s very hard when we see this game to lose. It was cruel.”

Gabbiadini went on to score a pair of goals at the tail end of the first half and early in the second stanza, but Puel was pleased with his side’s resilience after going down 2-0 inside the opening 38 minutes.

“We kept the good attitude and spirit to stay in the game after going 2-0 down,” said the Southampton boss. “We played since the beginning of the season every two or three days. We played to a strong and fantastic level. It’s important now to continue this work, to put away this disappointment and come back in the Premier League with this strength and this quality.”

Video replay has been a common discussion for some time now, but more leagues are beginning to examine the possibility. FIFA is prepared to introduce new experimental trials over the coming months and could present a form of replay at next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

La Liga & Serie A: Real resilient against Villareal, Roma tops Inter

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 26:  Mario Gaspar (R) of Villarreal competes for the ball with Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid during the La Liga match between Villarreal CF and Real Madrid at Estadio de la Ceramica on February 26, 2017 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Villareal 2-3 Real Madrid

The Yellow Submarine did everything right to open the second half but Real Madrid proved resilient once again to earn a victory at El Madrigal. Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata each netted after the hour mark to help Los Blancos pick up three points and remain leap over Barcelona at the top of the table. Manu Trigueros and Cédric Bakambu scored within six minutes of one another to give Villareal a 2-0 early in the second half but Real began to press harder after the setback.

Atletico Madrid 1-2 Barcelona

It surely wasn’t the most attractive match at times, particularly for the visitors, but Lionel Messi was up to his old tricks once again and helped lift Barcelona into the top spot in La Liga. The Argentine attacker was persistent inside the Atletico box with the match nearing the end and Messi managed to break the deadlock in the 86th minute. Both sides traded goals earlier in the second stanza, with Rafinha getting Barca on the board before Diego Godin equalized six minutes later.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 3-0 Osasuna
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Celta Vigo
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Granada


Inter Milan 1-3 Roma

Mauro Icardi gave Inter a brief glimmer of hope, but Roma continued its fine form on Sunday against the Milan side. Radja Nainggolan’s incredible double helped provide the Giallorossi with a two-goal advantage in the second half before substitute Diego Perotti sealed Roma’s victory from the penalty spot.

Sassuolo 0-1 AC Milan

Controversy struck at the Mapei Stadium but it didn’t benefit the hosts. Carlos Bacca netted the game’s lone finish just 22 minutes in from the penalty spot but it was the Colombian that came into question for his attempt. Bacca slipped while taking his spot kick and appeared to hit the ball with both feet before it crossed the goal line, leaving Sassuolo players furious. Milan now sits in seventh place in Serie A, just four points outside of the top four.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Palermo 1-1 Sampdoria
Chievo 2-0 Pescara
Crotone 1-2 Cagliari
Genoa 1-1 Bologna
Lazio 1-0 Udinese