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.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.