United States vs. Nigeria: Player ratings

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In the final match of the send-off series provided a familiar result. Coming off a 2-1 win over Turkey, the U.S. produced another 2-1 victory over Nigeria, giving up a late penalty along the way. Player-for-player, however, improved performances showed a team that’s one step closer to being ready for the World Cup.

This player grading scale is likely more volatile than most you’re used to, but in a performance that was marketable better than the last, it’s easier to differentiate where those improvements were with more leeway up or down.

Here are those player-for-player performances:

Starters

Tim Howard: 6

Howard didn’t have too many serious tests, but he worryingly spilled the ball a few times, thankfully to no harm.  A relatively routine day for his 100th cap.

Geoff Cameron: 7

The center-back pairing was very good, with the only dip in concentration coming the first five minutes out of the half. Cameron was in Besler’s shadow for much of the match, but he performed very solid.

Matt Besler: 8

The 27-year-old displayed every facet of his game and excelled at all.  We’re throwing out his tackle for the penalty (which was horrific) because he was in a no-win situation. Otherwise, he was outstanding in the air, and covered any Nigerian attacker who felt like streaking through the middle. He was especially solid on the break when the outside backs found themselves caught out of position (which they both did often), able to hold down the middle until help came back. A very promising match for Besler.

DaMarcus Beasley: 5

Both Beasley and Johnson found themselves out of position a few times after attacks broke down quicker than anticipated, but Beasley overall struggled. It’s nothing that should worry fans too much, but occasionally he found himself encroaching on teammates’ positions enough to disrupt them on the ball, and when he did get forward, his few shots were way off and his crosses found green shirts. Get em next time DMB.

Fabian Johnson: 6

Fabian also found himself out of position every so often, but his weren’t as egregious (aside from two in the first half where Bedoya defended well).

Kyle Beckerman: 8

Beckerman is one of the smartest players on the field, if not the smartest, and shows it time and time again with composed tackles that slice attacks off before they can build. His play is never heralded, since it’s work in the trenches, but he was essential to holding back Nigeria who had no options through the middle

Jermaine Jones: 7

In an interesting position given Klinsmann’s morphing formation, Jones was constantly at work, pinching centrally on defense and then moving very wide left in the attack.  He didn’t get into too many attacks, but he flowed well from the left to the middle, and in a formation that required a lot of running, Jones seemed to be at home with the freedom to stretch his legs.

Clint Dempsey: 8

Nobody can decide where Dempsey plays best – on the wing, or up front. Well, Klinsmann gave him freedom to roam both, and he was excellent. Drifting out wide when Jozy went high, and moving centrally when Altidore got sucked back, Clint did what he does best and that’s making runs on the break.

Michael Bradley: 9

Bradley was the anchor of the midfield triangle, and was brilliant doing so. He cut up the Nigeria midfield on the ball finding every open US player in a dangerous position, and on the back end he held down the middle in front of Beckerman and Jones. The middle of the pitch was owned by the US, and Bradley was the main reason why. After two mediocre performances from a key US player, this was the Bradley the Stars and Stripes need to advance in Brazil.

Ale Bedoya: 7

The Nantes winger shone at times and disappeared at others, but he did a great job covering for when Fabian Johnson was caught out, and he made some great runs in support of the attack. Bedoya needs to learn to be more efficient with his energy, often running all over the place as Klinsmann screamed his lungs out to position him properly, and it resulted in a tired Ale by the 60th minute. But while the tank had gas, he was a positive.

Jozy Altidore: 8

Nobody needed a goal more than Jozy, and he got 2, the second one an absolute howitzer.  With no more streaky, confidence-based player on the US squad than Jozy, he needed a game like today in the worst way.  He was great outside of the goals, even defending well when he was needed.  An absolute boost for the United States headed to Brazil.

Substitutes

Graham Zusi: 6

The first of Klinsmann’s subs put in a solid 30 minutes after coming on for Alejandro Bedoya.

Mix Diskerud: 7

The midfielder tossed in a number of outstanding balls up front on the break, and looks every bit a solid option for Klinsmann off the bench in Brazil.

Omar Gonzalez: 5

His small amount of time on the field led to a penalty, and he made Besler look bad in the process. A yucky few minutes for the struggling LA Galaxy defender.

Chris Wondolowski, Timmy Chandler: N/A

Weren’t on the pitch enough to get a good bead on, Chandler made one good run on the ball and created a chance on his better left side, while Wondo flubbed one tough chance in the box.

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.

Moyes: West Ham “low in confidence,” encouraged by crowd

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David Moyes is just trying to buy himself a bit of time with the West Ham United fans, who were roundly unhappy at his appointment — and the board which hired him, of course — an undertaking toward which he made a small step on Friday.

[ RECAP: West Ham come back to earn a point vs. Leicester ]

Following the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Leicester, Moyes joined the Sky Sports broadcast crew field-side at the London Stadium. While acknowledging it’s still early days in his tenure, Moyes knows he’s got very little time to build momentum after being appointed manager of a bottom-three side mid-season.

“I thought [the players] worked great in the second half, I think that’s why the crowd reacted so well. I think they are low in confidence. The results haven’t gone [well] and they’ve lost a manager. When it’s like that, it’s difficult. You need some things to go for you now and again.”

As for the Hammers’ most mercurial player, Marko Arnautovic, Moyes has taken a rather hardline approach with the Austrian attacker, and he believes it’s already paying dividends:

“I thought he played really well for us on Sunday, without getting an awful lot of praise for it. Everybody’s said that he hasn’t run, so I said to him, ‘If you don’t run, I won’t play you.’ So, he’s running [now.]

“I don’t think you want to play against Arnautovic if you’re a fullback, because he’s got power, he’s got pace. He probably prefers to play on the left-hand side, but at the moment we’ve got people who want to do that role, so we’re happy to play him on the opposite side. We want him to be a big player, [the club] spent big money on him. We need him to score goals, make goals. He helped us tonight.”