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.

Defoe reveals vegan diet key to comeback

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If you want to score goals, be a vegan.

[ MORE: PL teams release tour dates

That’s pretty much the message from Jermain Defoe as the 34-year-old striker rolled back the years on Sunday and scored in England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania in a 2018 World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

The Sunderland striker was recalled to the England squad for the first time since 2013 by Gareth Southgate and Defoe, like he has done all season, looked sharp and in the zone. Despite playing for struggling Sunderland who sit bottom of the Premier League table, Defoe has scored 14 goals in the league.

The only Englishman who has scored more times in the PL this season is Harry Kane.

Via the Guardian, Defoe has revealed the lengths he has gone to, off the pitch, in order to sustain his goalscoring prowess.

“Everyone wants to feel fresh in the game – there’s no better feeling – so I just make sure I’m doing the right things and trying to tick every box: cryotherapy, massage, eating the right things … I’m trying to turn vegan,” Defoe said. “That’s a funny one because, when I go to my mum’s, she’s got every kind of meat you can imagine out on the table.

“I think I’ve managed [to adopt veganism] successfully. My girlfriend suggested I gave it a go. Well, she said to me: ‘You’ve got to do it’ and she’s always showing me documentaries on it. It’s always nice to have someone around you who helps you and drives you on and wants you to do well. I don’t find anything hard to give up, as such, because I know the feeling scoring goals gives me. So, while getting in an ice bath isn’t nice, I just think: ‘You know what? I’m going to do this and be rewarded.’ It’s hard but in another way it’s easy because all I want to do is play well and score goals.”

Defoe is definitely doing the latter as he scored his 20th goal for England to join an elite list and is making the most of his opportunity back in the Three Lions’ setup.

As well as turning vegan, Defoe cut out alcohol many years ago and has also got rid of chocolate as well as limiting caffeine. All of this is obviously working. Defoe has scored 33 goals in 78 PL appearances for Sunderland since arriving in 2015 after many believed his England career was over following his move to Toronto FC for the 2014 Major League Soccer season.

How wrong they were. Southgate has said Defoe could play a part in Russia in two years time of England qualify and he’s still scoring goals in the PL. The chances of that seem pretty decent given Defoe’s incredible dedication to prolonging his career.

His body is a temple and one which keeps scoring goals.

CONMEBOL WCQ: Venezuela, Bolivia teetering on elimination

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CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying is always a challenge, and this World Cup cycle is no different.

With six teams currently separated by a mere five points under leaders Brazil, everything is left to play for as Round 14 hits South America.

[ MORE: Messi could face suspension from CONMEBOL ]

Here’s a look at what’s on the docket for Tuesday:

Bolivia vs. Argentina — 4 p.m. EDT

It wasn’t pretty at all, but La Albiceleste picked up a crucial three points against Chile, which could produce a morale lift for Argentina given their past struggles against the reigning Copa America holders.

Lionel Messi’s actions from the match could harm the Albiceleste though, with the Barcelona man reportedly facing sanctions from CONMEBOL for verbally abusing a linesman.

Meanwhile, Bolivia is in desperate need of a win in La Paz, and anything but three points could potentially end La Verde’s hopes of reaching Russia 2018.

Ecuador vs. Colombia — 5 p.m. EDT

It took a long time for Colombia to crack the Bolivia backline on Thursday but a late run from Juan Cuadrado helped set up the eventual winner from James Rodriguez, and kept Los Cafeteros in the top four.

Ecuador didn’t have the same fortunes though four days ago after falling to a very game Paraguay side. La Tricolor have gone winless in three of its last four World Cup qualifiers, leaving Gustavo Quinteros side with little margin of error against the Colombians.

Chile vs. Venezuela — 6 p.m. EDT

Chile’s qualifying struggles continued on Thursday after falling to La Albiceleste in a closely-contested match. Arturo Vidal’s six goals leave the Bayern Munich midfielder third in all of CONMEBOL this campaign, but the Chileans still sit on the outside looking in at the moment and in sixth place.

Venezuela is teetering on the edge of elimination, and a loss against Chile would all but seal their fate of missing out the World Cup. After reaching the quarterfinals at last summer’s Copa America Centenario, La Vinotinto have failed to replicate that form this qualifying campaign with just one win to show.

Top scorer Josef Martinez is no longer with Venezuela after suffering an injury in Thursday’s 2-2 draw against Peru, creating a major void in the side’s attack.

Brazil vs. Paraguay — 8:45 p.m. EDT

The Selecao continue to score at a lightning pace this qualifying campaign with 32 goals in the first 13 rounds of play. Despite conceding early to Uruguay on Thursday, Brazil responded emphatically with four goals, and most notably Paulinho‘s hat-trick.

Elsewhere, Paraguay kept itself within striking distance of the top five after its 2-1 win over Ecuador. The side is just two points behind fifth place Ecuador.

Peru vs. Uruguay — 10:15 p.m. EDT

Los Incas have not reached a World Cup since 1982, and although the team is just five points behind fifth, they need to pick up victories. Ricardo Gareca will be pleased with his side’s resiliency against Venezuela on Thursday, but more draws simply won’t do with only four rounds remaining after Tuesday.

Uruguay still sits in a solid second position after Thursday’s slip up against Brazil but another defeat could be potentially disastrous for La Celeste, who are just three points above sixth place Chile. However, Edinson Cavani’s nine goals leads all of CONMEBOL and Peru has allowed the third-most goals this campaign (22).

Ugly scene forces Ivory Coast-Senegal match to be abandoned

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Monday’s international friendly between Ivory Coast and Senegal turned out to be anything but that when the match was interrupted towards the tail end.

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The fixture was abandoned with two minutes remaining in regulation after pitch invaders disrupted the the match by getting past security guards and began chasing after players from both sides.

The score was level at 1-1 in the 88th minute when the disruptions occurred, causing the referee to halt play at the Stade Sebastien Charlety in Paris.

One of the intruders even managed to tackle Senegalese defender Lamine Gassama (as shown in the picture to the right).

Liverpool’s Sadio Mane gave Senegal the lead minutes into the second stanza after he converted from the penalty spot, while Cyriac Gohi Bi leveled the score at one apiece just minutes later.

Messi could face CONMEBOL suspension for verbally abusing official

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Already facing some uncertainty with a depleted roster, Argentina could face a significantly greater challenge.

[ MORE: Aguero left out of Argentina starting XI vs. Bolivia ]

Barcelona star Lionel Messi could face suspension after reportedly verbally abusing linesman Marcelo Van Gasse during the second half of Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile.

UPDATED: Fox Sports Argentina is reporting that Messi will receive a two to four match suspension and will be effective for tomorrow’s match against Bolivia.

Messi was reported to CONMEBOL for yelling, “F*** off, your mother’s c***” at Van Gasse and refused to shake the official’s hand at the end of the match.

The officiating crew from the match didn’t initially include Messi’s rant in the post-match report, however, it was added on Monday and submitted to CONMEBOL.

The South American federation must now decide if and when it will punish Messi for his reported actions, and there is the potential that the world-class attacker could be suspended for Tuesday’s clash against Bolivia if the federation acts quickly.

There are several other scenarios though for CONMEBOL to action, including disregarding Messi’s verbal assault.

La Albiceleste currently sit third in World Cup qualifying on 22 points.