Beasley, Beckerman, chances in numbers: Three areas of focus for the U.S. against Ghana

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Three hours before kickoff, we still don’t have lineups for the United States or Ghana, but that can’t stop us for looked ahead to the U.S.’s opener at Brazil 2014.

Here are three areas that could prove important when the U.S. faces its World Cup nemesis at 6:00 p.m Eastern in Natal, Brazil:

1. DaMarcus Beasley will have his hands full, regardless – Early hints at Ghana’s starting XI say Asamoah Gyan, André and Jordan Ayew, and Christian Atsu are all in Kwesi Appiah’s starting XI, guaranteed left back DaMarcus Beasley, set to appear in his fourth World Cup will have his hands full. Atsu, a quick Porto product currently on Chelsea’s books, or Jordan Ayew, a more all-around attacking threat who has six seasons’ experience in the French first division, will lineup on Beasley’s flank.

A natural midfielder, Beasley, 32, has slowly entrenched himself at left back for Jurgen Klinsmann, and while he doesn’t lack any of the physical tools needed to succeed at the position (part of the reason why the conversion was attempted before), he still lacks experience. After a career playing higher up the field, the former PSV Eindhoven, Manchester City, and Glasgow Rangers player is still learning his full back’s role. At the start of the  U.S.’s pre-Cup warmups, he was still competing for this job.

That doesn’t mean he’ll come up short today. That inexperience is just an obstacle to overcome, though set to face off against Atsu or Ayew, the margin for error will be small. Atsu is crafty enough to exploit of any mistake, while Ayew could be a goal-scoring threat that will challenge Beasley in the right of the box.

2. The importance of Kyle Beckerman – There’s a flip-side to Ghana starting those four attackers players (as opposed to, say, somebody like Kevin Prince-Boateng, a natural central midfielder): One of them will have to check back on Kyle Beckerman, likely to be the U.S.’s holder in midfield. None of the Ghanaian attackers are used to that job, and while the tack is not so difficult conceptually that any of them couldn’t slide into the role, any lapses will give Beckerman a chance to have more influence on the match than need be.

But this is Kyle Beckerman we’re talking about. How much influence could that be? He is a savvy but, physically, limited player. At least, he is on this level.

Did I mention this all assumes Beckerman starts? He may not. If he does, however, he could be overlooked as Ghana concentrates no the U.S.’s more renown threats, giving the regista his chance.

Left to play the normal, holding role we see the 32-year-old serve with MLS’s Real Salt Lake, he could actually provide an important outlet as Michael Bradley tries to tip the scales higher up. Instead of the U.S. having to work exclusively through their on-field general, Beckerman could help bypass Ghana’s midfield and find Clint Dempsey and Jozy Alitdore, if he’s given enough time to do so. Even if he isn’t so ambitious in his passing, an unfettered Beckerman means the U.S. is more likely to win the possession battle, something that will limit the opportunities for that talented Ghanaian attack.

Of course, we could see Beckerman play more of a mere foundational role, as he did against Nigeria, but if Bradley (when he’s not dropping back), Jermaine Jones, and the U.S.’s other midfielder (Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya) can draw that attacking midfielder deeper, Beckerman could find the time he needs to make his mark. If the RSL linchpin’s allowed to be more than a mere anchor, the U.S. could get some unanticipated production out of one of its least-likely starters.

3. Quantity of chances – Against the best defenses, you want to focus on creating the best scoring chances possible. It takes something special.

Ghana, however, is not one of this tournament’s best defenses. In fact, they can be mistake probe. According to former U.S. men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley, organization can be a problem, and while Bradley failed to take advantage of that during his time with the U.S. or Egypt, the point remains. For all the talent the Ghanaians have going forward, there are some questions at the back.

Quantity of chances will be important, but whereas Jonathan Mensah can step up and snuff the isolated chance, the back four is less likely to hold up under more constant pressure. Keep asking questions, and eventually you’ll get a wrong answer.

This ties back into point two. If Beckerman’s given time at the base of midfield to pick out Dempsey or play long to Altidore, that’s more chance for the Ghanian defense to make a mistake. If the team can spray the ball wide to Fabian Johnson and Beasley, the U.S. will be able to test the organization that drew Bradley’s skepticism.

You always want to create good chances, but against a team prone to mistakes, give them a chance to screw up. The U.S. needs to force that Ghanaian back line to make some (potentially bad) choices.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-1 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): For nearly 75 minutes, NYCFC couldn’t muster up any chances in the attacking third, but thankfully their captain did what he does best. David Villa scored his 19th goal of the season on Sunday night to pull out a 2-1 win against the New England Revolution, but it was rookie Jonathan Lewis that notched the winner. The visitors took the lead 20 minutes prior after Sean Johnson spilled a shot in front of his own goal, allowing Teal Bunbury to pounce on the rebound. NYCFC now moves to within four points of Eastern Conference leaders Toronto FC with nine matches remaining in the regular season.

Three four moments that mattered

16′ — Harrison breaks ankles, but Villa can’t finish — This might be the only time all see you’ll see David Villa miss a chance like this…

38′ — Johnson gets a finger tip to Rowe’s blast — Sean Johnson had no work to do in the first half, at least until Kelyn Rowe decided to rip a shot from distance just before halftime.

57′ — Johnson’s error grants Bunbury, Revs the lead — Look away, NYCFC fans.

77′ — Villa find the back of the net — When you need a goal, who you gonna call? That’s right. David Villa. The NYCFC captain is now up to 19 this season.

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Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Teal Bunbury (57′), David Villa (77′), Jonathan Lewis (90+4′)

Honoring victims of attacks, Barcelona wins league opener

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Wearing shirts honoring victims of the recent attacks in Spain, Barcelona opened its Spanish league season with a comfortable 2-0 win over Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Neymar double helps PSG cruise past Toulouse ]

Players had the word “Barcelona” instead of their names on the back of their shirts, and the Catalan hashtag “TOTSSOMBARCELONA” (We are all Barcelona) was on display around the Camp Nou stadium. The message was also shown on the stadium’s large screens, as well as on many banners carried by fans.

An emotional minute’s silence was held before the game as the music of Catalan cellist Pau Casals played in the background.

Before the minute was up, the more than 55,000 fans at the stadium broke into a round of applause and began chanting “No tinc por” (I’m not afraid), a chant which has become a symbol of people’s reactions to the attacks that killed 14 people and injured more than 120 in Barcelona and the nearby seaside resort of Cambrils.

Extra security was implemented in and around Camp Nou.

There was a minute’s silence before every Spanish league match this weekend.

Without Neymar and the injured Luis Suarez, Barcelona got off to a winning start in the league after consecutive losses to rival Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup final.

It scored two goals three minutes apart near the end of the first half – an own-goal by Betis defender Alin Tosca and a close-range shot by Sergi Roberto. Both goals came after plays started by Gerard Deulofeu, one of the players expected to try to replace Neymar after his world record transfer to Paris Saint-Germain.

“We lost depth with Neymar’s departure and we have to find a way to overcome that,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Lionel Messi looked lively but wasn’t able to score his 350th goal in La Liga. He came close, though, being denied by the woodwork three different times.

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni contributed to this report.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Brighton breaks club record with signing of winger Jose Izquierdo

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Brighton hasn’t gotten off to the ideal start in its debut season in the Premier League, but a key reinforcement is on the way.

[ MORE: Chelsea tops Spurs at Wembley behind Alonso’s brace ]

After starting the 2017/18 campaign with back-to-back defeats, the Seagulls announced on Sunday the signing of Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge in Belgium for a record fee.

The 25-year-old spent three seasons in Belgium’s top flight and totaled 38 goals across all competitions for Brugge, prior to making the move to England.

Additionally, Izquierdo has worked his way into the Colombia squad as of late, and scored his first international goal for his country in June 2017 in a friendly against Cameroon.

MLS Follow Live — NYCFC hosts Revs, Minnesota meets Sounders

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Only two matches will feature on the MLS docket Sunday evening, but luckily two of the league’s most exciting teams will take to the pitch.

[ MORE: Toronto tops Fire as East leaders reach 50 points on season ]

First, New York City FC will attempt to continue its ascent up the Eastern Conference ladder when they host Kei Kamara and the New England Revolution.

In the night cap, the Seattle Sounders look to extend their unbeaten streak to nine matches when they welcome newcomers Minnesota United to CenturyLink Field.

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Here’s the schedule and kick-off times for Sunday’s two MLS fixtures.

New York City FC vs. New England Revolution — 6 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Minnesota United — 10 p.m. ET