Howard

United States Man of the Match rankings against Portugal

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So many emotions after the US gave up a goal early, comes back, takes the lead late, then coughs it up at the death.

So. Many. Emotions.

But for a moment, let’s give credit where it’s due, because the fact remains that the United States is still in the driver’s seat for the second spot in World Cup Group G.

The point against Portugal is a big one, and there are plenty of positives to take away from this game.

Let’s look at the top five performers.

5. Jermaine Jones, MF

Jones was by far the hero of the midfield. Not only did he score an absolute blinder of a goal, but he was a machine in the middle. While he didn’t complete a tackle, he sliced down a few Portuguese counter-attacks before they could build fully, and he also provided important cover for the defenders who occasionally found themselves out of position, whether it was the outside backs caught out on a break, or the central defenders sucked out by the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo.

The only issue for Jones is he was a bit sloppy dishing out the ball. He completed just 77% of his passes (36/47) and had six giveaways in the dead center of the pitch, a very bad place to give up the ball.

But Jones is most valuable when he’s running a lot, has freedom to move around, and is chopping down counter-attacks. Even the yellow card he earned today – the only one the US has picked up over its first two matches – was a quality yellow that halted a Portuguese counter in its tracks.

[ MORE: Valera equalizer stuns U.S. | Talking points | How the U.S. can advance ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

4. Fabian Johnson, D

It took some time for Fabian to get into the game down the right flank, with just three touches in the first 20 minutes of the match. However, as the first half built on, Johnson became stronger, and by the half-hour mark he was the US’s biggest creative threat. Johnson received 24 passes in the final 25 minutes of the first half, accounting for 63% of his touches.

That number also tells you he faded late, and as the US took the lead he was again tasked with heavy defending. Altogether, Fabian was a force on the right side, taking advantage of Cristiano Ronaldo’s refusal to defend on the wing.  His work produced one of the biggest US chances on the night, crashing down the flank near the end of the first half, drawing the goalkeeper with him before cutting back perfectly to Michael Bradley wide open in the box. Unfortunately Bradley blasted his shot directly at Ricardo Costa covering on the line with the goal gaping, but the work was there for Fabian.

source: AP
Clint Dempsey cropped up in a vital position yet again for the United States, scoring in the 81st minute to put the US ahead.

3. Clint Dempsey, FW

Jurgen Klinsmann surprised many by slotting the US captain into the striker position instead of using Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski at the head of the attack. Dempsey proved all the doubters wrong, and was a menace all match. He excels at making perfectly-timed runs and popping up in space, and he did just that throughout the match.

Clint put two shots on set pieces just inches over the crossbar in the first half, and came up with a great trailing run to secure the lead for the United States late.

A closer look at Dempsey’s passing chart also shows he was given the freedom to roam just about…literally anywhere. He crops up on the left wing, the right wing, and the middle of the pitch. Dempsey was careful with his dishing as well, completing 26/28 passes, an incredibly clean number for a number 9 at the head of the attack.

Many feared Dempsey by himself at the front would result in his isolation from the rest of the game, but the US proved that wrong, and he was dangerous in the attack.

2. Matt Besler, CB

Coming off a stretch of pedestrian matches where Besler didn’t disappoint but didn’t shine either, he produced a stellar 90 minutes. His passing out of the back was 44/47, and he was able to stretch himself wide to the left to cover the flank as DaMarcus Beasley pushed forward but still never found himself out of position.

He produced 12 clearances for the US, seven of which were inside the 18-yard box. No one on the US had more than five clearances. He made five interceptions, most by a US player. Safe to say Besler was the strongest man at the back for the United States, on a day where Geoff Cameron produced a performance well below his standards.

1. Tim Howard, GK

Nobody was more valuable in this game for the United States than its veteran goalkeeper. Tim Howard produced a brilliant match, stopping just about everything in his path. His two saves at the end of the first half likely saved any chance the US had at getting points out of the game, as a 2-0 scoreline at halftime would have been devastating.

Howard even stopped a late shot from point blank range despite no less than five Portugal players standing in an offside position. The Everton goalkeeper was enormous, and without his heroics the United States would likely be coming away from Manaus with nothing to show for their very positive performance.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

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

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)