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 ]
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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.

AT THE HALF: Man Utd lead Ajax in UEL final, thanks to Pogba (video)

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After 45 minutes of Wednesday’s Europa League final, between Manchester United and Ajax, in Stockholm, Sweden, Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils have one foot in next season’s UEFA Champions League.

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After a cagey opening 15 minutes that saw neither side create anything of consequence, Man United pulled ahead on a fair bit of luck in the 18th minute. Paul Pogba received the ball 25 yards from goal, took a touch toward goal and fired a low shot toward goal. Davinson Sanchez did everything he could to get his body in front of the strike, but the ball glanced off his shin, sending it one direction and goalkeeper Andre Onana the other.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Europa League final ] 

Having conceded just eight goals in 14.5 Europa League games thus far this season, would you bet on United conceding an equalizer in the final 45 minutes? Hit the link above to follow along, live.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

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LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

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How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

[ MORE: Manchester clubs react to bombing

Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–