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.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).