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.

2-time defending champions Sevilla back in Europa League final behind Gameiro brace

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Kevin Gameiro of Sevilla FC celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Semi Final second leg match between Sevilla and Shakhtar Donetsk at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on May 05, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Sevilla is getting pretty good at this European competition thing.

The two-time defending Europa League champions are back in the finals after topping Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 in Seville thanks to a pair from Kevin Gameiro plus an insurance goal from Mariano.

With the aggregate even at 2-2 coming into the second leg, Gameiro got things started in the ninth minute all by himself when he pilfered the ball off Maksim Malyshev in the attacking half and stuck it home into the far post. Shakhtar hit back just before halftime when former Arsenal striker Eduardo finished off a wonderful through ball by Marlos that split the Sevilla defense, tying things at 1-1 and the aggregate at 3-3.

[ MORE: Liverpool into Europa League final after running Villarreal ragged ]

But with Shakhtar still trailing on away goals, Sevilla put things away straight after the break when Gameiro again proved vital. The 28-year-old Frenchman took a feed from Grzegorz Krychowiak and finished from a very tight angle. Mariano left no doubt when he struck a stunning curler that bent inside the left post and put Sevilla 3-1 up.

Sevilla has not failed in European play since they dropped out of the Europa League qualification round to Hannover 3-2 on aggregate in August 2011. They won the title in 2014 on penalties after drawing 0-0 with Benfica in Turin, and they took down Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 3-2 in last year’s final from Warsaw.

Liverpool 3-0 Villarreal: Sturridge sends Liverpool to Europa League final

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool celebrates as Bruno of Villarreal scores an own goal for their first goal during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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For Liverpool in Europe, there’s just no place like home.

Back to Anfield down 1-0 to Villarreal in the Europa League semifinals, they turned the matchup on its head with a 2-0 win that sent the Reds to the finals in Switzerland. It’s their fifth straight win at home in European play, and the club is undefeated at Anfield in Europe since October of 2014.

The hosts were on the front foot from wire to wire, and who else but Daniel Sturridge provided the winner, a 63rd minute strike on a wonderful link-up with Roberto Firmino. Adam Lallana put the game away with 10 minutes to go, sending the Reds through.

Both sides looked as if they came to play, but Liverpool appeared the most dangerous, and they were rewarded just seven minutes in. A cross from Nathaniel Clyne was tipped by Villareal goalkeeper Alphonse Arreola and fell straight to Roberto Firmino on the far side. He popped back across the face of goal, and while Sturridge inexplicably whiffed with his sliding chance from point-blank range, his effort put off defender Bruno just behind him, and the ball skipped in off the defender’s hip for an own-goal.

[ RELATED: Two-time defending champions Sevilla book spot in Europa League final ]

The visitors appeared rattled by the opening goal, and with Liverpool pressing they nearly doubled the lead five minutes later. The ball finally cleared by Villareal, a wonderful tackle by Dejan Lovren prevented a counter and sent it back at them. James Milner threaded Adam Lallana through past the back line, but the England international put his off-balance effort just wide of the far post.

[ MORE: Liverpool program features Hillsborough tribute ]

Things got chippy past the half-hour mark, with the atmosphere tense. Roberto Soldado went down dramatically after Clyne brushed the back of his head which earned Clyne a caution. Denis Suarez was also lucky to not earn himself a card as well for a few hard challenges.

Following the halftime break, Liverpool came back out on top, with James Milner getting a big chance five minutes in, only to have his shot blocked straight to Areola.

As the Reds continued to push forward, they went two up and into the ascendency in the two-legged tie. A cross by Lallana deflected up front to Firmino, and he expertly unlocked the Villarreal defense sending Sturridge through, and the frontman slotted it home.

It would get worse for Villarreal as Ruiz earned his second yellow with 19 minutes to go as he felled Lallana on the edge of the box, picking up his second yellow and earning an early exit. Liverpool would capitalize, with Firmino cutting back to Sturridge in the box. The striker put a weak effort on net, but it bobbled to Lallana who spun and poked home with the outside of his foot to go 3-0 up and secure the result. Jurgen Klopp brought on Joe Allen for the final 10 minutes, and the hosts locked things down.

The Reds will take on defending champions Sevilla in the Europa League final on May 18 after the Spanish club took down Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk 5-3 on aggregate.

Success, then sustainability. How Leicester City can keep it rolling next season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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It’s well known by now that Leicester City beat 5000-1 odds to win the Premier League. Now that they’ve crested the mountain, staying there is a whole new challenge, one that will present even greater odds.

When Blackburn won the Premier League in the 1994/95 season, they were unable to bottle that season’s success, finding themselves in a tailspin that saw their manager resign by October of 1996, and the club was relegated in spring of 1997. Just by that case study alone, it’s clear that for a small club that finds untold riches, the prospect of saving for the future is one that can easily escape among the chaos of success.

If winning the Premier League is climbing Mt. Everest, then maintaining that success is traveling to Mars.

That being said, Leicester could not have picked a better time to catch lightning in a bottle. With the influx of money at an all-time high, the player pool deeper than ever, and other English clubs in a state of transition, now is the time to pounce on the foundation they’ve built.

So how should the Foxes ensure the club returns to glory? Here are a few general rules for Claudio Ranieri and the rest of the Leicester City management to follow.

Forget about winning the title again

Having beat the odds, shocked the world, and captured the crown, everyone from the players to the staff will be hungry for more. It’s human nature. The key is to fight that. For the club to be successful, they cannot go into next season with a goal of winning the Premier League. There’s nowhere to go but down.

[ RELATED: Will Leicester City keep their stars? ]

The key is to keep expectations in check. There will be many more distractions, many more theaters of war to battle, and many more fronts to cover. Should the team specifically gun for another title run, it may hinder the long-term goals. The saying goes “shoot for the moon; if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply here. Could it happen again? Who’s to say no after this year’s magical run? But that wasn’t their goal this season, and they’ll need to resist the lust for blood in the upcoming campaign.

Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has plenty of work in front of him this summer. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has plenty of work in front of him this summer. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Don’t overspend

Money will be flying every which way this offseason. With every Premier League club earning a massive cut of the new television deals, there are sure to be much-inflated prices for lots of players. A sports marketing and data firm estimates this title run could be worth a massive $220 million to the club. Leicester’s own players will surely be tempted by heavy contracts and monstrous transfer deals.

What the club must avoid is overspending on one or two players. The staff must evaluate every player they scout, place a value on their head, and stick to that evaluation. Queens Park Rangers learned the hard way how overspending for players they wanted, and it cost them dearly when they could not stay in the Premier League. It’s hard to resist the temptation to plunk down big bucks for a flashy name, but it will only turn out poorly.

Build depth and anticipate injuries

The Foxes enjoyed untold luck this season on the injury front. None of their core group of players were injured for any significant length of time, and the club used the fewest players of any Premier League team this campaign. That is an anomaly. Next year, the club will need to significantly improve its depth, especially with Champions League play added to the Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup competitions. European play has doomed many other smaller clubs looking to bigger pastures, so this is a must.

[ MORE: Claudio Ranieri’s best quotes and moments of the season ]

Unfortunately, depth is one of the most difficult things to achieve in sports. Players naturally want to play, and therefore luring talented players to sit on the bench and be an insurance policy is nearly impossible. This will be a puzzle that Ranieri must solve if Leicester is to navigate four separate competitions next season.

Crucial players such as Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Riyad Mahrez, and others all maintained a pristine bill of health throughout the season (Photo: Getty Images)
Crucial players such as Wes Morgan, Christian Fuchs, Riyad Mahrez, and others all maintained a pristine bill of health throughout the season (Photo: Getty Images)

Develop a transfer plan

A number of Leicester players saw their value skyrocket this season. The likes of N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, and Danny Drinkwater will be highly coveted players in the transfer window. In addition, there will be plenty of high-profile players on other teams who will be available and could be lured by money and Champions League play.

[ MORE: Game-by-game look at Leicester City’s magical season ]

It’s easy for fans and media to aimlessly shout “hold onto your players!” but we aren’t the ones with $30 million waved in our faces. It’s just as easy for those same sheeple to toss transfer targets out ad nauseam – hunker down, because it’s happening. The key for Leicester management will be to meet, develop a transfer plan, and stick to it. Some players may go, their price too valuable to turn down. Others will join, as the decision-makers determine what they need and where to fill those needs. Should they blindly follow the mad shoutings of the silly season, things will go downhill quickly.

Maintain their identity

Above all, the club must not lose focus on what makes it Leicester City. This is a vague and difficult notion to conceive, but nonetheless an absolutely vital one. The quickest way for a club – successful or not – to lose its supporter base is to deviate from what makes those supporters love the club. It’s hard to say exactly what that is, and only Leicester City supporters can truly identify what magnetizes them to the badge. It is management’s job to identify what makes the Foxes the Foxes, and do everything in its power not to stray from that feeling.

This is an important concept for every club from the first tier to the seventh, but it’s worth pointing out in this case particularly because newfound success can intoxicate those in power, leaving them vulnerable to violating this code. It is of the utmost importance that Leicester City stays grounded, and keeps true to who they really are as a club.

Liverpool game program for Europa League match features Hillsborough tribute

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Programmes for sale prior to the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ahead of today’s game against Villarreal in the Europa League semifinals, the Reds have paid a wonderful tribute to the 96 who passed away in the Hillsborough tragedy.

On the heels of last Tuesday’s verdict that cleared the crowd of any wrongdoing in the disaster, the game program for Thursday’s match featured the Anfield crowd visible through a giant “96” on the front. On the back, a list of the 96 who lost their lives stands alone, along with the ages of the fans when on that day, with a “96” flanked by the torches from the Liverpool crest.

The jury’s verdict found in a 7-2 majority that the 96 who died in the crush were “unlawfully killed” due to “gross negligence” on the part of David Duckenfield and the rest of his security staff. It also stated that “fan behavior did not contribute to the tragedy.”

Jurgen Klopp was also featured in the program, urging his team and the fans on with the quote, “Tonight we are at our home, we are back at Anfield. this is our place and it is a place where special moments happen.”