Michael Bradley & Jermaine Jones

Three things we learned from USA vs. Germany

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Phew. We got there in the end.

The U.S. may have lost 1-0 to Germany in Recife on Thursday, but the objective of making it out of Group G was achieved.

So many had feared the “Group of Death” would haunt the U.S. and halt Jurgen Klinsmann’s side at the first hurdle of their 2014 World Cup adventure. How wrong they were as the USA are heading to the last 16.

[ RELATED: U.S. player ratings vs. Germany ]

[ RELATED: Klinsmann – Nobody gave US a chance ]

[ RELATED: Player moves in each game were key to advance ]

We learned plenty about the U.S. so far during this WC campaign, here are three things we learned from the narrow defeat to Germany.

Engine room excellence

Boy, oh boy, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are having themselves one heck of a tournament. Beckerman was clean and tidy in possession, clogged up the space in front of the back four superbly and when he had to be dirty and give away fouls he used all of his experience to do it. Jones was playing slightly further forward than usual but was pinching tight alongside Bradley to stop the nation where he was born. The German-American has been the USA’s standout player of the tournament so far. Not just for his stunning goal against Portugal but his work rate, dedication to the cause and leadership skills. The fact that many experts were writing off Jones before the tournament began makes it even better. Alongside Beckerman and Jones, Michael Bradley had his best game of the tournament so far and although he gave the ball away cheaply here and there, the three wheels in the USA’s central cog intertwined majestically to minimize the impact of German’s usually imperious midfield machine. The U.S. lost the game, but I would argue that they won the midfield battle. To stop Germany’s flair players from creating numerous chances is an achievement that shouldn’t be overlooked.

source: AP
It was an intense midfield battle in the rain in Recife. Jones and co. held their own vs. Germany’s stars.

Grinders galore

It wasn’t just in the middle of the pitch that the USA’s gritty nature shone through. At the back Omar Gonzalez stepped in and does what he does best: gets his head on things and uses his size to put off opponents. Matt Besler was sliding into challenges and both full back, Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley, kept going for the full 90. In Beasley’s case, having that much energy after playing two full games at his age was remarkable. Up top, Clint Dempsey put in another shift and even a whack on his already broken nose from Benedikt Howedes couldn’t halt the Texan from leading the line powerfully. We all know how the U.S. is viewed around the world, the nation that nerves gives up and will succeed against all the odds. That aura of invincibility is starting to emanate from the American players, as they proved, once again, that they’re made of tough stuff.

Final third breakdown

If defensively the U.S. looked sound against a German team coasting in second and third gear for most of the game, offensively it wasn’t a bed of roses. After weathering the early storm the U.S. actually nipped the ball back in some great positions on the halfway line but then didn’t do much with it. Apart from Graham Zusi cutting inside from the left in the 21st minute and curling a shot just over the bar, the USA failed to create any real clear cut opportunities until the dying stages when Alejandro Bedoya’s shot was blocked superbly by Phillip Lahm. That has to be a worry for Klinsmann, as he’s still missing his main striker Jozy Altidore and when you pick the bones out of the USA’s fourth goals so far, two were from set pieces (John Brook’s header and a shot from Jones after a corner was cleared) and two were from Dempsey’s opportunism. If the USA is going to unlock a stubborn Belgian defense, which has given up just one goal thus far and is marshaled by Vincent Kompany, they’ll have to do better to create chances in the final third. If you don’t create chances, it will be hard to advance past the last 16.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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