At halftime: With Johnson out, Belgium, U.S. reach halftime scoreless — FOLLOW LIVE

1 Comment

The first 45 minutes have made it clear why the Belgians are favorites, but with a handful of near-chances of their own, the resiliency the U.S. showed through group stage has kept the teams scoreless at the halftime whistle. With Argentina waiting in the next round, nothing has changed between the upstart Americans and Belgium’s Golden Generation, with the teams set to kickoff the second half at 0-0.

FOLLOW LIVE: Soccerly’s real-time match center

Goals: See “0-0”, above.

Other key moments:

1′ – Near disaster for the U.S., with an errant Omar Gonzalez pass and some miscommunication between Geoff Cameron and Alejandro Bedoya allowing Belgium to get out on the counter. Cutting in front of Gonzalez, Divock Origi takes aim at Tim Howard’s far post from the right of goal. A kick save concedes a corner but keeps the U.S. even.

18′ – This is earlier than Geoff Cameron would have wanted to take a yellow, but trying to hold the ball in the U.S.’s attacking third, the U.S. midfielder takes out Dries Mertens. The call is an easy one. Cameron’s in the book, leaving him at least 72 minutes to avoid a second card.

20′ – The U.S. has struggled on set pieces, but after a corner conceded by Jan Vertonghen, the team generates a near-chance. Attacking a near post ball, Cameron flicks the Graham Zusi corner into space at the far post.  Clint Dempsey, however, seems a step behind the play and can’t get to what would have been a golden opportunity.

21′ – It’s not pretty, but a series of determined touches from Dempsey and Michael Bradley generates a shot for “Deuce” just inside the penalty area. The left-footed try poses no problems for Thibaut Courtois, but the attack shows the U.S. coming into the game.

23′ – Another midfield giveaway, and nearly another nightmare for the U.S. With a bad touch near the center line, Zusi evokes memories of Rico Clark, allowing Vertonghen to lead the Belgian on a counter. A touch to the left, a Kevin De Bruyne move back to the right, and De Bruyne has a shot on goal, one he pulls wide of the left post.

26′ – Fabian Johnson’s overrun on the right, allowing Belgium to play Vertonghen behind the defense. Bounding out of midfield, Marouane Fellaini’s in front of goal, but the pass across is blocked by DaMarcus Beasley, preventing the Belgians from challenging Howard’s goal.

30′ – Now Johnson’s down. After a half of sprinting up the flank all half to try and get behind Vertonghen, the right back’s hamstring gives out. Waving to the sideline, Johnson makes it clear: He can’t go on. Klinsmann could move Cameron to right back and bring on Kyle Beckerman, but DeAndre Yedlin gets the call instead. Only 20 years old, the Seattle defender has to replace one of the U.S.’s better players at this year’s World Cup.

38′ – Yedlin nearly makes his mark. Carrying the ball down the right, the replacement fullback lofts a cross to the far post for Dempsey. Matched up against Daniel Van Buyten, Dempsey doesn’t have much of a chance, but the crowd has reason to pause before the big Belgian clears the cross.

42′ – The game’s opening up, with another ball into the box from Yedlin quickly turned into an attack at the other end. After dealing with that threat, the U.S. is carrying the ball out of its own end, with Cameron playing forward for Dempsey. When Vincent Kompany takes out the U.S. captain at the ankles, the Belgian center back becomes the second man in the book.

Question for the second half:

– Who changes first? – The numbers say the Belgians have generated more (and better) chances (9-3, shots; 3-1, shots on goal), but this may be the game the U.S. wants to play. Will Jurgen Klinsmann eventually open things up? Or, for that matter, will Marc Wilmots not want to risk one of these U.S. attacks coming good? As time ticks away, will the Belgian coach eventually sacrifice some of his team’s chances to keep from going behind?

– Will Fabian Johnson be missed? – He’s been one of the U.S. difference makers in Brazil, but his injury has given way to a talented but inexperienced replacement. How DeAndre Yedlin performs opposite Eden Hazard will determine whether Fabian Johnson’s injury comes to define this match.

La Liga: Sevilla win late to move even with Atletico Madrid in 3rd

Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Wissam Ben Yedder scored three minutes after entering the game to give Sevilla a late 2-1 win over 10-man Celta Vigo in the Spanish league on Thursday.

The victory moved Sevilla even on points with third-place Atletico Madrid with four matches left. Third place guarantees an automatic spot in the Champions League next season, while the fourth-placed team has to go through a playoff.

Ben Yedder netted the winner from close range after a low cross by Samir Nasri in the 79th minute, beating a defender to the ball and hitting the top of the net with a right-footed shot.

“It was a complex game but the team was able to overcome the difficulties,” Sevilla coach Jorge Sampaoli said.

Joaquin Correa put the host ahead after halftime, and Iago Aspas equalized by converting a penalty kick just minutes later. Aspas did not celebrate the goal out of respect to fans of his former club.

Sevilla dominated from the start and was pressuring vigorously in search of the winner, especially after Celta went a man down when midfielder Pablo Hernandez was sent off with a second yellow card in the 56th with the game 1-1.

Sergio Escudero and Nasri each struck the crossbar a few minutes apart late in the second half, and Vicente Iborra also had hit the woodwork earlier in the game played under steady rain in Seville.

It was the third win in four matches for Sevilla after a streak of five games without a win.

Sevilla and Atletico are level on points, but the Madrid club is ahead on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Top PL Storylines: Bye-bye, St. Totteringham’s Day? So long, Sunderland?

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ahead of Week 34 of the 2016-17 Premier League season, we’re most looking forward to keeping an eye on the following storylines…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Cancel St. Totteringham’s Day?

8,018 days (otherwise known as 22.9 years) have passed since Tottenham Hotspur last finished above Arsenal in the Premier League. First of all, that’s a lot of days. Secondly, the time to reset that clock is nearly upon us, as Tottenham take a 14-point lead into Sunday’s North London derby (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) — perhaps the final one to be played at White Hart Lane. With Arsenal having only five games left to play after Sunday, a 17-point deficit would be mathematically impossible to overcome, and would guarantee Spurs’ first PL finish above Arsenal since the spring of 1995.

The fact that Spurs could end that embarrassing, heinous streak in a game against Arsenal, in perhaps their next-to-last game at White Hart Lane, and maybe even close to within a single point of Chelsea in the title race… it’s almost all too timely and too perfect to believe it could really happen… to Spurs.


Finish the job

With all due respect to Middlesbrough (home), West Bromwich Albion (away), Watford (home) and Sunderland (home), Sunday’s trip to Goodison Park, where they’ve lost on their last two visits (all competitions) and they’ll take on seventh-place Everton (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), is far and away the toughest remaining fixture on Chelsea’s schedule as they chase a fifth PL-era title (fifth in all eras). Having booked their spot in the FA Cup final by beating Spurs last weekend, Antonio Conte is dreaming of — and a favorite to win — a double in his first season at Stamford.


Someone has to finish top-four

Ahead of the weekend, two points separate Liverpool (third), Manchester City (fourth) and Manchester United (fifth), with Arsenal another four back in sixth (but possessing a game in hand). Given all the points dropped by each of the aforementioned sides in recent weeks, it’s important to remember that someone has to finish third and fourth in the PL this season.

We’ve already discussed Arsenal’s titanic task, so here’s the challenges facing the other three this round: Liverpool, at Watford (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com); Man City, at Middlesbrough (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, on  NBCSports.com); Manchester United, vs. Swansea City (7 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com).


So long, Sunderland?

For five seasons now, Sunderland have flirted with relegation from the PL; and every previous season, they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat and managed to stay up. This season, though, under David Moyes, there appears to be no rabbit. With five games to go, safety is a whopping 12 points away, which means a loss to Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on NBCSports.com), coupled with a win or draw by 17th-place Hull City, would officially send Sunderland to the Championship next season. If the Black Cats somehow find their way out of this predicament, a northeastern knighthood awaits Mr. Moyes.

French authorities investigating 2018, 2022 World Cup bids

Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) French financial prosecutors are investigating the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and have heard former FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

A person with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press on Thursday that France’s financial prosecutor services (PNF) opened the investigation on grounds of private corruption, criminal association, influence peddling, and benefiting from influence peddling relating to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

Blatter was questioned in Switzerland last week as a witness, the same person told the AP.

The office of the attorney general of Switzerland said in a statement that “at the request of and in the context of proceedings being conducted by French justice authorities, it has questioned Mr. Joseph Blatter in his capacity as a person providing information on the 20th April 2017 in Zurich.”

The PNF opened its investigation last year.

FIFA has also been targeted by investigations led by Swiss and US authorities. Last month, FIFA sent 1,300 pages of internal investigation reports into suspected bribery and corruption to Switzerland’s attorney general. The documents complete a 22-month probe by legal firm Quinn Emanuel, which FIFA retained in the fallout from United States and Swiss federal prosecutors revealing their sprawling investigations of soccer corruption in May 2015.

Blatter said last week that he met with U.S. Department of Justice investigators and insisted he was not a suspect in their bribery and corruption case linked to FIFA.

Blatter was suspended from office in September 2015 and later banned from soccer by the FIFA ethics committee.

Johannsson expected to leave Bremen this summer — is MLS next?

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Aron Johannsson’s time at Werder Bremen is all but finished, as the 26-year-old American-born, Icelandic-raised striker is expected to leave the club this summer after 22 months with Die Werderaner.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

Having failed to make much of an impact during his second season in the Bundesliga, following a few promising days early in the fall of 2015, the German press stated on Thursday, in no uncertain terms, “Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club” — quotes from Kicker (translation courtesy of Google Translate):

In addition, Aron Johannsson is leaving the northern club. The US boy was not able to get through the hard competition in the storm, claimed more time, which can hardly be guaranteed in the next season. The fact that Baumann is already talking about finding a meaningful solution with the striker in the summer can be interpreted as follows: Johannsson will leave Werder.

Since various bits and pieces are lost in the above translation, allow us to offer a translation of the translation: the “hard competition in the storm” refers to the three or four strikers presently ahead of him in the pecking order. Johannsson fell down the depth chart due in large part to a hip injury which cost him the final seven months of last season.

Johannsson was recently quoted as saying, “It’s not my desire to leave, but at the end of the day it’s important that I play. I love football, but I need to play to be happy.”

[ MORE: John Brooks hip injury is worrying ahead of World Cup qualifiers ]

So, what’s next for Johannsson?

He can probably forget about a move to a top-division team in any of Europe’s premier leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). A move back to Holland, where he starred at AZ Alkmaar (39 goals in 81 games) before moving to Bremen, would make sense if his goal is to stay in Europe at all costs. Another strong season (just a half, even) could earn him another shot with a first-division side roughly the size of Bremen.

Then, there’s MLS, which Johannsson’s been linked with before, and has publicly expressed a desire to join one day. As a current U.S. national team player, a move to MLS would mean a trip through the league’s allocation order for Johannsson. As of this posting, the Houston Dynamo hold the no. 1 spot in the allocation order, with Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, Minnesota United and Orlando City SC rounding out the next five.

[ WATCH: If you haven’t Darlington Nagbe’s latest golazo ]

Any team in MLS could land Johannsson by acquiring the top spot in the allocation order, via trade, and agreeing (what would almost certainly be) a Designated Player contract with him.

At the age of 26, Johannsson will likely feel there is still something left for him to accomplish in Europe. A strong showing in this summer’s Gold Cup (he’s a perfect candidate for Bruce Arena’s “B-team”) could open plenty of eyes — and doors. Money talks, though, just as the opportunity to be the face of the franchise and score a boatload of goals in MLS might also do.