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Three things we learned from USMNT’s draw against Serbia

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January friendlies have become a time for the U.S. Men’s National Team to look at its younger domestic players for the future, but for Bruce Arena’s team time isn’t really on its side right now.

The U.S. looked largely unconvincing on Sunday against Serbia in their 0-0 draw at Qualcomm Stadium, and with just one more friendly separating the USMNT from the resumption of World Cup qualifying nerves are starting to kick in.

[ MORE: USMNT, Serbia finish scoreless in Arena’s return ]

Here’s what we learned about the USMNT from Sunday’s draw with Serbia.


Nagbe production will be vital moving forward

Let’s start with the positives. It started and ended with Darlington Nagbe on Sunday, as the Portland Timbers midfielder showed glimpses of how dangerous he can be in a USMNT attack that often lacks creativity. While the U.S. was without pieces like Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic, Nagbe figures to be an important figure for Arena moving forward because of his versatility, skill on the ball and ability to play multiple positions.

It’s still uncertain just exactly which formation Arena will settle on, but if Sunday is any indiction of the former LA Galaxy manager’s mindset the U.S. will need a creative mind like Nagbe behind Jozy Altidore in order to develop the attack.

The 4-1-4-1 or at times 4-2-3-1 left Altidore isolated for much of the encounter against Serbia, making it difficult for the Toronto FC striker to operate. Many names will be in the mix for a starting position come March but with the status of Clint Dempsey unknown as he returns from a long layoff with health issues and Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya largely quiet on Sunday, Nagbe should have a legitimate shot to crack the starting XI.

Back four still uncertain

The Graham Zusi experiment at right back went surprisingly well, albeit against an undermanned Serbia team, however, the state of the U.S. defense heading into March remains up in the air. While John Brooks, Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin are all likely to get starting nods against Honduras, the USMNT still lacks depth at outside back.

Sunday presented a big opportunity for both Zusi and Greg Garza, who started at left back, but it was the latter that struggled throughout the match and left the door open for Jorge Villafana and veteran DaMarcus Beasley to at least be in the conversation. Ultimately, Villafana’s club situation is a concern due to his lack of playing time in Liga MX and Beasley’s age also factors into the equation.

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Photo Credit: Twitter/U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer)

While Johnson’s versatility and skill could likely be beneficial for Arena on the wing, for the time being he’s still the best option that the USMNT possesses at left back.

The pairing of Chad Marshall and Steve Birnbaum was successful against the Serbs, which was certainly a bright spot on the day. While Geoff Cameron and Brooks have seemingly locked down a starting partnership in the center of the U.S. defense, Cameron’s injury woes have left the door open for someone to claim the spot next to Brooks. Birnbaum has a stronger chance to claim the position than Marshall, but also look out for FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman, who has impressed during January camp and should see time against Jamaica.

Rimando leads the way in goal

Goalkeeper has long been a position that the USMNT hasn’t had to worry about but with the status of the team’s top two choices currently uncertain, the job could be Nick Rimando’s to lose for the near future following Sunday’s performance.

The Real Salt Lake keeper wasn’t tested often against the Serbs, but the 37-year-old came up clutch when called upon and he has the experience in MLS to answer the call if needed. While Rimando has yet to make an appearance for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying, he would benefit from playing two of the weaker sides in the Hex, Honduras and Panama.

While names like David Bingham and Luis Robles will be thrown around because of their consistent success in MLS, Rimando has consistently been in the national team setup for years and has had the opportunity to watch Tim Howard and Brad Guzan from close sight. Howard is coming back from offseason surgery, making his availability in March highly questionable, while Guzan has struggled to find minutes in the Premier League with Middlesbrough.

Ronaldo, Neymar, Messi nominees for FIFA prize for 3rd year

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LONDON (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar are the contenders for FIFA’s top player award for the third straight year.

The nominations for the FIFA Best awards were announced Friday in London, where the ceremony will take place next month. Ronaldo is favored to join Messi as a five-time winner.

While Ronaldo won the Spanish league and Champions League last season at Real Madrid, Messi and Neymar only collected the Copa del Rey title with Barcelona.

Off the field, the three players have all been embroiled in tax cases in Spain over the last year.

Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Tottenham

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  • West Ham have 14 PL wins vs. Spurs, more than against any other opponent
  • Spurs have lost 3 of their last 4 trips to West Ham
  • Since the start of 2015-16 Spurs have won the most points (164) and matches (47) in the PL
  • Harry Kane has five goals in his last five PL games vs. West Ham

West Ham United host Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday at the London Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) in a big London derby.

The Hammers have won both of their last two home games against Spurs 1-0 to scupper Tottenham’s title bids which has added extra spice to this rivalry in recent months.

[ LIVE: Stream Premier League games

With West Ham winning their first home game this season against Huddersfield Town, Slaven Bilic is looking to make the London Stadium a fortress. Spurs will be eager to play another game away from their temporary home for the season, Wembley, after Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have failed to win any of their opening three home PL games at Wembley.

If Tottenham prevail in east London it will mean they have won their opening three away games in the league for the first time since 1991-92.

In team news West Ham will be without injured duo Pedro Obiang and Manuel Lanzini but skipper Mark Noble is available. Ben Davies could return for Spurs, while Victor Wanyama, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose remain out.

What they’re saying

Slaven Bilic praises Christian Eriksen in The London Evening Standard: “They have many excellent players but the one who is maybe the unsung hero is Christian Eriksen. I don’t want to say he is under-rated because everyone in Europe is aware of the talent that he possesses. Apart from being a vital link in their team, he is also making clever little moves into pockets of space or into the box.”

Mauricio Pochettino on taking his players out for dinner: “We need time for the players that we signed to engage with everyone, know everything. It’s only a few weeks that they are involved in the dynamic of the team, the club. You need time to create a good dynamic. Not only tactics but outside too. We had a dinner in a restaurant in London with all the staff and players that I invite, of course. I paid the bill at the end! That is important because you can say: ‘Tactics here in the morning’ or you prefer to go last night and put all the staff, the players and the chairman too in a restaurant. That is tactics too. It is so important, just as it is important to work on the pitch. To get to know each other better, to speak in a different way. That creates links between them, emotion.”

Prediction

Spurs will have too much going forward for West Ham’s shaky defense and they will relish not only an away day but also putting their poor recent record against West Ham to bed. Tottenham to win 3-1.

USMNT’s Danny Williams out injured for Huddersfield

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Potentially bad news has arrived  for Danny Williams as the U.S. national team midfielder has suffered an injury at the worst possible time.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Williams ]

Williams, 28, has suffered a “small fracture” to a bone in his foot and will not play for Huddersfield at Burnley on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

UPDATE: Pro Soccer Talk understands Williams’ injury will keep him out of action for about 2-3 weeks.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the trip to Turf Moor, Wagner gave some more information on Williams’ injury.

“Danny Williams has a small fracture in a bone in his foot. We have specialists appointment tomorrow[Friday] where we will get some information on how long he will be out,” Wagner said. “At the moment it is totally open because it is a very, very small fracture. So we will see. For sure he is out for Saturday.”

So, it doesn’t seem like a long-term injury but after Williams battled to start his first-ever start in the Premier League against Leicester City last week in a 1-1 draw, this knock has come at a very frustrating time for the German-American midfielder as he established himself at his new club.

Williams has battled hard to get into Huddersfield’s starting lineup after his free transfer from Reading over the summer.

Some USMNT fans were also calling for Williams to get a recall from Bruce Arena ahead of the U.S. national teams crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago next month.

The combative midfielder now faces an anxious wait about the severity of his injury.

Antonio Conte thanks Diego Costa after Chelsea departure

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These will likely be the final questions Antonio Conte faces about Diego Costa.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Matip talks to JPW ]

On Thursday it was announced that Chelsea has sold their leading scorer in each of the past two seasons back to Atletico Madrid with a protracted fallout between Conte and Costa finally coming to a logical conclusion.

After Conte reportedly sent Costa a text message stating he was no longer needed at Chelsea, just days after they lifted the Premier League title together, the Brazilian born striker refused to return to preseason training and remained in Brazil with family as he demanded to be sold back to Atletic Madrid.

He was fined by the club but has finally got his wish with a $77 million move back to Atleti sealed for the 28-year-old who won two Premier League titles in three season at Chelsea but also brought controversy with him on many occasions as the bullish striker upset opponents and teammates alike.

Speaking at Stamford Bridge on Friday ahead of Chelsea’s trip to Stoke City on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) Conte thanked Costa for his efforts.

“About this issue, we want to thank him for what he did with this club. We wish him all the best for the future,” Conte said.

Asked about the deterioration of his own relationship with Costa and if his team will miss the goals of the Spanish international, Conte was less open.

“Now it is not important, I am not interested to continue talking about this issue,” Conte said. “I am working with my players and am happy to work them them. We must work and fight to win every competition. We are Chelsea and we need to try to do this in this season. We have to try to do our best in every competition. Our target is to do our best every day, every week, every month in this season.”

Stating multiple times that he was “not interested in talking about the past” and that only the current and building for the future was important, Conte did thank Costa once again and said he will remember the success they achieved together last season.

“I do not forget we won together last season,” Conte said. “For sure we want to thank him for his effort last season with us but not only last season, the period he played for Chelsea.”

With this saga now over, Chelsea will turn to Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi to score the goals they need to be successful on all four fronts this season.

After recovering well from a sluggish start to the season it appears Conte’s decision to oust Costa will, long-term, be the correct one. Even though Morata has taken a little time to settle and Batshuayi blows hot and cold, the Blues have goals everywhere you look with Eden Hazard, Pedro, Willian and others able to chip in.

There’s only one Diego Costa and Conte must be somewhat relieved to see the back of him.