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USA vs. Jamaica preview: Finding the right midfield formula

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Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia resumes in March, which means Friday’s friendly against Jamaica (7 p.m. ET, in Chattanooga, Tenn.) will serve as the U.S. national team’s final tune-up — and re-introduction period for Bruce Arena — ahead a monumental pair of games, from which the Yanks almost certainly need a minimum of four points.

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

To say the next 60 days are important for the USMNT program, would be a massive understatement.

Most important of all: Mixing up the midfield

In Sunday’s draw with Serbia, one thing became alarmingly clear very early on: despite all the new faces in camp and the starting lineup, the USMNT player pool is still full of too-similar central midfielders, all of whom lack the vision and touch to pick out and play the final pass leading to a clear-cut scoring chance. It wasn’t until Sebastia Lletget (halftime, for Jermaine Jones) and Benny Feilhaber (77th minute, for Sacha Kljestan) entered the game that the ball began to move forward, with purpose, rather than side to side and backward.

[ MORE: USA, Serbia play to scoreless draw | Three things we learned ]

Darlington Nagbe received most of the plaudits as the USMNT’s only consistently dangerous attacker on the day, though his only two “chances” of the game ended up nothing more than speculative efforts from distance. It was a predictable outcome, though, given the number of times we’ve seen the Michael Bradley-Jermaine Jones experiment play out over the last five years, and while Kljestan has been an goal-creating machine for the New York Red Bulls the last two seasons, he doesn’t attack opposing defenses with the pressure-creating, straight-ahead approach of Feilhaber. When the European-based players join up for World Cup qualifying next month, the midfield options aren’t suddenly plentiful; this is, for all intents and purposes, the group from which to choose.

Note: Kljestan (family reasons) and Jones (WCQ suspension) each departed camp following the draw with Serbia.

FULL 21-MAN ROSTER

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Unattached), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Atlanta United), Chad Marshall (Seattle Sounders), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Chris Pontius (Philadelphia Union)

Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)

UCL Playoff Wrap: Liverpool, Sporting CP, CSKA advance to group stage

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It was another memorable European night for Liverpool in front of the Kop at Anfield.

Lifted by three goals in the opening 21 minutes, the Reds cruised to a 4-2 win over Hoffenheim 1899 in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League playoff stage Wednesday evening. With the win, Liverpool returns to the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

[ MORE: Champions League scores ]

Sadio Mane set up Emre Can twice and both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino chipped in with goals of their own to lead Liverpool to victory. After Can’s double and Salah’s goal gave Liverpool a three-goal lead, Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann brought Mark Uth off the bench onto the field and he promptly scored in the 28th minute to draw within two.

Firmino again put Liverpool ahead by three goals with a goal into an open net in the 63rd minute. Hoffenheim recorded a consolation goal in the 79th minute through Sandro Wagner but Liverpool was resolute and held on for victory.

Liverpool, and the rest of the winning clubs, will learn their fates for the group stage on Thursday.

Here’s a look at the rest of the Champions League playoff scores:

Slavia Prague 0-0 APOEL (APOEL advances 2-0 on aggregate)

FC Copenhagen 2-1 Qarabag FK (Qarabag advances on away goals, 2-2 on aggregate)

FCSB (Steaua București) 1-5 Sporting CP (Sporting CP advances 5-1 on aggregate)

CSKA Moscow 2-0 BSC Young Boys (CSKA advances on aggregate, 3-0)

VIDEO: A sneak peek of Everton’s Europa League journey – Part 2

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In Part 2 of Everton Unseen, European football returns to Goodison Park as Everton host MFK Ruzomberok in the qualifying round of the Europa League.

Click play on the video below to get a feel for how Goodison Park will be in the second leg of the Europa League in Part 2 of this videos series.

[ MORE: Live Europa League scores

[ WATCH: Part 1 of Everton Unseen ] 

http://www.nbcsports.com/video/everton-unseen-part-2-everton-host-mfk-ruzomberok-europa-league

FIFA to send in emergency team to run Cameroon football

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it is sending in an emergency management team to run the troubled Cameroon football federation.

The panel to be appointed by FIFA and the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will oversee elections by next March to replace disputed polls in 2015 for the Cameroon federation board.

FIFA’s intervention comes amid speculation Cameroon could be stripped of hosting the next African Cup of Nations in June-July 2019.

CAF President Ahmad this month cast doubt on Cameroon’s ability to prepare for the expanded 24-team tournament.

FIFA says Wednesday it acted after “recent failed attempts … to reconcile the football stakeholders in Cameroon and overcome the current impasse.”

Transfer Roundup: Tottenham complete signing of Sanchez, Clucas joins Swansea

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Tottenham reportedly broke the bank for its first transfer of the summer.

The North London club confirmed that it had completed a transfer with Ajax for defender Davinson Sanchez after the Colombian international passed a medical. According to The Telegraph, the deal is worth around $54 million, a club record. The deal is subject to acquisition of Sanchez’s work permit but given the transfer fee and him being in Colombia’s squad, it’s likely a mere formality at this point.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The 21-year-old defender brings speed and strength to Tottenham’s backline as well as a year of seasoning in the Eredivisie, which features plenty of attacking talent. Sanchez will battle with Eric Dier, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen for a place in Spurs’ three-man backline.

It’s a risk moving to a new club a year ahead of the World Cup, but Sanchez is hoping that with appearances in the UEFA Champions League and Premier League up for grabs, he can do well enough to keep his place in the Colombia National Team squad.

Here’s some more transfer news from across England:

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