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Three things we learned in USMNT’s 1-0 win over Jamaica

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The United States had a promising performance against Jamaica that produced the first goal of the second Bruce Arena era, and we learned a lot more about the members of the January camp participants than we did in the drab draw against Serbia.

So, with January camp coming to a close, who shined, who struggled, and who made a case for a spot in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers?

1. Sebastian Lletget is just as good out wide as centrally

There’s been a hard-hammered narrative that Sebastian Lletget is at his best in the middle of the field. With the #10 role occupied by Benny Feilhaber (or Sascha Kljestan recently), Lletget has been deployed out wide, first as a substitute against Serbia where he shined in limited action, and now on Friday against Jamaica.

He was quite good. He saw plenty of action down the left, and both passed and crossed very well. While he can improve on his ability to beat opponents, he drew a healthy number of fouls and his presence was important in a formation with a wide focus.

As it is with any of these performances, it’s important to remember it came against a 2nd-tier Jamaican squad. Will it translate to first-choice CONCACAF opponents in a do-or-die World Cup qualification setting? That’s on Bruce Arena to decide.

2. The Benny Feilhaber vs. Sascha Kljestan battle has gained steam

With Jermaine Jones suspended for the next World Cup qualifier, there has been plenty of speculation of who will start in his place and who will be added to the roster. Sascha Kljestan seemed to have a hold on a roster spot, either in the starting role or just behind it. That may not be such a given anymore.

[ RECAP: USMNT defeats Jamaica 1-0 in final January tuneup ]

Feilhaber looked very bright running point at the top of the midfield in Bruce Arena’s 4-1-3-2, and proved he can both cross skillfully and carry the ball into the final third. He was a danger in the opening 20 minutes, assisting the big chance in the 7th minute where McCarty headed just over, and challenging Jamacian players in their own half when defending.

On the flip side, as the first half wore on, Feilhaber featured some Bradley-like giveaways in midfield, but he redeemed it all with his beautiful assist on the Morris opener, as his silky movement on the ball unlocked the Jamaican defense. Overall, Benny may not be a player Arena wants to experiment with knowing there’s so much on the line, but he’s certainly given the U.S. coach a reason to keep him on the list for the future should the USMNT repair its qualification status quickly.

3. The creativity remains slightly deficient

The United States held much of the possession against Jamaica, with the back line hardly tested. However, there was very little in a creative sense that gave the U.S. good chances, and the few opportunities they did have were not taken with a ruthless nature. Morris had a good break on the header from Agudelo, but failed to put it away. McCarty got his head to a corner early – as he does so well – but put it over. Overall, the U.S. seemed all too reliant on pumping crosses into the box from out wide, partly a product of a width-focused formation played by Arena, but also due to a lack of other options.

The United States still lacks a player who can truly unlock an opposition defense on his own, maybe outside of Clint Dempsey, whose health remains a question mark moving forward. Feilhaber showed promise early, but he gave away possession too much. Morris tried at one point to take on four yellow shirts and failed miserably. Alexi Lalas on Twitter referred to it “unproductive but not lethargic,” which is probably an accurate description. There wasn’t much for Arena to praise in the final third, and that’s somewhat concerning considering the U.S. needs wins not draws in its immediate qualifying future.

The goal was a very nice moment to assuage the fears of many watching, but the lack of action in the opposition penalty area is still cause for slight concern.

Honorable mention: Graham Zusi is no longer a national team caliber player

The man to get the captain’s armband tonight had one of the poorer performances of the United States group, and it’s not at all surprising. His crosses were not useful, and more importantly, he was exposed at the back the few times he was tested. Most notably, in the first half he was straight up burned by Cory Burke on the chance that should have been a goal for Jamaica had Williams not horribly missed. Zusi has no speed tracking back, and would be even more exposed against a team that played less centrally than Jamaica played. We can appreciate Zusi’s past contributions to the national team, which are significant, but he should not be deployed at right-back in a meaningful game. Unfortunately, the options are limited for Bruce Arena, meaning he might see more time by default. That would not go well.

Honorable mention: Dax McCarty has a lot to offer

In my personal opinion, Dax McCarty was the best player on the field. He had five unsuccessful passes in 62 minutes of play (Michael Bradley, his substitute, had four – a topic for another day), and distributed well the whole game. McCarty proved he can carry over his set-piece prowess to the national team as well, and was quality in the attack. With Jamaica attacking through the middle of the field in their few chances forward, McCarty was solid defensively as well, helping the back line keep an untested clean sheet. This was a very good day for Dax’s chances moving forward.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.