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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.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?

An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

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Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”