Associated Press

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.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.