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Jozy Altidore’s presence missed in USMNT draw with Venezuela

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International friendlies are all about learning. With just days to go before the United States faces another crucial pair of World Cup qualifiers, Bruce Arena experimented a bunch against Venezuela with the idea that he can learn plenty about his current squad.

The 1-1 draw featured heavy United States possession, but nary a true look on goal. As Arena put it, “the final product wasn’t very good.”

The main reason for this? The absence of Jozy Altidore.

[ MORE: 3 more things we learned from the 1-1 draw with Venezuela ]

Altidore, the 3rd-leading scorer in USMNT history, was absent from the squad at Rio Tinto Stadium after missing the early portion of camp due to his brother’s wedding. Therefore, Arena left him out, instead pairing Clint Dempsey and Bobby Wood up front in one of those aforementioned experiments. While both Dempsey and Wood are quality players and both showed flashes of usefulness throughout the game, they are also far too similar in style to form an effective partnership at this stage. Both are speedy strikers who make runs through the defense, but neither has the true strength to allow others to get into space.

Clint Dempsey and the USMNT attack struggled mightily in the final third against Venezuela (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images).

Jozy’s hold-up play was the biggest missing piece for the United States against Venezuela, and while he has taken plenty of heat during his time with the international squad (sometimes deserved, sometimes not), Altidore is a critical piece of this USMNT squad, never more evident than just outside Salt Lake City last night.

If the United States is to take a positive points haul against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, they will need Altidore at his best up front, not only scoring goals but also to help turn possession into danger up front, something the US was unable to do against Venezuela. Altidore is often judged by his ability to score goals for the US, but that is not nearly his only contribution to the squad.

Introducing Jozy Altidore back into the starting lineup most likely would see Bobby Wood the odd man out in a fully healthy squad, which is an unfortunate loss, but he and Dempsey simply do not provide enough variance up front. Wood will get plenty of chances in the future with Dempsey’s time eventually up, and he offers a speedy, dangerous option off the bench for the final 20 minutes of an even game.

The bottom line is that, despite his sometimes divisive stance with USMNT fans, the United States needs Jozy Altidore. That was blatantly obvious through 90 minutes in Sandy, Utah.

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”

USMNT’s Wood extends Hamburg contract through 2021

Photo credit: Hamburg / Twitter: @HSV
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) American forward Bobby Wood extended his contract with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV on Saturday to 2021.

Wood, who joined Hamburg from second-tier Union Berlin, scored five goals and set up two more in 28 Bundesliga games. He had 17 goals in 31 second-division games for Union the season before.

“Not only his goals count for us, but his readiness to run and challenge,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “Bobby is a key player for our offense and a real team player.”

Wood has eight goals in 32 appearances for the United States.

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.