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Three things we learned from USMNT’s win over Ghana

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The next time the U.S. national team takes the field, they’ll face Panama in each side’s 2017 Gold Cup opener. Bruce Arena’s “B-team” completed its preparations with a 2-1 friendly victory over Ghana on Saturday. Here’s what we learned…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

It’s Kellyn’s midfield now

The time for Kellyn Acosta to assume the role of full-time central midfield star is… well, about three months ago. At the age of 21, Acosta’s ascendancy to arguably the best two-way player in the entire USMNT player pool is complete.

His showing for all season long for FC Dallas have shown he’s a class above MLS and ready for the next level; last month’s showing against Mexico, in Estadio Azteca, proved Acosta is mature well beyond his years, as the FCD homegrown star partnered Michael Bradley and played his part in the 1-1 draw; Saturday’s showing against Ghana proved he’s comfortable and confident no matter his midfield partner, as Acosta and Dax McCarty patrolled the middle of the park and dictated the game’s tempo for all 90 minutes (their combined passing chart, at right).

Acosta is the USMNT’s midfield star of the future (think: the next 10-12 years), and he looks more than ready to assume that title and responsibility in the here and now. His range of passing is second to none in the player pool; he’s a threat on goal from anywhere inside 30 yards; and he’s increasingly aware of tracking and handing off runners at all three levels. He’ll almost certainly be off to Europe next summer, should he show even remotely well at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and USMNT fans should be downright giddy to witness the heights he’ll reach in the years immediately thereafter.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]


 

Defensive depth for days

Matt Besler and Matt Hedges were very good in this one, just as Geoff Cameron and John Brooks were against Trinidad and Tobago last month, just as Cameron and Omar Gonzalez were against Mexico three days later. Less than 12 months to the World Cup, Arena now has five center backs, with varying amounts of international experience, upon whom he can call in just about any situation, no matter the opponent.

Four of the five, excluding Gonzalez, have the ability to play the ball out of the back that Jurgen Klinsmann desired for so long, but could never unlock to construct a team that effectively plays the ball out of the back. Now, under Arena, and with a functional two-way midfield in front of them every time they take the field, the likes of Cameron and Besler, ball-playing specialists on either side of central defense, are thriving in possession and in defense.

[ MORE: Germany, Chile set for Confed Cup final on Sunday ]


The Gold Cup’s going to be fun

Hot take: The “B-team” Gold Cup (meaning, the one to which the USMNT and Mexico don’t send their first team) is better than the “A-team” version, at least form a USMNT perspective. With so many up-and-comers making their way into the player pool from MLS academies/teams, the storylines and points of intrigue are countless.

From Acosta and Dwyer scoring their first international goals on Saturday; to Dax McCarty’s return to the USMNT fold; to Kelyn Rowe, Paul Arriola and Joe Corona’s bid to become “this World Cup cycle’s Graham Zusi”; to the ongoing search for a starting left back; three or four players should emerge from this month’s tournament and force Arena’s hand when 2018 World Cup qualifying resumes in September. From there, a World Cup debut is eight short months away.

Cristiano Ronaldo captures Best Male Player at FIFA awards

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The yearly debate as to whom the best player in the world is won’t be settled in the minds of fans across the globe, but on Monday, FIFA gave its two cents.

Real Madrid attacker Cristiano Ronaldo took home Best Male Player honors at the FIFA Best awards, beating out Lionel Messi and Neymar for the title.

[ MORE: Mbappe wins Golden Boy award, beats out Pulisic, others ]

Meanwhile, all three superstars were named in the FIFA Best XI for the year, alongside the likes of Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and Andres Iniesta.

Here’s a look at some of the other winners from Monday’s FIFA awards.

Best Male Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

FIFA World XI: Gianluigi Buffon; Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Leonardo Bonucci, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Andres Iniesta; Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar.

FIFA Men’s Coach of 2017: Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid)

Puskas Award for Best Goal: Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)

Best Female Player: Lieke Martens (Netherlands)

PST names Best XI for 2017 MLS season

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The 2017 MLS regular season saw some of the finest performances from players across the league.

New arrivals in Atlanta, such as Josef Martinez and Miguel Almiron, garnered a great amount of attention, while Chicago Fire striker Nemanja Nikolic went on to capture the Golden Boot in his first season in MLS.

Stars like Sebastian Giovinco and David Villa continued to leave a lasting impression on the league, but with only 11 spots available for selection, some of game’s best had to be left off.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Budding U.S. Men’s National Team figures have emerged throughout the MLS scene, including from each of last season’s MLS Cup final squads.

Below is the PST built its Best XI for the 2017 MLS season.

MLS Best XI via Lineupbuilder

Players that just missed the cut

GK: Luis Robles, Bill Hamid

Defense: Roman Torres, Ike Opara, Andrew Farrell, Joevin Jones

Midfielders: Lee Nguyen, Sacha Kljestan, Alex Ring, Romain Alessandrini

Forwards: Miguel Almiron, Sebastian Giovinco, Justin Meram


Which players would you have included in your Best XI? Who was the best player in the league? Tell us below.

Justin Meram discusses Crew’s hot form, facing Atlanta and more

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The Eastern Conference has established itself within the ranks of Major League Soccer given the quality of the sides at the top.

While Atlanta United — in its first MLS season — and Toronto FC dominate headlines, alongside New York City FC, lost in the shuffle is Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Impact fire Mauro Biello after team loses nine of last 10 matches ]

The Crew finished fifth in a congested East after settling for a 2-2 draw on Decision Day against NYCFC, however, Greg Berhalter’s squad has been among the best in MLS for the second half of the season.

Pro Soccer Talk caught up with Crew midfielder Justin Meram ahead of his side’s first-round matchup against Atlanta in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

“I wouldn’t say there’s less pressure on us,” Meram told PST. ” We might be written off in terms of the attention that they have had this season. Some networks have come out by saying that they [Atlanta] are the favorites, but nothing changes with this group.

“We let all that outside noise stay outside and we don’t let it affect us. Whether they have us winning a game, or whatever the case may be, we have a game plan and a style of play that we look to execute no matter where we go.”

Decision Day around MLS has created havoc — and a great narrative — but Sunday’s result against NYCFC proved to be the difference between potentially hosting a playoff game, or possibly having a bye, versus now having to travel to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Obviously that’s what makes Decision Day so much more exciting,” Meram said. “We didn’t control our own destiny, but the way things went with Atlanta and Chicago we could have jumped from fifth to second. It’s just one of those things that didn’t go our way.

“We didn’t play our best in the first half, but we also faced a really good team and I was pleased with how we bounced back. I think that showed our quality and our ability to claw back into games on the road, which is crucial during the playoffs.”

The Crew have been one of the league’s top home sides in 2017, winning 12 matches at MAPFRE Stadium — which ranks second in MLS behind only Toronto FC.

However, Meram and his side now face a stiff test against an Atlanta team that has lost just one of its eight matches since moving over from Bobby Dodd Stadium in mid-September.

“I need to be at my very best on Thursday,” Meram said. “We all need to be on top of our game because we need a collective effort in order to beat Atlanta.”

Scheduling has a funny way of factoring into the outcomes of matches at times, but given the fact that the Crew and Atlanta haven’t met since July 1 all bets are off in terms of which side is the  favorite to advance.

Atlanta won both matches earlier in the season as the two clubs met in home-and-home fixtures over a span of three weeks, but Meram remains confident that his side’s current form will help them prevail.

“Their attack is lethal,” Meram said when asked about facing an Atlanta side that scored 70 regular season goals. “One small little mistake allows them to pounce on chances. They punish you.

“We have to be clinical with our build up play and shape throughout the match. When we get our half-chances we need to bury them. When we played Atlanta the first time, we had a couple of breakaways that we didn’t put away and it hurt us.

“We have the quality, but playing at their home, with their fans, we need to focus on finishing our chances in order to advance.”

The topic of relocation has come as a shock not just in Columbus, but throughout MLS since last week’s announcement that owner Anthony Precourt would explore his options for the club moving forward.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Meram has insisted though that he and his Crew teammates remain focused on winning MLS Cup — which would be the club’s second in franchise history.

“Obviously we haven’t let it affect us,” Meram told PST. “We played a really good game on Sunday. We’re just staying with the same mindset that we’ve had the second half of the season, which doesn’t reflect the owner’s announcement.

“There’s not much I can say. I have a job to do. He [Precourt] has a job to do. The fans have their job to do. Right now, it’s about focusing on the playoffs and seeing what happens. There’s nothing definitive about staying or going, so I can’t speculate at this point.

“At the end of the day, I want a championship, and I believe that’s the feeling for all of our guys right now. That’s how it has to be from the player’s perspective because the second we shift our mindset we’re going to get punished by other sides.”

Montreal fires Biello after Impact loses nine of last 10

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Mauro Biello is out.

The Montreal Impact have parted ways with its entire coaching staff following a terrible end to a disappointing 2017 season which failed to see them build on an Eastern Conference Finals run.

[ MORE: Yaya Toure to NYCFC? ]

Montreal lost nine of its last 10 despite beating Toronto FC in Toronto, finishing with 39 points. That’s 11 points out of a playoff spot, which looked all but certain before their miserable finish to the campaign.

This despite an MVP caliber season from recently-extended Ignacio Piatti, who scored 17 goals with five assists. That the Impact failed was a bit baffling, especially following the midseason addition of Blerim Dzemaili, who chipped in seven goals and 10 assists in 22 matches.

There are some interesting pieces for the next boss, should 24-year-old Anthony Jackson-Hamel and 18-year-old Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla stick around.

The 45-year-old Biello finishes his first managerial gig following a playing career with the Impact (pre-MLS), Rochester Rhinos, and several indoor sides including the Impact, Toronto Thunderhawks, and Buffalo Blizzard.

Follow @NicholasMendola