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USMNT stock up, stock down after Gold Cup group stage

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Bruce Arena took a look at 22 of the 23 men on his 2017 Gold Cup group stage roster, with everyone but NYCFC backstop Sean Johnson seeing time.

Six players received just 90 minutes, while only Alejandro Bedoya (203) and Dax McCarty (184) played more than the equivalent of two full matches.

Bedoya and Johnson were sent home after the group stage, along with Brad Guzan, Dom Dwyer, Cristian Roldan and Kelyn Rowe. Oddly enough, four of those six players were pretty good in the tournament.

[ MORE: U.S. the new front-runner? ]

Before getting to the 22 men in question, perhaps it’s better to begin by asking if there were any of the first-choice players whose stock took a hit from being given the summer off. Given the Yanks’ remarkably disappointing performances in games one and two, it might be odd to suggest that any did, but Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris’ performances at least guaranteed continued competition for Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey. Jurgen Klinsmann listed Julian Green as a midfielder on the 2014 World Cup roster, and carried Dempsey, Altidore, Chris Wondolowski, and Aron Johannsson in Brazil.

Stock up

Alejandro Bedoya — Whether you rate the Philadelphia Union midfielder as a mainstay, an ancillary piece or just depth, Arena handed him the arm band and played him more than any other player. Looked better in the middle of the park than the wing.

Omar Gonzalez — Unsure you’ll ever feel supreme confidence with him as a starting CB against top competition, but he was composed and good in the air. Connected on 57 of 58 pass attempts.

Matt Besler — Ninety-six attempted passes led the team, as did his 87 correct offerings. The Sporting KC man has his place in the team, and World Cup experience to boot.

Kelyn Rowe — We’d be shocked if his departure back to New England had anything to do with his fine performances with the USMNT. Played a role in a conceded goal, but was a dynamic creator when his team was lacking that role.

Matt Miazga Finished 21 of 22 passes, scored a goal, and begged to be given more time to shine. Where Chelsea sends him on loan and how he fares will be closely monitored.

Jordan Morris — His seven shots and two goals led the team, and one even came with his left foot. Emblematic of the homegrown American talent, it was good to see him finish chances again.

Eric Lichaj Small sample size alert, but the three fouls he suffered in his lone game puts him behind just three players on average. Hoping Arena lets him play alongside the big boys.

Brad Guzan —  It has been a while since we saw the new Atlanta United backstop shine in a USMNT kit, and he did it twice. Clearly the 2 in the 1-2 with Tim Howard.

Dom Dwyer — Missed penalty aside, showed moxie and a nose for goal. Most importantly, he scored in a game where the ball wasn’t finding him; That’s a quality attribute for an international striker.

(Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Stock down

Cristian Roldan — This should read “short term stock down.” At age 22 he should have plenty more chances to impress Arena and future U.S. coaches, but he certainly didn’t demand Russia consideration based on his 90 minutes.

Matt Hedges — If you searched our site for his name, you’d see no one has championed his call-up to the national team more but he was hurt for speed during his one-off appearance.

Graham Zusi — Not a right back, at least not in a system not focused to his strengths and weaknesses, but Arena’s continued use of the Sporting KC man in that spot show that our stock down might not be his stock down. That said, we’re open to the idea of him as a right mid.

Chris Pontius — An exceptional talent and industrious worker, he didn’t star and is 30 years old. Doesn’t change our opinion of the Union man, but probably hurts his World Cup dreams.

Gyasi Zardes — Like Zusi, this isn’t his fault. Unlike Zusi, Zardes was playing his natural position as he continued his recent malaise. The group stage allowed Jordan Morris to break out of the funk he brought with him from MLS; Zardes could do no such thing. Maybe this is a all just a step in his continued recovery process.

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Could go either way

Justin Morrow — Only saw 90 minutes as Jorge Villafana is going to get every chance to seize this job. That’s not an indictment on Morrow, though the Toronto FC left back did not do anything fantastic to demand more playing time (Leaning? Up).

Kellyn Acosta — Still think he’s a future mainstay on the team, but perhaps we see why Klinsmann elected to try him at left back rather than the center mid spot he plays for FC Dallas; His talent, athleticism, and ideas are outstanding, but he also shows his age often when the unexpected happens. At 21, this is going to get better… but by Russia? (Leaning? Up).

Dax McCarty — Along with Acosta, was a revelation in the friendly against Ghana. Did plenty of good in two 90-minute performances, but perhaps is yet to convince Arena or the fan base that he can be a Kyle Beckerman-style key piece of a roster puzzle. (Leaning? Up).

Paul Arriola —  Really liked his mettle, and in a coincidental statistic the U.S. is 6W-1D in matches he’s hit the pitch. At age 22, his slim hopes for the roster comes from contributing as a sub. Can he do it when it matters in the knockout rounds? Will he get the chance? (Leaning? Up).

Jorge Villafana — Can fly up and down the left flank, but still missing something in his own end and the final third. Still, he’s going to get every chance to allow Arena to keep Fabian Johnson at left back. (Leaning? Down).

Juan Agudelo — Bright and lively at times, missed the finishing touch that would have American fans recapturing their enthusiasm of years ago. (Leaning? Down).

Joe Corona — Scored a goal and showed he’s up for the challenge skill and vision wise, but also drifted out of the game at times and took one of the worst on frame penalties you’re going to see this year. (Leaning? Up).

Bill Hamid — Did what he needed to do against Nicaragua, but remains behind Howard and Guzan while waiting to see if Jesse Gonzalez is the eventual No. 3 for Russia (should the Yanks qualify for the 2018 World Cup). (Leaning? Up).

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.