AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Breaking down the USMNT break downs

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There’s a frightening trend for the United States men’s national team, one that hasn’t been a conversation point for the team for some time.

This team is showing a distressing need for frequent wake-up calls.

The U.S. men earned their status as darlings of their fans by succeeding in the face of underdog status. Sometimes, it was the result of favorable draws and results — see the fun 2002 World Cup run.

Other times, a rough group stage was superseded by fortunate math and brave performances in a knockout round, like the 2009 Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios for the USMNT ]

And finally, once it was simply emerging from a perceived Group of Death and getting a Matrix-like performance from your world class goalkeeper.

Maybe some or all of those were cases of dousing garbage in gallons of air freshener — I’d like to think not — and two of those examples included prime players from the current crop of Yanks, but they certainly didn’t feel like the roller coaster ride we’re experiencing now.

Keeping in mind that the Yanks needed results on the last day of qualifying to make it to the World Cup as recently as the 2010 edition, did it ever feel like this, so often?

After battering Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 6-0, Jurgen Klinsmann’s Yanks slept through a 0-0 draw in Trinidad and Tobago before losing to Guatemala for the first time in better than two decades. They responded by blowing out Guatemala, SVG, and T&T by a combined score of 14-0 the rest of the way. So it wasn’t about class.

Klinsmann then lost his job after a horrible start to the Hex, one that may still prove to a major part of a historic downfall. It wasn’t even that the Yanks fell to their two main CONCACAF rivals; Klinsmann’s men were outclassed by Mexico at home and embarrassed by Costa Rica on the road. See ya, JK.

[ MORE: Three things from the USMNT’s home loss to Costa Rica ]

Costa Rica forward Marco Urena celebrates after scoring on Tim Howard(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

All of this demanded change, but also circled the players’ names moving forward. Were they subconscious quitters who just wanted a coach fired? Was their underperformance mostly about the coach, or were they simply not that good? Moreover, how would they respond?

Hello, Bruce. And hello another bellying up to the bar to throw down top shelf stuff in front of a rabid group of partiers. In San Jose, the Yanks waxed Honduras to the tune of 6-0. Yay! Much better!

Again, it wasn’t about class.

So what was next? The U.S. was out shot 9-3 in Panama en route to a 1-1 draw, one that felt fine at the time on account of the four points gained, but looks poor in the residue of Friday’s home loss to Costa Rica.

About that second Costa Rica loss: No, the U.S. wasn’t totally outplayed, but it sure did look outworked (though to ignore some of the worst own- and middle-third passing decisions would be criminal). The word ‘entitled’ even comes to mind, like a team that is ready to buy into its own hype after generating even a marginal amount.

So what’s wrong, overall? The answers from the Internet come from every direction, some grasping at straws, some looking at the minutia, and others going meta. I’ve even read the rationale that the American “pay to play” structure is to blame, with kids being told they are the best players ever by youth clubs desperate to stop each kid’s parents thousands of annual dollars from moving across town. That’s a talk for another day, an embarrassing one that probably doesn’t equate to the national team’s struggles.

But there’s definitely something about mentality here, especially as CONCACAF watches Mexico just go out and win qualifiers. El Tri isn’t free from flaws and its coach has been under fire, but it won its first five matches of the fourth round and conceded just once. It’s conceded just twice in the Hex, and once was on a Michael Bradley bomb. Part of this certainly has to do with the fact that Mexico’s most impactful defensive forces in this generation are really strong (By the way, Mexico was without mighty Hector Moreno and a number of other recognizable names like Miguel Layun and Marco Fabian. They beat Panama).

There’s also a problem the U.S. has had for a long, long time aside from DaMarcus Beasley’s best days: the left side. Thanks to the good people at CONCACAF.com, let’s take a look at how CONCACAF is coming at the U.S. in World Cup qualifiers:

USMNT 1-2 Mexico

Costa Rica 4-0 USMNT

USMNT 6-0 Honduras

Panama 1-1 USMNT

USMNT 2-0 Trinidad and Tobago

Mexico 1-1 USMNT

USMNT 0-2 Costa Rica

So aside from the Mexico opener and the Honduras blowout, the tactical idea is to get the ball on the left of the midfield and see what opens up (more or less, the graphics aren’t perfect).

Here’s a bonus heat map from the Gold Cup Final, one of only three matches in the tournament in which the Americans conceded a goal (Jamaica is going right to left).

It’s probably all of the above in some aspects, but Bruce Arena is not the sort of boss who we should expect to be consistently outfoxed tactically as he was with Darlington Nagbe in the central midfield and Costa Rica just fouling the heck out of the Yanks.

Come Tuesday in Honduras, it’s going to be dirtier, grittier, and filled with desperation. The Yanks, in all likelihood, will respond well. Yet even if they post a 3-0 win and look dominant, this batch of players has proven that we should draw no comfort or expectation that it will continue come October 6 against Panama. That’s just one month away, and that’s scary.

Leon Bailey stars but Bayer Leverkusen held 4-4 by Hannover

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BERLIN (AP) Jamaica striker Leon Bailey scored twice after coming on as a substitute but Bayer Leverkusen failed to hang on as Hannover grabbed a 4-4 draw in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

[ MORE: Liverpool smashes Bournemouth to move fourth ]

Bailey, who came on at the break, needed only two minutes to equalize after Hannover had gone 3-2 ahead, and he scored again 20 minutes later to put Leverkusen 4-3 in front.

But the 20-year-old missed another chance to complete a hat trick and Julian Korb scored late for Hannover to draw.

“I had a third chance, and I just know if I had taken that chance it would have been over for them. It’s just unlucky. But that’s football,” said Bailey. “A wise man learns from his mistakes. But a wiser man learns from others’ mistakes.”

Both teams traded goals on an afternoon to forget for the goalkeepers.

“It was worth the entrance price for the spectators,” Korb said.

Julian Brandt fired Leverkusen into an early lead with a brilliant volley but Ihlas Bebou replied straight away with a header for Hannover.

Niclas Fuellkrug put the home side ahead with a penalty, only for Admir Mehmedi to equalize four minutes later for Leverkusen.

Hannover went ahead again after Fuellkrug set up Felix Klaus with his heel before the break, when Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich reacted with two substitutions.

One of them was Bailey, who raced forward to reach Kai Havertz’s through ball and kept his cool to beat Hannover `keeper Philipp Tschauner.

Bailey claimed his sixth goal of the season after the game’s longest stretch without a goal when Mehmedi played him through on a counterattack after a Hannover corner.

But there was further drama to come as Bebou eluded three Leverkusen defenders to set up Korb for Hannover’s equalizer with seven minutes remaining.

Leipzig, level on points with Leverkusen, had the chance to go second again with a win at home against Hertha Berlin later Sunday.

The 2 Robbies podcast: Liverpool dominates, selling Coutinho discussed

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start off today’s show by discussing Man United’s win at The Hawthorns as Lukaku scores for the second straight match with Juan Mata impressing with his link up play. The guys also look at Alan Pardew’s influence on the Baggies. Liverpool net four in a dominating victory over Bournemouth and with Mo Salah continuing to dominate, the Robbies ask: can Liverpool now afford to sell Coutinho? And finally, the guys discuss Bournemouth’s recent struggles.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Report: PSV likely to land Man City, USMNT’s Palmer-Brown on loan

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A number of well-known American players have completed moves to Europe over the years, and a former Sporting KC defender is about to embark on his own journey abroad.

[ MORE: Liverpool smashes Bournemouth to go fourth ]

U.S. youth national team centerback Erik Palmer-Brown is headed to Premier League side Manchester City, who currently leads the English top flight, after signing a pre-contract with the club back in September.

It is now believed though that the young player will go on loan once he arrives with the English side.

Metro is reporting is that Palmer-Brown is likely to complete a move to Dutch Eredivisie club PSV Eindhoven on loan.

Palmer-Brown helped the U.S. Under-20 national team reach the quarterfinals at this year’s U-20 World Cup in South Korea, after previously representing several other U.S. youth national teams.

La Liga & Serie A: Barca routs Deportivo, AC Milan routed

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Barcelona 4-0 Deportivo

Although Lionel Messi’s stardom was rewarded prior to the match at the Camp Nou with the European Golden Shoe, the Argentine forward couldn’t crack the scoresheet one the game kicked off. That didn’t matter though, as Luis Suarez and Paulinho each bagged braces on the day to keep Barcelona six points clear of Atletico Madrid on Sunday. Messi, who had a penalty kick attempt saved in the second half, came close on several occasions, but couldn’t find the scoring touch for the Blaugrana.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Girona 1-0 Getafe
Celta Vigo 0-1 Villareal
Las Palmas 2-2 Espanyol


Hellas Verona 3-0 AC Milan

If AC Milan’s season wasn’t bad enough prior to Sunday, today’s performance at the Stadio Marc`Antonio Bentegodi could have only made the club’s outlook much, much worse. Hellas captured its third league win of the season, however, the team remains in 19th in Serie A despite picking up three points. Meanwhile, the Rossoneri fell to eight in Italy’s top flight, after Genaro Gattuso’s men were completely outplayed on the road. To make matters worse for the struggling side, Suso earned a straight red card in the dying minutes, leaving Milan to fend with 10 men.

Bologna 0-3 Juventus

At the top of Serie A, things are getting very intriguing as the season nears its halfway point. Juventus did its part to keep pressure on league leaders Napoli, but four teams currently sit within four points of one another at the league’s summit, making for a testy title race. Miralem Pjanic and Mario Mandzukic each scored before halftime, giving the Bianconeri a comfortable lead before the break. Meanwhile, ex-PSG man Blaise Matuidi capped off the game’s scoring in the 64th minute.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Atalanta 3-3 Lazio
Benevento 1-2 SPAL
Sampdoria 0-1 Sassuolo
Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa
Crotone 1-0 Chievo Verona