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Is 3 the answer? Formation options for USMNT in key October battles

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The United States men’s national team controls its own destiny when it comes to World Cup qualifying, a fact that has been in its corner since the beginning of the Hex and even its 0-2 start.

Matches remain at home against Panama, the team currently occupying the final automatic spot in Russia, and on the road against Trinidad and Tobago. The Yanks drew Panama on the road and waxed T&T at home, but that was before this week’s setbacks put the U.S. under World Cup qualifying pressure it hasn’t faced in years.

[ MORE: USMNT’s World Cup scenarios ]

Even worse? A draw against stingy Panama, which has only allowed five goals in eight Hex matches, would leave the Yanks requiring a win and help in order to slide into third.

The United States has picked up just two points from its five matches against the teams ahead of it on the table, a home draw with Panama and a road point at Mexico. The Yanks have also kept just two clean sheets, and those came in 6-0 and 2-0 home wins over Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.

The biggest problem, by far, is defense. Whether set pieces, counterattacking, or even the run of play, the U.S. has allowed 11 goals in the Hex. And clean sheets against Panama have been hard to come by, with 1-1 draws in the last four competitive matches between the two.

So is the answer three at the back?

It’s a small sample size, but the U.S. looked bright in recent matches against Mexico and late in the Honduras draw when it moved to three defenders at the back. Arena used Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Geoff Cameron in the 1-1 draw at Mexico, flanking them with DaMarcus Beasley and DeAndre Yedlin. Against Honduras, there was Cameron, Gonzalez, and Matt Besler in the middle.

[ USMNT: Recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

A 3-5-2 or even a 3-6-1 with Jozy Altidore or Bobby Wood up top would give the Yanks a plethora of midfielders, a position which has been lonely if not awful over the last two qualifiers (Alejandro Bedoya, Danny Williams, or even — gasping while ducking — Jermaine Jones would be welcome respites from the soft play of the middle section).

John Brooks’ thigh injury will keep him out of October’s qualifiers, but Yedlin should return to return Graham Zusi to backup status. Timmy Chandler continues to perform very well for Eintracht Frankfurt, but Arena has said he doesn’t want to call up players who haven’t been involved with the team. That’s problematic because he’s the one who hasn’t taken a look at the right-sided Bundesliga player, who’s had struggles in the U.S. shirt but played the third-most minutes for a mid-table German side (Might wanna look, Bruce).

Also, I believe that Arena should be forced to watch Zusi and Gonzalez on Honduras’ goal every morning when his alarm goes off and then during the final two hours before he announces his lineups for Panama and T&T.

Alas, that’s digression.

Arena loves the 4-4-2, so it seems likely three at the back remains a break glass in case of emergency tactic. But humoring the idea, would you rather have Fabian Johnson at left back — if we see Jorge Villafana again, oh my — left mid, or left wing back? To me that’s the question.

Here’s a 3-5-2:

Wood — Altidore

Johnson — Pulisic — Bradley — Bedoya — Yedlin

Besler — Cameron — Ream

Howard

And a 4-4-2:

Wood — Altidore

Pulisic
Nagbe — Arriola
Bradley

Johnson — Besler — Cameron — Yedlin

Howard

And, for fun, a 4-4-2 if Arena breaks from his routine of only using guys who’ve been in his call-ups:

Wood — Altidore

Pulisic
Chandler — Arriola
Bradley

Johnson — Besler — Cameron — Yedlin

Howard

Burnley 1-0 Stoke City: Barnes’ late strike guides Clarets into top four

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Don’t look now, but the Clarets have climbed into the Premier League top four.

Burnley found a way Stoke City late on Tuesday, picking up a 1-0 win at the Turf Moor behind Ashley Barnes‘ late finish.

[ MORE: Gremio reaches Club World Cup final, awaits Real Madrid or Al Jazira ]

The Clarets, who have now secured 31 points over their first 17 matches this season, leapfrogged Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham with the victory. However, all three sides will be in action on Wednesday.

Steven Defour nearly put Burnley ahead on 69 minutes, when the front man tested Stoke keeper Jack Butland — who had to make a sprawling save to his right.

While Stoke mustered up several quality chances, it was Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s blast in the first half that nearly found the top left corner.

Next up for Burnley will be a date against Brighton on Saturday, while Stoke travels to Huddersfield the same day.

Club World Cup wrap: Gremio reaches final, Urawa takes fifth place

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One half of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup final was decided on Tuesday as Brazilian side Gremio topped Liga MX champions Pachuca.

Second-half substitute Everton proved to be the difference for the Brazilians, with the attacker scoring in extra time to lift Gremio.

[ MORE: LA FC selects Urena, four others in MLS Expansion Draft ]

Pachuca’s chances of completing a comeback were extinguished with 10 minutes remaining in extra time, as Víctor Guzman was sent off upon picking up his second yellow card of the semifinal.

Meanwhile, Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds captured fifth place in the tournament after narrowly topping Wydad Casablanca, 3-2.

Despite going behind early, Urawa responded almost immediately in the first half, before building its lead to 3-1 at the hour mark.

A late penalty kick from Reda Hajhouj gave Casablanca a glimmer of hope in the dying moments, however, the Moroccan-based club couldn’t find a way to equalize.

Gremio will await either La Liga giants Real Madrid or Al Jazira in the Club World Cup final, which will be played on Saturday. The loser of that match will take on Pachuca in the third-place game.

Below are the scores from Tuesday’s FIFA Club World Cup matches.

Gremio 1-0 Pachuca (after extra time)

Wydad Casablanca 2-3 Urawa Red Diamonds — Fifth-place match

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]