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Three keys for USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago

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Win, and they’re in.

That or a draw is what’s on the line for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday evening when it takes the field at Ato Bolden Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago. The USMNT is coming off a confidence-boosting 4-0 rout of Panama, but the squad discovered Monday afternoon things wouldn’t be easy in Trinidad and Tobago.

[ MORE: How will the USA line up against T&T? ]

Thanks to heavy rains recently, a natural “moat” of water separated the players from the locker room and the field, forcing them to improvise ways of getting over it. Perhaps trekking through the water will be a character-building exercise. Or it’s a reminder that in CONCACAF, nothing comes easy.

Trinidad and Tobago are coming off a 3-1 road defeat in Mexico, and while they’re eliminated from World Cup contention, they’re likely to try and score a big result against the U.S. on home turf.

With so much on the line, let’s take a look at three keys to victory for the USMNT over Trinidad and Tobago.


GET PULISIC THE BALL

This should go without saying, but without Christian Pulisic, it’s unlikely the U.S. would have had the same result against Panama. The Borussia Dortmund wonderkid is a revelation, for a lot of reasons.

For one, he is one of the fastest guys on the field, even faster it seems with the ball. For another, his poise under pressure is better than that of some veterans.

But ultimately, he’s the most dynamic player with the ball at his feet. Every time he receives it, especially in midfield, fans edge out of their seats or off their couches, looking to see what the wonderboy will do next.

Against Panama, Pulisic was a menace as a central attacking midfielder. Pulisic turned and attacked each time he received the ball, opening up space for the rest of his teammates.

There are questions over whether his calf has fully healed, but should he be given the go-ahead, Pulisic in possession makes this U.S. team tick better than when he’s not in the game.


DEFENSIVE MENTALITY

The USMNT has the talent on paper to win this game over Trinidad and Tobago, which is about to finish the Hex last in the group.

But this is CONCACAF, and nothing happens as planned. Since the start of the Hex, the U.S has failed to keep a clean sheet on the road. On Friday, Bruce Arena went back to the tried and trusted centerback pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler with Jorge Villafaña and DeAndre Yedlin along the wings. While the back four wasn’t perfect, it did enough to earn the clean sheet at home.

On Tuesday, assuming Arena goes with the same lineup, they’ll need to be mentally sharp and compact enough to deal with Trinidad and Tobago’s speedy and powerful forwards. All it took was a second of lost focus, and suddenly Shadon Winchester was behind Mexico’s defense and scoring the opening goal last Friday.

Equally important to the defensive effort for the USMNT will be players like Paul Arriola and Darlington Nagbe tracking back from their wide midfield positions, along with Pulisic and Michael Bradley staying compact defensively in the middle. It will take a team effort. A clean sheet ensures progression to the World Cup.


GET JOZY INVOLVED

We usually only notice when Jozy Altidore scores goals. But he does so much more.

He holds up the play to allow midfielders to get in. He can dribble at defenders from pretty much anywhere in the park, and he’s a solid passer in tight areas.

But according to Opta, he also creates more chances per game than anyone else in CONCACAF during the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Jozy floating out to the left allows Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic to float into the space vacated, pushing more players up the field.

If the U.S. players can get the ball to Jozy, it seems good things will happen, either him finishing chances, or creating them.

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”