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USMNT v. Trinidad and Tobago Preview

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For a country that loves dramatic finishes, the U.S. Men’s National Team has sure left it late.

The USMNT heads into its final game in the Hex at Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday evening with its World Cup hopes still up for grabs, although crucially the U.S. holds its own destiny. A win and they’re in. A draw, and anything but the most unlikely scenario puts them through to the next round.

[MORE: 3 keys for USMNT vs. T&T]

But a loss, coupled with wins by Panama and Honduras at home? That could be the dagger for this USMNT.

The pressure of a nation is weighing on the squad as they take the field Tuesday, hopefully not comically surrounded by a moat and waterlogged by heavy rains like it was Monday.

Coincidentally, the U.S. has been here before. The last time the USMNT didn’t have qualifying wrapped up by the last match day was in 1989 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, when Paul Caligiuri saved the day for the U.S. with a 30th minute goal that sent the USA to the World Cup.

This time around, the Soca Warriors and Yanks will reconvene a few miles down the road at the Ato Boldon Stadium.

Unlike the 4-0 win over Panama, the U.S. won’t be playing on a pristine pitch with a fast surface. If anything, expect the ball to bobble more and take unexpected hops while players try to run through the heavy surface, as described by Bruce Arena. This calls for tactics closer to that of the Honduras away match, or perhaps even the Mexico away match where the U.S. came away with a 1-1 draw.

“It definitely changes the way the game is going to look,” Arena said. “It’s going to be a slow game, probably a little bit sloppy. A little bit different than we’ve seen in any of the qualifying games. But we’ll have to adapt to the conditions of the field.”

On the USMNT’s side is history. The last time the USA played a World Cup qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago, they held on for a scoreless draw. The time before that, a 1-0 win in 2009 (Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore started that night).

Overall, the U.S. is 18-2-4 against the Soca Warriors with a 13-1-3 clip in World Cup qualifying. During the side’s last meeting in June in the altitude of Denver, T&T hung in with the U.S. until the second half, when two Christian Pulisic strikes put the game out of reach.

While the conditions will be different, perhaps if the U.S. can control possession or press high up the field, they can tire out Trinidad again and exploit it in the second half.

“Now the pressure is on for us to at least get a point, and we’re not here to get one point, we’re here to get three points,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “I think that’s the mentality and I think going into this game it’s going to be extremely important to remember that.

“The conditions are going to be tough but I think in the end we’ll be able to do what we do best, and that’s take care of business.”

One of the noticeable traits of this current USMNT squad is its experience. 12 players on the roster have made 11 or more World Cup qualifying appearances, led by Clint Dempsey with 42. Centerback pair Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler went through the last round of qualifying and helped lead the U.S. at the World Cup, while Bradley, Altidore and Howard have been mainstays for the past two World Cup cycles.

That experience, especially playing against a young opponent in Trinidad and Tobago with nothing to lose, could give the Americans a leg up on the road in a crunch qualifier.

“It happens throughout one’s career where you play on these type of fields where the ball doesn’t roll, it gets stuck in water,” Gonzalez said. “You just have to play through it. The circumstances are going to be difficult tomorrow but we’re playing to go to a World Cup.

“You have to put it behind us, we have to control what we can control, and that’s our alertness, our competitiveness, how aggressive we are, and the rest we have to roll with it and do what we can to win the game.”

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.