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Where did it go wrong? USMNT’s disastrous qualifying campaign

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This is not a nightmare. It happened.

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With the postmortem ongoing as the U.S. men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years, in order to understand the USMNTs demise it is helpful to reflect on a excruciatingly bad qualifying campaign rather than just the embarrassing defeat at Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday which acted as the final nail in the USA’s coffin.

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Below is a look at all 10 World Cup qualifiers as the U.S. won just three games from their 10 matches in the Hex and lost to Costa Rica (twice), Mexico and T&T.


Game 1: USA 1-2 Mexico (November 11, 2016)

A late Rafael Marquez goal handed El Tri victory in Columbus, Ohio as the U.S. fought back well after Miguel Layun’s opener. Bobby Wood made it 1-1 and it felt like Jurgen Klinsmann’s side would push on and grab another win against Mexico in Columbus. Slack defending, which would become a theme of the next 12 months, then struck as Marquez nodded home.


Game 2: Costa Rica 4-0 USA (November 15, 2016)

The game which ended Klinsmann’s reign. Several U.S. players simply threw the towel in as Costa Rica ran riot in San Jose. Johan Venegas’ goal right on half time tipped the game in Los Ticos’ favor and goals from Christian Bolanos and a brace from Joel Campbell in a devastating 10-minute spell meant the end for Klinsmann. Now we can think about it more, was Klinsi sacked too early?


Game 3: USA 6-0 Honduras (March 24, 2017)

Bruce Arena’s first World Cup qualifying game in charge was a huge success. Clint Dempsey scored a hat trick, Christian Pulisic scored and starred as the U.S. led 4-0 at half time. Little did we know this was as good as it was going to get for the USMNT.


Game 4: Panama 1-1 USA (March 28, 2017)

After fine work from Pulisic, Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in Panama but four minutes later Gabriel Gomez made it 1-1 and the U.S. held on for a point. On the scale of things, not a bad result away from home in a hostile stadium but just winning one of these close draws would’ve been the difference between the U.S. making the World Cup and not.


Game 5: USA 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago (June 8, 2017)

Pulisic led the team as he scored twice and the U.S. easily dispatched T&T in Colorado. At this point, it seemed like the U.S. would cruise through CONCACAF qualifying and easily finish third, at the very worst.


Game 6: Mexico 1-1 USA (June 11, 2017)

Bruce Arena mad multiple changes to his starting lineup and it worked at the Estadio Azteca. Michael Bradley’s incredible chip put the USMNT ahead early on but Carlos Vela equalized in the first half. Mexico battered the U.S. for large swathes of this game and Bradley spanked another fine effort just wide, while Hector Herrera’s fabulous free kick stuck the bar. A pulsating clash and Arena was lauded a tactical genius.


Game 7: USA 0-2 Costa Rica (September 1, 2017)

This is when things really started to unravel. A poor defensive display allowed Costa Rica’s Marco Urena to score in each half at Red Bull Arena and the U.S. were suddenly in a perilous situation in World Cup qualifying. The pressure was building.


Game 8: Honduras 1-1 USA (September 5, 2017)

Somehow (don’t ask me how) the U.S. escaped San Pedro Sula with a point. Bobby Wood’s late equalizer looked to have given the USMNT a qualifying lifeline after they were dominated and another shaky defensive display saw them fall behind early on thanks to Romell Quioto’s curler. Then Wood popped up to spare the U.S. blushes and help them go into the final two qualifying games with destiny in their own hands.


Game 9: USA 4-0 Panama (October 6, 2017)

Christian Pulisic scored and assisted early on, Jozy Altidore scored twice and Bobby Wood finished things off with the U.S. totally dominating a stunned Panama side. This seemed like the win which had punched the USA’s ticket to the World Cup as they now only needed a draw in their final game at T&T to make the tournament…


Game 10: Trinidad & Tobago 2-1 USA (October 10, 2017)

This was it. The scenario for the U.S. was simple: beat T&T, the whipping boys of the Hex, and you qualify for the World Cup. Heck, even a draw would virtually guarantee qualification in CONCACAF’s final automatic berth. The U.S. were 2-0 down after 37 minutes in the Ato Boldon Stadium with Omar Gonzalez shanking a clearance into his own net and Alvin Jones spanking home a beauty. Christian Pulisic scored early in the second half to give the U.S. hope and combined with

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.