Nani

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Portugal-USMNT preview: Turning the page

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On the ride to school this morning, I casually mentioned to my second grader, “U.S. versus Portugal tomorrow.”

To which he replied, “But I though we didn’t make the World Cup.”

[ MORE: O’Neill to USMNT? ]

Judging by the vitriol attached to nearly every USMNT post on nearly every soccer web site, much of American soccer would prefer a lack of matches for some time, too, and we’re looking beyond the 7-year-old set.

It feels likely that’s one of the reasons the U.S. didn’t arrange for a second friendly for this window after a reported date Wales fell through. Sure, there’s probably a team that would come to the U.S. for a match, but the Yanks would already be in Portugal and the USSF probably doesn’t want to put its players in front of its stung fans any time soon.

So the Yanks will turn the page on a wasted World Cup cycle, on the road (Though, to quote Bob Seger, they will still feel the eyes upon them as you’re shaking off the cold. They’ll pretend it doesn’t bother them, but they’ll just want to explo-o-ode).

That’s especially decent of them considering this crew doesn’t have much to do with the miserable effort last month, when the inconsistent Yanks followed up a home win over Panama by essentially throwing up on the pitch in Trinidad and Tobago (Next time: Game plan earlier, write open letter guarantees later).

Portugal hasn’t lost since March, a run of 12 matches with just two draws. Fernando Santos’ men have kept four-straight clean sheets, but this won’t be the same bunch of players. Portugal is leaving much of its A-Team behind for a different reason than the U.S., as they want to see who could slip into the First Team for this summer’s World Cup.

Cristiano Ronaldo, Cedric Soares, William Carvalho, Nani, Andre Gomes, and Jose Fonte will not be in attendance, joining American regulars Clint Dempsey, Christian Pulisic, Geoff Cameron, Jozy Altidore, and Michael Bradley at home.

That said, you’ll see some real problems on the flanks. Barcelona fireball Nelson Semedo is there, as is Man City attacker Bernardo Silva. Milan’s Andre Silva, he of the 11 goals in 18 caps, will likely feature, and Valencia’s Goncalo Guedes is also an option.

[ MORE: Players with most to gain versus Portugal ]

Good news! John Brooks is back! The towering 24-year-old Wolfsburg defender was one of those players who could’ve made a huge difference for Bruce Arena last month (the other, Geoff Cameron, was healthy). Brooks will likely pair with Matt Miazga or Tim Ream at the heart of the U.S. defense, with an outside shot that Spurs loanee Cameron Carter-Vickers of Sheffield United could see time.

A good test, to be sure, and DeAndre Yedlin will at least keep Portugal’s left side honest. Yet we really can’t be sure how interim manager Dave Sarachan will line ’em up. This is one of his few chances to run the American national team, something done by just 35 other men in history.

For what it’s worth, two managers have unbeaten marks in U.S. history. John Kowalski went 1W-1D in 1991, and Thomas Cahill did the same in 1916. So Sarachan can join pretty rare and wild company.

It’s going to be a heck of a test for the Yanks on Tuesday.

Three thoughts on USMNT roster vs. Portugal

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The U.S. national team will close out a disappointing 2017 by playing against Portugal next Tuesday, Nov. 14, in Leiria.

[ MORE: Full USMNT squad, here ]

Interim boss Dave Sarachan named plenty of youngsters (12 players under the age of 24, to be exact) in his 21-man squad for the friendly, with four teenagers included and plenty of players given a second chance to impress after being overlooked by Bruce Arena in the past 12 months.

Here are my thoughts on the roster for the final game of the year for the USMNT and what impact it may have as the U.S. is still reeling from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.


1. Youth movement takes center stage

If you’re going to play the kids, you might as well do it now. Everyone connected with U.S. Soccer needs a boost right now and showing that there’s a bright future with a talented young crop coming through should do the trick.

[ MORE: McKennie speaks to Mendola ]

Portugal do not have their first-choice lineup for this game with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Jose Fonte, Rui Patricio and William Carvalho all left out. This is the perfect time to start Weston McKennie, Ethan Horvath, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tyler Adams to see if they’re capable of making the step up. I’d start as many youngsters as possible. What have the U.S. got to lose?

Of the four teenagers, McKennie is playing regularly in the Bundesliga at a huge club, Adams has had a fine season for New York Red Bulls and the U.S. youth team, CCV is a regular for a Sheffield United side chasing promotion to the Premier League and Sargent deserves his chance after starring for both the U-17 and U-20 teams and getting a move to Werder Bremen. Is Sargent going to start ahead of Jozy Altidore anytime soon in the big U.S. games? Probably not. But until you try him (dare I say that chucking in another young 17-year-old, Mr Pulisic, worked out pretty well…) you won’t know what he’s capable of.

If you don’t play the kids in this game, especially the European based crew, when the heck are you going to?


2. Suggested lineup vs. Portugal

—– Horvath —–

— Yedlin — Brooks — Carter-Vickers — Villafana —

—- McKennie —- Williams —- Acosta —- Adams —- Gooch —-

 —- Sargent —- 

I’d like to see a return to a solid 4-5-1 which becomes a 4-3-3 going forward. It’s all a bit fake with Sarachan only in charge for one game and the strange scenario of Arena’s old coaching staff all still in place, but a new manager for the U.S. can do a lot worse than getting back to a hard-nosed defensive system which allows the likes of Christian Pulisic to float free in the attacking third (a la Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in years gone by) when the U.S. has the ball.

Club Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath has impressed me whenever I’ve seem him play, so I’d give him the nod in net, while Bill Hamid may be the long-term challenger to Brad Guzan for the No.1 jersey after his recent move to Europe but Gonzalez is also worth a go. Simply put, as always, the USMNT have plenty of goalkeeping options. DeAndre Yedlin will be the long-time right back for the U.S. so you might as well play him, while Jorge Villafana is probably on one of his last chances with the USMNT after several shaky displays.

Carter-Vickers and Miazga starting together may be a little too much right away but you could even play a 3-5-2 formation with Brooks, Miazga and CCV as the center backs. McKennie and Gooch will put in great shifts out wide and are comfortable on the ball, while Danny Williams, Adams and Kellyn Acosta have a perfect combo of power, trickery and passing ability. Up top, why not start Sargent? We know what Dom Dwyer, CJ Sapong and Juan Agudelo can do, so the youngster deserves a chance to start and has shown his predatory instincts around the box for the youth national teams.


3. Experienced players can reclaim starting spots

Danny Williams, Alejandro Bedoya and Eric Lichaj will all be aiming to prove they deserve to be starters for the USMNT moving forward as they are among a handful of more experienced players in this squad.

[ MORE: Williams sits down with JPW ]

Williams, 28, has perhaps been one of the most missed players in recent months, first under Jurgen Klinsmann and then he was totally blanked by Arena. The German-American midfielder has become a starter for Huddersfield Town in the Premier League this season and played a pivotal role in their recent defeat of Manchester United. His mixture of athleticism, guile and ability to make surging runs forward from midfield would’ve helped the U.S. out massively over the past 6-12 months. He has worked extremely hard to get back into the fold and deserves to stick around.

Bedoya, 30, played 11 minutes across the USA’s two key World Cup qualifiers last month and the Philadelphia Union man will want to prove he still has plenty left in the tank for the USMNT. He could play in a new-look central midfield with Williams and Acosta but will he get in the team ahead of Michael Bradley when he’s available again in 2018 after the conclusion of the MLS Cup playoffs? A strong display against Portugal will be key to securing his long-term future for the USMNT.

Lichaj, 28, has been in and out of squads under Klinsmann and Arena but the Nottingham Forest full back is reliable and versatile. He should be in every U.S. squad due to that fact that he can play both right and left back, and at a stretch he can play in midfield too. Lichaj is also in great form and was named Man of the Match on multiple occasions for Forest last month.

The likes of Bradley, Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, Pulisic and Guzan will all likely be available in 2018 but aside from that experience core, over 15 places are now totally up for grabs following the humiliation of failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next summer.

Toronto FC beat RBNY at soccer, royal rumble to reach East finals

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The game in 100 words (or less more): When fans of Toronto FC, the New York Red Bulls and MLS in general tuned in for the second leg of the above sides’ Eastern Conference semifinal on Sunday, surely every last one of them thought, “Gee, I really am looking forward to The Chris Penso Show this afternoon.” Thrust upon the big stage, Penso duly delivered eight yellow cards, two red cards, and lost complete control of the game very early on, which resulted in no fewer than a half-dozen chest-to-chest and hand-to-hand confrontations between players from both sides, and even Penso himself. Jozy Altidore and Sacha Kljestan were each sent off at halftime after reported “violent conduct” as the two sides left the field; the two U.S. national teamers were involved in a silly, seemingly nothing dust-up minutes earlier. As for the actual soccer that was played, New York entered BMO Field 2-1 down before pulling level to 2-2 (though still behind on away goals) through Daniel Royer in the 54th minute. 11 shots between the two sides, just three on target With both sides down to 10 men for the entirety of the second half, the game opened up and a handful of chances came for — and were wasted by — both sides.

[ MORE: 3 keys to Sunday’s 2nd legs ]

Three Four moments that mattered

HT — Altidore, Kljestan get second yellows in the tunnel — It started like this a few minutes before halftime…

… and ended with “violent conduct” in the tunnel, for which both players were shown a second yellow card.

54′ — Royer gets a wicked deflection, scores from nothing — After the halftime shenanigans — and with all that extra space on the field — this game needed a goal to keep it interesting. Royer and/or Bradley Wright-Phillips delivered in short order. Game on.

78′ — Adams puts it in his own net, but Osorio is offside — It’s the (own) TFC needed to put the tie to bed, but Jonathan Osorio was offside and clearly affected Tyler Adams’ ability to clear the ball.

80′ — Giovinco mouths off, gets himself suspended next game — After picking up a yellow in the first leg, Giovinco reached the limit when he chased after and shouted at Penso.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Aaron Long

Goalscorers: Royer (54′)

France coach Deschamps given 2-year contract extension

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PARIS (AP) — France coach Didier Deschamps was given a two-year contract extension on Tuesday, keeping him with the national team through the 2020 European Championship.

Deschamps took over from Laurent Blanc after Euro 2012. He guided the team to the quarterfinals of the World Cup two years later, losing to eventual champion Germany. France then reached the Euro 2016 final – losing to Portugal 1-0 – and qualified for next year’s World Cup as Group A winner.

“We ate together last week and discussed the possibility of working together for another two years. The decision was taken after a further discussion this morning,” French soccer federation president Noel Le Graet said. “It’s not a question of finance, but of mutual trust. Money wasn’t talked about. A lot of the top clubs in Europe would offer him more.”

Le Graet, who has set France the target of reaching the World Cup semifinals next year, said Deschamps will carry on regardless of the outcome in Russia.

“I don’t want to start again with someone new just after the World Cup. He knows the team better than anyone,” Le Graet said. “France is improving under Didier. I want to give him the chance to compete in another World Cup and Euro. For me Didier is the best. He takes total responsibility for this team and does so very well.”

Le Graet said the federation’s executive committee “unanimously” supported the decision to extend Deschamps’ contract.

The 49-year-old Deschamps has freshened up the France squad, particularly since Euro 2016, with young players like 18-year-old forward Kylian Mbappe and 20-year-old winger Ousmane Dembele pushing for starting places.

“Didier is one of the few coaches to select lads who are 19 or 20,” Le Graet said. “When you see the quality of our players, there’s cause for hope.”

Le Graet praised Deschamps – a combative midfielder who captained France to victory at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 – for handling all aspects of the job with poise. France’s notoriously hard-to-please fans have gotten behind the team and the atmosphere at home games has vastly improved compared to previous years.

“There’s no one better than him to do this job,” Le Graet said. “He is fully integrated.”

Serie A: The Napoli-Juventus title race is getting good

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City’s historic start; Man United, Arsenal win ]

Napoli 3-1 Sassuolo

Juventus went top of the table on Saturday, courtesy of two Gonzalo Higuain goals in a 2-0 victory over a struggling AC Milan side, just edging past Napoli on goal differential. On Sunday, Napoli responded with a 3-1 victory over 16th-place Sassuolo.

Brazilian midfielder Allan forced a turnover atop Sassuolo’s penalty area and slotted home with ease after 22 minutes, but the visitors hit back through Diego Falcinelli’s powerful header four minutes before halftime.

The scoreline would remain 1-1 for fewer than three full minutes, though, as Jose Callejon helped to bundle the ball over the goal line from a corner kick in the 44th minute. Nine minutes into the second half, Dries Mertens bagged his 10th goal of the season (third this week) to put the game to bed.

After 11 games played, Napoli top the league table on 31 points, three ahead of the six-time defending champs from Turin. The season’s first meeting between the two sides is scheduled for Dec. 1, at Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo.

Benevento 1-5 Lazio

Juventus will actually finish the weekend in third place, level on points with Lazio but behind the capital club on head-to-head results. Simone Inzaghi’s side thrashed newly promoted Benevento on Sunday, after going 3-0 up inside the opening 25 minutes — Bastos, Ciro Immobile and Adam Marusic got the early goals, followed by a fourth from Marco Parolo to make it 4-1.

Sunday’s most notable scorer, however, bagged his goal inside the final five minutes to complete the scoring — former Valencia Fenerbahce Sporting CP Manchester United winger Nani, whom Portugal could very well heavily rely upon at next summer’s World Cup, scored his first goal for the club (and tallied the assist on Parolo’s goal) after coming on as a 71st-minute substitute.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Crotone 2-1 Fiorentina
Sampdoria 4-1 Chievo
SPAL 1-0 Genoa
Udinese 2-1 Atalanta
Torino vs. Cagliari — in progress