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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.

[ MORE: USA fail to make 2018 World Cup ]

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

PL Playback: Opening Power Rankings

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Now seems like the perfect time for the first set of Premier League Power Rankings for the 2017-18 season, right?

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With seven games gone and the two week international break upon us, it is time to focus on who has impressed and who has struggled in the opening months of the campaign.

So much has happened in August and September and now it is time to take stock.

[ MORE: PL standings | schedule

Here it goes.


#1 Manchester City: Imperious. Kevin De Bruyne is running the show. Even with Aguero, Mendy and Kompany out injured Pep’s men have found a way to blow opponents away with 22 goals scored. Marquee wins over Chelsea and Liverpool showcase the current mood of invincibility around them and they’ve also won both games in the Champions League. Guardiola has so many attacking options and Ederson has finally solved his problem in goal. The title favorites have delivered early on, once again. Now, can they keep it up?

#2 Manchester United: Jose Mourinho is building this thing his way. It’s working. Romelu Lukaku has seven goals in seven games and although Paul Pogba has gone down injured so many others are stepping up. Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata and even Marouane Fellaini are chipping in with goals and in true Mourinho fashion they look as solid as a rock at the back with Nemanja Matic shielding the defense. United have won both of their Champions League games too and Mourinho is exuding confidence with 21 goals in seven games.

#3 Burnley: What. A. Start. Sean Dyche’s men are unbeaten away from home and have won at Chelsea and Everton and drawn at Liverpool and Tottenham. Not bad, especially after selling two stars over the summer. The Clarets are establishing themselves as a true contender to finish in the top 10 and have flown under the radar all summer. No surprise there but with captain and star goalkeeper Tom Heaton out long-term, their positive away results are even more impressive.

#4 Watford: Marco Silva’s side are dynamic going forward and have a solid base to build from. Their counters catch out opponents and in Richarlison they’ve found a gem. Losing Nathaniel Chalobah is a blow but they have a deeper squad than in recent years. Silva’s reputation as one of the best young managers in the game is undoubted and the Portuguese coach has Watford’s fans dreaming of challenging for a Europa League spot. Why not?

#5 Tottenham Hotspur: Mauricio Pochettino’s side have put aside their Wembley woes (they still haven’t won at home in the PL) to win four times on the spin on the road to start the season. The last time that happened they won the league and cup double in 160-61. Just saying. Harry Kane scored 13 goals in eight games for club and country in September and is on fire. Spurs will challenge for the title again and they’ve also won their opening two Champions League games. Wembley aside, a fine start.

#6 Newcastle United: Rafael Benitez is working his magic at Newcastle. The Magpies are hard to beat and at home they can take on anyone. Joselu could be the man to score the goals they need to not only survive in the Premier League after promotion but also push for a top 10 finish. Some fans are dreaming of a challenge for Europe but that seems a little far-fetched. Still, the newly-promoted Magpies will be satisfied with their start.

#7 Arsenal: After a tough start with defeats at Stoke and Liverpool, Arsene Wenger has steadied the ship with four-straight clean sheets in the Premier League. Suddenly Arsenal look a much better defensive unit and Alexandre Lacazette is looking like a great buy up top. Alexis Sanchez is also starting to return to his best form which suggests the Gunners will be challenging for a top four spot, even though they have the rigors of the Europa League to overcome. We’ve been here before with Arsenal but they seem to be more robust than in recent campaigns.

#8 Chelsea: A real topsy-turvy start for the reigning champs. After a tumultuous summer due to the Diego Costa situation and Antonio Conte seemingly unhappy with a lack of transfers, they lost to Arsenal in the Community Shield and to Burnley in their PL opener. They followed that up by beating Tottenham away and put in impressive displays against Everton, Leicester and Stoke. Alvaro Morata has hit the ground running in the PL and Eden Hazard is back to his best but the defeat to Man City was a reality check. Still, two wins from two in Europe and a great win at Atletico Madrid shows what they’re truly capable of. Back-to-back titles seems like a big ask and there are still question marks over Conte’s long-term future.

#9 Huddersfield Town: Opening up the season with two wins was perfection for David Wagner and his side, and their fans, have captured the minds of the Premier League. A 4-0 hammering at home against Tottenham in their first real test showed them how ruthless the league can be but if they can press midtable teams throughout the season as they have in the early weeks then they will be just fine. The Terriers have kept four clean sheets in seven and will be tough to beat and if Steve Mounie and Laurent Depoitre can strike up a partnership then maybe they can push for more than just staying up in their debut PL campaign.

#10 Stoke City: The Potters have had a really solid, albeit slightly bizarre, start to the season. A win against Arsenal and draw against Manchester United at home proved they can mix it with the big boys but defeats at Everton and Newcastle in tight games proved they can still improve defensively although having Jack Butland back fit is a huge bonus. Defensive injuries have been hard to deal with for Mark Hughes’ men but new signings Jese Rodriguez and Eric Choupo-Moting have added something extra in attack.

#11 Brighton & Hove Albion: Chris Hughton’s men are pragmatic and likeable but you wonder where the goals will come from on a consistent basis. Pascal Gross and Anthony Knockaert are both talented playmakers but if Tomer Hemed goes down injured they are struggling big time. If they can make it to January above the relegation zone then surely owner Tony Bloom will make plenty of funds available for a new striker, or two. A very commendable start to their first-ever Premier League campaign with home wins against West Brom and Newcastle.

#12 Liverpool: Jurgen Klopp’s side are already seven points off the PL leaders and the same old defensive issues are hampering their progress. Philippe Coutinho is back scoring stunners and the pace of Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah has been ripping teams apart without much reward. Two draws to open up Champions League play have been frustrating and despite dominating games missed chances have been costly. The standout display was the 4-0 hammering of Arsenal but that seems like a long time ago. Is the Klopp-effect wearing off?

#13 West Bromwich Albion: Tony Pulis’ men won their first two games of the season but haven’t won since. They were unlucky to lose away at Arsenal but threw away a two-goal lead in their most recent game at home against Watford. That’s incredibly unlike a Pulis side and you get the sense another big slump like the one they suffered in the second half of last season isn’t far off.

#14 Southampton: New season, same problem for Southampton. Mauricio Pellegrino’s side have dominated most of the games they’ve played in, even against Manchester United, but have scored just five goals in the first seven games of the season. Two of those were penalty kicks in the same game. Virgil Van Dijk is back on board but Saints feel a little bit like a team who has plenty of talent but are missing a ruthless streak. That’s incredibly dangerous and talk of a relegation battle is being whispered, perhaps incorrectly, by some fans.

#15 West Ham United: Slaven Bilic is under serious pressure despite the Hammers battling back in several games and grinding out two home wins. Javier Hernandez has, as expected, delivered goals, but it doesn’t seem like West Ham’s players are with the manager. Bilic’s contract runs out at the end of this season and he is unlikely to get a new deal. That’s creating all kinds of instability. The Hammers look set for another season in midtable, at best.

#16 Swansea City: The main problem for Paul Clement’s team is scoring goals. That’s what happens when you sell your two leading goalscorers from last season over the summer. Wilfried Bony has yet to get firing and Tammy Abraham is doing his best to chip in when he can. The Swans have ground out plenty of clean sheets on the road and surely their luck in front of goal will eventually change. The big problem for Clement is that they don’t look like scoring in most games.

#17 Bournemouth: Eddie Howe’s side lost five of their opening six games and naivety is creeping into their game once again. They led against Manchester City and Everton but ended up losing both games. The Cherries did seem more free-flowing in the final third against Leicester and should have won easily, so maybe things have finally clicked. A worrying start but whenever people have written them off over the past two seasons in the PL they always seem to have an answer. Now is the time for experienced campaigners Jermain Defoe and Asmir Begovic to step up.

#18 Leicester City: Plenty of people are worried about the Foxes, and rightly so. Craig Shakespeare’s side have had a tough start, schedule wise. They lost to Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool and then drew games at Huddersfield and Bournemouth which they should be winning. One win so far says it all and Shakespeare should perhaps start thinking about well and truly breaking up the title-winning team, apart from Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki. Leicester could be in a relegation battle.

#19 Everton: Awful. Dreadful. Disappointing. The Toffees are in real trouble and all because of one thing: their failure to replace Romelu Lukaku. The pressure is mounting on Ronald Koeman already after he brought in three No.10s in Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen but failed to address his biggest need. Hammerings by Chelsea and Tottenham, plus at Atalanta in the Europa League, were amplified by a worrying home defeat to Burnley in the PL. The surprise package of the season so far. And not in a good way. They would be bottom of our rankings if it wasn’t for the record-breaking exploits of our next team…

#20 Crystal Palace: The worst start in top-flight history says it all. Seven defeats on the spin. Zero goals score. Frank De Boer fired after four games and Roy Hodgson hired to try and steady the ship. Well, the ship is taking on water at an alarming rate and the Eagles could soon be cut adrift. Christian Benteke’s injury hasn’t helped matters and the period between November to December will truly decide if they can save themselves. Terrible times at Selhurst Park but they are only five points from safety.

Premier League Playback comes out every week as PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an alternative look at all the action from the weekend. Read the full archive, here

Three things we learned from Newcastle v. Liverpool

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NEWCASTLE — Liverpool and Newcastle played out an entertaining, tight 1-1 draw at St James’ Park on Sunday as Jurgen Klopp‘s men will once again rue a defensive mistake for handing the Magpies a point.

Philippe Coutinho‘s stunner was canceled out by Joselu‘s goal as Rafael Benitez got the better of the tactical battle.

Here’s what we learned as Liverpool were frustrated by the Magpies.


SAME OLD STORY FOR LIVERPOOL

Liverpool’s defensive issues are systematic. Not in terms of how Jurgen Klopp has his defense, or his entire team set up tactically, but due to the fact his defenders continue to make elementary mistakes.

He is not asking them to do anything out of the ordinary but it is the ordinary things they continue to get wrong. Especially for Newcastle’s goal.

It was as if Jonjo Shelvey was Moses as he picked up the ball 20 yards inside his own half. With a wave of his gifted right foot he parted the Liverpool defense as Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren were caught square. The fact that it was Joselu bearing down on Simon Mignolet‘s goal will have filled the hearts of Liverpool’s fan with hopes.

The Spaniard has been wasteful but to sum up the calamitous defending from Liverpool, just as it looked like Matip had done enough to put him off the ball bounced off Joselu’s shin via a tackle from Matip and dribbled into the net.

Klopp turned to his bench in disbelief as Liverpool had, once again, shot themselves in the foot. Their ability to go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the space of minutes is as impressive as it is frustrating.

There remains only one answer for Klopp: he needs to get better defenders as soon as the January window opens. Between now and then it is likely defensive mistakes will cost his team any chance they thought they had at challenging for the Premier League title.


COUTINHO’S STUNNERS MASKS SUBDUED

The Brazilian magician was at it again. Coutinho scored his second stunner in as many Premier League games as he jinxed inside and curled home a powerful effort into the top corner to make it 1-0.

Yet apart from that he struggled to impose himself. Coutinho was asked to play out on the left hand side in the second half due to his inability to dictate the tempo of Liverpool’s attack and get on the ball.

It didn’t work. Klopp urged him to tuck inside and defend when Newcastle had the ball and although he trotted back into position, you could tell Coutinho’s heart wasn’t in it as he put his thumb up.

With Daniel Sturridge, Mohamaed Salah and Sadio Mane all missing glorious chances, Coutinho made something out of nothing but Liverpool needed more from their talismanic playmaker as their much-lauded attack again wasted opportunities and only had two efforts on target the entire game.

It’s easy to blame his failed move to Barcelona leading to a perceived lack of motivation early in the season, but Coutinho is certainly playing like a man who doesn’t care for too much other than adding to his already impressive highlight reel.


BENITEZ’S PLAN BACKED 100%

Sunday was a special day for Benitez. Facing the club he led to UEFA Champions League glory in 2005, Benitez was applauded by both sets of fans.

“Rafael’s Barmy Army” was the chant cascading down from the stands at St James’ Park for the final 15 minutes of the game as the home supporters showed their appreciation for his tactical plan and his players carrying it out to perfection.

Newcastle’s supporters went one better before the game as they unfurled a banner, which you can see below.  The general meaning of the message is that they will support him wherever they go, in spite of the lies. Reading between the lines they are quite simply backing their manager after many reported disputes with the hierarchy at Newcastle over their lack of transfer funds made available.

The home fans sung his name time and time and time again during the game and if the passionate Geordies are on your side, Benitez can push on knowing the unity he needs off the pitch is there, at least from the supporters.

With over 52,000 fans backing his team at home, Benitez will make St James’ Park a tough place to travel to all season.

His pragmatic, defensive approach got the best of his limited squad and they deserved their point against Liverpool, their second biggest test of the season so far after hosting Tottenham Hotspur back in August.

This isn’t a return to the heyday of Kevin Keegan and the entertainers era of the mid 1990s but it’s a start. After picking up 10 points in their first seven games back in the Premier League and sitting in ninth place heading into the international break, the newly-promoted side are proving they can first solidify themselves in the top-flight and then kick on.

Benitez’s clear plan is working and the Newcastle supporters are fully behind him. That much is clear. Now, he needs the board to back him and bring in three of four players with more quality, especially in the final third.

MLS Snapshot: Atlanta United 4-0 LA Galaxy (video)

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The match in 100 words (or less): Somewhere, Atlanta United is still scoring now with 19 goals in its last five outings. The “Five Stripes” fired at will for the second-straight game, leading 3-0 before Jermaine Jones made it academic with a silly red card. Yamil Asad had two goals and two assists in the first half, while Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez also scored. For Martinez, it’s seven goals in seven days. LA has quit, and Tata Martino’s Atlanta may just pose a threat to Toronto FC’s presumed MLS Cup Final spot.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap | La Liga | Serie A ]


Three moments that mattered

13′ — Maaaaayyyybe defend, LA? — It’s one thing for Rafael Garcia to back off and back off and back off and back off Yamil Asad. It’s another thing to fail in any attempt to mark the hottest scorer in MLS: Josef Martinez.

20′ — Three goals in seven minutes — About that “defending”… woof. This is a straight-up passing drill for ATL.

39′ — Jermaine Jones rolls back the years (not in a good way) — The combustible midfielder showed that vibes haven’t settled in LA despite Sigi Schmid’s presence, taking an easy red considering VAR’s abilities for dragging his cleat in the direction of a fellow human’s spine.

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Man of the Match: Asad

Goal scorers: Martinez (13′), Asad (16′, 20′), Almiron (43′)

Swansea 0-1 Newcastle: Lascelles the hero

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  • Lascelles heads home winner
  • Fabianski denies Joselu, Perez
  • Lascelles cleared off line from Abraham
  • Two-straight wins for Newcastle

Newcastle beat Swansea City 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday as the Magpies battled to victory without manager Rafael Benitez.

The Spanish coach was watching on from home as he recovers from surgery and his skipper Jamaal Lascelles stepped up to thunder a late header home to give Newcastle all three points.

Swansea went close through Tammy Abraham but Lascelles cleared off the line at the other end as their new signings Renato Sanches and Wilfried Bony struggled to have an impact.

With the win Newcastle now have six points on the board, while Swansea remain on four points and Paul Clement‘s men have failed to score in three of their first four games of the season.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ] 

An even start to the game saw Swansea have more possession but Newcastle looked dangerous on the break.

Jacob Murphy hooked a shot over the bar after Federico Fernandez was caught out of position defensively as Newcastle’s direct approach started to cause Swansea problems.

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Before the break Newcastle pushed forward for the opener and Joselu’s header was brilliantly saved by Lukasz Fabianski at full stretch. Mikel Merino then went down in the box under a challenge but referee Craig Pawson correctly waved away the penalty kick calls.

Swansea then had two good chances as Jordan Ayew broke free but Rob Elliot tipped his show wide and from the resulting corner Alfie Mawson sent his free header inches wide.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Ritchie was then lucky as his raised foot almost caught Alfie Mawson in the face (a la Sadio Mane vs. Ederson) but Mawson ducked the challenge and Ritchie escaped with a yellow card.

The game then opened up as Swansea went close through Tom Carroll as his near-post effort was palmed away by Elliot after Kyle Naughton‘s drilled effort was half cleared.

Moments later the Swans looked certain to take the lead as Tammy Abraham latched onto Leroy Fer‘s through ball, rounded Elliot and then knocked the ball towards the empty net but Newcastle’s skipper Lascelles slid in to clear superbly off the line.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ] 

Swansea brought on Wilfried Bony as they tried to push for the winner but at the other end Ayoze Perez broke free in the box but his low drive was saved by Fabianski.

Lascelles then popped up with the game-winner as he headed home Ritchie’s corner powerfully. 1-0 to Newcastle as their fans sung Rafael Benitez’s name with glee.

They will do that the whole back to Newcastle on their 350-mile journey.