Clint Dempsey

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Lalas uses halftime broadcast to rip on USMNT, “Wonderboy” Pulisic

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Beginning by saying, “It’s time for leaders to step up,” and then branding those leaders as “supposed,” Alexi Lalas lashed into the United States men’s national team during an MLS telecast on Sunday.

Lalas took shots at several individual players — some deserving, some not — as the Yanks prepare for next month’s make-or-break World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

[ MORE: Palace makes change ]

In terms of coming from the hot takery, the diatribe is most notable not because of what Lalas says, but because of the messenger himself. Lalas is a former national team member, a sort of fraternity which doesn’t often show cracks. Lalas would likely argue the tough love is quite deserved, and he’s a sort of “boots on the ground” man who’s been around enough fans to know the feeling of the most ardent U.S. supporters.

Is Lalas’ criticism warranted? Sure. Will it be constructive? It’s hard to imagine the guys on the team needed to be fired up to avoid becoming national punch lines for their sport, and the rant doesn’t take away any pressure.

Most notable was Lalas saying anyone he didn’t mention doesn’t deserve to be mentioned, then going on to mention say, “That includes you, Wonderboy” in regards to phenom Christian Pulisic. That’s a tough one, as the 18-year-old does need to be described without his age soon, but also was not one of those players skating through the loss to Costa Rica and draw at Honduras.

Lalas also called out Tim Howard in saying the Belgium game was three years ago, which seems rough considering the goalkeeper isn’t known for resting on his laurels. Then again, it’s worth noting that Lalas would know the player a bit better than those of us who see him in locker rooms or read his book.

Of course we understand that the message also happens to boost ratings for MLS and leads to Retweets, Favorites, and posts like this, and it would be naive to say anything less.

What do you think? The full rant is below.

Three key storylines for the USMNT ahead of Honduras clash

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U.S. Men’s National Team supporters are still trying to get over the mess that they witnessed on Friday night at Red Bull Arena, but there isn’t much more time to sulk.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios remaining for the USMNT ]

Three matches remain in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and the USMNT is in a heated battle for a place in Russia next summer with both Honduras and Panama.

With Mexico already qualified and Costa Rica on the brink of reaching World Cup 2018, that leaves one automatic qualifying position up for grabs, while a potential playoff with a nation representing Asia could also be an option for Bruce Arena and Co.

[ MORE: Breaking down the USMNT’s back-and-forth Hexagonal run ]

Let’s take a glance at the most intriguing storylines heading into the USMNT’s WCQ against Honduras.

Defensive shape, center back pairing?

There were a handful of tactical mistakes made by Arena during Friday’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, but the glaring lineup error that stuck with everybody was to pair Tim Ream with Geoff Cameron at the central defense.

This isn’t to say that Ream or Cameron aren’t quality players, however, it was quite noticeable that the communication and tactical awareness necessary to pull off the defensive partnership wasn’t present in New Jersey.

Cameron is a lock to start for the U.S. in any important match moving forward given his Premier League experience and overall solid play on big stages for the Stars and Stripes, but the question of which player starts alongside him on the back line is one that must be pondered.

Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Matt Hedges are the three other options Arena has at his disposal for Tuesday’s match at the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano, which will be the USMNT boss’ biggest match to date since beginning his second term with the Yanks.

Besler is the logical option given his World Cup experience and the fact that he is a left-sided player due to the fact that he is left-footed. The Sporting KC man boasts 44 caps with the U.S. and his club teammate Graham Zusi will also be starting along the back line, which could certainly help with any potential communication errors.

Who starts at striker?

Jozy Altidore and his 108 appearances for the USMNT will be severely missed in Honduras, but the Toronto FC striker will miss out on the match due to yellow-card accumulation.

That leaves Arena with another massive lineup decision on his plate heading into the crucial match in Central America. While the former LA Galaxy manager’s other options on the bench do have decent experience, his pick of the litter doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.

Let me explain.

Clint Dempsey is by far the most-viable option for Arena, but this also isn’t three/four years ago. The Seattle Sounders forward is 34 years old and his ability to be playing a full match in Honduras is strongly in question.

It’s more likely that you’ll see him in an extended role during the second half on Tuesday, especially if things aren’t going the Americans’ way.

Bobby Wood should be guaranteed another start up front barring something unforeseen, so that leaves Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski, unless Arena opts for Wood as the lone striker.

Isolating Wood like that in the attack could really help or hurt the U.S. attack, though. By starting Wood as the team’s forward it could potentially give Arena the freedom to bring on a player like Paul Arriola from the start and move Christian Pulisic in from the wing to a more central position alongside Darlington Nagbe.

However, Arena will probably stick with two up front — and if that’s the case, it should be Jordan Morris.

Morris may be the young gun on the pecking order for U.S. forwards, but he offers the most in this situation. His speed and on-the-ball skills give the USMNT attack the opportunity to stretch the field and play off of Wood — who is equally as quick in open-field situations.

Even with so much on the line, Morris has shown in big games before that he is capable of stepping up. Tuesday could be his next chance to do so.

How does the U.S. handle adversity?

Arena has lost just once since taking over his USMNT post for a second time, and Tuesday’s match will surely be the 65-year-old’s biggest test in Round 2 as manager.

Last week, I wrote about the U.S.’ chances of reaching Russia — which for the record, I believe they still will.

That doesn’t change the fact though that a loss or even draw against Honduras changes things drastically for the Yanks.

Here’s a look at how the table could look by the end of Tuesday if everything goes wrong for the U.S.

  1. Mexico — 18 points
  2. Costa Rica — 15 points
  3. Honduras — 11 points
  4. Panama — 10 points
  5. USMNT — 8 points
  6. Trinidad & Tobago — 3 points

In this scenario, the U.S. could theoretically fall to fifth place with a loss to Honduras, while Panama could also leap the Stars and Stripes with a home win over Trinidad. It’s impossible to say all of these situations will occur, but it’s not that far-fetched.

Trinidad has been the door mat of the Hexagonal, so Panama could surely take care of business at home. Meanwhile, Honduras is a very difficult place to play, and San Pedro Sula could surely stump the Americans for a draw or possibly worse.

Player ratings: USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica a big setback

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Player ratings from the U.S. national team’s 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday…

[ RECAP: USMNT fails in bid for revenge on Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 4.5 — The 38-year-old was shaky playing the ball out of the back, which is largely par for the course, and was wildly out of position and slow to react on Marco Ureña’s goal in the 30th minute.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Here’s a thing I said about Zusi, the right back, a month and a half ago, and I stand by it today:

During the first half, the USMNT played through Zusi on a number of occasions, resulting in two of its best scoring chances.

CB — Geoff Cameron: 4 — Struggled mightily in the first half, the first time he’d ever started alongside Tim Ream in a four-man backline. Cameron’s poor decisions compounded Ream’s struggles, and vice versa.

CB — Tim Ream: 4 — While much of Cameron’s issues appeared to be Ream-related, Ream was quite poor all on his own. His gaffe in the 7th minute nearly resulted in a goal, and he was the one turned inside and out, failing to see Ureña wide enough, on the opening goal.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 5 — As a left back, it’s really tough to play with Fabian Johnson in front of you. The same issues which prevent Johnson from being a good left back play out further up the field, and you’re too frequently left on an island all by yourself. Unfortunately, there’s still no one better.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from USA 0-2 Costa Rica ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 5.5 — Asked to play, essentially, by himself in the middle of the field, Bradley did everything he could, but was ultimately outnumbered and overrun on numerous occasions. His long-range balls into the channels remain a top-two attacking strategy for the USMNT.

CM — Darlington Nagbe: 5 — Here’s the thing about Nagbe, the central midfielder: it works with a dedicated no. 10 playing ahead of him (see: Valeri, Diego; and, Portland’s MLS Cup 2015 run), but you’re asking far too much of him to play centrally without a creator further up the field. He’ll push ahead way too frequently and leave his partner all by his lonesome, which is exactly what he did to Bradley on Friday.

RM — Christian Pulisic: 6.5 — The kid’s a huge talent, but the most impressive thing about him is how consistently he’s in the conversation for best player on the field. The majority of clear chances had his fingerprints all over them, whether it was his dribbling through midfield, his vision and crossing, or making the necessary run into the box as a target himself.

LM — Fabian Johnson: 5 — What’s Johnson’s best position/role? He was asked to shield Villafaña from the front and press high when Costa Rica try to play out of the back, but he did very little or none of either of those things.

[ MORE: Late drama for Germany; Kane starts scoring on Sept. 1 ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 7 — Best player on the field, especially during the first half. Finally properly cast as a playmaker, dropping into the hole and creating for others. I know, it’s hard to imagine a striker with his build being a finesse player, but that’s the reality everyone must finally accept.

FW — Bobby Wood: 5.5 — His hold-up play is really important for the USMNT, as is his speed which stretches defenses beyond any semblance of comfort. Only, the latter didn’t happen against Costa Rica, and their three center backs remained in lockstep for 90 minutes.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 5 — 65th-minute sub did exactly what you’d ask of an impact sub: find the ball early, find it often, and create chaos, which is precisely the situation in which Dempsey thrives most. That’s a tall task against a defensive unit like Costa Rica, though. His petulant elbow in the 91st minute should have been a red card.

Sub — Jordan Morris: N/A — 84th-minute sub unable to have any real impact on the game.

Sub — Paul Arriola: N/A — 87th-minute sub unable to have any real impact on the game.

Dempsey’s last-second PK lifts Sounders past Minnesota

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SEATTLE (AP) Clint Dempsey converted a penalty kick in the final seconds of stoppage time on Sunday night, lifting the Seattle Sounders to a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United.

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A corner kick by Seattle’s Joevin Jones floated into the penalty area, and Minnesota’s Jermaine Taylor was called for a hand ball in a scrum of players battling for possession. Dempsey stepped up and drilled his kick to the right side past Loons goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth in the fourth minute of stoppage.

Dempsey’s goal was his 11th of the year.

Referee Ismail Elfath blew the final whistle as soon as Minnesota kicked off.

Chad Marshall also scored for the Sounders (11-7-7), who tied a club record by extending their unbeaten streak to nine games (6-0-3). The team had an identical 6-0-3 mark from May 28-July 16, 2011.

Seattle was forced to rally after its club-record shutout streak ended at 421 minutes on a goal by Minnesota’s Ethan Finlay in the 21st minute.

The Loons (6-14-4, 22 points) are still looking for their first road win of the season. They are 0-8-2 away from Minneapolis.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders top depleted SKC to go top of West

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders are the hottest team in MLS, unbeaten in their last eight games (five wins) following Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Western Conference-leading (no longer, as the Sounders go top) Sporting Kansas City.

The only team with an unbeaten run greater than Seattle’s seven games entering Saturday’s matchup, was Sporting KC (nine games — just three wins). Clint Dempsey scored the game’s only goal, heading home a cross from a suddenly in-form Jordan Morris (one goal, one assist from his last two games) in the 36th minute. Sporting were without a number of key players from the start of the game (Benny Feilhaber, Roger Espinoza, Ilie Sanchez, Diego Rubio and Latif Blessing all started on the bench), as well as altogether (Ike Opara and Graham Zusi weren’t available at all) after playing 120 minutes and going to penalty kicks in their U.S. Open Cup semifinal victory on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Assessing the top moves of the MLS summer transfer ]

Three Two moments that mattered

36′ — Dempsey heads past Melia for 1-0 — Cristian Roldan was the best player in the middle of the field all game long, and Morris dominated the wings in a way he’s not done all that often this season. The former found the latter, who found Dempsey for the goal, his 50th in a Sounders shirt.

74′ — Musa fires low, but Frei makes the save — James Musa, making his MLS debut, got a hold of one from just outside the penalty area, but didn’t place it close enough to the bottom-right corner to beat Stefan Frei, and the big Swiss-turned-American goalkeeper made the save quite comfortably.

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

Man of the match: Jordan Morris

Goalscorers: Dempsey (36′)