What we’re thinking, what we’re watching, what’s coming on the blog today and the RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day). Setting up your day in soccer …
Birthdays of note: It takes a huge star to overshadow somebody named Hulk, but if there’s one birthday to note on Wednesday, the Porto attacker’s isn’t it. Chivas Guadalajara adviser Johan Cruyff – who you may otherwise know as one of the best handful of players to ever play the game – turns 65.
Big important story of the day: As was the case yesterday, there’s one event that will draw the eyes of the soccer world …
What you should be watching on TV: José Mourinho looks to guide a third team into the Champions League final when Real Madrid, down 2-1, welcome Bayern Munich to the Santiago Bernabeu. This game’s on FX (not FOX Soccer Channel), with kick off expected somewhere after 2:45 p.m. ET.
Ahead on the blog today*: Running commentary on Real-Bayern will start around 2 p.m. ET, but only after we take one more look back on yesterday’s historic result for Chelsea Football Club. We’ll follow with analysis and reaction, and depending on how much that captivates the world, you may also see our patented, copyrighted, trademarked MLS Panic Quotient (®), not to mention some thoughts on Real Salt Lake’s venture to Frisco.
RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day): Bora Milutinovic … because at some point, we have to.
PST background noise while blogging today: Season 5, Episode 6 of Mad Men’s living up to the Twitter hype, calling it one of the best episodes ever. And checking in on a previous theme, no, there’s no Betty Francis (January Jones) in this one.
We’ll leave you with this: Given some mild disappointment at Blas Pérez’s suspension, tell us what kind of foul you think would have to happen for the subsequent suspension to be approved by MLS fans. How clear would the infraction have to be for everybody to say, “Yeah, OK. We agree with that”? To us, some of this stuff is pretty cut-and-dry, but maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Let us know.
*Always subject to change; you know how it is
Foden, Kane shine as England handles Senegal to set up France meeting
Free-running England too much, as Gana gone = Senegal gone
There are not a lof of footballing nations outside of the very top, top sides that could handle the absence of Sadio Mane, and not many more could operate without Idrissa Gana Gueye.
Mane missed the entire tournament and Gana Gueye was suspended for this game against England. While that didn’t make the contest a fait accompli, it put a lot of extra pressure on Kalidou Koulibaly at the back as well as Senegal’s midfield duo of Nampalys Mendy and Ismaila Ciss.
But would England take advantage of the absences?
The answer is a resounding yes, and was exemplified by the opening goal. Senegal had played well for more than a half-hour of the match and even had the match’s biggest danger point, when Sarr was stopped by Jordan Pickford.
But let’s talk about England’s first goal: You’d be forgiven for wondering if the player arriving in the box to finish off midfielder Jude Bellingham’s cutback feed was Harry Kane but it was a slightly shorter Premier League player in Jordan Henderson.
Gana’s absence as disruptor allowed England to feel just a bit better about pushing forward, and it paid off.
Another note is the new headache in the forefront of Gareth Southgate’s mind as the usually conservative boss has to figure out how to situate two-assist Phil Foden along with Kane and the numerous England attackers who’ve begged for playing time with positive displays.
How to watch England vs Senegal live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET – Sunday, December 4 Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
When it comes to England they have so many wonderful attacking players that it’s so hard to get them all on the pitch at the same time. It is also tough for Southgate to get the balance of the team right. When England clicks up top they are almost unstoppable and Harry Kane is the chief creator as well as the biggest goal threat. But he’s yet to score in this tournament as Rashford, Saka and Co. have done the damage. Defensively John Stones and Harry Maguire have been excellent too and this will all be about if England are brave enough to come flying out of the traps and back their star forwards to have the win wrapped up by half time. England have no injury issues, although Ben White has flown back to the UK for personal reasons so the Three Lions squad now has 25 members who are all fully fit. That makes preparing to play England a nightmare as they could roll out so many different combinations and formations in midfield and attack. Southgate went with Saka, Foden and Kane up top against Senegal.
Senegal has nothing to lose which is very dangerous in a knockout game. They have great experience in their side with Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy holding them together defensively and at the other end of the pitch Ismaila Sarr has really stepped up in attack in the absence of their superstar Sadio Mane. If Mane hadn’t been ruled out of this tournament due to injury, we would probably be talking about this Senegal side as a potential semifinalist. If England make a mistake or underestimate them, Senegal will make them pay but they will miss Idrissa Gana Gueye in midfield for this game as he’s suspended. There are also a few other injury issues for Senegal to deal with as Cheikhou Kouyate has been missing after he picked up an ankle injury in the opener.
Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Pickford
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group B with 7 points (+7 GD)
Senegal quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 18
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 2
How they qualified: Beat Egypt in CAF playoff
Coach: Aliou Cisse
Key players: Idrissa Gana Gueye, Edouard Mendy, Kalidou Koulibaly
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished 2nd in Group A with 4 points (+1 GD)
This tournament is South Korea’s 10th World Cup, though all but two have ended in the group stage. South Korea famously went to the semifinals when it shared hosting duties with Japan, falling to eventual runners-up Germany before Brazil won the final.
How to watch Brazil vs South Korea live, stream link and start time
Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Dec. 5 Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha TV channels en Español: Telemundo Streaming en Español:Peacock (all 64 matches)
Key storylines, players to watch closely
Well, first off: Neymar. One of Brazil’s all-time heroes is missing a World Cup from his resume and rightly or wrongly, that’s a marker as to whether the player will be considered one of the best Brazilians to ever do it. When healthy he’s among the five best attackers in the world. But how healthy is he? And how much can Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and company take pressure off the oft-fouled Neymar?
South Korea will have hope that Heung-min Son’s slow tournament is on the upswing after the Tottenham star played well late in delivering the win over Portugal to seal a group stage place. Look out for 26-year-old Napoli center back Min-jae Kim, whose name is dancing through the Premier League transfer rumor mill with renewed vigor following strong performances in Qatar.
Brazil quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker
South Korea quick facts
Current FIFA world ranking: 28
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Paulo Bento
Key players: Heung-min Son, Young-gwon Kim, In-beom Hwang, Woo-yeong Jeong
The United States men’s national team had, if we’re honest, the sort of World Cup we expected in Qatar this winter.
Gregg Berhalter’s Yanks came out of the group stage before losing to a superior program in the Round of 16, delivering a performance that was always energetic, at times naive, and at no point a real disservice to the USMNT’s reputation.
But the devil’s in the details, and the federation will have to dissect not whether the team could’ve done better this month, but whether it should’ve provided better performances.
There were absolute successes, like how the team got better in each successive game of the group stage. And how it’s stars — Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams — were mostly utilized in the best manners possible for their talents. Sergino Dest, Antonee Robinson, Tim Ream, and Tim Weah all had arguably the best USMNT stretches of their careers. That’s all real.
But there were also pitfalls. A timid side was bossed by inferior Wales at times in the second half of the tournament-opening 1-1 draw. Weston McKennie was uneven and missed multiple chances to give the U.S. a lead against England. And the rotation Berhalter talked about so often during qualifying was almost non-existent, leading to a team that looked cooked and borderline burnt out at times of the tournament-ender against the Netherlands.
What does it all mean for the program? That’s down to the powers-that-be, but we’ll let you know how we feel each player did, by minutes played, in Qatar. And maybe, as an aside, we can stop worrying about “changing how the world sees American soccer” and just worry about tangible deliverables.
USA player ratings out of 10: How did USMNT do at World Cup?
Sean Johnson: N/A (0 minutes)
Ethan Horvath: N/A (0 minutes)
Joe Scally: N/A (0 minutes) — What could this team have done against the Netherlands by finding a little more rest for Dest and Robinson? Berhalter clearly didn’t think they could get to the knockouts without them, and they were great. But they were also dead by the end of it and Scally’s play for club said he could’ve sidled up to the sub’s table just fine.
Aaron Long: N/A (0 minutes) — Glad he got to a World Cup, and slightly surprised Berhalter didn’t plug him into the lineup instead of CCV vs Iran (The decision was good, just surprising).
Cristian Roldan: N/A (0 minutes)
Jordan Morris: N/A (14 minutes)
Shaq Moore: N/A (20 minutes)
DeAndre Yedlin:N/A (31 minutes)
Kellyn Acosta: N/A (40 minutes)
Jesus Ferreira: N/A (45 minutes) — It would feel cruel to grade Ferreira on his 45 minutes against the Netherlands, as he was asked to lead the line at center forward while making his World Cup debut in a match that would be his first in front of a crowd since his FC Dallas season ended on Oct. 24. Will Ferreira be able to rise above or along with Haji Wright, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok, Ricardo Pepi, and a host of new faces to make it two World Cup rosters? His career in MLS has given him the base for it.
Giovanni Reyna: N/A (57 minutes) — The tournament had been crying out for a combination player like Reyna (or Aaronson) but Berhalter felt he was getting enough out of Tim Weah and a rotating cast of center forwards plus Brenden Aaronson off the bench. It’s a shame that we’ll have to wonder if he could’ve done something with Wales pressing for an equalizer and looking unthreatened in the opener, or starting with Weah at center forward versus the Dutch. If Gregg Berhalter’s going to remain in charge — and who knows if the coach is even interested in that? — he’s got a huge task in re-earning the faith of a player who should be Pulisic-level important in 2026 if he wasn’t already.
Cameron Carter-Vickers: 7 (90 minutes) — The Celtic star did what he was asked to do against Iran: keep and move the ball, and bully someone every once in a while. It will be interesting to see if a new coach values the big back more than he’s been valued by Berhalter, as CCV was one of Celtic’s Player of the Season candidates in their SPL run last season.
Brenden Aaronson: 6.5 (105 minutes) — The Leeds man wasn’t bad at all. You can see why he’s valued by Berhalter as a super sub but Aaronson also feels like a player who should be needling opponents from the opening whistle. He’s a card-conjurer. Could he be one of two Aaronsons on the 2026 team?
Haji Wright: 6.5 (135 minutes) — There were good moments and bad ones for the Antalyaspor center forward, the best clearly being his goal to bring the Yanks within one against the Netherlands. What is the future with the program for the 24-year-old Wright? You could see him starting another four years or dropping further back on the radar, but let’s celebrate a big, strong young man who went from LA Galaxy academy to New York Cosmos to Schalke to four other European clubs in order to make a World Cup roster.
Josh Sargent: 6.5 (163 minutes) — The argument’s there if you want it: Sargent’s better when he’s running around like a maniac at Norwich City and either helping wreak havoc with a Teemu Pukki type or doing the grunt work for Milot Rashica. But Sargent showed himself to be an adequate hold-up man for the USMNT and he’s certainly maturing by the game for club and country. It seems likely he starts against Netherlands if not for the ankle injury that hampered him all week. Where will he (and Norwich) be when 2026 arrives on Planet Earth?
Weston McKennie: 6 (275 minutes) — The enduring tournament questions for “What if” types will be how the Round of 16 game would’ve shaken out if Pulisic buries his chance in the 3rd minute, and how the 0-0 draw with England might’ve ended had McKennie not failed to convert two chances including an early one that was close to gimme status. McKennie, at times, has been the team’s heart and engine. His passion seeps into the room and onto the pitch. But fitness and sharpness kept him from being above his average and — perhaps — the Yanks from winning the group.
Walker Zimmerman: 7 (278 minutes) — Yes, the penalty conceded to Gareth Bale was poor. But Zimmerman has been shining on big stages at every stop of his career since he was running Dallas’ back line with Matt Hedges. His 15 clearances — what he was there for — rank Top 20 in the tournament and his 13 completed long balls show just how far his passing’s come since his early days in MLS.
Sergino Dest: 7 (309 minutes) — Again let’s not let the recency bias of his very poor defending against home nation the Dutch gloss over a sensational group stage. Dest had his two best games in a U.S. shirt versus England and Iran, keeping talented wings honest while also holding it down at the back. He finished just ahead of Robinson and Musah with the most successful dribbles on the team with five.
Christian Pulisic: 8 (315 minutes) — Fouled an almost absurd 11 times over 315 minutes, the Pennsylvanian Pulisic earned his moments in the sun and paid for them with a hospital visit to treat a pelvic contusion. Pulisic will lament having a third-minute shot saved by the Dutch, but he had a hand in three of the Yanks’ goals, which — checks notes — were all of their goals. Led the team in goal contributions, assists, and key passes, finishing behind only Adams in duels won.
Timothy Weah: 7 (320 minutes) — If Weah was playing center forward, we might have to ding him for a failure to convert some difficult chances. But the Lille wide man — often used as a sort of right mid by Paulo Fonseca — was explosive and his goal against Wales one of the finer in recent USMNT memory. Weah was especially tidy in the passing game for a winger, and his work on the right worked oh-so-well with Dest to give left backs a tremendous amount of headaches.
Yunus Musah: 7.5 (345 minutes) — Out of gas by the end of the Netherlands tilt, yes. But did any player do more for his transfer value in this tournament than Musah? The Valencia man will have certainly impressed clubs in his home nation of England, as his ball progression was exceptional and he snapped into eight tackles, too. By the way, he left his teenage years in the middle of the tournament. We may see him for another three World Cup cycles.
Antonee Robinson: 8 (359 minutes) — It’s going to be difficult for readers eyeballing this piece close to the final whistle of the Netherlands loss to see the ‘8’ and not think of Robinson completely losing his way on the third Dutch goal, but it would be a shame to shade the perception of his tournament. “Jedi” was a relentless and critical part of the program’s success in Qatar and looks very much like the best left-sided defender in the program since… Eddie Lewis and DaMarcus Beasley were jostling for ownership of the wingback position? His seven interceptions show a wise reader of the game who is now more than electricity and industry.
Matt Turner: 7 (360 minutes) — Not gonna lie: There were moments against Wales — mostly in ball control — that had us doubting the decision to leave Zack Steffen home (nothing against Ethan Horvath or Sean Johnson). But that was a thing of the past as Turner’s skill as a shot-stopper, something we knew about, was joined by a vast improvement in distribution since we saw him leave New England for Arsenal. Love another college soccer player working his way to USMNT starter, too, don’t we?
Tim Ream: 8 (360 minutes) — He
Think about that. Fulham’s Ream combined with club and country teammate Robinson to make the left side a very strong side until the late stages versus Holland. His 274 passes led the team, his 16 long balls trailed only Adams and Turner, and his 11 clearances were only four fewer than Zimmerman’s team-best total. The U.S. has a long history of funny paths to the team and Ream’s career journey, long-term and short-term, is almost as good a tale as Steve Cherundolo and Jay DeMerit.
Tyler Adams: 8 — 360 minutes — Made arguably one significant mistake over the whole tournament and it helped Memphis Depay score the Netherlands’ first goal, but don’t let recency bias cloud your judgment of the captain and player most likely to captain the side on home soil in 2026. The Leeds United man led the team in tackles with 11 and handled off-field controversy like a 35-year-old veteran. Health will be wealth for the MLS-grown wonderboy.
Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, while Germany, Denmark and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.
From the USMNT and England getting out of their group to Lionel Messi dragging Argentina through and Mexico just missing out on getting out of the group stages and amid upsets galore, there are plenty of intriguing games in the latter stages.