Takeaways from the U.S.’s win in Antigua: States find their hero

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Not even the most ardent Eddie Johnson fan would have predicted the striker, making his first appearance in two years for the national team, would be the man that pulled the U.S. back from its World Cup qualifying ledge, yet that’s exactly what happened Friday night in St. John’s. Taking his comeback to a level nobody could have predicted, Johnson scored both goals in the States’ 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda, his 91st header salvaging an otherwise worrisome performance from the United States Men’s National Team.

The U.S. had led for only six minutes – the time between Johnson’s opener and Dexter Blackstock’s 26th minute response. From then on, it was the same, attack-challenged U.S. we’ve come to know under Jurgen Klinsmann.

There was possession but no urgency; intent but no execution; talent but no production.

Had Johnson not redirected home Alan Gordon’s late cross, the U.S. would be in crisis mode. That Klinsmann’s two surprise recalls created the winner is their boss’s only saving grace. His team was lacked urgency, was curiously deployed, and showed no progress from their last disappointing road trip to Kingston.

Few teams in CONCACAF would have lost to the U.S. tonight. Klinsmann is lucky his team was facing one of them.

Here are some quick takeaways:

1. Where was the urgency? – This wasn’t a true must win, but as the coach said mid-week, the team was treating it as such. But if this team was treating this as a all-or-nothing scenario, the U.S. is going to have difficulty making it through The Hex (the next round of CONCACAF qualifying).

With the exception of some fire from Michael Bradley when he was taken down from behind late (a play that should have given the U.S. a penalty kick), the team approached this one with the same business-like approach we’ve seen throughout the tournament. They could have used a lot more passion tonight.

MORE: Did the conditions matter on Friday?

2. U.S. is still not executing in the final third …

3. … and Jurgen Klinsmann bears much of the blame.

It will be interesting to hear Klinsmann’s explanations as to why Johnson spent most of this match wide left. The States generated three good chances for him on crosses, but all too often the Sounders’ No. 9 was seen deep in midfield, tracking back like a traditional midfielder, even if he played like a forward most of the time.

Beyond Johnson’s deployment, the U.S. still doesn’t seem to know what to do with all their possession. We’re seeing very few balls played behind the defense, and those that are tend to be poorly weighted into marginally dangerous spots. We’re not seeing effective runs in the box. We’re not seeing the type of movement and interchanging that opens up space. Aside from a few nice layoffs from Clint Dempsey, we’re not seeing the type of one-touch passing that can navigate compact defenses.

Some of that is personnel. Some of that is performance. Some of that is training, and some of it is tactical.

There are a number of places where solutions could lie, but after another performance where the play far outstretched the goals, the team needs answers.

MORE: Friday a good night for Jozy Altidore? 

4. The central defense remains a work in progress – Both Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson were beaten for Antigua and Barbuda’s goal. Cameron allowed his man, Peter Byers, to blow by him, while Goodson slipped getting across the six to mark Blackstock. Twice late, players were able to turn on shots inside the U.S. penalty area, leaving Tim Howard lunging to protect his far post. As Antigua and Barbuda were breaking out into counters late in the match, you couldn’t help but wonder what a World Cup-caliber team would have done to this defense.

Perhaps things would have been different if Fabian Johnson were healthy, allowing Carlos Bocanegra to play in the middle. We should find out on Tuesday.

5. Heroic Eddie Johnson – As the seconds ticked away on a game that looked destined to end in a draw, the U.S. desperately needed a hero. Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, perhaps Carlos Bocanegra? One of the core needed to assert himself.

Instead, it was Johnson. Controversial callup, having seen you in two years, “you’re not Jozy” Eddie Johnson.

MORE: PST Man of the Match – Eddie Johnson 2.0

Pealing off his man in the 91st minute into space toward the far post, Johnson subtly volunteered to be that hero. Just as he’d done on the opener, he hammered his header down and across goal, giving goalkeeper Molvin James little chance to preserve a historic result.

One year ago, Johnson was a non-factor for the U.S. After failing to land a place with a club in Mexico, it wasn’t even clear he had a professional future. When he landed in Seattle, he had to start over: New team; new city; no prestige. Everything that got Eddie Johnson to this point has happen in the last seven months.

Now (and all of a sudden), he’s the team’s best goal scoring threat, the man who represents the U.S.’s potential to be a truly dangerous team …

And the one good thing to come out of the States’ trip to Antigua.

Transfer rumor roundup: Koulibaly to Man Utd, Pulisic to Chelsea

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International breaks seem to ratchet up transfer talk, as players are free from their clubs but not from reporters’ microphones.

Whether on or off the record, stories seem to break with more regularity during these periods. This week is no exception.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

The Daily Record says Manchester United is being urged to make a big defensive buy from Napoli, with Jose Mourinho wanting to count Kalidou Koulibaly amongst his ranks.

Koulibaly has played every Serie A minute for Napoli this season, and chipped in with five goals in playing more than 3000 minutes last season. He has 29 caps for Senegal, and it’s difficult to believe the Neapolitan side would sell him for less than a defender transfer record.

And while Mourinho has been reported to admire the potential of Eric Bailly, he’s not using him right now and the Ivorian may want out sooner rather than later. Purchased from Villarreal for approximately $38 million, Spurs and Arsenal are both being linked with an equal money move for Bailly.

Mourinho would probably trade Bailly for Alderweireld, but Ed Woodward is unlikely to sanction the age sacrifice.

Newcastle is also being tipped with a move for a Serie A player, though this player has not been in the league too long.

Twenty-three year-old Genoa attacker Krzysztof Piątek is the man Newcastle hopes can revive its attack. He cost less than $5 million in the summer, and The Chronicle says Genoa would expect a profit of around $15m.

Piatek and Koulibaly (Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)

And how about Christian Pulisic? The Daily Mail says that Chelsea is going to push to get the move through the door in January, with the threat of a transfer ban looming over Stamford Bridge.

The report says the price may be dropping as Pulisic is now within a season-and-a-half of his contract’s expiry, and Borussia Dortmund having Jadon Sancho to fill Pulisic’s spot if needed.

Finally, longtime Swans defender Angel Rangel could be heading to MLS, according to Football.London, with his current contract at QPR only running through January. DC United and NYCFC are the teams reportedly dueling for his signature alongside Championship clubs Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, and his current club.

Mancini wants to ‘bring Italy back where it belongs’

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MILAN (AP) A year after its stunning elimination by Sweden in a World Cup playoff, Italy is back at the San Siro stadium for another potentially decisive match.

The Azzurri have to beat Cristiano Ronaldo-less Portugal on Saturday and then hope the European champion does not defeat Poland three days later in order to reach the UEFA Nations League finals.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

“We would like to advance, and we’ll try to, but the No. 1 objective remains qualifying for the European Championship,” coach Roberto Mancini said on Friday.

Portugal leads Group 4 with a perfect six points, Italy has four, and Poland one.

The group winner advances to the Final Four in June. Poland is already assured of finishing last in the group and will be relegated to League B.

Mancini was hired after previous coach Gian Piero Ventura was blamed for Italy’s failed World Cup qualification.

“I see a team that wants to roll its sleeves up and bring Italy back where it belongs,” Mancini said. “Let’s be clear, we still need some time, but we’re on the right path.”

Defender Giorgio Chiellini is slated to make his 100th appearance for Italy while wearing the captain’s armband.

“I want to celebrate the achievement only at the end of the match,” Chiellini said. “First let’s focus on Portugal, try to bring home three points and provide continuity to the good work done to this point.”

Chiellini retired from the national team in the aftermath of the loss to Sweden but then changed his mind.

“The real disappointment came in June when many of my club teammates left for Russia while I was preparing my suitcases for vacation,” Chiellini said.

Fellow defender Alessio Romagnoli left Italy’s squad on Friday with a muscular injury, and Italy is also without forward Federico Bernardeschi.

Bernardeschi was a key performer in the 1-0 win over Poland last month, lining up alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa.

Unable to use the same lineup, Mancini announced that Ciro Immobile will likely start at center forward.

Italy has had trouble scoring.

The last time the Azzurri scored more than one goal was in May, a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia in a friendly , while the last time they accomplished the feat in a competitive match was in June 2017, a 5-0 victory over Liechtenstein in a World Cup qualifier.

Italy next plays the United States in a friendly in Genk, Belgium, on Tuesday.

Mancini announced Chiellini, Alessandro Florenzi, Jorginho and Insigne would be sent home after the Portugal game and Gianluca Mancini and Moise Kean would be called up from the under-21 side.

Mancini and Chiellini both expressed disappointment that Ronaldo, who is taking a break from the national team, isn’t with Portugal.

“It’s always great to face the best players,” Mancini said. “Anyhow, Portugal remains a great squad even without Cristiano.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Netherlands wins, relegates Germany

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Ronald Koeman‘s Netherlands sent Germany into League B, and moved a draw away from the semifinals after taking care of the World Cup champions in the highlight of Friday’s UEFA Nations League matches.

[ WATCH: Salah scores stoppage time winner ]


Netherlands 2-0 France

Georginio Wijnaldum was in a prime position to slot in a rebound after Hugo Lloris made a save on Ryan Babel, and Memphis Depay converted a stoppage time panenka penalty as Netherlands’ win sent Germany into League B.

The Dutch are still alive for A1, and can make the semifinals with a win over Germany on Monday.

Wales 1-2 Denmark

An even match saw Denmark score off a counterattack, with Nicolai Jorgensen supplying the finish off put the Danes ahead of the hosts. Martin Brathwaite made it 2-0 in the 88th minute, with Gareth Bale‘s goal the only Welsh answer a minute later.

Denmark goes top of Group B4, and end Wales’ hopes of promotion to League A. It’s Denmark into the “top flight” next cycle, and the nation is guaranteed at least a playoff spot in qualification for EURO 2020.

Gibraltar 2-6 Armenia

Former Real Salt Lake attacker Yura Movsisyan scored four for captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s side.

Elsewhere
Cyprus 1-1 Bulgaria
Slovenia 1-1 Norway
Liechtenstein 0-2 Macedonia
Slovakia 4-1 Ukraine

Salah scores last-minute winner against Tunisia (video)

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Egypt needs Mohamed Salah, and the Liverpool forward reinforced that fact on Friday in an Africa Cup of Nations qualifier versus Tunisia.

Deadlocked at two, Salah burst into the box on the right wing via a 1-2 with Salah Mohsen and used deft move to make enough space to blast a shot home.

[ MORE: England rocks the USMNT ]

It was vintage Salah, right down to the red shirt.

Egypt has qualified for this summer’s tournament in Cameroon and is tied for the top of the group with one match to go. Egypt travels to Niger in March while Tunisia hosts Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland).

Here’s the goal, his 39th in 62 caps for the Pharoahs.