Draw against Germany provides mixed signals from U.S. Women

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It’s hard to know what to think after yesterday’s U.S. Women’s National Team performance in Chicago. Or if we should think anything. Without a coach and three years away from their next major tournament, the U.S. women are in this strange, competitive netherworld where nothing really matters. They drew 1-1 with the world’s No. 2 team (Germany) at Toyota Park, but they could just as well have lost 4-0. The effect would have been the same. They could have won 4-0, and whomever is hired by U.S. Soccer to replace Pia Sundhage could come in, plop a new plan on the table, and render anything accomplished on Saturday meaningless. This was game part of a celebration tour. No more. No less.

But if we were to indulge our reflexes and parse Saturday’s match for signs, there would be a few things to consider:

Top gear remains unmatched …

Bookending the match were two periods were the U.S. looked like the best team in the world. The first stretch produced a well-worked opener, Abby Wambach’s 147th goal putting the U.S. up 1-0 in the second minute. The last stretch nearly stole the match, rendering Germany’s control of the intervening time meaningless.

… but the other gears can still be worrisome.

And that’s the problem with the U.S., though this is hardly new. They’re unstoppable in spurts but otherwise too easily tamed.

In the period before the World Cup, their inability to control play looked like a major problem, particularly with performances against Mexico (a loss in World Cup qualifying) and Italy (the CONCACAF-UEFA playoff) hinting they were vulnerable to anyone and everyone.

That’s changes. The last year has assuaged fans’ worst fears, but the problem still surfaces against elite competition. Germany brought it out last night, but we’ve also seen it against France, Japan, Sweden and Canada.

Silver lining: The U.S. has won most of their games against those foes, though if the States continue to play 30, 40, 50-minute stretches on the back foot, they’ll continue to leave themselves open to …

  • losing a group-deciding game in a major tournament (Sweden, July 6, 2011);
  • needed a last gasp goal after giving up a lead in a quarterfinal (Brazil, July 10, 2011);
  • an upset in a major tournament final (Japan, July 17, 2011);
  • needing extra time and some questionable refereeing to avoid a historic upset (Canada, August 2, 2012).

Defense is priority number one post-Pia

The U.S. only allowed one goal, but the back line’s performance didn’t inspire confidence. Germany had too many chances to win. It’s hard to imagine what this unit would do if they lost Christie Rampone, though the captain’s postponed retirement doesn’t lessen the need to come up with a new idea. The back four is screaming to be revamped.

The midfield also needs answers

Lauren Cheney’s turned into a great utility knife – somebody who can play any of the six non-defense positions – but it’s unclear she is a good choice for a two-women midfield against the likes of Germany (particularly with Shannon Boxx having a sub-par evening). When Pia Sundhage briefly flirted with a three-women midfield post-World Cup, Cheney fit, but if the U.S. is going to remain a 4-4-2 team, the new coach will have to uncover some more midfield options. On Saturday, Cheney wasn’t a problem, but she also wasn’t a solution.

Wherefore Heather O’Reilly

Megan Rapinoe’s emergence has sent Heather O’Reilly to the bench, but the “HAO” remains one of the best wide players in the world. It’s appealing to use her as a late-match, change of pace option, but her ability to get down the right and provide service for Alex Morgan and Abby Wambach could be better-leveraged as the Abby-Alex partnership matures.

Not a bad place to be

For all my nit-picking, the U.S. still got a decent result. While they were at home and well-rested (Germany’s players are in the middle of their season), playing Germany to a draw is nothing to worry about, particularly three years out from the World Cup. High expectations (perhaps unreasonably high ones) leave mixed feelings after any home draw, but those are the incredible heights the U.S. women are navigating. There’s no need for excuses, but perspective is important.

Second game should be better

Against Australia (Sept. 16, 19), the U.S. opened with a 2-1, closed with a 6-2. Against Canada (Sept. 17, 22, 2011), a 1-1 draw was followed by a 3-0 win. In early 2011, Japan played the U.S. to a 2-1 last March at the Algarve Cup before dropping two 2-0s in the States in May.

The U.S. plays Germany again on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network). If the recent pattern holds, they should be much better.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

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

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).