Flashes and questions define Josh Gatt’s U.S. debut

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It was long awaited, but on Wednesday, we finally saw Josh Gatt’s U.S. Men’s National Team debut. The 21-year-old winger, much-discussed among USMNT fans since making his mark in Norway, started on the right in Russia, slotting in on the attack’s right in Jurgen Klinsmann’s 4-3-3.

Making his debut – on the road, against tough opposition – you’d expect Gatt to struggle. At times he did, but the bigger picture was an encouraging if mixed bag. Against a team that’s in the middle of an impressive qualifying run, Gatt was able to show a number of qualities that could position him as an alternative to Brek Shea. With the effort and awareness he showed over his 63 minutes, Gatt already looks like a good late-match (defensive) option for CONCACAF’s final round of qualifying.

MORE: What we learned from the U.S.’s trip to Russia

Here’s the good, the bad of Josh Gatt’s senior national team debut:

PLUS COLUMN

Speed, width, movement – Oh my, an actual wide player. Where did this come from?

Since the start of World Cup qualifying – when we began seeing less of Brek Shea on the left – we haven’t seen true wide players for the U.S.  Gatt, however, provided a legitimate wide (if imperfect) presence on the right, showing flashes against a opposing player (Dmitri Kombarov) who, as a converted midfielder, was more than capable of following him up-and-down the flank.

Gatt also added some much-needed speed to a team which lacks attackers who can blow by a defense. Twice Gatt was able to get on balls lofted behind the defense, and while Russia’s back line isn’t known for its light feet, the Molde winger would be one of the U.S.’s better options against similarly vulnerable defenses.

Ability to move across the pitch – Thirty minutes in, Gatt left his right wing and moved to the left, with Klinsmann’s front three of Gatt, Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore showing more fluidity than we’re used to seeing from U.S. attackers. Early in the second half, Gatt was even seen dropping back for a ball from a central position, hinting he may be able to challenge the slower players that tend to occupy a team’s central defense.

Defending –  We saw it in the third minute. As the U.S. defense pushed after a corner, a ball was swung in from Russia’s right targeting a man that seemed open wide of the far post. Gatt, however, made up the ground and helped kill an opportunity before it came off, effort that was saw replicated throughout his hour of play.

MORE: USMNT Man of the Match – Michael Bradley

MINUS COLUMN

First touch – Like his teammates, Gatt was having trouble managing the passes played to him. At one point early in the first half, a pass up to him went right off his foot and out of bounds for a Russian throw in. It could have been the ball, the field, or the conditions – who knows? For whatever reason, the U.S. had trouble with their first touch. Gatt was no exception.

No aggression in attack – His runs off the ball? Some where very good. With the ball, Gatt showed no aggression. There were multiple times where he had his many isolated and should have taken him on. It never happened. Once, it seemed Gatt was setting up to attack Kombarov, but got the ball caught in his feet. That happens to everybody, but on Wednesday, it was exemplified Gatt’s attacking contributions.

No crossing – Near half time, Gatt got a ball wide of Kombarov and had a perfect chance to take a touch toward the goal line before putting in a cross. Instead, he cut the ball back to the middle. It was the most egregious but not only time Gatt avoided playing a ball into the box.

Report: Earnie Stewart in negotiations for U.S. Soccer GM job

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Philadelphia Union sporting director and USMNT centurion Earnie Stewart is reportedly in negotiations to become the United States men’s national team general manager.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The report, from Metro NY reporter Kristian Dyer, says the Netherlands-born executive has the proverbial ball in his court.

Stewart, 49, racked up 103 caps and 18 goals for the Yanks and had a glittering playing career spent between Willem II, NAC Breda, and DC United.

He later had high-ranking positions with NAC Breda and AZ Alkmaar.

Here’s Dyer, quoting a source:

The source, speaking to Metro on the condition of anonymity, said that Stewart is believed to be the frontrunner and is in negotiations for the position following an impressive showing during the interview process.

The club, when asked for a comment, told Metro that “Since Earnie’s first interview with U.S. Soccer, we have respected their process, and as such, we will decline further comment until a final decision has been made.”

Stewart scored against Colombia in the 1994 World Cup and added markers in qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 tournaments.

His familiarity with both MLS and European leagues would be a boon for the U.S., and Stewart’s Union has brought along a number of promising young players including Auston Trusty and Keegan Rosenberry (the latter drafted out of Georgetown).

Carrick: Haven’t entertained possibility of Pogba leaving Man Utd

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Michael Carrick is hammering the idea of a Paul Pogba exit from Manchester United.

Pogba’s had his problems with manager Jose Mourinho, but recently praised the boss for the season’s education.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

But is an exit is just not going to happen, says Carrick as he heads toward a coaching role at Old Trafford.

From Sky Sports:

“Of course he’s got a future, he’s a big player for us, he’s a great age, he’s got his peak years ahead of him. It’s not even something I’d give a second thought to, to be honest.”

The retired midfielder also said he’s looking forward to working under Jose Mourinho, whom he calls “the best man to learn from.”

He also said United’s trophy-less season wasn’t ideal, but it’s more about them their competition.

“We’re not looking at City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, anyone. We’re looking at ourselves to improve, we believe we’re capable of improving a lot and we’ll see where that takes us.”

Three key battles for Champions League Final

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Saturday brings Real Madrid’s journey toward a third-straight UEFA Champions League title to a close, with just Liverpool standing in the way.

[ MORE: Napoli hires Ancelotti ]

The Reds attack promises danger and entertainment, while Zinedine Zidane’s personnel choice may be just as important as his tactical decisions in Kiev.

Van Dijk, Lovren against… Ronaldo and whoever Zidane decides

It’s difficult to highlight the match-up problems for Liverpool’s center backs because Zinedine Zidane has used three different set-ups atop his line-up.

At times, it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema. Sometimes, Gareth Bale takes Benzema’s spot, and occasionally Ronaldo has been played up top as a center forward.

Believe it or not, that may be the best case scenario for Liverpool, though Ronaldo will undoubtedly roam across the top of the formation. While many think of Ronaldo and visualize his laser shots from distance, he’s quite dangerous in 1v1 aerial battles as well as tight spaces inside the box.

Quite frankly, matches like this highlight why the Reds signed Virgil Van Dijk. And, opinion alert, human bowling ball Benzema and his Juggernaut-esque approach to attacking may be a unique challenge Liverpool has not seen outside of Romelu Lukaku.

Marcelo vs. Mohamed Salah

Marcelo is an unbelievably silky, savvy left back who uses an elite attacking skill set to keep the opposition’s entire right side off kilter.

In some ways he can be partially neutralized by the danger presented by Reds right wing Mo Salah, but Zidane isn’t going to tell Marcelo to camp out in his own end when left center back Sergio Ramos is the next man up to defend, one of the finest players of his generation.

So it’s on Salah to assert himself on the game, something that shouldn’t be a problem after a couple weeks away from match action.

Can Real defend Liverpool on the counter?

We’ve seen Liverpool expose a number of teams on the counter attack, and Real certainly has a handle on how to do the same.

But building on our second key, there’s danger for both sides when Marcelo or Dani Carvajal get up the pitch. When Liverpool regains the ball and attacks at pace, there are big choices to be made.

Say Marcelo is up the pitch. Now Ramos may have to take Salah and leave Roberto Firmino to Raphael Varane. Now Carvajal may be alone with Sadio Mane. It’s not that Carvajal or Marcelo cannot defend, but these are not situations anyone wants in a one-off.

And that’s the key for Liverpool, really. This is a one-off. Over two legs, it’s hard to imagine the Reds as constructed pulling off another heavily-outchanced two-leg win like it did against Manchester City. The answer to this counter question may be what tells the story in Kiev.

Ancelotti hired to end Napoli’s scudetto drought

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Is Carlo Ancelotti the right man to end Juventus’ seemingly ages-old hold on the scudetto?

Napoli hopes so, and has inked the former Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich boss to a three-year deal.

Ancelotti’s resume speaks for itself, and the hiring promises more Serie A drama after the Neapolitan club nearly got the job done this season under Maurizio Sarri.

[ MORE: Top takeaways from Emery’s Arsenal unveiling ] 

Ancelotti won scudetti as a player with Roma (1) and AC Milan (2), once more as a manager for the latter. He also led Milan to two Champions League crowns, winning the tournament with Real Madrid as well, while bringing league titles to Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, and Bayern Munich.

Napoli has finished Top 3 in six of eight seasons, finishing four points behind Juve this season. Juventus has won the last seven scudetti, and Napoli’s only title came in 1987.

The club announced the move after owner Aurelio De Laurentiis let go of Sarri, thanking the previous manager for three seasons of work which included a Serie A Coach of the Year Award and wins in 97 of 147 matches.

“I’d like to thank Maurizio Sarri for his valuable contribution to the Napoli cause. He brought joy and prestige to Naples and Napoli fans all over the world with an entertaining brand of football that drew praise from all quarters. Well done, Maurizio.”