Here’s why little, if anything, changed with the loss in Honduras

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So the United States men’s national team goes down to Honduras and loses a game they shouldn’t have. For one, they were winning. For two, Honduras didn’t think they would win. For three, it was 1-1 in the 78th minute and both teams looked content to take a draw. For four… I could keep going but this gimmick is growing tedious.

The point is that we are a game down in the Hexagonal and the Americans sit in dead last. (The fact that Mexico is fifth offers some minor solace for USMNT supporters but not much.)

One of the major post-defeat takeaways is that March 22 against Costa Rica in Denver has become a must-win for the American team. Except that hasn’t it always been a must-win for the American team?

In Richard Farley’s excellent preview of the Hexagonal, he noted that an average of 15.75 points was good enough to finish third in past Hexagonals. Sunil Gulati aimed a little bit higher, shooting for between 19 and 21, a number that all but assures passage. (The U.S. won the group with 20 points in 2010.) What’s the best way to 18-ish points? Winning your home games and finding a few points on the road.

In that light, the loss in Honduras changes nothing about the importance of the game in Denver. That was always going to be a must-win.

Yes, I suppose you could argue that getting a point or three in Estadio Olimpico would have taken some pressure off the team and given the U.S. a bit of breathing room, but those would have been bonus points. I sincerely hope that Jurgen Klinsmann and Sunil Gulati were not planning on getting a result in Honduras as part of their “get us to the World Cup” calculus.

There are many paths to Brazil. Virtually all of them include getting three points in Denver. Very few of them relied upon anything good happening in Honduras. This week’s game was a missed opportunity but nothing more.

After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

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