U.S. fights through storm, downs Costa Rica for first points of qualifying’s final round

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It would have been a typical Jurgen Klinsmann era home game if it wasn’t for the weather, but with the game played in the middle of a storm that would make an Eskimo cower, there was nothing typical about the States’ 1-0 win over Costa Rica. Each pause of play saw a snow shovel-wielding battalion attacking the field’s lines, giving officials and players a few moments of clarity before the weather again won out. Ten minutes into the second half, Salvadorian referee Joel Aguilar stopped the match to consider whether the game should go.

But after two hours of wondering whether the match would be suspended, Aguilar’s whistle finally blew on the U.S.’s first win of CONCACAF’s final round. Ending a week of controversy that saw head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s methods’ openly questioned, the United States sit second in the qualifying table and are one of only two teams to have won Hex matches through two rounds.

Were it not for the inflexible nature of soccer’s international calendar, the match would have been rescheduled, but once the game started, there was no reason to stop. For all the complaints of visibility issues from television commentators and the assembled press, field-level shots showed inches of accumulated snow were the real problem. At halftime, Klinsmann said his team’s technical style would have to be abandoned, with the ability to win second balls his chief concern.

(MORE: Images from the Colorado snow globe.)

By that point the U.S. had their lead, with Clint Dempsey converting a 16th minute rebound after his deft turn had started the U.S.’s goal scoring movement. Celebrating his first full game as captain, Dempsey took a short pass from the right flank, turned toward the penalty area and found Jozy Altidore. A Michael Bradley run collapsed the Costa Rican defense, giving Altidore room to get his shot on goal. Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas’s dive to block the shot left him out of position when the blocked shot fell to the middle of the box, where Dempsey waited to guide it home.

“Clint’s always got that sniff,” Altidore said of the goal. “[H]e’s always following plays up.”

It was Dempsey’s seventh goal of the qualifying cycle, one that puts him within two of Eric Wynalda for second on the team’s all-time goal scoring list. Up against a five-man Costa Rican defense set up to play for a point, Dempsey, Altidore, and Herculez Gomez led an attack that would have produced more goals under different conditions.

source: APAround the goal and the weather, the U.S.’s performance mirrored their September win over Jamaica. Back in September the U.S. leveraged their possession and control to get make Herculez Gomez’s goal hold up, downing the Reggae Boyz 1-0 having previously lost in Kingston. In Columbus, the goal came early in the second half, but after scoring near the quarter-hour mark in Commerce City, the U.S. was able to rack up 57 percent of Friday’s possession.

Costa Rica struggled to win the ball, let alone build toward the States’ goal. At night’s end, they had put fuve shots on Brad Guzan, who never gave fans a reason to miss the injured Tim Howard. His saves were four more than the U.S. asked from Navas, but chasing the match for 74 minutes, the Ticos needed to do more.

“The key was getting the goal early,” Dempsey said after that match, “that made it difficult [for Costa Rica] in these conditions.”

But the result was more about the U.S.’s successes than Costa Rican failures. Dempsey and Altidore had strong nights. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones controlled the middle. DeMarcus Beasley proved an inspired selection at left back. For all the controversy that surrounded him throughout the week, Jurgen Klinsmann got his team right on Friday.

Ultimately, Klinsmann’s approach won out. Using the same formula that’s bled out home qualifiers against Jamaica and Guatemala, the U.S. protected a patchwork and uneasy defense by dominating the ball.

In the process, they got their first points of CONCACAF’s final round. They started to defuse the drama surrounding the team, and they won momentum ahead of Tuesday’s huge match in Mexico.

And all they to do was fight through a little snow.

Champions League wrap: Ajax, RB Leipzig, Salzburg win; Barca held

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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While Liverpool and Chelsea lost in shutout fashion, only three other teams saw zeroes next to their names after 90 minutes of UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday.

[ UCL: Scores, full lineups, stats, box scores ]

You may be surprised to see that Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund kept each other off the board, while Lille was cooked by Ajax.

Red Bull Salzburg 6-2 Genk

Jesse Marsch is now officially the first American man to manage a team to a win in a UEFA Champions League game. The Red Bull Salzburg boss got a hat trick from red-hot 19-year-old striker Erling Braut Haland, who has 17 goals in nine matches this season and is also the son of former Leeds, Man City, and Nottingham Forest manager Alf-Inge Haland.

Ajax 3-0 Lille

Mexico’s Edson Alvarez now has two goals in two career UEFA Champions League games, as he joined Quincy Promes on the score sheet in a 2-0 win. American-Dutch right back Sergino Dest played 90 minutes in the win, and Nicolás Tagliafico recorded two assists. USMNT forward Timothy Weah was again absent with a hamstring tear.

Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Barcelona

Lionel Messi spent most of the match on the bench, and Marco Reus missed a Jadon Sancho-won penalty thanks to a Marc-Andre ter Stegen save.

And what a save it was!

Elsewhere

Chelsea 0-1 Valencia — RECAP
Napoli 2-0 Liverpool — RECAP
Inter Milan 1-1 Slavia Prague — RECAP
Lyon 1-1 Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Benfica 1-2 RB Leipzig

Barkley sails late penalty as Chelsea falls at home

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Ross Barkley missed a late penalty as Chelsea lost its UEFA Champions League opener 1-0 to Valencia on Tuesday at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Rodrigo scored the lone goal, and Valencia will be thrilled to collect all three points in London.

Christian Pulisic was an unused sub for Chelsea, who out-attempted Valencia 22-8 on the day.


Three things we learned

1. Pulisic down the pecking order: The American star didn’t start, and wasn’t the first name called when Mason Mount was injured. Granted Pedro played a little deeper, but not a good week for the Hershey-born Pulisic

2. Wide men the danger men: Willian was the likely Man of the Match for Chelsea despite the lack of goals, and full backs Marcos Alonso and Cesar Azpilicueta were also key to the resutl.

3. Penalty drama: VAR gave Chelsea a chance to level from the spot, but Ross Barkley stepped ahead of Willian and missed the chance. The Brazilian looked aggrieved before and after the miss, and Barkley looked mighty confident right until the moment he missed his shot. Sort yourself out!

Man of the Match: Willian — No wonder he was angry to see Barkley demand the penalty, as a Willian goal would’ve been a fitting result for his clever and industrious day at the office.


Valencia keeper Jasper Cillesen made two stops early, denying Tammy Abraham to concede a corner before collecting a Marcos Alonso header on the ensuing set piece.

Would it be Christian Pulisic time when Mason Mount left the match with injury following a challenge from former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin? Nope. Pedro was called upon to fill the void.

It was a sleepy second half, with Pedro conceding a free kick to Valencia that didn’t amount to anything exciting.

Those who stuck around were rewarded with late drama, as Valencia took the lead through a Rodrigo flick off a free kick.

However, Valencia then had to watch through its fingers as Chelsea was gifted a chance at the spot through VAR when Fikayo Tomori headed a ball off the arm of Daniel Wass.

Willian was upset to see Ross Barkley take the penalty, and the English midfielder probably wishes he let someone else take it after missing over the bar.

Napoli scores on late penalty, rare Van Dijk error in 2-0 win

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The good news is that Liverpool lost to Napoli last season in the UEFA Champions League, then went on to win the whole darn thing.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Jose Callejon won a late penalty that Dries Mertens converted, and Fernando Llorente took advantage of a Virgil Van Dijk error to pad the lead as Napoli held serve at home with a 2-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday.


Three things we learned

1. Goalkeepers immense: No, he’s not Alisson Becker, but Adrian is probably the biggest reason Liverpool didn’t open its UCL defense with a loss. He made a pair of early stops on Dries Mertens before a show-stopping effort in the second half. Napoli got two fine saves from Alex Meret, including a terrific denial of Mohamed Salah in the 65th.

2. Salah, Mane can’t deliver in key moments: Take away Salah’s penalty in the UCL Final, and Liverpool’s two top threats have not accounted for a goal in four matches inside the competition. Mane was mostly good on the day, but misled Salah on an early second half pass which would have almost certainly been a goal. Salah simply had an off day

3. Callejon sells the drama: Liverpool’s Andy Robertson lost a 50/50 with Jose Callejon, who ran into the fulback and hit the deck to win a penalty. That was the difference here, as Mertens beat Adrian.

Man of the Match: Meret was especially good, the 22-year-old Italian goalkeeper big in several key moments to edge Mertens for the honor.


Napoli thought it had gone ahead through El Tri star Hirving Lozano, who nodded over the line following two Alisson Becker saves on Dries Mertens, but the Mexican was offside.

Sadio Mane had a 20th minute chance at the other end, but pumped a point blank low shot to Napoli keeper Alex Meret which led to a corner kick.

Fabinho intervened in the 53rd minute as Napoli emerged from the locker room with energy, but the best chance of the early second half was flubbed in uncharacteristic fashion: Sadio Mane was through 2v1 with Mohamed Salah but made a miserable pass to his teammate.

The first goal arrived when Callejon tapped the ball past Robertson and leapt into the defender to earn a penalty from referee Felix Brych.

It was 2-0 in stoppage time when Fernando Llorente ran onto a Virgil van Dijk error and passed beyond Adrian.

UCL AT HALF: Marsch’s Salzburg rolling; Champions holding firm; Chelsea’s Mount hurt

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We’ve got news after 45 minutes of six more UCL matches, including a big injury at Stamford Bridge and a monumental start for an American in Austria.

[ UCL: Scores, lineups, stats, box scores ]

Chelsea 0-0 Valencia

No goals to report here, but early season hero Mason Mount has left the match with an injury for the Blues. He was not replaced by Christian Pulisic, rather Pedro.

Liverpool 0-0 Napoli

It’s been a pretty even affair, though Liverpool can thank Adrian for a pair of great saves on Dries Mertens before Hirving “Chucky” Lozano’s goal was ruled offside.

Red Bull Salzburg 5-1 Genk

Jesse Marsch is now officially the first American man to manage a team in a UEFA Champions League game.

The Red Bull Salzburg boss is also the first to hold a second minute lead, as red hot striker Erling Braut Haland scored his 15th, 16th, and 17th goals in nine matches under Marsch.

Haland also five assists on the season, having entered Tuesday’s match with 658 minutes across all competitions.

Haland is the son of former Leeds, Man City, and Nottingham Forest manager Alf-Inge Haland.

Hwang-Hee Chan has Salzburg’s other goal, and two assists.

Elsewhere

Inter Milan 1-1 Slavia Prague — RECAP
Lyon 1-1 Zenit Saint-Petersburg
Borussia Dortmund 0-0 Barcelona
Ajax 1-0 Lille
Benfica 0-0 RB Leipzig