Three things that looked great for the United States vs. Germany … and three that didn’t

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We already talked about Jozy Altidore, our pick for Man of the Match. Past that, here are three things that looked great for the United States in Sunday’s 4-3 win over Germany .. and then three that, well, not so much …

(MORE: Man of the Match, Altidore)

Three that worked well …

Michael Bradley as the essential linchpin

It’s not enough at this point to say the team is better with Michael Bradley in the lineup. Everyone knows that. Let’s walk a step further and say this: The team just doesn’t work without Michael Bradley on the field.

The team just moves forward with such improved clarity and balance when he’s around. Bradley’s elemental movement and ability to direct others is absolutely essential. His touches are so clean. And when the United Sates loses possession, the pressure in  midfield arrives so much more reliably when Bradley partners with Jermaine Jones.

High pressure up the field

Remember two things about Sunday’s result. First, it was a friendly – and you know what we always say about reading too much into friendlies, one way or the other. And the other remark here is how Germany allowed the United States to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, sitting back and letting the United States get comfortable. (Well, with that, and with shaky marking, some ridiculous goalkeeping …)

Yes, it was hot Sunday in D.C.  But Klinsmann and Co. chose to ignore the conditions and pursue the usual tactical goal, pressuring up high up the field rather than yielding to the sultry afternoon and dropping into low pressure crouch as Germany did. It was a fairly bold call from Klinsmann, but it worked beautifully.

(MORE: Video of Germany’s ridiculous own goal Sunday)

Better individual stuff from attackers

We won’t write books about Fabian Johnson’s move into midfield, but it wasn’t bad, either. His timing on runs inside did leave the Germans confused at moments.

Graham Zusi had a far more effective match along the right, making good choices and crossing well from the right while still tracking reliably back to assist his inexperienced right back.

And then there’s Dempsey, who had a quiet first half. But how many times have we seen it now, where “Deuce” does seem to be having a sleepy evening – right up to the moment he puts one or two into goal?

And now three elements we need to talk about …

The outside back situation

Klinsmann made a change along the right with utility man Brad Evans taking his turn along the outside of the back line. The Seattle Sounder, a real thinking man’s player, had a solid first half defensively. Then again, he and left back DaMarcus Beasley needed something more assertive going forward. Yes, it’s nit-picky, but outside backs at this level have to press into the attack.

And then there’s Edgar Castillo, who replaced Beasley midway through the second half and got beat badly two or three times. So, there’s still plenty to talk about at both outside back spots.

Omar Gonzalez giving up a goal

The big LA Galaxy center back had a reasonable match all the way around, vocal, winning balls and generally finding good spots. But he lost his mark on Germany’s second goal, directly off a corner kick, furthering an alarming trend where Gonzalez momentarily drops concentration. Simply put, Gonzalez’s game will reach the next level when he holds strict concentration for 90 minutes, and not a second less.

Of course, Gonzalez wasn’t alone in flagging concentration during certain spells. Keep reading …

Two concerning periods of play

As positive as the response was to begin Sunday’s match – shaking off the stinker against Belgium and kicking off so confidently against Germany – the second half had a couple of concerning windows, where  “response” was seriously lacking. Klinsmann had warned his team to be particularly alert over the first 10 minutes, to look for a proud German team to put their big and talented boots on this game.

Sure enough, the Americans looked a bit fat and happy, a bit labored immediately after intermission. And Germany got back in the game.

Dempsey hit a couple of goals and order seemed restored in a 4-1 lead. Only, Klinsmann’s kids seemed to drop concentration again, this time at about 75 minutes, allowing the visitors to make things far from comfortable and leaving the Americans to do the “just hanging on” thing by the end.

(MORE: Goals galore, as the United States tops Germany, 4-3)

USMNT Player Ratings from win over Ecuador

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team extended its clean sheet run to 180 minutes under the new coach with a 1-0 defeat of Ecuador in Orlando on Thursday.

[ RECAP: USMNT 1-0 Ecuador ]

The longtime Columbus Crew coach handed notable chances to several MLS mainstays who stood out in January camp, but also re-introduced Christian Pulisic to the fold.

The results were mixed, but the win was deserved as the U.S. did not allow much danger to reach Sean Johnson’s cage.

LINEUPS

Sean Johnson — 6.5 — Had to catch, what, one ball? Still, nice for him to get a clean sheet.

Tim Ream — 7 — A couple of dicey moments, sure, but the man with the captain’s band stood out at left back not just for his assist but his aggression in pressing high up the left flank.

John Brooks — 6.5 — Not much to do, but effective when needed with a win-saving stop. Here’s hope the thigh injury isn’t a notable one. Intelligent and accurate in his passing out of the back.

Aaron Long — 6 — His passing was a bit off early, and that will need to be better at the back of Berhalter’s defense, but overall he was composed and well-drilled.

Tyler Adams — 7.5 — Given he was playing an unusual position with immense responsibility (right), Adams deserves a lot of credit for keeping his motor high over 90 minutes. He only attempted two dribbles, staying in his shoes and venturing wide and forward on occasion. A very promising sign for an ambitious move by Berhalter. That’s a lot of green over there, and green is good —>

Wil Trapp (Off 59′) — 5.5 — He’s not supposed to be the guy who stands out in a game, and should be known for doing the little things, but he’s still not standing out from the pack as someone who should keep Michael Bradley or Tyler Adams from the center of the park.

Weston McKennie (Off 68′) — 5 — Potentially scary injury aside, he will have much better days for the U.S. than this and certainly didn’t show chemistry with Trapp. Second guessing is easy, but flipping McKennie and Adams might’ve been the play.

Paul Arriola (Off 77′) — 6 — An energetic, productive night on the wing takes a hit due to his inability to finish the match’s best scoring chance (even if the save was legit).

Christian Pulisic (Off 62′) — 7 — Not at his sharpest, but still quite lively in producing many American attacks. Had an memorable moment working over Antonio Valencia near the end line.

Jordan Morris (Off 68′) — 6 — Still learning how to be a winger, but a decent and industrious effort for the Seattle Sounders man.

Gyasi Zardes — 7 — It was the goal that did the trick for him over 90 minutes, and it was good to see the Columbus Crew man score a USMNT for the first time since 2016.

Subs

Michael Bradley (On 59′) — 6.5 — Quick decisions and possession-aiding passes with precious few mistakes (See Opta chalkboard from MLSSocccer.com at right).

Sebastian Lletget (On 62′) — 6 — Has to be a bit more careful in his own half, but we’d like to see him get a start against Chile.

Cristian Roldan (On 66′) — 5 — Sloppy with the ball in a short stint.

DeAndre Yedlin (On 66′) — 6 — Busy and ready to produce chances from the right side.

Jonathan Lewis (On 77′) — N/A —

Zardes goal pushes controlling USMNT past Ecuador

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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  • Yanks have not allowed goal in 3 matches under Berhalter
  • Pulisic returns to USMNT set-up
  • MORE: McKennie stretched off
  • Zardes scores deflected winner off Ream feed
  • American control ball, but struggle in final third

Gyasi Zardes scored his seventh international goal and first since the Copa America Centenario as the USMNT handed Ecuador a 1-0 defeat at Orlando City Stadium on Thursday.’s

The win marks the third clean sheet victory in three tries for USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter, who leads the Yanks against Chile on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings ]

The U.S. came out of the gates flying, connecting passes with their wings and fullbacks sitting very wide to stretch the surface.

When Ecuador did collect the ball, the Yanks pressed very hard and won it back.

Industry and speed was the story of the USMNT game, with Christian Pulisic and Jordan Morris leading the way in forcing the match on Ecuador.

Weston McKennie did some heavy lifting in nice combo play with Pulisic and Gyasi Zardes for a chance that was just missing the finishing touch from Paul Arriola (and got a nice save).

Pulisic was felled by a hard foul just inside the Ecuador half in the 55th minute, but carried on and Paul Arriola took a yellow for fouling Jefferson Orejuela in response.

Michael Bradley entered the match for Trapp in the 59th minute, and Pulisic exited for Sebastian Lletget three minutes later.

McKennie then suffered a painful ankle injury and eventually accepted stretcher help to get to the bench.

Zardes put the U.S. ahead when his powerful strike from atop the 18 took a huge deflection off the calf of Robert Arboleda and looped over the head of a flailing Alexander Dominguez.

The play began when Sebastian Lletget’s pressing pushed a poor Ecuadorian clearance to USMNT left back Tim Ream, who spotted Zardes in the middle of the Ecuador half.

USMNT, Schalke mid McKennie stretchered off with ankle injury

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Schalke and USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie limped off the pitch during the second half of a friendly against Ecuador on Thursday in Florida.

McKennie appeared to twist his ankle shortly after being called for a foul in the match, which stood 0-0 at the time.

[ MORE: Hazard, Real, and the back-up plan ]

He left the match with trainer help, and was eventually carted to the bench while seated on a stretcher.

A key piece of the program’s future, the 20-year-old midfielder has been a utility knife in the Bundesliga, playing everywhere from right back to left mid.

Only six players have played more league minutes for Schalke than McKennie, who earned his eighth cap on Thursday.

Making the case: Raheem Sterling as PL Player of the Year

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Even a year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined someone making this case in a rational manner any time soon.

I especially didn’t think it would be me.

But as the Premier League takes a deep breath ahead of the stretch run, I’m going to have to say it.

[ MORE: JPW ranks the candidates ]

Raheem Sterling has been the best attacking player in the Premier League this season, and quite possibly the best player period.

Whether he earns the nod over defender Virgil Van Dijk is another story altogether, as it will probably comes down to wins and losses and one or two titles, but consider how deadly, consistent, and deadly consistent Sterling has been since the start of the season.

Of the four Premier League players who’ve accounted for some combination of 24 goals and assists, Sterling gets the least amount of positive publicity. Eden Hazard has largely been the Chelsea attack, Sergio Aguero has tied the PL hat trick record, and Mohamed Salah is riding his 2017-18 season through a remarkable cold snap of form.

But there’s Sterling, with 15 goals and nine assists in the second-fewest minutes of the bunch (Aguero).

How about these numbers — via WhoScored.com — in 2,149 league minutes?

Sterling is also averaging a tackle and .6 interceptions per match, the best of the bunch, while committed the fewest bad touches per game (most remarkable considering his second touch haunted him for several seasons).

A concession: For what it’s worth given the above stats, Hazard is easily in second of the bunch if not competing directly with Sterling. But Sterling hasn’t been a part of underachieving teams for three different managers, so we’ll abide.

There are two things going against Sterling, neither of which are his fault. The first is that Man City’s dominance of last season and run back into a title right this season has people imagining that the feast of talent at the Etihad Stadium makes numbers an afterthought; That is to say that Sterling, Aguero, and the Silvas (not to mention Leroy Sane) aren’t producing much more than their theoretical replacements.

And maybe there’s something to that, but here’s how important Sterling’s production has been to City.

In Premier League matches in which Sterling neither scored, assisted, nor drew a penalty, City has four wins, two draws, and four losses. When he has, that mark is 17-0 (He sat out wins over Huddersfield Town, Burnley, and Watford to complete Man City’s 24W-2D-4L record).

Aguero, for his part, racked up nine of his goals in three matches. I’m not here to hat trick shame, but Sterling feels a less replaceable part of Pep’s team.

The second thing going against Sterling is a bit more nefarious, linked to articles and conceptions about his gun tattoo or hairstyles. This part, hopefully, doesn’t require us to refute it.

Van Dijk has been phenomenal, and as a longtime defender admirer — those who can’t do it, love those who do it well — I’d be thrilled to see him join N'Golo Kante in non-scorers to claim such an honor.

But VVD was also on the scene for a moment that encapsulates what Sterling has become to City’s attack. He’s arguably been this season’s Leroy Sane, and coincidentally cues up the German with this incisive pass from well outside his office for the January winner against Liverpool.