Five takeaways from the United States’ win over Canada

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You can excuse most people for fixating on what happened to Sydney Leroux. For most of Sunday’s match at BMO Field, there was little to talk about, a punchless Canada team constricting a United States squad that may have been thrown off by John Herdman’s surprise formation shift. It wouldn’t have been the first time a team had to collect itself against a surprise 3-5-2.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the U.S.’s first two goals exploited the formation. On the first, Abby Wambach went wide left, played behind Canada’s wing back, creating a one-on-one for Alex Morgan against Emily Zurrer. Tom Sermanni couldn’t have asked for a better matchup. On the second, Tobin Heath immediately played wide left into a similar space. The movement was different, but it exploited the same weakness – the room wide of the back three giving Morgan space behind Canada’s wing back. On her stronger left foot, Morgan completed her brace in the 72nd minute, and the U.S. had secured their eventual 3-0 win.

For Herdman, the switch was worth the gamble. Canada may not have reproduced Manchester’s dramatics, but if he had any inkling a formation change could yield results against the U.S., now was the time to try. Despite talk or redemption, lingering feelings from last summer, or this being some kind of launching pad for World Cup 2015, Sunday’s was a meaningless, out-of-cycle friendly, one which justified experiments on both sides of the ball.

For the U.S., the biggest experiment was finding a replacement for the injured Kelly O’Hara at left back, though playing without Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo while reintegrating the recovered Carli Lloyd, there were plenty of other talking points for the world’s top-ranked team.

Since the writers’ union I’m imagining in my head obligates me to post “things we learned” lists in threes or fives, let’s go big. Then, after these five notes, we can all go home.

source: Reuters1. Talkin’ a defense that didn’t give up a shot on goal – It’s not only that the U.S. defense didn’t give up a shot on goal, it’s debatable whether they even gave up a shot. Officially, Canada gets a face-saving “1” in the shots column, but it took over 90 minutes to record it, and given the shot in question may have been as far from goal after it hit Tiffany Cameron’s shin as before, it was more of a shot away from goal.

So reasons for Canada’s problems: The formation change probably didn’t help. Melissa Tancredi starting while otherwise on hiatus also diminished a valuable part. But you also have to give the U.S. defense some credit. No shots on goal against a team featuring Christine Sinclair and Diana Matheson? No complaints there.

That leads to the central defense question. Whitney Engen, in what otherwise looked like a ‘starting our best’ kind of team, got the call along side Christie Rampone. Is that a hint as to Tom Sermanni’s depth chart? Who knows, but after another strong performance by the Liverpool defender, nobody would begrudge Sermanni if Engen has become the default choice.

2. Crystal Dunn and a glimpse of left back depth – Remember that post a while ago? You know that one, national team fans. We talked about Kelley O’Hara’s NWSL struggles and the lack of depth at left back. Just a little thought experiment about the value of calling in new players in a world where a player like Rachel Quon trades in her bald eagles and happy meals for maple leafs and Tim Horton’s.

Sunday gave us a glimpse of an O’Hara-less world (though defenders like Ali Krieger, Amy LePeilbet, or Heather Mitts never get hurt, right). With the first choice left back still recovering from an ankle injury, North Carolina’s Crystal Dunn got her first start at left back. She’d previously playing on the right, but with no other left backs called into camp, the Tar Heel beat out Kristie Mewis for the start.

The results were mixed. Going forward, Dunn showed a lot of composure, contributed to a passing game in a way the more dynamic (read: fly forward and scare the crap out of the other team) O’Hara doesn’t. She led the teamin passing efficiency, but in the end, her contributions were a six of one half, half-dozen of the other debate: the wide threat O’Hara can offer versus the help a player like Dunn could give in support of the midfield. It’s interesting to think what a different style of player could offer.

But interesting is where it stopped. With left midfielder Tobin Heath becoming more accustomed to cutting in from the left, contributing in the space behind the strikers, a presence like O’Hara’s is really needed. There were so many times you’d look at the U.S.’s build up, particularly in the first half, and imagine O’Hara bursting down that left side, drawing defenders with her. In that regard, she was missed.

There was also a thankfully not-so-key moment where O’Hara’s absence was apparent at the back. In the 42nd minute, Sinclair burst from the right flank, catching Dunn (and to a certain extent, Rampone) flat-footed as she raced onto a ball sent past the defense. A quick read from Nicole Barnhart defused the situation, but “slow to react to Christine Sinclair” isn’t something that should appear on one of your scouting reports.

Add in a second half instance where she kept Sinclair onside (though the linesperson saw it differently) and Dunn was a little shaky in defense. Give her some credit, though. It was only her first start there for the U.S. – a decent jumping off point, especially for a prospective number two. But the lapses still reminded you how far O’Hara’s come.

3. So that’s the number three goalkeeper, huh? – Without any shots to stop, it’s hard to be too effusive about Nicole Barnhart, yet “Barnie” was as advertised: Solid. Her highlight was the read to come out quickly on Sinclair in the 42nd minute, but in claiming crosses before they could reach their targets, she played he part in keeping that shot total down.

Much like the situation in central defense, the performance prompts a question about Sermanni’s depth chart. Who’s the No. 2? Presumably, Hope Solo is still the No. 1, but until Jill Loyden broke her hand, it was thought the Sky Blue goalkeeper had asserted herself as Solo’s understudy. But with Barnhart getting the call today, doing well over 90 minutes, is she poised to reclaim the backup’s role?

The tea leaves are still too murky on this one. And ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter too much.

source: Reuters4. Not bad, Carli Lloyd. Welcome back – Maybe the time off charged Carli Lloyd’s batteries, because ever since she was cleared to play in mid-May, she’s looked very good. In her first start, playing behind Abby Wambach in Western New York’s 4-2-3-1, Lloyd showed promise in a role she’s never had the opportunity to play with the national team. And today, given a place in the starting XI despite only one full NWSL game, Lloyd was nearly as impressive, showing little of the rust you’d expect from somebody who spent most of the spring on the sidelines.

One of the big questions ahead of Tom Sermanni’s arrival centered around midfield, with many asking how long the Lloyd-Shannon Boxx partnership would remain viable. With questions regarding both the personnel and the tactics (the pair often deployed as an old school, stoic 4-4-2 duo), the U.S. looked ill-equipped to match up against the Germanys and Frances of the world.

But perhaps the original question, one of tactics and talent, is less complicated than originally thought. With the tweaks Sermanni’s making to Pia Sundhage’s team, Lloyd may end up more than an opportunistic goal scorer often left outmatched against teams capable of contesting the midfield. Maybe a player teammates and coaches quickly label as a highly skilled playmaker will have more chances to show those talents.

Like so many in these early days of Sermanni, the potential evolution of Carli Lloyd is something to note, file away, and potentially ignore. She may just have a spring in her step, enthused by returning after a long layoff.

source: Reuters5. Tobin Heath – on the left; Tobin Heath – through the middle – Go back in time a year and buy 2012 Richard a second beer and he’ll talk for an hour about how the U.S. needs to move Tobin Heath to the middle. The diatribe will likely espouse the virtues of the 4-3-3, the idea of Lauren Cheney as a ideal regista, and a blurry-eyed justification of Becky Sauerbrunn as a potential Sergio Busquets. I’m not proud of what I was.

The basic justification for Tobin Heath in the middle was getting her on the ball. She’s the team’s most skilled player. She’s its best playmaker, and getting her out of a role where she’s constantly taking on right backs would leverage her creativity. Why not get your best players on the ball?

Nowadays, Heath’s seeing enough of the ball, albeit still starting as a left-ish midfielder. But whereas over the last couple of years she was still settling into that role, now she’s become so comfortable that she’s begun cutting in with regularity, her flank left open in the attacking phase, the fullback expected to provide the width.

In the second half on Sunday, Heath spent much of her time within the width of the penalty area, a position that paid dividends in two distinct moments. In the 53rd minute, Heath was closer to the right side of the field while playing a defense-splitting ball for Alex Morgan, with only a last-ditch lunge from Kadeisha Buchanan preventing a chance on Erin McLeod. Twenty minutes later, Heath forced a turnover in the middle of the park and immediately played a long ball that led to the second goal.

The biggest complaint about Tobin Heath as a left midfielder is the time she spends on the ball, but that’s a function of position as well as tactics. At left mid, she’s asked to break down the opposing right back, something that both utilizes and limits her talents.

Through the middle, all of Heath’s skill, quick decision making, and scoring talent can be utilized. We got another glimpse of that in the second half.

Adams: RB Leipzig ‘really, really excited’ to face PSG in UCL semifinal

Tyler Adams RB Leipzig
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Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig hero? The 21-year-old American midfielder wasn’t the hero RB Leipzig fans — or U.S. men’s national team fans, even — expected to celebrate on Thursday, but that’s the reality after he scored an 88th-minute winner (WATCH HERE) to knock off Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Man City want Thiago; Man Utd still chasing Sancho ]

The victory sends Leipzig to its first-ever UCL semifinal appearance, where they’ll face French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. Adams didn’t start the game — he came on as a 72nd-minute substitute — and while he found that a bit disappointing at first, the New York Red Bulls academy product played his part and provided a far greater impact than anyone could have expected — quotes from CBS Sports (video below):

“It was very difficult. For the first 70 minutes, it was a close game so when I came on I wanted to bring energy and help the team in any way possible. Getting your first goal is unexpected for me — I’m not a typical goalscorer — but I’m happy that I could help the team.”

“Coming into this game, I was told that I wasn’t going to start but I needed to be ready to come off the bench and make an impact. I had to get myself in the right mindset to help the team in any way possible. We had a great game plan and everybody gave everything that they had. Not everybody is necessarily 90-minutes fit right now after a three-week holiday, so we had to be prepared and we were.”

“We’re really, really excited. We know that Paris are a great team, we saw what they did against Atalanta yesterday and they’ve got really good players. Now it’s about recovering in the right way, getting ourselves right mentally and working on the game plan. We’re confident in ourselves, you saw that today.”

USMNT’s Tyler Adams’ goal sends RB Leipzig to UCL semifinal (video)

Tyler Adams goal
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Tyler Adams goal: The American scored an 88th-minute goal, which proved to be the game-winner, to send RB Leipzig to its first-ever UEFA Champions League semifinal appearance on Thursday, knocking off Atletico Madrid 2-1 in the process.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

All three goals were scored in the second half after a forgettable first half was short on scoring chances, and it was Adams, who came into the game as a 72nd-minute substitute who delivered the decisive blow.

Atleti’s first chance of the game came in the 10th minute. Stefan Savic rose above the crowd to get his head to Renan Lodi’s floated free kick, but Peter Gulacsi managed to get both hands on the ball and keep it from crossing the goal line despite backpedaling and falling to the ground.

Atleti’s best chance of the first half came when Yannick Carrasco went dangerously close to putting Atleti ahead in the 13th minute, but Gulacsi was quick to cover his near post and palm the ball wide. After starting brightly, it was virtual radio silence from Los Rojiblancos after that.

To be fair to Atleti, it wasn’t any better for Leipzig — in fact, it was worse in the opening 45 minutes. To illustrate their inability to create scoring chances, let alone shots, a stat: despite holding more than 62 percent of possession at halftime, their four shots were taken by their defensive midfielder (1), a center back (1) and another center back (2).

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Leipzig’s first shot taken by an attacking player came in the 51st minute, and it resulted in the game’s opening goal. It began with a prolonged period of possession to free Marcel Sabitzer down the right side of Atleti’s penatly area. The Austrian cross into the box floated ever so dangerously toward the penalty spot, and Dani Olmo arrive just in the nick of time to glance it past Jan Oblak.

Atleti were handed a lifeline in the 70th minute, though, as Lukas Klostermann was badly beaten by Joao Felix as he made a diagonal run into the penalty area and received the ball near the penalty spot. Klostermann cut him down from behind and gave away a penalty kick. It was Felix, who only entered the game as a substitute in the 58th minute who stepped up and converted past Gulacsi, with ice in his veins.

Coincidentally enough, it was Felix’s introduction — and immediate impact on the game — which appeared to necessitate Adams’ introduction to stifle the Portuguese’s threat. The rest, as they say, is history.

Up next for Leipzig is a semifinal clash with Paris Saint-Germain, who needed a stoppage-time comeback to knock off Atalanta and advance from Thursday’s quarterfinal.

Transfer news: Man City want Thiago; Man Utd still chasing Sancho

Man City Thiago
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In the latest transfer news, Man City have entered the race to sign Thiago Alcantara, Manchester United aren’t giving up on Jadon Sancho, and an entire squad has been put up for sale…

[ MORE: World Cup winner Matuidi reunites with Beckham at Inter Miami ]

Man City enter race for Thiago

On Wednesday, Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick endorsed Thiago’s heavily rumored move to the Premier League after negotiations over a new contract had reportedly reached an impasse. That seemed to pave the way for Thiago, who’ll be out of contract next summer, to move to Liverpool, the most commonly reported destination in recent weeks. Not so fast, according to a report out of Germany, as Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, who worked with Thiago while at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, have reportedly entered the race. Liverpool are reportedly only willing to pay $35 million for the free agent-to-be.

Man United still chasing Sancho

Despite Borussia Dortmund’s increasing annoyance over a lack of progress in negotiations for winger Sancho, Manchester United continue to pursue the 20-year-old Englishman and have reportedly put all other transfer business on hold while doing so. According to another report, the contract Man United offered to Sancho would have resulted in the player taking a pay cut upon completing the move.

[ MORE: Thiago to Liverpool: Bayern boss urges Premier League move ]

Lacazette to Juventus

According to a report out of Italy, Juventus have made initial contact with Arsenal over a possible deal for forward Alexandre Lacazette. The 29-year-old has two years remaining on his contract, but the thinking here seems to be that Lacazette is quite clearly the no. 2 forward behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Juve are prepared to offer the Frenchman a chance to be more of a star man.

Fire sale at Valencia

Valencia have put their entire squad, with the lone exception of Jose Gaya, up for sale in an attempt to balance their financial books. The La Liga side’s desperate need for funds comes as a result of missing out on all European competitions after finishing ninth in the league, combined with the financial hardships brought about by COVID-19. Clubs all around Europe have been alerted to Valencia’s fire-sale approach. It remains to be seen how much of a “deal” can be had, or if Valencia can squeeze maximum value out of each player with so little leverage.

Key battles in Champions League quarterfinals

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The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus an intriguing tie between RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.

[ MORE: Man City beat Real Madrid ]

In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16. Bayern v. Barcelona should be all-out attack, while Atletico v. Leipzig will be full of grit.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.

Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League quarterfinals

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Diego Simeone has gone extremely defensive — even for him — by selecting defensive midfielder Marcos Llorente as a second striker alongside Diego Costa. Meanwhile for Leipzig, U.S. men’s national team youngster Tyler Adams is on the bench.


Key battles

RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa

This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.

Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba

Barcelona - Bayern
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Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.

Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay

Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.

Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera

Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.