New partner, no problem: Michael Bradley didn’t miss a beat against Panama

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SEATTLE — By full time, the Seattle crowd was the big story, but during most of the match, the man who has slowly gained consensus as the U.S.’s best player put on another show, on that he did without his usually partner in crime. Without Jermaine Jones beside him in midfield, Michael Bradley didn’t miss a beat. And arguably, he raised his game in the absence.

Jones was out of Tuesday’s match, recovering from a concussion. Geoff Cameron stepped in admirably, dominating the space in front of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, but with more limited responsibilities than Jones is asked to take on, Cameron was a distinctly different kind of partner.

“We asked him to win a lot of balls back, cover the two center backs, and have a strong presence in there,” was Jurgen Klinsmann’s description of Cameron’s destroyer role. “I said once you get that ball just keep it simple. Kind Michael Bradley. Find Clint (Dempsey). Find the players around him, and  cover our two center backs.”

That meant the push would have to come from Bradley, something we saw on the U.S.’s first goal. Cameron’s win-and-give directive sprung Bradley in the 36th minute, the 25-year-old surging through the Panamanian midfield and collapsing the Canaleros defense before playing wide to Fabian Johnson, who had all the space and time he needed to hit a perfect cross to Jozy Altidore.

Even before the goal, Bradley’s impact was huge, dropping back into defense to pick up the ball and orchestrate the U.S.’s very deliberate plan. When Eddie Johnson starts in midfield, the U.S. is almost always going to have an advantage when the Sounder target man attacks the far post. With DaMarcus Beasley releasing early from his left back position, the U.S. wanted to build down the left before playing to Johnson and Jozy Altidore. It was Bradley’s job to orchestrate that.

source:  Of the 46 passes Bradley attempted in the first half (pictured), only nine went from left-to-right in the right side of the field. The remaining 38 were either already on the left or moved the ball in that direction (or straight forward). Many went to Besler, as Bradley sought to steer play across the back. There were some long diagonals toward the byline for Beasley. A series of other balls were just the small plays you’d expect from a midfielder who was trying to build box-to-box.

For the day, Bradley completed 78 of the 87 passes he attempted. Cameron was 47 for 56, but with the disparity in attempts, you can see the command Bradley had of the U.S.’s passing game.

“As a midfielder, you’re constantly trying to read the game,” Bradley explained, asked about the adjustments he made in Jones’ absence. “You’re constantly trying to find space. You’re trying to find the spots on the field where you can make an impact. And at times that’s going to be defensively. At times it’s going to be attacking-wise.

“Sure, when you’re playing with Geoff, the situations that you find yourself in are going to be different. There’s going to be the opportunity to be a little bit more mobile at times, to be a little bit more two-way, to find the opportunities to move forward into the attack. I think that understanding was good tonight.”

Good might be an understatement. Cameron’s simplified role may the understanding easier, but Bradley still had to execute. Stepping up in Jones’s absence and triggering the U.S.’s opening goal, Bradley’s execution helped push his team to the top of CONCACAF qualifying.

Workers to fix automation issues on Atlanta stadium’s roof

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ATLANTA (AP) Workers will begin the final construction phase of Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s tricky retractable roof on Tuesday, nine months after the facility opened.

The $1.5 billion stadium will be open in good weather for the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United games. Automation problems kept the roof closed for most of the stadium’s first year.

Beginning Tuesday, the roof will remain in a locked open position for 10 days, including June 2, when Atlanta United plays the Philadelphia Union.

The management group of Arthur Blank, who owns the Falcons and Atlanta United, says the final commissioning work to complete the automation will last several weeks.

When work is completed, the roof is expected to close or open in as few as 12 minutes.

“The complexity of the design and our heavy events schedule has made it take longer than we had hoped, but great things take time and we’re happy to see the finish line,” Steve Cannon, CEO of Blank’s management group, said in a statement.

The stadium will be host to the 2019 Super Bowl. The NFL prefers for the roof to be open for the Super Bowl, weather permitting.

The roof has been closed for most major events at the new stadium, including the Southeastern Conference championship game, Peach Bowl and College Football Playoff national championship game.

For the Falcons’ first season in their new home, the roof was open only for the first home regular-season game against Green Bay.

Falcons CEO Rich McKay said on Jan. 24 the plan was to have more games played with the roof “fully operational.”

“Fully operational means you will see us go to much more of an open configuration as we designed at the beginning,” McKay said. “When it’s ready to go, we’ll be open depending on weather.”

Ongoing work on the roof delayed the 2017 opening of the stadium by about a month. Atlanta United used Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium as its temporary home for the inaugural season in 2017 before moving to the new stadium.

The stadium will host the men’s NCAA Final Four in 2020.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

MLS roundup: Dynamo top NYCFC, Toronto suffers seventh defeat

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Three matches took over the slate of Major League Soccer’s Friday night fixture list, and it was a rough evening for two of the Eastern Conference’s best clubs.

Here’s a look back at the night’s matches.


Toronto FC 0-1 FC Dallas

Last season’s MLS Cup winners are in some real danger right now, with Greg Vanney’s side losing their seventh match of the year on Friday. To put that into context, TFC lost five regular season matches a season ago, en route to their first MLS title. Despite a dominating effort from the host, including nine shots on target (23 shots overall), Sebastian Giovinco and TFC simply couldn’t break past Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez.

In all, Gonzalez made nine saves on the night. Check out a few of them below.

Houston Dynamo 3-1 New York City FC

David Villa made the Dynamo pay for an early miscommunication in clearing from the back, but after that, the home side simply dominated. The NYCFC back line looked out of sorts on a number of occasions, including the first goal allowed on an Alejandro Fuenmayor header at the far post. The Dynamo are now unbeaten in their last four matches.

LA Galaxy 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes

In reality, this was probably an unfair result considering the way the two sides have been playing as of late. Neither side managed a shot on target until the 82nd minute, however, the Galaxy nicked a goal late through Romain Alessandrini.

The Quakes had reason to be furious though in the first half when Valeri Qazaishvili’s volley from inside the Galaxy penalty area hit the arm of Emrah Klimenta. No penalty decision was made though, and it was likely the only legitimate chance of the match.

Chicharito says Mexican team “always feels welcome” in the United States

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Mexico will take on Wales on Monday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA as they warm up for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Playing in the United States is nothing new for the USMNT’s southern neighbors, and it doesn’t phase them. In fact, they love it.

Star striker Chicharito told reporters that he and the rest of the squad is more than happy playing north of the border, because according to him, apart from a pair of venues, they can’t even tell they’re on the road.

“We always feel welcome here,” Chicharito said. “It’s like our second country, if we can say that, apart from Columbus [Ohio] and apart from the stadium in Miami when we played Colombia…those two stadiums, that’s the only time I’ve felt that we were the away team.”

Chicharito knows that the high population of his countrymen and women in the United States helps the Mexican team feel close to home when they play over the border. He’s all for the melting pot of the US.

“We feel at home [in the United States],” Chicharito said. “We have plenty of Mexicans here, so I don’t know what else to tell you, we feel welcome, we feel glad, happy to be in touch with those people here. They are sacrificing a lot of things, and they are all enjoying their lives that they decide to live in the USA…it’s great. It’s great when you come to another country and you feel like you are home. You see all the stadium green, shouting and screaming your names, screaming your goals, so yeah, it’s great.”

Mexico will play Wales on Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET, and will return home to take on Scotland at Azteca on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET.

England international Delph expecting child in middle of World Cup

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England international Fabian Delph could face quite the dilemma if England advances past the group stage of the World Cup.

Delph’s wife Natalie is expecting the couple’s third child on June 30, which is two days after their pivotal group stage match against Belgium, and two days before the squad would take the field July 1 for its Round of 16 game should they win Group G. If they finish second in the group, they would play their Round of 16 game on July 3.

When asked what his plans are, Delph joked that his wife would manage on her own. “She’s tough, she’s a Yorkshire lass so she’ll deal with it,” Delph said with a smile.

He then coughed up the truth: they’re not quite sure what the plan is.

“We’re not 100% certain, with a game on the 28th there might be an opportunity to fly back and then get back fast,” he said. “[England manager] Gareth [Southgate] has been fantastic. There’s nothing more important than family to me – family always comes first and always will.”

There’s another dilemma that Southgate must navigate involving Delph. The 28-year-old is a natural winger, but played wing-back in Pep Guardiola‘s title-winning system for much of the year and saw a massive uptick in form in the new role, playing in place of the injured Benjamin Mendy. Southgate must decide where he wants to deploy Delph – if at all – and if he wishes to fit his formation and tactics to mold Delph’s season under Guardiola.