Altidore, Johnson goals lead United States past Panama, to top of CONCACAF qualifying

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SEATTLE – And just like that, all the consternation of the Jurgen Klinsmann era seems like a distant memory, with the United States Men’s National Team’s 2-0 victory over Panama on Tuesday vaulting the team to the top of their World Cup qualifying group.

A perfectly executed a first half counter attack say Jozy Altidore finish a Fabian Johnson cross in the 36th minute, opening the scoring for the Americans. Early in the second half, Geoff Cameron lofted a ball over the Panamanian defense for Eddie Johnson, the Seattle Sounder finishing into the left of goal in front of 40,847 of his local fans, giving the U.S. their two-goal margin.

The win leaves the U.S. at the top of CONCACAF qualifying, their three points enough to leap-frog a Costa Rican team that drew, 0-0, in Mexico City.

In a game played without starting midfielder Jermaine Jones, we knew Michael Bradley was going to be important, and while dropping back early and orchestrating play toward a left side the U.S. seemed intent to leverage, the American maestro was quickly at his game-dictating best. But it was his drive, not his orchestration, that helped produce the first goal, with Bradley taking a 36th minute ball won by Cameron and snapping the Panamanian defense.

Bursting through midfield, Bradley drew the back line to him before playing wide left at the edge of the U.S.’s final third. There Fabian Johnson had all day to hit an indefensible ball across goal for Altidore. The striker’s third goal in as many games gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead.

(MORE: Five things we learned from the U.S. win)

Having controlled play through much of the half, the U.S. were right to claim the first goal, one that could have come earlier. In the third minute, Fabian Johnson’s half-volley from nine yards out flew over the Jaime Penedo’s goal. Three minutes later, a cross from DaMarcus Beasley whiffed on by Johnson saw Clint Dempsey’s own half-volley rushed by Carlos Rodriguez. In the 22nd minute, a cross knocked down for Bradley was headed for nylon had it avoided Dempsey at the edge of the six. By the time the U.S. broke through in the 36th minute, a series of chances complemented their constant forays down the left to cast them as the more effective side.

Panama, however, had their own isolated moments as they tried to exploit Brad Evans down their own left side. Left back Carlos Rodriguez appeared to beat him early before slipping on a suspect pitch, one that saw each side’s players in constant danger of going to ground. As the half went on, left-wing Alberto Quintero gave Evans problems, but with Panama unable to maintain significant possession, the Canaleros had far less success down their left then the U.S. had down theirs.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings vs. Panama)

After an initial feeling out period to start the second half, the United States doubled their lead in the 53rd minute. Beasley, on the ball near the center line, was allowed to cut in before playing forward to Cameron. The Stoke City defender turned before lifting a ball behind the defense for Eddie Johnson, who’d beat Rodriguez from his right midfield position. After settling the ball in the right of the box, Johnson used his second touch to finish far post on Penedo, giving the U.S. their 2-0 lead.

Although Dempsey nearly added to the U.S.’s lead in the 63rd while Beasley hit the post in the 79th, the Americans second half was defined by a confident control they had exhibited from the opening kickoff. Without Blas Pérez in the team for Panama, the visitors lacked a focal point in attack, though even if the FC Dallas striker had made the trip, it’s unlikely he would have changed his team’s destiny. As they did in Jamaica, the U.S. looked like a team that has come into its own, but whereas a second half blip forced the States to find some late heroics to win in Kingston, Tuesday’s game displayed a calm authority befitting the best team in their region.

Sitting on top of “The Hex,” the U.S. has CONCACAF’s best claim to that title, though if there are any doubts as to whether Klinsmann’s team is for real, the squad get another chance to silence critics next Tuesday. At Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah, the U.S. will have an opportunity to avenge their only loss of qualifying’s final round when they face the fourth-place Hondurans in Sandy.

Fulham fire Jokanovic, hire Ranieri as new manager

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Bottom of the Premier League table and leaking goals galore, something had to change at Fulham.

It was the manager.

Slavisa Jokanovic became the first Premier League manager fired in the 2018-19 season and the Cottagers sprung quite a surprise by hiring former Chelsea and Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri as his replacement. In a strange coincidence, Jokanovic was actually Ranieri’s first signing as Chelsea manager back in 2000.

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Ranieri last coached in England with Leicester as he led them to an incredible Premier League title win in his only full season in charge in 2015-16.

The following season he was fired in February 2017 with the Foxes in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, and since then Ranieri coached at Nantes in France for the 2017-18 Ligue 1 campaign.

Ranieri, who coached Fulham’s west London rivals Chelsea in 2003-05, has been without a job for the past few months, but the well-traveled manager — formerly of AS Monaco, Roma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Greece among many others — is now back in the thick of things as he aims to lead American-owned club out of relegation trouble.

Speaking about his arrival at Fulham, the lovable Italian coach is eager to work with his squad over the international break to plan for his first game in charge against Southampton on Nov. 24.

“It is an honor to accept Mr. Khan’s invitation and opportunity to lead Fulham, a fantastic club with tradition and history,” Ranieri said. “The objective at Fulham should never be to merely survive in the Premier League. We must at all times be a difficult opponent and should expect to succeed. This Fulham squad has exceptional talent that is contrary to its position in the table. I know this team is very capable of better performances, which we will work on straight away as we prepare for Southampton at the Cottage.”

Fulham went on to say that Tony Khan, Vice Chairman and Director of Football Operations, “considered and spoke with a number of potential candidates within the past week” and that Ranieri was the “mutual and obvious choice.”

The club added that Tony Khan “will continue to oversee first team player recruitment and contractual agreements” and Ranieri will work closely with him on that.

What does Ranieri have to sort out at Fulham? In short, a lot.

Jokanovic led Fulham to promotion via the playoffs last season (after they reached the playoffs the season before too) and over the summer the club spent big, splashing out over $130 million on new players as Khan aimed to solidify the club in the Premier League.

Things didn’t go as planned over the opening months of the season with Fulham’s defense the leakiest in the PL and Jokanovic chopping and changing his team, especially his defense, most weeks. Over recent weeks Khan backed Jokanovic to turn things around, but they’ve acted swiftly with Fulham at risk of being cut adrift at the bottom of the table.

Ranieri will first do what he does best, make Fulham difficult to beat, but there’s no denying that his defensive philosophy is totally different to the free-flowing play Jokanovic preferred.

That attractive, attacking style of play led to the recruitment of most of the current squad under Khan and Jokanovic, so asking them to play in a solid 4-4-2 and to take no risks at the back will be a total culture shift for Fulham’s players.

This will be very interesting, and Ranieri will face his two former clubs in his first three games in charge. After hosting Saints, Fulham head to Chelsea for a west London derby on Dec. 2, then host Leicester on Dec. 5.

Fulham have acted quicker than they did in 2013-14 when they were last in the Premier League and were ultimately relegated after having Martin Jol in charge until December, then ene Meulensteen and Felix Magath were in charge later that season.

West Ham playmaker Arnautovic admits he’s playing hurt

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West Ham playmaker Marko Arnautovic is in his second season with the Hammers, and while leading West Ham with five goals on the season, he’s definitely not 100%. Still, his team needs him – both club and country – and so he’ll keep suiting up even through the pain.

Arnautovic, on international duty with Austria, admitted to hometown media that he needs regular medical treatment to stay on the pitch this season.

“I can not say if I’ll get an injection on Thursday,” Arnautovic said. “In my knee, fluid accumulates again and again. Of course, there are people who say they should rest themselves and do nothing for a week, but it’s just difficult.”

Arnautovic would not elaborate on the type of injection he is receiving, but it’s likely a steroid or other anti-inflammatory injection to keep the swelling in his knee to a minimum. He also may be having his knee drained, a painful process that involves physically removing fluid buildup through a syringe.

The 29-year-old was originally injured in a 3-1 win over Everton in mid-September, the club’s first win of the season. He was withdrawn from that match in the 64th minute after scoring a goal and assisting another, and missed the subsequent Premier League match against Chelsea. He returned to play 83 minutes against Manchester United the next time out, and has missed only one match since, playing the full 90 minutes in the other three.

To keep his knee as healthy as possible, Arnautovic told Sky Sports earlier last month that he was avoiding training too much. “The knee is not the best but I am fit and I can play,” Arnautovic said. “I’m not training a lot at West Ham to try and my knee calm.”

“After a game I need some rest for about two or three days. By the middle of the week I am training normally with the team, training in full. And on the weekend I can play, that is the most important thing. Obviously you can’t do anything on this bone bruise.”

Report: Jadon Sancho to start for England vs United States

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Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic are teenage teammates for Borussia Dortmund, a shining light for the growing generation of young internationals. Now, they will face each other on the field as international opponents on Friday as the United States and England clash at Wembley.

According to a report by Sky Sports, Sancho is set for his full international debut as Gareth Southgate will include Sancho in his starting lineup. It will be Sancho’s second cap after earning his first against Croatia in October.

That means it’s likely that the two will both be included from the opening whistle, as Pulisic is as guaranteed a starter as they come on the United States, barring injury.

Sancho has been white hot at the club level this season, scoring four goals and assisting five while earning a starting role with his form. One of his main teammates affected with diminished minutes as a result of Sancho’s form is Pulisic, who has not started in any of the last five Bundesliga matches and has just 64 minutes in that span.

Pulisic started against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on October 24, and eventually saw Sancho replace him in the 79th minute, with the young English international scoring in the 4-0 win. The two then started opposite each other against Atletico in the reverse fixture a week ago in a 2-0 loss.

Sancho will get the opportunity to prove his worth with a critical match against Croatia is on the horizon, as England has the chance to secure a spot in the Nations League semi-finals with a win. This will come alongside Wayne Rooney, who will be included in the squad and get the opportunity to play in a farewell match. Sancho was just two years old when Rooney made his England debut.

2018 MLS awards: Tata wins Coach, Zlatan wins Goal

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Major League Soccer announced a number of its regular season awards on Tuesday, and a pair of the league’s international stars were at the forefront of the achievements.

Outgoing Atlanta United manager Gerardo Martino won Coach of the Year, while LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the league’s Goal of the Year award for his incredible long-distance strike against rivals LAFC back in late March.

Martino, in his second year in charge as Atlanta United’s first and only manager in franchise history, came just a point from securing the team’s first Supporters’ Shield in just its second year of existence. The club just won its first playoff series in club history as well, beating NYFC over two legs to reach the Eastern Conference finals. The Argentine has announced he will depart the club at the end of the season, with reports pinning him to a job with the Mexican national team.

LAFC manager Bob Bradley finished second in the Coach of the Year award, having led the first-year club to a third-place finish in the Western Conference and a playoff spot before being dumped by Real Salt Lake in the knockout round.

Ibrahimovic won Goal of the Year with his audacious half-volleyed strike from almost 40 yards out that chipped LAFC goalkeeper Tyler Miller and leveled the score. It was Ibrahimovic’s first MLS goal after moving to the Galaxy in the offseason from Manchester United. He scored again that match, a stoppage-time winner in the brand new derby.

Other awards were handed out during the hour-long awards ceremony on Periscope, including the Save of the Year, which went to Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei for ranging across his net to stop Colorado Rapids forward Shkelzen Gashi.

Skill Play of the Year went to Portland’s Samuel Armenteros for an incredible dink past Colorado defender Danny Wilson just before scoring the game’s first goal. The Celebration of the Year went to Bradley Wright-Phillips for the aftermath of his 100th MLS goal where he proceeded to remove his jersey to reveal another underneath with the number 100.