What we learned from Friday’s U.S. win over Guatemala

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Don’t take too much from this, because a young Guatemalan group was highly overmatched, even by a United States “B” team version.

But we can take some things from Friday’s showy 6-0 win in San Diego, especially in the attack. (Defensively, precious little can be gleaned from a match where the opposition never seriously made U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando to stretch or reach or even punch a ball.)

Stuart Holden is coming along nicely: The re-introductions of Holden and Landon Donovan into the active player pool are surely, in the big, big picture, the ginormous take-aways from an otherwise meaningless June friendly against painfully outmanned opposition.

In fact, getting those two going again prior to the Gold Cup made Friday’s exercise worth it, never mind anything else. Holden looked immediately up for the task, leaning into the game and fizzing up the tempo as Jurgen Klinsmann asked, driving the United States with an urgency that Jose Torres and Kyle Beckerman couldn’t do.

The quality and variety in his passing was especially nice to see. Next challenge for the Bolton man: to demonstrate he can do it over 90 minutes, and can rebound physically to supply the same a few days after that.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings from Friday)

Landon Donovan is back … or something close to it: As I noted in the ratings, the three-time World Cup veteran, looked surprisingly nervous with his first couple of opportunities on the ball.

Afterward – he was probably the best U.S. attacker overall. The sharp movement and sophisticated ability to find gaps, to change the angles with speed, is something missing at times from the U.S. attack (the full U.S. version, that is). Again, all of this is against Guatemala’s rebuilding bunch, but sure signs of the hop and pop finding its way back into Donovan’s game were encouraging – and that is a wonderful development ahead of Brazil.

Klinsmann showed some tactical flexibility: U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann always says the formation isn’t important; it’s the advanced pressure and high tempo that matter, regardless of the tactical arrangement.

That said, it’s still important to put players into the best places for possible success. When the central triangle in last night’s 4-2-3-1failed to get the spacing right (Edgar Castillo and Landon Donovan leaning into the middle further clogged the lanes), Klinsmann wisely reconfigured a few pieces. The switch to a 4-4-2, with Joe Corona moving out to the right and Donovan switching inside, but in a more advanced role alongside Herculez Gomez, the game opened up dramatically for the hosts.

Mix Diskerud and Brek Shea showed something: Klinsmann absolutely wants the men in this bunch to “get it,” to understand that time is running short. More specifically, opportunities to get into the final 23 for Brazil are in short supply – and, really, more than anything else, that’s what this year’s Gold Cup and Friday’s tuneup for it are all about.

Both second-half subs demonstrated an urgency that, frankly, not all players showed Friday. Or, perhaps some others wanted to press their cases, wanted to take the game by the scruff of the neck and show the boss a little something, but just do not have it in them.

Shea did. The final product wasn’t always razor sharp, but his clear desire to turn and burn, his ability to keep grinding on a tiring Guatemalan defense surely said something to Klinsmann.

Same for Diskerud, who may have lapped Jose Torres (for now, at least) with his 45 minutes. Simply put, he was more active off the ball than Torres, hunting diligently for opportunities to tackle or intercept, and was more assertive with the ball, less content to play laterally. Torres needs to study Diskerud’s tempo and make note: That is what Klinsmann wants from the linking position.

VIDEO: Portugal lead Iran at HT; Spain 1-1 Morocco

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We’re through the first 45 minutes of Monday’s Group B finales at the 2018 World Cup, and things are happening. A quick rundown…

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos combined to commit a disastrous gaffe at midfield, resulting in a goal for Khalid Boutaib in the 14th minute. At this point, Spain would have finished second, behind Portugal, and headed to the far more difficult side of the knockout bracket.

Five minutes later, it was Iniesta who, with a little help from some slightly lesser geniuses, unlocked the Moroccan defense to set up Isco for an emphatic finish. La Furia Roja moved back to the top of the group, on goals scored.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

In the afternoon’s other game, Portugal and Iran appeared destined for a 0-0 scoreline at halftime, until Ricardo Quaresma unleashed a stunning, outside-of-the-foot curler from outside the box to beat the goalkeeper and put Portugal ahead — both on the day, and in the table. As things currently stand, Portugal would win the group and Spain would finish second.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 4

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In the fourth episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England players have been preparing for their next match in an unusual way, Argentina has a huge meltdown, and more.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

Click play on the video above to watch the fourth episode in full.

Atlanta leads way with six All-Star Fan XI selections

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It may be hard to believe with all the World Cup festivities going on, but the Major League Soccer season is nearly halfway over.

[ MORE: Toronto FC’s 2018 has been far from their cup-winning 2017 ]

And that means it’s almost All-Star time.

The MLS All-Stars will continue their recent tradition of facing a European superpower in August, with Juventus being welcomed to the United States in early August.

But, which players from MLS will we see in action?

Last season’s expansion sweetheart Atlanta United leads the way in the fan voting with six players from the Eastern Conference side voted into the Fan XI, including attackers Miguel Almiron, Ezequiel Barco, Darlington Nagbe and Josef Martinez.

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender/captain Michael Parkhurst also made the team from Atlanta.

In all, only five clubs were represented based on the Fan XI, with the LA Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Los Angeles FC’s Carlos Vela and Laurent Ciman, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi and Portland Timbers star Diego Valeri each rounding out the squad.


Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United)

Defenders: Michael Parkhurst (Atlanta United), Laurent Ciman (Los Angeles Football Club), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Miguel Almirón (Atlanta United), Ezequiel Barco (Atlanta United), Darlington Nagbe (Atlanta United), Diego Valeri (Portland Timbers)

Forwards: Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Zlatan Ibrahimović (LA Galaxy), Carlos Vela (Los Angeles Football Club – EA SPORTS™ “More Than a Vote” Challenge)

Saudi Arabia steals late win over Egypt in Group A finale

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Saudi Arabia pulled off a late 2-1 win against Egypt on Monday in their Group A finale, as the two nations ended their 2018 World Cup run in the group stage.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Salem Al Sawsari scored in the fifth minute of second half stoppage time to give the Saudis a late winner in the match, as the attacker struck the post in the dying moments before the ball crossed the line.

The Pharaohs took the lead in the 22nd minute, after a tremendous run from Mohamed Salah and lob over the Saudi Arabia goalkeeper.

Salah has two goals at the World Cup for Egypt, who were already eliminated heading into Monday’s match.

Saudi Arabia was granted a chance to equalize prior to halftime, however, goalkeeper Essam El Hadary brilliantly stopped Hattan Bahebri’s penalty kick in the 41st minute to preserve the Egypt advantage.

El Hadary became the oldest player in World Cup history to appear in a match at the age of 45.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

The Egypt keeper wasn’t as lucky the second time around though, with Salmon Al Faraj converting a penalty kick in the 51st minute.

Saudi Arabia finishes group play in third place on three points, while Egypt goes winless in its three matches.