What we learned from the United States national team’s Gold Cup win over Costa Rica

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Brek Shea found some badly needed relief

Brek Shea’s late, game-winning finish was calm stuff, but far from perfect; had Ticos’ goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton stood his ground and not committed to his left, the big U.S. winger’s shot probably would have nailed him right in the chest.

Then again, it doesn’t matter. Shea (pictured) did what he does when at his best, seeing a chance to run directly at goal. And then he manufactured a moment that mattered, turning the opportunity into a goal – and strike that will help keep him in the World Cup roster conversation. He needed it something awful after that startling poor afternoon against Cuba.

As we keep saying, this tournament is really all about helping to assess which players are moving up in the depth chart ahead of next May’s important roster decision. Speaking of which …

Some players are running out of time

Alejandro Bedoya and Michael Parkhurst, combining along the U.S. right side, failed to do much at all. And that may be it for them, because the matches are only going to get tougher, and neither have made an impact on the tournament.

Jose Torres was useful in the middle for a half – he played nominally on the left, but spent most of the evening leaning well inside – but his influence faded after intermission. So, like a lot of U.S. men, his evening summation rated a solid “Meh.”

(MORE: United States nicks Costa Rica on a late goal)

Chris Wondolowski probably needed to be more active and find another portal or two into the impact creation zone. But two previous, encouraging performances means the San Jose Earthquakes striker has more wiggle room. One unproductive night won’t kill him at this point.

Generally, the United States lacked for ideas on the attack. The contest begged for some problem solving; Costa Rica’s 5-4-1 was tough stuff to break down, especially on a warm, muggy night that demanded a certain efficiency in movement off the ball.

Stuart Holden still has a long way to go

The Bolton midfielder played all 90 minutes, and that’s a huge step. But his recovery remains a clear work in progress.

Holden’s technical work in the midfield was fine. It’s not like he lost the ball a lot or failed to track or “hid” behind opponents the way players leaking confidence sometimes will. But his choices on the ball tell a tale of flagging aggression, of timing that just isn’t where it needs to be. Overall, there is just a smidge of lacking confidence.

Too many of his passes were safe, and too many opportunities to drive forward from the central midfield areas were passed over. Again, this isn’t a deal-killer. He’s just not there yet.

Who had good nights in the U.S. shirt?

Beyond Shea’s big moment … Clarence Goodson had a decent enough night in the back, organizing the back line, steering away a few dangerous balls and joining the attack periodically. Michael Orozco, playing alongside, proved dependable enough.

Mix Diskerud, playing alongside Holden in the middle of a 4-4-2, was easily the better of the central pairing. Torres, as noted earlier, was influential in possession over the first 45. And Donovan had a nice moment here and there, none better than his savvy, early ball that put Shea clean through.

Young goalkeeper Sean Johnson made the big save that mattered, but his communication with the back line looked dodgy, as did a couple of choices on getting off his line.

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.