What we learned from Sunday’s U.S. quarterfinal Gold Cup win over El Salvador

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  • Joe Corona may be lapping Jose Torres before our eyes:

Joe Corona and Jose Torres had strong matches Sunday, horizontal bookends of the wide areas in the United States attack. But in the end, who had the greater bottom line impact?

Once again, it was Corona, who moved aggressively into a goal-scoring spot, found a ball off Landon Donovan’s nifty footwork and proceeded to pinpoint a meaningful shot into the left corner of El Salvador’s goal.

Torres was adept in possession, as usual, and his switching balls in particular proved highly effective as a sharp U.S. attack found one opportunity after another in Sunday’s quarterfinal. But the knock on Torres internationally has always been his lack of final product. Jurgen Klinsmann has urged him to put all that abundant technical savvy to better use, to find more ways to grab the game, to create more, to shoot more, to take on defenders with further frequency, etc.

In other words, exactly what Corona has done this tournament.

(MORE: Game report — Landon Donovan’s goal, three assists lead U.S. past El Salvador)

When the serious roster allocation begins in the U.S. coaches’ minds, they’ll look at the two creators and quite possibly decide there is room on the 23-man U.S. roster for just one of them. We might be seeing Corona pull ahead in the race. Torres, after all, has had his chances.

  • A highly entertaining match – and what that means in the bigger picture:  

We can analyze the heck out of Sunday’s highly entertaining match, but this part needs no dissecting: it was an absolute delight to watch, a real plum for Fox to place into the big boy network spotlight. Play was tough but still managed to be open (thanks in large part to a guy like Donovan, who worked hard to find the right spots that helped create a lot of offense.)

Some of the credit for a lively contest also goes to Klinsmann. Leading by two goals in the first half, the U.S. boss urged his men to keep pushing, to “go, go, go!” Later, he kept making offensive-minded changes and encouraging players to move forward and think “forward,” even when ahead by scores of 3-1 and then 4-1.

This is all about the mentality Klinsmann is working hard to drive home: More professionalism, more of a business-like approach, never relinquishing tempo, further forging of a mentality that says “We are the boss of this region. Get used to it.”  Mashing the pedal when ahead is one way to do it.

  • A word about Nick Rimando and the U.S. goalkeeping situation:

Media and supporters will talk plenty about Donovan’s day, and rightly so. And we’ll surely chat about what some strong performances from Torres and (especially) Corona might mean, what a better afternoon of attacking from Michael Parkhurst means, etc. (Or, at the other end, what a slightly muted performance from Mix Diskerud means … at least before his late goal.)

But can we say a quick word about U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando? It will be overlooked because the score makes Sunday’s quarterfinal win look like a contest where you or I could have stood in goal. Not so.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match … Landon Donovan)

Rimando was outstanding the first half hour, catching crosses in traffic and handling tough balls that came in with some force. And what about that 25th minute double save! This match could have looked a lot different if not for that bit of really sharp stuff – because El Salvador would have remained motivated for a longer period with another goal somewhere in there.

In the bigger picture, it’s a case of “nothing new here” with the U.S. goalkeeping scene. Tim Howard and Brad Guzan as the first two U.S. ‘keepers are as solid  as any pair in the world. Rimando as the third … that’s just this side of unfair!

  • The team sometimes needs Kyle Beckerman

I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time defending the guy, so I’ll keep this one short.

Beckerman is hardly the be-all at international level, as I keep saying. But you need a couple of guys like that in a game like Sunday’s where a passionate underdog’s entire afternoon is about making life very, very difficult and then hoping to nick a result.

That was a tough match for about 60 minutes, and Beckerman was the ball winner and the fearless, calming presence needed. If Klinsmann puts 11 Jose Torres out there, they would win all the technical battles but lose all the tussles. And there were tussles aplenty.

Plus, Beckerman’s long-range passing deliveries were sharp as they come Sunday.

Yes, Beckerman remains well behind Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones and others in the U.S. central midfield order. Yes, there are deficiencies in his game. But there is a place for the guy in a balanced player pool.

UEFA Champions League last 16 draw

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The draw for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League took place on Monday and it was a mixed bag for the four Premier League clubs.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Reigning Premier League champions Manchester City will play Schalke, while Manchester United were handed a tough draw after finishing second in their group as they face PSG.

Tottenham have also been handed a tough, but very likeable draw for the neutral, as they’ll play Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund. And Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will be heading back to Germany as the current PL leaders will play Bayern Munich.

Below is the draw in full, as the first legs will be played on 12–13 & 19–20 Feb. 2019 and the second legs on 5–6 & 12–13 Mar., 2019. The teams drawn first in the list below will play the first leg at home, with the second legs away.

And remember, VAR will be used in the UCL for the first time for all knockout round games. Get your VAR hand signals ready…


Last 16 draw for UEFA Champions League, 2018-19

Schalke v. Manchester City
Atletico Madrid v. Juventus
Manchester United v. Paris Saint-Germain
Tottenham Hotspur v. Borussia Dortmund
Lyon v. Barcelona
Roma v. Porto
Ajax v. Real Madrid
Liverpool v. Bayern Munich

England captain Kane finishes 3rd for Sportsman of the Year

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BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) Geraint Thomas has been voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year after becoming the third British cyclist to win the Tour de France.

In a public vote, Thomas beat five-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton — a former winner of the BBC award — into second place, while England soccer captain Harry Kane, who led his team to the World Cup semifinals, was third.

The 32-year-old Welshman joined Bradley Wiggins (2012) and Chris Froome (2013, ’15, ’16, ’17) as Britons to win the Tour de France. Wiggins has won the BBC award, but Froome never has.

“It’s been an amazing year for British sport,” Thomas said, “and long may it continue.”

Liga MX: America wins at Cruz Azul to capture Apertura title

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Club America had a tall mountain to climb following their scoreless draw, at home, with Cruz Azul in the first leg of Liga MX’s Apertura final on Thursday, but climb that mountain they did with a 2-0 victory at Estadio Azteca on Sunday.

[ LA LIGA: Lionel Messi’s hat trick paces Barcelona in rout of Levante ]

Midfielder Edson Alvarez scored both goals in the game — five minutes into the second half and one minute before full-time — as America claimed their record 13th league title (first since 2014).

Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona committed a costly error to set up Alvarez for the opener, and ultimately the winner. Alvarez’s second came courtesy of a bit of fortuitous timing, as Corona made the initial save on Cecilio Dominguez’s shot, but the rebound fell to Alvarez for a straightforward finish.

It was the second league title of manager Miguel Herrera’s career, and his first since his first stint with America, in 2013.

Cruz Azul saw their title-less streak reach 21 years, in heartbreaking fashion, after finishing top of the table in the regular season. They are now the first team in Mexican history to lose six straight finals appearances.

La Liga: Messi’s hat trick paces Barcelona in rout of Levante

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ SATURDAY: Atletico Madrid pull level with Barcelona; Real two points back ]

Levante 0-5 Barcelona

Lionel Messi recorded his 43rd hat trick for Barcelona (all competitions) on Sunday, leading the way in a 5-0 rout away to eighth-place Levante. The five-goal hammering could be seen as a measure of revenge for Barca’s only La Liga defeat last season, a 5-4 defeat to Levante on the penultimate weekend, with the title already wrapped up and sans Messi.

“We had circled this match on the calendar after what happened here last season,” Barca manager Ernesto Valverde said after the game.

While the goals will get most of the headlines, it was Messi’s assist — the first one, to clarify — that was perhaps most impressive. Dribbling down the left side of the penalty area, he drew three defenders into his orbit before threading a chipped cross between two of them and setting up Luis Suarez for a difficult acrobatic finish.

Messi then proceeded to score the game’s next three goals before setting up Gerard Pique for the fifth — his second assist of the day — to play a key role in all five goals.

The victory restores the three-point lead which Barca held coming into the weekend, prior to Atletico Madrid pulling level on points on Saturday.

Sevilla 2-0 Girona

Sevilla reclaimed second place from Atleti (level on points) with a 2-0 victory over Girona. Ever Banega (penalty kick) and Pablo Sarabia scored the goals nine minutes apart early in the second half to extend Pablo Machin’s side’s unbeaten run to seven league games.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Espanyol 1-3 Real Betis
Huesca 2-2 Villarreal