What we learned from Sunday’s United States Gold Cup victory over Panama

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  • It’s a final, and we know what those look like

The Gold Cup may be only a “tournament-lite” in that the regional big boys chose to send the junior varsity. But the rule on finals – teams get tight and the action bogs down, generally producing matches that are decidedly, well, less than lovely – still applies in lesser tournament. And how.

Sunday’s 1-0 U.S. win at Soldier Field looked nothing like Wednesday’s mostly wide-open semifinal win over Honduras.

A championship is a championship, and good on the United States, clearly the Gold Cup’s top team. But as aesthetics go … well, no need to save this on the DVR.

  • Jurgen Klinsmann (and staff!) keeps making great decisions

One week ago, Eddie Johnson scored 14 seconds after coming onto the field against El Salvador. Check the box on “Great sub!” with that one.

Sunday in Chicago, Brek Shea need a bit longer – just over 40 seconds. Check that box again.

I mean, this kind of prescience would scare the bejeebers out of Las Vegas!

In the bigger picture, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have the Midas touch with his choices. Brek Shea (pictured) was a late Gold Cup roster addition; he scored two goals. (Yes, one was tap-in … but being in the right places counts for something, and Shea’s straight-line approach to opposition goal paid off twice.)

Adding Matt Besler and Eddie Johnson for the elimination matches looks smart, given the results. Hard to argue that Clarence Goodson over Omar Gonzalez in Sunday’s lineup was the right choice given the result. And Gonzalez’s insertion late at Soldier Field proved worthwhile as the big Galaxy center back thumped away several of Panama’s late probing balls of desperation.

The bigger-picture choices on guys like Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden seem validated, too. (Fingers crossed for Holden, of course.) But there will be more time to discuss that. Back to Sunday …

(MORE: United States Man of the Match — Alejandro Bedoya)

  • Kyle Beckerman does his job

I know it’s not enough for some people, who continue to want the Real Salt Lake man to be more, do more, try more, etc.

But that positional discipline, that ability to win the ball, win tackles, distribute simply and wait for the next chance to do it all again … all that stuff is so critical in a match like Sunday’s, when less disciplined men might grow impatient and wander too far forward. That is exactly what Panama wanted, to defend and defend and hope to catch the United  States leaning too far into the attack.

Teams need balance and Beckerman provides a bunch of it. No, he’s not about to displace Michael Bradley or even Jermaine Jones on coming World Cup qualifier rosters. But for depth in the pool, Beckerman as a holding midfield specialist provides essential value.

  • Michael Parkhurst is solid defensively, but …

I was surprised at the apparent surprise that Michael Parkhurst lacked initiative in pushing up the right and overlapping Sunday, unable to create that critical defensive confusion while working in tandem with Alejandro Bedoya.

Because he’s just not that guy. Don’t we know that? When he can barely dent the game against the small fries of the tournament (on offense, that is), do we really believe he is going to unleash some secret, here-to unseen attacking arsenal against what was clearly the second best team at the Gold Cup?

Parkhurst is what he is: a converted center back who is adequate at defense chores along the right, although vulnerable to faster feet.

(MORE: Shea goal guides U.S. to fifth Gold Cup title, 1-0 win over Panama)

  • Eddie Johnson still has some volatility about him

U.S. striker Eddie Johnson has a lot going for him right now. He’s third-ish on the pecking order of U.S. strikers. (The top choice for a Gold Cup final but still behind Jozy Altidore and probably Herculez Gomez in Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board of options.)

He’s a valued member of the Seattle Sounders club, about to be out of contract and highly desirous of remaining with the club that helped him resurrect a wayward career. Clearly, he wants to find his way into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, having played in 2006 but then bypassed for 2010. All that is to say, he is highly motivated.

So wouldn’t it be ashamed if Johnson let’s a dangerous propensity for losing his cool get the better of him. There’s just a lurking volatility about him, one that could be harmful to a team in an instant. We saw it again late Sunday when he got into a completely unnecessary set-do, issued a yellow card for retaliation indiscipline.

Don’t think future opponents won’t take notice and target Johnson as a man to pick on, to potentially incite. That’s not what you pinned on the opposition corkboard.

(MORE: Landon Donovan claims Gold Cup MVP honors)

  • Jose Torres’ stock is falling

Coming into this year’s Gold Cup, wouldn’t we all identify Jose Torres as the creative man of the moment, the guy to slice up defenses with those killer, targeted back line beaters?

Well, Sunday’s match was begging for such a guy – and Torres was nowhere to be found. Time and again in the tournament Torres did OK, but not much better than that. What we know about Klinsmann is that he is absolutely, positively not OK with just OK.

The proof was there Sunday. Joe Corona and Alejandro Bedoya got the starts. Brek Shea got the call off the bench when Corona was proving less than effective.

None of this is great news for Torres, but you cannot say the man didn’t get his chances.

The USMNT player pool in Europe is as promising as ever

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It would be a challenge to put together a Best XI from Americans performing in Europe this Saturday.

That’s for two reasons, not one of them because there aren’t 11 players worthy of the honor.

One is goalkeepers: Zack Steffen is hurt and Ethan Horvath backing up Simon Mignolet.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

The other is pretty great: There are many more than 11 players thriving in Europe even with Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Zack Steffen, and Timothy Weah not available for selection.

It’s a weekly thing now. Gregg Berhalter trains a strong and mostly-MLS squad for January friendlies, The Americans Abroad round-ups on our site have shown plenty of progress for those eligible for the USMNT.

There was a time when Haji Wright coming off the bench for VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands had a shot at being the highlight of the weekend.

Now it’s a footnote. The 21-year-old is a regular for the relegation-threatened side after a transfer from Schalke. If anything, the discussion is about two in-a-row off the bench after a run of 10-straight league starts.

Consider this list of players, now that Aston Villa’s Indiana Vassilev and Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna made league debuts in the same weekend.

First team players in top tier leagues

Zack Steffen (Man City, on loan to Dusseldorf)
Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
Sergino Dest (Ajax)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
Weston McKennie (Schalke)
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Tyler Boyd (Besiktas)
Indiana Vassilev (Aston Villa)
Haji Wright (VVV Venlo)
Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
Tim Weah (Lille)

Dig deeper and there’s more: Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), Geoff Cameron (QPR), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), and Duane Holmes (Derby County) have been regulars in the English Championship. Same for Julian Green (Greuther Furth) in 2.Bundesliga and in-form Lynden Gooch at League One’s Sunderland. Niko Hamalainen (Kilmarnock) is a regular starter in the Scottish Premiership.

Then there are heralded U-20 and U-17 prospects Chris Gloster (Jong PSV), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Ajax), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Ulysses Lainez (Wolfsburg II). Some have taken first team bows while others have made the bench or ar eon the verge.

And we’re just talking Europe here, as the U.S. still has a bevy of reliable international players playing domestically like Jordan Morris, Miles Robinson, and Jozy Altidore amongst others. That’s leaving alone the caliber of Homegrown players being produced by Major League Soccer academies, Paxton Pomykal and Djordje Mihailovic among them (Reyna and Richards, too).

In terms of potential, American soccer is at a golden age. This makes Brian McBride’s new role as USMNT general manager even more important, as he teams up with Gregg Berhalter to put the best possible American team together for qualifying.

One thing’s for sure, the player pool is deep and no longer an excuse. Game on.

Watch Live: Burnley v. Leicester City

Watch Live: Burnley v. Leicester City (Lineups and stream link)
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Leicester City looks to build a nine-point cushion on fourth-place Chelsea with a win over Burnley at Turf . Moor on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes can go level on points with second-place Manchester City by beating the hosts.

[ STREAM: Burnley v. Leicester City ]

Fifteenth-place Burnley opens the day two points clear of the Bottom Three, losers of four-straight matches.

Jay Rodriguez and Chris Wood start up top for the Clarets against the second-stingiest back line in the Premier League.

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Burnley

Leicester City

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina