Stalemate at Nou Camp gives Barcelona Spanish Super Cup over Atlético Madrid

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When Barcelona left the Vicente Calderon with a 1-1 result last week, it looked like a decent result against awn inspired team, one that saw an early goal from David Villa pulled back by Neymar’s second half equalizer. At home today at the Nou Camp, Barça seemed likely to have a more comfortable Spanish Super Cup second leg. After all, teams tend to play better at home.

But Wednesday’s second leg was anything but comfortable, playing out more like the uncertain 50 minutes that spanned Villa and Neymar’s goals than the 30-minute awakening Barcelona experienced at the end of last week’s match. Despite dominating possession (74 percent), Barcelona could only generate one shot on goal, the specter of a potentially cup-winning Atlético counter hanging over them for the entire 90 minutes.

Lionel Messi had a chance to remove that possibility, given a chance from the spot late in the match. By that point, Atlético’s desperation was translating into aggression, with the 81st minute sending off of Filipe Luis leaving the Atleti at 10 by the time David Fernández pointed to the spot. Yet clattering his try off Thibaut Courtois’ post, Messi left last year’s Copa del Rey winners with life, keeping the score 0-0.

But Diego Simeone’s team never found the score they needed to overturn Barça’s away goals advantage. Despite putting three shots on goal and forcing Victor Valdes into a number of spectacular plays, the lasting impressions Atlético left on the match were their 24 committed fouls (Barcelona: nine), as if the Atleti had taken a page from the playbook Real Madrid has discarded two seasons ago. While the philosophy didn’t lead to silverware, it did provide a formula for at least competing with Barcelona, the 0-0 draw leaving the teams even after 180 minutes.

The approach left Barcelona’s players appealing to Fernández at held time, Messi and Gerard Piqué gathering around the match official to plead their case for a more open second half. But although Simeone’s team would see six cards (including two reds) before the final whistle, they were never made to pay for their tactics. In terms of the scoresheet, Messi’s missed penalty absolved Atlético of all wrong doing.

After full time, though, it was Xavi Hernández lifting another trophy, the scoreless stalemate leaving Neymar’s goal in Madrid the deciding tally. But held at a standstill by Atlético over 180 minutes, the result should engender more doubts than plaudits. After throttling Levante 7-0 to open their season, Barcelona’s been held to two goals in 270 minutes by teams (Atlético and, the weekend, Málaga) who were more organized than good. Granted, a great game from Willy Caballero was one of the main reasons Barcelona weren’t more successful in Andalusia, but the bottom line remains the same.

After four games, it’s unclear Gerardo Martino’s team won’t be susceptable to the same failings that undid Tito Vilanova’s. Last year, it was too easy to do as Celtic, Milan, and Paris Saint-Germain did in Champions League: Play conservatively, employ a deep and compact scheme that overly-focused on Lionel Messi, and beg Barcelona to beat them another way. In Spain, the talent gap’s so big that Barcelona still won 32 or 38 games. In Champions League, however, come the knockout round, every match seemed a struggle.

Neymar was supposed to solve that problem, and as he regains full fitness, the Brazilian wonderkid may yet provide an alternative. But today, his first start with the team, Barcelona didn’t look any different. So while they did ultimately win a trophy, Barcelona yet to show they’ve address minuscule but significant problems.

Player ratings: USMNT loses late vs. Italy

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The USMNT closed off another year with a sour taste in its mouth, losing track of Italy’s Matteo Politano as the Azzurri finally found a way past American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath with a stoppage time winner in Belgium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]


Starting XI

Ethan Horvath — 8 — Very good after a nervy moment early, the Club Brugge man will have shown a new coach he should be in consideration for the top job. Could do little on the goal.

Shaq Moore — 7 — Quite decent despite playing 4/5 of the match on his non-preferred left side.

Cameron Carter-Vickers — 5.5 — Beaten a couple of times, but a clean sheet against Italy in Europe is what it is.

Aaron Long — 6 — Left in no man’s land by Lletget in stoppage time.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — The standout of a decent night for the three center backs, even chipped in with a header on goal in the first half.

Reggie Cannon (Off 76′) — 6.5 — A decent performance with promising moments moving forward for the FC Dallas right back.

Kellyn Acosta (Off 83′) — 7 — I though the Colorado Rapids midfielder was the Yanks’ best field player on the day, with quite decent service on set pieces to boot.

Marky Delgado (Off 62′) — 5 — Inconspicuous

Tyler Adams — 6 Busier than Delgado, but was a bit overran and will take this as a learning experience.

Christian Pulisic (Off 83′) — 6 — Just fine. Saddled with either a second striker or 3+1 attacking midfielder role, Pulisic was understandably troubled by Leonardo Bonucci (though we have to imagine the Italian wasn’t happy to deal with him either).

Josh Sargent (Off 62′) — 5 — Good energy, but clearly taking a step up in class from Hertha Berlin’s reserves. Hesitated to pull the trigger to find Reggie Cannon’s adventurous run in the early second half.

Subs

Wil Trapp (On 62′) — 5 — Looked confused at times in the middle of the park, troubling for a player who’s received plenty of time to get used to these situations.

Bobby Wood (On 62′) — 6 — Just fine.

Jorge Villafana (On 76′) — 6 — An improved performance from last week versus England, albeit in a cameo.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 83′) — 4 — How a clean sheet is quickly undone against Italy: Lletget leaves Politano, who starts a quick exchange between Marco Verratti, Moise Kean, and himself to win it in stoppage time. Maybe harsh on a man who waited almost 2 years between caps, but true.

Romain Gall (Off 83′) — 6.5 — Lively in limited time, Gall earned a corner with a wayward shot from distance (though his ensuing corner service left plenty to be desired).

Three things we learned: Italy v. USMNT

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GENK — The U.S. men’s national team lost 1-0 to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to finish off its 2018 schedule with a defeat, as they conceded in the 94th minute.

Matteo Politano struck with 30 seconds left to condemn the USMNT to a second-straight defeat of this international break, as they closed out the calendar year with a disappointing performance and, eventually, defeat.

Dave Sarachan named the youngest U.S. lineup in the modern era (since 1990) with an average age of 22 years and 71 days, while Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain in that era. Italy’s team was a mixture of youth and experience as Ethan Horvath made several fine stops but couldn’t preserve the shutout for the USMNT.

Here’s what we learned from a tight encounter in Belgium.


HORVATH, PULISIC, ADAMS STAND TALL

Three of the USMNT’s standout performers in Genk were captain Pulisic, midfielder Tyler Adams and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. The former looked on a level of his own among players wearing a U.S. jersey, buzzing around the Italian defense and trying to make things happen. A superb run and cross down the left and then a lovely scooped pass, both to Josh Sargent, showcased his quality on the ball. The only problem for Pulisic was that he didn’t see enough of it. With long balls pumped up to him, Pulisic didn’t win many aerial duels against Leonardo Bonucci but his best work was done dropping off Josh Sargent and picking passes.

At the other end of the pitch Horvath stood tall to deny Italy’s captain Bonucci a clear goal, tipped another dipping effort over and then pushed a dangerous cross in the box away right before half time. And in the second half Horvath saved with his feet as Kevin Lasagna was clean through on goal, pushed Vincenzo Grifo’s shot wide and denied Lasagna again. The Club Brugge stopper enhanced his chances of challenging Brad Guzan and Zack Steffen for the No. 1 jersey, and a year after his horror mistake allowed Portugal to score in Sarachan’s first friendly in charge, Horvath took his second chance and deserved a clean sheet.

In midfield Tyler Adams was brave on the ball in front of the back three, tried to get things going in attack and was the most composed U.S. player on the pitch. The New York Red Bulls midfield, still a teenager, will no doubt be a big part of this team moving forward and he, Pulisic (obviously) and Horvath proved they will be in many USMNT squads to come. The rest struggled a little.


YOUNGSTERS OVERWHELMED

When you name the youngest USMNT lineup in modern history, you’d expect a few bumps in the road during the game. That is exactly what happened. A back three of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, plus Shaq Moore playing out of position at left wing-back, was undone by simple long balls over the top as the USMNT dropped deeper and deeper throughout the game. The U.S. only had 26.6 percent possession and were happy to sit deep and try to hit Italy on the break, just like they did against France in Lyon.

Unlike the game against England last week, this was nowhere near a full-strength USMNT lineup and you could make an argument that only two players (Adams and Pulisic) would be regular starters moving forward.

The likes of Zimmerman, Long, Moore and Cannon were decent enough and got plenty of the reps with the USMNT under pressure for most of the game. One thing is now for sure, whoever is in charge for the January camp and beyond: experimenting needs to stop. The past 13 months has shown us what over 50 players can do. Now a permanent coach needs to select his best squad and work with them each camp moving forward.


SARACHAN’S REIGN SUMMED UP IN 90 MINUTES

Dave Sarachan’s record after 12 games in charge of the USMNT reads 3-5-4, as he set his team up for the draw against Italy but didn’t get it.

Just like they’ve done against top teams in the past, and they did against France in Lyon back in June, the U.S. sat back, soaked up pressure and tried to grab a clean sheet. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t work, but it could prove to be a valuable learning experience for Sarachan’s young team.

The past 13 months has seen him steady the ship after the nightmare of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but in truth there are still more questions than answers when it comes to what is next for the U.S.

Sarachan has now handed debuts to 23 players, more than any other U.S. manager in the modern era, and his task was to try and restore pride in the program after the World Cup qualifying debacle. He may have done a bit of that, mostly thanks to putting his faith in youth, but the U.S. has pretty much stood still in 2018. Some players have taken their chances, others haven’t and, perhaps most importantly, the USMNT still don’t have a permanent head coach.

That is the biggest issue of all, but that is no longer Sarachan’s problem.


Italy finally finds way past Horvath, USMNT

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The United States men’s national team closed out its 2018 with almost as many questions as it closed out 2017, losing 1-0 on a stoppage time goal in Belgium.

Actually, there may be more questions after the result, as goalkeeper Ethan Horvath made a statement between the sticks with more than a half-dozen saves in place of injured Zack Steffen.

Italy scored in the fourth minute of stoppage time, a terrific team goal completed by two tremendous touches from scorer Matteo Politano.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

The first half-hour was marked by significant Italian possession, and most notable for some dogged interventions from alert USMNT goalkeeper Horvath.

The Club Brugge man played well in Belgium, stopping Leonardo Bonucci point-blank on the Italians’ best chance of the first half.

Horvath was busy again in the 44th minute, reacting quickly to an untouched Marco Verratti free kick.

Fortunately for the U.S., there were few ideas on display from Roberto Mancini’s men.

Verratti headed over the goal within the first 10 minutes of the second half, but the Americans had a chance for an unlikely opener with a 56th minute free kick. Nothing.

Horvath was back in the spotlight with an in-tight leg save after Walker Zimmerman put off a driving Kevin Lasagna in the 59th after Bonucci sent him over the top of the defense.

A Kellyn Acosta free kick found Zimmerman at the back post, but Salvatore Sirigu was there for his first save of the afternoon.

Hoffenheim’s Vincenzo Grifo forced Horvath into a flying save in the 70th minute, and Mancini’s men couldn’t do anything with the ensuing corner. He’d then stymy another 1v1 chance on the left side in the 72nd.

Lasagna probably should’ve given Italy a winner in the final 10 minutes, but he smashed the ball over the bar.

Substitute Romain Gall forced a corner kick out of a diving Sirigu in the 90th minute, but the youngster’s corner didn’t clear Italy’s line.

Verratti and substitute Moise Keane played Politano on goal, with Sebastian Lletget leaving Politano after the Inter man started the play and Aaron Long unable to switch in time.

Nashville signs Mexican striker for MLS 2020 debut, loans him to USL

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Nashville has its first official Major League Soccer signing, and it’s raided a USL rival to land him for the 2020 season.

[ REPORT: New Chelsea deal for Kante? ]

Daniel Rios is the debut member of their MLS side, and the 23-year-old Mexican striker will spend the 2019 season on loan to USL side Nashville SC.

Rios is bringing an outstanding 2018 season west from North Carolina, where he scored 20 goals and 13 assists for NCFC.

A former Mexico U-20 player, Rios was on loan to NCFC from Chivas Guadalajara.