Talking points: Signs of progress everywhere for the U.S. against Portugal

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Now two hours after Silvestre Valera’s goal, fans’ disappointment is starting to give way. A more objective, less emotional reality is taking hold.

Yes, that just happened. Yes, the United States just went toe-to-toe with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal and nearly replicated 2002’s famous result. And yes, to the surprise of those who judged harshly after the win over Ghana, the U.S. is capable of playing some attractive, occasionally imposing soccer.

In the big picture, that means progress: Significant steps forward from 2010 — at least, in terms of how the team plays. Isolated to Brazil 2014, however, the result means the U.S. has work to do on Thursday against Germany.

Before we shift focus, though, let’s take another moment to consider what happened today in Manaus. Here’s three — no, four — talking points after the U.S.’s 2-2 draw with Portugal:

0. Let’s count all the ‘holy crap’ moments we’ve seen so far – Just in the U.S. matches, we’ve had …

This being the internet, I’d normally say “go home, World Cup, you’re drunk.” But no. No, no, no. Keep going. The next round’s on me. Stick around, World Cup. You are such an irresistible drunk.

[ MORE: Valera equalizer stuns U.S. | Man of the Match rankings | How the U.S. can advance ]
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Geoff Cameron of the United States looks on during a break in the action between the United States and Portugal. (Credit: Getty Images.)

1. The criticism of Bradley and Cameron has already started – There’s no defending Cameron’s mistake. His fifth-minute error won’t happen again, but it was still one of the worst mistakes we’ve seen at the World Cup. That Cameron was the man Varela ran behind on the tying goal only compounded the defender’s problems. He wasn’t the only man at fault, but his part meant he was involved in both Portugal goals.

As for Bradley, his giveaway that sparked Portugal’s last second counter is already being dissected (and rightly so), but the midfielder’s fatigue was evident moments earlier, when he stoically watched a Jermaine Jones pass roll to a Portuguese attacker in the U.S.’s third. Gassed by the end of regulation time, Bradley seemed out on his feet come the 95th minute, unable to maintain possession in those final, crucial moments.

Through 180 minutes in Brazil, Bradley hasn’t been himself. Against Ghana, you could explain that as him battling two defensive midfielders without the outlet of Jozy Altidore. Sunday’s game, however, was different. Though Klinsmann’s tweaked his formation to feature what’s normally his best player, Bradley has yet to distinguish himself in at this year’s World Cup.

2. Consider the proof of concept … – As the U.S. adjusted to Portugal’s early goal, eventually fighting back to take a second-half lead, all the qualities Jurgen Klinsmann’s been trying to install again came through. Granted, I said the same thing after the U.S. defeated Ghana, so this may be one writer who can’t let a narrative go. Still, let’s go down the checklist, shall we?

  • More resiliency/Better equipped to adapt to adversity: See the response to André Ayew’s goal, the comeback against Portugal, and the adaptation in the absence of Jozy Altidore.
  • More flexibilty/An ability to dictate play, when needed: It wasn’t needed for most of the match against Ghana, when the U.S. proved capable of playing on the back foot (four shots on goal to Ghana’s three). Against Portugal, Nani’s early goal made sure the Klinsmann fulfilled his promise of a more aggressive approach. Though the final scoreline wasn’t as good, the performance was more convincing. The U.S. just doesn’t have a set approach.
  • More depth/Less reliance on stars: Clint Dempsey was huge today, but Bradley — the U.S.’s most important player — was average at best, and while Europe-proven Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones had huge impacts, the MLS talents that Klinsmann has brought into the pool also paid off. Matt Besler was the team’s best defender, Graham Zusi made key contributions, Kyle Beckerman has become part of the foundation, while Chris Wonolowski and DeAndre Yedlin proved valuable options off the bench. Klinsmann is using more players, instilling them with the confidence they can compete at this level, and proving the depth in the U.S. pool is not as shallow as previously thought.
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Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on the United States and Portugal. (Credit: Getty Images)

3. … and the progress the U.S. has shown – Klinsmann was derided for saying the U.S. can’t win the World Cup, but was that ever the goal for this cycle? More readily, the goal was progress, and while 180 minutes isn’t much of a sample, compare this year’s performance against 2010’s.

While the U.S. finished first in that year’s group, the packet was weak. As the second round match against Ghana showed, the U.S. didn’t need to make progress as a program to top that foursome. This year, the U.S. beat Ghana. They went toe-to-toe with a Portugal team many thought would play through them.

Tied for first in their group, the U.S. has fully deserved their results. The team was seconds away from its first two-win group stage in history, and there’s still one match to go.

Most casting Portugal were clear favorites were basing their judgement on reputation alone. Portugal is established, European, have more talent, and play better soccer. In their eyes, the U.S. just aren’t on that level.

After today’s performance, does that perception change? The U.S. probably needs to get out of its group (and impress in the knockout round) before detractors believe a gridiron country and every produce a “proper football team,” but the objective reality is much different.

Even if the U.S. doesn’t make the final 16, they’ve shown huge progress at this tournament. The team may not be among the best in the world, but the arrow’s definitely pointed in the right direction.

Vote of confidence? Woodward says Mourinho, players “fully united”

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If you thought a Manchester derby defeat would be the final nail in the coffin for Jose Mourinho’s tenure at Manchester United, think again.

[ MORE: Fulham hire Claudio Ranieri after firing Slavisa Jokanovic ]

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward put to bed any speculation that Mourinho would be fired during the current international break — as many had speculated might be the case — despite the club’s poor start to the Premier League season. The Red Devils sit eighth in the table, a dozen points back of leaders Manchester City after as many games played.

Not only is Mourinho going nowhere this week, Woodward insists everyone at the club remains “fully united” and pulling in the same direction — quotes from the Mirror:

“On the pitch we remain well-positioned in the Champions League, and although we’ve had a mixed start to our domestic campaign, the squad and the manager are fully united in their determination to regain our momentum in the Premier League.”

Woodward would hardly come out and say, “We’re far from pleased with the performances of Mourinho and the players, if things don’t turn around he’s gone in [X-number of] games,” but the fact he’s been forced to speak about the topic indicates Mourinho’s place at the club is hardly secure or guaranteed.

Chelsea facing possible two-year transfer ban

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Chelsea face a two-year transfer ban, allegedly recommended by FIFA’s integrity and compliance unit, over their signing of foreign under-18 players.

[ MORE: Fulham hire Claudio Ranieri after firing Slavisa Jokanovic ]

According to documents from Football Leaks, French website Mediapart claims 19 of the club’s signings — 14 of which were under the age of 18 — have been looked at in a three year-long investigation. Former striker Bertrand Traore is the most well-known of the players, and allegedly the most egregious of the transfers, in question.

It is alleged that Chelsea misled FIFA over the date Traore signed his first professional contract with the club and when he was registered with the English Football Association. The Burkinabe forward made 25 appearances — at under-16, under-18 and first-team levels — for Chelsea despite allegedly not being registered with the FA.

His initial contract is also alleged to have been a four-and-a-half-year deal, when the limit for players under the age of 18 is capped at three years.

[ MORE: Chelsea expected to let Gary Cahill leave on loan in January ]

FIFA transfer rules stipulate that players can only be transferred to another country if the player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for non-footballing reasons.

Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid each endured transfer bans for similar misdeeds with under-18 signings in recent years.

Scudamore gets $6 million as he leaves Premier League

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LONDON (AP) Premier League clubs have agreed to give departing chairman Richard Scudamore $6 million over three years despite a public backlash.

The Football Supporters’ Federation had urged clubs not to give Scudamore the money after news of the planned payment leaked. But the league says “the payments are in recognition of the outstanding work Richard has carried out over the last 19 years.”

In a statement after a meeting of the 20 clubs on Thursday, the league said Scudamore will “remain available in an advisory capacity,” and justified the payments as being a “vital” part of “a comprehensive set of non-compete clauses.”

Premier League clubs vote VAR into use for 2019-20 season

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It’s been inevitable for quite some time, but now it’s official: video review will be used in the Premier League when the 2019-20 season kicks off next August.

[ MORE: Fulham hire Claudio Ranieri after firing Slavisa Jokanovic ]

20 of 20 current PL clubs voted on Thursday to confirm the use of the modern technology beginning next season.

The Bundesliga and Serie A began using the video assistant referee (VAR) at the start of the 2017-18 season, and have continued (successful) operation of the system in 2018-19. Major League Soccer introduced the protocol two-thirds of the way through its 2017 season, to far greater degrees of varying success. La Liga is set to begin use of VAR next season as well.

[ MORE: England vs. USMNT preview ]

VAR was first used in the English game last season, when select FA Cup fixtures were used as test runs, while the same is being done in the EFL Cup this season.