How might the USMNT line up vs. Panama? 3-5-2? 4-4-2?

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The U.S. national team concludes its annual offseason training camp and friendlies series on Sunday as they host Panama (4 pm ET) at StubHub Center in Carson, California, which means it’s time to speculate how Jurgen Klinsmann might set up his team.

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First things first, we’ve got to settle on a formation. The 3-5-2 drew mixed reviews — rightly so — in last week’s 3-2 loss to Chile, and Klinsmann even went away from it after halftime, opting for the tried-and-true 4-4-2 instead. In my opinion, Klinsmann should have stuck with the 3-5-2 for the full 90 minutes and let the players work out the kinks themselves. If it’s a long-term possibility, stick with it. If it’s not, why are we doing it?

The USMNT has spent an entire month in training camp, working on, presumably, the new formation. To dump it after 45 minutes of varied results seemed a bit premature. Not you have no clue what you’re doing levels of prematurity, but at least what’s the point of trying it in the first place? For that reason, Klinsmann almost has to trot out the 3-5-2 again on Sunday, making the players’ last month of work worth something.

[ PREVIEW: USA needs much improved performance to close out January camp ]

So, who starts in a 3-5-2 on Sunday? I thought you’d never ask.

Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson Nick Rimando started the game against Chile and played all 90 minutes. My sense is that Klinsmann opts for Johnson — if not Rimando to start and Johnson in the second half — as he’s often split minutes evenly of 75-25 in two-friendly situations in the past.

Defenders: Matt Hedges, Jermaine Jones and Matt Besler Steve Birnbaum, who started the Chile game and played quite well, picked up a knee injury in training and will be unavailable for Sunday’s game. Thus, one starting spot opens up and it only makes sense that Hedges, one of the very best defenders in MLS in 2014, finally gets his shot to impress.

Hedges, much like Besler on the other side of Jones, is very comfortable playing with the ball at his feet, capable of defending in space — something he’ll have to do in a three-man backline — and physically dominant in the air.

[ MORE: Klinsmann not committed to 3-5-2 for Sunday — but why? ]

Midfielders: DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, Lee Nguyen, Mix Diskerud and Brek Shea Yedlin needs the competitive minutes as he’s nowhere near the Tottenham first team, and what’s the point of calling him in if he’s not going to get two games? Also, there’s no one else who can play the position, so he starts.

source: APFollowing a 2014 season where he put up 18 goals and five assists, Lee Nguyen has to get a real shot with the USMNT. He has to be allowed the chance to breathe, and shine. Playing him as the further-forward midfielder is exactly how to do that, and puts another attacker in a more advantageous position (more on that in a minute).

I don’t like Diskerud in a deeper role — even alongside a player like Bradley — but who else is Klinsmann going to turn to on the current roster?

Didn’t like Shea at left back/left wingback last game? Tough, because there’s no one else currently in camp capable of playing the position. He starts — forever, probably.

[ MORE: Klinsmann’s still got it: Effortless DOUBLE backheel ]

Forwards: Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey — Both started the Chile game, but Dempsey was dropped a bit deeper into the midfield — at least he was supposed to be — but Altidore ended up dropping in while Dempsey surged forward in attack. By actually pairing the two together — and getting rid of Bobby Wood, who left camp this week — the two are actually asked to stay connected and play off each other, something they’ve done to great successes in the past.

Dempsey plays as part of a two-man forward line in Seattle — he put up 15 goals and 10 assists last year in doing so — and offers the kind of off-the-ball movement you’re not likely to see out of a Gyasi Zardes — yet. Drop Dempsey into the midfield again, and the attack will be a disjointed mess with everything coming from the wing backs once again.

Subs off the bench: Miguel Ibarra, Wil Trapp, Luis Gil and Gyasi Zardes Trapp made his international debut in the Chile game, and while he’s undoubtedly a future USMNT starter, the speed of the game was a step too far for him at the moment. I’d love to see him start over Diskerud, because he’s the perfect midfield partner for Bradley, but he’s going to need time to adjust first.

Watch Live: Sheffield United v. Crystal Palace

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Sheffield United host Crystal Palace at Bramall Lane on Sunrday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blades fans will enjoy their first home game back in the Premier League.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Chris Wilder, the lifelong United fan who is now their manager, will be emotional and fans of the Yorkshire club will create a heated atmosphere for opponents to visit this season.

In team news Sheffield United are unchanged from the team which drew at Bournemouth last week, with club captain Billy Sharp on the bench.

Crystal Palace bring in star man Wilfried Zaha who starts up top


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Zidane says Bale will stay at Real Madrid

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Gareth Bale is staying at Real Madrid.

The Welshman was not wanted by manager Zinedine Zidane, who stated that publicly on many occasions over the summer.

But Bale started and grabbed an assist as 10-man Real beat Celta Vigo 3-1 in their La Liga opener on Saturday and it seems like Zidane is ready to brush all of this Bale talk under the carpet.

“He’s going to stay and we all have to think of that as a positive thing,” Zidane said. “The injury to Eden Hazard was bad luck for us but it didn’t change the plans we had for Bale in this game. Gareth and everyone else here is going to show this shirt the respect it deserves.”

After his move to China broke down at the last minute amid conflicting reports blaming Bale and the club for the collapse of the deal, his future at Real has seemed pretty much dead in the water.

Adding in a serious injury to Marco Asensio and Eden Hazard picking up a knock, and all of a sudden Bale is needed again. But for how long?

He was linked with a loan move to Bayern Munich but Philippe Coutinho moved to Bavaria instead, and Bale wasn’t chased by Premier League clubs during the summer due to his huge wage demands. With the transfer window across many European countries closing at the end of this month, he has run out of options to leave a club where the hierarchy and fans don’t want him.

Bale, 30, is now stuck at Real and he has another three years left on his contract. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the man who has won four Champions League trophies at Real, yet has become the main villain at the Santiago Bernabeu as fans lambast him for playing golf and not learning to speak Spanish fluently during his six years in Spain.

Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.