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.

U.S. teen Vassilev makes Premier League debut for Villa

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Look closely at Jack Grealish‘s equalizer for Aston Villa on Saturday and you’ll find an American making a run to create space.

That’s Indiana Vassilev, who made his Premier League debut in the 1-1 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.

Vassilev, who turns 19 next month, was credited with seven touches in 23 minutes, connecting on 3-of-4 passes.

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The Georgia-born left winger made his FA Cup debut versus Fulham on Jan. 4 and his League Cup debut versus Leicester City on Jan. 8.

He has six goals and two assists in 13 appearances for Villans’ Premier League 2 side.

Favre reacts to Dortmund debuts for Haaland, U.S. prospect Reyna

Giovanni Reyna debuts for Borussia Dortmund
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Borussia Dortmund supporters couldn’t help but gush about the hat trick debut for teenage striker Erling Braut Haaland.

Their manager was sure to talk about both of his teen debutants.

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The second was American 17-year-old Giovanni Reyna, who was promoted to the first team this week and came off the bench to make his Bundesliga debut in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Augsburg.

Here’s one of Favre’s answers when asked about Haaland, via Fussball.news:

“We also played with Gio Reyna. It was very good. The first time he plays here at 17, that’s good. A 17-year-old, a 19-year-old, I think that’s good.”

“(Haaland) immediately showed his strength, the runs down. He moves well between the lines. It gives us another way to play forward.”

Haaland’s 20-minute hat trick has been well detailed by Joe Prince-Wright here.

Reyna entered for Thorgan Hazard in the 72nd minute, getting 13 touches and completing 7-of-9 passes. He completed his lone dribble attempt and won his only duel while failing to put his only shot attempt on target.

Aston Villa grab vital point at Brighton

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Injury-hit Aston Villa grabbed a big point at Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday.

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Leandro Trossard gave Brighton a first half lead but Jack Grealish popped up with a second half equalizer to share the points in a fiery encounter at the Amex.

With the draw both teams remained embroiled in a relegation battle as Brighton have 25 points and sit three points ahead of Villa who occupy 18th, the final relegation spot.


3 things we learned

1. Grealish delivers, again: Riddled by injuries, Villa needed their captain to stand tall. He did. Again. Even in recent heavy defeats Grealish has tried to drive Villa on and he has now scored in their tight win at Burnley and grabbed them a point at Brighton. Against relegation rivals, Grealish has delivered for Villa and at 24 years old he conrinues to mature.

2. Brighton let another lead slip: The Seagulls have won just won of their last eight league games and they keep letting leads slip in tight games. Graham Potter‘s side have plenty of the ball and dominate games but just can’t score the second goal to finish teams off. They have only scored more than one goal once in their last seven games and for all of their fine attacking play, Brighton are three points off the bottom because they can’t finish teams off.

3. Relegation battle coming up: Both teams showed why they will be in a relegation battle all season long. Brighton can’t score or finish teams off, while Villa are too reliant on Grealish and have no real attacking options as they rode their luck at Brighton. Potter and Dean Smith are two progressive, young, English coaches but they will be pushed to their limits to keep their teams up this season.

Man of the Match: Jack Grealish – Villa’s main man popped up with the goal which grabbed them a point and he was everywhere. Villa had no central striker once again as they wait to bring someone in during the January window with Wesley out for the season, and Grealish made so many runs forward during the game to try and take the pressure off his team.


Jack Grealish smashed an effort just wide as Villa looked dangerous on the counter without a recognized striker.

The Seagulls then came close to the taking the lead as Bernardo‘s cross found Aaron Mooy and his volley was cleared, eventually, as an almighty scramble ensued.

Aaron Connolly then knocked a low cross just wide as he seemed to be surprised that the ball found him in the six yard box.

Brighton took the lead as Neal Maupay ran towards goal and teed up Trossard who fired home across goal and into the far corner.

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Mohamed Trezeguet was denied by Mat Ryan in a rare Villa attack as Brighton were dominating, with young American Indiana Vassilev coming on for his Premier League debut.

Moments later Grealish made it 1-1 as a poor mistake from Brighton saw Douglas Luiz play a long ball over the top and Villa’s skipper slammed home to send the away end wild.

Late on Villa debutant Pepe Reina made a wonderful stop to deny Maupay preserve a point as tempers flared towards and after the final whistle as both sets of players were involved in a huge melee.

Pukki leads 10-man Norwich City win over 10-man Bournemouth

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Both teams finished with 10 men but only one found a goal when Norwich City beat Bournemouth in a relegation six-pointer at Carrow Road on Saturday.

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Teemu Pukki scored from the spot to give the Canaries some hope and increase the Cherries’ despair.

Steve Cook was sent off for Bournemouth in the 31st minute, with Ben Godfrey leveling the field in the 76th.

Norwich now has 17 points, six back of the safe places, while 19th place Bournemouth stays level on 20.


Three things we learned

1. Pitch side monitor used to upgrade card: The Premier League told the refs to check the pitch side monitors on possible red card offenses, and it worked. Ben Godfrey cleverly disguised his ugly tackle by looking away from the contact, only earning a yellow card. The video monitors told the story, though, and Paul Tierney wasn’t shy to make the right call and turn the yellow into a red.

2. Bournemouth in the worst of ways: Eddie Howe‘s slumping Cherries played down a man for 45 minutes, and couldn’t make anything of the reprieve handed them by Godfrey’s awful tackle. There was proper desperation from the Cherries, but also never a feeling that Bournemouth would come back.

3. Steve Cook at full stretch is pretty impressive (and illegal): Referee Paul Tierney was almost laughing as he gave Cook a red card for his excellent “save” to push a ball off the post.

 

Man of the Match: Emiliano Buendia is Norwich City’s shining light. If the Canaries go down, he’s going to be the subject of a recruitment more like relegated stars Idrissa Gana Gueye and Andrew Robertson before him.


Pukki couldn’t get purchase on an earlier chance, but got the job done from the spot.

Cook handled a ball in the box and was shown red, with VAR holding up the clear penalty.

The Finnish striker had no problem making it 1-0.

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Todd Cantwell was very busy as usual for the Canaries, passing well but also blasting a shot into the upper reaches of the stadium.

Norwich was dominant, outshooting Bournemouth 15-3 when another moment of madness had both teams with 10 players. Godfrey’s late challenge on Callum Wilson sent Tierney to the monitor for a VAR-aided straight red card.