Three things learned: Morgan relieved to get back in scoring column

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EDMONTON, Alberta – The U.S. eked out a 2-0 victory against Colombia on Monday in the Round of 16 in a match that was hardly a dominant display from the American. The win puts the U.S. through to the quarterfinals against China on Friday, but the Americans are yet to play their best soccer.

U.S. players say they are still coming into their peak, and that improvements are tangible. Here’s what we learned from the United States’ 2-0 win over Colombia:

A weight lifted off Morgan’s shoulders: Alex Morgan scored her first goal of this World Cup in her second straight start. She said she was initially looking to cross the ball on the sequence, but a goal’s a goal. That’s all she really cares about.

“It’s definitely a little bit of a sigh of relief,” Morgan said. “Just as a forward we always want to score goals. We’re expected to score goals. We needed that breakthrough at that moment after not converting the penalties, so it was a breath of fresh air after I scored.”

[MORE: Complete coverage of 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup]

The goal was Morgan’s first since March 4 against Switzerland. Morgan admitted that the recovery process from a bone bruise in her left knee that kept her most of April and all of May became worrying in the homestretch ahead of the World Cup. She said she had “a minor freak-out three weeks before the World Cup” when she still wasn’t back to full training, saying that sometimes she gets inside of her own head too much. Now, however, Morgan is only looking forward.

“I don’t remember the last goal I’ve had with this team and that’s not a good sign,” she said.” So I don’t want to look back and see when the last one was, because now I’ve scored and it’s a fresh start moving forward. But I’m happy at where I am with the team. I think we’ve been building the last couple of games. I think that in the second half we had a pretty dominant performance and I’m looking forward to playing China next.”

U.S. extends shutout streak: The United States’ defense has been its best asset this tournament, and while Colombia never looked overly threatening in the final third, distribution out of the back by the Americans was less than stellar. It’s something that will need to improve against China in the quarterfinals, but even on an off night, per se, the U.S. extended its shutout streak to 333 minutes, last conceding in the opening half-hour of the tournament against Australia.

“They are very good in tight spaces and so they got out pretty well, so we had to be OK with them having the ball at times,” U.S. defender Becky Sauerbrunn said. “I think defensively, as a team, we did really well in keeping them away from dangerous areas.”

Colombia is for real: Colombia will leave this tournament having sent a message to the rest of the world that they won’t be pushovers at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Colombia’s disciplined first-half performance frustrated the U.S. and Las Cafeteras hardly looked out of their depths physically or tactically.

Lady Andrade was largely bottled up but showed moments of that impressive flair that made for an exceptional tournament. Colombia’s midfield gave the U.S. trouble with the extra player in the middle of the park – a concerning trend for the U.S. – and controlled the ball through large stretches.

“I think that in the future, any team that has to play against Colombia as an opponent will realize that it is a team that is very complete, very mature,” Colombia coach Fabian Taborda said.

Indeed, the world took notice. Had that game been played at full-strength the entire time, the result could have been much different.

Liverpool sign teenage sensation Van den Berg

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Sepp van den Berg is officially a Liverpool player with a $1.6 million deal agreed.

Plenty of top clubs across Europe have been chasing the PEC Zwolle teenager, but the 17-year-old center back has chosen to sign for Jurgen Klopp‘s reigning European champions.

Van den Berg made his debut in the Dutch Eredivisie during the 2018-19 campaign, making 15 appearances, and has already progressed to play for the Netherlands U19 national team four times.

Speaking about his arrival at Anfield, the youngster seems pretty happy to be calling Liverpool home.

“It’s just an amazing feeling. It is, for me, the biggest club in the world and it’s a dream come true. I am really excited,” van den Berg said. “I’ve seen what kind of players from the Academy grew into the first team here. It is unbelievable, especially when this kind of big club does that. Of course, the trainer [Jurgen Klopp] is a great guy and one of the reasons they are successful – and also one of the reasons I came here. I think this is the best place for me to grow and hopefully play a lot of games here.”

This is a long-term signing for Liverpool, but with Dejan Lovren eager to leave this summer to play regularly, VDB could be straight in as Liverpool’s fourth-choice center back. He is a defender who has a turn of pace but is also calm on the ball, and that seems to slot in perfect with what Liverpool want from their defenders.

Fellow Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk will be the perfect role model for the youngster (van den Berg mentioned that he can’t wait to learn “everything” from van Dijk) while Joel Matip and Joe Gomez will battle it out for the spot alongside VVD at center back in the next few seasons.

Having VVD pass the baton to VDB in a few years time seems like the plan for Klopp and Liverpool. NBD.

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.