With two friendlies before the Confederations Cup playoff, who should be the USMNT’s center back pair?

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For some folks, Jurgen Klinsmann is the answer to what ails the USMNT. To others, like my clever colleague Andy Edwards, he is the soccer equivalent of someone who walks around randomly punching children.

I like to think I’m somewhere in the middle. Overall, the scheduling works for me as do most of his decisions. I wasn’t in the Landon Outrage crowd nor do I anoint every 18-year-old from somewhere in Germany as the next American Messi.

[ EXCLUSIVE: JPW talks Olympic qualifying with U.S. coach ]

And while the USMNT’s Tinkerman takes a lot of risks with his formation and use of his best players (See: Bradley, Michael), there is at least one area where I just don’t get it: center backs.

Klinsmann has stuck to his guns when it comes to the men in the middle, often omitting Omar Gonzalez and/or Matt Besler in order to use Ventura Alvarado or another young “next big thing.”

Why?

Others are going to claim that the squad is being hurt by the continued use of John Brooks, but I don’t take umbrage with his inclusion. He loses his space in marking a bit too often for my likes, but overall I feel the same way as Klinsmann: experience and a better partner will help him find his strong club form for Hertha Berlin.

Take a peak at these defensive action stats from Squawka (Number at left is their rank in their respective leagues).

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Of course more goes into playing defense than simple defensive statistics — and Alvarado has a small sample size due to Mexico’s split season — but Brooks’ numbers from the Bundesliga are impressive. The 17th-most defensive actions of any defender in Germany’s top-flight is a big number.

source: Getty Images

In another half-hearted defense of Alvarado, he could be helped significantly by Jermaine Jones, who returns to the fold this week.

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And given Gonzalez’s skills with the ball and in the opposition box, it makes it pretty easy to like him as a pair with Brooks. While I’d still like to see Geoff Cameron get another crack, we know the Stoke City veteran can just as easily fill a role in the midfield or right back.

So it comes down to who fits best when it comes to winning a game that matters, as we’ll soon see against Mexico in the Confederations Cup playoff. For me, I want to see a mix of MLS and Europe in Gonzalez and Brooks. But will Klinsmann give us another Alvarado/Brooks? I’d rather not, thanks.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Must-See Goal: Wayne Rooney v. Orlando City

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Wayne Rooney just scored the most amazing goal in Audi Field’s young history.

In the 10th minute of D.C. United’s match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday evening, Rooney noticed Orlando’s Brian Rowe straying way off his line. And so, with an audacious but accurate attempt, Rooney let fly from 65 yards and SCORED. Just check this goal out below.

[FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Panama]

Rooney took advantage of a crazy bounce and with his literal first touch, unleashed a thunderbolt that Rowe couldn’t catch up to. It automatically becomes one of the top contenders for the MLS Goal of the Year, and should make it on every top ten countdown this evening and tomorrow.

Benfica: Atletico Madrid make $143 million bid for Felix

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The legend of Joao Felix appears to have reached full market value potential.

The 19-year-old Portuguese striker is coming off a breakout year for Benfica, and now the Portuguese giants have received an impressive $143 million offer from Atletico Madrid for Felix. The club confirmed the offer in a statement on its website, stating it was analyzing the deal. Felix has a $136.5 million release clause in his contract, but it appears the additional $7 million is in processing costs.

[READ: Kroos wants to retire at Real Madrid]

Felix was outstanding at Benfica last year, scoring 15 goals with seven assists in 26 league games and three goals and one assist in five Europa League game. Felix has already made his international debut for Portugal.

If confirmed, Felix would become the fifth-most expensive transfer in world history, and the second-most expensive transfer for a teenager behind Kylian Mbappe.

AFCON: Nigeria 1st team through to round of 16 at African Cup, joined by host Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Former champion Nigeria became the first team to reach the last 16 at the African Cup of Nations after defender Kenneth Omeruo‘s second-half goal delivered a 1-0 win over Guinea on Wednesday.

The Nigerians were unimpressive in the first half in Alexandria but lifted their game in the second. Alex Iwobi‘s rasping shot was pushed away by Guinea goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone and Ahmed Musa almost set up Odion Ighalo on a counterattack.

The former Chelsea defender Omeruo did what the forwards had not been able to do when he beat Kone with a glancing header at the near post off Moses Simon’s corner in the 73rd minute.

Nigeria, which won the title in 2013, has two wins from two games in Group B. It beat Burundi 1-0 in its first match and now needs a draw from its last fixture against Madagascar to finish top and stay in Alexandria for the last 16.

There was more good news for Nigeria when Samuel Kalu came on as a substitute near the end. The midfield player collapsed at a training session the day before the first game, suffering from dehydration, and was hospitalized.

Coach Gernot Rohr rested captain John Obi Mikel against Guinea.

Elsewhere, Egypt also confirmed a place in the knockout stages with a 2-0 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ahmad Elmohamady and Mohamed Salah each scored in the first half to lead the Pharoahs to victory, the hosts second-straight win in the competition.

In the other match of the day, Uganda tied Zimbabwe, 1-1.