Getty Images

Three things we learned from Crystal Palace vs. Man United in FA Cup final

Leave a comment

LONDON — 10-man Manchester United beat Crystal Palace 2-1 after extra time in the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday to seal their first piece of silverware since 2013.

Louis Van Gaal‘s men battled until the end and dug deep to clinch a record-equaling 12th FA Cup trophy.

[ MORE: LVG set to be replaced by Mourinho ]

In front of 88,619 supporters a slow burner played out with Palace going ahead in the 78th minute through Jason Puncheon, then Juan Mata replied three minutes later to level things up. Chris Smalling was sent off in extra time but then academy product Jesse Lingard delivered a superb volley win the FA Cup with nine minutes to go.

Van Gaal and his players danced were dancing with joy at the final whistle as they won a first trophy since the Sir Alex Ferguson era ended.

Here’s what we learned from a tense, encapsulating encounter at Wembley.


RASHFORD IS READY

Marcus Rashford is just 18 years old. He only made his debut 86 days ago and the teenage sensation proved on the biggest stage he can deliver. He did it again on Saturday at Wembley with a fine individual display which was cut short 20 minutes from full time with a knee injury. Early on he ran at Palace’s defense whenever he could, scaring the life out of them with his raw pace as Damien Delaney just did enough to concede a corner and Pape Souare blocked another Rasford effort soon after. In the 33rd minute Rashford raced clear on the right flank, surged into the box and squared for Anthony Martial who had his goalbound shot blocked by Joel Ward.

At the start of the second half Scott Dann lunged into a challenge with Rasford but the teenager simply shrugged him off, turned and continued running towards goal with Dann on his back. The Palace center back was correctly booked as the local lad from Manchester showed he has power to go with his pace. Rashford then set up Fellaini with a delightful backheel but the Belgian struck the woodwork. Everything good that United did went through Rashford and he’s high on confidence after making the most of his opportunity in the team when injuries arrived a few months ago. He’s scored eight goals in 18 appearances but he showed a maturity on a huge occasion.

Since Rashford was included in England’s provisional 26-man squad for the 2016 European Championships in France this summer, plenty want the youngster to go to France to provide the Three Lions with a wildcard. On this showing, Rashford might not only provide a wildcard. He’d do an admirable job from the start and has a bright future ahead of him. That’s of course if he’s fit and recovers in time to be part of Roy Hodgson’s squad.

BONUS: Another player Hodgson  may look at in the future, or even to replace Rashford in the squad if he’s injured, is Lingard. The 23-year-old winger came off the bench and belted in a stunning volley in the second half of extra time to win the cup for United and like Rashford, the academy product has been given a chance under Van Gaal.

Look at this strike. You beauty.


ROONEY UP AND DOWN IN DEEP ROLE

Speaking of the England squad, United and England’s skipper Wayne Rooney was deployed in a central midfield once again.

Rooney, 30, enjoyed dropping deep, picking up the ball and dictating the tempo of the game. In the first half he was going back to the center backs to collect the ball and along with Michael Carrick he got on the ball as often as possible. His range of passing is sublime. His cutting, curving balls in behind Palace’s right back position caused plenty of problems. Yet, too often he couldn’t provide the killer final ball as he and Carrick enjoyed plenty of possession but it could be argued they didn’t do much with it.

Well, he did plenty in the 82nd minute as he kept running and running and running until he got free on the right hand side of the box and then clipped over a perfectly weighted ball which Marouane Fellaini nodded down for Mata to volley home. Rooney’s role in that goal was pivotal as his name was chanted by fans as he thrust his arms into the air in delight. On multiple occasions Rooney also arrived as United’s last line of defense, making two last ditch tackles in the box. He made telling contributions when it mattered most and United’s talisman led them to their first trophy since Fergie left.

Rooney tried plenty of passes which didn’t come off too and after playing for over a decade as a forward, his role as a central midfield will take time for him to fully adapt to. Strangely he seemed to have a particular problem with short, easy passes. That will come with time as he fine tunes his midfield role. He’s admitted himself in recent weeks that he sees his future in midfield because even as his pace dissipates, his footballing brain will continue to figure out the new demands placed upon him. He led United superbly on Saturday and the quality he possesses on the ball was arguably the difference between the two teams.

There’s been plenty of debate about where Rooney will play this summer for England. The Three Lions’ skipper simply has to start at EURO 2016. Plenty agree that he deserves that. However, the big question remains where he can slot in. He no longer seems to be among Hodgson’s choices up front with Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy and perhaps Rashford vying for those spots. Given his performance at Wembley and in recent games, the jury remains out on where Rooney should line up not only this summer for England but in the future for United.


PALACE FAIL TO SEIZE THE  MOMENT

It felt like Crystal Palace never truly believed they could win the FA Cup. They matched United for most of the game but it always felt like they gave their opponents too much respect.

Referee Mark Clattenburg didn’t cover himself in glory during the final and help Palace either. Twice in the first half he pulled Palace back when he should’ve played advantage. First Connor Wickham got clear from Chris Smalling but instead of letting the Palace forward play on he pulled it back for a foul by Smalling. Wickham tucked the ball home but the whistle had gone and United’s defenders had stopped.

Clattenburg again reacted too quickly instead of letting the play unravel when Joel Ward raced clear down the right flank and Clattenburg decided to show Marcos Rojo a yellow card and pull play back for a free kick on the halfway line when Ward was running clean through on goal. Who knows if that, or a failure to hand Rooney a second yellow, would have made a big difference but Palace fans will argue that it surely would have.

Despite their misfortune, the Eagles stuck to their gameplan superbly, soaking up pressure and surrendering possession to United in central areas. They knew they would get chances on the break to score and that’s exactly what happened.

Puncheon took the corner and it was half cleared, then knocked back to him. The local lad from Croydon then lashed the ball home at the near post past De Gea and Puncheon wheeled off to celebrate in front of the delirious Palace fans. It seemed as if the script had been written for Puncheon to grab the winner and Pardew danced with delight on the sidelines with moves that will haunt him. Then Mata equalized to put a spanner in the works and Palace never fully recovered. Their fans kept pushing them on but they couldn’t break a resilient United down.

It was a game where it seemed as though Palace never truly believed they could win it. They stuck to their gameplan and took the lead and with a man advantage at 1-1 they had chances to win it. Dwight Gayle got free at the start of the second extra time period but De Gea saved his tame effort as he couldn’t sort his feet out. It was a case of being good but not quite good enough for Palace. They didn’t rise to the occasion against a far from vintage United side.

Dest decision to stay with the U.S. significant for future

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the shrill of the referee’s whistle on Friday night, with Sergino Dest expected to be on the field, his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be final.

There have been plenty of dual-nationals before him and there will continue to be dual-nationals after him. But Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. is a significant one for multiple reasons.

First, there’s the whirlwind past six months he’s had. Before the summer began, Dest was a solid member of the Jong Ajax team, which is effectively the reserve side, though it plays in the Dutch Second Division. For the U.S., he started in four of the five games for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past May and June, beating France U-20s along the way.

After a strong preseason, suddenly Dest found himself promoted to the Ajax first team. Then, suddenly this then-18-year-old kid was starting for Ajax, first in the Eredivisie and then in the UEFA Champions League, and he was impressing. After not noticing him or not bothering to call him in to national team camps in the past, suddenly Ronald Koeman was interested, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was pushing the Oranje on Dest.

While the U.S. has recruited players from Germany, England, and Mexico among other countries in recent years, it’s rare that the player hasn’t been coveted as well by the bigger – or local national team compared to the USMNT. So it says something that the USMNT is such a welcoming place that Dest felt comfortable enough when making his decision to stick with what he knew.

Also, while the Tyler Boyd decision to play for the USMNT wasn’t seen as a huge recruiting coup – he had played in friendly matches for New Zealand in the past – Dest’s decision, considering that he plays at Ajax and gets minutes in the Champions League – is on the level of the Jonathan Gonzalez deal. Gonzalez of course decided to go with Mexico, but due to a loss of form and injuries, that decision hasn’t fully panned out over the past 12 months. Dest, meanwhile, has the opportunity to cement himself as the right or left back of the future for the U.S.

A player this young is usually not put in this position where they have to choose, but Dest – with official FIFA matches coming up – basically had to make his decision this month or risk being out of the USMNT and the Netherlands for multiple training camps.

Ultimately, while Dest’s decision is a great sign for the USMNT, it’s only the start. There’s plenty of American-born players that the USMNT is losing out on, especially to Mexico. Players like Efrain Alvarez, and Gonzalez are two players who could make a difference for the U.S. moving forward, but have chosen – Alvarez for now – to play for Mexico. Other current USMNT youngsters such as Richie Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, Alex Mendez, and Julian Araujo could all potentially play for another country as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable should they leave.

And another caveat. Dest is only 19-years old, and it’s truly impossible to predict whether he’ll be the next Steve Cherundolo for the USMNT – owned the right back slot for more than a decade – or a short-term fix before an injury or loss of form keeps him away from the team.

So U.S. Soccer is on the right track with the commitment from Dest, but it still has an awful lot to do to keep growing the USMNT player pool.

 

Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic

Getty Images
Leave a comment

U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter may not be feeling any more pressure after the USMNT’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at Canada last month. But his task to beat Canada in the return match on Friday in Orlando became even more difficult with the loss of Christian Pulisic to injury.

Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Berhalter noted that there’s no one on the current USMNT team that could replace exactly what Pulisic brings – excellent dribbling, high soccer IQ, dynamic runs into the box – but they’ll need to compensate for his absence in other ways.

[READ: How will the USMNT line up v. Canada]

“When you think about his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see players like that around very much anymore.,” Berhalter said. “We’ll have to compensate with other types of skills. But what we do have is speed and physically, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game.”

Even with Pulisic on the field for around an hour, the U.S. still seemed second-best, but it didn’t help when the USMNT’s best player was taken off. In the current squad, Berhalter will need to look for creativity and darting runs diagonally from players like Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris on the wings, where they can potentially have an advantage over Canada’s outside backs.

Berhalter noted at the press conference that this week in training they’ve been focusing on bringing the intensity demanded for international soccer, as well as how to better succeed in the attacking third of the field.

“We’ve been working with the wingers, working with the attacking midfielder, having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, and being very aggressive around the penalty box,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with in the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and didn’t take advantage of that. So, we focused on that during this week and it’s been looking pretty good.”

In some of the USMNT’s worst games in recent years, including the loss in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago and the loss in Toronto, Canada, it’s been the lack of creativity in the final third, or a lack of even setting up one-v-one opportunities in the final third that’s cost the U.S. That task becomes more difficult without Pulisic, but perhaps the USMNT can take advantage of Morris’ recent fine form, and use his speed down the left to get in behind Canada’s defense.

Sterling backs Gomez after boos were heard at Wembley

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Raheem Sterling came out in support of his teammate Joe Gomez, just a couple of days after Sterling lost his temper in practice and got into a scuffle with the Liverpool defender.

Multiple reporters at England’s 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro heard a smattering of fans boo Joe Gomez when he came on the field as a substitute. While not defensible, the boos were likely as a result of the dust-up and subsequent one-match suspension for Sterling. Unable to speak to the media after the match, Sterling took to Twitter to stand up for his international teammate.

[READ: England smash Montenegro, qualify for Euro 2020]

This is the latest example of Sterling taking the high road to deal with a tough situation. Whether it’s the boos he endures from Liverpool fans over his exit from the club, racism he’s experienced at home or abroad, and the media coverage he’s felt, Sterling has almost always offered a measured, intelligent response.

In this instance, it shows that Gareth Southgate has full control of his team and that there’s an accepting atmosphere in the squad. Sterling was obviously wrong to not let the Man City defeat to Liverpool go and to take it out on Gomez warranted the suspension. To back Gomez after he took some jeers from the crowd says a lot about Sterling’s character.

You can almost bet that the two will be on the field together as England faces Kosovo on the road this Sunday.

Euro 2020 Roundup: Ronaldo scores hat-trick, France, Turkey qualify

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualification got underway on Thursday with plenty of great goals on display. Four nations qualified directly into the tournament as well, as we get closer to the final list of 24 teams.


Portugal rout Lithuania

While the result wasn’t a surprise, it was still an impressive performance from the defending European champions.

Portugal, behind a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, thrashed Lithuania, 6-0, at the Estadio Algarve. That included this terrific strike into the corner from outside the box, bringing the crowd to their feet.

It was Ronaldo’s ninth hat-trick for Portugal, which takes him to 98 goals overall along with 12 goals for Portugal in this calendar year, an incredible strike rate. Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva all scored as well. With a win at Luxembourg in three days, Portugal can assure qualification back to the European Championships, where it can defend its crown.


France comes back to beat Moldova

It’s safe to say that Les Bleus fans would gladly have taken a 2-1 result over Moldova in Euro 2020 qualifying, but the journey to get there was definitely out of the ordinary.

Moldova’s Vadim Rata put the visitors up 1-0 in the 9th minute with a goal-mouth scramble after a failed clearance from by Clement Lenglet, putting France under even more pressure. France brought wave and wave of attack towards the Moldova goal, but it was a controversial goal, credited to Raphael Varane, which brought France level.

In the 41st minute, as Olivier Giroud went for a ball, it appeared Giroud motioned to control the ball with his arm, only to move it out of his way at the last second, enabling Varane to head home. Giroud made amends for missing many chances throughout the match with a penalty kick goal in the 79th minute, earned by left back Lucas Digne.

With the win, France qualified for the 2020 Euros. Also qualifying on Thursday was Turkey, England, and the Czech Republic.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification results.

Qualification Group A

England 7-0 Montenegro
Czech Republic 2-1 Kosovo

Qualification Group B

Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Serbia 3-2 Luxembourg

Qualification Group H

Turkey 0-0 Iceland
Albania 2-2 Andorra
France 2-1 Moldova