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Three things we learned from USA 2-1 Ecuador — on to the semis!


The U.S. national team advanced to the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario with a 2-1 victory over Ecuador Thursday night in Seattle, Wash. Here’s what we learned about Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT…

[ MORE: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | Copa America 2016 ]

The demise of Clint Dempsey was premature

Following the USMNT’s tournament-opening loss to Colombia, I wrote a bit about Klinsmann’s Dempsey problem — long story short: he doesn’t fit the system Klinsmann wants to play, thus it might have been time to move on — so credit to Klinsmann for tailoring his tactics to one of the best American players ever and putting him in a position to contribute in a very big way.

By switching back to a quasi-4-4-2 midway through the first half against Costa Rica, Dempsey has been paired just underneath a lead striker, Bobby Wood, for the better part of three games now. In their nearly 250 minutes together, Dempsey and Wood have score three goals between, while the USMNT has scored six times in total.

On Thursday, the duo, along with the late-arriving Jermaine Jones, played equally vital roles in the build-up to the game’s opening goal (WATCH HERE), unleashing a facet of the USMNT attack that signaled they’re at their best on that end of the field — Wood for his penetration to the end line, hold-up play and space created; Dempsey for his pinpoint header back across the face of goal.

Dempsey remains the spiritual soul — a tenacious, ultimate grinder full of attitude and an annoying (to play against) downright refusal to ever (ever) quit — and it’s that kind of mentality presently running through this team that has propelled them past Paraguay and Ecuador in back-to-back 50-50 games the last two times out.

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

[ FULL RECAP: USA 2-1 Ecuador | Player ratings ]

Backline deployment ultimately the right call by Klinsmann

On paper, the thought of Matt Besler playing left back and trying to defend against Antonio Valencia way out on the wing is a terrifying one for USMNT fans. In practice Thursday night, it worked quite well for the USMNT, mostly because Klinsmann didn’t leave Besler stranded all the way out on the sideline without a safety net the way he would have done with Fabian Johnson, a natural full back, playing the position.

Instead, Besler sat extremely narrow for a full back and Alejandro Bedoya, playing essentially as a left midfielder on the night, did his best — which was quite good — to keep Valencia pinned deep and provide defensive cover from the front. On the whole, Besler only face Valencia in a true one-on-one situation on one or two occasions before the electric winger was sent off in the 52nd minute. That’s a simple but very wise tactical adjustment by Klinsmann.

Beyond that, keeping the center back duo of Geoff Cameron and John Brooks, who’ve now played 450 straight minutes in lockstep, together. We’ve talked about this a handful of times during this tournament already, but Brooks is breaking out and becoming a downright star. At this point, comfortably positioned as the USMNT’s starting left-sided center back, he’s truly undroppable and an irreplaceable figure. Think back to last summer’s Gold Cup, then read that sentence again. He’s everything you want at the position: size, strength, speed, ability to read the game, and a competent distributor. Oh, what a difference 12 months’ time makes.

[ MORE: Morris leads USMNT fan march to stadium before game ]

Watching/supporting the national team can be fun again

I’ll be the first to hold my hand up and admit it: I was on the edge of my seat all game long, and the USMNT was unrecognizably fun to watch on Thursday. The true irony is, of course, that Klinsmann had to just about become Bob Bradley, the man he replaced as USMNT boss, and embrace the Americans’ grind-it-out, rigid style of soccer to become watchable.

The fact of the matter is this: Copa America is a very big deal for this team — it’s the biggest deal until we reach the summer of 2018 in Russia — and Klinsmann has managed to meld entertainment, results and a handful of blossoming young players into into a functional group that makes me proud to root for the USMNT once again.

Klinsmann wanted semifinals. Well, he got semifinals. Now, it’s (probably) Lionel Messi and Argentina waiting on the other side. They’ll be without Jermaine Jones, Bobby Wood and Alejandro Bedoya (suspensions), which is a bitter, potentially crippling blow. We’ll worry about that sometime tomorrow morning, though, because tonight the positives hugely outweigh the negatives and we all deserve to enjoy that until the morning (at least).

Daniel Levy calls for all players, clubs to cut wages

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Tottenham chairman has called for Premier League players and staff to take wage cuts to help clubs cope with the suspension during the coronavirus pandemic.

Levy revealed 550 off-pitch staff at Tottenham have taken pay cuts as he pointed to the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich as their players and officials had taken wage cuts in order to make sure every individual at the club was paid and costs did not spiral out of control during the suspension of leagues.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Levy confirmed that the “club’s operations have effectively ceased” and “has an annual cost base running into hundreds of millions of pounds” before adding that clubs and players should do their part as clubs, leagues and players’ unions meet on Wednesday in England to work out a way forward.

“We hope the current discussions between the Premier League, PFA and LMA will result in players and coaches doing their bit for the football eco system,” Levy said.

Tottenham’s chairman also explained exactly what Spurs are doing to help them deal with the new financial reality all soccer clubs are facing, as the UK government is paying 80 percent of wages of staff who have been furloughed (basically told they still have a job but aren’t needed right now) by their employers.

“We have seen some of the biggest clubs in the world such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus take steps to reduce their costs. Yesterday, having already taken steps to reduce costs, we ourselves made the difficult decision – in order to protect jobs – to reduce the remuneration of all 550 non-playing directors and employees for April and May by 20 per cent utilising, where appropriate, the Government’s furlough scheme. We shall continue to review this position,” Levy added.

Soccer will of course have to adjust to its new reality and the longer the suspension goes on, tougher decisions will have to be made about players and staff taking significant pay cuts to help keep costs down with no matchday revenue coming in. Tottenham’s stadium is being used to help prepare food for vulnerable people in the local and it has been offered to the NHS to be used any way it can help.

Plenty of clubs across the Premier League have vowed to pay temporary staff used on matchdays but many are making use of government help with wages and many are doing plenty for their local communities too. These are unprecedented times and players and clubs are stepping up to make sure the most vulnerable are looked after.

Benzema: ‘I’m F1’ quality compared to ‘go-kart’ Giroud

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It would appear that Karim Benzema lives for exactly two things in life: scoring goals and creating/participating in very public drama.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Benzema, who hasn’t feature for France’s national team since he was allegedly involved in a scandal to blackmail teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sex tape in 2015, slammed compatriot forward Olivier Giroud as the “go-karting” alternative to his own “F1” quality.

His main gripe with Giroud doesn’t appear to actually be with the player himself, but the fact the two get compared to one another so frequently. In Benzema’s absence from Les Bleus, Giroud has been the main beneficiary, leading many to wonder if the team could have reached greater heights with Benzmea in the team instead — quotes from Sky Sports:

“You shouldn’t confuse F1 and go karting and that’s me being kind. On to the next topic. I’m not talking about him [Giroud] anymore. I just know that I’m F1.

“He has his career, he does what he wants and scores the goals that he wants to score. He’s in his corner and I’m in mine, I’m not thinking about him. If we’re talking about playing style, his suits France well.

“It’s good because there are fast players like (Kylian) Mbappe and (Antoine) Griezmann who play out wide or feed off the centre-forward. When Giroud is up front, he’s a handful for defenses, which gives the other two plenty of space to show what they can do.

“He occupies defenders and it works. It might not be brilliant to watch and you won’t say, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ Does everyone like that style of play? I don’t know, but it suits France well.”

Giroud: 39 goals (third-highest) in 97 appearances for France. Benzema: 27 goals in 81 appearances.

Guardiola: ‘We will come back stronger, kinder … and a bit fatter’

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Through all of the innumerable challenges and tragedies the world is currently facing during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is doing his best to not only help the fight back in his native Spain, but also give everyone a chance to smile and laugh at their own expense.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Guardiola, who last week donated $1.1 million to fight the virus in Catalonia, released a video message of encouragement and hope on Monday — encouraging everyone to stay inside, and hopeful of returning to a sense of normalcy in short order:

“We miss football. We miss the life that we had a few days ago but now is the time to listen, to follow our scientists, doctors and nurses.

“You are my football family and we are going to do everything possible to make you feel better. We’ll come back from this stronger, better, kinder … and a little bit fatter. Stay inside, stay safe.”

Germany’s UCL clubs pledge support for cash-strapped clubs

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DUSSELDORF, Germany — Four German soccer clubs have pledged a combined $21.9 million to support other teams struggling to stay afloat after games in the country were suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen will forgo $13.7 million in as-yet undistributed TV money and add another $8.2 million from their own funds. All four clubs played in the Champions League this season, giving them extra income.

The German Football League, which oversees the top two divisions, will decide how the money is distributed. The league has previously said it fears many clubs could face financial collapse if games can’t resume.

“In these difficult times, it’s important that the stronger shoulders support the weaker shoulders,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said on Thursday.

It’s the latest in a string of gestures to help those in need in German soccer. Players at clubs including Bayern, Borussia Monchengladbach and second-tier Karlsruhe have agreed to voluntary pay cuts to help other staff.

[ MORE: Tottenham offer stadium to help with coronavirus effort ]

Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said clubs had a responsibility to keep other teams running in what could be a long period without income from ticket sales and sponsors.

“We have always said that we would show solidarity if clubs, through no fault of their own, should run into difficulties that they can no longer overcome themselves,” Watzke said in a statement.

“BVB is currently having a major impact on society through a wide range of initiatives. And naturally we are prepared to help out other professional football clubs if it is ultimately a matter of cushioning the financial effects of the pandemic.”