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

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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).

CCL wrap: Atlanta United, Cruz Azul advance

CONCACAF Champions League
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The underdogs did not have their days on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

MLS side Atlanta United and Liga MX mainstays Cruz Azul cruised to second legs win at home to clinch places in the quarterfinals.

Cruz Azul 4-0 (6-1 agg.) Portmore United

Bringing a pair of away goals from Jamaica, the Liga MX hosts just needed to put this one on ice early.

Orbelin Pineda did that in the 22nd minute, and Cruz Azul struck thrice in the second half to win in a landslide.

Atlanta United 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Montagua

It was all about the Martinezes in Georgia, as Pity sandwiched a pair of goals around Josef’s 61st minute tally to send the Five Stripes into the next stage.

All the goals showed calm under pressure, but Pity’s first was gorgeous football. He also assisted Josef’s goal in Honduras during the first leg.

Remaining Round of 16 second legs

NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

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

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

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The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…