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Three things we learned from USMNT’s draw against Serbia

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January friendlies have become a time for the U.S. Men’s National Team to look at its younger domestic players for the future, but for Bruce Arena’s team time isn’t really on its side right now.

The U.S. looked largely unconvincing on Sunday against Serbia in their 0-0 draw at Qualcomm Stadium, and with just one more friendly separating the USMNT from the resumption of World Cup qualifying nerves are starting to kick in.

[ MORE: USMNT, Serbia finish scoreless in Arena’s return ]

Here’s what we learned about the USMNT from Sunday’s draw with Serbia.


Nagbe production will be vital moving forward

Let’s start with the positives. It started and ended with Darlington Nagbe on Sunday, as the Portland Timbers midfielder showed glimpses of how dangerous he can be in a USMNT attack that often lacks creativity. While the U.S. was without pieces like Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic, Nagbe figures to be an important figure for Arena moving forward because of his versatility, skill on the ball and ability to play multiple positions.

It’s still uncertain just exactly which formation Arena will settle on, but if Sunday is any indiction of the former LA Galaxy manager’s mindset the U.S. will need a creative mind like Nagbe behind Jozy Altidore in order to develop the attack.

The 4-1-4-1 or at times 4-2-3-1 left Altidore isolated for much of the encounter against Serbia, making it difficult for the Toronto FC striker to operate. Many names will be in the mix for a starting position come March but with the status of Clint Dempsey unknown as he returns from a long layoff with health issues and Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya largely quiet on Sunday, Nagbe should have a legitimate shot to crack the starting XI.

Back four still uncertain

The Graham Zusi experiment at right back went surprisingly well, albeit against an undermanned Serbia team, however, the state of the U.S. defense heading into March remains up in the air. While John Brooks, Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin are all likely to get starting nods against Honduras, the USMNT still lacks depth at outside back.

Sunday presented a big opportunity for both Zusi and Greg Garza, who started at left back, but it was the latter that struggled throughout the match and left the door open for Jorge Villafana and veteran DaMarcus Beasley to at least be in the conversation. Ultimately, Villafana’s club situation is a concern due to his lack of playing time in Liga MX and Beasley’s age also factors into the equation.

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Photo Credit: Twitter/U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer)

While Johnson’s versatility and skill could likely be beneficial for Arena on the wing, for the time being he’s still the best option that the USMNT possesses at left back.

The pairing of Chad Marshall and Steve Birnbaum was successful against the Serbs, which was certainly a bright spot on the day. While Geoff Cameron and Brooks have seemingly locked down a starting partnership in the center of the U.S. defense, Cameron’s injury woes have left the door open for someone to claim the spot next to Brooks. Birnbaum has a stronger chance to claim the position than Marshall, but also look out for FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman, who has impressed during January camp and should see time against Jamaica.

Rimando leads the way in goal

Goalkeeper has long been a position that the USMNT hasn’t had to worry about but with the status of the team’s top two choices currently uncertain, the job could be Nick Rimando’s to lose for the near future following Sunday’s performance.

The Real Salt Lake keeper wasn’t tested often against the Serbs, but the 37-year-old came up clutch when called upon and he has the experience in MLS to answer the call if needed. While Rimando has yet to make an appearance for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying, he would benefit from playing two of the weaker sides in the Hex, Honduras and Panama.

While names like David Bingham and Luis Robles will be thrown around because of their consistent success in MLS, Rimando has consistently been in the national team setup for years and has had the opportunity to watch Tim Howard and Brad Guzan from close sight. Howard is coming back from offseason surgery, making his availability in March highly questionable, while Guzan has struggled to find minutes in the Premier League with Middlesbrough.

Mohamed Salah starts for Egypt despite int’l retirement talks

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Mohamed Salah is coming off of his best season as a professional, but reports suggest that his time with the Egyptian national team could soon be coming to an end for reasons that extend beyond soccer.

Salah will however be included in Egypt’s Group A finale against Saudi Arabia on Monday, though, after the team sheet was revealed by the Pharaohs ahead of the match.

CNN reported over the weekend that Salah believes he is being used by Egypt as a political symbol to represent Chechnya, which has sparked talks of the talented Liverpool winger ending his international career.

Egypt has already been eliminated from reaching the Round of 16 after losing its first two matches at the World Cup.

The tides have turned significantly for Toronto FC

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2017 gave Toronto FC its first MLS Cup, as well as significant notoriety for the club’s historic season, but Greg Vanney and his side are in a world of trouble in 2018 for reasons that are still unfathomable.

[ MORE: NYCFC tops TFC in come-from-behind victory ]

A deep run in the CONCACAF Champions League (which ended in heartbeat at the hands of Chivas) and a number of injuries have plagued Toronto this season, and for that, the defending champions find themselves in unchartered MLS waters.

Over the course of Major League Soccer’s 22 previous seasons, only three defending champions have gone on to miss the playoffs the next year (D.C. United in 2000, LA Galaxy in 2006 & Portland Timbers in 2016).

So, how poor has TFC been through nearly half the season?

The Canadian side has acquired 15 points in as many matches, which puts the club on pace to finish with 34 points in 2018.

That total would leave TFC well below the average points needed for a club to get into the playoffs. It varies on a year-to-year basis, but teams typically need somewhere in the range of 45 to 50 points to finish above the red line in their respective conferences.

Last season, three teams in MLS finished with less than 34 points (D.C. United, LA Galaxy & Colorado Rapids), and none of the clubs finished within striking distance of the postseason.

While Toronto wouldn’t be the first team to show signs of struggles in the first half of the season and then proceed to turn things around over the second portion, there are definite concerns for Vanney and Co.

In 2018, the Reds haven’t earned back-to-back victories in MLS play, leaving the club in 10th place in the Eastern Conference.

The talent within the squad remains there, and if TFC gets the rest of its squad healthy there could be a run made by the team, but as things stand, the club’s historic run a season ago looks to be crumbling in 2018.

Gressel ties it in Atlanta United’s 1-1 draw with Timbers

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ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.

A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.

Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.

The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.