Associated Press

Three things we learned in USMNT’s 1-0 win over Jamaica

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The United States had a promising performance against Jamaica that produced the first goal of the second Bruce Arena era, and we learned a lot more about the members of the January camp participants than we did in the drab draw against Serbia.

So, with January camp coming to a close, who shined, who struggled, and who made a case for a spot in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers?

1. Sebastian Lletget is just as good out wide as centrally

There’s been a hard-hammered narrative that Sebastian Lletget is at his best in the middle of the field. With the #10 role occupied by Benny Feilhaber (or Sascha Kljestan recently), Lletget has been deployed out wide, first as a substitute against Serbia where he shined in limited action, and now on Friday against Jamaica.

He was quite good. He saw plenty of action down the left, and both passed and crossed very well. While he can improve on his ability to beat opponents, he drew a healthy number of fouls and his presence was important in a formation with a wide focus.

As it is with any of these performances, it’s important to remember it came against a 2nd-tier Jamaican squad. Will it translate to first-choice CONCACAF opponents in a do-or-die World Cup qualification setting? That’s on Bruce Arena to decide.

2. The Benny Feilhaber vs. Sascha Kljestan battle has gained steam

With Jermaine Jones suspended for the next World Cup qualifier, there has been plenty of speculation of who will start in his place and who will be added to the roster. Sascha Kljestan seemed to have a hold on a roster spot, either in the starting role or just behind it. That may not be such a given anymore.

[ RECAP: USMNT defeats Jamaica 1-0 in final January tuneup ]

Feilhaber looked very bright running point at the top of the midfield in Bruce Arena’s 4-1-3-2, and proved he can both cross skillfully and carry the ball into the final third. He was a danger in the opening 20 minutes, assisting the big chance in the 7th minute where McCarty headed just over, and challenging Jamacian players in their own half when defending.

On the flip side, as the first half wore on, Feilhaber featured some Bradley-like giveaways in midfield, but he redeemed it all with his beautiful assist on the Morris opener, as his silky movement on the ball unlocked the Jamaican defense. Overall, Benny may not be a player Arena wants to experiment with knowing there’s so much on the line, but he’s certainly given the U.S. coach a reason to keep him on the list for the future should the USMNT repair its qualification status quickly.

3. The creativity remains slightly deficient

The United States held much of the possession against Jamaica, with the back line hardly tested. However, there was very little in a creative sense that gave the U.S. good chances, and the few opportunities they did have were not taken with a ruthless nature. Morris had a good break on the header from Agudelo, but failed to put it away. McCarty got his head to a corner early – as he does so well – but put it over. Overall, the U.S. seemed all too reliant on pumping crosses into the box from out wide, partly a product of a width-focused formation played by Arena, but also due to a lack of other options.

The United States still lacks a player who can truly unlock an opposition defense on his own, maybe outside of Clint Dempsey, whose health remains a question mark moving forward. Feilhaber showed promise early, but he gave away possession too much. Morris tried at one point to take on four yellow shirts and failed miserably. Alexi Lalas on Twitter referred to it “unproductive but not lethargic,” which is probably an accurate description. There wasn’t much for Arena to praise in the final third, and that’s somewhat concerning considering the U.S. needs wins not draws in its immediate qualifying future.

The goal was a very nice moment to assuage the fears of many watching, but the lack of action in the opposition penalty area is still cause for slight concern.

Honorable mention: Graham Zusi is no longer a national team caliber player

The man to get the captain’s armband tonight had one of the poorer performances of the United States group, and it’s not at all surprising. His crosses were not useful, and more importantly, he was exposed at the back the few times he was tested. Most notably, in the first half he was straight up burned by Cory Burke on the chance that should have been a goal for Jamaica had Williams not horribly missed. Zusi has no speed tracking back, and would be even more exposed against a team that played less centrally than Jamaica played. We can appreciate Zusi’s past contributions to the national team, which are significant, but he should not be deployed at right-back in a meaningful game. Unfortunately, the options are limited for Bruce Arena, meaning he might see more time by default. That would not go well.

Honorable mention: Dax McCarty has a lot to offer

In my personal opinion, Dax McCarty was the best player on the field. He had five unsuccessful passes in 62 minutes of play (Michael Bradley, his substitute, had four – a topic for another day), and distributed well the whole game. McCarty proved he can carry over his set-piece prowess to the national team as well, and was quality in the attack. With Jamaica attacking through the middle of the field in their few chances forward, McCarty was solid defensively as well, helping the back line keep an untested clean sheet. This was a very good day for Dax’s chances moving forward.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

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

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow