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USMNT already vindicated in hiring Arena, firing Klinsmann

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It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction from a stellar point away at Mexico in 2018 World Cup qualifying, but this is so much more than that.

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Fans of the U.S. men’s national team will be waking up with a renewed sense of hope on Monday morning as they watched their team implement a solid gameplan almost to perfection in the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca.

Sure, Mexico was missing several key players, had one eye on the upcoming Confederations Cup and already has more than one foot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but it also shuffled its pack marvelously, and bravely, to come away from Mexico City with a valuable point.

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U.S. Soccer got plenty of stick for firing Jurgen Klinsmann back in November 2016 after two defeats to open World Cup qualifying and then going for a blast from the past in Bruce Arena to guide them to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Despite all the critics (in truth, hiring Arena always seemed like the only real option) this is all working remarkably well and much quicker than expected.

Arena, 65, used all of his experience to navigate two World Cup qualifiers in four days at altitude and the length to which he went to make sure this happened smoothly is remarkable.

Players revealed after the game that Arena planned this out three weeks ago when they first met up ahead of the qualifiers. He had two separate teams training in different formations in order to get at least four points from the two qualifiers.

[ WATCH: Bradley stunning chip beats the GK from 40 yards

Arena himself, as he tends to do, kept things simple when speaking after the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca, just the third time the U.S. had got something from their travels to Mexico City in World Cup qualifying.

“We told the team on day one of this camp that we would play that way in this game,” Arena said. “We call the formation a 3-4-3 or a 5-2-1-2, or whatever you want to call it. As long as it adds up to 10, we’re good.”

Arena may have made it sound simple, but it was far from that.

Many threw their hands up in the air when Arena was appointed, stating that the USMNT had gone backwards. But was the past really that bad? After all, Arena had led the U.S. to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002. We all know what happened in 2006 but this current U.S. squad was better than any other.

This is not so much about Arena’s superior game management as it is about Klinsmann’s tactical ineptitude. On a big-picture level Klinsmann did plenty of good for U.S. Soccer as a Technical Director. You can already see that with the youth national teams in recent months and the likes of Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks becoming regulars for the U.S. national team.

But what Klinsmann always lacked is what Arena is great at: organization for individual games and man-management.

USMNT center back Omar Gonzalez spoke of the difference between Klinsmann and Arena following the draw on Sunday night. He revealed that he and others knew for weeks that they would be playing in a three-man central defense, rather than at the last minute under Klinsmann for the home qualifier against Mexico in Columbus back in November.

“I was relieved that I knew that early, for sure,” Gonzalez told Goal.com. “I’ve had three weeks to prepare for this game. It’s just a different environment, and a different mentality you can take when you know three weeks out when you’re going to play, how you’re going to prepare. Sometimes with Jurgen you wouldn’t know until the day of the game. It’s just stressful, so with Bruce here taking that kind of approach here, it’s been helping out a lot…

“Bruce is very open, clear with players, straightforward. I like that approach and it’s been great so far. We’ve turned things around since November. Now we’re in third place (in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying) and I couldn’t be happier.”

Now, we will always be reminded of Klinsmann taking the German national team to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup on home soil but he had Joachim Low alongside him. In the nicest way possible Klinsmann was a figurehead, a cheerleader who galvanized the players and staff, but now we all know Low was responsible for the key tactical decisions and he has shown that in the past 11 years in charge of Germany.

Klinsmann helped set up the system for the young German players to thrive in which the likes of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller soon benefited from. And you could argue the U.S. needed Klinsmann to put a similar rubric in place. You can also argue that having him in charge of the USMNT never really worked and he failed to get the best out of the most talented pool of players the U.S. has ever had.

Just over six months in, Arena is already doing that. Eight points from four World Cup qualifiers points to that, but the main positive is that Arena has the backing of this squad and everyone believes in what he’s doing. He is old school and is keeping it simple.

Of course, there was a certain staleness towards the end of the Klinsmann era. That’s inevitable after six years at the helm and there is usually a short-term boost when a new manager comes in. Arena’s second-coming as U.S. boss feels like he is the right man at the right time.

Looking back at Klinsmann’s reign one final time, there were major ups and downs throughout and he could never get to grips with the ever-changing American soccer landscape. Arena is an old hand at handling that. Under Klinsmann friendly wins against Italy, Germany and Holland, plus the Copa America Centenario run and reaching the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup were scattered among a Gold Cup debacle and humiliating defeats to CONCACAF rivals.

It was probably in doubt before the past week, but now it is clear U.S. Soccer pulled the plug on Klinsmann at the right time.

They could’ve done it sooner but they were all-in on Klinsmann and only inept defeats which showcased a lack of detailed preparation could be the signal for his increasingly inevitable departure. That arrived in November and U.S. Soccer acted swiftly to appoint Arena. He may too have struggled against Mexico and Costa Rica last fall, but what we we have seen across Arena’s seven unbeaten games is exactly why Sunil Gulati and Co. made the change.

The Brooklyn native is brash and bold and not everyone’s cup of tea, but my word he’s getting the job done, once again, for the U.S.

With four qualifiers to go there is still plenty of work to do but after the home game against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 and then the trip to Honduras four days later the U.S. will have a strong idea if they’re going to qualify for the 2018 World Cup automatically.

Arena’s job will be complete if that is the case and anything next summer in Russia is a bonus. That’s a good mindset to have as the USMNT looked rejuvenated and refocused under an experienced coach who is surely the best the U.S. has ever produced.

Son scores a throwback, full-field dribble goal to up Spurs lead

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Heung-Min Son saw Harry Kane‘s stunner and pushed all his chips into the pot.

The South Korean continued Spurs first-half demolition of Burnley by providing a third goal via a wonderful, near field-length dribble and finish that would make Diego Maradona nod in approval.

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He must’ve covered 80 yards or more on the dribble, winding his way into open space with a couple of touches past wayward defenders.

Don’t sleep on the speed, either, Son in possession and blazing past defenders at full sprint.

Scores, streams

Bournemouth 0-2 Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
Tottenham 3-0 Burnley
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
Watford 0-0 Crystal Palace
– NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]

WATCH: Harry Kane’s emphatic rip from distance puts Spurs up

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If Harry Kane is about to find his best self, then the Premier League should be quite concerned that Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur may return to its finest form.

On evidence of this strike versus Burnley on Saturday, it’s possible.

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Kane absolutely pummeled a shot from distance past the excellent Tom Heaton on Saturday, the first of two early goals (Lucas Moura) as Spurs are making a quick rebound from a midweek set back at Old Trafford.

Heung-Min Son perfectly settled a long ball to Kane, who was in space and cognizant of the goalkeeper’s position. The Englishman bashed the ball home for his eighth league goal of the season and 14th in all competitions.

Everton: What was different, and what’s the way forward?

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Everton got off the mat in style on Saturday, three days after a mistake-filled 5-2 loss to its Merseyside rivals.

While that loss wasn’t necessarily as bad as it looked on the score board, it was wretched at the back and enough to warrant a change at manager.

[ RECAP: Everton shock poor Chelsea ]

Duncan Ferguson took the reins at Goodison Park, and things were much improved in a 3-1 defeat of Chelsea.

What was different? Plenty, though most came in the form of personnel performances rather than changes (Also, Chelsea was terrible, but that negates little for an Everton side which had been insipid against inferior competition to Saturday’s visitors).

1) The Formation: Duncan Ferguson opted for a straight-forward 4-2-3-1 that often came closer to your traditional 4-4-2. The Toffees hemorrhaged possession but pounded away at the Chelsea attackers and counted on their swift, talented attackers to do their damage with limited chances. Call it the Newcastle United model. With Chelsea a bit off, it played out perfectly for Ferguson.

“Who knows? A new face, a new voice, a new message, who knows? These things just happen in football and the players give a reaction when they lose a manager.

“I think that’s right. What we really need at this club is the work ethic, the team really needs to work their absolute socks off. The fans really got behind us and believe me that gets you an extra goal.”

2) The Force: Dominic Calvert-Lewin, given the stage and his track record, had the game of his life. That’s not exaggeration. The 22-year-old had six shots, two goals, and won 10 aerial battles. That’s exactly what’s required given the formation and tactics outlined in Point No. 1. After scoring three goals in four matches a month ago, “DCL” had been very poor and flubbed his chances against Liverpool. This was a beauty, and Calvert-Lewin was clearly playing for his coach.

“It was a massive game for us and I have a very close relationship with Duncan. He has stuck by me for the three years I have known him. The most important thing was to go out and give 100%.”

I mean, that’s always the most important thing, but we can’t blame a 22-year-old for trading on the cliche market.

3) Other changes: Ferguson took a risk in deploying Morgan Schneiderlin over Tom Davies. The former had been one of the Toffees worst statistical players this year, while Davies is a hometown kid who had admittedly been very poor for the better part of a month. Schneiderlin wasn’t great in passing, but was steadier than the kid and won six tackles. When Davies came into the match, he wasn’t great but was more advanced and his lone positive contribution was a big one:

Yerry Mina missed the match through injury, which may’ve played a role in Ferguson’s decision to go to four at the back, but the difference in defense was down to both Mason Holgate and Michael Keane playing dramatically better. Keane especially, having not been credited with a single tackle in the loss to Everton.

We should save some space for Jordan Pickford, whose passing stats suffered from a directive to “get the ball out of there ASAP” but registered three saves in an improved performance. Pickford hasn’t been steady for his club — incredible against West Ham, terrible versus Liverpool and Brighton, and if he can eliminate the bad days and be just a bit above average he can be a big difference. Steadier work from the backs will help that.

And really that’s what will fix the Toffees. The attack hasn’t been amazing but it hasn’t been relegation worthy. And frankly the backs have not been awful, allowing the third-fewest attempts per match in the league, but have been prone to absolutely horrendous mistakes that left Pickford on an island. The less the keeper is in damage control, the higher Everton can rise.

4) So Big Dunc? Given the immediate road ahead, Ferguson’s approach and passion could give the club the leeway to wait a few weeks to make sure it hires a steady, experienced hand considering their long-term goals. Ferguson might be a name for the future, but as we outlined earlier this week… European spots remain there for the taking! Their next few matches provide chances to directly affect teams above them, with Manchester United at Old Trafford and Arsenal visiting Goodison. There’s also an opportunity to beat Leicester City and get to a League Cup semifinal.

Those are two routes to Europe right in front of the Toffees. Ferguson’s Brucian (or Benitezian) tactics and system can give them a chance to get two or three points from the league matches, and certainly can be enough to out-duel the Foxes at home. And you might say, so maybe he’s the man! Don’t look past what the club means to him. But in the long run, the talent and ambition of Everton needs a sustained system that isn’t just about “grinding it out.” Maybe Ferguson can supply that but is that a risk to take now, with Arsenal, Manchester United, and Spurs all wobbling in ways you wouldn’t expect in a given season? A commitment to working hard is just the first step to success.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Liverpool, Spurs v. Burnley headlines

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Three Premier League games take place at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ] 

Crystal Palace head to Watford, while Bournemouth host league leaders Liverpool and Burnley travel to Tottenham.

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You can access additional games by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: “Goal Rush” here ]

For those of you familiar with the Premier League Breakaway Show during busy days (Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Championship Sunday etc.) in the PL, this will follow that model of being similar to the NFL RedZone with action shown from all of the games in the 10 a.m. ET window. More info is available here.

The schedule for the three games at 10 a.m. ET is below and you can stream each game live by clicking on the links.


10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Tottenham v. Burnley – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford v. Crystal Palace – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]