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Three things we learned from USMNT’s win over Ghana

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The next time the U.S. national team takes the field, they’ll face Panama in each side’s 2017 Gold Cup opener. Bruce Arena’s “B-team” completed its preparations with a 2-1 friendly victory over Ghana on Saturday. Here’s what we learned…

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It’s Kellyn’s midfield now

The time for Kellyn Acosta to assume the role of full-time central midfield star is… well, about three months ago. At the age of 21, Acosta’s ascendancy to arguably the best two-way player in the entire USMNT player pool is complete.

His showing for all season long for FC Dallas have shown he’s a class above MLS and ready for the next level; last month’s showing against Mexico, in Estadio Azteca, proved Acosta is mature well beyond his years, as the FCD homegrown star partnered Michael Bradley and played his part in the 1-1 draw; Saturday’s showing against Ghana proved he’s comfortable and confident no matter his midfield partner, as Acosta and Dax McCarty patrolled the middle of the park and dictated the game’s tempo for all 90 minutes (their combined passing chart, at right).

Acosta is the USMNT’s midfield star of the future (think: the next 10-12 years), and he looks more than ready to assume that title and responsibility in the here and now. His range of passing is second to none in the player pool; he’s a threat on goal from anywhere inside 30 yards; and he’s increasingly aware of tracking and handing off runners at all three levels. He’ll almost certainly be off to Europe next summer, should he show even remotely well at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and USMNT fans should be downright giddy to witness the heights he’ll reach in the years immediately thereafter.

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


 

Defensive depth for days

Matt Besler and Matt Hedges were very good in this one, just as Geoff Cameron and John Brooks were against Trinidad and Tobago last month, just as Cameron and Omar Gonzalez were against Mexico three days later. Less than 12 months to the World Cup, Arena now has five center backs, with varying amounts of international experience, upon whom he can call in just about any situation, no matter the opponent.

Four of the five, excluding Gonzalez, have the ability to play the ball out of the back that Jurgen Klinsmann desired for so long, but could never unlock to construct a team that effectively plays the ball out of the back. Now, under Arena, and with a functional two-way midfield in front of them every time they take the field, the likes of Cameron and Besler, ball-playing specialists on either side of central defense, are thriving in possession and in defense.

[ MORE: Germany, Chile set for Confed Cup final on Sunday ]


The Gold Cup’s going to be fun

Hot take: The “B-team” Gold Cup (meaning, the one to which the USMNT and Mexico don’t send their first team) is better than the “A-team” version, at least form a USMNT perspective. With so many up-and-comers making their way into the player pool from MLS academies/teams, the storylines and points of intrigue are countless.

From Acosta and Dwyer scoring their first international goals on Saturday; to Dax McCarty’s return to the USMNT fold; to Kelyn Rowe, Paul Arriola and Joe Corona’s bid to become “this World Cup cycle’s Graham Zusi”; to the ongoing search for a starting left back; three or four players should emerge from this month’s tournament and force Arena’s hand when 2018 World Cup qualifying resumes in September. From there, a World Cup debut is eight short months away.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

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Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE

Petkovic: Time to “take Switzerland seriously” after Brazil draw

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While much of the talk about Sunday’s 1-1 draw between Brazil and Switzerland will focus on the former, the Swiss would like their share of credit for frustrating — and matching — one of a handful of favorites to win the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic is chief among those who believe it’s time those on the outside “start taking notice of us and taking us seriously.” As for the insinuations that his side roughed up Neymar, who suffered 10 of the 19 fouls committed by Switzerland, most of them were “very clean” — quotes from the BBC:

“Sometimes if there is a lack of recognition that is a pity because we have played very well. We showed and demonstrated that this team always believes in itself and can achieve results.

“Most of the duels (with Neymar) were won in a very clean way. It was one of the key ingredients to neutralize Neymar.”

“I’m very proud and pleased with the discipline with the way we played. We worked collectively and cohesively.”

“When we are able to play forward and press higher up we were able to do it well and it is an excellent starting position for the rest of our group matches.

“We had real difficulties in the first 40 minutes, I said ‘let’s remain calm, focused and believe in ourselves, push up higher up the pitch and create opportunities to score.'”

Having secured a point in far and away their toughest group game, Switzerland now have eminently winnable games against Serbia (Friday) and Costa Rica (Wednesday, June 27) remaining. Four points from those two games would just about guarantee progression to the knockout rounds.

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 2

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Layla Anna-Lee has a new show and, well, it’s unbiased. At least occasionally…

In the second episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, Layla Anna-Lee looks at the best moments from the first set of matches in the 2018 World Cup.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.

Brazil waste Coutinho’s stunner, draw Switzerland in opener

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Brazil started brilliantly and raced out to an early lead, but the five-time World Cup winners — and one of a handful of favorites in 2018 — disappointed in the end as they settled for a 1-1 draw with Switzerland in the two sides’ Group E opener.

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Philippe Coutinho opened the scoring after 20 minutes, turning home a stunning strike from distance, off the inside of the post, to settle any early nerves and give Tite’s Selecao a 1-0 lead (WATCH HERE).

It wasn’t Brazil’s first golden scoring chance of the game, though, as Coutinho and Neymar combined down the left wing to send the latter into space inside the penalty area. Neymar played a first-time cross into the six-yard box, but Paulinho‘s scuffed effort from close range was tipped around the post by Yann Sommer.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

A bit of complacency and real lack of urgency washed over Brazil as soon as they went ahead, affording Switzerland every opportunity to get back in the game.

Vladimir Petkovic’s side needed just five second-half minutes to draw level, thanks to some shoddy set-piece defending by Brazil. Steven Zuber took up a spot at the near post, virtually unmarked inside the six-yard box, and headed past Alisson.

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The game’s most controversial moment came just after the 70-minute mark, when Gabriel Jesus was bear-hugged inside the penalty area. Wrapped up from behind, the Manchester City forward was blatantly prevented from getting to the ball after a quick passage of smooth build-up, but referee Cesar Arturo Ramos Palazuelos was unmoved and no video review was enacted.

By the full-time whistle, Brazil had piled up 21 shots (just four on target) compared to just six from Switzerland (two). Despite on-target efforts from Neymar and Renato Augusto inside the game’s final five minutes, a winner wasn’t on the cards and the sides were forced to split the points.

Up next for Brazil is a clash with Costa Rica on Friday, while Switzerland will face Serbia the same day. The Serbs topped the Costa Ricans in Sunday’s first game, putting them top of the group after after the first of three rounds in Group E.