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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.

Leicester City’s Rodgers: ‘Good news’ on Vardy injury

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Brendan Rodgers says there’s good news when it comes to the injury suffered by Jamie Vardy in Leicester City’s 4-1 blowout of West Ham United on Wednesday.

Vardy hurt his glute in the win, temporarily returning to the match after treatment from the trainer but ultimately subbing off before halftime.

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“It wasn’t his hamstring, so that’s good news for us,” Rodgers said, via The Leicester Mercury.

“He just felt a twinge in his glute, so we just have to wait and see on that in the next day or so. Thankfully his hamstring is okay and he just felt some pain in his glute, so we will have to assess that over the next few days.”

Vardy has a Premier League-best 17 goals, one more than Man City’s Sergio Aguero.

He was replaced by Kelechi Iheanacho, who assisted one of Ayoze Perez’s two goals on the day. Perez’s seven goals are second on Leicester, while James Maddison‘s six are third.

Iheanacho has six goals and three assists in 485 minutes and there’s reason to believe he can feast off Leicester’s playmaking if Vardy needs a match or two to heal.

Whether he can fill Vardy’s shoes in the long-term is a big question, especially as Leicester aims to return for the Champions League.

Transfer rumor roundup: Willian Jose to Spurs, Bournemouth after Croatian CB

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London could get itself another Willian.

Willian Jose, 28, was left out of Real Sociedad’s squad at his request on Wednesday, with the club Tweeting that he’d prefer not to play until his situation is resolved.

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Jose Mourinho said he would not comment on another team’s players, but Willian Jose could help Spurs bridge the gap to Harry Kane‘s return.

Willian Jose has been a double-digit scorer for Real Sociedad in La Liga for the previous three seasons, and is well on his way to another 10-goal campaign. He’s got eight goals in 20 matches this season.

Bournemouth needs defensive help, and is reportedly rivaling Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers for Portuguese giant Toni Borevkovic.

The 22-year-old Croatian has one goal in just over 3000 minutes with the side since arriving from domestic side NK Rudes.

He’s averaging 1.3 interceptions, .9 tackles, and 3.3 clearances per game in league play.

Rio Ave sits seventh in Portugal’s top flight and is managed by former Premier League boss Carlos Carvalhal.

Dropped points in Top Four race point to wild February

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Regardless of whether Wolves end Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League season on Thursday, there will be five teams within seven points of fourth place heading into Matchweek 25.

Chelsea has 40, a comfortable-enough six-point lead on Manchester United, Spurs, and Wolves (who meet Liverpool at 3 p.m. ET Thursday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com). Sheffield United has 33 points.

February, specifically the next three matchweeks, will see the teams inside that group learn a lot more about their fates, and give Chelsea and Sheffield United big opportunities to cement their places in the Top Four and Seven, respectively.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

In the case of the latter, it’s because the Blades are the only team in the bunch who don’t face a Top Four six-pointer; Chris Wilder‘s men will meet Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, and Brighton, while the others will be beating up each other.

Chelsea’s path is fraught, but a big opportunity. The Blues travel to Leicester City before hosting both Manchester United and Spurs. Nine points there would effectively Top Four-proof Frank Lampard‘s side.

By the way, how’s this for a hot take? If any of Chelsea, Man Utd, or Spurs find their center forward or playmaker help in the window, they’ll have a leg up on their Top Four rivals. And, really, is that extra few million pounds worth the spoils of the Champions League? Yup.

Bruno Fernandes is not (yet) with United, and the Red Devils face Wolves and Chelsea in their next two matches. Spurs have City and Chelsea. Tumult is probable!

A draw with Newcastle and loss at Watford dampened Wolves’ hopes of riding into fourth. Beginning with Thursday’s visit from Liverpool, however, Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men face three of the Top Seven and then a visit from Norwich City. It’s not over.

And don’t entirely rule out Leicester City from dropping into the fray; The Foxes host Chelsea and Man City, and visit Wolves.

One more nod, however improbable: Arsenal sits 10 points back of fourth but meets Burnley, Newcastle, and Everton over those three match weeks. A perfect run could have the Gunners thinking big (Man City is after that, alas).

Matchday 25
Leicester City v. Chelsea
Crystal Palace v. Sheffield United
Manchester United v. Wolves
Spurs v. Man City

Matchday 25
Sheffield United v. Bournemouth
Wolves v. Leicester City
Chelsea v. Manchester United
Aston Villa v. Tottenham Hotspur

Matchday 27
Chelsea v. Tottenham Hotspur
Leicester City v. Man City
Wolves v. Norwich City
Sheffield United v. Brighton
Manchester United v. Watford

Spurs play Wolves the next week, too!

Mourinho: Spurs don’t have attacking depth, but do have ‘family’

Mourinho on Spurs win
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In this “whole new Jose Mourinho” world, the key word is family.

Mourinho said it six times in his post-match presser after Tottenham Hotspur scrapped to a 2-1 defeat of Norwich City on Wednesday in London.

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Spurs had an early lead disappear when Ryan Sessegnon gave away a penalty to Max Aarons, and Teemu Pukki converted it for a 70th-minute deadlock.

Heung-Min Son scored nine minutes later. It was a win that is good for the whole family.

From Football.London:

“It was fantastic what happened after the 1-1, which happens in a difficult moment for us where I look to the bench and I don’t have attacking players to change the game the team is a little bit fatigued, especially Lucas, Son and of course Lamela. I took him off because he was in trouble and he is a player who is coming from very important and long injury, so very difficult.

“How can we change the game? With the family spirit, the family character and desire.”

Mourinho also praised Giovani Lo Celso‘s work on the wing for attack-short Spurs as “a good experience for the family,” and Paulo Gazzaniga‘s support for returned goalkeeper Hugo Lloris as “a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo.”

I mean, I’m getting the warm and fuzzies.

Clearly, Mourinho is stressing unity and there’s a bit of bunker mentality involved, as the manager mentioned some dicey calls not going their way against Watford, Liverpool, and now Norwich.