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3 keys for USMNT vs. Nicaragua

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The U.S. Men’s National Team survived disaster Wednesday night with their 3-2 win over Martinique.

But the performance left much to be desired, and Bruce Arena will again need to tinker with his lineup and tactics to find a more consistent winning formula from this squad of 23 players ahead of Saturday’s match in Cleveland against Nicaragua.

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With a number of the starters resting, the U.S. starting eleven against Martinique looked and played like a team that didn’t have a lot of chemistry together, and it really took until the second half to start finding their flow in the attacking third of the field.

On the other end, centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Hedges and goalkeeper Brad Guzan each had forgettable moments against a team without a heralded set of players, other than Kevin Parsemain.

Here’s a look at three keys to victory for the USMNT when they face Nicaragua:


1. Connect the lines

Against Martinique, the USMNT had real trouble finding someone to connect the defense with the midfielders and forwards. Juan Aguedlo dropped back at times to serve as an outlet and bring midfielders into the play, but it wasn’t often enough and the passing struggled. Against Nicaragua, which will likely set up defensively, the USMNT will need to pass better and move the ball around at speed. Perhaps an option is moving Kellyn Acosta forward as a central attacking midfield or having Alejandro Bedoya in that position.


2. Get Dom Dwyer going

It took until the second half for Dwyer to score the opening goal against Panama in Nashville but Dwyer was full of pace and energy early on, as the U.S. team was feeding him with passes into space often. If Dwyer starts and the U.S. can get him involved early, it will help him get comfortable in the flow of the game. With his high-energy style, he always seems likely to score and he opens space for his teammates.


3. Clean up defense

Arena made three changes to his backline against Martinique and it showed, as Gonzalez, Hedges and Justin Morrow struggled at times. Only Eric Lichaj looked serviceable at right back, and could see his playing time increase. But against Nicaragua, Arena is likely to return Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Jorge Villafaña to the lineup, more experienced players and for Zusi and Besler, much more experienced at the international level. Bringing back a backline with more chemistry should help clean up the messy situations that the U.S. backline found itself in against Martinique.

WATCH: Spurs’ Son scores sensational consolation goal for South Korea

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South Korea has not had a good World Cup, but the Taegeuk Warriors have a fine goal for their tournament highlight reel.

[ RECAP: Mexico 2-1 South Korea ]

Tottenham Hotspur star Heung-Min Son was frustrated by Mexico’s stifling defense for most of the day, but El Tri had little hope of stopping his stoppage time stunner.

Son took a lay-off and then used a pick into his yard of space to rip into a shot in the third minute of extra time.

South Korea must hope for Germany to beat Sweden, then for Mexico to beat Sweden while it beats Germany and builds goals for tiebreakers.

As unlikely as that is, at least Son had this moment.

Lozano, Vela keep Mexico rolling

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Mexico is nearly onto the knockout rounds with plenty of time to spare.

Carlos Vela converted a PK and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez also scored in a 2-1 win over South Korea on Saturday in Rostov-on-Don.

Heung-Min Son buried a shot in stoppage time for South Korea’s goal.

El Tri got another decent performance from Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, who also scored Mexico’s goal in a 1-0 win over Germany.

A Swedish win or draw against Germany at 2 p.m. ET moves Mexico onto the knockout rounds.

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A handball allowed Vela his chance from the spot, and Mexico had its lead after 26 minutes.

Guillermo “Memo” Ochoa made several decent stops for Mexico in the win, though South Korea were admittedly wasteful in the final third.

Lozano then cued up Mexico’s insurance goal from Chicharito, who danced around a defender before bounding a ball home.

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Son scored a beautiful goal in the third minute of stoppage time to put South Korea on the board.

Hazard hails red-hot Lukaku after Belgian blowout

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Belgium was lethal for the second-straight game, mostly doing as it wished in toppling Tunisia 5-2 in Moscow.

The win comes on the heels of a 3-0 defeat of Panama, and “Big Rom” has been the man for the Red Devils.

[ RECAP: Belgium 5-2 Tunisia ]

Romelu Lukaku has four goals in two games, and was a force against Tunisia. His two-goal performance could’ve been four, the highlight a perfectly-timed run to chip home his second off a feed from Thomas Meunier.

Eden Hazard also scored twice, once from the penalty spot, and he marveled at his mate.

“It’s easy to play with Romelu Lukaku, pass him the ball and he scores every time. He was fantastic.”

Belgium advances to the knockout rounds, and will face England in its final match (likely with the group on the line). The winner of the group gets the runner-up of Group H with Japan, Senegal, Poland, and Colombia, and the second place team plays the winner.

“This game we won so we are happy today. We played well and scored five goals. We conceded two, we can improve on that but now we enjoy the next four days and then we play England for the top of the group.”

The England-Belgium match is Thursday in Kaliningrad.

Hazard, Lukaku help Belgium to rout

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Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard each scored a pair of goals and Michy Batshuayi also scored as Belgium clobbered Tunisia 5-2 in Moscow on Saturday.

Dylan Bronn and Wahbi Khazri scored for Tunisia.

Belgium leads the group ahead of England’s Sunday match against Panama.

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Romelu Lukaku led an early break that led to a Thomas Meunier shot collected by Tunisian keeper Farouk Ben Mustapha.

Eden Hazard won a penalty in the fifth minute, just inside the 18. He converted the chance low and to the right of Ben Mustapha.

Ben Mustapha was fortunate when Hazard’s 12th minute shot of a terrific Lukaku pass was substandard.

Lukaku then scored a beauty in the 16th minute, sent into the 18 by Dries Mertens, when he clinically slid a shot inside the far post.

Tunisia got a surprise answer a minute later, with three goals gracing the games first 18 minutes. Bronn turned a free kick past Thibaut Courtois and into the back of the net.

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Belgium was knocking on the door for most of the half, and a wobbly Kevin De Bruyne missed Lukaku with a stoppage time cross which should’ve led to a third.

Lukaku got his third courtesy of Meunier a moment later.

Hazard scored his second after the break, and Youri Tielemans assisted Batshuayi’s marker to round out the scoring for Belgium. Ex-Sunderland man Khazri scored late for Tunisia.