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Three things: USMNT fails in bid for revenge on Costa Rica

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Three things we learned from the U.S. national team’s 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday…

[ RECAP: USMNT fails in bid for revenge on Costa Rica ]

Arena’s tactics a handicap from the start

Bruce Arena’s decision to play a two-man midfield — Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe — was a tough hole for the USMNT to dig itself out of. For starters, I’ll say this: it’s obvious what Arena’s thinking was in going with the two-man midfield — with Costa Rica playing three across the back, it’ll be two-versus-two in the middle of the field, and a fourth attacker is needed to pull those three center backs out of their shape. In reality, Los Ticos pressed like crazy, and without a third body in the center, Bradley and Nagbe were often left without an emergency outlet.

As for the defensive side of things, it was an unmitigated disaster. I briefly explained why Nagbe doesn’t work in a two-man midfield as opposed to a trio, here, and while Geoff Cameron and Tim Ream each had nightmares at center back, the wide open space in midfield played an equally massive part in both goals — especially the second. With no one free to step to David Guzman, Nagbe’s Portland Timbers teammate had all day to carry the ball through midfield, or, as he opted to do, slip Marco Ureña through with a simple through ball.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 0-2 Costa Rica ]

Playing through, not to, Altidore is the way forward

My headstone will one day read, Jozy Altidore is a playmaker, not a target man, why can’t any of you get this? Again on Friday, it was Altidore who held the ball in between midfield and defense, played runners through on the wings, dribbled at (and beat) defenders one-on-one, and set up two of the USMNT’s three best chances when acting as the fulcrum of the attack.

Trust me, I’m aware that a 6-foot, 180-pound physical specimen like Altidore isn’t supposed to be a creative genius facilitator, but life doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to do. Here’s the realest problem resulting from that, though: he really needs a partner up top, as he had on Friday in the form of Bobby Wood. Remember that midfield thing we just discussed, though, about Bradley and Nagbe not really suiting the two-man midfield? To appease the former, you must also concede the latter. With one or two breaks — the no-call on what should have been a penalty in the first half, namely — the other way, the reward ultimately outweighs the risk in this game; with those breaks all seeming to go Costa Rica’s way, you end up on the wrong end of 2-0.

[ MORE: Late drama for Germany; Kane starts scoring on Sept. 1 ]

The never-ending search for a left back

Here’s an excerpt from my Three Things post, dated July 15, 2017:

This was Jorge Villafaña’s chance; it was to be his Gold Cup; it was supposed to be his coming-out party; it was his audition for next summer’s World Cup — the one where he needed to step up and say, “I am the left back,” thus solving the USMNT’s biggest, longest-running problem. After starting the first and the third games of the group, we’re no closer to having found a full-time starter. It would have been nice, but at this point, we all knew better.

All of the above still rings true a month and a half, and another uninspiring shift at left back, later. At this point, I’m resigned to the fact that DaMarcus Beasley will start at left back, a position which he only started playing prior to the last World Cup, next summer in Russia, at the tender age of 36.

U.S. U-20 MNT sets up rematch with Mexico in CONCACAF U-20 Championship

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CONCACAF’s two soccer giants will duke it out for the region’s Under-20 title on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2013 final.

Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola’s lone goal in the 51st minute was enough to lift the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team over Honduras, 1-0, in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. The win sets up a final with neighbor Mexico, which is in fine form just like the U.S. heading into the final.

[READ: UEFA Nations League recap]

CONCACAF switched its format this year, hosting 34 of the region’s 41 teams in a much larger tournament than before, taking place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Both the U.S. and Mexico walked through the group stage: The U.S. beat the U.S. Virgin Islands 13-0 and even Trinidad and Tobago, 6-1, while Mexico routed Aruba, 10-0.

In the second stage of the competition, the U.S. and Mexico both topped their groups, the U.S. routing Costa Rica, 4-0 before the Honduras result on Monday, while Mexico beat El Salvador and tied Panama.

After a disastrous 2011 U-20 run, which saw the U.S. miss out on World Cup qualification, the program has rebounded, sending teams to the 2013, 2015 and 2017 U-20 World Cups. This year’s squad could be better than some of the previous ones, with many players even eligible for the 2021 World Cup cycle. Ulysses Llanez has been a revelation up front, Akinola has continued his terrific form from the U.S. U-17s with seven goals in this tournament, and Philadelphia Union defensive pair Matthew Real and Mark McKenzie have been solid along the backline.

Amazingly, this isn’t even the U.S.’ best squad if it had everyone to pick from. On-loan defender Chris Richards joined halfway through the competition from Bayern Munich, Indiana University’s Trey Muse wasn’t called in, and European-based players such as Josh Sargent and Jonathan Amon are still eligible, as is now U.S. Men’s National Team regular Tyler Adams.

Mexico as always will be a difficult opponent to beat. The star of the show is 18-year-old Diego Lainez of Club America, who has already been capped by El Tri, while Jose Macias has scored 10 goals in the tournament.

The U.S. and Mexico square off on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. ET.

Report: Ibrahimovic could return to AC Milan

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be a one-season wonder in Major League Soccer.

After a spectacular 22-goal, 10-assist campaign for the LA Galaxy, Gazzetta Dello Sport reports that Ibrahimovic is waiting for the phone to ring from AC Milan sporting director Leonardo, with a potential six-month deal in Milan on the table. Ibrahimovic and Leonardo have history – Leonardo was at Paris Saint-Germain when Ibrahimovic joined…from AC Milan, where Ibrahimovic played for two seasons, from 2010 through 2012.

[READ: Oscar Pareja departs FC Dallas for Tijuana]

The 37-year-old striker is now 18 months removed from tearing the ACL in his right knee and showed few injury worries during his time with the Galaxy, where he started in 24 or 27 matches after joining in May. The report in Italy claims that Zlatan could earn upwards of $2.3 million for his six-month stint at Milan, which is more than he earned in base salary in one season in the U.S.

If this is the end of Zlatan’s time in MLS, he leaves having proven that he took the league seriously but also how embarrassingly bad the LA Galaxy’s defense was in 2018. There’s just no way that a team with 22 goals from Ibrahimovic should miss the playoffs.

The big Swede joins the likes of Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney as recent European imports who had an instant impact in MLS. However, Ibrahimovic won’t be remembered alongside players such as David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry and David Villa, all of whom had huge long-term impacts in MLS and for their clubs.

UEFA: FFP rules must be “strong and clear”

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Current UEFA general secretary Aleksander Ceferin is making a robust statement about his intentions to hold teams accountable under Financial Fair Play.

In the wake of reports from Football Leaks, published through Der Spiegel, alleging that both Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain had overvalued sponsorships to get around FFP rules, Ceferin told the BBC that the same type of corporate actions may not continue under his watch.

[READ: Ceferin says European Super League is “fiction”]

“I don’t want to speak about Man City or PSG but for any club the rules have to be strong and clear,” Ceferin said. “We will act by the book, by the regulations. We know that we have to modernize. We know we have to check the rules and regulations all the time. We know that the situation in the football market is changing all the time. So that’s also part of our thinking for the future – do we have to do something about the regulations to be more robust? Yes.”

The new Football Leaks allegations aren’t exactly breaking news. UEFA ruled in 2014 that Man City had broken FFP rules, eventually settling with the club for around $63 million in today’s dollars, the same price Man City soon paid Liverpool for Raheem Sterling. The settlement helped Man City avoid being barred from the UEFA Champions League as well as help avoid UEFA losing key sponsorships and advertising revenue with one of the big clubs out of the spotlight.

FFP is a double-edged sword for UEFA. It was instituted by former UEFA president Michel Platini as a way to curb overspending and keep clubs from spending so much they became insolvent – look at Rangers or Valencia, for example. However, the way the rules were implemented, it almost forced the status quo to remain the same, just as billionaires from the Middle East and Asia were prepared to pump billions into their clubs, without having to worry about debts.

In order for PSG and Man City to become giants, the clubs needed to invest massively, and while both teams may have broken FFP rules, if they’re operating within their means, it should be allowed. Ceferin’s statement is bold, but it’s one that he’ll have to back up with action if a big club breaks FFP rules again. Is UEFA willing to jeopardize advertising revenue to keep the likes of Man City, or Barcelona or PSG out? We’ll see.

Portugal unaware of joint World Cup bid with Spain, Morocco

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) A Portuguese official says Spain has made no approach about the possibility of presenting a three-way bid to host the 2030 World Cup with Morocco.

Education Minister Tiago Brandao Rodrigues, who oversees sports, says he has “no formal knowledge of any official announcement about a three-way bid.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

He also says he believes FIFA does not allow joint bids from separate confederations – in this case, UEFA and the Confederation of African Football.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez supposedly conveyed the bid offer to Moroccan counterpart Saad Eddine El Othmani during a brief visit to the north African country.

Bids to host the 2030 World Cup are being considered by countries in South America and England.