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Three keys for USMNT vs. Panama

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For the U.S. national team the scenario is very clear.

If they win their final two games of CONCACAF qualifying then they will be heading to the 2018 World Cup. But we all know it’s never that easy.

[ MORE: Who should start for USA v Panama? ]

The biggest test for Bruce Arena’s side is facing Panama at Orlando City Stadium on Friday. Panama has nothing to lose. They sit in the third and final automatic spot in World Cup qualifying heading into the final two games in the Hexagonal and their final game is at home to Costa Rica who have all but qualified for the World Cup.

[ MORE: World Cup scenarios for USA ]

For the Panamanians a win against the U.S. would seal their first-ever appearance at a World Cup finals and even a point wouldn’t be bad but they’d then have to beat Costa Rica at home in their final qualifier. This game on Friday is their World Cup final and there is very little pressure on them with the home fans expecting the U.S. to win comfortably against a team ranked 60th in the world.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three keys for the USMNT as they look to jump ahead of Panama with a win and potentially go into their final Hex game at Trinidad & Tobago needing just a draw to qualify for the World Cup.


CENTER BACK PAIRINGS

Don’t be surprised if Arena mixes things up, once again, at center back. With Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler steady away at Honduras (despite one slip up between Graham Zusi at right back and Gonzalez at center back for the goal) they could well start against Panama.

Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron are no doubt the better individual defenders but it seems like Arena has decided against them as a pairing after the defeat to Costa Rica when the partnership struggled. At center back and in central midfield, having a strong understanding of the player alongside you is key and due to injuries and a lack of form this center back pairings have taken a huge hit in recent months for the U.S. In fact, the U.S. has kept just two clean sheets in their eight games in the Hex so far

Cameron and John Brooks should be the USMNT’s first-choice center backs but with Brooks out, Arena may decide to go with Gonzalez and Besler, or maybe even throw Ream back in. Simply put: Arena’s decision on who to play at center back will be crucial, especially with veteran forwards Blas Perez and Luis Tejada eager for World Cup qualification to cap their long, and glittering, Panama careers. Gabriel Torres shold cause the U.S. defense plenty of problems too.


HELPING OUT BRADLEY

Sorting out the midfield around Michael Bradley is crucial too. FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta has been preferred alongside him in recent games, and they’ve proved a solid partnership, but for an encounter like this you’d think a little more experience would be key in front of Bradley and perhaps more attacking options will prevail. I still love watching video of the midfield display Bradley and Cameron put on together against Panama in a big World Cup qualifying win in Seattle back in 2013 in the Hex, but does playing two holding midfielders make sense in a game the U.S. simply has to win? Not really.

But still, with Panama likely to hit the U.S. on the counter you have to worry about Bradley being outnumbered on the break when the U.S. turns the ball over.

There’s a real sense that Christian Pulisic will once again operate centrally in midfield and maybe this is the type of game Darlington Nagbe would flourish in as he can keep the ball and allow the U.S. to press higher up the pitch. Pace out wide crushed Honduras in a World Cup qualifying win at home earlier in the Hex and you can expect Arena to follow a similar path for this game. Bradley may well end up as the lone holding midfielder but that role suits him well. That said, he will need a dynamic group in front of him to not only help support the likes of Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood but also allow him to make any surging runs past them (ahem, the goal at the Azteca) into the final third.


EXPERIENCE IS KEY

With Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Cameron, Besler, Alejandro Bedoya, DaMarcus Beasley, Altidore and Bradley all veterans at this point, it would be intriguing to see Arena start with the vast majority of them from the start.

That group has delivered in tense situations over the past two World Cup cycles to get out of the Group of Death at the 2014 World Cup and then reach the semifinals of the Copa America Centernario. The big question is: does Arena go for experience or youth? I’d say a smattering of both and that could be a mistake.

In situations like this I say the more experience the better. Panama have five players with over 100 international caps and most will play a pivotal role on Friday. The U.S. also have five players with over 100 caps but only three may seem like guaranteed starters in Howard, Bradley and Altidore.

Dempsey, Bedoya, Cameron and Beasley should all seriously be considered due to their past of getting the U.S. over the line when they’ve needed it most. Although the exciting young talents of Paul Arriola, Nagbe and Acosta are clearly capable of performing at this level, having the nous to overcome a Panama side who will roll out every trick in the book to try and qualify for their first-ever World Cup finals is something they lack.

Petersen’s header leads Freiburg past 10-man Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach recap
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Nils Petersen’s second half goal led Freiburg to a huge 1-0 win over 10-man Borussia Monchengladbach at the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday.

Freiburg keeps its Europa League hopes alive by moving onto 41 points, one behind sixth and seventh.

Gladbach fails in a bid to go third and remains fourth with 56 points, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential.

A second yellow card to Plea was a double curse to Gladbach, who went down a man and now will miss a star forward against Bayern Munich.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Bayer’s Ramy Bensebaini utilized a slick backheel turn to nutmeg an opponent and send in a cross that was put out for a corner kick.

Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow made a tight-angle save on Alassane Plea just after the quarter-hour mark.

Gladbach saw a chance chalked off after two dangerous bids resulted in an offside deflection into the goal.

Florian Neuhaus came close to scoring again when Lars Stindl headed the penultimate move of a fine team play into the six, but he popped it over the frame.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Gladbach’s second half again settled into the Freiburg final third, but it was a home sub that paid dividends at the other end.

Petersen improved his club record for goals when he nodded Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick home in the 59th.

Stindl wasn’t too far from equalizing with a 17-yard shot at the hour mark, but Plea’s second yellow card damaged Gladbach’s hopes of a comeback.

LA Galaxy release Katai after wife’s social media mocks protestors

Aleksandar Katai released
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The LA Galaxy have “parted ways” with Aleksandar Katai after the Serbian winger’s wife posted racist and violent comments regarding protestors.

On Tuesday, Tea Katai posted a comment to “kill the s—-” with an accompanying video of a New York PD police vehicle ramming into a barricade help up by protestors and another photo of looters with sneakers she captioned, “Black Nikes Matter.”

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Aleksandar Katai issued an apology on Instagram saying that the views would not “be tolerated in my family” and condemned white supremacy while posting that “Black Lives Matter.”

That wouldn’t be enough for the Galaxy, who announced they would meet with Katai on Thursday. Their consideration may have been affected by protests outside their stadium.

According to the LA Times’ Kevin Baxter:

On Thursday four men stood before a statue of David Beckham outside the team’s stadium holding a bedsheet-sized banner that read “No Racists in Our Club” with Katai’s uniform No. 7 encircled with a red line through it.

Katai, 29, was in his first season with the Galaxy after spending 66 matches with the Chicago Fire, scoring 19 goals with 12 assists. Prior to that, he spent time with Red Star Belgrade and Vojvodina. He is nine times capped by Serbia including thrice in 2019.

Newcastle United season restart preview

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Newcastle United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Here is a closer look at all things Magpies when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: The Magpies won’t be qualifying for Europe and also are extremely unlikely to be relegated, but is there some danger of the latter? It seems more likely that Newcastle’s season will be more headline watching to see if its controversial takeover is approved and serious pitch-analyzing to see if Joelinton can rediscover what he did well in the Bundesliga last season. Steve Bruce’s men are also in the FA Cup quarterfinals but have Man City coming to St. James’ Park, but the veteran manager getting a result against Pep Guardiola twice in one season seems a tall ask.

[ MORE: Ranking every Newcastle player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: The Magpies have done their best work replicating the system Rafa Benitez implemented last season, but Bruce has shown some real nous in getting four of six points from a flat back four in the final two matches before the pause (That said, the Burnley draw was abysmal).

It’s easy to imagine Bruce using four at the back for the first two matches of the restart, home outings against Blades and Villa, though the Magpies’ 2-0 defeat of Sheffield United at Bramall Lane saw the side effective in a 3-4-3. How it goes from there could dictate Bruce’s plans, though expect more 5-man back lines with Man City, Liverpool, and Spurs yet to come.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Newcastle’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Dubravka —–

— Manquillo — Lascelles — Fernandez — Rose —

—– Shelvey —– S. Longstaff —–

— Ritchie— Almiron — Saint-Maximin—

—– Joelinton —–

There are plenty of things that could and should change here. Loan signings Valentino Lazaro and Nabil Bentaleb have good chances to start and Isaac Hayden’s been more consistently than sophomore-slumping Sean Longstaff. The club also will want to court Matty Longstaff into a new deal and Geordie hero Andy Carroll is healthy and works well in place of or next to Joelinton, who can move to the wing. Fabian Schar and Ciaran Clark are starting caliber backs looking for homes since Steve Bruce moved away from a back five, and Paul Dummett is a healthy and adequate CB, too.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Sheffield United (6/21), Aston Villa (6/24), West Ham, Spurs, Liverpool
Away: Bournemouth (7/1), Man City, Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion

Predicted finish: We’ll know plenty within three days of the season’s restart, as Blades and Villa visit St. James’ Park and the Magpies could sit top half in no time. Eight points clear of the drop zone is not entirely safe with eight matches left, though, so there’s some potential for danger if they lose those winnable matches at an empty SJP. That said, there are too many ways to cross the 40-point mark and so many teams behind them. They sit 13th, and they’ll finish within a place or two of that.

LIVE, Bundesliga: Freiburg hosts top four hopefuls Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach live
Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images
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Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram bring red-hot form and top four hopes to Freiburg when Borussia Monchengladbach visits the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday for a 2:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

Gladbach is ahead of fifth-place Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential and four points back of second-place Borussia Dortmund.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Freiburg is winless in four and staring down a tough run of fixtures while their Europa League hopes have taken a massive hit.

There were six goals between the sides in late November when Gladbach took all the points in a 4-2 win.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Below is the schedule for the Bundesliga game early on Friday and how you can watch live on TV in the USA and online and follow along via the link above.

Bundesliga how to watch

  • TV Channels: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • USMNT players to watch: Fabian Johnson, Gladbach (not on bench)
  • Kick off time: 2:30 p.m. ET — Freiburg v. Gladbach