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Three keys for USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago

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Win, and they’re in.

That or a draw is what’s on the line for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday evening when it takes the field at Ato Bolden Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago. The USMNT is coming off a confidence-boosting 4-0 rout of Panama, but the squad discovered Monday afternoon things wouldn’t be easy in Trinidad and Tobago.

[ MORE: How will the USA line up against T&T? ]

Thanks to heavy rains recently, a natural “moat” of water separated the players from the locker room and the field, forcing them to improvise ways of getting over it. Perhaps trekking through the water will be a character-building exercise. Or it’s a reminder that in CONCACAF, nothing comes easy.

Trinidad and Tobago are coming off a 3-1 road defeat in Mexico, and while they’re eliminated from World Cup contention, they’re likely to try and score a big result against the U.S. on home turf.

With so much on the line, let’s take a look at three keys to victory for the USMNT over Trinidad and Tobago.


GET PULISIC THE BALL

This should go without saying, but without Christian Pulisic, it’s unlikely the U.S. would have had the same result against Panama. The Borussia Dortmund wonderkid is a revelation, for a lot of reasons.

For one, he is one of the fastest guys on the field, even faster it seems with the ball. For another, his poise under pressure is better than that of some veterans.

But ultimately, he’s the most dynamic player with the ball at his feet. Every time he receives it, especially in midfield, fans edge out of their seats or off their couches, looking to see what the wonderboy will do next.

Against Panama, Pulisic was a menace as a central attacking midfielder. Pulisic turned and attacked each time he received the ball, opening up space for the rest of his teammates.

There are questions over whether his calf has fully healed, but should he be given the go-ahead, Pulisic in possession makes this U.S. team tick better than when he’s not in the game.


DEFENSIVE MENTALITY

The USMNT has the talent on paper to win this game over Trinidad and Tobago, which is about to finish the Hex last in the group.

But this is CONCACAF, and nothing happens as planned. Since the start of the Hex, the U.S has failed to keep a clean sheet on the road. On Friday, Bruce Arena went back to the tried and trusted centerback pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler with Jorge Villafaña and DeAndre Yedlin along the wings. While the back four wasn’t perfect, it did enough to earn the clean sheet at home.

On Tuesday, assuming Arena goes with the same lineup, they’ll need to be mentally sharp and compact enough to deal with Trinidad and Tobago’s speedy and powerful forwards. All it took was a second of lost focus, and suddenly Shadon Winchester was behind Mexico’s defense and scoring the opening goal last Friday.

Equally important to the defensive effort for the USMNT will be players like Paul Arriola and Darlington Nagbe tracking back from their wide midfield positions, along with Pulisic and Michael Bradley staying compact defensively in the middle. It will take a team effort. A clean sheet ensures progression to the World Cup.


GET JOZY INVOLVED

We usually only notice when Jozy Altidore scores goals. But he does so much more.

He holds up the play to allow midfielders to get in. He can dribble at defenders from pretty much anywhere in the park, and he’s a solid passer in tight areas.

But according to Opta, he also creates more chances per game than anyone else in CONCACAF during the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Jozy floating out to the left allows Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic to float into the space vacated, pushing more players up the field.

If the U.S. players can get the ball to Jozy, it seems good things will happen, either him finishing chances, or creating them.

Oxlade-Chamberlain back in Liverpool training

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is back in Liverpool training, nine months after a horrible injury cost him the chance to appear in the UEFA Champions League Final.

Initially ruled out for the duration of the 2018-19 season following an ACL year, “The Ox” is giving the Reds a boost in Dubai.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The 25-year-old Oxlade-Chamberlain posted five goals and seven assists in his first season at Liverpool.

Oxlade-Chamberlain has 32 England caps and 283 senior appearances between Southampton, Arsenal, and Liverpool. He left the Gunners in part because of a desire to play a more central role in the midfield.

Oxlade-Chamberlain detailed his recovery late last year. There’s yet to be discussion of when he might be fit to return to match play, but Liverpool will be careful with its industrious playmaker.

Montreal owner Saputo hands presidency duties to Gilmore

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Montreal Impact owner Joey Saputo is giving the reigns of his club to a new president.

Saputo announced Tuesday that he’s handing over presidency duties to Kevin Gilmore, the former chief operating officer of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The Saputo family founded the Impact in 1992, and Joey Saputo shepherded the club into Major League Soccer.

The Impact is coached by Remi Garde, the former Aston Villa boss, and has Designated Players in Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taidir. The Bleu-blanc-noir just started training camp.

Cardiff “very distressed,” “praying for positive news” regarding Sala

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Cardiff City executive director Ken Choo has released a statement on the missing flight from France to Wales which carried new signing Emiliano Sala.

Crews in Wales continue to search for the plane, which disappeared from radar late Monday night.

Fans have flocked to Cardiff City Stadium and Nantes town square to lay flowers in hopes of a miraculous recovery for Sala and his pilot.

From Cardiff City’s official site:

“We were very shocked upon hearing the news that the plane had gone missing. We expected Emiliano to arrive last night into Cardiff and today was due to be his first day with the team.

“Our owner, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, and chairman, Mehmet Dalman, are all very distressed about the situation.

“We made the decision first thing this morning to call off training with the thoughts of the squad, management staff and the entire Club with Emiliano and the pilot.

“All of us at Cardiff City FC would like to thank our fans, and the entire footballing family for their support at this difficult time.

“We continue to pray for positive news.”

Ronaldo pleads guilty to tax fraud at Madrid court

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MADRID (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and received a two-year suspended sentence.

The Juventus forward, who was facing charges stemming from his days at Real Madrid, was in court for about 45 minutes and signed an agreement which will cost him nearly 19 million euros ($21.6 million) in fines.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Ronaldo arrived at court in a black van and was wearing a black sports coat and black pants. He walked up some stairs leading to the court house and even stopped to sign an autograph.

Ronaldo made the deal to plead guilty with Spain’s state prosecutor and tax authorities last year.

In Spain, a judge can suspend sentences for two years or less for first-time offenders.

In 2017, a state prosecutor accused Ronaldo of four counts of tax fraud from 2011-14 worth 14.7 million euros ($16.7 million). Ronaldo was accused of having used shell companies outside Spain to hide income made from image rights.

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