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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.

Kaku gets 3 matches for booting ball into crowd, injuring spectator

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The struggling New York Red Bulls got a major let-off Wednesday with the news that Kaku would only be suspended two more matches for blasting a ball into a group of fans.

It’s a total of three matches away from the Red Bulls after the incident, which occurred against Sporting KC on April 14.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby recap ]

Someone must have convinced the league that Kaku’s intent was to smash the ball into the advertising boards and not the fans, and injuring a spectator certainly could’ve carried a much longer suspension than three matches.

Kaku already missed a match against New England and will sit out matches against FC Cincinnati and the LA Galaxy.

The 24-year-old midfielder, thrice capped by Paraguay, has seven goals and 14 assists during little more than a season with RBNY. The Red Bulls have started the season 1W-4L-2T.

Solskjaer: Man City “had too much for” Manchester United

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Manchester United has spent a lot of money on players, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says the talent on show at Old Trafford is nothing compared to rivals Manchester City.

What else could he say after his rivals outclassed him 2-0 on Wednesday, a club which wasn’t even in the same league — physically and metaphorically — for half of his tenure as a player for Manchester United?

[ MORE: Manchester Derby recap | 4 things ]

“They had too much for us,” Solskjaer said after the loss. “They are the best team in the country, they have set the standard in the last two seasons and I don’t know how many points they’ve taken. What Pep Guardiola has done with his players is remarkable and we are so close to it in the vicinity so we feel it every day.”

This was a different loss than the lackluster 4-0 blowout at the hands of Everton on Sunday, as United definitely worked hard but had little to offer in attack aside from a few choice Paul Pogba long balls and some wayward finishing from an industrious Jesse Lingard.

“There is a difference in quality,” Solskjaer said in another interview. “That is why they are top and we are where we are. Living in Manchester we cannot be happy with that. It is up to us to close that gap and overtake them.”

[ MORE: Pep reacts | Sane with NBCSN crew ]

We bet every one those words felt like broken glass climbing out of Solskjaer’s throat.

It’s going to take a squad revolution and then time to settle into a new reality. United is probably at least another full season from contending with City, even given last season’s runner-up finish.

And that has to be weird for a manager who was used to seeing the noisy neighbors stationed in the Championship. Solskjaer knows he has a lot of work to do at Old Trafford. Will his bosses let him do it?

I understand Pep using me off the bench, says super sub Sane

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Leroy Sane added a second 10-goal season to his Premier League resume on Wednesday when Man City beat Manchester United 2-0 at Old Trafford.

That he did so in about 650 less minutes says something about his growth and patience as Pep Guardiola has opted to focus on other options in attack.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby recap | 4 things ]

“The mood is obviously you want to play every game but in this squad it’s sometimes normal that you can sit on the bench,” Sane said in a post-match pitch-side talk with the NBCSN crew.

“It’s why I’m not really disappointed. I think in my own head to work harder and stay focused. On the pitch there are really good players playing good. I appreciate it, I enjoy it, and I can learn from this.”

Arlo White asked Sterling whether he believes City are the favorites to win the Premier League title. Liverpool is a point behind City, but has two of its three remaining matches at home compared to City’s one.

“It’s hard to say,” Sane said. “There’s a lot of pressure from Liverpool, but we stay focused on game to game. We have it in our own hands, so just stay focused, and try to win the last three games.”

Pep urges increased focus after Man City keeps PL title control

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Pep Guardiola and Manchester City are officially over their UEFA Champions League exit, and now salivating at the idea of defending their Premier League crown following a 2-0 defeat of Manchester United on Wednesday.

And the manager is now demanding that his players get laser-focused on the game-by-game.

[ MORE: Recap | 3, er, 4 things ]

“I told the players don’t read tomorrow, don’t watch the television, just rest and sleep a lot and go in there against Burnley,” Guardiola said.

The Man City boss says the side’s early second half changes, taking off Fernandinho to move in Leroy Sane and slot Ilkay Gundogan a bit deeper made the difference from 0-0 to 2-0.

“We knew without Romelu Lukaku they would try more runs in behind,” he said. “The chances we lost came from us losing simple balls in the middle and we changed things in the second half, with Ilkay Gundogan in the middle and with Leroy Sane on we were more dynamic.”

And Guardiola tried to find the words to explain how either Man City or Liverpool will walk away from this season at second place in the league despite being two of the greatest sides ever produced by England.

“Both teams deserve the title, but it can be just one,” Guardiola said. “The team that is going to lose cannot have regrets because they have given everything. Normally with this kind of victory you can it enjoy it the most but now we have to be calm. We have to be in the right phase.”