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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.

Nashville signs Mexican striker for MLS 2020 debut, loans him to USL

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Nashville has its first official Major League Soccer signing, and it’s raided a USL rival to land him for the 2020 season.

[ REPORT: New Chelsea deal for Kante? ]

Daniel Rios is the debut member of their MLS side, and the 23-year-old Mexican striker will spend the 2019 season on loan to USL side Nashville SC.

Rios is bringing an outstanding 2018 season west from North Carolina, where he scored 20 goals and 13 assists for NCFC.

A former Mexico U-20 player, Rios was on loan to NCFC from Chivas Guadalajara.

LIVE: USMNT vs. Italy – Pulisic wearing captain’s armband

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Christian Pulisic may be only 20-years old, but he’ll have to take a big step up in leadership on Tuesday evening.

Pulisic has been given the captain’s armband for the first time as the youth-laden U.S. Men’s National Team side finishes the 2018 calendar slate facing an experimental Italy side. The U.S. Starting XI has an average age of just 22-years and 71 days, making it the youngest lineup in the modern era.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Joe Prince-Wright reporting LIVE from Genk, Belgium ]

It’s also a chance for fans to see Josh Sargent play alongside Pulisic, while two members of the New York Red Bulls, Tyler Adams and Aaron Long, both make starts on this cool Tuesday evening. Reggie Cannon and Shaq Moore earn the nods at wing back and Cameron Carter-Vickers also makes his return to the field, after Dave Sarachan went with Matt Miazga and John Anthony Brooks against England in central defense. The USMNT will play with a three-man backline against Italy.

Stay tuned to PST for wall-to-wall coverage, reaction and analysis of Thursday’s game as soon as the final whistle blows.

Report: Chelsea to double Kante’s wages

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Count Chelsea’s ownership and coaching staff among the many who value N'Golo Kante‘s talents, and are willing to pay big bucks for them.

According to a report in The Telegraph, Chelsea and Kante have agreed on a new five-year contract, worth $19.9 million per season. If true, Kante’s new contract doubles the French World Cup winner’s wages as he continues to prove his mettle as the top holding midfielder in the Premier League.

[READ: U.S. U-20s to face Mexico in CONCACAF U-20 Championship]

Kante’s so far scored one goal in 18 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea under new manager Maurizio Sarri, who has paired Kante in midfield with Jorginho. The Brazilian-born Italian serves as the deep-lying playmaker while Kante is the destroyer, winning the ball back before it gets into the final third.

The new contract is significant because in the past, mainly attackers have been given large contracts while defensive-minded players have had to settle for smaller wages. However, nearly $20 million per season is no small chunk of change, and this could raise the rest of the tide of holding midfielders across the Premier League.

For Chelsea, the club needed to re-sign Kante and keep him happy, in part because their title ambitions rest with him. The lure of playing for Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid can be strong, but with Chelsea paying his wages, he now has almost $20 million reasons not to leave Stamford Bridge.

UEFA to introduce VAR in Champions League knockout stage

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Following a successful run at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, UEFA is finally getting on board with adopting video assistant refereeing.

VAR will be in use during the Champions League’s knockout stage in 2019, according to a report from the Times of London, which states that UEFA’s executive committee is expected to approve VAR for this season at an upcoming meeting on Dec. 3 in Dublin. Video review was reportedly not supposed to be approved until the 2019-2020 Champions League campaign but recent refereeing errors in the face of successful trials of VAR changed UEFA’s mind.

[READ: Ibrahimovic back to AC Milan?]

Video review at the World Cup proved that VAR could be conducted in a speedy and accurate manner, ensuring the integrity of the game while adding some new drama to the game. Raheem Sterling‘s penalty kick in Man City’s match against Shakhtar Donetsk, when video replay showed he tripped over his own feet, only renewed calls from fans and the media for video assistant referees to be used in these big-time events.

Technology has improved to the point where it is imperative that referees are given all the help they can receive. Players are moving quicker than ever, and the human eye can only watch so much. The fact that referees get nearly every decision correct is in it of itself, an impressive feat. Hopefully, with VAR coming to the Champions League and the Premier League, referees can return to getting game-changing decisions correct.