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5 things we learned from USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Brazil

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The United States played Brazil on Friday night, and it was always going to be a daunting task. A young, inexperienced team against essentially Brazil’s World Cup squad.

To that end, it was a wonderful opportunity for the United States. They had nothing to lose by going out and hoping to compete. If it went awry, there’s plenty to be learned, and if it went well that’s a great sign. It didn’t go great, but there was plenty to draw from the match. Dave Sarachan and his team put up a great fight, and didn’t back down from one of the world’s best, refusing to bunker in and simply defending to pull out a gritty result.

[ USMNT-BRAZIL: Full recap | Player ratings ]

Given the fact that this national team essentially hit the hard reset button after the Trinidad & Tobago loss, it’s hard to judge sheer “progress” over the last few years, but there are a few more things we can pinpoint.

1) These kids are not afraid

In the opening 10 minutes, Dave Sarachan’s kids came out and high-pressed Brazil’s World Cup squad. Not just a high press…a VERY high press. The United States had nothing to lose in East Rutherford, and they played like it early on. That’s a great sign for some of these kids, who ended up troubling the Brazilians early on with the press.

After falling behind, the US took its few opportunities and went headlong at the visitors, with DeAndre Yedlin bombing down the right flank. The half-hour mark provided an impressive spell for the hosts, as the US earned four consecutive corners and all proved dangerous. Weston McKennie was fantastic going forward and was dangerous all night in the attacking third. After Brazil scored its second on a dubious penalty call, the US went right down the other end and threatened.

Dave Sarachan after the match said that Antonee Robinson might have been a little tentative at the beginning, but if anything, his errors were from over-committing, not sitting back and letting Douglas Costa come to him. Mistakes were made by the U.S. regularly, and there were plenty of matchups that featured a significant talent gap. Still, hesitancy and trepidation was not the reason the United States was beaten tonight, and that’s a positive to be taken.

2) The rookie mistakes eventually need to end

These kids are young, there’s no doubting that. The United States starting lineup featured a full 11 players 25 years old or younger. Still, eventually this process needs an end-point, and the kids will need to learn from their mistakes. Making those mistakes in matches like this is perfectly acceptable, but learning from those mistakes is the next step.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT loss to Brazil ]

Take Brazil’s first goal for example. Antonee Robinson was burned by Douglas Costa down the flank because he switched off for a split second to communicate a defensive responsibility to his teammate and in the process over-committed. Costa, a player with incredible speed and instincts, took advantage and roasted the young left-back. Then, in the middle, Matt Miazga was beat by the oldest striker trick in the book – Roberto Firmino appeared to head towards the near post before drifting back to create space behind his unaware American defender.

Those mistakes are acceptable at this stage against this opponent, and they provide valuable learning experiences, but eventually those need to be learned from, or they will have been in vain.

3) Bobby Wood is fourth on the striker depth chart

Bobby Wood started the match at striker over Timothy Weah, and many fans were disappointed not to see the young, in-form PSG attacker earn the majority of the minutes. Wood struggled from the onset, giving the ball away cheaply which caused promising attacks to disintegrate, and he failing to find space up front. That is largely due to the strength of the opposition, but he still should be able to pick a spot or two over the course of 55 minutes. He ended up with nothing.

Weah came on with a little over a half-hour to go, and he proved more dangerous and decisive on the ball. He cut in from the left to earn Wil Trapp a long-range effort that forced Alisson into a shaky save in his most notable moment in an otherwise collectively sleepy second half. Weah should ultimately be ahead of Wood long-term on the depth chart, as is likely first-choice selection Jozy Altidore and young Josh Sargeant. Wood is a fine option, but he coughs up possession far too often, and against strong opponents like this, he cannot afford moments of inaccuracy when the team needs to value possession.

4) This defensive partnership can stay

Despite the early mistakes on the opening goal, Matt Miazga and John Brooks played quite well against one of the world’s best teams. There’s serious potential in this defensive partnership, and those who championed Miazga with Cameron Carter-Vickers seem to have forgotten about the experienced Brooks. Especially considering these two had only played 45 competitive minutes together before tonight, it was a stellar showing for the duo, and one that will give U.S. fans plenty of hope for the future. Had the back line not been exposed by poor wing defending, it might have been an even better night for the defense as a whole. Miazga was required out wide right on a couple of occasions to help cover defensively, and he did well in space, a difficult ask of a central defender. Not only that, they were dangerous on set-pieces with the U.S. threatening the most on corners. These two can grow together, and with CCV also in the mix, the U.S. suddenly appears set up at a position they’ve struggled to find consistently for a long time.

5) – This team needs leadership. Now.

Dave Sarachan has done a fine job ushering in a new era of players into the national team, but he serves little value to the US otherwise. The kids are doing their best on the field, but need a clear direction for the long-term future, and they need it now. The longer the United States waits to hire a coach, the more time is wasted to find new talent, create a plan for moving forward, and implement that plan on the field. The World Cup may be four years away, but valuable days are being thrown in the trash. The team needs a direction, and they need the leadership to implement that direction. The team has no chance against the world’s best without that leadership, and it showed tonight. These matches serve little purpose if they don’t come with direction and long-term values. Earnie Stewart may want to take his time, but that’s not in the best interest of this national team, and we saw that on the field tonight.

Reports: Antonio Conte will be next Inter manager

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According to a number of reports across Europe, including The Guardian and The Mirror, Antonio Conte has agreed to terms to become the next manager at Inter Milan and will take over this summer, with Luciano Spalletti departing.

Conte has signed a four-year deal at Inter that will earn him around $11 million per season, with the Italian excited to return home and face the challenge of finishing the task at Inter. The Italian giants have slumped in recent years, but this year showed promise that the project may finally be coming to an end. Spalletti appears to have turned the team into a Champions League contender again, but there are reports that he is struggling to maintain the support of the locker room and the front office.

Inter’s qualification to next year’s Champions League is no guarantee either, with the club sitting just a point ahead of rivals AC Milan for the final Serie A spot heading into the final week of the season. They have just three wins in their final nine matches, leaving them vulnerable.

Conte most recently managed Chelsea for two seasons, winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup in his first season but missing out on Champions League qualification last campaign before departing. He recently won a lawsuit against Chelsea that will see the Blues pay him an additional $11 million as part of his severance package. Other than his Premier League stint at Stamford Bridge, Conte has spent his entire career in Italy, managing Juventus, Atalanta, and the Italian national team among others. He has eight Serie A titles to his name between playing and managing.

Rumors say that Conte is zeroing Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku as his first transfer target of the summer.

Red Bulls slump to disappointing draw with Vancouver

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The New York Red Bulls coughed up a second-half lead in a disappointing 2-2 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, pegged back by Freddy Montero’s equalizing penalty in the 61st minute that came just six minutes after the hosts had taken the lead.

New York dominated possession at home, holding just under 70% of the ball, but they struggled mightily in goal. New York had 18 shots to Vancouver’s 13, but could manage just three on target, whereas the visitors put seven on frame. Vancouver jumped in front right on the half-hour mark as Sean Nealis got burned down the left by Joaquin Ardaiz, and while his cross was deflected by Connor Lade, it fell to Scott Sutter at a tight angle for a roofed finish.

The hosts would level things up before halftime, as a looped cross by Kaku found the head of Amro Tarek who powered it on frame, but before it could reach the net it was slightly redirected by Brian White’s head and found the back of the net. In the celebration, a smiling White could be seen sheepishly apologizing to Tarek for stealing what may already have been a goal, but New York wasn’t complaining.

After the break, the Red Bulls went in front on an own goal as White’s effort was redirected into the back of the net by Andy Rose. That should have been the goal to see New York ease past the ninth-place Whitecaps and send New York to a strong fourth-place spot in the Eastern Conference table, but the visitors continued to attack and would eventually find a way through.

First, Luis Robles was required to turn a 8Felipe Martins header off the post and out, before eight minutes later when Montero would be the man to bring Vancouver back level after coming on at halftime. VAR determined correctly that Nealis whiffed on a header attempt and instead got his arm to the ball, giving Martins the opportunity from the spot, which he deposited cooly, sending Robles the wrong way.

That would leave the teams level, with New York desperately looking for more than a point to savor, but they were unable to do so. The draw leaves the Red Bulls in fifth, level on points with cross-town rivals NYCFC and two behind Atlanta United. They remain unbeaten in three, but the opportunity for three straight victories was there. Vancouver, meanwhile, sits in ninth in the West, drawing level on points with San Jose thanks to the road draw.

Ghana striker Gyan changes mind 2 days after retiring

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Two days after announcing his international retirement, Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan has changed his mind and been included in a provisional squad for the African Cup of Nations starting next month.

Gyan says his change of heart came after speaking with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

The 33-year-old Gyan said Monday he was retiring because he was replaced as Ghana captain by Andre Ayew.

Gyan says he had a phone conversation with Akufo-Addo, who asked him to reconsider, and “a presidential request is one that cannot be disregarded.”

Gyan was named in a preliminary 29-man squad on Wednesday. He made his international debut at 17 and is Ghana’s record goalscorer with 51 goals in 106 games although he hasn’t played for his country since late 2017.

U-20 World Cup preview: Ramos to make history

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The United States U-20 side is set to begin its 2019 World Cup campaign on Friday when it begins Group D play in Poland.

Tab Ramos will make history in the process, equalling the FIFA record of most championship tournaments participated as a player or coach. The 52-year-old will officially take part in his 11th FIFA championship event, matching the record held by Germany’s U-20 women head coach Maren Meinert.

United States

The United States side is one of the best ever on paper, with a mix of emerging domestic talent alongside youngsters from the best clubs in Europe. They will take on Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar in high-leverage group stage play. Riding on the result of group play is a place in the knockout phase, with a massive gulf in difference between finishing first and second in the group. The first-place finisher in Group D draws the strongest third-place side from Groups B, E, and F – possibilities include the likes of Mali, South Korea, Panama, or Italy. Meanwhile, the second-place finisher from Group D takes on the winner of Group E, which will almost definitely come in the form of championship hopeful France.

An exciting group of young American players with more well-known names including Timothy Weah and Paxton Pomykal mixes with supreme talents like Barcelona youth product Konrad de la Fuente in attack and Bayern Munich teen Chris Richards who will look to anchor the defense. While the U.S. isn’t exactly a favorite to win the tournament, they are a strong contender looking to reach at least the quarterfinals if not further.

US U-20 squad

GK: CJ Dos Santos (Benfica), David Ochoa (Real Salt Lake), Brady Scott (Koln).
DEF: Sergino Dest (Ajax), Chris Gloster (Hannover 96), Aboubacar Keita (Columbus Crew/Richmond Kickers), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia Union), Matthew Real (Philadelphia Union), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich).
MID: Edwin Cerrillo (FC Dallas), Chris Durkin (D.C. United), Richard Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Freiburg), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Brandon Servania (FC Dallas).
FWD: Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC), Konrad De La Fuente (Barcelona), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg), Justin Rennicks (New England Revolution), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain/Celtic FC)

Potential breakout players

Aside from the United States squad, there is a host of young talent at the tournament in Poland. These are the players you should keep a close eye on.

Diego Lainez (winger, Mexico) – Mexico’s 18-year-old winger has been a fixture for the national team at every youth level, playing every minute for the U-17 side in the 2017 World Cup. He has since earned a quartet of senior side call-ups and looked electric in his time on the field.

Radoslaw Majecki (goalkeeper, Poland) – At just 19 years old, Majecki has been the starting goalkeeper for Champions League regulars Legia Warsaw since he won the job in November. While he has yet to make his CL debut (having earned the starting job after Legia Warsaw was eliminated from the competition in the qualifying stages), he is as experienced as they come for players in this competition and a huge asset for his country.

Jackson Porozo (defender, Ecuador) – The 18-year-old was an absolute monster in the South American U-20 championships back in late January and early February, helping Ecuador keep five clean sheets and finish the competition on a stunning 298-minute streak without conceding a single goal as they shocked the continent by winning the tournament. Porozo, who joined the Santos youth setup last summer, was a man among boys in the South American championships, and long with his goalkeeper Moises Ramirez – who also has high expectations for a solid future – this Ecuador side has a shot at making it out of an absolutely loaded Group B.

Interesting storylines

Group B – The most loaded group in the tournament sees Mexico, Italy, Ecuador, and Japan all come together for a brutal battle. While the top two teams are guaranteed to advance, it could also be a factor for one of the coveted third-place spots, of particular interest to the United States, who would take on a Group B third-place qualifier should they win Group D. Mexico won the CONCACAF U-20 championships, Ecuador stunningly reigned supreme in CONMEBOL over traditional superpowers Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia, while both Italy and Japan performed quite well in their own tournaments, each reaching the semifinals. This is easily the most fun early storyline.

France as favorites – Portugal, Poland, Nigeria, and Argentina are all firmly in the mix, but France is considered the favorite according to most oddsmakers. Bernard Diomede will have a challenge as Lyon’s young star Amine Gouiri will be missing as he takes part in the U-21 UEFA championships this summer, but he does have Borussia Dortmund youngster Dan Axel-Zagadou leading the back line. While the French senior side is on top of the world, the youth team has plenty of talent coming down the pipeline.

Can Argentina bounce back? – The six-time champions slipped a bit at the CONMEBOL championships earlier this year, falling to both Ecuador and Brazil in the final stage while beating Uruguay and Colombia by just a goal. The traditionally dominant South American powerhouse has proven fallable over the last year or so, and while they most certainly have a squad capable of placing in this tournament, they will need more consistency. The squad sports Atlanta United winger Ezequiel Barco, who has four goals in eight MLS appearances this season and is in good form. Other big names include Atletico Madrid defender and youth team captain Nehuen Perez, Boca Juniors goalkeeper Manuel Roffo – who trained with the senior team earlier this year – and midfielder Santiago Sosa who has dabbled in the River Plate senior squad at just 19.