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What did we learn about USMNT this international break?

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The U.S. men’s national team is still in a heavy state of flux as they wrapped up their September friendlies with a win against bitter rivals Mexico in Nashville on Tuesday.

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But what lessons have we learned about the state of the USMNT as things stand? Which players impressed for interim head coach Dave Sarachan? And what lies ahead for the USA’s caretaker boss?

[ MORE: Recap | Player ratings

Let’s dive in and look at the key takeaways for the U.S. national team over the past 10-12 days.


1. Permanent coach is needed, right now
Dave Sarachan has done an admirable job considering the circumstances but now is the right time for U.S. Soccer to push hard for a new permanent coach, with the federation already saying they want to appoint a new head coach by December 2018. Sarachan has been in charge on an interim basis for almost a year and over the past 12 months the U.S. has called up 66 different players excluding the 15 players who were part of the disaster in Cuova against Trinidad & Tobago, many of whom will never play for the U.S. again. If the U.S. would’ve appointed a new head coach in March 2018 (waiting after the results of the U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election, of course) what could they have achieved over the past six months? Plenty. The USMNT has been stood still for too long. They waited for the 2018 World Cup to come and go to see if any decent managerial candidates arose from the dust of the tournament. None did. And here we are.

The leading candidates for USSF President Carlos Cordeiro and new USMNT General Manager Earnie Stewart (he started his new job on August 1) to appoint are rumored to be Gregg Berhalter, Tab Ramos, Peter Vermes, Gerardo Martino and Sarachan. The latter has led the U.S. to three wins, two defeats and three draws in his eight games in charge but Bruce Arena’s long-time assistant has been seen as a stop-gap and he will likely remain involved with the U.S. in some capacity after his steady leadership in a turbulent time for the federation on and off the pitch. Berhalter seems to be the overwhelming favorite given his brother, Jay, is instrumental in the upper echelons of the U.S. Soccer Federation and he played with Stewart for the U.S. The way he has created an identity and clear plan with the Columbus Crew, an MLS franchise about to move to Austin, Texas which has been in turmoil for many months, has been astounding. A deal for Berhalter to take charge as soon as the 2018 MLS season is over needs to be made, right now, especially with his former club the LA Galaxy now needing a new manager. We should suspect, and hope, that the USSF has dragged its heels so long to appoint a new coach because they’re waiting for Berhalter to finish things in the correct manner in Columbus. If that isn’t the case, then letting the program drift along with no clear identity or plan is something which could set them back several years and risk not making the 2022 World Cup too. Losing 6-8 months of development time isn’t ideal and it seems like that is what will happen unless Sarachan is appointed on a permanent basis.


2. Formation and identity all over the place
This will become solidified when a new permanent head coach is found, but Sarachan’s comments after the Mexico game were a little concerning.

“We nitpick on the technical side, but you saw a team tonight that played aggressively, competed hard and won most of their duels,” Sarachan side. “I think that’s been a constant over the time I’ve had the group and over the past two games against Brazil and Mexico.”

Winning battles and fighting hard are all well and good, but what is the plan? Sarachan’s decision to go with a flat back four once again versus Mexico, then play Kellyn Acosta out of position out wide when it looked much more favorable to play a diamond in midfield, was a little baffling. A three-man central defense worked so well away against France this summer and it allows the U.S. to get the best out of their flying wing backs (DeAndre Yedlin and Antonee Robinson) as well as giving them a little extra security defensively with Miazga, Carter-Vickers and either Parker or Brooks as center backs. Yet, there has been no clear, consistent message from Sarachan. The starting lineup having an average age of 23 years and five days is impressive, but with the message and formation switching most games, it’s hard to see real chemistry building among these youngsters. There’s no doubt the USMNT looked much better when forced to revert to a 4-2-3-1 formation after McKennie went off injured and that was something Sarachan didn’t have any control over.

The best teams at club and international level have a clear identity. Due to 12 months in flux the USMNT doesn’t have that. Are they a 4-2-3-1 team or a 3-4-3 side? What are the key principles that are important to new GM Earnie Stewart moving forward? At the moment watching the USMNT play is like watching a toddler arrive at Disney for the first time. Plenty of youthful enthusiasm but no clear direction.


3. McKennie, Adams the future
There’s no doubt that Christian Pulisic will be the undisputed star for the USMNT for the next decade or so, but Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams will be more than capable of helping him along the way. Adams, still just 19, scored his first international goal in the win against Mexico and he played in both games, showcasing his energy and ability to play the simple pass at the right time. He and McKennie, just 20 years old, should get the opportunity to start together in central midfield in their preferred deeper positions. McKennie limped off with an injury against Mexico but the Schalke star has a big role to play in the coming years, with he and Adams looking ready to overtake Wil Trapp for those central midfield positions.

A solid, energetic base in midfield plus the ability to connect passes and keep hold of the ball intelligently is something both excel in and as we saw with Adams, he also has the ability to make those key runs forward to open up space and get on the end of things. With McKennie, Adams, Acosta, Trapp, Danny Williams, Lynden Gooch and several others ready to roll, the U.S. midfield is looking pretty good.


4. Striker situation concerning
They aren’t looking great up top though. Gyasi Zardes was chucked up front against Mexico and although he struggled for service he did look to stretch El Tri’s defense and there’s no doubt he is a bigger threat centrally than out wide. Tim Weah was a threat from out wide and looked most dangerous when cutting in from the flank. They key takeaway? We need to see a partnership, two players up top together feeding off each other a la Altidore and Dempsey during the heyday of Jurgen Klinsmann’s reign. Seeing Weah and Zardes up top together, and Weah with Wood, needs to be a priority during the next international break. That said, Wood’s struggles continue at club level (just two goals in his past 24 appearances in the Bundesliga) and his hold-up play has never been the best. What other options do the USMNT have in attack? Josh Sargent will certainly be an option in the coming years as he continues to develop at Werder Bremen, but aside from that, Andrija Novakovich has shown promise but didn’t feature in either friendly in September. Maybe a few veterans could help out in the striking department…


5. A few veterans could return and improve things
Okay, this is a sore subject. I get it. But now seems like a pretty good time to start reintegrating some of the USMNT veterans and Sarachan has intimated that will be the case this fall. With the MLS season coming to an end and plenty of U.S. players winding down for 2018, the likes of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore at Toronto FC (they need plenty of wins, and help, in their final seven games of the season to reach the MLS Cup playoffs) may be eyeing a return to the USMNT fold. After the debacle of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup last October, plenty of veteran players have been cast aside and many presumed they would never return. But in Bradley and Altidore — the former is the USA’s long-time skipper with 140 caps and the latter ranks third all-time in goals with 41 — they have players who can deliver experience in key areas and help develop the prodigious young talents. Could McKennie and Adams learn plenty about controlling the tempo of the game from Bradley by playing alongside him? Of course they can. Can Altidore teach Weah about hold-up play and how to lead the line? Yep. Elsewhere the likes of Tim Ream would suit a three man central defense perfectly but there aren’t too many veterans who would want to return to this setup or suit the role of gradually passing the torch to these youngsters. It’s all about picking a few vets to return for the games against Colombia and Peru on home soil next month, then seeing how that mix of youth and experience plays out. Despite the 2018 World Cup being done and dusted, the ghosts of Couva haven’t been fully exonerated.

FOLLOW LIVE – Tunisia and Nigeria in AFCON third place game

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The appetizer to the main course takes place today as Tunisia and Nigeria meet in the third place match of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.

Both sides fell in the semifinals on last-minute goals, with Tunisia dropping to Senegal on an extra-time own-goal while Nigeria was pipped by a Riyad Mahrez 95th minute winner.

[ LIVE: Africa Cup of Nations scores ]

While this match is obviously a chance for both sides to finish the tournament on a high note, also notable is the race for the Golden Boot. Odion Ighalo is in the lead with four goals and could look to tack on to that total with Mahrez, Adam Ounes, and Sadio Mane all on three goals and playing in the final.

Nigeria boss Gernot Rohr will want to save face after a disappointing tournament, and while he received the dreaded vote of confidence from the Nigerian federation, he still will want something tangible to take home. The Super Eagles came into the tournament as the third-highest FIFA ranked African nation, but after a shaky group stage performance and a pair of narrow one-goal knockout stage wins before the loss to Algeria, the need for a quality outing is great.

Five of the six previous matches between these two teams have ended in draws, so something has to give this time in Cairo.

Guardiola to Leroy Sane: only “happy” players will see the field

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Leroy Sane has been the subject of some uncertainty this summer, and it might be getting to Pep Guardiola.

After Sane came off the bench and helped Man City pummel West Ham 4-1 in the preseason Premier League Asia Trophy, Guardiola was asked about his future with the club after reports this summer that Bayern Munich was interested in snatching him away from the Etihad.

“The club made him an offer last year,” Guardiola said. “So, I have said many times, we only want people happy to be here. We are going to help him to be the best, we know his potential and what level he is. He has a special quality that is difficult to find around the world. He knows, they all know, all the forwards, all the midfielders, how difficult it is to play, it’s difficult because of the quality we have.”

“But, at the same time I spoke to the club ten times and I want people here to be happy, if they don’t want, they go. The desire to have him be with us is always there.”

Sane was spectacular at times last season as Manchester City won the Premier League title, but he played a shrinking role as the end of the campaign pressed on, forced to come off the bench as a substitute four times after February and left as an unused substitute five other times down the stretch as well. Sane played just two full 90 minute appearances in Premier League play in the 2019 calendar year.

With that in mind, it has proven difficult to convince Sane to sign a new contract at Manchester City, with his current deal set to expire in two years. That caught Bayern Munich’s attention, and the German side has been persistent in hoping to attract the 23-year-old to Allianz Arena.

Once Guardiola made his comments about happy players, he was asked bluntly if he thinks Sane will be with the team at the start of the season. He did not want to go into the situation further, saying, “I have already answered that question really well.”

Argentina women’s team players critical of coaches after roster changes

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The Argentine national team is facing controversy after making a host of changes to its roster for the 2019 Pan American games despite a solid showing in the World Cup earlier this summer.

Most notably, 29-year-old Estefania Banini, who captained the side at the World Cup, was left off the roster. She lashed out on social media, claiming on Instagram that she was left off after making internal comments critical of the coaching staff and trying to improve the team’s ability to compete.

“No rest, not injured, permission from my club, I have enough to be in the national team,” she wrote. “From 5 years old I trained to defend the blue and white, fighting for my place equally without discrimination. The coaching staff decided to leave me out…because we have our differences, they decide to put an end to my dream of defending the shirt.”

Banini goes on to explain that she wants coaches “with enough experience we can learn from” and who can help grow the game in their country. She said what they don’t want is something they experienced at the World Cup – “being told ‘just defend because we don’t want to concede 11’ when going out to play.”

Other players left off the roster for the Pan American games are Ruth Bravo and Lorena Benitez, both of whom were starters at the World Cup less than a month ago. Bravo, along with Belen Potassa, posted similarly critical comments on their own social media accounts after being left off the roster, with much of the content word-for-word to what Banini wrote.

Argentina performed well in the group stage of the World Cup, nearly advancing in the final seconds of the group stage before a 3-3 draw with Scotland saw them fall just short of passing Japan into a qualifying spot. They managed a 0-0 draw with Japan in the opening match and fell to England by a close 1-0 scoreline.

Banini has been outspoken in the past, criticizing the Argentinian federation back in 2014 for not supporting the women’s game enough. With her most recent comments potentially costing her a place in the team, some of her teammates had her back. Soledad Jaimes and Florencia Bonsegundo, also both starters in the World Cup, resigned their places on the Pan American Games roster in solidarity with their teammates, believing them to be unfairly treated.

“While 18 teammates pack their bags for the Pan American Games, I decided to withdraw from the roster,” Bonsegundo wrote in her own Instagram post. “Today I have to take a step forward for this struggle that we all started and that few have the courage to do. I understand that in this way I am protecting you more [the fans] because I know that in a future with properly trained players, Argentina may be at the level of the world powers! I’m still dreaming of a country with greater equality, without discrimination and where the voice of women is taken into account with the same weight as that of a man”

Argentina was drawn into a group with Panama, Costa Rica, and Peru for the Pan American games, with their first match set for July 28.

Reports: De Rossi heads to Argentina to sign for Boca Juniors

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According to reports in both Italy and Argentina, Roma legend Daniele de Rossi, who left the Italian club this summer at the age of 35, is heading to Argentina to finalize a deal to play for Boca Juniors.

The reports state that De Rossi will sign a one-year contract worth $560,000.

The Roma youth product has spent his entire career with the Serie A side, making 616 career appearances for Roma across all competitions and scoring 63 goals.

There was rumored interest from MLS in the 35-year-old, with NYCFC the most frequently named club, but it seems that interest never seriously took off. De Rossi also reportedly had an offer to coach in the Italian youth ranks and interest from fellow Italian clubs Bologna and Fiorentina.

At Boca, he will look to return the club to the top of the Argentine Primera Division where they stood two seasons ago before dropping to third last campaign.