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Three things we learned: Italy v. USMNT

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GENK, Belgium — The U.S. men’s national team lost 1-0 to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to finish off its 2018 schedule with a defeat, as they conceded in the 94th minute.

[ MORE: Sarachan out as USMNT head coach ]

Matteo Politano struck with 30 seconds left to condemn the USMNT to a second-straight defeat of this international break, as they closed out the calendar year with a disappointing performance and, eventually, defeat.

[ MORE: Pulisic on captaincy, Dortmund future

Dave Sarachan named the youngest U.S. lineup in the modern era (since 1990) with an average age of 22 years and 71 days, while Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain in that era. Italy’s team was a mixture of youth and experience as Ethan Horvath made several fine stops but couldn’t preserve the shutout for the USMNT.

Here’s what we learned from a tight encounter in Belgium.


HORVATH, PULISIC, ADAMS STAND TALL

Three of the USMNT’s standout performers in Genk were captain Pulisic, midfielder Tyler Adams and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. The former looked on a level of his own among players wearing a U.S. jersey, buzzing around the Italian defense and trying to make things happen. A superb run and cross down the left and then a lovely scooped pass, both to Josh Sargent, showcased his quality on the ball. The only problem for Pulisic was that he didn’t see enough of it. With long balls pumped up to him, Pulisic didn’t win many aerial duels against Leonardo Bonucci but his best work was done dropping off Josh Sargent and picking passes.

At the other end of the pitch Horvath stood tall to deny Italy’s captain Bonucci a clear goal, tipped another dipping effort over and then pushed a dangerous cross in the box away right before half time. And in the second half Horvath saved with his feet as Kevin Lasagna was clean through on goal, pushed Vincenzo Grifo’s shot wide and denied Lasagna again. The Club Brugge stopper enhanced his chances of challenging Brad Guzan and Zack Steffen for the No. 1 jersey, and a year after his horror mistake allowed Portugal to score in Sarachan’s first friendly in charge, Horvath took his second chance and deserved a clean sheet.

In midfield Tyler Adams was brave on the ball in front of the back three, tried to get things going in attack and was the most composed U.S. player on the pitch. The New York Red Bulls midfield, still a teenager, will no doubt be a big part of this team moving forward and he, Pulisic (obviously) and Horvath proved they will be in many USMNT squads to come. The rest struggled a little.


YOUNGSTERS OVERWHELMED

When you name the youngest USMNT lineup in modern history, you’d expect a few bumps in the road during the game. That is exactly what happened. A back three of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, plus Shaq Moore playing out of position at left wing-back, was undone by simple long balls over the top as the USMNT dropped deeper and deeper throughout the game. The U.S. only had 26.5 percent possession and were happy to sit deep and try to hit Italy on the break, just like they did against France in Lyon.

Unlike the game against England last week, this was nowhere near a full-strength USMNT lineup and you could make an argument that only two players (Adams and Pulisic) would be regular starters moving forward.

The likes of Zimmerman, Long, Moore and Cannon were decent enough and got plenty of the reps with the USMNT under pressure for most of the game. One thing is now for sure, whoever is in charge for the January camp and beyond: experimenting needs to stop. The past 13 months has shown us what over 50 players can do. Now a permanent coach needs to select his best squad and work with them each camp moving forward.


SARACHAN’S REIGN SUMMED UP IN 90 MINUTES

Dave Sarachan’s record after 12 games in charge of the USMNT reads 3-5-4, as he set his team up for the draw against Italy but didn’t get it.

Just like they’ve done against top teams in the past, and they did against France in Lyon back in June, the U.S. sat back, soaked up pressure and tried to grab a clean sheet. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t work, but it could prove to be a valuable learning experience for Sarachan’s young team.

The past 13 months has seen him steady the ship after the nightmare of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but in truth there are still more questions than answers when it comes to what is next for the U.S.

Sarachan has now handed debuts to 23 players, more than any other U.S. manager in the modern era, and his task was to try and restore pride in the program after the World Cup qualifying debacle. He may have done a bit of that, mostly thanks to putting his faith in youth, but the U.S. has pretty much stood still in 2018. Some players have taken their chances, others haven’t and, perhaps most importantly, the USMNT still don’t have a permanent head coach.

That is the biggest issue of all, but that is no longer Sarachan’s problem.


Free agent players fear being released before season ends

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Out of contract players fear they will be released before the season is concluded, according to a report by The Telegraph.

For the Big Five European leagues, with seasons starting in August and ending in May, most contracts run through June 30. With the coronavirus shutting down leagues across the world and causing the likely extension of most domestic seasons, that timeline is almost certainly pushed back, meaning games could be played later than the expiration of contracts.

While some players who are in the lineup often, such as Chelsea’s Willian, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen, or Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser aren’t in danger of being released since they are heavily relied upon by their clubs, many others who are on the fringe could see their contracts terminated before the campaign comes to a close.

The report states that while FIFA cannot change contract law, players are hoping that FIFA will impose temporary sanctions on clubs that release players before the season is up.

High-profile players out of contract who could be impacted include Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud, Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne, and Manchester United’s Timothy Fosu-Mensah.

Sports lawyer Nick De Marco of Blackstone Chambers told Sky Sports that it’s likely players will be under no obligation to stay with their clubs beyond the date of their current contract, but some may wish to even if they aren’t playing to continue earning a paycheck.

“Legally, they cannot be forced to continue to play for the club,” De Marco told Sky Sports News. “Nobody can force them to do so; FIFA, the FA, the club or anybody else. If they want to walk away, that’s a matter for them but it will really be a matter of whether, financially, that makes sense for them.”

“If you’re a lower league club, financially stressed, you won’t be wanting to pay players beyond June 30,” De Marco said. “So, a one-size-fits-all solution isn’t going to work. It’s going to depend on each case. The key is going to be agreements.”

Infantino warns against restarting games too early

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has cautioned leagues on restarting too early from the coronavirus shutdown, citing continued health concerns.

Bundesliga teams have already returned to training as they gear up for a possible May return, while Premier League clubs are hoping for a return to play in June. Both leagues have detailed that for the foreseeable future, games will be played behind closed doors to keep from masses of people spreading the virus.

Still, Infantino is cautious of these plans, hoping that leagues take public health seriously.

“No match, no competition, no league is worth risking a single human life,” Infantino said. “It’s better to wait a little bit longer than to take risks.”

“I cannot stress this enough,” he told Fifa’s 211 member associations on Friday. “Our first priority, our principle, the one we will use for our competitions and encourage everyone to follow, is that health comes first. Everyone in the world should have this very clear in their mind.”

Most leagues are are on hold as the world copes with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions are taking place about when to restart, and all involve playing behind closed doors first as a return to action in front of fans would likely require a vaccine before that many individuals can safely convene in a group environment.

“It would be more than irresponsible to force competitions to resume if things are not 100% safe,” said Infantino. “If football manages to have a discussion where everyone contributes positively, and keeps in mind the global interest over the individual one, I am convinced our future can be better than our past, and we will be better prepared for the times ahead.”

WATCH LIVE: The 2 Robbies on Lunch Talk Live

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe are two guests who will appear on the show Lunch Talk Live hosted by Mike Tirico.

[ WATCH LIVE: Lunch Talk Live on NBCSports.com ]

NBC Sports’ new daily sports talk show, Lunch Talk Live focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories, and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

The two Robbies will join other guests Luke Kuechly, Rich Eisen, Tony Dungy, Michele Tafoya, Paul Azinger, and Dan Hicks.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Gabriel to Chelsea, Kante to Real Madrid

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Chelsea is all over the transfer news today.

According to an ESPN report, Chelsea has tabbed 22-year-old Lille center-back Gabriel Magalhaes as one of their top targets this coming transfer window. The Brazilian has been a regular in the Lille lineup this season, making 24 league appearances and helping the squad to the league’s fourth-best defensive record.

The report states that both sides are “optimistic of a deal” with Chelsea ready to pay the $37 million fee.

With transfer targets are identified at Stamford Bridge, it seems the club has also figured out some sort of strategy regarding transfers out. A report by 90min states that while Chelsea is more than happy with N’Golo Kante, roster congestion may allow them to be flexible with his status at the club.

With Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic developing a solid partnership during Kante’s extended injury struggles this season, plus the return of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, the availability of Ross Barkley, and the emergence of young Billy Gilmour, Kante is expendable. The report states that while Chelsea is not looking to shop the Frenchman, Real Madrid has held longtime interest and Los Blancos are likely to explore that likelihood in the upcoming transfer window.

Kante has three years left on his deal, and while Chelsea is under no hurry to sell, he will be 32 years old by the time his deal expires so any longer and the midfielder’s value is sure to begin falling.

A familiar name with Premier League transfer rumors is Portuguese midfielder William Carvalho. Linked with PL clubs for years, the Real Betis man is now connected with Leicester City as well as French side Monaco, according to the Leicester Mercury which cites unnamed reports in Portugal. The 28-year-old has 59 caps for Portugal, including a starting role in the side’s Euro 2016 title. He would reportedly cost around $25 million with three years still remaining on his Real Betis contract.