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USMNT 3-0 Panama: Mihailovic scores on debut as US impresses

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It was a day of debuts for the USMNT as they defeated Panama 3-0 to end January camp on a positive note. Gregg Berhalter led the United States for the first time as head coach, while five debutants earned their first senior international caps, the most in a single match since 1992.

One of those debutants, Chicago Fire academy product Djordje Mihailovic, bagged the game’s opening goal, giving the hosts tangible reward for an energetic and sharp showing. Walker Zimmerman grabbed the second goal, sealing the win, while substitute Christian Ramirez poked in the third at the death. Another debutant, Aaron Long, wore the captain’s armband over Michael Bradley, a surprising development when the lineups were announced.

The United States off the opening kickoff showed a fascinating tactical shape and clear purpose. Defender Nick Lima, listed as a right-back, often pushed forward into central midfield when the U.S. had possession of the ball. He would occupy the space next to Michael Bradley, with the other defenders forming a back three.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT win over Panama ]

The hosts had the first look at goal, with debutant Jeremy Ebobisse – deployed on the left wing – crossing to Gyasi Zardes completely alone in the penalty area, but his wide-open header was sent over the bar.

Bradley was at the heart of every U.S. possession, and he nearly created another goalscoring chance on 20 minutes when Cristian Roldan had the ball down the middle and should have seen Corey Baird running clear on goal, but instead wasted the chance with a shot from 28 yards out. Five minutes later Baird had another chance, putting his layoff from Zardes just inches wide right. Nick Lima had a shot that also went a hair wide of the post a minute later from Zardes again laying off.

The U.S. continued to dominate and nearly found the opener on a corner in the 28th minute. Long had a touch at the near post and flicked it across the face of goal where a charging Walker Zimmerman put it over the bar. The attacks continued to prove dangerous but lacked the final ball, as Zardes again missed with a header in the 39th minute after Daniel Lovitz delivered a brilliant curling ball into the box.

Finally, the U.S. was able to celebrate after Panama failed to deal with a broken attack. In the 40th minute, the U.S. pushed forward after a turnover and Lima was the man on the ball through the middle. He threaded Zardes through the center, and while Zardes went down under pressure looking for a foul, the ball fell at the feet of Baird, and he cut across to Mihailovic who came charging in and blasted the ball into the back of the net with the help of a slight deflection.

It has to be said that Panama was horrific in the first half, but they picked things up after the break and worked a big chance in the 55th minute that required a reflex save from Zack Steffan, the first real action for the U.S. goalkeeper.

Mihailovic had another big chance on the stroke of the hour mark, charging again onto the ball at the top of the box, but his vicious shot was blocked. He came off soon after for Sebastian Lletget in Berhalter’s first substitution.

In the 70th minute, the U.S. was again put under pressure on a free-kick that saw two Panamanian attackers get behind the defense, but Ernesto Walker sent his glancing header just wide. With Panama beginning to find a bit of comfort, the United States bagged a second goal to put the game away, made by Lima with a wonderful bit of defense to offense. With Panama on the counter after the U.S. saw an attack fizzle out, Lima came thundering in with a thumping tackle, winning the ball off Edson Samms and then delivering a pinpoint cross to a host of bodies in the penalty area. Walker Zimmerman rose the highest and pummeled in a header for the strike.

With the game winding down, substitute Christian Ramirez came on for Zardes and poked home the exclamation point on great work from fellow substitute Jonathan Lewis down the left flank, bursting past his defender and cutting across to Ramirez all alone on the doorstep with the goalkeeper pulled out.

That was nearly the final kick of the game, with no stoppage time added. It was a solid win against a poor opponent for the United States, with few trouble spots to shake a finger at. Berhalter earned victory in his first coaching appearance for the USMNT, giving hope to fans as they move forward toward the Gold Cup, and eventually, the World Cup qualification cycle.

DC United acquires Julian Gressel from Atlanta

Atlanta United trades for Julian Gressel
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How much is Major League Soccer’s best assist man worth?

About $750,000.

DC United paid Atlanta United that fee in allocation money for the rights to Julian Gressel, who had been at a contract impasse with the club who drafted him in 2017.

That fee could hit $1.1 million in incentives, and even so could be a bargain.

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Gressel was due to make around $133,000 this season and wanted an improved deal from Atlanta given his massive production since becoming the eighth overall pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft.

That salary is less than hundreds of players, most of them nowhere near Gressel’s impact. Nineteen Atlanta United players made more than him last season, so it’s understandable that the 26-year-old wanted to get paid.

We don’t know what he was asking, or why Atlanta wouldn’t get there. From MLSSoccer.com:

“If we really wanted to, we could have had him play on $130,000 this season, extend him a bona fide offer at the end of the season and (we’d still own his MLS rights),” said Atlanta United vice president Carlos Bocanegra. “We’re also trying to do the right thing for a guy who has given so much to the club and is really just a good kid all around.”

It’s a weird one, given what the club’s been paying others.

Gressel arrived at Providence College from Eintracht Bamberg and immediately started delivering for the Big East side. He finished his four years with 30 goals and 26 assists and All-American status.

There was some adapting to MLS, but he’s gotten better with every season. He scored 10 goals with 13 assists in all competitions last season.

Spurs chairman reportedly met with Real Madrid about Gareth Bale

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As a neutral, the idea of Gareth Bale rejoining Tottenham Hotspur would be a delight to our Premier League matchday viewing.

Obviously this applies to Spurs fans to the nth degree, especially after a dull 0-0 with Watford at the weekend.

In the short-term, Bale would be a terrific stopgap as Spurs struggle to find themselves without Harry Kane in both the PL and Champions League.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

In the long-term, Bale and Heung-Min Son on the wings of Harry Kane would be enough to make any PL power trio blush (unless Liverpool really does add Timo Werner).

A report out of Spain says Real Madrid president Florentino Perez met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy about several things including the availability of Bale.

The Welsh star has been long admired by Jose Mourinho, and of course knows Spurs well having become a superstar after arriving from Southampton.

Bale is 30 and his wages would easily top Spurs’ pay list. His 21 goals and nine assists in the 2012/13 Premier League season join his 19 and 11 in 2015 La Liga as his top league seasons.

Spurs host Norwich City on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Guardiola praises Laporte, “the best left central defender in the world”

Pep Guardiola praises Aymeric Laporte
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Manchester City kept its first clean sheet of 2020 on Tuesday, posting a 1-0 win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

It took the two-time reigning Premier League champions six tries to get there, the previous zero coming against this same Blades side at the Etihad Stadium.

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City manager Pep Guardiola was quick to give credit to a returning hero, as center back Aymeric Laporte returned to the fold for the first time since Aug. 31.

The club was 3W-1D at that point. They went 12W-2D-5L without him.

Here’s Guardiola, from the Manchester Evening News:

“It’s incredible,” Guardola said. “We have missed him a lot, he’s the best left central defender in the world. Imagine the best teams in the world lose their best central defender. We miss him a lot because he’s a specialist left foot where our buildup. He is fast, strong in the air.”

“He has something that we don’t have in the squad. His left foot and many actions to build up to make it quicker and better – we don’t have it, not because the other ones are not good but he has the only left foot as a central defender and for the way we want to play that is so important. His character and mentality and winning, he has all the attributes. For me, when he is fit he is the best left central defender in the world.”

If you read that as a little bit of an explanation for City being 13 points off Liverpool, you’ve similar eyes to us.

Pep is asking how Liverpool would look without Virgil Van Dijk, how Real Madrid appears when Sergio Ramos is out.

It’s not the be-all, end-all, but as I wrote when Laporte went down, this is the key piece to their defending efforts as well as where they begin possession.

We’re also grateful that Guardiola didn’t drop some sort of, “He’s like a January transfer addition,” statement (at least as far as we’ve read.

Chelsea admit they miss USMNT’s Pulisic

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LONDON — Since USMNT star Christian Pulisic was injured in training in the first week of January, Chelsea have lost against Newcastle, drawn with Arsenal and blown away Burnley.

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In the two games where they’ve dropped points they’ve missed Pulisic’s genius in the final third with both Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi easily shackled by Arsenal in their London derby. Chelsea admitted as much when speaking after the 2-2 draw against Arsenal on Tuesday, an Arsenal side who played with 10 men for over 60 minutes of the game.

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk about Pulisic’s adductor injury and if they missed him during the draw against Arsenal, downbeat Chelsea boss Frank Lampard noted that Pulisic, 21, was “playing really well” before his injury.

“Yeah, a game like today could have been a good where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

When will Pulisic be back?

Lampard confirmed he is making good progress but will not be fit until after the mid-season player break in February, which means he will miss their FA Cup trip to Hull City this Saturday and their clash at Leicester City on Feb. 1. He may not be back until Feb. 17 when they host Manchester United in the Premier League, which means in total he will have been out for a period of six weeks.

“In terms of when he’s back, it is not going to be a week, it is probably be the other end of the early February break but he is getting better and he isn’t far away,” Lampard said.

Speaking to Pro Soccer Talk pitch-side at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta, who scored their late second goal which looked like being the winner, lavished praise on Pulisic when asked about his absence over the last week.

“Christian is a magnificent player. Since he joined us in the summer he has shown us his potential and we know that he can make the difference at any time. Whenever a player is injured it is not good for a team because we lose potential and I hope to have him back soon,” Azpilicueta said.

Chelsea’s skipper is expecting big things from Pulisic when he does return to fitness, as the fourth-place Blues now have just a six-point cushion to those outside of the top four and have played a game more.

It seems like everyone at Chelsea hopes the USMNT star can rejuvenate their attack in the final months of the season.

“After coming to Europe as a young boy to Germany, he came to Chelsea and it is one step forward, playing for Chelsea every game, fighting to win and fighting for trophies,” Azpilicueta said. “In my role I’ve tried to help in settle into the city and the club. He has a brilliant attitude. Always trying to improve. I am sure he will become bigger and bigger.”