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USMNT player ratings v. Costa Rica

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The U.S. men’s national team closed out its annual early-season training camp on Saturday with its second victory, defeating Costa Rica 2-0 in San Jose’s Avaya Stadium. While it was a second friendly against a fellow CONCACAF side without its full complement of players, the domestic-based U.S. squad showed signs of improvement, especially in the second half.

Following a first half in which the U.S. weren’t able to execute its game plan, the team came out of the gates like a horse in the Kentucky Derby for the second half, and rode that wave of energy to victory. Take a look below at some of the standouts – and those who missed an opportunity to impress – in a match that was the last chance for these domestic players to prove they belong with the foreign-based squad.

Zack Steffen – 6

Steffen didn’t really have much to do all game. He made one save, caught one cross and his worst moment may have been slipping on the grass, as torrential rain during parts of the match made the field a bit slippery, especially around the goal mouth. Steffen did play the initial pass in Arriola’s goal, so he’ll get credit for that, and by earning another cap, his chances of earning a work permit in England continue to rise.

Nick Lima – 6

Playing in his home stadium, Lima again showed that he may have a future for the USMNT as an outside back. The 24-year-old had a shot clang off the post and he delivered some good service from the right side. He’s certainly a player to watch for in the next year or two.

Walker Zimmerman – 7

Zimmerman, playing again with Aaron Long as a pair of tall, physical centerbacks, recorded a second-consecutive clean sheet. Zimmerman made numerous headed clearances and perhaps his only fault was being out of position on a counter-attack, in which he had to haul down David Guzman, which earned him a yellow card. All in all, a solid performance.

Aaron Long – 7

The New York Red Bulls centerback continues to raise his game to new levels, and along with Zimmerman he’s forming a good partnership. Long’s distribution was neat, especially in the second half, and he held Costa Rica’s attack at bay playing a high line. He got into the attack on a couple of occasions as well.

Daniel Lovitz – 6

The first USMNT player with the Montreal Impact had another solid, if not spectacular performance at left back. With Arriola bombing down the left wing, Lovitz often stayed back and provided support. Overall, he contributed to a clean sheet but didn’t truly stand out, which is the sign of a good defender.

Cristian Roldan – 6

Like most of the USMNT players, Roldan really came to life in the second half, becoming more dynamic, attacking right down the heart of Costa Rica’s defense and linking up with his midfield and forward teammates. Roldan hit the post and had another shot go wide, in a play where he probably should have hit the target. However, his work defensively, was impressive, helping the U.S. win the ball back a few times and start a counter attack.

Wil Trapp – 7

Operating in the deep-lying playmaker role, Trapp used his vision and long-range of passing to unlock Costa Rica’s defense over and over again. He found Arriola in space countless times and even Lewis in space late to set up Lletget’s winner. Trapp, who along with Zardes and Steffen know Berhalter’s style of play, looked very comfortable in his role, though I’m not sure it was enough to become a permanent starter over Michael Bradley. However, the competition is heating up.

Djordje Mihailovic – 6

It was a game of two halves for Mihailovic as well. In the first half, Mihailovic wasn’t nearly as sharp as he looked against Panama, and had a few turnovers. Of course, he was also getting hacked all over the pitch, which may have made an impact on him mentally. He seemed back to his creative, normal self in the second half, combining with his midfield partners and leading to some goal-scoring opportunities. His best chance on goal came on a cross from Paul Arriola, but Mihailovic poked it over the bar. Mihailovic was taken off in the 63rd minute, likely to avoid suffering a serious injury after being fouled six times.

Corey Baird – 6 

Baird, in his second start, was a good outlet on the right for the U.S., especially in the second half, providing width. His pace bothered Waylon Francis at times but he was never truly a threat on goal, finishing with one shot. He was offside on his last moment of action, a header on goal that sailed over the bar.

Gyasi Zardes – 5 

Zardes had a few good moments holding up the ball, and he worked hard defensively, but it was a missed opportunity for Zardes to prove that he belongs with the main USMNT group going forward. Zardes failed to get on the end of a lot of crosses from Arriola and Lima, and Zardes finished with just one shot on target. He was substituted in the 78th minute, prior to both goals being scored. Perhaps that’s a sign?

Paul Arriola – 8

Playing down the left wing, Arriola was a threat all game long, even delivering some crosses with his weaker left foot. Costa Rica’s defense could not handle his pace, and he took advantage of that deficiency as well as all the space provided to create many second-half chances. He finally got his just rewards for a hard-working performance with a goal of his own.

Gregg Berhalter – 8

Whatever Berhalter said at halftime got the team to come out of the gates flying for the second half. Berhalter continues to press many of the right buttons, and his substitutes Lletget and Lewis combined for the first goal, while Lletget set up the second one. The opponent doesn’t compare to a full-strength side, but it’s a sign that Berhalter knew where to make changes (left side of the field, in this case) and just about all his second-half decisions were perfect.

Subs

Sebastian Lleget – 9

Coming on in the 63rd minute, Lleget brought more dynamism to the game as a left central midfielder, attacking down the left with pace and power. He was a constant threat to Costa Rica’s defense and enjoyed a dream sequence, scoring a goal in his return to Avaya Stadium, where he suffered a devastating injury the last time he played in that venue. He then played a perfect, outside-of-the-boot pass to Arriola for the USMNT’s second goal. Man of the Match performance in less than a half-hour of action.

Jonathan Lewis – 7

Lewis injected more pure speed and dribbling ability into the game and attacking a Costa Rican defense that was already gassed down their right side from dealing with Arriola all game long. Lewis’ creativity helped with his second assist in as many games, and he nearly set up another goal as well. Terrific performance off the bench for the 21-year-old.

Christian Ramirez – 6

Ramirez only had 12 minutes on the field, but his flick-on header in the 88th minute allowed Lletget to dribble into space and set up Arriola for the USMNT’s second goal. A small play, but little moments lead to big ones.

Manchester United: Solskjaer hopeful of new Paul Pogba contract

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Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is singing a new tune, hopeful that star midfielder Paul Pogba will stick around Old Trafford for the long term.

Reports say that United has an option to extend Pogba’s contract by an extra year beyond its 2021 expiry, but Solskjaer is thinking bigger. He has been praising Pogba plenty since the World Cup winner returned to the lineup.

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It’s a bit surprising given Pogba and his super agent’s constant time in the rumor mill, with Real Madrid often linked with the Frenchman. And that agent, Mino Raiola, has not been so nice when it comes to judging Solskjaer.

But Solskjaer is reportedly hopeful that Pogba can join Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and others in building a new power.

“I can’t comment on discussions between player and the club but. of course, we want to keep the best players around the club,” Solskjaer said. “We want to build a squad for the future and Scott and Nemanja are a similar position but at different stages in their careers. One at the start, one really experienced one.”

Pogba leads United in key passes per game with 2.3, though his minutes have been severely limited by injuries this season. He had 13 goals and nine assists last season, and turned 27 in March.

The way United’s performed in recent weeks it would not be a surprise if keeping its main talents while adding another stalwart center back and wing would propel it into a more serious table discussion.

Do you buy the idea that Pogba could be with United well into the future?

Suarez goal gives Barcelona win, relegates neighbors Espanyol

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Seventh-place one season ago, La Liga mainstays Espanyol are being relegated from Spain’s top flight.

The final decision came at the hands of their Catalan neighbors Barcelona, who got a second-half goal from Luis Suarez to relegate Espanyol.

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Espanyol are 11 points back of 17th place and can only capture nine more points this season following the 1-0 loss in a match where both teams had a player sent off.

Suarez’s goal was a nice one after Antoine Griezmann’s back heel pass to Lionel Messi saw the Argentine’s shot deflect onto the path of the Uruguayan finisher.

Espanyol had been in the top flight since 1994 and has only spent four single seasons outside La Liga since 1929. Leganes and Mallorca may join them soon.

Barcelona moves a point back of Real Madrid. Real has four matches left to Barca’s three and holds the tiebreaker.

Klopp reacts to Liverpool wins, says Henderson injury ‘not nothing’

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Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion was a bit more what we’re used to from the Premier League champions.

But that wasn’t the focus of the post-match despite a highlight-reel show from Mohamed Salah, as Reds boss Jurgen Klopp sounded an ominous note when asked about Jordan Henderson leaving the match with injury.

“I don’t know exactly but it was something with the knee I think. We know it’s not nothing.”

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Henderson’s not exactly a player to hit the deck unless he’s feeling pain, and Klopp removed him for James Milner with 10 minutes to play.

That’s about the only bad news from the win, as Liverpool became the first team this season to breach the 90-point mark and saw Salah’s brace move him within three goals of the Golden Boot lead.

Salah would only say, “Let’s take it game-by-game,” but it’s clearly on his mind.

Trent Alexander-Arnold says the Egyptian is hungry to get a share of a third-straight Golden Boot.

From the BBC:

“He has his targets, he’s around the Golden Boot and it’s something he wants to retain,” Alexander-Arnold said. “He’s a world class player who scores so many goals for us and we try to get him on the board as much as possible.”

As for the match, Brighton almost as missed some big chances as Liverpool before the game was out of reach. Klopp admits that it was a challenge.

“We started really well,” Klopp said. “We had to adapt a little bit as we knew what they wanted to do but it was a little bit hard to defend. We left one or two players in a position where if we won the ball we had players in the counter-attack position. We got the first two goals with super balls but we could have scored more. I said to the boys at half-time they could have been 2-2 too. It was a nice game to watch.”

The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.

Liverpool march continues with 3-1 win at Brighton

Brighton - Liverpool recap
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Mohamed Salah had two goals and an assist in the first eight minutes of Liverpool’s 3-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium on Wednesday.

Salah is now three goals behind league leader Jamie Vardy, and Liverpool’s 92 points are 23 more than Man City. Jordan Henderson also scored for the Reds.

BRIGHTON – LIVERPOOL FULL MATCH REPLAY

Leandro Trossard scored for Brighton, whose 36 points are nine clear of the bottom three with four matches to play (The 18th and 19th place sides do have a match each in hand).

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Liverpool’s 30 wins through 34 outings is a Premier League record and Jurgen Klopp’s men are chasing several PL records. The Reds finish with Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Newcastle United.


Three things we learned

1. Salah somehow under the radar: Look, the Egyptian star’s 32-goal league season was an outlier. Not a lot of guys consistently hit 25, let alone the 30 mark in the Premier League. But Salah has rather quietly put together another amazing season with 19 goals and nine assists in PL play plus another four and three in cup competitions. Salah is one assist of joining the a small group of players to get double digit league goals and assists in a top five European league this season.

While it’s become sexy to praise Sadio Mane as the Reds’ top winger, Salah has been just as good. He could’ve had another goal in the 53rd but Mat Ryan made a fine intervention at close range. If Salah is under the radar, it’s because Liverpool has spread the wealth this season and had so many heroes in close matches. But boy, oh boy, is he their best weapon.

2. Lamptey shows glimpses, then youth: The sample size is very small, but 19-year-old Chelsea outcast Tariq Lamptey has played well at right back in most of his outings for Brighton since the return from the coronavirus pause. Lamptey was at blame for Liverpool’s third goal in both the chance conceded and actual finish from Salah, but the $4 million January buy looked well worth the price tag in a terrific first half at the Amex.

3. Seagulls still missing final ball: Brighton produced four big chances in the game to Liverpool’s two, but only put one in the back of the net (SofaScore). That’s sadly been par for the course this season, as Brighton’s style has been worthy of a top half place. Brighton entered the day with seven fewer goals than its expected goals total. Only Everton, Watford, and Norwich have been less fortunate.

Man of the Match:

Salah.


Brighton – Liverpool recap

Salah had a goal and an assist within 500 seconds of kickoff.

The Egyptian took a feed from Naby Keita to score off a Davy Propper giveaway and then set up Henderson’s second to have the Seagulls’ heads spinning early.

Brighton found a chance in the 19th but Neco Williams recovered with a slide to block Leandro Trossard from slotting a point-blank goal.

The Seagulls pulled within one just before halftime when in-form youngster Tariq Lamptey swept a cross into the mix for Trossard to punch home.

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Salah could’ve had it 3-1 at one end but Brighton’s Dan Burn asked the Egyptian to hold his drink with a butchered wide-open shot at the back post in the 60th minute.

Jurgen Klopp didn’t like the close score, and brought on Fabinho, Andy Robertson, and Sadio Mane in the second half. One of the players he removed, Naby Keita, had a strong hour before departing the contest.

Henderson almost produced a third Liverpool goal after a rare Lamptey error spring a chance that took a wicked turn off Dale Stephens.

The Reds made it 3-1 off the ensuing corner, Salah’s clinical header in front of Lamptey. Henderson limped off for Liverpool late in the contest.

Ryan denied Salah a hat trick in stoppage time and the Egyptian headed over the bar at the final whistle. He could’ve had five.