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Youngsters Havertz, Brandt leading Leverkusen revival

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BERLIN (AP) Two young German national team players are leading Bayer Leverkusen’s revival under new coach Peter Bosz.

Kai Havertz, still only 19, has made himself an indispensable part of the squad and is getting better with each game, while 22-year-old Julian Brandt produced a man-of-the-match performance against Mainz on Friday.

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Brandt, who had already been entrusted with the No. 10 jersey by Germany coach Joachim Loew following Mesut Ozil’s premature retirement, showed he is determined to keep it after scoring two goals and setting up two more in Leverkusen’s 5-1 win.

“If a No. 10 is needed and the coach thinks we don’t have any in the squad, then I think I have the quality for it,” Brandt said.

Havertz, his midfield partner and the only player to have started every league game for Leverkusen this season, scored his eighth goal of the season against Mainz and is displaying a maturity well beyond his years.

Havertz has already scored more goals than in the previous two seasons since he first broke into the senior team.

The ambidextrous midfielder can play all across midfield, winning tackles in defense, switching play and launching attacks with his quick eye for movement, coupled with his anticipation and then precision when delivering the final pass. Havertz has been involved in 17 goals in his 27 games in all competitions this season.

Havertz’s importance to Leverkusen was underlined by the club’s concern over the hip injury he picked up in the 3-1 win over Bayern Munich on Feb. 2. He missed the German Cup loss to second-division club Heidenheim three days later, but the injury was not as serious an initially feared and he returned to start in Mainz to help Leverkusen claim its third straight win.

Bosz, a former Borussia Dortmund coach, took over from Heiko Herrlich in time for the second half of the season. He appears to have stabilized the team after an inconsistent first half. The Dutch coach has given free rein to both Brandt and Havertz in the center and the decision has paid off with marked improvement since the league resumed.

Brandt had been playing on the wing under Herrlich.

“When you play on the wing you’re tied to the position and don’t have as much room,” Brandt said. “So now I can run around with freedom. I feel very comfortable in the position.”

Bosz’s reasoning for Brandt’s position switch is simple.

“He is a very good player and you have to give good players the ball. He was outstanding today and always there at the right time,” Bosz said after the win in Mainz, where Brandt scored twice in a game for the first time.

Back on track in the Bundesliga – Leverkusen is up to sixth, good enough for Europa League qualification, five points behind Leipzig in the last place for Champions League qualification – Bosz’s team next travels to Russia to face Krasnodar in the Europa League.

Bosz previously led Ajax to the Europa League final in 2017.

“We don’t want to go at it like in the German Cup,” Brandt said, referring to the slip-up in Heidenheim. “We’ve learned from that.”

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Must-See Goal: Wayne Rooney v. Orlando City

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Wayne Rooney just scored the most amazing goal in Audi Field’s young history.

In the 10th minute of D.C. United’s match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday evening, Rooney noticed Orlando’s Brian Rowe straying way off his line. And so, with an audacious but accurate attempt, Rooney let fly from 65 yards and SCORED. Just check this goal out below.

[FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Panama]

Rooney took advantage of a crazy bounce and with his literal first touch, unleashed a thunderbolt that Rowe couldn’t catch up to. It automatically becomes one of the top contenders for the MLS Goal of the Year, and should make it on every top ten countdown this evening and tomorrow.