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Berhalter trying to transform USMNT into possession-based team

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DAVENPORT, Fla. (AP) Gregg Berhalter prepares for U.S. national team matches like a CEO getting ready for a deal.

The new American coach uses video presentations when he meets with foreign-based players via computer. He has tripled the team’s data analysts to three.

Two white boards are on the grass at training sessions, one with the day’s objectives and schedule, the other with magnets to denote formations.

“I’ve been amazed the first few days just how much information he’s got across and how he wants every guy to be on the same page and have a perfect understanding of how we want to go into the game,” star midfielder Christian Pulisic said ahead of Thursday’s exhibition against Ecuador in Orlando.

Hired in December as the fourth U.S. coach in a little over two years, Berhalter has the full U.S. player pool for the first time this week after beating Panama and Costa Rica with a roster entirely from Major League Soccer.

He’s been to Europe twice since he signed on, visiting players in England, Germany and France. He lives in corporate housing near the U.S. Soccer Federation headquarters in Chicago and commutes on weekends to Columbus, Ohio, where he coached the Crew from 2013 through last year. He’s been searching for a home, and his family will make the move to Chicago after the school year.

Players say he contacts them frequently after many of their club matches.

“Greg has been good about if you’d too tired, if you don’t have time to talk, then it’s no problem,” said midfielder Tyler Adams, in his first season with Germany’s RB Leipzig. “I was never going to tell him I don’t have time to talk. I’m going to be willing to take that call at any time.”

Berhalter is bringing a new philosophy to the U.S. team, still recovering from its failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup, a player pool that has been led by Jurgen Klinsmann, Bruce Arena and interim coach Dave Sarachan in quick succession. The team’s mantra has become “disorganize.” Berhalter and players rarely speak for more than a few minutes without uttering the word, which describes what they want to do to their opponents.

“We want to be a team that’s brave, that is attacking-orientated. I think that’s what we want to DNA to be,” Berhalter said.

American soccer players have frequently dropped deep and been content to counterattack, especially on the road and against world powers. Berhalter is emphasizing possession in what he describes as a 4-3-3 when on the attack and a 4-4-2 when defending.

“We’re clearly playing with wingers now,” he said. “Our fullbacks aren’t as high as they used to be in the past.”

The Americans haven’t played a competitive match since the October 2017 defeat at Trinidad and Tobago that cost them a World Cup berth, and they don’t play another until their CONCACAF Gold Cup opener in June. Berhalter considers this the evaluation phase. He is a stylist, employing inverted defenders and wingers fluidly exchanging places with the central attacking midfielders, Pulisic and Weston McKennie.

Gone apparently is the constant chaos of the Klinsmann era.

“That’s a breath of fresh air, because before it was let’s qualify by any means necessary, chop and changing, switching things up, whatever it took. He’s very focused on playing a certain way and sticking to it,” said 31-year-old defender Tim Ream. “America’s known as a run-and-gun, solid mentality, work very hard. You can do those things and still play a good possession-based style. And I hope a year from now that people look at the squad and look at the team and see us play games and think they move the ball really well and they create chances through possession and through making teams disorganized.”

The U.S. had just three practice sessions ahead of the Ecuador match, and some players reported late because of club matches Sunday. The trio of 20-year-olds – Pulisic, McKennie and Adams – figured to start together for the first time, though with Adams at right back and DeAndre Yedlin shifted to winger.

“There is more gray hair on my beard. That’s the stress of getting it all in in a short period of time,” Berhalter said.

Yedlin anticipates by next year’s start of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, American fans will notice the change. By then, the Americans hope they have forged a new identity in the Gold Cup and the new CONCACAF Nations League this fall.

“People are just going to be wowed by the growth,” Yedlin said.

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Premier League weekend friendlies: Man Utd-Inter, PL Asia Trophy

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This weekend in Premier League preseason friendlies sees Liverpool taking on a pair of top European foes, while four PL foes trade blows in Shanghai.

Man City and Wolves move on from significant defeats of Newcastle and West Ham, who in turn will face each other on Saturday.

You can watch Saturday’s Premier League Asia Trophy matches between Wolves and Man City, and Newcastle versus West Ham here on NBC Sports Live.

Meanwhile, Manchester United will tangle with Romelu Lukaku-chasing Inter Milan on Saturday (and, no, the Belgian striker won’t be in uniform).

There’s also a sneaky good match-up of Watford and Bayer Leverkusen in Austria on Saturday, while Sunday’s light docket has Spurs facing Matthijs de Ligt and Juventus in Singapore.

Borussia Dortmund v. Liverpool (Notre Dame, Indiana)

Girona v. Bournemouth
v. Fiorentina (Charlotte)
Fulham v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Cheltenham Town v. Leicester City
Crewe Alexandra v. Burnley
Port Vale v. Burnley
Bromley v. Crystal Palace
Man City 
v. Wolves (Shanghai)
Inter Milan v. Manchester United (Singapore)
Newcastle United v. West Ham (Shanghai)
Northampton Town v. Sheffield United
Preston North End v. Southampton
v. Bayer Leverkusen (Austria)

Shrewsbury Town v. Aston Villa
v. Sevilla (Boston)
Juventus v. Spurs (Singapore)

PL friendly wrap: Pukki leads Norwich past Schalke

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London sides went 0-2, while three other Premier League sides won ahead of Friday night’s friendly between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund in Indiana.

[ MORE: Algeria wins AFCON ]

The wins included defeats of Schalke and Monaco, while Brighton and Hove Albion topped lower league Crawley Town.

Schalke 1-2 Norwich City

Teemu Pukki had a goal and an assist, giving hope that the Championship goal collector can bring his game to the Premier League.

Pukki’s 13th minute goal was assisted by Man City loanee Patrick Roberts, and the Finn later assisted Moritz Leitner‘s winner.

Rabbi Matondo scored Schalke’s only goal, and American midfielder Weston McKennie was neither with the starters nor the bench.

Everton 1-0 Monaco

Seamus Coleman scored and Maarten Stekelenburg stopped a penalty as the Toffees handled their Ligue 1 opposition in Switzerland.

Kawasaki Frontale 1-0 ChelseaRECAP

Leandro Damaio scored the lone goal as Chelsea had plenty of chances to win in Christian Pulisic‘s debut. The American came off the bench for the final 25 minutes in Japan.

Nottingham Forest 1-0 Crystal Palace

Albert Adomah scored the lone goal in a win for the Championship side.

Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Crawley Town

New signing Taylor Richards‘ late penalty kick was enough for the Seagulls to get a result at home. The Man City midfielder arrived on Thursday.

Liverpool v. Borussia Dortmund (Notre Dame, Indiana) — 8 p.m. ET

Algeria wins Africa Cup of Nations

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In the words of a Missouri-born rapper, you only get one shot. In Algeria’s case in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, that was true and it was all the Desert Foxes needed to claim their first AFCON title since 1990 with a 1-0 defeat of Senegal on Friday at Cairo International Stadium in Cairo.

Baghdad Bounedjah’s wildly-deflected second minute shot was enough to give Algeria its second AFCON crown.

Senegal out shot Algeria 11-1 on the day, but Sadio Mane and Co. couldn’t find their way over the goal line.

One-time Man City and Southampton player Djamel Belmadi has now managed an AFCON winner and a Gulf Cup of Nations champion (Qatar, 2014).

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or w/o Messi, Ronaldo? ]

Bounedjah’s wild rip after a cut-in from the left bounded into the air and looped into the far corner. Senegal goalkeeper Amigo Gomis made it look more odd with his befuddlement (Scramble, my guy!).

Referee Neant Alioum’s ruling of a penalty to Senegal after Ismaila Sarr’s rip hit the arm of Adlene Guedioura was overturned when review showed the Algeria midfielder’s arm was at his side.

We mean, was this going to be the goal that won Africa’s most important tournament? Yep.

Ajax seals El Tri’s young star Alvarez for $17M

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Ajax has developed a ton of youngsters, and now has a pair of CONCACAF starlets in the fold for 2019-20.

A day after selling Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus for a reported $84 million, the Dutch side has delivered on reports that it wanted Edson Alvarez.

That puts the 21-year-old Mexican defender/defensive midfielder in the Eredivisie side with 18-year-old Dutch-American defender Sergino Dest.

While Dest has yet to break into the full USMNT, playing in the U-20 World Cup this summer, Alvarez already has 28 caps and five goals for El Tri.

He’ll bring a relative wealth of experience from Club America, and Ajax could use him to help offset the sale of Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona. While Alvarez has played a lot of center back in Liga MX, he’s been used at defensive midfielder by Tata Martino with the national team.

The reported fee is $17 million, according to Goal.