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Three things we learned from USMNT win

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As the U.S. men’s national team creeps ever so slowly toward delivering a 90-minute performance to be proud of, here’s what we learned as Gregg Berhalter’s side thrashed Trinidad & Tobago for five second-half goals in a 6-0 victory in the Gold Cup on Saturday…

[ MORE: USMNT starts slow, destroys T&T with five second-half goals (video) ]

The midfield still looks like a rudderless ship (at times)

It would be unwise — if temptingly easy — to overlook the USMNT’s slow start and focus solely on the final scoreline, because for much of the first 45 minutes — especially the first 15 — there were some major issues in the middle of the field.

It’s unclear whether this is due to the system — say, the forward line isn’t putting enough pressure on the ball higher up the field — or if the chemistry in midfield has just been slow to come together. In truth, it’s probably a bit of both.

Michael Bradley and Weston McKennie have had precious little time to work together and figure out the balance between themselves — a pair of high-energy midfielders who’ll cover ground from one endline to the endline if you ask them to do so. On a handful of occasions, each of them were caught much too high upfield together, which resulted in an unimpeded jaunt through the center of the field as soon as possession was lost.

These kinks will, with any luck, work themselves out as the past/present midfield general hands over the reins to the future/present midfield general. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if Panama, or any of the region’s other big boys, find plenty of joy the same way T&T did for periods on Saturday.

Real danger comes from the wings

For the time being at least, just about every meaningful USMNT attack originates from, or is directed toward, the wings. If you’re at all familiar with how the Columbus Crew played under Berhalter, that won’t come as any surprise — especially, considering the American player pool is completely devoid of a Federico Higuain-type playmaker in the middle.

On Saturday, it was a joy to behold some of the diagonal balls being played over the top (HERE, HERE and HERE) and on the ground (below) to find wide players in space. For the vast majority of the game, balls out to wide areas were the USMNT’s first, second and third option. They achieved this by overloading both the right and left sides again and again — Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola on the left, and Nick Lima and Tyler Boyd on the right.

It worked against a team like T&T, a side without aerially dominant center backs, but is unlikely to prove six-goals successful against CONCACAF’s best later in this tournament, let alone World Cup-caliber sides.

It’s not actually about winning the Gold Cup

The number of times we’ll have to remind ourselves of the following over the next months is, perhaps, infinite: the results matter very little right now, it’s all about the performances and the partnerships being cultivated with the 2022 World Cup in mind.

Would it be nice to regain the CONCACAF crown and lift the Gold Cup in a couple weeks’ time? Not really, but sure. Would it be nice to get as many of the remaining growing pains — and there are plenty, evidenced by those first 45 minutes on Saturday — out of the way as soon as possible? Absolutely.

The USMNT’s next attempt at World Cup qualifying will likely begin sometime next year, and winning this tournament at the cost of long-term progress will do them no favors then. There’s plenty of learning for the current crop of young players to do when it comes to pacing themselves for the long haul of a tournament competition and gaining experience in competitive games against teams they’ll likely see in the business rounds of WCQ, no doubt about it, but veering away from playing those young players in favor of picking veterans who can win now remains the worst possible thing Berhalter could do.

Thus far, he’s done well to resist any urge he might, or might not, have had.

Hudson-Odoi reportedly agrees to huge new Chelsea deal

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Callum Hudson-Odoi‘s promise and performance have earned him a very rich five-year new deal, especially given his young age, according to the BBC.

Oh, and his agent certainly deserves some credit, given the rumored and continued pursuit of the Chelsea star from Bayern Munich and other clubs.

[ MORE: Who is Newcastle’s new $50M forward? ]

The Englishman turns 19 in November, and plays primarily on the left wing. Rumors of his departure were rooted in his desire for playing time, and Maurizio Sarri gave him a little more than 1000 minutes in which Hudson-Odoi produced five goals and five assists.

Hudson-Odoi must feel assured of a faster track to regular playing time under new manager Frank Lampard, and Chelsea must feel his ruptured achilles tendon will heal up properly.

None of his 2018-19 goals were in the Premier League, but Hudson-Odoi struck four times in Chelsea’s run to the Europa League trophy.

He missed the last month of the system of the season the aforementioned tendon injury, and he’ll earn close to $125,000 a week on his new deal at Stamford Bridge.

Wow.

That would’ve been the highest salary on nine Premier League teams last season, a tied for 47th in the Premier League last season (Spotrac).

Exactly who is Newcastle’s new $50M striker?

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Newcastle United’s club record signing of Joelinton is raising plenty of eyebrows, as fans try to grasp what they have in the $50 million Brazilian.

Suffice it to say that there isn’t an easy comparison.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old scored seven goals with five assists in Bundesliga play for Hoffenheim last season, adding four and two from Champions League and German Cup play.

[ MORE: Man Utd chase Pepe, Fernandes ]

He’s a unit, to be sure, at 6-foot-1 with tremendous leaping ability and a powerful stride. Joelinton certainly has the ability to dominate in the air and hold the ball up like Newcastle’s loan star Salomon Rondon in 2018-19, but he brings better passing than most center forwards.

There’s a temptation to compare him to Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, another Premier League import from Brazil via Hoffenheim, as Joe Prince-Wright wrote in his morning post about the impending deal.

Firmino was on another level in 2014-15, coming off a remarkably complete seasons for a center forward. He also shoots more often than Joelinton.

What Newcastle supporters will like from Joelinton, what makes him unique for his size, is that he’s a tremendous dribbler. He has trickery to go with his pace, not strictly a locomotive.

His season didn’t have the goals, the Toon will hope, because he was supplying wingers Andrej Kramaric (17 goals) and Ishak Belfodil (16). That could be music to the ears of Miguel Almiron and… whoever else Steve Bruce has to deploy (Yoshinori Muto? Jacob Murphy?).

Joelinton also played less than minutes than the following three comparables: West Ham import Sebastien Haller, Watford target Ismalia Sarr, and Wolves star Raul Jimenez.

Will he be worth the spend? The six-year deal promises profit potential — something Mike Ashley and chief scout Graham Carr are clearly targeting — if he explodes and earns the admiration of bigger sides. As for now, he should be able to provide what Rondon did in 2018-19.

Filipe Luis signs for Flamengo after leaving Atletico

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazilian veteran left-back Filipe Luis has signed for boyhood club Flamengo after leaving Atletico Madrid on a free transfer.

The Rio de Janeiro club and the player confirmed the move Tuesday on social media.

Flamengo said the 33-year-old Luis has signed a deal until 2021.

Luis has played in Europe for 14 years but left Atletico on Sunday after his contract expired.

The left-back was a starter for Brazil during its recent run to the Copa America title.

With Atletico, Luis won the Copa del Rey in 2013, the Spanish league in 2014, and the Europa League in 2012 and 2018. He also had a brief spell with Chelsea in between, winning the Premier League in 2015.

Flamengo is third in the Brazilian championship after 11 matches, five points behind leader and defending champion Palmeiras.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS expansion side Austin FC name Wolff as first-ever head coach

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Former USMNT forward  Josh Wolff has become the first-ever head coach of Austin FC, as the MLS expansion franchise crack on with their expected entry into North America’s top-flight in 2021.

Wolff, 42, was the assistant coach for D.C. United before moving to the Columbus Crew were he worked as Gregg Berhalter’s assistant for the past five years. Wolff was then hired as Berhalter’s assistant when he took charge of the USMNT.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

Austin FC say that Wolff will start his new job after the international window in November as he will continue with his current job with U.S. Soccer until then.

“I know that Austin has a true love of soccer, and it is the opportunity of a lifetime to be part of the first ever major league team of any kind in the Capital of Texas,” Wolff said. “Our stated ambition is to establish ourselves quickly within MLS as a vibrant, attacking side and we want to reflect the diverse, competitive, and passionate makeup of our club’s home, both on and off the field.”

This move makes total sense as former Columbus Crew owner, Anthony Precourt, knows Wolff from their time together in Ohio. Precourt excercized his option to move his MLS franchise from Columbus to Austin which was confirmed in January 2019.

The Crew have since been kept in Columbus and Precourt is now the chairman and CEO of Two Oak Ventures, the entity which owns the rights to operate Austin FC and its stadium, while also holding the title of chairman and CEO of Austin FC. Austin FC’s new stadium at McKalla Place (the stadium and the complex around it looks pretty incredible) is privately funded and will hold 20,500 fans when it is completed.

Hiring a former MLS and USMNT star to lead the team makes a lot of sense and Wolff’s name has been mentioned plenty when MLS jobs have become available in recent years. He was on both the 2002 and 2006 USMNT World Cup squads and his experience across MLS and in Europe have given him a unique coaching style.

There is a lot of respect for Wolff among the American soccer community and his playing philosophy is very similar to Berhalter’s. Wolff becoming a head coach is good news for young domestic players.