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

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The U.S. men’s national team’s quest to reclaim the Gold Cup once again needed a long runway to take off, but resulted in an emphatic 6-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago and a place in the quarterfinals being sealed in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | Gold Cup ]

Gyasi Zardes and Aaron Lon scored twice each, to go with individual tallies from Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola. No margin of victory can erase the memories of what happened in Couva, Trinidad, in November 2017, but the USMNT’s second-half explosion will have eased some fears over the team’s recent struggles to adapt to new head coach Gregg Berhalter’s system.

The opening 15 minutes were a painful continuation of the Yanks’ struggles from their tournament-opening victory over Guyana — only worse. Rather than struggling to retain possession and create chances of their own, the significant jump in competition resulted in an early onslaught of chances for the Soca Warriors.

Zack Steffen was forced to make a pair of saves inside the first 10 minutes. Each came from long distance and only posed a threat if Steffen were to misread the flight of the ball or mishandle on the catch or punch, but the ease with which the red shirts of T&T flowed through the heart of the American midfield was certainly alarming.

After slowing the game’s frenetic tempo, the USMNT settled in just a bit and was rewarded with a goal in the 41st minute. Pulisic lofted a dangerous cross toward the six-yard box, where Long was situated after a corner kick. The New York Red Bulls center back rose quickly and headed the ball into the ground with enough power to sneak it home off the outstretched hands of Marvin Phillip.

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Norway tops Australia on PKs | Germany reaches QF ]

The second half began with the USMNT firmly on the front foot, sitting a bit deeper in defense and springing quickly on the counter-attack. Weston McKennie got on the ball with time and space in midfield and connected a sensational diagonal through ball to Arriola in behind on the left wing. Arriola’s left-footed shot was, however, dragged a couple feet wide.

Tyler Boyd, who scored twice against Guyana, nearly added a third goal to his haul this tournament, but the 24-year-old’s left-footed curler from 20 yards out went agonizingly wide of Phillip’s right-hand post in the 55th minute.

For all of the pressure the USMNT managed to put on T&T through the first 15 minutes of the second half, it was nearly undone in an instant when Levi Garcia got in behind right back Nick Lima and fired a first-time shot just wide of Steffen’s right-hand post. Cordell Cato sprang Garcia with a quick diagonal ball from a giveaway in midfield, and served as a warning shot that T&T was a threat.

[ COPA AMERICA: Brazil destroys Peru to join Chile, Colombia in QF (video) ]

Phillips was called into action again in the 64th minute, though he knew very little about the face-save he made to keep his side’s deficit at one. Pulisic got to the endline where he whipped a cross into the six-yard box and found Arriola. His effort on goal came off his foot and hit Phillips’ face a yard away.

Barely a minute later, Phillips was helpless to deny the Yanks a second goal. Michael Bradley floated a diagonal ball to Lima halfway into the 18-yard box; he headed it straight across the face of goal to Zardes seven yards out, at which point the finish was elementary.

There was nothing elementary about the finish on Zardes’ second goal, just three minutes later. Pulisic cut inside from the left wing and took a trio of defenders with him, opening up the cut-back ball to Zardes at the top of the box. He needed just one touch to control and set up his shot before striking a well-placed curler inside the far post to make it 3-0.

The floodgates were officially open two minutes later, when Zardes was denied his hat trick twice in a matter of 10 seconds — first, he smashed Arriola’s cross off the post from 15 yards out; was then denied by Phillips as he headed another cross from Arriola on target from six yards out.

Pulisic did what Zardes couldn’t — he made it 4-0 — in the 73rd. Jordan Morris worked his way down the right side of the box before cutting inside and laying a square ball to Pulisic on the left, where he had all the time he needed to pick his spot and finish back to the right.

Arriola tacked on the fifth goal five minutes later, in the 78th, making good on another simple pass from Morris. Long chested a high-bounding rebound home for the USMNT’s sixth and final goal mere seconds before the final whistle.

It’s another Zlatan day, as Galaxy star rips Vela, talks Area 51

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a shot at his rivals and his league in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Major League Soccer’s hit is down to proximity and not intent, but the LA Galaxy star certainly didn’t disguise his feelings when asked whether LAFC star Carlos Vela is the best player in the league.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Vela, 30, has lit MLS on fire to the tune of 19 goals and eight assists in 19 matches, driving the second-year squad to the top of the Western Conference.

Zlatan and the Galaxy’s seasons have trailed behind, relatively speaking. The third-place Galaxy are 12 points behind LAFC, with Ibrahimovic contributing 13 goals and three assists in three fewer games.

“29, he’s playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?”

Herculez Gomez replies that Ibrahimovic was in Europe (Vela turned 30 in March. At 29, Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in 41 appearances for AC Milan, on loan from Barcelona. At 30, he scored 35 in 44 for Milan).

“Big difference, exactly.”

Vela, for what it’s worth, spent 2005-17 in Europe. Anyway, here is the exchange.

But wait, there’s more.

Zlatan was also quizzed on Area 51 while in a scrum. For those who may not know, Area 51 is a classified United States military facility in Nevada which has long been speculated as the home of extraterrestrial testing and scientific experimentation.

He doesn’t need to worry about going there, because he has his own Area 51 and there is only one Zlatan.

Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

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When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?

LIVE — UEL second legs will determine possible Wolves opponents

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Wolverhampton Wanderers will find out its first Europa League opponent on Friday, and the field will be winnowed with a bevy of second qualifying round second legs on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

Malmo, Aberdeen, Kilmarnock, Rangers, Legia Warsaw, and Hajduk Split are the biggest names in play on Thursday, with only the Polish side failing to hold an advantage after the first leg.

American forward Romain Gall is in the mix for Malmo, though he’s been an unused sub of late for the Swedish powers. That could change today, with Malmo in Northern Ireland with a 7-0 advantage over Ballymena United.

You can follow the dozens of ties by clicking the link above.

Klopp: Liverpool has all answers it needs even without transfers

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Claiming Liverpool has “solutions for all the situations” that could arise over the course of a season, manager Jurgen Klopp insists that the UEFA Champions League winners need not buy anyone this transfer window.

Of course, Klopp could still spend and admits that he has at least one position he’d like to strengthen by the end of the window.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

He also continues to play down the idea that Liverpool will spend big annually, naming Manchester City as one of four sides which can continue down that path on the day Juventus sealed the addition of reported Reds target Matthijs de Ligt.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“People talk about it like, ‘Now another £300m or £200m’. There are maybe only two clubs in the world – it looks in the moment like Barcelona and [Real] Madrid can do the same – City and PSG that can do it every year. I’m happy with the team, we are really happy.”

Klopp has claimed that injuries and youth progression make Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rhian Brewster transfer-like additions to the squad. Perhaps he’s been told that there’s not a lot in the budget this summer.

However, he’s also said that Liverpool has to “splash the cash” to compete with its rivals, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this was all more Cheshire Cat talk ahead of a purchase.