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McKennie, Pulisic lead USMNT over Jamaica to Gold Cup final (video)

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It hasn’t always been pretty, but for the second-straight time, the U.S. Men’s National Team will be playing for a continental title.

Christian Pulisic scored a brace and Weston McKennie had a goal and an assist as the USMNT defeated Jamaica, 3-1, Wednesday evening in Nashville to advance to the 2019 Gold Cup final. The U.S. will face Mexico in the Gold Cup final on Sunday evening in Chicago.

[READ: All the latest USMNT News and Notes]

The semifinal, which started at 8:30 p.m. locally, didn’t finish until around midnight, local time, after the game was delayed for 90 minutes after 17 minutes of action due to severe weather in the area. The game resumed at around 10:20 p.m. local time and continued, despite lightning strikes continuing in the central Tennessee region.

Whether due to the uneven performance against Curacao or the fact that his main starting XI was about to play its third game in a week, Berhalter opted to make a few changes, and two of the changes, Jozy Altidore and Reggie Cannon, played instrumental roles in the opening goal.

Both Jamaica and the U.S. looked lively to start the match, but it was the USMNT which would hit first in the ninth minute. Michael Bradley spotted Cannon making a run down right wing and drilled a 40-yard pass on the money to Cannon in stride. Cannon one-touch crossed it into the box, which seemed to take Jamaica by surprise. Altidore held off Michael Hector, which allowed McKennie to ghost into the box, take a touch to control and fire past star Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake.

The match really lacked a rhythm after the long delay and it took until the next halftime break for both teams to begin to look their normal selves.

It only took until the 52nd minute for the USMNT to double the lead. The American attackers, which floated across the front three and caused a lot of problems for the Jamaican defense, opened space that Jordan Morris took advantage of. Right in the midfield circle, McKennie saw Morris open and played a ball down the middle but to Morris’ right. Morris dribbled to his right and fired a shot across his body towards the far post. Blake parried it away, but it went right into the path of Pulisic, who couldn’t miss from five yards out.

Berhalter brought in Gyasi Zardes for Altidore in the 55th minute, and McKennie again played a perfect pass to Zardes a few minutes later to put the Columbus Crew striker through on goal. Instead, Zardes somehow missed. In the 69th minute, the oft-criticized USMNT striker played a role in Jamaica cutting the deficit to one. Zardes turned the ball over in his own half and after the ball made its way to Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey, Bailey delivered a great cross that Shamar Nicholson headed home to make it 2-1.

Despite some nervy moments late and both teams fatigued in the heat on a long night, Pulisic put away a second rebound, this time off a strike from Arriola that was blocked before the boy wonder scored his 13th international goal.

The U.S. wasn’t always the best, but it was clearly a better performance for Berhalter’s side. McKennie and Bradley were outstanding together in midfield while Cannon impressed down the right side, essentially allowing Jordan Morris to move up alongside Zardes and Altidore (while he was in) as a second striker. Pulisic was much better in a floating role, where he could get the ball out wide and take on defenders to create goal-scoring opportunities.

Mexico started the Gold Cup strong and has kind of faded over the tournament, while the U.S. has grown into it game after game. We’ll see which USMNT squad makes it on the field against Mexico, but at this point, another title is in both team’s reach.

Study: MLS improves racial hiring, slides in gender hiring

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A diversity report shows improved racial hiring practices for Major League Soccer but also highlighted a continuing decline in gender hiring efforts.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Wednesday gave MLS an A with 93.9 points for racial hiring in 2019 for its highest score in 15 years.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

But the gender score of 72 points for a C grade fell for the third straight time, down from 76.8 points in 2018 and 81 points as recently as 2016.

The overall grade for MLS was a B at 82.9 points, falling from a B-plus and 85 points in 2018.

TIDES director Richard Lapchick, the lead report author, called lower gender hiring numbers across men’s professional sports a “systemic problem.”

Online: http://tidesport.org/

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

Medel: Chile players decline friendly over civil unrest

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Chile had already canceled a home friendly with Bolivia this international break, and now the players will not play Tuesday in Peru either due to unrest in their country.’

A nationwide strike and protests against the government, spurred by a rise in metro fares, have Chile on edge.

[ MORE: USMNT-Canada preview ]

La Roja stars Gary Medel and Arturo Vidal both posted lengthy messages on their Instagram accounts, saying that the decision was made “in response to the social moment in our country.”

They urged both protestors and law enforcement to turn away from violence.

From Mega.CL:

“We are soccer players, but above all people and citizens. We know that we represent a complete country and today Chile has other priorities much more important than next Tuesday’s game.”

Chile is ranked No. 17 by FIFA and 22 in Elo Ratings.

Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

How will the USMNT line up versus Canada?

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No Christian Pulisic.

No Tyler Adams.

No Timothy Weah.

No Michael Bradley, Matt Miazga, and no Zack Steffen, either.

Ugh.

[ MORE: NYCFC teen signs for Gladbach ]

Still, the United States men’s national team will be favored to get a home decision over Canada on Friday as the CONCACAF Nations League begins its final two match days of the group stage.

How will Gregg Berhalter line up his team without so many key components?

Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan is probably going to get the start here, and he won’t kill the team, but we’d love to see Sean Johnson get a chance to improve on his 100% clean sheet success rate across two tournament caps for the U.S.

Back line: It would be insane if Sergino Dest didn’t start at one of the full back spots given his election of the USMNT over the Netherlands. Also insane would be not starting a finally-healthy John Brooks.

After that, it seems likely Berhalter will opt for Aaron Long to pair with Brooks. If his left back option is Dest, then it’ll be DeAndre Yedlin at right back (or Reggie Cannon). If Dest is on his preferred right side, than Daniel Lovitz may get a look over Tim Ream on account of the speed in Canada’s attack.

Midfield: Might Berhalter pull back an attacker and use a four-man midfield against the Canucks? Weston McKennie and Alfredo Morales will take two spots, and it seems pretty likely Jackson Yueill will get the chance to be a deep-lying playmaker with McKennie and Morales running their shorts off to make his life easier. We suppose Berhalter could opt for Wil Trapp over Yueill. It’s possible. A little too possible.

Attack: Josh Sargent is going to get the center forward spot, and it would be wild if Jordan Morris doesn’t join him. Then it’s down to Tyler Boyd or Paul Arriola, exciting versus a bit safer. And Arriola would give him more of a midfield presence than the forward-thinking Boyd.

Here’s how we think Berhalter starts in Orlando:

Guzan

Yedlin — Long — Brooks — Dest

Yueill

Morales — McKennie

Morris — Sargent — Arriola