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USMNT balancing separate goals in friendly against Mexico

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It’s a friendly, but is it really?

The United States meets its biggest rival for the first time since falling in the Gold Cup final as Mexico waltzes in to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ at 9pm ET.

Gregg Berhalter is gearing up the squad with high-powered friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay to get ready for CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada to come in October. While there is still some talent to be evaluated, the team is now in winning mentality, hoping to develop further cohesion after falling just short in the summer tournament.

As far as evaluating talent goes, all eyes will be on 18-year-old Sergino Dest, who is still choosing between the United States and Netherlands, after Berhalter confirmed the youngster will get the start against Mexico at one of the full-back positions. Full-back is a position of extreme need for the USMNT and has been for years, and Dest’s potential commitment is a massive priority for the federation, hoping to develop him long-term for a potential partnership with DeAndre Yedlin.

With Yedlin currently injured, Dest will get the start as Berhalter looks to sway the youngster on picking the country he represented at the youth level, impressing this summer at the U-20 World Cup. He can’t be cap-tied in a friendly, but he can get a feel for the biggest rivalry the United States has to offer.

On the other hand, squad cohesion is just as important as evaluating talent at this stage of the cycle, and Behalter will look to work his best players in to build a rapport. With that in mind, the starting center-back partnership on Friday could potentially be a window into Berhalter’s vision for the future. The boss has chosen Red Bulls starter Aaron Long on multiple occasions of late, and Berhalter could choose him to partner with Matt Miazga yet again. However, John Brooks is back in the fold and in good form after missing the summer foray with an injury, and he could challenge for a spot along the back line. Developing that defensive partnership will be critical as the United States looks to perform at a high level in competitive matches and build towards a return to the World Cup in 2022.

Mexico, meanwhile, comes in looking to move on from the Gold Cup success, with a pair of their own high-powered friendlies this international window. After a battle with the United States comes a meeting with Lionel Messi-less Argentina, using those two bigtime matchups to prepare for Bermuda and Panama in October’s Nations League play.

Still, Mexico’s focus is on the USMNT, evident as head coach Tata Martino – who is coming off a Major League Soccer championship with Atlanta United – took shots at the United States before the match.

While Mexico has seen success on the field recently – Martino has won all 10 of the matches he has led for Mexico thus far – plenty of questions remain for his squad. Martino said in his press conference Thursday that Jesus “Tecatito” Corona will play as a winger in the United States match, but with the 26-year-old moving to full-back with his club side Porto, the possibility for a positional switch with the national team as well remains down the road.

Finally, the weather will be a big factor. There are heavy rains in the forecast for northern New Jersey, and both sides may consider the conditions before risking high-value players like Corona, Christian Pulisic, or Raul Jimenez.

There will be plenty of ingredients mixed in to produce Friday night’s match. The need to evaluate talent with Nations League play closing in, the necessity of playing starters together to develop cohesion, the rivalry between neighboring sides, and the consideration of weather all will play a factor in who plays for how long and at what position. At the end of the day, it’s a friendly, but against these two opponents, is that ever truly the case?

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

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So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…

Champions League preview: Real Madrid renews rivalry with Pep; Lyon hosts Juve

UEFA Champions League preview
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The final two ties of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 begin Wednesday when Manchester City and Juventus head to Spain and France.

The focus for many will be on the former, as City continues to weather UEFA drama while its manager prepares for his fiercest foe as a player and manager.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Pep Guardiola has managed against Real Madrid 17 times and boasts a 9-4-4 record between Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

The Catalan wizard has lost his last three versus Real, two with Bayern and once in his final El Clasico as Barca boss.

Even as Guardiola stresses preparation and plan, he knows there will be bounces and that both teams will have to cope with them.

“We have to be strong, have quality and need to have luck,” he said, via The Manchester Evening News. “At this stage, it’s important but we cannot control that. We can control what we can control and we will see. This competition, last season, against Liverpool, there are decisions. You have to overcome. You need incredible concentration in our game and game plan plus try to be a little lucky.”

Real Madrid living legend Sergio Ramos has earned the ire of Guardiola on plenty of occasions, one of the few things Liverpool and City fans have in common.

Ramos wouldn’t get drawn into rivalry talk, sying the stage somewhat negates the opponent.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” Ramos said via the club’s web site. “I think he’s a fantastic coach, with loads of experience, and his numbers speak for themselves. We’re motivated by the Champions League, regardless of the players or coaches who may have been rivals in the past. We’re up for the Champions League and our next task is to beat City. From a personal point of view, I’m just focused on making the next round.”

[ MORE: Key battles for Real-Man City ]

Wednesday’s other match sees a club long linked with Guardiola, as Juventus will play the role of heavy favorites against Lyon.

Maurizio Sarri‘s side is to bidding to win what’s eluded all Juve bosses since Marcello Lippi beat Ajax in 1996. If they succeed, it will be by going down a different path than it’s traveled in recent years.

Here’s Leonardo Bonucci, via Football-Italia:

“What the coach asks of us now is basically the opposite of what the previous coach did,” Bonucci mused. “It was usually individual against individual, now it’s more about organized team movements. Obviously, you need to train consistently to get that down and playing every three days makes it difficult. But we started this journey well aware of the positives it could bring and the difficulties of getting there.”

Lyon has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, sitting seventh in the Ligue 1 table, but has the tools to surprise if Juve doesn’t bring its best. That starts in France on Wednesday.

Lampard: Chelsea first leg loss ‘quite sobering,’ ‘harsh lesson’

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Chelsea manager Frank Lampard isn’t sugarcoating his side’s 3-0 first-leg loss to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 on Tuesday.

“Sometimes you have to be brutally honest about it,” he said in televised remarks after the loss. “It’s quite sobering.”

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Lampard admitted that Bayern was firing on all cylinders at Stamford Bridge, and proffered tepid support for the idea of an unlikely comeback in Germany next month.

“The level of team they showed that they are, hence why they challenge in the Bundesliga and the Champions League,” he said, via Football.London. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better against them. It’s a reality check. Don’t look at anyone else apart from yourself.”

“We should never say the door is closed because our fans would never accept that. I’m more concerned with the bigger picture here. There’s a lot to be done.”

Sure is.

Chelsea leads fifth-place Manchester United by three points in the top four race and has a four-point edge on sixth-place Spurs in the scenario that fifth is enough for Champions League football.

That’s important because the UCL path back to the tournament looks like a massive ask. And Lampard said the players need to use Tuesday’s blowout loss at home “as a positive effect” moving forward.

But he also put it pretty plainly during his post-match comments.

“It was a harsh lesson,” Lampard said. “This is Champions League football.”