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USMNT: The morning after Mexico

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Having slept, albeit briefly, on the United States men’s national team’s 3-0 home loss to Mexico in a friendly, it’s no surprise to see the Sun back up in the sky.

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The night was a comedy of disappointment, beginning with John Brooks’ groin issue costing the USMNT its best center back for Gregg Berhalter’s system.

Not the end of the program or even the manager (Get a GM)

Is it “just a friendly,” as some might ask? In most situations you’d say so, but this was Berhalter against Tata Martino’s Mexico for a second time in two months. And to lose decisively… yeesh.

Still, this isn’t the death knell for the Berhalter project, as some might say. And that’s not a glib nod toward Berhalter’s brother’s status as the federation’s next CEO.

Berhalter needs help with player identification and scouting from above. Earnie Stewart is going to hire a new general manager, who hopefully will come from a pool of more than two interviews.

That guy can hopefully help Berhalter better realize that he isn’t Herb Brooks to the rest of the world’s Soviet Union. It doesn’t take a miracle collection of “lesser” talent to make deep runs in tournament, and over-performing (incredibly well) with Columbus’ lack of spending isn’t the same as doing it against Mexico (let alone France or Brazil).

Despite Friday’s foibles (see below), Berhalter is a heck of an in-game guy and there’s reason to believe deploying this possession style against most of CONCACAF will be dynamite.

Berhalter has no answers for possession failure

In our opinion, Gregg Berhalter’s bristling response to a media ‘narrative’ stemming from his side’s miserable failure to deal with Mexico’s high press on Friday shows just how deeply he understands the lack of options available to him last night, and how poor of a decision it was to stick with the system (at least in a one-game context against your rivals. The bad night still may somehow benefit his men in terms of experience).

With Brooks absent, Berhalter opted for Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long at the back. Long is a tenacious, energetic defender… a mauler. Both Zimmerman and Brooks are no slouches in that department, but both are far better passers than Long.

And what Brooks brings that Zimmerman does not, at least as much, is a terrific ability to both dribble and ping long balls out of the back. He’s coming at you in possession, like a train (Unfortunately this train is often in the shop for repairs).

Now you throw in the unavailability of Matt Miazga, also injured and a better passer and ball mover than Long, and there’s a problem. It’s probably also worth noting that Fulham center back Tim Ream, a left back with the USMNT, was still a comparably magnificent passer during a miserable defensive season with the Cottagers last campaign.

Here are the above-mentioned four, without Long because his passing numbers aren’t in the ballpark this year and he’s not on the field for that. It’s also worth noting that two of the above players’ performance scores come from markedly better competitions than MLS.

@WhoScored

Brooks is a level above the three and there’s are arguments to be made for any of the other three alongside him, but with him out playing for possession would need to come through Zimmerman. That didn’t work on Friday, as Zimmerman had a poor day with the ball at his feet and his keeper had a worse one. Wil Trapp, playing atop the center backs could only manage short sideways passes.

The answer wasn’t in Berhalter’s bench when it came to his desire to play out of the back (Tyler Adams, a right back in his system presumably for this reason, was also out of the lineup). And he never flipped the switch and asked his midfield to battle for 50/50 balls amongst other options.

That super weird penalty, though

This one’s a small one, but glossed over by the immediate fallout of a 3-0 loss.

Late in the match Sebastian Lletget slipped Jordan Morris into the box with a delightful pass, and the Seattle man won a penalty.

Christian Pulisic handed the ball to young Josh Sargent, who would see his effort saved by Jonathan Orozco.

At first blush, our thought was it was unselfish from Pulisic to offer an international goal to his younger teammate. Some voices online claimed the Chelsea star didn’t want to take a pen in the rain, but that seems a bit much, doesn’t it?

What was your verdict?

What’s going to happen on Tuesday versus Uruguay?

Neither Brooks nor Miazga, as stated above. No Adams, Yedlin, nor Weah. Heck, no Altidore, Gonzalez, or Bradley, who know a thing or two about messing with Mexico.

Mexico is a firm favorite against the USMNT when both teams are healthy. As I wrote on Friday, Berhalter would’ve been justified to hang this one on injuries and a lack of depth. He probably didn’t want to hang the player pool out to dry (or the development system behind it), but sinking into a bunker mentality was… interesting, at best.

Now Brooks goes back to Wolfsburg, while Zack Steffen and the stretchered-off Alfredo Morales return to Fortuna Dusseldorf (who play Friday). Sean Johnson is back at NYCFC and Christian Pulisic to Chelsea.

Here’s a first look at a likely XI, as Berhalter continues to court Sergino Dest while blooding some other younger folks.

Does he call up Brad Guzan if he’s not going to play the veteran? Seems likely we could see a halftime split between the Atlanta United man and 24-year-old Jesse Gonzalez. Plus the vocal veteran could help cool any nerves on show from 22-year-old Miles Robinson.

Guzan

Dest — Robinson — Zimmerman — Ream

Yueill — Roldan

Morris — Lletget — Pomykal

Sargent

That would leave Corey Baird and Nick Lima as the only players yet to feature, and Lima would either enter for Dest or Ream, while Baird isn’t in feature player mode.

Xhaka slams “bulls***” criticism of Arsenal

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Arsenal have been targets for a lot of criticism recently.

Granit Xhaka is usually at the center of it.

The Gunners captain came out all guns blazing after they lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Monday, as he addressed Patrice Evra‘s comments that Arsenal are “babies” and always will be due to their mentality.

“We have to stop about mental [strength] bulls*** like this. For me, it is the same whether you play home or away – you have to win and show big character and a good game and not to always find the same excuse,” Xhaka said. “A lot of people they speak too much. It is not the first time he has spoken something about us. I have a lot of respect for him as he was a great player but you have to be careful what you say. But it is not only him – a lot of people speak a lot of bulls*** about us. It’s always the same.

“For me it is strange as they were in the same situation as us, they were players as well. Sometimes it is good and sometimes it is not always good but every week they speak bulls*** like this every week. I tell you the honest truth, I’m not interested in what people say and speak. We have to speak in our group to improve things and work hard and not listen to these people.”

Xhaka and Arsenal have only lost twice this season, 3-1 at Liverpool and 1-0 at Sheffield United.

But aside from being fifth in the table and two points outside the top four, pressure is being placed on Unai Emery and his squad as they’ve narrowly beaten Bournemouth, Burnley, Newcastle and Aston Villa so far. Their performances aren’t instilling confidence in anyone that they can seriously push for a top four finish this season.

Has much changed under Emery in the past 15 months? Nope. This is pretty much the same Arsenal team making the same old mistakes and looking vulnerable away from home. Nothing new here. Sure, some new players have arrived, but David Luiz, Pepe and Sokratis have all been hit and miss so far and it has been left to Matteo Guendouzi and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to try and rescue the Gunners each and every week.

Emery was supposed to change their style of play, develop them into a stronger team defensively and improve their chances of challenging for trophies once again.

None of that has happened, and it doesn’t look closer to happening. That is why the critics are circling around the Gunners. Monday was the perfect opportunity to prove their mentality had changed and they are a stronger, more balanced team under Emery. They aren’t and something drastic will have to change for them if Emery is going to win over the fans, and pundits, once again.

Ronaldo not ready for retirement: ‘Age is just a number’

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Cristiano Ronaldo reassured Juventus supporters and his legions of fans worldwide that at 34 he’s not ready for retirement yet.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule

“Age is just a number. It does not mean that at 34, 35, 36 you are at the end of your career,” Ronaldo said at a news conference ahead of Juventus’ Champions League match against Lokomotiv Moscow on Tuesday. “I can show that with my performances, how I play, the way I play, the way I still feel good, sharp, thinking about the game, more mature. This makes the difference.”

In the second season of a four-year deal at Juventus, Ronaldo had sparked concern among his fans when he said in an interview published a few weeks ago that he was starting to enjoy seeing himself “outside of football, so who knows what will happen in the next year or two?”

Ronaldo recently scored his 700th goal as a professional while on international duty with Portugal and has been nominated for a record sixth Ballon d’Or award – which would break his tie of five with Lionel Messi.

But Ronaldo said he’s more interested in winning a treble with Juventus.

“We want to win Serie A, we want to win the Cup, the Champions League,” he said. “Juventus should think big. … We are going to try to win all the trophies, we know it will be difficult, especially the league and the Champions League, but I think it is possible. Everything is possible.

“In terms of individual, I have nothing to say as this is individual. It is not the most important thing,” Ronaldo added. “The most important is the collective awards. If you win the collective awards you have more chance to win the individual awards. … The Golden Ball is for me in second place.”

While retirement may not be on Ronaldo’s mind yet, family time is a big part of his life now.

“To win games, to score goals, to enjoy myself, to arrive home and see my kids happy and say, `Congratulations daddy for scoring a goal.’ That makes me happy,” he said. “This is my motivation to come to train, for the games, to entertain people and the fans with my passion.”

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

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Carragher apologizes to Evra over Suarez t-shirts

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Jamie Carragher has apologized to Patrice Evra after Liverpool wore t-shirts in support of Luis Suarez in 2011.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

The day after Suarez was banned for eight games by the English Football Association, who found him guilty of racially abusing Evra, Liverpool’s players put on t-shirts with Suarez on the front and back during their warm up in a Premier League game against Wigan Athletic.

Carragher and Evra were both analysts for our partners at Sky Sports in the UK on Monday Night Football for the clash between Sheffield United and Arsenal, and discussed the current problems with racism in the game.

“There is no doubt we made a massive mistake; that was obvious,” Carragher said.

Liverpool’s former vice-captain asked Evra how he felt regarding the situation with Suarez, and the former Man United, Juventus and Monaco left back revealed his disgust at the way the situation was handled.

“When I saw it I was like, this is ridiculous. This is unbelievable,” Evra said. You put your own club in danger when you do those things. You always have to support your player because he is from your team but this was after the ban. If it was before and we were waiting for the sanction, I would understand. What message do you send to the world? Supporting someone being banned because he used some racist words.”

Click play on the video above for the full discussion between Carragher and Evra.

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

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ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”