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Where does USMNT stand after Mexico, Uruguay friendlies?

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The USMNT has wrapped up yet another international break, and questions remain about the process, direction, and future that Gregg Berhalter is building.

The ultimate goal is qualification for and performance at the 2022 World Cup, there is no debating that, but how to get there is still very much up in the air. So what did we learn from the 3-0 friendly loss to Mexico and subsequent 1-1 draw against Uruguay? The feel of the fanbase is extremely negative, especially following the pasting at the hands of the southern rivals, but it doesn’t have to be.

[ MORE: Berhalter believes USMNT on right path ]

There are plenty of questions to be answered, debates to rage, and player performances to weigh. Here is a starting point, with three very real things we learned from this past international break, observations that must be considered before Berhalter and the rest of the USMNT staff can move forward.

1) The USMNT player pool is still extremely thin and top-heavy

There is no debating that the player pool – especially at the younger end of the spectrum – is as talented as ever. Players like Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, and Weston McKennie are proving that it is possible to produce talent that can play at the highest levels in Europe.

And yet, at a few key positions, the USMNT player pool remains absurdly thin. When we say “thin” we do not mean “bad.” What we mean by “thin” is that a few injuries in the wrong places can absolutely decimate the squad.

For example, take the full-back position. Without DeAndre Yedlin‘s availability, the right-back and left-back positions are without direction and ability. Sergino Dest and Reggie Cannon are a promising young talents with growing to do (more on that in a moment), Tyler Adams is still learning the position and clearly does not offer what he does as a midfielder, Daniel Lovitz and Nick Lima are fine players who do not inspire long-term confidence, and Tim Ream is a veteran player who offers little more than leadership.

At center-back, who’s a proven consistent option alongside John Brooks? Omar Gonzalez, Matt Miazga, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers, and Ream all have significant downsides. Is anyone truly a reliable option?

Look further forward to the defensive midfield position, an area of the pitch that has become extremely important – and valuable – in the modern game, especially in Europe. With Michael Bradley in and out of the squad as Berhalter looks for other options, Wil Trapp has not performed at an adequate national team level, Alfredo Morales has only proven his capability in bits and pieces, Jackson Yueill is promising but at 22 years old is nearing an end to the “youngster” status, Christian Roldan offers little in defensive cover and threat, and Adams has been moved to fill another position of need.

This is not to bash all of these players mentioned above – as one or two may well prove to be a more permanent option – but to explain how much jockeying Berhalter still must do to find a deep enough squad capable of competing not only at the highest level but also to cover the inevitable injuries bound to crop up and disrupt an otherwise humming national team. Which brings us to our next point…

2) Time is running out to trust the process

Friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay serve as solid barometers for where the United States is at heading into CONCACAF Nations League play, the precursor competition to World Cup qualifying. Yet Gregg Berhalter is still experimenting, rather than piecing together a consistent squad that can grow and build together, using rare and valuable national team time learning to play cohesively together as a unit.

It’s troubling that Berhalter is still unable to separate fringe and squad players from one another, still hoping someone will stand out as a consistent performer and earn further time on the field in more high-leverage situations. The time for experimentation is generally over.

And yet, as described above, who of the fringe players have stood out enough to be trusted with more important minutes? It seems much of the negative backlash from USMNT fans of late has more to do with a worrying feeling that time is running out before World Cup qualifying – and there’s still a full 12 months before that begins. A year out and fans are feeling a time crunch – that says a lot.

Berhalter must make the tough decisions soon and stick to them – soon – so this squad can have time to come together and gel. He speaks about building a culture, and instilling his own tactical mentality and system, but the players are still too numerous and playing time is too sparse for that to take effect. Even when it comes to friendlies, results must become more important that performances sooner rather than later, or the mentality will never stick.

3) The young talent still has growing up to do, and not much time to do it

The play of Sergino Dest, Reggie Cannon, Timothy Weah, Josh Sargent, Weston McKennie, and Paxton Pomykal is promising to say the least. For these young players, many of whom have become regulars in the starting lineup and others who seem destined for that role, the sky is the limit.

They’re clearly not there yet. Dest has miles to go with regards to defensive positioning and decision-making. Sargent must become a more clinical finisher and a bigger presence when the team plays more direct. Weah – once healthy – must take the leap from quality contributor to game-changer, as Pulisic did years ago. In Berhalter’s system, McKennie at times seems lost and frustrated.

As mentioned above, there’s just 12 months to go before the World Cup qualifiers begin. While that’s an eternity in terms of player development – good news for the United States – it’s also not that long in the eyes of a national team, which only comes together every few months.  In conjunction with the previous point, these young players need every opportunity to grow together and be able to absorb Berhalter’s vision for the present and future.

Every player saddled with expectations must make the successful jump from promising young prospect to career-long contributors, and that time is nearing for this crop of talent. Some are at different stages of the process than others, but with the critical stage of the 2022 World Cup cycle nearing rapidly, the key leaps of development must be seen soon. That falls on the players to continue developing, their club coaches to help them along on a day-to-day basis, and Berhalter’s staff to give them every opportunity for success. Constant rotation and experimentation with so little time and precious minutes remaining can only go so far.

Galaxy hammer Sporting KC; Zlatan: “I’m the best ever in MLS”

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LA Galaxy smashed Sporting Kansas City 7-2 on Sunday, as Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a hat trick then called himself the best player in MLS history.

Just a casual Sunday for Zlatan, then…

Ibrahimovic, 37, scored a hat trick as LA raced into a 7-1 lead after falling 1-0 behind early on as Felipe Gutierrez scored both of Sporting’s goals.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Ibrahimovic was typically humble after his hat trick which means he now holds the record for the highest scoring season in Galaxy history with 26 goals.

“I think I am the best ever to play in MLS. And that’s without joking,” Ibrahimovic said. “Scoring goals is easy, you just have to be like Zlatan and it’s coming.”

Zlatan is now two goals behind Carlos Vela in the race for the Golden Boot in MLS with four games remaining, and he’s now scored 48 goals in 52 games since arriving in MLS.

Joe Corona, Uriel Antuna and Sebastian Lletget grabbed the Galaxy’s other goals as they won for the first time in five MLS games to boost their chances of making the playoffs in the congested Western Conference.

With the defeat Sporting KC’s hopes of reaching the playoffs is all but over.

Check out the highlights in full below. It will take quite a while to sort through the nine goals, so set down and soak in Zlatan’s brilliance.

Mexicans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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Taking the field in the 70th minute, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made his debut with Sevilla, who became La Liga’s leaders following Sunday’s result.

In Portugal, despite transitioning to right back at the start of the season, Jesus “Tecatito” Corona continues flourish with Porto. The 26-year-old has two assists after five league games.

Elsewhere, Carlos Vela, who returned from injury, is on the cusp of trying MLS’ all-time single-season scoring record. To be exact, the 30-year-old needs three goals to tie the record, four to surpass Josef Martinez. LAFC has four regular-season games still to play.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli — Lozano’s second appearance for Napoli wasn’t as captivating as his first, but he did have his positive moments. On Saturday, Chucky started and played 65 minutes, recording a shot off target, 23 touches, and earning two fouls along the way.

Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Jimenez started and played 70 minutes in Wolves’ 5-2 loss to Chelsea. Will Nuno Espirito Santos side’s  struggles start to affect Jimenez productivity?

La Liga

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Sevilla — Chicharito is officially a Sevillista. The 31-year-old replaced Luuk De Jong in 70th minute in Sevilla’s 1-0 over Alaves on Sunday.

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — For a fourth consecutive league game, Herrera was left on the bench. At this rate, it’s difficult to say when the 29-year-old will make his debut with Los Colchoneros, who lost 2-0 to Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis —  Guardado, who recently became a father for a second time, didn’t feature in Betis’ 1-1 draw against Getafe on Saturday.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old make the 18, but didn’t take the field against Getafe.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo took the field in the 15th minute following Jorge Saenz’s red-card challenge. Celta ended up losing 2-0 against Granda.

Eredivisie

Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — Gutierrez is out with a hand injury suffered with the national team. A return date is unknown.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Alvarez started and played 80 minutes in Ajax’s 4-1 drilling of Heerenveen. The 21-year-old is, slowly but surely, becoming a fixture for  Erik ten Hag.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Things are going great for Tecatito. The right back (yes, you read that right) played 90 minutes and recorded an assist in Porto’s 3-2 win over Portimonense. It’s been a good transition for the 26-year-old, to say the least.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Govea started, but came off at halftime in Zulte’s 1-1 draw with KAS Eupen on Saturday.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   On Saturday, Moreno started and played all 90 minutes in Al Gharafa’s 3-1 win against Qatar SC.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — The 21-year-old fullback was left on the bench in Roda’s 1-1 draw on Friday.

Carlos Fierro, San Jose Earthquakes – Dressed but didn’t play in the Quakes’ 2-1 loss to NYCFC.

Carlos Vela, LAFC – In his return from injury, Vela started and scored in LAFC’s 1-1 . draw against the Philadelphia Union. The Mexican is three goals from tying Josef Martinez’s single-season goal record.

Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy – Dos Santos started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Uriel Antuna, LA Galaxy – Antuna started in Galaxy’s game against Sporting Kansan City on Sunday.

Americans Abroad: Weekend Roundup

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It was a slower weekend for Americans abroad, although there were a few who contributed to their club’s at some noteworthy capacity.

One of those was Lynden Gooch, who registered his third goal for Sunderland in League One this season. Elsewhere in England, Christian Pulisic, for a first time this season, didn’t take the field as new-look Chelsea battered Wolverhampton Wanderers 5-2.

Over in Mexico, Rubio Rubin scored for second-division side Dorados, while in Germany Julian Green and Terrence Boyd added to their accounts yet again.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea — Pulisic made Frank Lampard‘s bench, but did not play in Chelsea’s triumphant victory against Wolves. Is it time to worry about the Pennsylvania native’s lack of playing time? Absolutely not.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle — The fullback returned to training following a serious groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return yet, however.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan Athletic — Robinson is a fixture at Wigan. The left back started and went all 90 minutes for the Latics in their 2-2 draw with Hull City.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — The 24-year-old is out with a hamstring injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — The Tigers captain  featured all 90 minutes in Hull’s 2-2 draw with Wigan on Saturday.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — The 34-year-old defender was left on the bench in QPR’s 3-2 win over Luton Town.

Tim Ream, Fulham — Ream started and played 90 minutes in Fulham’s 1-1 draw with West Brom on Saturday.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — The Potters might be in shambles, but Carter-Vickers keeps adding minutes. On Saturday, he started and played 90 minutes in Stoke City’s 2-1 loss to Bristol City.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played 81 minutes in Derby’s 1-1 draw with Cardiff City.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie came off the bench and played 28 minutes in Schalke’s 5-1 victory on Sunday, his first minutes since his start against Mexico with the men’s national team.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — Steffen started and played all 90 minutes in Fortuna Dusseldorf’s 1-1 draw with Wolfsburg on Friday. Morales, on the hand, did not dress.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  Following a goal-scoring performance, Sargent came off the bench and played 22 minutes for Werder Bremen in their 2-1 victory over Union Berlin.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Mönchengladbach Johnson didn’t make Borussia Monchengladbach’s 18 in their 1-0 win over Koln on Saturday.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — The fullback started and played all 90 minutes in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss against Augsburg.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig — Adams remains inactive with a groin injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Eredivisie

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — Another positive shift from Wright. On Saturday, the 21-year-old started and played 70 minutes in VVV-Venlo’s 2-1 win over FC Groningen.

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Fresh off international duty, Dest dressed but didn’t play in Ajax’s 4-1 thumping of Heerenveen.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — The U-23 MNT fullback was left out of FC Emmen’s 18 this weekend. 

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah remains sidelined with a muscular injury. There’s no timeline on his return.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — On Saturday, the Washington D.C. native featured for 74 minutes in Rennes’ 0-0 draw with Brest.

Honorable Mentions:

Lynden Gooch, Sunderland – England’s League One isn’t a world-class league by any means, but the Californian continues to leave his mark. On Saturday, the 23-year-old scored his third goal of the season in the Black Cats’ 3-1 win over Accrington Stanley. Not bad, Gooch.

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – On Friday, the 24-year-old midfielder played all 90 minutes and scored in Greuther Furth’s 2-1 win over Wehen Wiesbaden. That’s three goals in six games for Green this season in Germany’s second division.

Terrence Boyd, Hallescher – Germany’s third-tier league is resulting to be too easy for Boyd, apparently. The forward scored two goals against Ingolstad on Sunday, making it his fourth and fifth of a young season.

Rubio Rubin, Dorados de Sinaloa – Rubin was the difference for Dorados on Friday night. After coming off the bench, the scored the goal that earned the Sinaloa-based team a 1-1 draw against Correcaminos.

Serie A roundup: Roma’s Mkhitaryan scores on debut, Milan edges Verona

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Roma’s first win of the season headlines Sunday’s Serie A action.

Roma 4-2 Sassuolo

Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s stint with Roma is off to a brilliant start.

The former Arsenal attacker, scored a blistering goal in his debut with the Italian giants, who won their first game of the season in the 4-2 thumping of Sassuolo.

The Armenian’s goal was only one of the four that Roma put together in the first 45 minutes of the game. With a headed goal off of a corner kick, Bryan Cristante gave the home side an early lead. Seven minutes later, Edin Dzeko tallied his second goal of a young season.

By the 33rd minute, Justin Kluivert’s calm finish inside the box had Roma up by four goals. I Giallorossi kept pushing, dismantling the visiting with their frenetic pace down the wings, but came up short, striking the bar post in three different occasions.

Despite being outclassed in the first half, Sassuolo’s silver lining showed up in the final 45 minutes: Domenico Berardi. A wonder free-kick opened the scoring for the 24-year-old, who eventually sealed his brace in 72nd minute. The captain has scored five goals in two league matches this season.

With confidence under their belt, Roma travel to Bologna next, while Sassuolo host SPAL.

Verona 0-1 AC Milan

Milan aren’t doing it in convincing fashion, but they’re winning.

A game that saw both teams end up with 10 players, also saw Milan walk away with a 1-0 victory in Verona. The win has Marco Giampaolo’s side sixth in the table only three points behind leaders and rivals Inter Milan.
Despite playing a player down early on, Verona had a pair of chances in the first half. A half-effort bicycle was no match for a well-positioned Roma defense and Gianluigi Donnarumma. The clearest chance of them all came right before the first 45 minutes came to a close, however. In motion, with his back turned on the ball, Valerio Verre’s first touch and subsequent strike would just go inches high of the bar.
As the second half went on, Milan proved to be too much for the home side, controlling the ball and taking a plethora of shots on goal. Eventually, it took a tool on I Gialloblu. In the 68th minute, Hakan Çalhanoğlu shot struck Verona’s Koray Gunter hand, resulting in a penalty that Krzysztof Piątek put away.

Now in sixth place, Milan face rivals Inter Milan next. On the hand, Verona travel to Turin to take on a mighty Juventus.

Elsewhere in Serie A

SPAL 2- 1 Lazio

Brescia 3-4 Bologna

Parma 1-3 Cagliari