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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.

Belarusian Premier League roundup: BATE Borisov pick up win, end early-season drought

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The Belarusian Premier League – the only active European top-flight league at the moment – continued on Saturday despite the coronavirus pandemic.

FC Rukh 0-1 BATE Borisov

With an early goal from midfielder Stanislav Dragun, BATE Borisov, Belarus’ most successful team (15 league titles) and a regular face in European competition, earned their first win of the season. Kirill Alshevsky, who took over at the helm prior to the season, had started his spell on a two-game losing streak.

BATE, despite not winning the possession battle decisively, generated twice as many shots on target as the visitors, registering a total of 11 shots throughout 90 minutes at Borisov Arena.

A winner of 13 straight Belarusian Premier League titles – spanning from 2006 to 2018 – pressure began looming over BATE after starting the 2020 campaign with back-to-back lackluster results. BATE, who lost to Arsenal in Europa League’s Round of 32 in April 2019, were outscored 5-2 in the first, two games of the league.

Dinamo Minsk, the second most successful Belarusian side, also picked up their first three points on Friday, following a slower-than-usual start to the season. Meanwhile, defending champion Dinamo Brest fell 2-1 to Slavia-Mozyr, dropping to eighth on the table.

Elsewhere in Belarusian Premier League 

Shakhtyor 0-0 Nerman

Dinamo Brest 1-2 Slavia-Mozyr

NWSL extends league-wide training moratorium through May

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The NWSL is extending its league-wide training moratorium another month amid the coronavirus pandemic, the league announced on Saturday.

All NWSL teams will be unable to partake in team trainings until at least May 5, extending its previous training moratorium that was set to expire on Sunday, April 5. The 2020 season – which was set to start on April 18 – is expected to start by the end of June, according to NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird.

“We’ve been just communicating with our players and we’re targeting for the end of June for our season to start,” Baird told The Equalizer. “I say that with conviction and hope, but … we’re gonna adhere to the public health guidelines that are in place at the time and I don’t think that we can predict what they are. But our strategy is in place.”

Earlier this week, Major League Soccer and United Soccer League extended their training moratorium through April 24 and April 19, respectively.

Report: England manager Gareth Southgate agrees to 30 percent pay cut

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England manager Gareth Southgate has agreed to a 30 percent pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, our partners at Sky Sports reported on Saturday.

[ MORE: What PL clubs are doing to help during coronavirus ] 

Southgate’s move, which is reportedly expected to be confirmed by the Football Association (FA) next week, comes hours after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) released a statement on behalf of the Premier League players responding to proposed pay cuts.

A FA spokesperson told Sky Sports the following: “The financial implications of the coronavirus are not yet known however, as a not-for-profit organization, we want to ensure that we take the appropriate course of action to support the wider organization and our employees.

“We will make a further announcement on our next steps in due course.”

On Friday, Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe – and a handful of technical staff personnel – became the first Premier League manager to take a voluntary pay cut. Howe’s “significant, voluntary” pay cuts were done in light of the club furloughing non-playing employees throughout the organization, joining Tottenham, Norwich, Newcastle and Liverpool.

Spanish league and players still far apart on salary cuts

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league and players are still far apart on the size of the salary cuts they need to take to help reduce the financial impact caused by the coronavirus outbreak, with the footballers saying the organization wants them to carry nearly half the total losses.

The league and the players’ association have been in talks to try to find ways to mitigate losses that could reach nearly 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion) if the season cannot be restarted because of the pandemic.

The players have said they are willing to reduce their salaries, but not as much as the league or the clubs want.

“After analyzing the current circumstances of the sector and given the distance in conversations with the players’ association, it is necessary to adopt measures in view of the serious economic crisis that COVID-19 is causing in the Spanish soccer industry,” the league said in a statement.

It also added that government furloughs are “an exceptional mechanism to avoid and mitigate the negative impact that COVID-19 is having on the sector, and thus guarantee its subsequent recovery.”

According to media reports, the league expects losses of 957 million euros ($1.03 billion) if the season is canceled, with 303 million euros ($327 million) lost if it resumes with games in empty stadiums and 156 million euros ($168 million) of deficits if it continues with fans.

The players said the total cuts in salaries requested by the league would account for 451 million euros ($487 million) if the top flight cannot restart.

The reduction in salaries being discussed reportedly varies depending on the clubs, and also on whether they are playing in the Champions League or the Europa League.

Team captains met with the players’ association late Friday to discuss their options after the league earlier in the day called for all clubs to put the footballers on government furloughs to reduce labor costs while the stoppage of play continued. The furloughs help the clubs and guarantee players their jobs once the crisis is over.

The league said it is responsible for preserving an industry that represents 1.37 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and employs about 185,000 people.

Atlético Madrid and Barcelona were among the clubs to resort to the furloughs in recent days. Both reached an agreement with players to reduce their salaries by 70 percent, and guaranteed the wages of other employees were unaffected.

There are nearly 125,000 cases of the new coronavirus in Spain, which on Saturday surpassed Italy as the country with the second-most infections behind the United States. The death toll in the nation stands at 11,744.

The government is expected to extend lockdown measures until April 26, likely keeping the Spanish league suspended until then.

The league has said the season won’t resume until authorities deem it safe for everyone’s health. It said it will recommend a “minimum of 15 days” of practice before the games can restart, though it suggested recently the training period may begin with restrictions before the lockdown is removed.

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