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Combing through Gregg Berhalter’s latest USMNT call-ups

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This is going to meander a bit, because I’m just not sure what to make of Gregg Berhalter’s latest selection of USMNT call-ups other than to say that they make me uneasy.

The roster may be meant to develop long-term success, but his unorthodox decisions are — rightly or wrongly — putting a lot of eyes on short-term results. Because like it or not, the CONCACAF Nations League results affect their FIFA rankings, which matter to Hex qualifying places.

The U.S. was always expected to boss Cuba on Oct. 11 before a challenging match versus Canada at BMO Field four days later. The Yanks haven’t lost to Cuba since 1949, and the matches are usually quite one-sided.

[ MORE: Dest turns down cap-tie call-up ]

Facing an improved Canada angling for a Hex berth is a different feat, even if the Americans haven’t lost to the Canucks since 1985. That’s a run of 17 matches which includes 10 wins.

That could well end this month.

Single matches have become as scrutinized as ever since Bruce Arena’s USMNT crashed out of World Cup qualifying in Couva. Arena has rebounded, rescuing the New England Revolution and putting them into a playoff spot, but the national team has been at sea since Berhalter took the reins of the club.

Now Berhalter is making a habit of calling up players who are not in form, or not the best at their positions amongst Americans in MLS. There was online buzz about Berhalter calling up Brenden Aaronson instead of some non-first team players in Europe, and that’s an interesting conversation, but really we should be asking what qualifies Aaronson ahead of a number of his peers (let alone those a bit older and more experienced than him).

As an aside, I’m thrilled for Aaronson and excited to see an 18-year-old prospect put on the shirt of the country. There’s always hope, and the U.S. and MLS are churning out better players than ever before. I just don’t get this selection now.

Cannon and Aaronson (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I want to reiterate that I’m not judging players against some sort of perceived “Eurosnob” standard, though I’ll raise my hand high in the air and acknowledge that while I really enjoy MLS and marvel at its incredible rise, there are at least a dozen leagues in Europe (including two second tiers) which are currently above it in top-to-bottom roster quality.

The issue I see with Berhalter’s roster isn’t about Richie Ledezma (please actually call the kid, okay?) or Eric Lichaj or Julian Green. It’s about the players Berhalter is picking from within his own backyard.

Go back to his first January camp and first match as USMNT boss: Nine of the 11 starters are still with the squad (Djordje Mihailovic and Jeremy Ebobisse are out).

Fourteen players are back from that squad, which did not include any European-based players. The MLS additions are Brad Guzan, Jackson Yueill, Jozy Altidore and Brenden Aaronson. The others are Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle) and Weston McKennie (Schalke).

That seems like a pretty high number to return from a side which is 7-4-2, with a 1-2-2 record against Top 50 sides. The win is a B team beating a Costa Rica B team. The USMNT has also lost to two teams (Jamaica, Venezuela) outside the Top 50.

It’s not like these players have shown an incredible amount in a U.S. shirt, but aren’t in a good fit in their club. Considering that the Yanks are not producing goals by the dozen, consider this:

The leader in “big chances created” in MLS this year is current call-up Jordan Morris with eight. Jozy Altidore is second, also a call-up. No sane mind has a problem with either of those players being on the roster.

But Corey Baird has created two, good for 60th in the league amongst Americans. He is credited with 28 key passes. That’s 19th amongst Americans. He has five goals and three assists, both good for the fifth-highest totals… on his team, which has the scored the second-fewest of any playoff team.

I literally feel bad for harping on Wil Trapp‘s continued presence on the squad, because it’s not his job to turn down call-ups, but this one is astounding. The Columbus captain has started just three of the Crew’s last six matches. Known for his familiarity with Berhalter’s system as well as his passes, Trapp is 40th amongst American MLS players in key passes. He is fifth amongst U.S. MLS midfielders in accurate long balls, and three of the four players ahead of him (Michael Bradley, Jackson Yueill, and Cristian Roldan) have been called up, too. So there’s some method to that madness, but still should that override a consistent series of pedestrian at best performances in the USMNT shirt?

Aaronson is another weird one, and not just because he’s an unfamiliar name at age 18 in MLS. We should absolutely note that he’s unlikely to play a ton, especially against Canada, so the argument here is more about Berhalter’s rationale than Aaronson doing some sort of damage to the team’s fortunes.

He’s been a part of U-23 camp as Jason Kreis prepares for Olympic qualifying, and there’s really no need to see him ahead of a number of players who aren’t in contention for the Olympics. And if in fact the U-23 pool is in play, then there are a number of players from that group worth considering over him.

He might be great, and this might be a bit of brilliance from Berhalter, but he’s also the 10th rated American midfielder under 20 inside of MLS, many of whom play a similar role as him (How Paxton Pomykal isn’t in this camp is beyond me). Even taking out Sands, Cerrillo, and Durkin, there’s a series of players in a bit better form above him. Again, I’m not questioning Aaronson’s long-term prognosis, rather where he is now. You don’t want to see what happens when you toss 20- and 21-year-olds onto this list.

Fullbacks Reggie Cannon, Daniel Lovitz, and Nick Lima have all dipped 10 places or more amongst American players in MLS (WhoScored) since the last round of call-ups.

Here, without judgment, is a list of American fullbacks who rank higher in performance score this year than all three of those players on multiple stat sites, having played at least 20 matches (ages in parentheses)

Ryan Hollingshead (28)
Tommy Thompson (24)
Aaron Herrera (22)
Jordan Harvey (35)
Graham Zusi (33)
Donny Toia (27)
Justin Morrow (31)
Jorge Villafana (30)
Keegan Rosenberry (25)

I’ve written this before, but this round of call-ups seems to reinforce it: The only conclusion I can reasonably come to is that Berhalter is so confident in being able to out-produce his peers, as he did with a substandard roster in Columbus, that he doesn’t care what the metrics say.

I get Gyasi Zardes, who is presently a very decent bench option beyond Jozy Altidore and Josh Sargent. The majority of the roster is defensible, which is a low bar, but fine.

I just feel like Berhalter is about to hang his hat on how his side fares against a Cuba team which should be defeated by any combination of regular MLS starters, let alone the best available to him.

Then Canada, who is much improved despite its losses to Mexico and Haiti and Gold Cup (At least they scored against Mexico, amirite?).

Canada has a Champions League goalkeeper in Red Star Belgrade’s Milan Borjan, but very little in defense. Their midfield is going to be a batch of MLS players and Rangers man Scott Arfield. The one place they can burn you is with talented attackers Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich), Jonathan David (Gent), Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City) and others.

So it’ll be a bit concerning if his XI looks like anything other than this:

Steffen

Yedlin — Zimmerman — Miazga — Ream

Bradley — McKennie — Lletget

Pulisic — Altidore — Morris

That’s still a lineup that beats Canada, maybe comfortably.

Everton – West Brom: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Everton – West Brom: The Toffees and Baggies are set to kick off weekend no. 2 of the 2020-21 Premier League season on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 am ET, online via Peacock).

EVERTON – WEST BROM STREAM LIVE

Everton were one of the PL’s most impressive sides last weekend, as they began their campaign with a 1-0 victory away to Tottenham Hotspur. Most impressively, though, was the instant impact of three newcomers — James Rodriguez, Allan and Abdoulaye Doucoure — who slotted into the team and played important parts in collecting three points on their debuts.

As for West Bromwich Albion, returning to life in the PL brought something of a rude awakening in the form of a 3-0 home defeat to Leicester City. After two seasons in the EFL Championship, West Brom undeniably have their work cut out for them if they’re to stay up this season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Everton – West Brom this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Everton – West Brom (INJURY REPORT)

Everton are without four players — Mason Holgate (ankle), Cenk Tosun (knee), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (calf), Fabian Delph (calf) — none of whom were available for selection to the 18-man squad a week ago.

The Toffees are unchanged from the win at Tottenham on the opening weekend.

West Brom will be missing Danish forward Kenneth Zohore (calf), who also missed out on the opening weekend, and name an unchanged lineup from the opening weekend.

 


What they’re saying

Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti, on his squad’s depth: “They are experienced players, all three of them in different ways, James, Allan have international experience. Doucoure has played really well in the Premier League. They have brought more confidence to their teammates. We have a more competitive squad. It is difficult to do the lineup, difficult to make the bench and the most difficult part is to tell the player to stay home and watch the game on TV. But if we want to be a more competitive team we have to have competition in the squad.”

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on wanting more signings: “We would love to do it. It is important we bring a different type of striker to what we have into the club. We are trying to get it done but it’s not easy, but it is instrumental for us. Then the next phase is to improve the team from last season. We got Button the goalkeeper, we got Kipre from Wigan – two good additions to our squad. We’ve got [Branislav] Ivanovic, and now [Conor] Gallagher, and we’re hoping and trying to get a couple more. It’s not a secret — we have good numbers of strikers, but we’re looking to add a bit more quality.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Everton (-190) are, predictably, heavy favorites for this one, with West Brom checking in at +525. The draw is currently sitting +320, if you’re a firm believer that West Brom stand a chance.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

It’s a mighty tough schedule to start the season for West Brom, as they go from last season’s fifth-place finishers to a side with similar aspirations this season. For as long as James and Co., stay healthy and fit, Everton look set to be a handful and a half for bottom-half sides like West Brom. They will have to wait another week for their first points — and their first goal. Everton 2-0 West Brom.


How to watch Everton – West Brom stream and start time

Kickoff: 7:30 am ET Saturday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Leicester – Burnley: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Leicester – Burnley: Brendan Rodgers seeks to become just the 23rd manager to win 100 games in the Premier League, and becoming the fourth-fastest Brit to reach the mark, when Leicester City host Burnley at the King Power Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 2 pm ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

LEICESTER – BURNLEY BROM STREAM LIVE

Rodgers moved one step closer to his century of PL wins last weekend when the Foxes began their 2020-21 campaign with a 3-0 thrashing of newly promoted West Bromwich Albion. Burnley, on the other hand, are set for their season debut this weekend after their opening-day clash with Manchester United was rescheduled.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Leicester – Burnley this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Leicester – Burnley (INJURY REPORT)

Leicester will be missing three players Ricardo Pereira (knee), Jonny Evans (thigh), Filip Benkovic (groin) — with absolutely certainty, plus James Maddison (hip) is unlikely to feature and Wes Morgan (thigh) is expected to face a late fitness test to determine his availability.

Meanwhile, Burnley aren’t expecting to have Johann Berg Gudmundsson (knee) or Jack Cork (ankle).


What they’re saying: Leicester – Burnley

Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers, on transfer target Cengiz Under: “He’s a very, very good player. There have been negotiations with the club [Roma] and we’re hopeful there. We need a different kind of attacking player to help out at the top end of the pitch. It’s clear we have pace and power, but I feel we need more football in there.”

Burnley manager Sean Dyche, on the club’s desperate transfer approach: “Lastminute.com — [it] started back in the day of Charlie Austin, two days before the first game of the season. There are many different ways that clubs operate. It is very difficult, it is tricky, but it’s the reality of it. I’ve been here eight years. This is not new news. I’ve been saying this for three years at least, saying we’ve got to stretch, we’ve got to pre-plan. But you can only offer these opinions. I don’t sign the checks, I can assure you.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Leicester (-165) are heavy betting favorites with Burnley (+460) widely expected to simply roll over and concede the three points up for grabs. Even the draw (+290) is though a bridge perhaps too far for the Clarets.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Leicester – Burnley

Leicester managed to shake off the rust and disappointment that was the end of the 2019-20 season (just two wins from nine games during “Project Restart”) and win going away last weekend. On the other hand, Burnley finished with just two losses from their final nine games, and won four of them. We’ll see if either side is in the midst of a trend, or simply a blip on the radar. Leicester 2-1 Burnley.


How to watch Leicester – Burnley stream and start time

Kickoff: 2 pm ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Newcastle – Brighton: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Newcastle v Brighton: A pair of sides that impressed on the opening weekend of the 2020-21 Premier League season — but only one of them with anything to show for it — will meet at St. James’ Park on Sunday (Watch live at 9 am ET, online via Peacock).

NEWCASTLE – BRIGHTON STREAM LIVE

Newcastle United were far and away the better side in their season-opening victory away to West Ham United last weekend, while Brighton looked the better part of Chelsea’s equals for 54 minutes but ultimately fell to a 3-1 defeat at the Amex Stadium.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Newcastle v Brighton this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Newcastle v Brighton (INJURY REPORT)

Newcastle will be without five players — Matty Longstaff (thigh), Martin Dubravka (ankle), Fabian Schar (shoulder), Paul Dummett (thigh), Dwight Gayle (knee) — leaving Steve Bruce with an increasingly thin squad.

Jose Iquierdo (knee), Florian Andone (knee) and Christian Walton (ankle) have all been ruled out for Sunday, with rising star Ben White (ankle) likely to face a late fitness test after picking up a minor injury last week.


What they’re saying

Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, on starting with a win: “I’m like everybody else, we all like to get off to a start and we couldn’t have had a better week in terms of results. The players have hit the ground running, which was always part of the reason why we went after who we went after. We’ve got a chance to get off to an outstanding start.”

Brighton manager Graham Potter, on Newcastle: “Newcastle will be strong. They were worthy winners at West Ham and they will be a tough test for us. Impressive, the business they have done. They have added to the squad and they will be really strong. Everyone knows what Andy Carroll brings to the team and physically he is very strong, and aerially he is strong. Him and [Callum] Wilson will be a strong partnership.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

There’s almost nothing to separate Newcastle (+160) from Brighton (+185) as the oddsmakers see Sunday’s clash a near-tossup. Even the draw (+210) isn’t far out of line with either side winning.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction

At the risk of placing too much importance upon a game in week no. 2, this one has the feel of an important litmus test for Newcastle. West Ham have been chaotic for quite some time now, but Brighton, despite finishing 15th last season, have appeared far more stable and trending upward under Potter. They’re likely a mid-table side this season, and Newcastle could be, too. In the end, it ends Newcastle 1-1 Brighton.


How to watch Newcastle v Brighton stream and start time

Kickoff: 9 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Europa League qualifying – playoff round draw results

Europa League draw
Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images
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Europa League draw results: Tottenham Hotspur will be rather pleased with their draw for the final round of UEFA Europa League qualifying — should they advance to reach it, of course — as they plod toward the group stage.

[ MORE: Is Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham a good idea? ]

After surviving their brush with disaster and embarrassment on Thursday, Jose Mourinho’s men will next be away to Macedonian side Shkendija in the third round of qualifying next Thursday. Should they come on top there, Tottenham will then host either Russian side Rostov or Israeli outfit Maccabi Haifa the first week of October. The winner of that single-leg showdown will qualify for the group stage.

Elsewhere, Serie A giant AC Milan, who face Norwegian side Bodo/Glimt next week, were handed a slightly tougher draw: away to Turkish giant Besiktas or Portuguese side Rio Ave.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Diogo Jota to Liverpool; Yedlin to Besiktas ]

Scottish rivals Celtic and Rangers are also still alive in their quests to reach the group stage and learned their potential future opponents in the Europa League draw. Celtic, the nine-time reigning champions of Scotland, will face Sarajevo (Bosnia & Herzegovina) or Buducnost (Montenegro) if they get past Riga (Latvia) first. Rangers will see Galatasaray or Hajduk Split (Croatia) if they advance past Dutch side Willem II next weekn.

Notable Europa League playoff round matchups

Shkendija/ Tottenham Hotspur v Rostov/Maccabi Haifa
Besiktas/Rio Ave v AC Milan/Bodo/Glimt
Sarajevo/Buducnost Podgorica v Riga/Celtic
Willem II/Rangers v Galatasaray/Hajduk Split
Rosenborg/Alanyaspor v Mura/PSV Eindhoven
St. Gallen/AEK Athens v Wolfsburg/ Desna Chernihiv
Sporting CP/ Aberdeen v LASK/ Dunajska Streda