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Three players (and a tactic) under the microscope for USMNT

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It’s becoming pretty clear that what the public wants to see from the United States men’s national team is not necessarily in lockstep with what Gregg Berhalter wants to see from the squad (aside from obviously goals and wins, which have both been in short supply).

He made this pretty clear last month, for better or for worse, when he defended his side’s myriad errors in playing out of the back against Mexico. He’d made it clear over a longer period of time, too, with the continued call-ups for a certain subset of players who have been poor for club and/or country.

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That happens with a lot of managers, and we still love Berhalter’s ability to squeeze something good out of lesser materials as he did with the Columbus Crew. While we admit to not being particular high on the manager’s squad selection, he shouldn’t have problems over the course of the two month’s CONCACAF Nations League matches with Canada and Cuba.

If he does, well, we’re going to be having a different conversation. And to be frank, that didn’t seem like anything worth worrying about just a few short months ago. Berhalter had been overrun by Tata Martino and Mexico in the Gold Cup Final, but honestly did a decent job in marshaling his men toward a result (Jozy Altidore atypically missed a big chance to score on the night).

Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, but last month’s remarkably poor performance against Mexico rolling into a match versus Uruguay’s B-Team which was rescued by an increasingly impressive winger named Jordan Morris (‘Member him?).

But Cuba and Canada present two very different challenges for the United States over the next eight days. Cuba is the type of side the U.S. should boss 95 percent of the time, with bad fortunate possibly contributing to the occasional draw.

The attackers are going to be under pressure to produce this month, due to the fact that they, well, won’t be likely to face

Cuba has only one player on its roster playing outside of the Caribbean and Central America, and that’s USL striker Luis Paradela (who just came to Reno with the notable status as the first Cuban to play in the U.S. without defecting).

Canada presents a big threat to the U.S. back line, but its defenders should not be a match for a Christian Pulisic-led attack.

This is a week for the attackers.

Disclaimer: You won’t see us putting Christian Pulisic on this list for numerous reasons despite his status as an on-again, off-again lineup member for Chelsea. There is no doubting his acumen as a USMNT player and little reason to expect he’ll be anything but fantastic against these CONCACAF foes. If for whatever reason he isn’t a freed being against Cuba, or is rested, the chance to out-duel fellow CONCACAF phenom Alphonso Davies would be something he’d embrace even if he was going 90 on a religious basis for Frank Lampard.

1. Josh Sargent — Jozy Altidore’s latest injury has expedited the need for another CONCACAF killer, perhaps a new one. With Timothy Weah also injured, Sargent is the one.

Make no mistake about it: These games are not even in the ball park of “make or break” for the 19-year-old, who has started Werder Bremen’s last three Bundesliga matches.  Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt has opted for five different formations this season, deploying Sargent as a right wing four times and center forward twice.

But a strong showing or two could conceivably cement Sargent’s status as the top striker in the program.  Playing at a high level with Christian Pulisic amongst others would also help, because chemistry will be key in World Cup qualifying and Sargent can make a statement with his boss under pressure and both Altidore and Weah on the sidelines.

Sargent should have every opportunity to feature against Cuba and Canada, and we may see Berhalter put the teen in the lineup against Cuba on Friday and let his performance determine whether he keeps his place or sees Gyasi Zardes return to the fold against Canada.

2. Corey Baird — The Real Salt Lake man would be on the fringes of the national team picture under a lot of coaches, but Berhalter has liked what he’s seen from the 23-year-old. Baird started Berhalter’s first USMNT friendlies and is still in the fold. He’s come into club form heading into the last two international breaks, and is now called up for the fourth separate camp.

He’s gotta find a goal or standout cameo at the minimum, especially considering the players (Altidore, Weah) who will soon return to the fold. Baird has a goal and an assist from the left wing over his past two RSL matches as the club snapped out of its doldrums ahead of the playoffs.

3. Tyler Boyd — What a year it’s been for the one-time New Zealand striker, who took a loan to Turkey with both hands and earned a permanent transfer for a Champions League club and a new international registry.

Boyd is having fits and starts with Besiktas, and it’s fair to say that’s also been the case for the USMNT. He scored a pair of goals on his Gold Cup debut against Grenada, but was kept on the bench for the semifinals and final.

We’re not going to pretend that we see every Besiktas match, but the metrics for Boyd’s early performances have not been good. To be fair, no one had been playing that well for the 12th place side before they beat first place Alanyaspor at the weekend. The bad news is that Boyd was stapled to the bench, as he was three days prior when Besiktas lost to Wolves in the Europa League.

Like Christian Pulisic at Chelsea, this camp can be a welcome chance for Boyd to unleash his tools. Cuba is a bit easier to break down than Wolves or Trabzonspor.

BONUS. Playing out of the back — Gregg Berhalter bristled when asked about his side’s poor play against the Mexican press and his stubbornness in sticking with the attack all the way through a brutal loss to a rival.

If his men can’t do it against Cuba, forget about it.

This is going to be an under-the-radar test for Berhalter, who has continuously opted to use a mauler of a center back (Aaron Long) who is a heck of a tackler but lacking in the passing department. With Matt Miazga back in the fold and the chance to pair him with either Tim Ream or Miles Robinson, behind Michael Bradley, what will Berhalter choose and how well will it work?

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

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

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 MLSSoccer.com 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.”

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

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.