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Slumping USMNT big favorites v. Canada

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Let’s start with two statements which might be a bit controversial given the tone and tenor of the United States men’s national team program.

  1. The CONCACAF Nations League very much matters to Gregg Berhalter’s era and the program in general, even if the coach’s job is not in jeopardy and the tournament is in its infancy.
  2. The USMNT are the oddsmakers’ heavy favorites to win (nearly +500), even given the current injury problems, and it will be shocking but not surprising if they lose to the Canadians.

Point No. 1 might be a bit surprising, but this is a competition with silverware and Berhalter hasn’t won any of it yet in his tenure as USMNT boss. It’s also relevant because losing to Canada twice in a month after not losing to them since the Billboard No. 1 single was the sensual “One More Night” by Phil Collins.

And even without Christian Pulisic and a raft of injury excuses, plus taking into account Canada’s sincere re-emergence on the CONCACAF scene, the USMNT has no business losing a meaningful match at home to a team that, while improved, has far more holes than the hosts.

If you remember from October, Berhalter didn’t call upon his men to press an inexperienced Canadian back line (I just realized I’m still angry about this). There is literally no way he’ll do that at home.

If John Herdman keeps his backs the same as the one that shut out the Yanks at BMO last month, he’ll have Kamal Miller, Derek Cornelius, Steven Vitoria, and Richie Laryea out there. Three of the four aren’t full-time starters for their MLS clubs (Vitoria is an every week man in Portugal’s top flight). Goalkeeper Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) is capable of stealing a result, but shouldn’t have the chance if the Yanks pressure the ball on Friday.

The midfield and attackers are where the U.S. will have its hands full. Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David beg speedy and/or smart defenders. John Brooks being in the mix should help in both counts, plus he’s the best passing back in the pool right now.

Whether the match is cagey or comfortable will come down to the midfield. Scott Arfield is going to make it difficult on the Yanks, but Alfredo Morales plays with a nasty streak and will not be as bullied as his peers were in Toronto.

The one thing to fear is how bamboozled Berhalter was by Herdman’s plan in Ontario. This isn’t to pile on the coach, who is known for his tactics but hasn’t seen them deliver against too many opponents of quality. Herdman may be the novice in terms of overall club experience, but he’s got a better handle on the international game.

If the Yanks look out-foxed and unprepared on Friday, that’s a big problem.

Alli: “Arrogance, over-confidence” cost Spurs in Man Utd loss

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Tottenham Hotspur suffered their first loss of the Jose Mourinho era on Wednesday — a 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford — which suddenly resurgent star Dele Alli believes was down to his side’s “arrogance” and “over-confidence.”

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Speaking after Wednesday’s game, Alli, who scored a sensational solo goal (WATCH HERE) to bring Tottenham level in the first half, revealed that he foresaw and tried to combat those destructive feelings, as well as the mindset of Man United playing at home against another of the “top-six sides” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I tried to fight exactly that state of mind. I tried to tell them exactly the way United approach these matches at home — against Liverpool [1-1 draw], against Chelsea [4-0 win], always they start strong with people running, pressing, trying to lift the morale of the supporters.

“Normally they come from bad results against smaller teams so when they face the big teams people think it’s going to be more difficult for them. It’s not more difficult for them because the style changes and they feel comfortable against this style of play.

“In the second half, we knew what we were going to do with the result at 1-1. After one minute you concede a goal. We have to blame ourselves. I think United must obviously be happy with the points, and overall they deserved it.”

Two takeaways form Alli’s comments:

1. Alli appears to have taken a much larger role in leadership within the team, taking it upon himself to “try to tell [his teammates]” what to expect and how to approach a given game. Given his red-hot form of late (four goals in four games), Alli’s confidence has clearly been restored by Mourinho’s arrival.

2. Speaking of positive feelings restored, the fact that Spurs felt “arrogant” or “over-confident” this season is news itself, the surest sign that the season can be salvaged, and an indication that three wins from Mourinho’s first three games were more than the standard “new manager bump.”

Van Dijk: Liverpool proved ‘everyone is ready’ for decisive December, January

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Liverpool will play as many as 13 more games between now and the end of January — a period which is sure to go a long way toward deciding the fate of their season, including the Premier League title — and superstar defender Virgil Van Dijk insists that Wednesday’s 5-2 thrashing of rivals Everton proved “everyone is ready” to step up and do their part.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

Manager Jurgen Klopp made five changes to the team that faced Everton, matching the number of goals his side scored. According to Van Dijk, that level of squad rotation was only a preview of what’s the come over the next eight weeks — quotes from the Guardian:

“The players who came into the team don’t play regularly at all. Look at Divock [Origi], [Xherdan] Shaqiri, they did fantastic. We played Adam [Lallana], Milly [James Milner]; everyone is contributing and we need everyone. That is the key message and it is good. The season is very long. This month is very long — January as well — so we need everyone to be ready.

“We have a big squad and everyone is part of what is going on at the moment. Everyone is happy with the situation we are in. And everyone is also feeling responsible as well, ready to play or if you are on the bench. Everyone is part of the success we have and that is the message to everyone and so far, so good.”

Liverpool’s schedule for December and January breaks down as follows: eight games in the PL, one each in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and EFL Cup, and up to two in the FIFA Club World Cup. The Reds’ PL fixture against West Ham United was also rescheduled due to their participation in the Club World Cup.

Through 15 games in the PL, Liverpool hold an eight-point lead on second-place Leicester City and an 11-point advantage on third-place and two-time defending champions Manchester City.

Italian newspaper condemned for “Black Friday” headline featuring Lukaku, Smalling

Photo credit: Corriere dello Sport
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Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has been widely condemned after printing the headline “Black Friday” on top of photos of Inter Milan forward Romelu Lukaku and Roma defender Chris Smalling, former Manchester United teammates set to face one another in Serie A action on Friday.

[ MORE: Lampard: Pulisic can reach “top level of world football” ]

The sub-headline went on to read: “Lukaku and Smalling, former teammates at Manchester United and today idols at Inter and Roma, this is the battle within the battle tomorrow with the scudetto and a Champions League place at stake.”

Both clubs were quick to put out statements condemning the newspaper’s coverage.

[ MORE: Ole gushes over “the best performance Rashford has had under me” ]

Per the Guardian, an excerpt of the article which appeared to attempt to highlight Serie A’s problem with racism, saying, “We are all trying to tackle the issue of racism in Italian football,” before making a racially insensitive statement of its own:

“In the faces of those idiots who boo, tomorrow everyone must instead go ‘oooh’ like children. It will be a Black Friday, but this is not an end-of-season sale.” It went on to describe Lukaku and Smalling as “two giants of color.”

This comes less than a week after Serie A’s 20 clubs put out a joint statement “acknowledging a serious problem with racism” in the Italian game, while providing little or no concrete plan for action to rid the game of the very racism they acknowledged.

Lukaku has scored 10 goals in 14 league games since joining Inter this summer and Smalling has become a mainstay for Roma in recent months, scoring twice and leading the defense to a much improved record of goals conceded and five victories in six games.

Orlando City tabs Pareja as new coach

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Oscar Pareja is returning to Major League Soccer for a third stint.

The former Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas coach will now be plying his trade for Orlando City SC, leading Nani and Dom Dwyer as the fourth full-time coach in six MLS seasons.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A longtime Dallas player and assistant, Pareja led the Rapids to the playoffs in 2013 before leaving for the head job at his former club.

FCD won the Supporters’ Shield and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup under his watch before he left for Club Tijuana in 2018, where he went 23W-4D-21L.

Here’s Pareja, via OrlandoCitySC.com:

“The future of this Club is extremely bright, with so many opportunities to grow and succeed at all levels of the Club – from the new training facility to the world-class stadium and from the Development Academy all the way to the MLS side. Orlando is an incredible soccer city, with an especially passionate and dedicated fan base. I can’t wait to get started.”

Pareja should be a huge asset in developing the club’s top young talents into professionals, but he’s got a lot of work to do in building a competitive roster. Orlando finished eight points out of the playoffs in a league in which making the playoffs isn’t that difficult of a proposition.