Sebastian Lletget enjoyed a dream return to Avaya Stadium, scoring a goal and providing an assist to give the U.S. Men’s National Team a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in the second of two international friendly matches ahead of the MLS season.
Lletget scored the game winning goal on a header in the 80th minute and with two minutes from time, Paul Arriola closed out a terrific performance with a goal of his own, thanks to a great through ball from Lletget. It was the first time Lletget had been back in this stadium since suffering a devastating Lisfranc foot injury in March 2017 that kept him out for 11 months. He returned to the USMNT last fall and made a big impression off the bench for new coach Gregg Berhalter on Saturday afternoon.
“We talked at halftime about how it was a very difficult game, and I think in the second half, the guys rose to the challenge,” Berhalter told Fox Sports after the match. “Much more aggressive (sic), much more life, much more bravery and overall, I think it was a good lesson that we have to go for it, and the guys did a great job.”
6 – Sebastian Lletget is now the sixth #USMNT player with a goal and an assist off the bench in the last five years, and the first since Clint Dempsey in July 2017 against Costa Rica. Déjà-vú. #USAvCRC
After a passive first half, in which the USMNT turned the ball over frequently and neither team really found their passing rhythm, the U.S. came flying out of the game to start the second stanza. Right winger Corey Baird and left back Nick Lima each had decent crosses into the middle in the first few minutes, before midfielder Christian Roldan had a terrific chance in the box that he turned wide.
During this time, holding midfielder Wil Trapp was consistently finding Arriola in space down the left wing, a position where Arriola excelled despite being a natural right-footed player. In the 54th minute, Lima rattled a shot off the post in his home stadium, and Roldan clattered the same bar with a strike in the 68th minute.
The U.S. was by far the more aggressive side but it seemed as though the game was heading for a draw until the 70th minute, when Jonathan Lewis was introduced. The young New York City FC winger swapped spots with Arriola and was a constant threat down the left side, eventually leading to the game-winning goal.
Trapp once again played a perfect long-ball into space for the speedy Lewis to run on to. Lewis then took on his defender and looped a cross towards the far post. Lletget rose highest and angled home a header past goalkeeper Estaban Alvarado to finally break the deadlock.
Lewis nearly set up the USMNT again with some nifty dribbling and speed down the left, but his cross was cleared away. Finally, in the 88th minute, Arriola put the cherry on top of the win with a calm flick over Alvarado off a Lletget through ball. Arriola crashed into Alvarado and the ground after his chip but he seemed fine and was ready to celebrate with his teammates as the ball rolled into the net.
Up next for the U.S. is a friendly match in Orlando, Fla on March 21 against Ecuador. For the first time, the next window will give Berhalter the opportunity to call in a full strength side, and it will be interesting to see how he teaches his ideas and style of play to the European and Liga MX-based players in a much shorter time span, as well as playing against opponents with full squads of their own.
After a long January USMNT camp and a pair of wins, it feels that there’s a bit of positive momentum again behind the national team. Yes, both wins were against teams without their best players available, but the USMNT players quickly adapted to Berhalter’s style of play, and the dynamism shown in the second half, “going for it” as Berhalter said, was missing from a lot of games during the later stages of World Cup qualifying in 2017, especially on the road.
1) You can only save one Premier League memory from 2018. What do you choose?
Joe Prince-Wright: I am going with Liverpool’s 4-3 win against Man City at Anfield in January 2018. What a game between two teams going at it and playing very different ways to the highest possible level. It was a precursor for some epic Champions League battles between Liverpool and Man City.
Kyle Bonn: Has to be Manchester City’s dominance and Pep Guardiola’s juggernaut. I absolutely loved watching that team, especially given how much of a mess it was when Pep first got there. He turned around so many players, namely John Stones and Raheem Sterling, and that’s always something special.
Dan Karell: It was from last January but it’s got to be Liverpool 4-3 Manchester City. Man City wrapped up the title early and recorded a record amount of goals and points, but this was arguably the game of the season. Terrific action for all 90 minutes.
2) Remember the World Cup? That was just this summer! What was your favorite part of the tournament? How about the USMNT’s efforts in it?
Joe Prince-Wright: I obviously enjoyed England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals and I honestly believe they would have matched up very well against France and would have had a great chance of winning it all. The way Gareth Southgate’s young side made an entire nation believe again and changed the mood around the Three Lions completely was truly remarkable to see. Also, LOL about the USMNT. What a debacle that should never be repeated. Simple.
Nicholas Mendola: Not the Lionel Messi sub plot, as even his fine performances couldn’t overcome the hype about whether it was enough for his legacy. Also, not Serbia getting the short end of the officiating stick on multiple occasions.
There were some great matches! The final was special, as was France 4-3 Argentina in the Round of 16. But Belgium and Japan turning a 0-0 halftime into a 2-0 Japanese lead en route to a 3-2 Belgium win, with Nacer Chadli scoring in stoppage? Holy smoke what a game.
Kyle Bonn: I think my favorite part of the tournament was appreciating the parity that came along with it. Germany bombed out in the group stages, Argentina looked pedestrian, and Spain looked fallible, all while Croatia built a juggernaut, Peru looked competitive, and Sweden won a group. This was the world’s World Cup and that was fascinating.
Also, the USMNT didn’t lose a single game all tournament, so I’ll give them an A-
Dan Karell: Ugh, stop! I think England’s run to the semifinals was a lot of fun, along with Croatia’s constant wins in penalty kick shootouts and them overcoming the odds again and again. Ultimately, France was too talented to be stopped, and Didier Deschamps did a masterful job keeping them tight defensively and letting his side’s speed and counter-attacking ability steal the show.
3) Which player do you hold in higher esteem than you did entering 2018? Who’s much lower?
Joe Prince-Wright: David Silva. I always knew he was good. But I didn’t quite appreciate how good. He is essential to Pep Guardiola’s style and will probably go down as one of City’s best-ever players, if not the best.
Lower… I am going with Daniel Sturridge. Perhaps a little harsh, but I thought he would be able to work his way into this Liverpool attack as the first back-up. He hasn’t achieved that at all.
Nicholas Mendola: I knew Christian Pulisic was good before Jan. 1, 2018, but how much of a factor he’s become in every match is beyond compare on an American level. There’s Clint Dempsey in 2011-12 at Fulham for the gold standard of Americans Abroad, and the question of whether he matches it, improves on it, or does it again and again.
As for lower, and I know this is heavy territory, but pretty much the way everyone associated with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus dealt with the rape accusations against him. Allegations are allegations until proven true, but showing a modicum of class to the victim (and all victims) would’ve been nice.
Kyle Bonn: If this is possible…Mohamed Salah. I always love seeing players go from one-hit wonder to actually good player, and while only the ultimate of cynics believe the Liverpool star would ultimately fade as just a flash in the pan, I enjoyed seeing it proven on the field.
Less, I have to go with Alvaro Morata. I thought he would be a slam dunk at Chelsea, and his disastrous tenure has led to rumors of a quick exit. I am quite disappointed in his performances there and his inability to find the scoresheet despite a wealth of talent around him. It’s a shame, because he showed so much promise at Real Madrid, and I hope he finds success either with a second chance at Chelsea or someone else who gives him an opportunity after Stamford Bridge.
Dan Karell: Anthony Martial. His second half of 2018 has been tremendous compared to his previous 18 months in Manchester, which all led to him missing out on the World Cup. A player who’s stock has dropped for me is his teammate, Alexis Sanchez. After joining Man United in January. Sanchez has been invisible this season and it’s unclear if Man United will ever recoup its investment in Sanchez.
4) Who is the soccer world’s person of 2018?
Joe Prince-Wright: Luka Modric. What he managed to achieve with both Real Madrid and Croatia, plus win multiple top awards as the best player on the planet, was exceptional. The Croatian midfielder was a total team player and made his teammates better due to his hard work, vision and delivering in clutch moments. His role to lead Croatia to the World Cup final was reminiscent of Diego Maradona and Pele leading their respective nations to glory in the past. Modric was Croatia’s talisman as they just came up short by losing to France in the final.
Nicholas Mendola: Kylian Mbappe. At the age of 20, with club turmoil caused by Neymar and Edinson Cavani and the pressure of an entire country, Mbappe led France to a World Cup title and Paris Saint-Germain to plenty of wins. But even better than that is the example he sets at such a young age, donating his World Cup winnings to charity and admitting that footballers are paid an “indecent” wage.
Kyle Bonn: Great – and tough – question. So many good options. Jurgen Klopp has to be my choice though, as he’s finally seeing his Liverpool project come to fruition. The Reds made the 2018 Champions League final and have shaken their inability to perform against bottom sides in Premier League play. It’s always fun to see a years-long project not only committed to, but completed. The Reds are a scary team to play for anyone in the world, and that’s down to the revolutionary tactics and recruitment of Jurgen Klopp.
Dan Karell: If it’s a manager, it’s got to be a tie between Didier Deschamps and Pep Guardiola for everything they succeeded. Perhaps it’s even Zinedine Zidane, who took the bold move to resign as Real Madrid manager after a third-successive Champions League title.
5) What topic are you extremely happy to leave in 2018: the USMNT coaching search, Jose Mourinho at Manchester United, or a third option?
Joe Prince-Wright: USMNT coaching search definitely. Quite why that took so long was outrageous. Berhalter could have been appointed months sooner than he was to start building the identity of the team. That would have been a smarter move. Southampton’s 2018 was also woeful, so I am happy to leave that there as the squad they have should be pushing for a top 10 finish, not battling against relegation for a second-straight season. I actually think that history will be kind to Jose Mourinho’s reign at Manchester United, but it just became so boring and predictable towards the end and we have already seen the gloom has lifted at Old Trafford. It worked out well for everyone, even Mourinho.
Nicholas Mendola: The USMNT coaching search. At some point we were speculating on David Moyes taking the job because he was on the train to a friendly. Cool. Real cool.
Kyle Bonn: I was happy to see the USMNT coaching search finally come to an end, but disappointed in the result. I was glad to see Jose Mourinho leave Manchester United for the health of the club, but not for those of us covering the team (what a ride!). Honestly, I’m happiest to see the World Cup cycle leave, because the USMNT gets to start from scratch looking forward to 2022. While many have predictions and reservations about the US National Team at this juncture, it will be for the team to prove on the field, and Gregg Berhalter has a chance to lead an emotional redemption for the group.
Dan Karell: Jose Mourinho for sure. The constant moaning to the media, throwing players under the bus, and holding his players back got really old, really fast. Yes, the opposition in the last couple of games isn’t as good, but you can see that the Man United players have the shackles removed and are starting to look as if they enjoy their profession again.
6) Free skate: Any other thoughts about 2018?
Joe Prince-Wright: Watching Man City’s record breaking season up close was amazing. They made history and have set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the Premier League.
It was a reflective year for many Premier League teams who took steps towards long-term progression. Liverpool finally bought world-class defensive players, Man United sacked their manager, Arsene Wenger left Arsenal and Chelsea moved on with an exciting tactical project. Man City have leveled off a little but are still incredible to watch, while Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham are still defying the odds and will actually move into their new stadium soon. The top six have been fascinating to watch in 2018, and given four of them are in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, it seems like English soccer has had a real resurgence on the European stage too.
Nicholas Mendola: I don’t want to be a downer and I know Leicester City happened just a few years ago, but it seems like it’s the end of non-giants making charges toward the Top Four. It’s not Liverpool’s fault for joining Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, and Man City in spending ungodly amounts of dough. It’s not just about the money, because those arguments are also annoying and look at Everton and West Ham, but it is frustrating.
Kyle Bonn: 2018 was a great year of soccer, but the failures of the USMNT certainly bring it down from our perspective. There needs to be growth there moving forward, or it will be tough to build on the growing fanbase in this country.
Dan Karell: Regarding the U.S. men’s national team, it was an empty year that should have had a World Cup appearance to go with it. We saw a lot of new players make their debuts and other youngsters receive more minutes, but the team felt like the Israelites wandering for 40 years searching for the Land of Israel, with no direction. Hopefully now, with Gregg Berhalter (Moses?) in charge, the USMNT can find the promised land.
Another note: Atlanta United’s incredible success can’t go unnoted. To create a title-winning team in two years is incredible difficult, and the organization has raised the bar for MLS even higher. 2018 was a huge step for the league. Let’s see what 2019 brings.
There are myriad reports of transfer interest in Christian Pulisic — Borussia Dortmund could do us all a massive favor and accept a bid for a summer sale in January — but one except from an ESPN post highlights why the camp for the USMNT star will be exceptionally careful in agreeing to his next stop.
ESPN FC has been told that Dortmund believe a rival bid might yet arrive from Arsenal, due to Pulisic’s commercial value in the United States. The Gunners are controlled by Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Los Angeles Rams.
Kroenke gets plenty of villain plot lines, but this isn’t news and is certainly part of the others’ interest as well. And it’s especially true when it comes to the major money market that is the United States.
While it’s true that Cardiff City has received a boon in its brand in the Philippines by the success of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s hiring has further boosted Manchester United stock in Norway, this is a different animal as evidenced by clubs from the Bundesliga, Premier League, La Liga, and Serie A taking a big interest in U.S.
The American market has dual status as: A) holding massive unrealized potential as the last huge market to embrace soccer, and B) having really, truly rich brands and advertisers.
That isn’t the primary reason that big clubs want Pulisic — A 20-year-old with 15 goals and 24 assists for a Bundesliga power including two and three in the UEFA Champions League is pretty clear-cut — but it should be the biggest reason USMNT fans are concerned about where Pulisic lands for next season.
Fortunately, his camp are also concerned about that.
There have been plenty of arguments against Pulisic moving to specific Premier League clubs, some of them absurd.
Maurizio Sarri was hired in August. He’s doing fine. And he would be approving the transfer. These are good signs for Pulisic, who would carry the same American appeal and BVB resume if he failed at Chelsea. This same idea has not stopped Michy Batshuayi and Tiemoue Bakayoko, amongst others, from starting at BVB, AC Milan, and Villarreal. And Alvaro Morata is still wanted pretty much everywhere.
Also, stop worrying about Pulisic being buried on the bench unless you do not believe he is good or he signs behind a clear megastar at right wing. Yes, this means Liverpool would be a poor landing spot unless Pulisic secretly likes the left wing or the Reds prefer Mohamed Salah centrally (as he’s been in recent months).
The Nos. 1 and 2 questions for your favored landing spot for Pulisic, from a USMNT perspective, is, “Will he immediately be a fixture in the 18 at age 21?” and “Will he be expected to start by Season 2?”
Do I believe Pulisic would be better served signing a richer deal at Dortmund with the understanding that the club will not stop him from moving onward after the 2019-20 season? For the most part, yeah, but not if BVB coach Lucien Favre has no plans to deploy Pulisic over or at the same time as Jadon Sancho.
Think about how many exceptional players have dropped down the depth chart at monster clubs, and whether that would’ve stopped you from wanting them as the best player on the USMNT: Willian, Juan Mata, Batshuayi, and — to a lesser extent — Javier Hernandez and . If you believe at all in Pulisic as a player, he’s going to be good regardless when he pops on the USMNT shirt.
Also remember that the previous two best attackers to take a big leap into Europe were older and either didn’t grow into success with said clubs (Landon Donovan, Bayer Leverkusen) or needed a season to find their footing (Clint Dempsey).
What I’m saying is: It’s going to be fine, and it might be great.
“They’re a top-five team in the world – if not the best right now. I’m well aware of how good Ederson is, and I know I need to grow and get better in a lot of different areas. But my mentality is that when I get over there, I want to play. I’m really highly motivated to get the most out of these next six months in Columbus, and hopefully with the national team. I’m going to really push myself so that when I get to Manchester next summer, I’m that much more confident and prepared.”
Alex Mendez won the Young Male Player of the Award award, and like Steffen he’ll leave the U.S. for a new club in 2019.
The LA Galaxy product, 18, scored a goal with three assists for LA Galaxy II in the USL this season, and will join Freiburg — Steffen’s former club — in January.
Mendez will star for the U.S. U-20s at the World Cup in Poland this summer after appearing in 13 matches for the team this year.
U.S. Soccer provided this list of previous award winners.
Mohamed Salah shaking off some rust
He scored a tap-in against Southampton on Saturday and almost scored an audacious back heel, but there are signs that Mohamed Salah is still shaking off some rust after his shoulder injury at the end of last season. The Egyptian magician looked frustrated in a more central role against Saints with Roberto Firmino switched out to the flank. Salah scored a goal when offside late on and seemed to rush a few chances where last season he was calmness personified. Salah has scored three goals in the current PL campaign but he hasn’t quite looked himself thus far with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino stepping up and delivering.
Jurgen Klopp won’t be too concerned about giving Salah a rest in the League Cup against Chelsea this week, especially with Xherdan Shaqiri impressing in a 45 minute cameo on Saturday too. Salah isn’t at his marauding best, as we pointed out following Liverpool’s win at Tottenham last week, but the fact that is the case and Liverpool have won their opening seven games of the season (in all competitions) is testament to how solid the rest of the team have been. At times last season you could accuse Liverpool of being a one man team. Not anymore. That’s a good thing, even if Salah isn’t firing on all cylinders. Liverpool changed up their system against Saints in the first half and Klopp wasn’t too happy with the way it was working so changed things back to a 4-3-3 in the second half. The team, and Salah, looked more comfortable in that system and ahead of a huge few weeks with games against Chelsea, Man City and Napoli coming up, the Reds are on fire. Even if their star man isn’t. Yet.
Wolves the real deal
They’ve played Manchester City and Manchester United this season and drawn with both 1-1. And on both occasions after those draws with the Manchester giants Wolves have felt a little hard done by that they didn’t nab all three points with David De Gea forced to make several key saves to keep Wolves at bay. Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have brought in plenty of top class players over the summer, including Raul Jimenez, Rui Patricio and Joao Moutinho, and it was the latter who curled home a beauty after Jimenez’s layoff to grab Wolves a deserved point at United.
There is a serious debate to be had that the runaway winners of England’s second-tier last season could be one of the best newly-promoted teams in history. Of course, nothing will beat Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest who won the top-flight in 1978, the season after they were promoted. Wolves aren’t going to win the title this season but they have shown they can easily be the best of the rest in the PL and finish in the top seven. The depth in their squad is impressive and so too is the understanding of what Santo wants them to do each week. They have a settled squad littered with quality and a solid 3-4-3 system which suits them. Name a better newly-promoted team in the PL era. I’ll wait.
Tottenham ease the pressure. For now…
It has been a rough few months for Tottenham Hotspur. After three-straight defeats, they needed a response at Brighton & Hove Albion. They got it. Harry Kane‘s first half penalty kick and a second half strike from Erik Lamela got Mauricio Pochettino‘s men back to winning ways after plenty of critics suddenly poked their heads over the fence to tell them what has been going wrong. Of course, a lot of the issues at Spurs are nothing to do with Pochettino and his players. With no money spent on new signings this summer and a long delay to their new stadium at White Hart Lane, chairman Daniel Levy has a lot to answer for.
On the pitch, Spurs showed plenty of grit to get by Brighton in the pouring rain on the South Coast with the bright lights and the TV cameras fixated on their every move and waiting for them to slip up and lose a fourth-straight game. They were in control throughout, with the only moment of worry when Anthony Knockaert didn’t make the most of a glorious opportunity in the second half. After a narrow defeat at Watford, a loss to red-hot Liverpool by one goal and a late collapse against Inter Milan at the San Siro, the narrative around Spurs seemed to shift from ‘they’ll get it right and prove their doubters wrong’ to ‘well, that is it they’re finished’ in a matter of days. Pochettino’s side reminded everyone not to write them off and even though Kane and Co. don’t seem anywhere near their best (we can save the tiredness debate for another week), they did what they had to do to silence their doubters. At least for another few days.
Legends return: Sir Alex Ferguson and Clint Dempsey
It was wonderful to see returns for two legendary figures on Saturday who have both been struggling with health issues over the past few years. Firstly, Sir Alex Ferguson seems to have made a superb recovery from a brain hemorrhage in May which required surgery and time in intensive care. The most successful manager in British history returned to Old Trafford on Saturday for the first time since April and Fergie received a warm welcome back and looked emotional to return to Theatre of Dreams.
🙌 Wonderful moment as Sir Alex Ferguson is applauded and welcomed back to Old Trafford for the first time since suffering a brain hemorrhage.
And another legendary figure (okay, not quite on Fergie’s level, but still a hero) returned to the Premier League with Clint Dempsey heading back to Fulham for their draw against Watford. Dempsey, 35, retired late last month and Fulham’s all-time leading goalscorer in the Premier League was on hand to head back to Craven Cottage to see his former team.
Deuce looked as chilled as ever and Fulhamerica is still going strong.