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USMNT-Ecuador preview: Competition level rises

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team has never allowed a goal, albeit with a bevy of MLS players in the USMNT shirt going against domestic-based players from Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday’s opponent is Ecuador, and this is a proper international break. No, La Tricolor won’t present the same challenge as Chile, who visits Houston on March 26, but Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia are a step up from the CONCACAF visitors of January and February.

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The U.S. is unbeaten in its last three matches against Ecuador, winning two and drawing one. The last meeting was during Jurgen Klinsmann’s remarkable Copa America Centenario, as the Yanks navigated Jermaine Jones’ 52nd minute red card and both sides played most of the second half with 10 men in a 2-1, Clint Dempsey-inspired win.

Berhalter’s USMNT isn’t as young this go-round, with Michael Bradley, Tim Ream, and Gyasi Zardes among those who’ve featured for several American coaches.

It’s also the first time U.S. fans will see Christian Pulisic since his sale to Chelsea and loan back to Dortmund, likely playing attacking center midfield as the most important piece of the Yanks’ XI (with apologies to John Brooks).

What will be second-most in focus for U.S. fans is Tyler Adams as right back, a move which makes sense in Berhalter’s possession system where the RB is stationed as a center mid, but takes the 20-year-old out of the center of the park when the opposition has the ball.

This most likely says that Berhalter is unwilling to take Bradley out of his lineup just yet, because Schalke’s Weston McKennie is likely to start as is Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. And it also isn’t a ringing endorsement of Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, who Berhalter is calling a winger despite a distinct problem with his finishing touch.

But GB knows his stuff, and in some ways the Ecuador match is a logical progression towards a Chile which will put Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, and a back line with more than 300 combined caps on the pitch next week. So handle Ecuador, and move forward.

FIFA denies solidarity payments for Dempsey, Bradley

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If you’re looking for a sentence that will enrage and stun you for a second, even if you think FIFA is the most crooked thing on Earth, just wait a few paragraphs.

FIFA has denied solidarity payments to two clubs for the development of USMNT players Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, according to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle. That’s not the shocking part, considering that U.S. Soccer has a long history of not aligning with the transfer rules followed by most of the world.

[ RECAP: Bayern 1-3 (1-3 agg.) Liverpool ]

No blood, no foul. Well, at least no surprise.

But what FIFA said in denying the money to the Dallas Texans and Sockers FC Chicago is, frankly, wild even for them (The DRC in the drop quote is FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Center). From ESPN.com:

The documents didn’t specify why the cases involving Sockers FC Chicago and the Dallas Texans were turned down. One of the letters from the DRC stated that if a club wants a full explanation for its decision, it must pay FIFA a fee of nearly $10,000.

I suppose I could write a lot more simply by riffing on that facr, but I’m not going to do that. That’s enough for one night.

But the ESPN report, citing an expert, speculates that Bradley and Dempsey’s unkempt player passports — a U.S. Soccer problem now rectified with current youth players — is the reason for denial.

Altidore extends Toronto stay through 2022

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USMNT striker Jozy Altidore has committed his future to Toronto FC, where he’ll remain a designated player.

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Altidore missed all but 13 matches last season and is still dealing with injury problems to start this one, but scored seven times in 877 league minutes.

The 29-year-old striker has been given a huge vote of confidence from new TFC general manager Ali Curtis:

“Jozy has been a big part of the organization and the new contract ensures that he will remain with the club for years to come. While it is important to make changes to your roster in different moments, continuity is also a critical component to successful organizations,” said Toronto FC General Manager Ali Curtis. “Jozy is an excellent player and he is capable of playing an enormous role in leading our club to success. On a professional level, I am looking forward to working with Jozy, but on personal level, I’m looking forward to getting to know him for the person that he has developed into.”

Altidore won the 2018 MLS Cup with TFC, and has 60 goals in 114 appearances with the Reds.

He also has 41 USMNT goals in 110 caps, both Top Ten figures for the national team. Altidore is 16 goals behind the program record shared by Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

USMNT takes down Costa Rica (video)

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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.

[READ: USMNT to face Ecuador in March]

“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.”

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.

PST Roundtable: 2018 in Review

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ProSoccerTalk continues its Best of 2018 by taking our staff on a trip down (around) memory lane with the final Roundtable of the calendar year (unless Pele unretires between now and Midnight ET).

[ MORE: Best of 2018 ]


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.

Nicholas Mendola: At the risk of cloying this space, Arsene Wenger‘s “send off series” was special, especially when Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho came together to salute the long time Arsenal boss at Old Trafford. The final matches in charge of the Gunners was an emotional and refreshing storyline for both Arsenal and those who like to see an under-fire legend get his just desserts.

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.

(AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

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.

(Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)

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.

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

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.

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

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.

(AP Photo/Dave Thompson)

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.
(AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)