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USMNT looks to build with Nations League visit to Canada

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The United States has faced much criticism since failing to miss out on the World Cup two years ago. If Gregg Berhalter is to silence the naysayers, he must use the Nations League as a building block for sustained success with a view towards 2022 World Cup qualifying.

Step 1 was completed Friday with a 7-0 demolition of lowly Cuba, and Step 2 comes Tuesday evening as the USMNT heads to Toronto to meet Canada at BMO Field, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. ET.

[ MORE: An in-depth look at Canada ]

The United States did the job at hand, soundly beating a far inferior opponent, allowing the squad to move forward quickly and emphatically. There is plenty more to prove, but the engine is revved and the gas pedal pressed. Still, Berhalter and company must remember this is a marathon not a sprint, and even the slightest slip in Nations League play will open the floodgates of criticism.

Seeing the bigger picture

The biggest thing for the USMNT to piece together in the Nations League is a sustained run of success that builds not just positive feelings but true momentum born by consistency. It will be fascinating to see the team chosen by Gregg Berhalter as he looks to put together consistent starting lineups that help build not just victories on the scoresheet but also chemistry between players who have a legitimate chance of seeing future lineups in more high leverage matches.

Against Cuba, positive performances can lend themselves to more opportunities down the line, but Berhalter must also be realistic about who has a chance to be contributors not just against the minnows of CONCACAF but also against teams the United States has aspirations of competing with. Against Cuba, Jordan Morris continued his revival as a winger, and he should be given more opportunities to build a relationship with Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic up front. Jackson Yueill is another player who can earn his way into long-term contention, but it remains true that Michael Bradley is still the team’s best option at holding midfielder and requires minutes with the other consistent starters (although it would be interesting to see if the two can play together coherently). Reggie Cannon played well at right-back but incumbent DeAndre Yedlin deserves the chance to prove he’s still the correct choice after returning from a long injury layoff.

A view towards the future must be in the back of Berhalter’s mind, not just looking to achieve results but also achieve results with the right players. Meshing the correct squad now will unquestionably pay dividends down the road as the United States hopes to turn around recent negative results against teams like Mexico, Venezuela, Uruguay, Italy, and Colombia which fans aspire to be competitive against. With the start of World Cup qualification less than a calendar year away, the time is now to end the wild experimentation and begin dividing up the precious minutes between players who are considered legitimate possibilities for the potential 2022 squad.

18-year-old Alphonso Davies represents a youth movement with the Canadian national team that gives fans hope for the future (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Switching gears to Canada

Canada will no doubt present a tougher test than Cuba, but the United States will still be expected to emerge victorious, and anything less will represent yet another two steps back after one step forward.

The northern neighbors have high aspirations, hoping to challenge for World Cup qualification. Head coach John Herdman said in the run-up to Tuesday’s match that the United States may be a rival, but they’re also “standing in the way” of the ultimate goal, confident speech ahead of such a difficult test. LAFC midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye took it a step further, saying his play with the Canadian national team over the next few years “is going to help shape the foundation of how Canada is going to be in the next 10 years.”

Canada has a crop of young talent with Kaye joined by 18-year-old Bayern Munich winger Alphonso Davies and 19-year-old Gent youth product Jonathan David.

Still, they have not defeated the United States in their last 17 tries, dating back to 1985. Their last match was a measly 1-0 victory over the same Cuba squad that was obliterated by the US, forced to play 35 minutes a man down after Vancouver Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry was sent off. Canada still managed to hold a whopping 81% possession in that match, but worked just a single shot on target, which resulted in Davies’ 9th minute opener. They will need to be both more disciplined and more dangerous if they wish to pull off the upset in Toronto.

Projected lineup

— Steffan —

— Yedlin — Long — Ream — Lovitz —

— McKennie — Bradley — Roldan —

— Morris — Sargent — Pulisic —

Brad Guzan started the Cuba match in goal, but Zack Steffan is the true long-term option here and it would be natural to see him return to the lineup against the tougher opponent. Gregg Berhalter loves Aaron Long and his return could also be expected. As stated above, Bradley is a contentious selection among many fans but his presence calms the midfield, and he delivers a long ball forward like nobody else on the roster. The front three played exceptionally well against Cuba and it would be questionable to see anyone but those players start again with Jozy Altidore injured.

Prediction

The United States will no doubt face a tougher challenge, and the young attacking talent will test the in-flux back line. Yedlin at right-back will have the toughest test matching up with Davies defensively which could force him back more than Berhalter wants. It will be imperative for the midfield trio to establish control of the central areas and work forward from there. It can be expected that the United States will control the tempo, and if they stay calm, cool, and collected when Canada counters, they should come away with a nervy 2-1 victory.

Desperate Canada provides away challenge for USMNT

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Canada faces one of its most important matches in some time when it faces the United States men’s national team at BMO Field in Toronto on Tuesday.

The Canucks beat Cuba twice last month to start life in the CONCACAF Nations League, and can take both a physical and a spiritual step in its progression with a defeat of the U.S.

The U.S. is unbeaten against Canada in 16 matches dating back to 1985, and it’s been all wins in meaningful competitions for the Yanks.

[ REPORT: Man Utd agrees with Mandzukic ]

So that’s one hurdle for John Herdmann’s men, but the more meaningful, empirical stuff comes with the knowledge that a win would not only put Canada on the precipice of a berth in the CNL semifinals but also provide a significant boost in the race for the sixth spot in World Cup qualifying’s Hexagonal.

It’s one of the reasons Canada is spending its entire international break gearing up for the USMNT, playing just this match and not a proximal friendly.

ICYMI: CONCACAF will now determine its World Cup contestants a bit differently. Three of six sides from the Hex will head to the World Cup, while the fourth side will meet a seventh side, the champions of a second “lower” tournament, in a playoff.

Canada enters this month five points behind sixth place El Salvador, who beat Montserrat and next faces St. Lucia in what’s sure to be another win. But fifth place Honduras is also in play, as are Curacao and Panama. Haiti is on the outskirts but alive.

CONCACAF men’s world rankings via FIFA

12. Mexico (1603 points)
21. United States (1545)
43. Costa Rica (1442)
47. Jamaica (1435)
67. Honduras (1359)
72. El Salvador (1327)
——Hex cut-off———-
75. Canada (1322)
76. Curacao (1320)
77. Panama (1316)
86. Haiti (1277)
100. Trinidad and Tobago (1226)

Make no mistake: This Canada game looms large for both sides, as Gregg Berhalter’s resting of Zack Steffen, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, and even Aaron Long was probably meant to preserve them for Tuesday (The Cuba match was only Long’s second outside the XI in the Yanks’ last 10).

All four will play a big part in dealing with Canada’s massive attacking threat. While it’s natural for American fans to expect goals from their men in Toronto, it’s pretty likely that Canada is going to produce a lot of threats through whoever Herdman chooses for his front three (or four, or whatever).

Herdman has played a variation of a 4-3-3 in five of his last seven matches in charge of Canada, only going away from the formation against the two best sides he’s played: Mexico (5-4-1) and Haiti (4-5-1).

At home against the U.S., what will he choose?

The 4-3-3 does hold allure. We know Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Jonathan David (Gent) are going to start this match, but center forward Cyle Larin is not in the side despite red-hot form for Zulte Waregem in Belgium (on loan from Besitkas).

Puebla’s Lucas Cavallini would be the likely CF in such a 4-3-3, leaving Junior Hoilett to come off the bench. There’s an argument to be made that Canada’s out-and-out attackers are as dangerous as the U.S.

That’s why the play at the back is the difference between these sides. Herdman’s men have been sound against lesser CONCACAF sides but allowed three goals in the Mexico and Haiti tilts. Only one player, Steven Vitoria of Moreirense, plays at a higher level than MLS, while four players are regular contributors to their Major League Soccer clubs.

Samuel Piette (Montreal) and Scott Arfield (Rangers) are Canada’s big hopes in the midfield and will need to contend with not just the U.S. attack but Invigorated midfielders like Weston McKennie.

Berhalter’s Yanks are well-suited to deal with Canada, even 90-minutes north of the border, but the challenge will come from the desperate hosts and their electric attackers. How much of Berhalter’s plan is to build out from the back, and how ready is he to change tactics if the high press of Davies and David cause problems for Steffen and his backs?

The CNL may be a headache and a lesser competition, but the Yanks would love to hold Canada’s hopes to the sword with a decisive away win that puts the onus on the Canadians to attack next month in the United States. The second tiebreaker in classification is goal difference in group play, and the Americans’ plus-7 is level with Canada’s 6-0 and 1-0 defeats of Cuba.

Three things we learned from USMNT 7-0 Cuba

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They did what they had to do.

Full marks the United States men’s national team, who used a Friday visit from an undermanned and overwhelmed opponent to tune up for Tuesday’s big CONCACAF Nations League trip to Canada.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

Gregg Berhalter used the right mix of stars and reserves to keep his men reasonably fresh for the Canucks, getting a hat trick from Weston McKennie and three assists from Jordan Morris in a convincing win.

Berhalter’s plan followed against short-handed Cuba, stars get rest

Make no mistake about it: Christian Pulisic‘s place on the wing was meant to torture a Cuban side which had lost numerous players to defections over the last few months. Jordan Morris, Reggie Cannon, and the Yanks assortment of speedsters made sure the wide places were miserable places to operate.

The United States overran the Cubans on the flanks, scoring near identical goals in the first four minutes as Reggie Cannon sent Jordan Morris down the right for a cutback to Weston McKennie for the goal.

Morris soon joined the score sheet himself and forced Cuba into an own goal after McKennie’s back heel through ball.

Berhalter knew that McKennie, Jackson Yueill, and Cristian Roldan would supply enough industry and athleticism for the midfield to operate as three against a minnow like Cuba, and they delivered in spades (Roldan wasn’t terrific, but he ran his shorts off as designed).

And he got probable Tuesday starters McKennie and Morris out at halftime, Pulisic after the hour, and did not have to use Michael Bradley or DeAndre Yedlin. Pretty much perfect.

Yueill makes his case

Jackson Yueill has been ahead of his American MLS peers in passing, and took the opportunity presented to him by Cuba’s befuddled back line.

Yueill has been a regular fixture for San Jose but is just starting to get his chances under Berhalter, who has given Columbus protegee Trapp myriad chances to lay claim to the holding midfielder role which has long belonged to Michael Bradley.

It still does, for now, but Yueill has given Berhalter plenty to chew on. Now can he channel this performance against a non-existent Cuban midfield into consistent playmaking performances for his country, something he hasn’t done on a week-to-week basis in MLS?

In any event, his performance on Friday should finally relegate Wil Trapp behind him in the pecking order.

Weston runs wild

Given some freedom to attack in the midfield, Schalke mainstay Weston McKennie went absolutely nuts.

Yes, of course, consider the competition, but McKennie registered three goals and an assist in the first 13 minutes, and adding a scintillating assist on the own goal that made it 5-0.

After 45 minutes, Berhalter didn’t need to see any more.

“I took advantage of our style of play,” McKennie said on FS1 after the game. “One of my strengths is getting in the box and getting to the right place at the right time. … As a team we’ve been in camps pretty often and we’re getting familiar with each other. The whole team, the chemistry and connection on and off the field is unbelievable.”

McKennie has been solid for club and country the last two seasons, but saw a minor dip early in this season for Schalke (though that hasn’t stopped David Wagner from trotting him out regularly in the Bundesliga).

The offensive fireworks display will have been noticed here and abroad, and further laid clear that McKennie and still-injured Tyler Adams should be staples of the American midfield for the better part of the next decade.

I mean, look:

Americans Abroad: Pulisic assists, Yedlin starts in Newcastle win

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Christian Pulisic‘s struggles at Chelsea took a positive turn on Sunday, as the 21-year-old came off the bench and assisted Michy Batshuayi in the Blues’ 4-1 win over Southampton. The American’s 10-minute cameo were his first league minutes since August.

Elsewhere in England, DeAndre Yedlin returned to Newcastle’s starting lineup, following his lengthy injury. With Yedlin going all 90 minutes, the Magpies pulled off an upset victory over Manchester United. In Stoke, Cameron Carter-Vickers continues to be a fundamental piece for the struggling Potters. In similar fashion to Americans in England this week, however, there was a happy ending for Stoke City and Carter-Vickers, who earned their first victory of the season, edging Swansea City 2-1.

Here is a list of several other USMNT affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) abroad this weekend.

Premier League

Christian Pulisic, Chelsea – Pulisic started on the bench, but capitalized his brief cameo, recording his second assist of the season. Heading into the match Chelsea manager Frank Lampard warned the 21-year-old that hard, not his price tag, was going to turn his fortunes around. From what he showcased on Sunday, it seems like Pulisic listened paid close attention to his boss’ words.

DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle – It is safe to say Yedlin is finally up to speed, and Newcastle are reaping the benefits. On Sunday, Steve Bruce and company walked away from a passionate St. James’ Park with three points after getting past Manchester United. Yedlin started and played all 90 minutes in the Magpies 1-0 victory.

EFL Championship

Antonee Robinson, Wigan –  Robinson has been a fixture for the Lactics, and that didn’t change this weekend. The 22-year-old played all 90 minutes in Wigan’s 1-0 loss to Sheffield Wednesday. Still, a USMNT return doesn’t seem imminent.

Tim Ream, Fulham – The experienced defender started and played all 90 minutes in Fulham’s 2-2 draw with Charlton Athletic. 11 matches in, the Cottagers are seventh in the league.

Matt Miazga, Reading (loan from Chelsea) — Miazga is up and running again. The 24-year-old defender started and played 90 minutes in Reading’s 1-0 to Bristol City.

Eric Lichaj, Hull City — On Saturday, the Tigers suffered a 3-0 loss to Huddersfield Town. Things aren’t looking up for Lichaj and company, who despite the woes, continues to register minutes under his belt as a through-and-through starter.

Geoff Cameron, QPR — With Cameron as a starter and playing all game, QPR picked up a 4-2 win over Blackburn Rovers after a two-game losing streak.

Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (loan Tottenham Hotspur) — There’s no way around it: Stoke City are struggling. And despite the struggles, the 21-year-old is putting together a formidable season. Over the weekend, he recorded seven clearances and three blocked shots in Stoke’s 2-1 win over Swansea City – their first victory of the season.

Duane Holmes, Derby County — Holmes’ weekend could have been better. The 24-year-old came off the bench and only played six minutes in Derby’s 2-0 win over Luton Town.

Bundesliga

Weston McKennie, Schalke —  McKennie’s season at Schalke’s has been quiet, to say the very least. The USMNT midfielder has yet to record a goal or an assist this season, which didn’t change on Saturday after 45 minutes of playing time in Schalke’s 1-1 draw with Koln.

Zack Steffen and Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf — On Friday, Fortuna Dusseldorf fell to Hertha Berlin 3-1. Steffan was between the two sticks, and didn’t record no saves, while Morales returned from injury and played 19 minutes off the bench.

Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen  After recording an assist last time around, Sargent started and played 72 minutes in Werder Bremen’s 2-2 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt on Sunday.

Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig Adams is back and training with Leipzig, but his official return is yet to be determined.

Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach — Johnson missed his four straight match with back problems.

Timmy Chandler, Eintracht Frankfurt — Chandler dressed but remained on the bench in Eintracht Frankfurt’s draw.

Khiry Shelton, Paderborn – It was done in an unconventional fashion, but Shelton is the latest American in the Bundesliga. On Saturday, he came off the bench and played 26 minutes in Paderborn’s 2-1 loss to Mainz.

2.Bundesliga

Julian Green, Greuther Furth – Expected or not,Green is putting together a positive season in Germany’s second-flight. The 24-year-old started and played 79 minutes in in Greuther Furth’s 2-0 loss to Hamburg on Saturday.

Eredivisie

Sergino Dest, Ajax — Dest has yet to make up his mind on who he wants to represent at the national level, but that didn’t impede his productivity at the club level. The full-back started and played all 90 minutes in in Ajax’s 2-0 win over ADO Den Haag on Sunday.

Haji Wright, VVV-Venlo — VVV-Venlo fell to PSV 4-1, and Wright started and played 87 minutes, earning his fifth start of the year. The striker has yet to score a goal this season.

Desevio Payne, FC Emmen — Payne was left out of the squad for the tfourth straight week.

Ligue 1

Timothy Weah, Lille — Weah remains sidelined with a hamstring tear. There is no timeline on his return.

Theoson Jordan-Siebatcheu, Rennes — Siebatcheu is on the outside looking in at Rennes. On Sunday, the 23-year-old was left out of the French side’s 18.

Honorable Mentions:

William Yarborough, Club Leon – Back as Leon’s first-choice ‘keeper, Yarborough started, made three saves, and played 90 minutes in Club Leon’s 1-1 draw with Veracruz on Saturday.

Ventura Alvarado, Necaxa – Necaxa are atop of Liga MX after 13 games, and Alvaro has led the side as the captain. On Friday, he started and played 90 minutes in Necaxa’s 3-2 win over Morelia.

Longstaffs lead Newcastle past miserable Man Utd

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More than a few eyebrows were raised when Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce started both of his young Longstaffs against Manchester United at St. James’ Park on Sunday.

It’s fair to say they popped off the head when the younger one belted the Magpies out of the Bottom Three against the sunk standard Red Devils.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Matty Longstaff scored in the 72nd minute and older brother Sean combined to stifle a sloppy Manchester United midfield in a 1-0 win.

Manchester United has nine points, good for 12th, while Newcastle is up to eight points and 16th place.


Three things we learned

1. Man Utd woeful without Pogba, Martial: Most teams, to be fair, would look poor without two world class talents, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men look absolutely idea-free up front. Marcus Rashford did little to nothing on the day, and in his defense his physical gifts are left for nothing without decent service. The side heaps pressure on the still-young center forward when it only gives him a pressure-packed possibility or two per game.

Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United is full of industry, but the Magpies have been wide open for business in the middle of the park. The fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had no answers for the Longstaff brothers, making their 15th and 1st PL appearance, should be massively alarming. It’s a great story for Newcastle given the combined 40 years between the academy products, but the Red Devils didn’t even look like a well-drilled unit of superior talent against one of the worst-performing teams in the PL this season. Not legendary, Ole.

2. Speaking of the Longstaffs: Steve Bruce made a brave move in starting 19-year-old Matty Longstaff alongside his brother Sean, the former making his first PL start and the latter chased by Manchester United in the summer.

It’s absurdly early for this, but Newcastle fans will freely dream of a decade of two brothers bossing the center midfield for them at St. James’ Park. It’s a story best told by clubs like Newcastle, even if the beautiful goal was produced by Saint-Maximin and Jetro Willems.

3. Differing fortunes for MLS men Almiron, Yedlin: Newcastle’s former record signing was bright again, but showed his battered confidence with two very poor moments. First he got behind the defense but took two extra touches to turn a breakaway into a blocked shot. Then his long dribble saw him cut right outside the box only to earn a deserved yellow card for diving rather than staying onto the ball. His potential and the flashes mean Newcastle has to keep him out there to work through it, but the Paraguayan’s faith in his finishing is shot right now.

DeAndre Yedlin, however, was plenty lively in his first and long-awaited start of the Premier League season after delay after delay in recovery from injury. He helped produced a terrific chance for Carroll, regularly got behind the Red Devils’ back line, and made a great sliding intervention a yard outside the six with 20 minutes to play.

Man of the Match: Matty Longstaff — On emotion, and just ahead of the team’s most consistent weekly performer in Fabian Schar.


Allan Saint-Maximin‘s long dribble provided an early chance for Miguel Almiron, but a less-than-ideal first touch pushed the Paraguayan out of line from goal and produced a mere corner.

A live wire, Saint-Maximin danced through three defenders before dragging a 12th minute shot wide from great distance.

Daniel James won a rare chance for Manchester United, but Martin Dubravka came to claim the free kick from near corner kick distance.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Debutant teen Matty Longstaff swirled a 23-yard shot off the top of the cross bar in the 28th.

Almiron then beat the back line but took a couple of superfluous touches to allow the Red Devils time to block his shot inside the 18.

Harry Maguire flubbed a free header off a corner kick just before halftime. Would the Red Devils rue that?

Matty Longstaff and DeAndre Yedlin combined to cue up Andy Carroll for a header in the 65th, but the big man had to stoop and saw the ball spin over the cross bar.

The lead was rightly won by Saint-Maximin playing Willems into the 18, with the Dutch loanee cutting back for Matty Longstaff to rip low and hard past David De Gea.