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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.

Bayern’s Davies smashes lone goal as Canada bests Cuba again

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Alphonso Davies may just be getting a taste of success in the Bundesliga, but the Bayern Munich standout is already running roughshod over the minnows of CONCACAF.

[ MORE: USMNT match recapPlayer ratings ]

Canada sits safe of relegation in the CONCACAF Nations League after Davies hit a bullet inside the near post in a 1-0 win over Cuba on Tuesday in Havana.

His ninth minute goal power the Canucks to a 1-0 win which might’ve been more lopsided had Doneil Henry not been sent off in the 55th minute.

Davies, 18, didn’t score in Saturday’s leg north of the border, as Canada was led by a Junior Hoilett hat trick in a 6-0 thumping of Cuba. Jonathan Osorio had a goal and two assists in that one.

He now has four goals and eight assists in 15 caps, which is nice.

Elsewhere, 10-man Haiti drew Curacao 1-1. Curacao beat the Haitians 1-0 at home on Saturday.

Report: Work permit issues hold up potential Long transfer

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West Ham is looking to sign one of the top defenders in MLS to bolster its squad. Unfortunately for the Premier League club, work permit issues may scupper the transfer.

Sky Sports in England reported that West Ham’s inability to acquire a work permit for Aaron Long may slam the breaks on a potential transfer from the New York Red Bulls. Long reportedly has a $5 million release clause and Sky Sports claims Long also has interest from Marseille, Fiorentina, Rennes and Lyon.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Long’s career has been a long story of never giving up, and his career growth over the past few seasons has been very impressive. After barely playing for the Seattle Sounders in 2014 and then playing as a holding midfielder for the USL club, Sounders 2 in 2015, Long was moved back to centerback and excelled in 2016 with New York Red Bulls II. He led the side to the USL Cup title and was named defender of the year.

A year later, with the New York Red Bulls first team, he solidified and stepped right into the backline and is now the defending MLS Defender of the Year. His play in 2017 led to getting a couple of caps in 2018 for the U.S. Men’s National Team under coach Dave Sarachan, and he’s moved into a starting role under Gregg Berhalter, starting five of the six USMNT games at the 2019 Gold Cup this summer.

Unfortunately, UK work permit laws mean that Long – with the U.S. now in the top 30 – would have had to play at least 60 percent of all USMNT games over the past two years, and that just hasn’t happened. It’s a common issue over the past decade for USMNT players looking to move to England. Juan Agudelo never qualified for a work permit while at Stoke City in 2014, while Zack Steffen still hasn’t earned a work permit to stay with Manchester City.

It’s also not the first time West Ham has looked to MLS. Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi was once a target of the club, and it signed Doneil Henry for a two-year period, though the then-young Canadian made no appearances.

It’s a huge moment in Aaron Long’s career. At 26-years old, he’s at the prime of his career, though with less wear and tear on the body compared to many others. It would be the perfect time for him, personally, to make the move abroad and see if he can take his career to the next level.

And yet, MLS and the Red Bulls organization has been stingy so far accepting a transfer request, according to reports, and it may not matter anyway if Long isn’t able to get a work permit.

Marseille would be an interesting choice, since the club is owned by former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. But it’s looking more likely that Long will remain with the Red Bulls in the short term. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the USMNT, it does hurt his potential growth as a player, provided he could break into the Premier League starting lineup.

MLS Saturday wrap: Quakes keep firing; Toronto, SKC falter

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MLS doesn’t have too many days like Saturday, with four away teams collecting wins on a seven-match docket.

The surprise is lessened a bit by the identity of the losing hosts: struggling Vancouver, Colorado, and Sporting KC: Wow, that last one is taking some getting used to, isn’t it?).

[ MORE: Where will Bale go? ]

In a league where only two of 24 teams are above .500 on the road (DC United and LAFC), it’s still saying something about a hot weekend in these United States of America (and Canada).

Columbus Crew 2-1 Montreal Impact

The Crew’s early advantage looked like business as usual by halftime, as Caleb Porter’s struggling men conceded in stoppage time, but David Accam netted right after the break to give Columbus a much-needed three points.

Toronto FC 1-3 Houston Dynamo

TFC opened the door for New England or Orlando City to climb into the top seven by going into an early hole and failing to rally. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore came off the bench, the latter scoring, but the Reds did little on Alejandro Pozuelo’s day off and the Dynamo get a big road win to move without touching distance of a playoff position.

This is not adequate defense.

Philadelphia Union 2-0 Chicago Fire

Marco Fabian scored a beauty and Anthony Fontana also netted as the Union assured themselves another week atop the Eastern Conference. Chicago remains winless away from home.

Sporting KC 0-2 FC Dallas

What in the world is going on? SKC could not find the net with more than one of their 17 shot attempts, and fell five points back of a playoff spot. Worse, the hosts allowed sixth-place Dallas to move five points clear of them.

Colorado Rapids 1-2 New York City FC

It didn’t take long for youngster Sebastian Anderson to go from hero to goat, as the soon-to-be 17-year-old gave the Rapids a sixth minute lead before taking a red card 27 minutes later. Heber and Alexandru Mitrita scored late in each half to drive NYCFC’s dreams of the top spot in the East. The visitors are now seven points back of first, but have four matches-in-hand on Philadelphia.

Real Salt Lake 1-1 Minnesota United

Darwin Quintero and Marcelo Silva traded goals in a fair result.

Vancouver Whitecaps 1-3 San Jose Earthquakes

Make it three-straight wins for the Quakes, who rode Cali Clasico momentum and overcame an early Doneil Henry goal through Vako, Chris Wondolowski, and the in-form Magnus Eriksson.

Fire come back at home to secure draw with Whitecaps

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The Chicago Fire were on the verge of suffering an embarrassing defeat, but a video assistant referee decision and an expertly-taken penalty helped the Fire earn a point at home.

The Fire drew the Vancouver Whitecaps, 1-1, at SeatGeek Stadium on Friday evening. Yordy Reyna put the Whitecaps up from a very tight angle but Nemanja Nikolic tied the score, firing a strike into the roof of the net.

[READ: JPW’s Premier League Picks]

In the 53rd minute, Fire goalkeeper David Ousted chased down a cross, but quickly realized he was about to handle the ball outside of the 18-yard box. Instead of kicking the ball out of play, Ousted tried to punch it to a teammate. Instead, it fell right to Reyna, who side-footed it just inside the post.

In the 81st minute, former Toronto FC defender and Canadian National Team player Doneil Henry was judged to have handled the ball in the penalty box. A review with VAR led to the decision. Nikolic stepped up to the spot with his team needing a goal and he smashed a strike in for a goal.

In the game’s final minutes, CJ Sapong nearly scored on a scrum in the box, but Vancouver’s Max Crepeau made a game-saving stop at close range.