Michael Hector

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Three things learned from USMNT’s win vs. Jamaica

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Compared with four weeks ago, when a reserve-laden U.S. Men’s National Team squad was squarely defeated by Jamaica, Wednesday night’s performance was clearly an improvement.

So what were the biggest takeaways from the USMNT’s 3-1 win over Jamaica? Let’s discuss below.

[READ, WATCH: Pulisic, McKennie lead USMNT over Jamaica to final]

McKennie can play provider too

Last Sunday, it was Christian Pulisic connecting with Weston McKennie for a goal in the USMNT’s 1-0 win over Curacao. On Wednesday, McKennie was the playmaker in the middle of the park, picking out Jordan Morris, which led to a goal, and Gyasi Zardes, which arguably should have been a goal.

Combined with his goal, a classic late run into the box, it’s clear that McKennie is in his comfort zone as an eight playing just in front of Michael Bradley, and with a player like Pulisic in front of him. With Jamaica man-marking Pulisic across the field, when Pulisic floated out of the middle, that left McKennie with acres of spaces to dribble or pick out a pass to a teammate.

The more the USMNT can repeat this formula, the better.

Altidore has to start v. Mexico

Yes, Gyasi Zardes has history with Berhalter and he’s done plenty defensively in matches to help the U.S. However, based on what we’ve seen over the past 5 games, plus the two friendlies prior to the Gold Cup, there’s just no reason Zardes should start the final.

You may not love Altidore for Couva or other struggles over his career, but when he’s fit, he’s just simply a better player. His move to shield off Michael Hector allowed McKennie to even receive the ball for the first goal. It’s likely that Altidore was trying to control the ball in the box and just missed it, but even if he had, he would have had a second on the ball after shielding off Hector and creating some space for himself.

There’s just no way that Zardes would have done that, and Zardes’ egregious miss when 1-on-1 with the goalkeeper should keep him as a sub for the final.

The USMNT continues to learn Berhalter’s system and style of play

More than the result, which doesn’t really matter in the bigger picture of the goal of making the next World Cup, Wednesday’s performance may mark a turning point when many of the top 18 (healthy) players started to understand exactly what Berhalter wants from them, and how to trust each other as teammates.

Players looked more comfortable and executed their roles without too much forced passes or thinking of where they should be.

Berhalter’s high pressure, and the fact that he likes the right back to move forward into midfield were all on display as the USMNT has been now adequately trained on how to respond in many situations. It remains to be seen how the U.S. will play against real stress, like in the Gold Cup final on Sunday.

McKennie, Pulisic lead USMNT over Jamaica to Gold Cup final (video)

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It hasn’t always been pretty, but for the second-straight time, the U.S. Men’s National Team will be playing for a continental title.

Christian Pulisic scored a brace and Weston McKennie had a goal and an assist as the USMNT defeated Jamaica, 3-1, Wednesday evening in Nashville to advance to the 2019 Gold Cup final. The U.S. will face Mexico in the Gold Cup final on Sunday evening in Chicago.

[READ: All the latest USMNT News and Notes]

The semifinal, which started at 8:30 p.m. locally, didn’t finish until around midnight, local time, after the game was delayed for 90 minutes after 17 minutes of action due to severe weather in the area. The game resumed at around 10:20 p.m. local time and continued, despite lightning strikes continuing in the central Tennessee region.

Whether due to the uneven performance against Curacao or the fact that his main starting XI was about to play its third game in a week, Berhalter opted to make a few changes, and two of the changes, Jozy Altidore and Reggie Cannon, played instrumental roles in the opening goal.

Both Jamaica and the U.S. looked lively to start the match, but it was the USMNT which would hit first in the ninth minute. Michael Bradley spotted Cannon making a run down right wing and drilled a 40-yard pass on the money to Cannon in stride. Cannon one-touch crossed it into the box, which seemed to take Jamaica by surprise. Altidore held off Michael Hector, which allowed McKennie to ghost into the box, take a touch to control and fire past star Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake.

The match really lacked a rhythm after the long delay and it took until the next halftime break for both teams to begin to look their normal selves.

It only took until the 52nd minute for the USMNT to double the lead. The American attackers, which floated across the front three and caused a lot of problems for the Jamaican defense, opened space that Jordan Morris took advantage of. Right in the midfield circle, McKennie saw Morris open and played a ball down the middle but to Morris’ right. Morris dribbled to his right and fired a shot across his body towards the far post. Blake parried it away, but it went right into the path of Pulisic, who couldn’t miss from five yards out.

Berhalter brought in Gyasi Zardes for Altidore in the 55th minute, and McKennie again played a perfect pass to Zardes a few minutes later to put the Columbus Crew striker through on goal. Instead, Zardes somehow missed. In the 69th minute, the oft-criticized USMNT striker played a role in Jamaica cutting the deficit to one. Zardes turned the ball over in his own half and after the ball made its way to Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey, Bailey delivered a great cross that Shamar Nicholson headed home to make it 2-1.

Despite some nervy moments late and both teams fatigued in the heat on a long night, Pulisic put away a second rebound, this time off a strike from Arriola that was blocked before the boy wonder scored his 13th international goal.

The U.S. wasn’t always the best, but it was clearly a better performance for Berhalter’s side. McKennie and Bradley were outstanding together in midfield while Cannon impressed down the right side, essentially allowing Jordan Morris to move up alongside Zardes and Altidore (while he was in) as a second striker. Pulisic was much better in a floating role, where he could get the ball out wide and take on defenders to create goal-scoring opportunities.

Mexico started the Gold Cup strong and has kind of faded over the tournament, while the U.S. has grown into it game after game. We’ll see which USMNT squad makes it on the field against Mexico, but at this point, another title is in both team’s reach.

Dallas products Cannon, McKennie combine for USMNT opener

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Two players who came up together in Dallas-area youth soccer combined to score the U.S. Men’s National Team’s opener against Jamaica.

After a long-ball down the right wing to the sprinting Reggie Cannon, the FC Dallas right back played a one-time cross into the box. Jozy Altidore held off his defender, Michael Hector and the ball continued towards the late run of Weston McKennie. The Dallas native took one touch to control and another touch to fire past Andre Blake to put the U.S. ahead, 1-0, in the ninth minute.

[FOLLOW: USMNT v. Jamaica]

The Gold Cup semifinal match is currently under a severe weather delay as of the 17th minute of the match. Follow along with the match at the link above.

USMNT set for Gold Cup warmup against Jamaica

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After the Baby Yanks secured a defining comeback victory over U-20 World Cup tournament favorites France, it’s not the senior team’s turn to take the field, albeit with significantly less at stake.

The USMNT faces off against Jamaica on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET in a pre-Gold Cup friendly that will feature a majority of the Gold Cup squad but not the entirety. Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams are not currently with the team, although Gregg Berhalter confirmed in his press conference Tuesday afternoon that Pulisic will join the group on Thursday, while Adams will take part starting one week from today.

[ MORE: US U-20 side tops World Cup favs France 3-2 ]

Otherwise, the 28-man squad will get a chance to show Berhalter why they should take part in the summer CONCACAF tournament, with Berhalter required to trim the squad to 23 by midnight after the game. With Pulisic and Adams joining late, that means Berhalter will have to make a total of seven cuts from the current group, and the team will then get one more friendly against Venezuela before the Gold Cup begins.

Projected USMNT lineup

— Steffen —

— Lima — Gonzalez — Miazga — Lovitz

McKennie — Bradley — Roldan

Zardes — Altidore — Arriola

The friendly will be most important for Berhalter’s defense as he looks for his best center-back pairing and full-back combination moving into the Gold Cup. The new USMNT head coach has spent the better part of his tenure to this point experimenting with the roster, but now is the time to get the back line minutes together. The absence of injured defensive duo John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin will be felt, and Berhalter must determine how to fill the holes. Most likely, new Toronto FC central defender Omar Gonzalez will pair with Matt Miazga in the middle, with Nick Lima on one side and either Tim Ream or Daniel Lovitz on the other.

In the midfield, with Adams yet to join the squad, Christian Roldan could see time in the middle alongside regular starters Weston McKennie and Michael Bradley, while Wil Trapp could see time as well. Berhalter has experimented with Djordje Mihailovic in the middle of late, but the 20-year-old is still raw and his club performances with the Chicago Fire have been spotty recently. Duane Holmes could get a look off the bench as well with Berhalter looking to decide if he merits a Gold Cup place.

If Berhalter looks to play a midfield diamond with Roldan at the top, he could pair Gyasi Zardes and Jozy Altidore in the striker role, with Josh Sargent and Jordan Morris waiting in the wings. More likely, Berhalter will stick with his favored 4-3-3, although the roster lacks wide attacking players with just Zardes, Paul Arriola, Tyler Boyd, and Paul Arriola serving in that capacity. That would see Altidore playing point of attack with support from Zardes and Arriola.

The squad will take on Jamaica who has reached the Gold Cup final in each of the last two editions of the tournament. Andre Blake is the most recognizable name manning the net, while MLS fans will recognize Darren Mattocks and Kemar Lawrence down the left flank as well. Bayer Leverkusen youngster Leon Bailey mans the midfield after a fantastic club season that saw him score five Bundesliga goals in 29 appearances, and he could pair with fellow 21-year-old Peter-Lee Vassell in the middle  who already owns 10 international caps and five goals at his young age.

United States roster

GK: Sean Johnson (NYCFC), Tyler Miller (LAFC); Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew/Manchester City)

DEF: Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham), Omar Gonzalez (Atlas), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes) Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Tim Ream (Fulham), Antonee Robinson (Everton), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC).

MID: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes).

FWD: Jonathan Amon (Nordsjaelland), Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Tyler Boyd (Vitoria Guimares), Joe Gyau, (Duisburg), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew).

Jamaica roster

GK: Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), Amal Knight (UWI), Dwayne Miller (Syrianska)

DEF: Shaun Francis (Louisville City FC), Michael Hector (Sheffield Wednesday), Kevon Lambert (Phoenix Rising), Kemar Lawrence (New York Red Bulls), Damion Lowe (IK Start), Alvas Powell (FC Cincinnati), Jamoi Topey (Bethlehem Steel)

MID: Leon Bailey (Bayer Leverkusen), Andre Lewis (Portmore United),Tyreek Magee (Harbor View), Alex Marshall (Cavalier SC), Ricardo Morris (Portmore United), Peter-Lee Vassel (LAFC), Devon Williams (Louisville City FC), Je-Vaughn Watson (OKC Energy FC)

FWD: Brian Brown (FC Reno), Maalique Foster (Rio Grande Valley Toros FC), Darren Mattocks (FC Cincinnati), Shamar Nicholson (Domzale), Dever Orgill (Ankaragucu).

Mourinho says decision to sell Salah at Chelsea wasn’t his

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Jose Mourinho has shed some light on the sale of Mohamed Salah at Chelsea back in 2016, a move which has been heavily criticized as the Egyptian’s stunning season continues to shatter records.

However, instead of giving fans answers, he’s only muddied the waters further.

Mourinho told ESPN that he should be praised for discovering Salah while he played for Swiss side Basel. “People say that I was the one that sold Salah and it is the opposite. I bought Salah. I was the one that told Chelsea to buy Salah. It was with me in charge that Salah came to Chelsea. But he came as a young kid, physically he was not ready, mentally he was not ready, socially and culturally he was lost and everything was tough for him.”

Mourinho continued, saying that while he was influential in convincing the club to make the purchase, he had nothing to do with Salah’s eventual departure. “We decided to put him on loan and he asked for that as well. He wanted to play more minutes, to mature, he wanted to go and we sent him on loan to Fiorentina, and at Fiorentina he started to mature. And when they say that I was the one that sold him it is a lie. I bought him. I agreed to send him on loan, I thought it was necessary, I thought that Chelsea had wingers.”

“So the decision to send him on loan was a decision we made collectively, but after that, the decision to sell him and to use that money to buy another player wasn’t mine. But even if it was, in football we make mistakes a lot of times, so many times some players develop in way we were not expecting, some other don’t reach another level like we thought they would, so I don’t even think this is a mistake, it is just part of the job. But effectively I did buy Salah, I didn’t sell Salah.”

If this sounds a lot like Mourinho making up stories to deflect criticism…where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Back in 2015, Mourinho was asked about Salah’s status at the club. He told Sky Sports that the Egyptian was surplus to requirements, and that the decision had been made to offload him for good.

“I see his future elsewhere,” Mourinho told Sky Sports in July of 2015 while in his second stint as manager of Chelsea. “Either on loan or sold with an offer we are happy to accept. We have five wingers and it is better not to have Salah back.”

Continuing to pile on, Mourinho added in that same interview that he was hoping to spend the money from a sale on a defender. “I am looking for a defender to finish this balance in our squad and after that we are ready to answer anything that can happen to our players,” he said.

Sure enough, on June 30th, Chelsea loaned Mohamed Salah to Fiorentina, and turned around to purchase young defenders Michael Hector and Matt Miazga, both of whom are still with the club but have been sent out on loan a significant number of times. Then, the following summer, the Blues sold Salah to Roma permanently – albeit after Mourinho had left the club – and used that money to help bring David Luiz from PSG back to Stamford Bridge.

So do we believe 2015 Mourinho who insisted publicly that Salah’s future was not at Chelsea? Or do we believe 2018 Mourinho who insists it wasn’t his decision to make the sale? That’s for the you to decide.