C.J. Sapong

AP Photo/Pedro Rocha

USMNT player ratings: Youth drives the bus

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Player ratings from the U.S. national team’s exhibition clash with Portugal, the reigning European champions, and the first game of a very long four years as the USMNT rebuilds from the ground up with two eyes toward the 2022 World Cup…

[ VIDEO: McKennie scores on his USMNT debut… and a Horvath howler ]

GK — Ethan Horvath: 3 — Hit the above link to see Horvath’s calamitous howler. That ain’t a great way to begin your bid to take over the no. 1 shirt from Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Subbed off at halftime, which was the plan before kickoff, hopefully Hovath’s confidence isn’t too badly damaged without the chance to redeem himself immediately.

RB — DeAndre Yedlin: 6 — The best thing that can be said of Yedlin is this: you know what you’re going to get from him every time he steps on the field these days, and that’s something you couldn’t always say of the 24-year-old. He’s a constant presence and performer, and should have the right back spot locked down for much of the next two World Cup cycles.

CB — Matt Miazga: 6.5 — The best part of Miazga’s game is how quickly he reads, and reacts to, dangerous situations. There’s no one in the player pool who defends on the front foot as much as Miazga. As such, he’ll always require a partner who’s a brilliant emergency defender, which is hardly the strength of John Brooks, given his size and lack of recovery speed.

CB — John Brooks: 6.5 — Seeing Brooks on the field after three months out with a thigh injury only served as a reminder that his presence might have made a massive difference last month — not that they shouldn’t have been able to qualify without him, mind you. According to recently departed head coach Bruce Arena, Brooks and Miazga could have very well been the starting duo in Russia; with any luck, the same will be true of Qatar in four years’ time.

LB — Eric Lichaj: 5.5 — While Lichaj is somehow, against all odds, still only 28 years old, he’ll be 32 years old when the next World Cup begins. If he’s called into the next two or three USMNT camps, we’ll take serious the possibility he’s an option in the medium- to short-term. Until then, he’s starting at left back simply because someone has to.

[ RECAP: USMNT draw Portugal in first game of 2022 WC cycle ]

CM — Danny Williams: 7 — With the leash cut all the way off of Weston McKennie and Kellyn Acosta ahead of him, Williams had but one job against Portugal: protect the backline when the youngsters’ press is broken. It happened on a few occasions, and Williams put out the majority of those fires. It’s a trio that lacks a true playmaker — the sexy factor, if you will — but proved highly functional for the 84 minutes they shared the field.

RM — Tyler Adams: 6 — Adams, uh, struggled in the first half (see passing chart, at right — that’s a whole lot of red arrows). He started the second half of his USMNT debut much brighter, though, as he got on the end of Danny Williams’ cross to the back post and forced Beto to make a spectacular, sprawling save. Adams is still a player with a “permanent position,” thus an important period of his development lies directly ahead. In 2017, we saw him play at least one game at all three levels wide on the right, in central midfield, and the based of the midfield.

CM — Weston McKennie: 8 — The 19-year-old Schalke midfielder 1) scored a goal on his debut; 2) smashed the crossbar with a header from close range; and, most importantly, 3) provided a bit of renewed excitement around the USMNT. McKennie and Acosta proved a formidable central midfield pairing, capable of pressing high up the field and pushing the tempo. Where they struggled, however, was in unlocking further advanced attackers into the final third. That will, in theory, come with time and repetition — two things the USMNT has in abundance over the next 18-30 months.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 6.5 — Acosta and McKennie had very similar games to one another, with the obvious exception of McKennie’s goal and near-goal. Given that Acosta is three years McKennie’s senior, you’d have hoped to see a bit more connectivity from his side of the field. Alas, no such luck in this one.

LM — Juan Agudelo: 5.5 — The good: in his 59 minutes on the field, Agudelo misplaces just three passes. The bad: not a single one of his 15 completed passes was played in the forward direction (in fact, not a single one of his 18 attempted passes was played forward). He’s already a tough fit on the wing further forward; playing the 24-year-old (yes, really) even deeper seems an impossible exercise to assess.

[ MORE: Brooks-Miazga the center-back partnership of the future ]

FW — C.J. Sapong: 5.5 — With the midfield set up to create turnovers and chances on the counter, Sapong’s physical presence and accompanying hold-up play was hardly a perfect fit, but he made the most of his very limited opportunities.

Sub — Bill Hamid: 6 — Only forced to make two saves — both routine — in his 45 minutes on the field, Hamid managed to avoid hurting his stock.

Sub — Cameron Carter-Vickers: 5 — While Miazga’s strength is the speed with which he reads the game, the polar opposite must be said for Carter-Vickers, thus he’s not terribly suited to play alongside Miazga. Hopefully this isn’t the last time we see them play together.

MLS Snapshot: Union thump Revs to inch toward playoff places

Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): Raise your hand if you’ve figured out the Philadelphia Union. There shouldn’t be a single hand in the air, because…

Saturday’s 3-0 victory over the New England Revolution was the sixth of the season for Jim Curtin’s side, a result which pushes Philly past the Revolution and Montreal Impact, into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, just three points back of Columbus Crew SC for the sixth and final playoff place. Both sides were without key players (Alejandro Bedoya for Philly; Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez for the Revs), and the home side coped in far better fashion. C.J. Sapong opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the 4th minute, Ilsinho doubled the lead three minutes into the second half, and Roland Alberg put the game to bed with his first touch of the game, in the 78th minute.

[ MORE: Dwyer, Acosta power USMNT to win over Ghana | Three things ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Sapong converts from the spot for 1-0 — Sapong won the penalty, Sapong scored the penalty.

48′ — Ilsinho smashes it first time for 2-0 — Fafa Picault flicked the ball into Ilsinho’s path, and the Brazilian laced it past Cody Cropper to double the Union’s lead.

78′ — Alberg’s first touch is a 30-yard bomb — Alberg, after subbing on seconds earlier, had only just reached the final third when the ball rolled across his body 30 yards from goal. No mistake about this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Giliano Wijnaldum

Goalscorers: Sapong (4′), Ilsinho (48′), Alberg (78′)

MLS roundup: FC Dallas still unbeaten; Dynamo destroy Orlando

Photo credit: Houston Dynamo / Twitter: @HoustonDynamo
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With nine MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 25 more to go…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Real Salt Lake 0-3 FC Dallas

Eight games into the 2017 season, Dallas are the last remaining unbeaten team (five wins, three draws) in MLS and continue to look like runaway favorites in any “best team in the league” discussion.

On Saturday, Oscar Pareja’s side went for a comfortable stroll in the park and notched a completely unspectacular 3-0 victory over RSL. Things couldn’t have started any better for the visitors, as they were awarded a (highly questionable) penalty in the 3rd minute, which Maximiliano Urruti converted, and that was basically ballgame. Matt Hedges made it 2-0 not long after the hour mark, just for formality’s sake, and Urruti completed his brace a minute into second-half stoppage time.

The firing of Jeff Cassar, and subsequent hiring of Mike Petke, has done very little to fix a number of glaring problems which have plagued RSL since their 2016 season started coming unglued last April. A complete teardown and rebuild seem a foregone conclusion this summer/next winter. If Petke’s the right man for the job — and there’s nothing to suggest otherwise — the RSL hierarchy (and fans) are going to have to be mighty patient, as there’s only a handful of salvageable pieces currently on the roster.


Philadelphia Union 3-0 New York Red Bulls

After 15 regular-season games without a win, going all the way back Aug. 27, 2016, Union fans can call themselves winners once again, thanks to C.J. Sapong’s first career hat trick and a second straight clean sheet by Andre Blake.

Blake made a pair of stellar saves either side of halftime to keep New York off the board, setting the stage for an 11-minute explosion of goals (from minutes 74 to 85) from Sapong, who moved level with Erick “Cubo” Torres in the race for the 2017 Golden Boot (7 goals). Sapong has never reached the double-digit goals benchmark (he has hit 9 twice in his first six seasons as a pro).


Houston Dynamo 4-0 Orlando City SC

Here’s something I said on Twitter following Houston’s third (of four) goal against Orlando on Saturday: “Dynamo are terrifying in the first three or four seconds after winning the ball. Don’t find yourself one-on-one against them in open space.” Orlando head coach Jason Kreis, nor any of his players on the field, listened. It was, of course, already too late to make much difference, but it happened again fewer than 10 minutes later.


LA Galaxy 2-2 Chicago Fire

Fact: LA’s midfield is a gigantic problem.

Theory: Jermaine Jones is a big part of that problem

Recent evidence: During the 42 minutes he was on the field against Chicago on Saturday (he went off injured), LA were soundly beaten, 2-0 (Jelle Van Damme’s 30-minute shift is an additional variable which cannot be isolated at this time), and seemed headed for a thorough beating. In the 48 minutes that followed, LA found their footing, looked the better of the two sides, and rescued a point from an otherwise disastrous evening.

Clearly, soccer is far more complicated than simple plus-minus totals, but the eye test also supports the above evidence. Those opening 30 minutes saw Chicago go 1-0 ahead in the 13th minute (David Accam, from the penalty spot) and 2-0 up just three minutes later (Nemanja Nikolic, courtesy of Accam). LA weren’t just bad; they were atrocious.

Still unable to create much of anything through open play, LA made the most of set pieces and willed themselves back to life.


Columbus Crew SC 2-0 New England Revolution

Ola Kamara is quickly becoming is already a star in MLS, as the Norwegian striker continues to shred defenses and add to his impressive haul of goals barely a full 34 games into his MLS career. Through 35 regular-season games played, the 27-year-old has 22 goals to his name after bagging the winning goal against New England on Saturday.

Kamara also notched an assist (his third since arriving in MLS last year) on Columbus’s second goal, scored by Federico Higuain. With the victory, Columbus are up to third in the Eastern Conference, just three points back of red-hot Toronto FC.


San Jose Earthquakes 3-0 Portland Timbers

This week in MLS Results That Make Absolutely No Sense, But Hey, That’s MLS


D.C. United 0-1 Montreal Impact

In a league with so many exciting, entertaining, enjoyable teams to watch, Ben Olsen’s D.C. United remains the hardest of hard passes on MLS Live.

Elsewhere in MLS

Seattle Sounders 0-1 Toronto FC — RECAP & HIGHLIGHTS

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Chicago on Fire; TFC lose Giovinco to injury

Photo credit: MLS / Twitter: @MLS
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The second MLS Saturday of 2017 is just about about halfway complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Chicago Fire 2-0 Real Salt Lake

Two weeks into an MLS season is absolutely too early to make bold predictions based off of 180 minutes of soccer, but since I said it before the season started, I’m going to ride this pony until it keels over: Chicago’s going to the playoffs. Last week, they came from behind to rescue a point on the road against Columbus Crew SC. On Saturday, the blitzed RSL in the opening 15 minutes, took care of business defensively, saw out a mostly comfortable 2-0 win in their 2017 home opener.

Nemanja Nikolic bagged his first MLS goal to opening the scoring, only 11 minutes on the clock, and Arturo Alvarez made it 2-0 barely four minutes later.

The final score would have been extremely lopsided if not for the (typical) heroics of Nick Rimando. With four points from their first two games of the season, Veljko Paunovic’s side has already matched its haul from the first month of 2016 (four games).

Philadelphia Union 2-2 Toronto FC

Philadelphia and Toronto drew 2-2 but — who are we kidding? — the real story here is the health and well-being of Sebastian Giovinco. The tiny Italian was subbed off in the 45th minute, after Oguchi Onyewu destroyed the 2015 MLS MVP in a collision of knees at midfield. The official diagnosis from TFC was a “leg contusion.”

As for the other 89 minutes, 55 seconds: Jozy Altidore is off the mark for 2017, converting a penalty kick moments after Giovinco left the field after Jay Simpson scored his first MLS goal to put Philadelphia ahead in the 11th minute. TFC took the lead — ever so briefly as it was — in the 71st minute, as Justin Morrow fired past Andre Blake. Two minutes later, C.J. Sapong rounded Clint Irwin and made it 2-2, which is how the game would end.

New York Red Bulls 1-0 Colorado Rapids

Tim Howard played out-of-his-mind amazing on his 2017 debut (WATCH HERE), but Colorado were ultimately undone by an own goal, scored by Eric Miller, in the 45th minute. On the plus side, Colorado haven’t conceded a goal scored by their opponents through two games. They’re equally stingy, and annoying to watch and play against, this year as they were in 2016, which is to say, they’ll be involved in lots of 1-0 games these next eight months. Through two games: a 1-0 win, and a 1-0 loss.

MLS Snapshot: New England Revolution 0-4 Philadelphia Union (video)

Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): There isn’t a more dysfunctional team in MLS right than the New England Revolution, who have now given up 11 goals in their last three games. Why are the Revs so bad defensively? Well, it could have something to do with the fact they’ve got one center back on their entire roster. The month is August, the season started in March. The latest side to run up the score on Jay Heaps’ bunch was the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. Alejandro Bedoya made his MLS debut after signing with the Union at the transfer deadline and went 72 minutes before being subbed out with the Union 3-0 up. The victory puts the Union (34 points) fourth in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of the Montreal Impact, who lost on Saturday, and just two points back of the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC for second and third, respectively. The Revs, somehow, still hold a playoff spot, sixth in the East having played two more games than Orlando City SC with whom they are tied on points.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered 

2′ — Sapong’s glancing finish makes it 1-0 very early — Unsolicited advice for the Revs defenders who quit on the play without a whistle being blow: Don’t.

51′ — Pontius gifted a goal for 2-0 — Reminder: the Revs are two-thirds of the way through an entire season with one center back on their entire roster. It’s going exactly how you’d expect it to go.

54′ — Marquez heads home from a corner for 3-0 — Have you heard the Revs only have one center back on their entire roster? What a joke.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Chris Pontius

Goalscorers: Sapong (2′), Pontius (51′), Marquez (54′), Alberg (90+3′)