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Three players (and a tactic) under the microscope for USMNT

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It’s becoming pretty clear that what the public wants to see from the United States men’s national team is not necessarily in lockstep with what Gregg Berhalter wants to see from the squad (aside from obviously goals and wins, which have both been in short supply).

He made this pretty clear last month, for better or for worse, when he defended his side’s myriad errors in playing out of the back against Mexico. He’d made it clear over a longer period of time, too, with the continued call-ups for a certain subset of players who have been poor for club and/or country.

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That happens with a lot of managers, and we still love Berhalter’s ability to squeeze something good out of lesser materials as he did with the Columbus Crew. While we admit to not being particular high on the manager’s squad selection, he shouldn’t have problems over the course of the two month’s CONCACAF Nations League matches with Canada and Cuba.

If he does, well, we’re going to be having a different conversation. And to be frank, that didn’t seem like anything worth worrying about just a few short months ago. Berhalter had been overrun by Tata Martino and Mexico in the Gold Cup Final, but honestly did a decent job in marshaling his men toward a result (Jozy Altidore atypically missed a big chance to score on the night).

Everyone’s allowed to make mistakes, but last month’s remarkably poor performance against Mexico rolling into a match versus Uruguay’s B-Team which was rescued by an increasingly impressive winger named Jordan Morris (‘Member him?).

But Cuba and Canada present two very different challenges for the United States over the next eight days. Cuba is the type of side the U.S. should boss 95 percent of the time, with bad fortunate possibly contributing to the occasional draw.

The attackers are going to be under pressure to produce this month, due to the fact that they, well, won’t be likely to face

Cuba has only one player on its roster playing outside of the Caribbean and Central America, and that’s USL striker Luis Paradela (who just came to Reno with the notable status as the first Cuban to play in the U.S. without defecting).

Canada presents a big threat to the U.S. back line, but its defenders should not be a match for a Christian Pulisic-led attack.

This is a week for the attackers.

Disclaimer: You won’t see us putting Christian Pulisic on this list for numerous reasons despite his status as an on-again, off-again lineup member for Chelsea. There is no doubting his acumen as a USMNT player and little reason to expect he’ll be anything but fantastic against these CONCACAF foes. If for whatever reason he isn’t a freed being against Cuba, or is rested, the chance to out-duel fellow CONCACAF phenom Alphonso Davies would be something he’d embrace even if he was going 90 on a religious basis for Frank Lampard.

1. Josh Sargent — Jozy Altidore’s latest injury has expedited the need for another CONCACAF killer, perhaps a new one. With Timothy Weah also injured, Sargent is the one.

Make no mistake about it: These games are not even in the ball park of “make or break” for the 19-year-old, who has started Werder Bremen’s last three Bundesliga matches.  Bremen coach Florian Kohfeldt has opted for five different formations this season, deploying Sargent as a right wing four times and center forward twice.

But a strong showing or two could conceivably cement Sargent’s status as the top striker in the program.  Playing at a high level with Christian Pulisic amongst others would also help, because chemistry will be key in World Cup qualifying and Sargent can make a statement with his boss under pressure and both Altidore and Weah on the sidelines.

Sargent should have every opportunity to feature against Cuba and Canada, and we may see Berhalter put the teen in the lineup against Cuba on Friday and let his performance determine whether he keeps his place or sees Gyasi Zardes return to the fold against Canada.

2. Corey Baird — The Real Salt Lake man would be on the fringes of the national team picture under a lot of coaches, but Berhalter has liked what he’s seen from the 23-year-old. Baird started Berhalter’s first USMNT friendlies and is still in the fold. He’s come into club form heading into the last two international breaks, and is now called up for the fourth separate camp.

He’s gotta find a goal or standout cameo at the minimum, especially considering the players (Altidore, Weah) who will soon return to the fold. Baird has a goal and an assist from the left wing over his past two RSL matches as the club snapped out of its doldrums ahead of the playoffs.

3. Tyler Boyd — What a year it’s been for the one-time New Zealand striker, who took a loan to Turkey with both hands and earned a permanent transfer for a Champions League club and a new international registry.

Boyd is having fits and starts with Besiktas, and it’s fair to say that’s also been the case for the USMNT. He scored a pair of goals on his Gold Cup debut against Grenada, but was kept on the bench for the semifinals and final.

We’re not going to pretend that we see every Besiktas match, but the metrics for Boyd’s early performances have not been good. To be fair, no one had been playing that well for the 12th place side before they beat first place Alanyaspor at the weekend. The bad news is that Boyd was stapled to the bench, as he was three days prior when Besiktas lost to Wolves in the Europa League.

Like Christian Pulisic at Chelsea, this camp can be a welcome chance for Boyd to unleash his tools. Cuba is a bit easier to break down than Wolves or Trabzonspor.

BONUS. Playing out of the back — Gregg Berhalter bristled when asked about his side’s poor play against the Mexican press and his stubbornness in sticking with the attack all the way through a brutal loss to a rival.

If his men can’t do it against Cuba, forget about it.

This is going to be an under-the-radar test for Berhalter, who has continuously opted to use a mauler of a center back (Aaron Long) who is a heck of a tackler but lacking in the passing department. With Matt Miazga back in the fold and the chance to pair him with either Tim Ream or Miles Robinson, behind Michael Bradley, what will Berhalter choose and how well will it work?

2019 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

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With Decision Day in the rear view mirror, the 2019 MLS Cup playoffs bracket is all set.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Round 1 action starts on October 19-20, following the international break. Just days later, first seeds NYCFC and LAFC join the playoffs as the Conference Semifinals take place.

On October 29-30, the Conference Finals will be played, which will decide what two teams will feature in the 2019 MLS Cup final on November 10.

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full. Who will go the farthest?

After 20 years, GK Nick Rimando plans to step away from MLS

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The accolades and records that come with a 20-year career in Major League Soccer are nice, but what Nick Rimando holds most dear is the very fact that he made it as far as he did.

“I was that kid that had a lot of doubters. I was a kid that was the 5-10 goalkeeper that wasn’t supposed to be in Major League Soccer, but never gave up,” he said. “I was that kid, I didn’t give up. I fought for everything I have, I fought for every contract, I fought for my position on every team.”

Rimando announced at the start of the season that this would be his last in MLS. It is simply time for him to step away, heal his body and move on to the next phase, he said.

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But first he’s hoping for one more run in the playoffs.

The 40-year-old goalkeeper is playing out his final MLS season with Real Salt Lake, where he’s been since 2007. Currently fifth in the Western Conference standings, RSL plays its final regular-season match Sunday – a day the league calls Decision Day because it shapes the playoffs – against the Whitecaps.

Real Salt Lake clinched a spot in the postseason last weekend with a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo. Rimando made three saves in his final regular season match at Rio Tinto Stadium. Fans feted him with a special tifo in his honor.

“He’s a true warrior, a great professional, deserves everything he’s gotten,” interim head coach Freddy Juarez said. “It’s given the team an identity because of the style of play he has. It’s allowed Real Salt Lake, for the most part, to always be a possession-based team, because of Nick’s style of play. Everything he’s gotten, he deserves.”

Rimando’s MLS career started with the now-defunct Miami Fusion. He spent five seasons with D.C. United, winning an MLS Cup title with the team in 2004. He won another league championship with RSL in 2009.

Rimando holds league goalkeeper records with 513 appearances and more than 46,000 minutes played. He’s had 222 wins, 1,701 saves and 153 shutouts over the course of his career, also records.

“It’s very tough to be a player let alone a goalkeeper in this league. There’s only one spot per goalkeeper out of the 11. So I think the amount of games I’ve played, with the ability to stay healthy, stay consistent, go through numerous coaches and still be on the playing field, I think I like that mark the most,” he said.

Salt Lake has seen some upheaval this season. The team fired coach Mike Petke in August after he was suspended for three games and fined by MLS for offensive language and confrontational misconduct directed at officials following a Leagues Cup match. The team also suspended the coach and asked him to undergo anger management training before he was eventually let go.

RSL went 4-4-1 following Petke’s dismissal, securing its 10th playoff berth in the last 12 seasons. It is still possible that Rimando hasn’t seen the last of Rio Tinto this season.

“I think we have potential to do well in the playoffs,” he said. “My teammates know it’s my last year but I don’t want to play that extra bit for me. That’s why I’ve kind of held out with the interviews, I’ve kind of held out on making this last year about me. I wanted it to be about the team, I wanted it to be about our group and winning.”

Rimando is not the only high-profile player hanging up his cleats following this season. Fellow goalkeeper Tim Howard is also retiring after four years with the Colorado Rapids. DeMarcus Beasley, who has been with the Houston Dynamo since 2014, has also announced that this season will be his last.

Rimando doesn’t know what his next career move is. First, he’ll need surgery to address the toll the game has taken on his body. But he said it’s time for the next generation of goalkeepers to live their dreams.

“I played a long time, 20 years, and I was once that kid that wanted that opportunity, wanted that chance, and got it. At 40, I feel I’ve accomplished a lot of things in my career. I feel like I’ve experienced so many great things and I think this next generation deserves that as well,” he said.

Asked what he’s proudest of, Rimando’s thoughts immediately turn to his kids, Benny and Jett, who were fixtures at RSL matches and even flanked their father at his final regular-season pregame news conference and the postgame celebration of his career last weekend.

“I think my favorite part of MLS right now is watching my kids enjoy it,” he said. “Them looking at me the way they do after a game or before a game, when people come up to me during dinner, or whatnot, to see their faces, to see their smiles and see how proud they are of me, that’s got to be up there with my favorite part.”

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RSL clinches playoff spot, Western Conference picture still wide open

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Real Salt Lake was able to come away from Sunday’s carnage across the Western Conference playoff picture with a secured spot in the postseason, but a number of other clubs in the hunt weren’t so lucky.

Jefferson Savarino bagged a 75th minute winner to put RSL past Houston Dynamo 2-1, pushing them up to fifth in the Western Conference standings and securing a playoff position with 50 points, six above the cut line. The shot was a low drive from the edge of the box that caught Tyler Deric too close to his near post.

Not every team in the playoff hunt was so lucky. The Portland Timbers came from behind to draw Sporting Kansas City on the road 2-2, but it wasn’t enough to clinch, as they remain just two points above the cut line. The match featured three red cards, including the decisive moment in the 84th minute when Jeremy Ebobisse was tugged back by Ilie Sanchez while free on goal. It was a clear penalty and the referee sent off the Sporting KC defender for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity.

Dairon Asprilla stepped up and produced a blistering penalty into the top-right corner, earning Portland the draw. The lone point still leaves them vulnerable, however, and now they face a do-or-die meeting with San Jose next weekend.

Speaking of the Earthquakes, they were pegged back at the death, denied a chance to jump above the cut line as Jordan Morris scored at the death, using his blistering speed to beat Florian Jungwirth to a poor back-pass header by Magnus Eriksson. On the break he finished cooly past Daniel Vega to fire an arrow into the hearts of the Earthquakes. San Jose can still find its way into the playoffs, controlling its own destiny, but they must win next week against the Timbers

Finally, FC Dallas slumped to a rough 3-0 defeat at Colorado, leaving them vulnerable as well as the final playoff team in the current standings, holding just a point advantage over the Earthquakes. FC Dallas out-shot Colorado 17-14, but were comprehensively beaten 10-3 in shots on target as their finishing let them down. Jack Price scored 10 minutes in to put Colorado up, and goals from Diego Rubio and Kei Kamara finished it off. They have a home date with Sporting KC on the final day where a win would clinch a playoff spot.

Real Salt Lake part ways with GM Craig Waibel

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Real Salt Lake’s internal situation continues to worsen.

On Friday, the club announced it parted ways with general manager Craig Waibel. The decision comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed by former coach Mike Petke, which references a conversation in which Waibel was critical of RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen and admitted that he was resigning from the club at the end of the season.

“I would like to thank Dell Loy Hansen for the opportunities presented to me over the past six years,” Waibel said a statement released by the club. “During this time, I have experienced an incredible amount of personal and professional growth and I am proud of the work we have accomplished. While I am stepping away to take some time to evaluate the next step in my career, I want to wish Dell Loy, the locker room, and most importantly, the fans nothing but the best in their pursuit of the 2019 MLS Cup.”

This week, Petke and his attorneys filed a complaint to a Salt Lake County district court indicating that the MLS team breached the 43-year-old’s contract when he was fired in August days after shouting a homophobic slur in Spanish at a Panamanian official in Leagues Cup play. Within the lawsuit, a conversation Petke, Waibel and Rob Zarkos, executive vice president of soccer operations, was revealed.

Waibel is quoted telling Petke: “Thank you, I am exhausted, confused, emotionally spent, and disappointed that this is the only thing that makes sense. I have always known where the issues in this organization are born … and I have never once believe[d] that anything last year was created by you or I as individuals. This is [the toughest] work environment in Major League Soccer without a doubt.”

In the conversation, per the lawsuit, Petke and Waibel are described to have exchanged text messages regarding whether or not the former coach would resign and take the $75,000 in severance pay, or to deny the option and be fined. When Petke asked if him calling Hansen, who was filmed saying he was considering firing Petke before the official announcement, would make a difference, Waibel responded: “He [Hansen] won’t pick up. Refuses to be the bad guy.”

On the same statement released by the team on Friday, Hansen thanked Waibel for his contributions to the organization.

“I appreciate Craig coming to Real Salt Lake for the 2014 season as part of the coaching staff,” Hansen said in a statement. “Craig oversaw the organization’s integration of the Real Monarchs, Utah Royals FC in the National Women’s Soccer League, and the relocation and expansion of the Real Salt Lake Academy, which now trains and plays at the Zions Bank Training Center in Herriman, Utah.  Craig has been instrumental in the Club’s rapid growth and I wish him success in the future.”

Longtime club employee and assistant GM Elliot Fall was named interim GM, while the club “Immediately” searches for a replacement. Zarkos, despite being mentioned in the lawsuit, will remain in his position.
With 47 points and two games left in the regular season, Real Salt Lake are a win away from clinching playoffs.