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Mancini might hand debut to Italy’s “next Pirlo” vs. USMNT

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GENK, Belgium (AP) Italian teenager Sandro Tonali could become the first player born in the millennium to play for the Azzurri on Tuesday in a friendly against the United States.

[ PREVIEW: USMNT face Italy in 2018 finale | Should Pulisic move to PL? ]

The hype around Tonal has labeled the 18-year-old midfielder the next Andrea Pirlo.

Tonali has never played in the Italian top flight, and made his professional debut only 14 months ago for Serie B side Brescia, but has impressed sufficiently to be summoned by the national side.

He didn’t feature on Saturday in the 0-0 draw against Portugal in the UEFA Nations League but he and other young players will likely get their chance against the U.S.

“We’re here to look at players like Tonali,” Italy coach Roberto Mancini said on Monday. “And I’m curious to see them, too.

“If the players from Saturday have recovered and are well they’ll play. But then of course there will be space for others since it’s a test. We’re curious to see Tonali at work, as well as the other youngsters.”

Five of the players who started at San Siro on Saturday are unavailable: Giorgio Chiellini, Alessandro Florenzi, Lorenzo Inisgne, Ciro Immobile and Jorginho have been allowed to return to their clubs, as well as Lorenzo Pellegrini.

[ UEFA Nations League: Germany end year with late collapse, relegation ]

Sassuolo midfielder Stefano Sensi and Hoffenheim forward Vincenzo Grifo could also be in line for their debuts.

Mancini will be hoping whoever he picks will find the back of the net against the U.S., and end Italy’s struggles.

Defender Chiellini, who made his 100th appearance for Italy on Saturday, was the top goalscorer among those called up for the two matches, having netted eight times for the team.

“It’s a problem because if you don’t score you don’t win,” Mancini said. “But in the matches against Ukraine, Poland, and Portugal we created more than 20 chances.

“It’s just a question of bad luck. Let’s hope the wheel will turn soon. What’s important is to continue creating chances and playing in attack.”

LIVE – USMNT faces England in Rooney’s farewell (lineups)

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Take your pick with storylines aplenty for the U.S. men’s national team’s visit to Wembley Stadium to face England on Thursday, but here are two pretty big ones…

[ FOLLOW: PST’s Joe Prince-Wright reporting LIVE from Wembley ]

For the first time since May — and only the second time since the USMNT failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — Christian Pulisic is back in red, white and blue and ready to lead the squad into official competition beginning in 2019.

Wayne Rooney is set to make his final appearance, in ceremonial fashion, as The Three Lions recognize and celebrate their all-time leading goal-scorer (53) and most-capped outfield player (119). D.C. United’s superstar will wear the captain’s armband one last time at Wembley.

Stay tuned to PST for wall-to-wall coverage, reaction and analysis of Thursday’s game as soon as the final whistle blows.

USWNT guarding against overconfidence in WCQ

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FRISCO, Texas (AP) Defender Becky Sauerbrunn said the memories of 2010 still drive her as the U.S. women’s national team seeks to qualify for next year’s World Cup in France.

[ MORE: Crew SC to remain in Columbus under new ownership ]

The United States lost in the semifinals of that year’s CONCACAF qualifying tournament, sending the team to a third-place finish and a two-legged playoff against Italy to secure a spot in the 2011 World Cup in Germany.

Sauerbrunn was on that team.

“For me, you just never know on any day. I think you see it in soccer all the time where the lesser team beats the greater team and it’s the story and everyone loves it,” she said. “So there are going to be a lot of people rooting against us, who want to see this kind of drama. Who want to see us face that. We don’t want to face that.”

Of course, the U.S. went on to advance to the finals of the 2011 World Cup but fell to Japan.

Currently the top-ranked team in the world, the United States plays Jamaica on Sunday night in the semifinals of the CONCACAF women’s World Cup qualifying tournament.

[ MORE: USMNT loses to Colombia | Player ratings | Three things ]

With a win, the United States will secure a spot in next year’s World Cup in France. The U.S. team in the defending champion of the sport’s premier event, having won the final in 2015 against Japan in Canada.

Canada, ranked No. 5 in the world, faces Panama in the other semifinal Sunday at Toyota Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s FC Dallas.

The United States isn’t leaving anything to chance. The team averaged six goals a game in its group stage. They’ve taken 114 shots, far more than the second-best team in the field, Canada (77).

In their final group-stage match, the U.S. women outshot injury-depleted Trinidad and Tobago 59-0 and had an 18-0 advantage in corner kicks.

“The players know and obviously we know that this game is crazy. Every thing we have to do is earn the right to be there. So I don’t think they’re over confident,” coach Jill Ellis said. “I think there’s a tremendous confidence in the group, but before our first game actually, Carli (Lloyd), I asked her to speak to the group, and she said to take nothing for granted.”

All four teams could be impacted by rain forecast for Sunday in the area. Saturday’s heavy downpours forced the U.S. team to practice indoors at the Dallas Cowboys’ team facilities.

[ MORE: DCU beats FC Dallas late, takes over East’s final playoff spot ]

“I think even if it is poor weather we can determine the tempo of the game, especially if we decide to go more direct. I think we can make it fast as we want or slow as we want,” Sauerbrunn said. “For us I think we thrive at keeping a higher tempo and being relentless in the attack, and not letting teams breathe and get into their big attacking shape. So that’s something I think we’ll consistently carry through, no matter the weather.”

The top three finishers in the CONCACAF Women’s Championship will represent the region in France, so the winners of both semifinals will earn a berth.

The finals and the third-place game are set for Wednesday in Frisco. The fourth-place finisher will face Argentina in a playoff for a spot in France.

Player ratings: The good & the bad in USMNT’s loss to Colombia

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The U.S. men’s national team could do very little to slow down a star-studded, powerful Colombia side on Thursday, falling to a 4-2 defeat in Tampa, Fla.

There were a handful of good things to glean from the friendly, as well as plenty of bad things.

[ MORE: USMNT can do little to slow down prolific Colombia ]

GK – Zack Steffen: 5.5/10 — Steffen had no chance to do anything with three of the four goals conceded, given the quality of chances and finishes, but he was quick off his line on multiple occasions early in the game when Colombia could have blown it wide open and put up a crooked number.

RB – DeAndre Yedlin: 5/10 — The entire point of a player with Yedlin’s skill set is that he can bomb forward to overlap on the right wing and open up space for the attacker on that side of the field. Colombia simply had too much firepower, which pinned Yedlin back far too much for him to be effective.

CB – Matt Miazga: 5/10 — Similar to Yedlin, Miazga is at his best when he’s affecting the game further up the field — only in a defensive manner. Again, Colombia turned Miazga into an emergency defender running toward his own goal, which is far from his strong suit.

CB – John Brooks: 4.5/10 — Colombia repeatedly targeted the left side of the USMNT defense — and for good reason — which meant Antonee Robinson got roasted again and again (more on that in a moment). Brooks, the “veteran of the backline” at 25 years old and 34 caps, did very little — if anything — to remedy the situation.

LB – Antonee Robinson: 4/10 — Robinson had been a mostly encouraging piece for the future in his limited exposure with the USMNT. Tasked with defending one of James Rodriguez or Juan Cuadrado at all times — and the overlapping Santiago Arias, the 21-year-old struggled mightily. It’s almost as if he’d never played against anyone who’s been a star at Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from USMNT’s loss to Colombia ]

DM – Michael Bradley: 5.5/10 — Back with the USMNT for the first time in a year — and wearing the armband — Bradley was finally deployed in a situation that works for him: as a no. 6, with a no. 8, who’s actually a no. 8, alongside him. However, Bradley’s effort on Colombia’s third goal stuck out as sorely lacking, which won’t have done him any favors in the minds of his many skeptics.

DM – Kellyn Acosta: 6.5/10 — Acosta scored a goal and was extremely active, but outside of his 50th-minute equalizer he could impact very little a game that was played at an uncomfortably high tempo.

RW – Tim Weah: 7.5/10 — With Christian Pulisic not in camp due to injury, all eyes were on Weah, and a standout performance was expected — and desperately needed — from the 18-year-old. His assist to Bobby Wood in the 53rd minute certainly stood out and showcased a part of his game that’s far more important — and yet unknown: vision, seeing the perfect pass and playing the pass.

CM – Julian Green: 6/10 — Green is 23 years old, and somehow it feels like he’s enjoying a career renaissance as a central midfielder. It was Green who forcefully won the ball back in the lead-up to Acosta’s goal, and it was Green — not Bradley or Acosta — who was most effective with his final-third passing.

LW – Kenny Saief: 4/10 — Speaking of players who did little nothing to help Robinson in his struggles, Saief offered nothing defensively. It was such a problem that Dave Sarachan flipped Saief and Weah at halftime.

FW – Bobby Wood: 6/10 — Wood scored a goal, which is a big part of a forward’s job, but did very little else during his 83-minute shift. The goal was a result of his straight-line speed as he outran a pair of defenders — we knew he could do that already, but is there anything else to his game?

USMNT can do little to slow down prolific Colombia

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A young, hilariously overmatched U.S. men’s national team put forth a mostly encouraging performance against a star-studded Colombia side en route to a 4-2 defeat in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday.

[ WATCH: James gives Colombia lead over USMNT with beauty ]

Dave Sarachan’s record in 12 months as interim head coach now stands at 3W-3D-3L.

Colombia threatened early and often, from the opening five minutes onward, when Antonee Robinson and John Brooks were beaten by Santiago Arias on the edge of the USMNT’s penalty area. Arias glided past the left-sided duo and delivered a delightful cross to Radamel Falcao near the penalty spot. Fortunately for goalkeeper Zack Steffen, Falcao fired over the crossbar and the Yanks were off the hook.

The pressure finally paid off in the 36th minute (WATCH HERE). Rodriguez curled the ball from a seemingly impossible distance outside of Steffen’s right-hand post and nestled it into the upper-90 from the opposite side of the penalty area. It was a goal that reminded us of the world class talent Colombia possessed.

For all of Colombia’s dominance and control exuded in the first half, Los Cafeteros failed to make the USMNT pay with a second goal — for a time. Five minutes into the second half, they paid the price themselves.

Antonee Robinson had all day down the left flank before floating a lofted ball into the box, where Davinson Sanchez got the slightest of touches with his head, but nowhere near enough to send it clear of danger. Acosta read the flight of the ball the entire way and arrived to the six-yard box with split-second timing to make it a 1-1 game.

[ UEFA Nations League: Portugal win again without Ronaldo ]

They paid again three minutes later, when Wood split two defenders to get on the end of Tim Weah’s deftly played, inch-perfect through ball to the penalty spot. Wood needed — had time for — just one touch to hit it hard and low past Ospina inside his left-hand post. 2-1 to the USMNT.

The lead was extraordinarily short-lived, though. Arias got to the end line and cut the ball back toward the penalty spot for Carlos Bacca. With every defender’s momentum taking them toward the end line, Bacca peeled away from every blue shirt and had plenty of time and space to send his first-time shot past the outstretched hands of Steffen to make it 2-2.

The draw was beginning to look attainable — perhaps likely, even — until Colombia struck with a lethal counter-attack directly resulting from a USMNT set piece. Brooks was the USMNT player farthest up the field when Rodriguez booted the ball out of his own penalty area, springing Juan Quintero one-on-one in the open field. Falcao made the hard run through the center of the field to get into the box. No one went with him, and the finish was simple as could be for a player of his caliber.

As if Rodriguez’s opening goal didn’t provide enough of the wow factor for an overwhelmingly pro-Colombia crowd, Bayern Munich’s somewhat maligned superstar set up Miguel Borja for another moment of absolute class in the 79th minute. A simple chipped ball over the top provided a stage for Borja’s acrobatic finish to complete the scoring and the rout.