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Three things we learned: Italy v. USMNT

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GENK, Belgium — The U.S. men’s national team lost 1-0 to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to finish off its 2018 schedule with a defeat, as they conceded in the 94th minute.

[ MORE: Sarachan out as USMNT head coach ]

Matteo Politano struck with 30 seconds left to condemn the USMNT to a second-straight defeat of this international break, as they closed out the calendar year with a disappointing performance and, eventually, defeat.

[ MORE: Pulisic on captaincy, Dortmund future

Dave Sarachan named the youngest U.S. lineup in the modern era (since 1990) with an average age of 22 years and 71 days, while Christian Pulisic became the youngest captain in that era. Italy’s team was a mixture of youth and experience as Ethan Horvath made several fine stops but couldn’t preserve the shutout for the USMNT.

Here’s what we learned from a tight encounter in Belgium.


HORVATH, PULISIC, ADAMS STAND TALL

Three of the USMNT’s standout performers in Genk were captain Pulisic, midfielder Tyler Adams and goalkeeper Ethan Horvath. The former looked on a level of his own among players wearing a U.S. jersey, buzzing around the Italian defense and trying to make things happen. A superb run and cross down the left and then a lovely scooped pass, both to Josh Sargent, showcased his quality on the ball. The only problem for Pulisic was that he didn’t see enough of it. With long balls pumped up to him, Pulisic didn’t win many aerial duels against Leonardo Bonucci but his best work was done dropping off Josh Sargent and picking passes.

At the other end of the pitch Horvath stood tall to deny Italy’s captain Bonucci a clear goal, tipped another dipping effort over and then pushed a dangerous cross in the box away right before half time. And in the second half Horvath saved with his feet as Kevin Lasagna was clean through on goal, pushed Vincenzo Grifo’s shot wide and denied Lasagna again. The Club Brugge stopper enhanced his chances of challenging Brad Guzan and Zack Steffen for the No. 1 jersey, and a year after his horror mistake allowed Portugal to score in Sarachan’s first friendly in charge, Horvath took his second chance and deserved a clean sheet.

In midfield Tyler Adams was brave on the ball in front of the back three, tried to get things going in attack and was the most composed U.S. player on the pitch. The New York Red Bulls midfield, still a teenager, will no doubt be a big part of this team moving forward and he, Pulisic (obviously) and Horvath proved they will be in many USMNT squads to come. The rest struggled a little.


YOUNGSTERS OVERWHELMED

When you name the youngest USMNT lineup in modern history, you’d expect a few bumps in the road during the game. That is exactly what happened. A back three of Cameron Carter-Vickers, Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long, plus Shaq Moore playing out of position at left wing-back, was undone by simple long balls over the top as the USMNT dropped deeper and deeper throughout the game. The U.S. only had 26.5 percent possession and were happy to sit deep and try to hit Italy on the break, just like they did against France in Lyon.

Unlike the game against England last week, this was nowhere near a full-strength USMNT lineup and you could make an argument that only two players (Adams and Pulisic) would be regular starters moving forward.

The likes of Zimmerman, Long, Moore and Cannon were decent enough and got plenty of the reps with the USMNT under pressure for most of the game. One thing is now for sure, whoever is in charge for the January camp and beyond: experimenting needs to stop. The past 13 months has shown us what over 50 players can do. Now a permanent coach needs to select his best squad and work with them each camp moving forward.


SARACHAN’S REIGN SUMMED UP IN 90 MINUTES

Dave Sarachan’s record after 12 games in charge of the USMNT reads 3-5-4, as he set his team up for the draw against Italy but didn’t get it.

Just like they’ve done against top teams in the past, and they did against France in Lyon back in June, the U.S. sat back, soaked up pressure and tried to grab a clean sheet. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t work, but it could prove to be a valuable learning experience for Sarachan’s young team.

The past 13 months has seen him steady the ship after the nightmare of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, but in truth there are still more questions than answers when it comes to what is next for the U.S.

Sarachan has now handed debuts to 23 players, more than any other U.S. manager in the modern era, and his task was to try and restore pride in the program after the World Cup qualifying debacle. He may have done a bit of that, mostly thanks to putting his faith in youth, but the U.S. has pretty much stood still in 2018. Some players have taken their chances, others haven’t and, perhaps most importantly, the USMNT still don’t have a permanent head coach.

That is the biggest issue of all, but that is no longer Sarachan’s problem.


How will USMNT line up v Italy?

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The U.S. men’s national team play Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday to end their 2018 campaign.

[ MORE: VAR to be used for Italy-USA ]

Over his 13-month spell in charge interim head coach Dave Sarachan has introduced more debutants than any other USMNT head coach in history in their first 11 games at the helm, and he is expected to give a few more youngsters a chance to shine for the Stars and Stripes.

Weston McKennie, Kenny Saief and Luca De La Torre are all out of the squad due to injury, so Sarachan has 23 players to choose from.

Italy boss Roberto Mancini has hinted at a much-changed lineup for the Azzurri, so we could see the U.S. experiment a little in what is expected to be Sarachan’s final game in charge before a new permanent head coach is put in charge.

Below we take a look at a few options for Sarachan at Luminus Arena on Tuesday.


Option 1: Possible USMNT lineup (4-3-3)

—– Horvath —–

— Moore — Carter-Vickers — Long — Villafana —

—- Acosta —- Adams —- Gall —- 

—- Weah —- Sargent —- Pulisic —-


Option 2: Possible USMNT lineup (3-4-2-1) 

—- Horvath —-

—- Carter-Vickers —- Long —- Brooks —-

—- Moore —- Adams —- Delgado —- Acosta —-

—- Pulisic —- Lletget —-

—– Sargent —–


Evaluation

Sarachan talked up Evan Horvath last week and it would be cool to see the youngster who plays in Belgium for Club Brugge get another shot to play for his national team in Belgium. We know what Brad Guzan can do, so why not give Horvath some minutes? In defense, the lack of another left back leaves Sarachan with a problem. Does he play Jorga Villafana for the second time in a few days ahead of his monster trip back to the West Coast to play for Portland in the MLS Cup conference final? Probably not. Yedlin could slot over to left back, or maybe Sarachan switches to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation and has someone like Acosta or Adams who can get up and down the flank. Ahead of their Eastern Conference final showdown, giving Guzan, Aaron Long and Tyler Adams a rest may also be beneficial too.

In midfield Tyler Adams, Lletget and Delgado should all get a run out after not starting against England, while up top Josh Sargent is no longer an injury doubt so Christian Pulisic could support him and Tim Weah in attack with Bobby Wood given a rest. I’d go with Option 2 from above and play as many players who didn’t start or feature against England at Wembley as possible. At this point, get as many players international experience and hand over the reins to the next man (ahem, Gregg Berhalter).

Southgate: ‘Hungry’ Harry Kane ‘best goalscorer in the world’

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There’s no better goalscorer in the world than Harry Kane, according to England boss Gareth Southgate.

[ MORE: UEFA Nations League: England reach finals; Belgium capitulate ]

Whether or not he’s bagging a goal every game, every other game or once every eight games — as was the case coming into Sunday’s pivotal UEFA Nations League finale against Croatia — Southgate backs a “hungry” Kane over any other forward in the world. It’s not just the goals that Kane scores, but his all-around game that allows him to impact the Three Lions in so many different ways — quotes from the Guardian:

“Harry is the best goalscorer in the world. You’re always loth to take a player off of his ability. I know people have questioned some of those decisions over the summer but he’s our main penalty-taker, our leader. In 98% of the games, his hold-up play and goalscoring is critical. He played a fantastic pass for Raheem Sterling after dropping off deep and turning in the first half. We have huge belief in him. He is so hungry to lead the team on.”

Never mind the fact that England don’t have another forward with a comparable set of skills which would allow them to play in a similar way, should Kane be dropped from the lineup for a meaningful game.

[ MORE: Lingard: Making it to Nations League finals is “what we want” ]

Kane only turned 25 this summer, and has already amassed 20 international goals in just 35 appearances (in four years since making his England debut). If he remains the first-choice no. 9 until he’s 30 — let alone a year or two beyond that — he’ll get dangerously close to breaking Wayne Rooney‘s record of 53 England goals and going down as the best the Three Lions have ever had. Prior to his recent goal-less skid, which would have reached a full eight games had he not grabbed the late winner on Sunday, those numbers stood at 19 goals in 27 appearances — clearly an unsustainable, but otherworldly goal-scoring pace.

Kane’s rise to prominence — and ultimately, superstardom — came so abruptly and unexpectedly that so many fans and pundits appear to be still waiting for the other shoe to drop on the impostor who could never actually be as good as everyone else thinks he is. After five full years of prolific goal-scoring for club and country, it’s probably time we start giving Kane a bit more benefit of the doubt.

UEFA Nations League: England reach finals; Belgium capitulate

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in the UEFA Nations League…

[ MORE: USMNT injuries ahead of Italy friendly | Injuries for Italy, too ]

England 2-1 Croatia

The best rivalries in sports are the ones born out of contentious, high-stakes meetings on the field of play and the inevitable spill-over of words thereafter. Along those very lines, something of a rivalry is brewing between England and Croatia, and it’s all happened within a six-month period in 2018.

There was, of course, the two nations’ 2018 World Cup semifinal meeting in July, followed by the first of two rematches in the Nations League last month, and finally Sunday’s League A Group 4 finale. In between all of those on-field meetings, though, came the stoking of fires in the form of a verbal jab here and there.

Sunday’s clash at Wembley Stadium, which saw the Croats go ahead not long before the hour mark and appear destined for victory and the top spot in the group, only to watch their lead slip away in a late collapse, will only have added to the budding disdain between the two squads.

Andrej Kramaric put the visitors ahead int he 57th minute, but Jesse Lingard (78th) and Harry Kane (85th) brought the Three Lions back for a dramatic victory and pushed Gareth Southgate‘s to a first-place finish in the group. As such, England (7 points) joined Portugal in the final-four knockout stage.

Nearly as sweet for England, the result sends Croatia (4 points) bottom of the group, and they’ll be relegated to League B next time around.

Switzerland 5-2 Belgium

From 2-0 up, to an embarrassing 5-2 defeat, Sunday was certainly a day to forget — and an opportunity missed — for Belgium. A draw over victory against Switzerland would have seen the Red Devils finish top of League A Group 2, and they were in poll position for precisely that result after just 17 minutes, when they led 2-0 courtesy of Thorgan Hazard‘s early brace.

From that point forward, not a single thing went right for Roberto Martinez’s side as the home side score five unanswered goals from that point forward. It was 2-2 fewer than 15 minutes later — Ricardo Rodriguez and Haris Seferovic (penalty kick made it so — and Seferovic made it 3-2 just before halftime. There would be no galvanizing of the troops after the intermission, as Nico Elvedi scored his first international goal to make it 4-2 in the 62nd minute. Seferovic completed his hat trick, and the 5-2 scoreline, in the 84th.

In the end, it’s the Swiss who’ll join England and Portugal in the League A finals, by virtue of the second tiebreaker — goal differential in head-to-head matchups.

Elsewhere in UEFA Nations League

League B Group 3

Northern Ireland 1-2 Austria

League C Group 2

Hungary 2-0 Finland
Greece 0-1 Estonia

League D Group 2

San Marino 0-2 Belarus
Moldova 1-1 Luxembourg

Monday’s UEFA Nations League schedule

League A Group 1

Germany vs. Netherlands — 2:45 p.m. ET

League B Group 1

Czech Republic vs. Slovakia — 2:45 p.m. ET

League B Group 4

Denmark vs. Ireland — 2:45 p.m. ET

League C Group 3

Cyprus vs. Norway — 2:45 p.m. ET
Bulgaria vs. Slovakia — 2:45 p.m. ET

League D Group 1

Georgia vs. Kazakhstan — 12 p.m. ET
Andorra vs. Latvia — 12 p.m. ET

League D Group 4

Macedonia vs. Gibraltar — 2:45 p.m. ET
Liechtenstein vs. Armenia — 2:45 p.m. ET

Captain Kane: England completes incredible comeback over Croatia, tops group

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With a goal and an assist, England captain Harry Kane led the England National Team to a second half comeback in a 2-1 win over Croatia on Sunday morning at Wembley Stadium.

By winning, England advanced to the UEFA Nations League finals, where they’ll meet the other group winners from League A. England finished with seven points in League A Group 4. Spain had six points while Croatia, which could have topped the group, finished with four points and will be relegated to League B.

England had the lion’s share of chances in a nearly must-win game, with only a scoreless draw keeping England alive and staving off relegation. But Croatia looked put one foot in the UEFA Nations League finals when former Leicester City forward Andrej Kramarić scored in the 57th minute. Croatia’s stalwart defense frustrated England but a pair of substitutions changed the pace and tempo of the game.

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Jesse Lingard, moments after coming on, slid home a shot that was saved off the line by Dejan Lovren, tieing the score in the 78th minute and giving England real hope of securing a victory. The game-winning-goal came eight minutes later, as Kane stabbed home a goal off a free kick from left back Ben Chillwell. Jadon Sancho, another substitute, played a role late in pushing England forward down the right flank.

After just a few minutes of action, it looked as if England wound run away as easy winners, with Kane and Raheem Sterling linking together beautifully to get behind Croatia’s defense. But both Sterling and Kane were wasteful with their chances, and by the end of the first half, Croatia’s Ivan Peresic nearly gave England a shock with a decent chance to score.

Croatia, buoyed by its defensive display in the first half, came out with more energy in the second, eventually catching England on the counter as Kramaric scored off a deflection, the ball looping over England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. As things stood, England would be relegated while Croatia would continue their incredible 2018 calendar year.

England looked to get back into the game, but the pace and tempo was missing until coach Gareth Southgate brought on Sancho and Lingard in place of Fabian Delph and Marcus Rashford, who was lively down the left but limped off the field. It was Lingard who’d get the game-tying goal in dramatic fashion, slipping a ball across the line after a shot from Kane had been saved on the goalline.

The Three Lions continued to push and finally were rewarded with Kane’s winner in the 85th minute, holding on to secure the victory.

The game showcased all that was hoped for when UEFA came up with the Nations League concept, turning boring, friendly matches into exciting, meaningful tournament games. The experience gained by England’s players could be crucial as the side looks to prove it was no one-hit wonder from the 2018 World Cup, while Croatia may have to find some quicker defenders to deal with teams such as England, with speedy young attackers.

If this is how the Nations League continues to be in the future, then the more the merrier.