U.S. MNT Crush Honduras to Revive World Cup Hopes
U.S. MNT Crush Honduras to Revive World Cup Hopes avatar

With its back firmly against the wall, the U.S. MNT responded in the best possible fashion, crushing Honduras 6-0 Friday night at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California to move from the sixth, and last, position in the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex) to fourth.

Dempsey was one of the stars of the night. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

34-year-old hat-trick hero Clint Dempsey and 18-year-old wunderkind Christian Pulisic were the key figures for the Americans, along with coach Bruce Arena, who was managing his first meaningful game for the U.S. MNT since he was fired after the 2006 World Cup.

As this match approached there was a sense of nervous anticipation among U.S. soccer followers with the Americans facing a virtual must-win situation, having dropped the first two games of the Hex back in November.

A loss, or even a tie to Honduras, would have severely hurt the Yanks chances of advancing to the 2018 World Cup in Russia but the U.S. responded with its best Hex performance in years.

Despite an injury crisis that cost the Americans three presumptive starters in Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, and DeAndre Yedlin, Arena showed confidence in his side, sending the team out in an attacking formation that featured Pulisic in the number 10, playmaker role and the veteran Dempsey up front alongside Jozy Altidore.

Sebastian Lletget got on the scoresheet too for the U.S. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

The lineup also featured Sebastian Lletget and Darlington Nagbe as wide midfielders in an offense first lineup that worked a charm. Pulisic and Dempsey’s roles showed Arena’s flexibility, the coach had previously said that he preferred Pulisic on the wing and that he envisioned Dempsey as a late sub.

But that was before the recent injury crisis that also kept Jordan Morris sidelined on Friday night. After this big win Arena explained in his typical fashion his decision to go with Dempsey from the opening whistle.

 

The American rout began in the fifth minute when Sebastian Lletget pounced on a rebounded effort from Pulisic, who reveled in the central role. Unfortunately, Lletget would go off in the 18th minute after taking the brunt of a tough tackle minutes earlier.

Michael Bradley followed with a left footed golazo in the 27th minute before Dempsey opened his hat-trick account in the 32 minute. Dempsey would add a pair of second half goals after Pulisic effectively ended the match with his goal seconds after the re-start.

This performance was just the tonic that the U.S. MNT needed and much of the credit will go to Arena for taking a team that looked disorganized and disinterested in November in losing to Mexico at home 2-1 and away to Costa Rica 4-0, and reanimating its World Cup qualification prospects.

Dempsey and Pulisic were the stars but it would be wrong to overlook Altidore, whose superb passing led to two goals. Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, fullbacks Jorge Villafana and Geoff Cameron also did well.

Christian Pulisic put in a star performance. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Up next for the U.S. is Panama on Tuesday in Panama City. Arena hopes that Brooks will be recovered after the effects of a sinus infection forced him off on Friday but it looks as if Lletget could face a spell on the sidelines, although details were scarce Friday night.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 3 3 6
HON 0 0 0

USA – Sebastian Lletget 5th minute
USA – Michael Bradley (Alejandro Bedoya) 27
USA – Clint Dempsey (Christian Pulisic) 32
USA – Christian Pulisic (Jozy Altidore) 46
USA – Clint Dempsey (Christian Pulisic) 49
USA – Clint Dempsey 54

Lineups:
USA: 1-Tim Howard; 2-Jorge Villafaña, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 6-John Brooks (14-Tim Ream, 70), 20-Geoff Cameron (19-Graham Zusi, 59); 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 9-Sebastian Lletget (11-Alejandro Bedoya, 18), 10-Christian Pulisic, 15-Darlington Nagbe; 8-Clint Dempsey, 17-Jozy Altidore
Subs not used: 12-David Bingham, 22-Nick Rimando; 5-Matt Besler, 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 21-Walker Zimmerman; 13-Kellyn Acosta, 16-Sacha Kljestan, 23-Dax McCarty; 18-Chris Wondolowski
Head coach: Bruce Arena

HON: 22-Donis Escober; 7-Emilio Izaguirre (14-Boniek Garcia, 46), 3-Maynor Figueroa (capt.), 4-Henry Figueroa, 5-Ever Alvarado, 21-Brayan Beckeles; 20-Jorge Claros, 15-Roger Espinoza; 12-Romell Quioto (11-Erick Andino, 43) 19-Alberth Elis, 17-Andy Najar (8-Oliver Morazan, 61)
Subs not used: 1-Luis Lopez, 18-Ricardo Canales, 2-Felix Crisianto, 6-Allans Vargas, 23-Cesar Oseguera; 10-Mario Martinez, 16-Carlos Disuca, 9-Anthony Lozano, 13-Eddie Hernandez
Head coach: Jorge Luis Pinto

Stats Summary: USA / HON
Shots: 9 / 11
Shots on Goal: 8 / 4
Saves: 4 / 2
Corner Kicks: 0 / 7
Fouls: 15 / 8
Offside: 2 / 2

Misconduct Summary:
HON – Ever Alvarado (caution) 15th minute
USA – Geoff Cameron (caution) 25

March 28, 2017 – 10 PM ET

MNT vs Panama Estadio Rommel Fernandez; Panama City, Panama
beIN SPORTS, Telemundo, Universo

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

Big hardly seems to do justice to this week’s MLS Big – 5, maybe we should re-name it the Enormous – 5. No? Ok, then let’s get to it.

1) Fire Sign World Cup Star Bastian Schweinsteiger

This one nearly exploded American soccer twitter in a hail of retirement league charges, salary reveals, Chicago’s positional needs, Basti’s near complete inability to see the field at Manchester United and more!

Schweinsteiger (L) has struggled to see any playing time this season for Man Utd.  (ISI Photos/Thomas Eisenhuts)

Speaking personally, I learned that Basti is the nickname for Bastian, but perhaps it is more important to note that Chicago is paying Schweinsteiger $4.5 million on a one-year contract as pointed out by American soccer provocateur Alexis Lalas on twitter.

U.S. international McCarty and Juninho, a three-time MLS Cup winner with the L.A. Galaxy, were signed before the 2017 season to man the Fire’s central midfield, which is Schweinsteiger’s preferred patch of grass.

Chicago GM Nelson Rodriguez and coach Veljko Paunovic are delighted to have the 13 year Bayern Munich man in the fold and are prepared to look at Basti’s desultory spell at Manchester United as a blip in an otherwise brilliant career.

Schweinsteiger played just 18 times for United and never appeared in the Premier League after Jose Mourinho took charge. Mourinho even relegated the World Cup hero to training with the MU kids. It was a shoddy way to treat such a fine player.

Still, Germany coach Joachim Low has said that the 32-year-old has much more left to give and Rodriguez apparently agrees.

2) Real Salt Lake Fires Cassar

To fire a coach, any coach, three games into the season reeks of desperation, why not make a change in the offseason? But Jeff Cassar knew he was on shaky ground when he inked a one-year contract extension prior to the 2017 season while RSL brought former New York Red Bulls coach Mike Petke on to look over his shoulder as coach of its USL club the Real Monarchs.

RSL have decided to part way with Jeff Cassar. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

RSL stumbled into the playoffs in sixth place last season, ending the year with a seven-game winless streak before losing to the L.A. Galaxy in the KO round of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Despite having Petke on deck RSL general manager Craig Waibel said the search for a new coach has already begun and cited a “sense of urgency” in firing Cassar. Urgency? Panic? Potato? Potatto?

3) Congrats to BWP!

The New York Red Bulls took one on the chin last Sunday night in Seattle but not before Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his 70th MLS goal in just his 110th game. According to Fox Sports 1, only Roy Lassiter and Robbie Keane have reached that mark in fewer MLS games.

Bradley Wright-Phillips got some consolation in the defeat by scoring his 7oth MLS goal. (ISI Photos/Al Sermeno)

Congrats are in order for the perennially underrated former England U20 captain.

4) Atlanta and Martinez Make it Permanent

Hey, when it’s right, it’s right. Right? That certainly seems to be the sentiment in Atlanta where red-hot expansion side Atlanta United FC has triggered the option to make Josef Martinez a full-on team member after just three games on loan from Serie A side Torino.

Josef Martinez has scored five goals in three matches. (ISI Photos/Perry McIntyre)

And why not? The 23-year-old Venezuelan international leads MLS with five goals from three games and has sparked the newcomers to a league leading 11 goals.

Sometimes you just know.

5) Play the Kids!

As we saw in item 2 it has not been a great couple of days for Real Salt Lake, what with Jeff Cassar getting the ax just three games into the season. But it is not all gloom and doom around Rio Tinto Stadium these days.

Lennon and Saucedo training at the recent U20’s tournament. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The silver lining in the 2-1 loss to the L.A. Galaxy that finished the Cassar era? A pair of U.S. U20 stars provided a much-needed glimmer of hope as Sebastian Saucedo and Brooks Lennon made their 2017 RSL debuts.

For 19-year-old Lennon, a former RSL academy prospect on loan from Liverpool FC, it was his RSL and MLS debut. Saucedo last lined out for Salt Lake in 2015, having spent last year on loan at Veracruz.

Operating as wingers the pair impressed and will give the next RSL coach options. U.S. MNT U20 fans should be pleased as well. When center back Justen Glad returns from a knee injury, RSL will have three Young Yanks gaining valuable experience ahead of the U20 World Cup this, coming up May/June in South Korea.

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Injuries Hit U.S. MNT Ahead of Crucial World Cup Qualifiers
Injuries Hit U.S. MNT Ahead of Crucial World Cup Qualifiers avatar

A brutal weekend in the Bundesliga has cost Bruce Arena two of his expected starting 11 for Friday’s crucial World Cup Qualifying match versus Honduras with Fabian Johnson and Bobby Wood joining a third presumptive starter, DeAndre Yedlin, on the U.S. MNT injured list.

Bobby Wood is one of the tiro injured. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The trio is also unavailable for Tuesday’s away game against Panama, bad news for a U.S. side that sits last in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying (The Hex) after dropping its first two games to Mexico (2-1) and Costa Rica (4-0).

Those losses raised the specter of missing out on the World Cup next year in Russia and prompted U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati to fire Jurgen Klinsmann, replacing him with Bruce Arena.

Having guided the U.S to the 2002 and 2006 World Cup Finals, Arena was seen as a safe pair of hands, although these absences make the returned U.S. boss’s job that much more difficult.

The news was not all bad this weekend for the U.S. with a few players putting in notable performances before heading to San Jose, where the U.S. will host Los Catrachos Friday night at Avaya Stadium at 10:30 pm ET.

Brooks should start at the back for the U.S.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

John Brooks powered home a headed goal from a corner kick for Hertha Berlin on Saturday. The big center back couldn’t prevent Hertha’s 4-2 loss to Cologne but Arena will be glad of Brooks’ presence on set pieces and in the heart of his defense, especially after seeing Brooks come up lame during Saturday’s match before being cleared by Berlin’s medical staff.

Brooks may be joined in front of Tim Howard, who is playing well and will start in goal, by Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez played several years in L.A. under Arena and with Geoff Cameron a likely choice in Yedlin’s fullback position, the coach may well lean on the Pachuca mainstay.

Arena had indicated his preference to use Fabian Johnson in the wide midfield role that Johnson plays with Borussia Monchengladbach, leaving the eternal left fullback question up in the air.

Jorge Villafana has recently returned to the Santos Laguna lineup after looking like an outcast for several months at the Liga MX club. Arena is a fan but he may turn to old reliable DaMarcus Beasley, remarkable considering that Run DMB received his first U.S. MNT cap under Arena all the way back in 2001.

Wood is likely to be replaced alongside Jozy Altidore by Jordan Morris, unless Clint Dempsey’s positive start to the season, two goals in 269 of a possible 270 minutes, has convinced Arena to turn to Deuce from the start, rather than off of the bench as the coach has suggested.

Altidore has been performing well for the U.S. lately. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

With Wood out of contention Arena could also opt to use Altidore as a lone striker, a role the TFC man has conceded doesn’t suit him. Arena may not want to tinker with his power forward, Altidore is coming in hot, scoring one goal and setting up the other in Toronto’s 2-0 win Saturday in Vancouver.

That just leaves the midfield. Jermaine Jones is unavailable Friday through suspension but again, Arena has options. Arena has said repeatedly that Michael Bradley will play the “six,” most likely leaving three midfield spots to be filled.

Christian Pulisic will claim one. Arena has said the BVB teenager would be used wide but the coach has surely taken note of Pulisic scoring goals from a more central role in Bundesliga and Champions League play.

Pulisic can be used centrally, perhaps at the top of a diamond, or wide. Arena has selected a versatile group to battle for the other two positions. Alejandro Bedoya, Sebastian Lletget, and Darlington Nagbe can also be used as wings or through the middle. Centrally, Sacha Kljestan is more of a creator, Dax McCarty a solid defender and distributor while Kellyn Acosta is the wild card. The 21-year-old FC Dallas man is defying categorization so far in what is shaping up as a breakout 2017 season and may force Arena’s hand.

March 24, 2017 – 7:30 PM PT
MNT vs Honduras @Avaya Stadium; San Jose, Calif.
FS1, UniMas, UDN

March 28, 2017 – 10 PM ET
MNT vs Panama @Estadio Rommel Fernandez; Panama City, Panama
beIN SPORTS, Telemundo, Universo

GOALKEEPERS (3): *Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough/ENG; 13/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 33/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 33/6), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER; 2/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 19/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 12/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX; 6/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 2/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas; 0/0) Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 1/0), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 6/0, Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 31/5), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy; 16/0), **Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 15/1), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 3/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 5/2)

FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 33/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 36/13), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), ***Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 8/3)

*replaced by David Bingham.
**replaced by Graham Zusi
*** replaced by Sacha Kljestan

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Dempsey and Howard Highlight Roster for Crucial World Cup Qualifiers
Dempsey and Howard Highlight Roster for Crucial World Cup Qualifiers avatar

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard beat the clock and have recovered from illness and injury, respectively, to be named to the U.S. MNT that will face Honduras in San Jose Friday, March 24 and Panama four days later in Panama City.

Not as fortunate was DeAndre Yedlin who picked up a minor leg injury while starring for Newcastle United in the English Championship and misses out.

Tim Howard making a save in the game against Ghana at Brazil 2014. (ISI Photos/Perry McIntyre)

Interviewed on Fox TV, Arena seemed to indicate that Tim Howard would start in goal, Fabian Johnson will be used as a midfielder and Clint Dempsey will be available off the bench for 15 or 20-minute stretches for these two matches.

Arena listed Jorge Villafana, DaMarcus Beasley, and Tim Ream as left back candidates and with a lack of right-sided options, the versatile Geoff Cameron may find himself manning the right flank, with Michael Orozco another option.

Arena had called for better passing out of the midfield from his team when he took over from Jurgen Klinsmann, making it somewhat surprising that both Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber missed the cut.

Dempsey returns to the squad. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Tim Chandler and Jermaine Jones are ineligible for the Honduras match with Arena selecting Los Angeles-based Jones while citing travel concerns to explain Chandler’s absence.

The Americans lost the first two matches of the final round of World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex) costing Klinsmann his job and raising the stakes for this upcoming twin bill, although four points would put the U.S. back on track for Russia 2018.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough/ENG; 13/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 33/0), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake; 0/0)

DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo; 33/6), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/GER; 2/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/ENG; 19/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca/MEX; 12/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana/MEX; 6/1), Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG; 2/0), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna/MEX; 0/0), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas; 0/0)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 1/0), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 6/0, Michael Bradley (Toronto FC/CAN; 31/5), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy; 16/0), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 15/1), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy; 0/0), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire; 0/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 3/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 5/2)

FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC/CAN; 33/16), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 36/13), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg/GER; 8/3)

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U.S. MNT Find Out U20 World Cup Opponents
U.S. MNT Find Out U20 World Cup Opponents avatar

Hot on the heels of defeating Mexico and winning the CONCACAF U20 Championship, each first achievements for the Young Yanks, the American U20 MNT has been drawn into Group F with Ecuador, Senegal, and Saudi Arabia for the U20 World Cup Group to be played this May and June in South Korea.

Tab Ramos (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The top two teams plus the top four third place sides qualify for the knockout rounds, so despite landing in fairly tough company, the U.S. should be able to advance. Coach Tab Ramos has qualified the U.S. for three consecutive World Cups at this age group, failing to win a game in Turkey in 2013, before falling on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals to eventual champions Serbia in 2015 in New Zealand.

The 2015 side impressed with players like Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Emerson Hyndman, Kellyn Acosta, Rubio Rubin, Desevio Payne, and Paul Arriola giving a good account of themselves in front of the usual gaggle of international scouts.

Having graduated to the senior ranks rising U.S. star Christian Pulisic, still just 18 years old, is not expected to be available for the U20 World Cup but Ramos will still have some difficult personnel decisions to make as he balances rewarding the CONCACAF winning players against selecting previously unavailable players for the Cup to strengthen his side’s chances of success in South Korea.

Carter-Vickers in action against Canada. (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

Carter-Vickers is available again after spending most of this season on the bench for the Tottenham first team. Ramos will also have the option of adding the likes of Arsenal prospect Gedion Zelalem, currently on loan at second division Dutch club VVV-Venlo, fullback Matt Olosunde, who is in the Manchester United youth setup, any or all of the SchalkeAmerica trio of Weston McKennie, Haji Wright, and Nicholas Taitague.

Forward Josh Perez has made a number of Serie A appearances this season with Fiorentina and continues to star with the Viola youth team, so he should expect a call. Mukwelle Akale, (Villarreal) and McKinze Gaines, (Wolfsburg), are others making their way up the ladder at European clubs and Ramos may be tempted the call them in.

Below find the groups and the U.S. first round schedule.
2017 FIFA U20 World Cup
Group A: Korea Republic (host), Guinea, Argentina, England
Group B: Venezuela, Germany, Vanuatu, Mexico
Group C: Zambia, Portugal, Iran, Costa Rica
Group D: South Africa, Japan, Italy, Uruguay
Group E: France, Honduras, Vietnam, New Zealand
Group F: Ecuador, USA, Saudi Arabia, Senegal

U.S. U20 MNT Group F Schedule:
May 22, 4 a.m. ET: Ecuador vs. USA; Incheon Stadium, Incheon
May 25, 7 a.m. ET: Senegal vs. USA; Incheon Stadium, Incheon
May 28, 5 a.m. ET: USA vs. Saudi Arabia; Daejeon World Cup Stadium,
Daejeon

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

Week two is in the books and there can be but one starting point, sorry Minnesota.

1) Hotlanta Causes Minny Meltdown!

Week one did not go as planned for the expansion club from Minnesota, not with a 5-1 loss in Portland to show for their efforts; but surely the home opener against fellow expansion side Atlanta would be better. Right?

Minnesota United FC was defeated by Atlanta United in the first MLS game at TCF Stadium.(ISI Photos/Jeremy Olson)

Not quite. Not even the snow could help Minnesota as the southerners came to the North Star State in a soccer blizzard and with the Ghost of Bud Grant frowning down from above handed the Loons a 6-1 whooping at TCF Bank Stadium.

Free spending Atlanta United FC received a hat trick from Josef Martinez and a brace from Miguel Almiron, a nice return from the youthful DP’s that underlined the difference in approach between the two first year clubs.

Having signed no DP’s, as in zero DP’s, Minnesota’s penurious tactics led some to project the delightfully nicknamed Loons as potentially the worst expansion team in MLS history, an argument Minnesota has, so far done little to dispel.

2) Bizarro MLS

Sure it is just two weeks, but Houston is 2-0 and so is San Jose. Meanwhile, MLS Cup Champions Seattle are in seventh place in the West with a loss and a tie and Cup runner-up and everyone’s preseason favorite Toronto are in the same position in the East with two draws. Up is down, down is up: Bizarro.

3) MLS and CCL. Is This the Year?

Year after year MLS clubs bang their heads against the CONCACAF Champions league glass ceiling as if to make a mockery of Commissioner Don Garber’s familiar boast that the league would be among the best in the world by the not so distant year of 2022.

Don Garber will be hoping a MLS team can take the trophy home. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Scheduling conflicts do little to counter the continued dominance of Mexico’s teams in the CCL, so this year Garber looks to the Vancouver Whitecaps and FC Dallas and the commish hopes he sees a champion.

Can either club upset its Mexican opponent to earn a trip to the Championship and a shot a representing the region at the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup?

In an aggregate goals matchup, Vancouver get the first crack at it when they travel to Monterrey for tonight’s (Tuesday) matchup with reigning Liga MX Apertura champ Tigres UANL.

Then FCD are at home versus Pachuca on Wednesday making this the first time since 2012/13 that two MLS clubs have qualified for the final four.

At second place in the Clausura, Pachuca is off to the better start but Tigres is on a nice little run of its own with two wins and a draw from its last three games.

It won’t be easy, history tells us as much, but the breakthrough has to happen eventually, isn’t that right Mr. Commissioner?

4) New Galaxy = New Coke?

Some rebrands take, some tank, none more notoriously than the cola behemoth’s disastrous 1980’s decision to tinker with its winning formula.

Chris Klein’s team has not impressed thus far. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

When the public recoiled at its new product Coca-Cola quickly reverted to its familiar recipe. Which is not to say that two uninspired performances are enough to prompt Chris Klein to tear up the Galaxy’s new, less big name dependent game plan but the league’s original L.A. club was conceived with an eye on the heavens.

High wattage types Robbie Keane, Steven Gerrard, Nigel De Jong and even coach Bruce Arena have departed the StubHub Center for lesser names, well Bruce is still on premises with the U.S. MNT, so an adjustment period is not too surprising.

Yes, it is just two games. But only Minnesota sit below the five-time MLS Cup champions in the Western Conference and Galaxy fans are accustomed to better than one goal in two games.

How slow of a slow start might cause L.A. to take a page from Coke’s playbook and revert to their Life Style’s of the Rich and Famous past?

Klein is unlike to panic but new strategy or no, don’t discount the Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the Galaxy rumors, especially with L.A.F.C. coming to town in 2018.

5) Viva Villa!

David Villa, that is.

In a changing MLS where 22 and 23 year old DP’s come to America to make a reputation, Villa harkens back not just to the days of David Beckham but further still to the 1970’s and another Yankee Stadium sporting icon, Reggie Jackson.

Reggie! Reggie! Reggie! did his thing at the old Stadium back when the Bronx was burning and like World Cup winner Villa, Jackson arrived fully formed. Reggie anointed himself the “straw that stirred the drink,” and he showed New Yorkers the meaning of cocky when he announced that he “didn’t come to New York to be a star, I brought my star with me.”

Villa showing his swagger. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Villa doesn’t have Jackson’s flair for self-promotion, who does, but the 35-year-old reigning MLS Most Valuable Player brings his own brand of swagger to the pitch across 161st Street from the diamond where Reggie strutted his stuff back when he was winning World Series titles with the Yankees.

On Sunday, Villa scored a pair of goals to lead NYCFC to a 4-0 win over the Chicago Fire at a frigid Yankee Stadium. Villa’s heroics weren’t quite on par with Mr. October’s 3 home run performance at the old place in game six of the 1977 World Series but perhaps El Guaje can earn himself a new nickname with New York City FC?

How does Mr. December sound?

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A New Start for NYCFC Goalkeeper Sean Johnson
A New Start for NYCFC Goalkeeper Sean Johnson avatar

New York, N.Y – After a roller coaster ride of an offseason in which the Georgia-born goalkeeper was briefly a member of Atlanta United FC, Sean Johnson finally landed with New York City FC, ending his days with the Chicago Fire.

Sean Johnson (ISI Photos/Robin Alam)

The 27-year-old then emerged from a pre-season competition with 24-year-old Manchester City Academy product Eirik Johansen to start NYCFC’s season opener, a 1-0 road loss to Orlando City. Johnson largely escaped blame for Cyle Larin’s back post headed goal and while he was not called upon to make a save, Johnson was solid with his distribution.

NYC coach Patrick Vieira is adamant that his team play the ball out the back, rather than boot it up the pitch and for Vieira that philosophy starts with his goalkeeper.

Johnson hasn’t been known for his foot skills thus far in his career but the former Fire man sounded confident in that aspect of his game when I put it to him Thursday at the New York City FC Media Day at midtown Manhattan hotel.

Taking the “all publicity is good publicity,” approach, Johnson earned a laugh saying, “I guess it’s good that people talk good or bad because it means they’re watching,” before turning serious. “I’m confident in my abilities,” Johnson explained. “I think the playing style that we try to play we take pride in doing every day in practice and I am more than confident in my ability to do that.”

Johnson’s confidence has been tested more than once in his career, going all the way to its very beginning when he was the final Generation Adidas player selected in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, lasting into the fourth round before finally being grabbed by Chicago.

Johnson has struggled to cement a spot on the national team.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Johnson soon earned the number one keeper job with the Fire and he and DC United’s Bill Hamid were quickly dubbed 1 and 1A in the Next Great American Keeper Rankings behind incumbent Tim Howard and his understudy Brad Guzan.

But the road to success is rarely smooth and Johnson hit major pothole back in March 2012 when he was beaten by a long range, added time shot against El Salvador, a shot that denied the U.S. a berth in the 2012 Olympics.

Missing out on the Olympics was the first failure of the Klinsmann era with the coach labeling the players on that team a “lost generation.” Five years later and some of those players do indeed appear lost, none more so than team captain Freddy Adu. Injuries have ravaged the careers of others like Terrence Boyd, Joe Gyau, Ike Opara, and Tony Taylor but despite some challenges along the way Johnson is still standing.

So, with Johnson just about entering his prime goalkeeping years, I asked if he is looking at this new club start to reignite his national team chances? “Yeah,” Johnson began, adding, “first and foremost for me it’s establishing myself here in this environment.” “You can’t look too far ahead,” Johnson noted sagely.

Which is not to say that Johnson has abandoned his national team hopes. “Obviously,” Johnson continued, “as a competitor, as somebody who just wants to do anything possible to win and play at the highest level, of course, I want to be that guy for the national team.”

“But,” Johnson adds with words that will be music to Vieira’s ears, “it all starts with the club and building a successful foundation with the club and having success as a team.”

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France Crush U.S. WNT to Win SheBelieves Cup
France Crush U.S. WNT to Win SheBelieves Cup avatar

Washington, D.C. – “Long gone are the days of always winning and it’s not going to be easy,” Carli Lloyd said after France defeated the U.S. WNT 3-0 to win the SheBelieves Cup while relegating the host nation to a last place finish and that perhaps was the biggest learned on a difficult night for the Americans.

Abily scored a brace for France. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Abily scored a brace for France. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The loss was the second in a row for the Americans, the first time that has happened at home since 2000, one of several negative milestones on the night for the world’s highest ranked women’s soccer team.

France came into this final match of the SheBelieves Cup in first place needing just a tie to claim the title but Germany’s 1-0 win over England in Tuesday night’s curtain raiser had opened the door for the Americans to retain the Cup if they could defeat France.

Once again, the U.S. came out in their new and much discussed three back set and while the system had stood up defensively against Germany and England, tonight it was shredded by a well drilled, high-flying French team that scored twice inside the first 10 minutes to leave the Americans with a mountain to climb.

Le Sommer caused the U.S. problems all night. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Le Sommer caused the U.S. problems all night. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

The first crack in the American system appeared when Eugenie Le Sommer exploited a gap in the center of the U.S. defense, forcing goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher into taking her down for a penalty kick that Camille Abily converted to give France a 1-0 lead just eight minutes into the match.

Moments later France made it two when Abily got herself in behind the U.S. defense to control and finish a pass that traveled at least 50 yards in the air to beat Naeher for the second time in less than 60 seconds.

Ellis’ formation and her new center back Allie Long were victimized on both France goals on what was a bad night for the U.S. WNT, the three back, and Long herself.

Ellis pronounced herself, “disappointed but not deterred,” while sounding surprised by French manager Olivier Echouafni’s tactics. “France,” said Ellis, “were as direct as I’ve seen them.”

Abily (R) expressed her team's happiness on winning the tournament. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Abily (R) expressed her team’s happiness on winning the tournament. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

France, of course, were delighted with the victory, a first tournament title for the talented but previously underachieving national team. “I think it’s great for our confidence, Abily explained. “It’s a friendly tournament,” the Lyon attacker noted, “but we know we can do something great.” “We never win something with the French national team,” Abily continued, “so I hope it will be this summer,” Abily said, referring to the Euros.

Trying to get back into the game Ellis sent Mallory Pugh in for Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn on in place of Christen Press after the halftime intermission and operating as a forward, and not as wide midfielder, Dunn provided a spark. Dunn has been moved between the two spots and appears more comfortable in the striker role.

But the American attack was again unable to make pressure yield results and instead it was France who scored next when Abily added her second. Again, a defensive breakdown occurred with Casey Short, Long and Morgan Brian culpable.

How to best use Dunn is just one of many issues Ellis is trying to solve as she attempts to convert this team into more of a possession based side. Ellis’ predecessor Tom Sermanni lost his job when he tried something similar but with the retirement of Abby Wambach, Ellis has been free to bring in more new players, players to fit the style she is attempting to impose.

It didn’t work out tonight but Ellis gave no indication that she is planning to abandon her approach. The World Cup is still more than two years away and if things go well in France for the U.S. the 2017 SheBelieves Cup will be a distant memory, but make no mistake, tonight still hurt.

Lloyd (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lloyd seemed very disappointed with both the result and the performance and let suggested that things ahead are tough.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

“It’s disappointing,” U.S. captain Carli Lloyd admitted. “We came in fourth place,” Lloyd underlined. “We scored one goal, I think we’ve got some great players on this team, we obviously want to win.”

“2019, 2020,” Lloyd warned, “it’s going to be really, really hard.”

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 02.07.44

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Germany Ends England’s SheBelieves Title Hopes
Germany Ends England’s SheBelieves Title Hopes avatar

Washington, D.C. – Germany ended England’s hopes of winning the SheBelieves Cup with a 1-0 win this afternoon at RFK Stadium behind the Germans first goal of the tournament, a 44th minute strike from veteran Anja Mittag.

Mittag scored Germany's only goal of the tournament. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Mittag scored Germany’s only goal of the tournament. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Mittag was honored for earning her 150th cap before Germany’s first game of the tournament, a 1-0 loss to Americans, so perhaps it was fitting that the PSG forward was the player to secure the German win.

England came into this match needing a win to retain its hopes of claiming the silverware while the Germans were already out of the running. Other than Mittag’s goal there was little to separate the rivals in a tightly contested first half.

Each side had moments of dominance with England on top early, motivated no doubt by the opportunity to bring home the SheBelieves Cup. The German breakthrough came from a skillful passing sequence started by Sara Dabritz and finished when Lina Magull slipped her pass to an open Mittag in front of England’s goal.

You could see how much the win against the U.S. meant to England. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

You could see how much the win against the U.S. meant to England. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Germany finished the SheBelieves Cup with a better record 1-1-1 but perhaps England will go home the slightly happier with 1-2-0, after beating the Americans at home in New Jersey in their second game of the event.

Germany will be happy to have finally ended a goalless run that eventually stretched to 224 minutes before Mittag mercifully ended the skein. Results aside, the two countries, and France as well, will have found this tournament good preparation for the Euros this summer.

The Netherlands are this years hosts, with Germany the defending champions. The Euro Championship runs from July 16-August 6 with a largest ever 16 nations set to compete.

Here are the groups.
A: Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Belgium
B: Germany, Sweden, Italy, Russia
C: France, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland
D: England, Scotland, Spain, Portugal

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U.S. Players Talk About New 3 Back Formation
U.S. Players Talk About New 3 Back Formation avatar

Washington, D.C. – The Three Back. Three at the back, call it what you will, learning the formation has been the raison d’etre for the U.S. WNT at the 2017 SheBelieves Cup.

In the wake, and I do mean wake, of the U.S. flameout at the 2016 Olympics coach Jill Ellis sent her team out in the three back set against the likes of Romania and Switzerland.

Ellis (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis will surely be looking at what went wrong against England. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Results like 8-1 and 5-0 over Romania and 5-1 and 4-0 against the Swiss proved little but Germany, England, and France have been a far better litmus test, with France on deck.

Ellis’s three back is not Antonio Conte’s, a point the coach made clear when GotSoccer made the mistake of referring to Tobin Heath, Crystal Dunn, and Mallory Pugh as “playing as sort of wingbacks” in the 1-0 U.S. win over Germany.

“If they’re playing,” Ellis gently rebuked, “we consider them wide mids.” “A wingback,” the coach explained, “means you have an automatic; if you watch Chelsea they automatically drop into a five back. These guys are not dropping back into a back line unless they absolutely have to.” “So,” Ellis emphasized, “I don’t call them a wingback, they’re full steam attacking players.”

That had been the point of the question, how to defend with such an array of attackers on the field at the same time. As for the nomenclature, Heath laughed and said “we’re just people,” to the wingback/midfielder question adding that it is really about the principals of “how we want to play.”

Heath (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Heath was very positive about the new formation.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

“We want to attack, we want to have numbers, we want to control the game,” Heath said, as she enumerated those principals. “I think this gives us a lot of great options. We want to transition as a group and not just as players and we want to defend as a group too.”

A key to making the U.S. three back set work is the passing ability of the center back, which Ellis highlighted when she moved midfielder Allie Long into the position. How new is Long to the defensive role?

Let’s hear Long’s reaction to last Wednesday’s shutout win over the Olympic champion Germans. “Normal back lines are always so excited to get a shutout and that was my first, I guess.” Long laughed as she recalled, “they’re (her fellow defenders) like, yeah! And I was like, what are we cheering for? A shutout! Oh, awesome!”

No surprise then that the neophyte center back got her terminology wrong when asked about responsibilities of the back three. “Our wingbacks, Tobin and Dunn, are required to do a lot of work offensively and defensively,” Long said noting, “there is more of an emphasis on being organized, staying unified as a three back.”

Allie Long in action against England. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Allie Long in action against England. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Long has been a mainstay at the center of this formation generally flanked by Becky Sauerbrunn and Casey Short but Ellis has used the SheBelieves Cup to get a look at other players and GotSoccer chatted with Julie Johnston before training Monday afternoon at the University of Maryland.

Like Long, Johnston has made the switch from midfield to center back, slotting in next to Sauerbrunn prior to the 2015 World Cup. The move was an unqualified success with Johnston playing every minute in Canada as the U.S. won its first World Cup since 1999, with Johnston named to the World Cup Best 11.

“I like it,” Johnston enthused when asked about the formation change. “It’s definitely a new challenge, it’s fun to be able to play something that you haven’t played before and to learn a lot of different formations, so we can pull it out in certain scenarios.”

As a former midfielder Johnston replied she, “would like to think so,” when asked if her skill set translates well to the three back system. “For sure, I think playing other positions helped me,” the 24-year-old said. Johnston continued, “I like that the coaches expect us as defenders to be able to play with our feet really well, so it’s fun, it’s exciting.”

The Jill Ellis three back will get another runout tonight at RFK Stadium against the French, following England vs. Germany.

Julie Johnston  (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Johnston’s focus is still on winning the tournament. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

The SheBelieves Cup may be in the balance and the Americans want to win it, even if, as Johnston said, “the focus is on 2019,” and the World Cup.

“We want to win,” Johnston said firmly. “That’s just how our team is. We want to go out and play well, we want to win. That is our focus. We want to go out here and win.”

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

Week one is done and dusted, which means it is time for our first in season MLS Big – 5.

1) The New Guys

Both of the league’s debutantes fell to defeat in week one, although Atlanta will certainly come away from the experience in the better humor.

But first, Minnesota. The Loons traveled to Portland to begin life in Major League Soccer and the welcome from the 2015 MLS Cup winners was a fairly rude one as the hosts’ hung a 5-1 whuppin on the newcomers.

(ISI Photos/Al Sermeno)

Minnesota were still in the game until the 83rd minute when Portland scored their 3rd.(ISI Photos/Al Sermeno)

In fairness to Minnesota, the game was in the balance until Diego Valeri’s 82nd-minute goal gave the Timbers a 3-1 advantage. Christian Ramirez had halved the visitors 2-0 deficit just three minutes prior to Valeri’s second tally of the day before a late brace from Fanendo Adi put the final, embarrassing look on the scoreboard.

Atlanta opened at home Sunday afternoon against the New York Red Bulls and what an opener it was. The loud, colorful sellout crowd of 55,297 that packed Bobby Dodd Stadium thought their newly minted heroes were headed for a win but like their fellow first timers from Minnesota, the late stages of the match proved Atlanta’s undoing.

Playing an entertaining, freewheeling style Atlanta gave that crowd plenty to cheer early about and were justly rewarded in the 25th minute when Yamil Asad scored the first goal in Atlanta United FC history on a feed from Tyrone Mears.

AUFC carried that slim margin into the break before eventually being reeled back in by a Red Bulls team badly in need of a win after bowing out of the CONCACAF Champions League in an aggregate goal series with the Vancouver Whitecaps.

MLS assist king Sacha Kljestan sparked the Bulls turnaround when he picked up his first helper of the season when Daniel Royer headed home his perfectly placed corner kick in the 76th minute to level the match. Six minutes later the tie was lost on an Anton Walkes own goal and while the Red Bulls comeback gave the MLS originals the win, early indications are that soccer in Atlanta is a hit.

2) Orlando Lose in Win.

Only a 13th-minute injury to Kaka could put a damper on Orlando City’s day, well that and a problematic sprinkler system that left the field soggy after the halftime break despite a cloudless sky over the beautiful new Orlando City Stadium.

Kaka's injury is a huge loss for Orlando. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Kaka’s injury is a huge loss for Orlando. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

On a day when Orlando emerged with a 1-0 victory despite being out-possessed and outplayed by their Class of 2015 fellows, even Kaka’s injury worked out for the Lions when his replacement, Giles Barnes, set-up Cyle Larin for the game’s lone goal.

Despite defeating the team that fired him after one expansion season, Jason Kreis’s day wasn’t quite perfect. The Lions coach described Kaka’s injury as “potentially serious,” and Larin limped off with a possible cramp. Kaka has been ruled out for six weeks.

3) Dempsey – Back Amongst the Goals

Heart problems are scary. Professional athletes injure ankles, knees, backs, shoulders. Sophisticated sports fans know the rehab schedules for an ACL tear, an MCL strain, and Tommy John surgery but when but when the head and the heart enter into it those same fans shrug and hope for the best.

Dempsey goal wasn't enough to stop his team's defeat against Seattle. (ISI Photos//Maciek Gudrymowicz)

Dempsey goal wasn’t enough to stop his team’s defeat against Houston. . (ISI Photos//Maciek Gudrymowicz)

That was the case late last season when Seattle Sounders and U.S. MNT star Clint Dempsey was sidelined with a heart problem, a problem that kept Deuce out of Seattle’s MLS Cup-winning run and out of a pair of U.S. MNT World Cup Qualifier losses. Even as reports trickled out that Dempsey had been cleared to return to soccer activities, we held our breath.

It was a relief then when Dempsey returned to the Sounders lineup this pre-season and even more so when he received the starting nod and went 90 and scored in Seattle’s opening 2-1 loss to Houston.

4) Positive Start for ‘16 Strugglers

12 of the league’s 20 teams qualified for the playoffs in 2017, making it fairly difficult to miss out on the MLS second season. With that in mind, let’s check out the weekend results featuring the the eight clubs that fell short of last season’s MLS parity party.

Of that Hateful 8, only New England failed to garner at least a point from opening week, losing 1-0 at Colorado. Houston, last in the West in 2016, started the Wilmer Cabrera era in fine style with a 2-1 win over defending MLS Cup champions, Seattle. Goals from Cubo Torres and Romell Quioto secured the points for the Dynamo, who suddenly look a lot more “dynamic” as that goalscoring duo combine with Alberth Elis to give Dynamo fans hope of a climb up the Conference standings.

(ISI Photos/John Todd)

San Jose beat Montreal 1-0.(ISI Photos/John Todd)

Of course, the Timbers had the biggest win, even if we grade on a curve, with Orlando, and San Jose, 1-0 at home over Montreal, also recording wins.

In a matchup of two teams that sat out the eight, last year’s Eastern Conference cellar dwellers Chicago had an encouraging 1-1 comeback result at Columbus, who may consider this a case of two points dropped, rather than one earned.

The final team of the octet, the Vancouver Whitecaps, could only manage a 0-0 home draw versus Philadelphia. With a two-leg victory over the Red Bulls in CCL play already under their belt the Caps might have expected more but with 33 games left to play both teams will take the point and move on.

5) The Future is Now?

The confluence of the U.S. Men winning a first ever CONCACAF U20 Championship with yesterday’s penalty kick victory over Honduras and the start of the MLS season is too great to overlook, especially with former youth internationals like Kellyn Acosta and Zack Steffan shining for their respective MLS clubs.

Acosta in action for FC Dallas. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Acosta in action for FC Dallas. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Acosta is the veteran of the group having previously established himself as an FC Dallas regular and even picking up four senior international caps. The 23-year-old played in the 2011 U17 World Cup for the U.S. followed by two U20 Mundials.

As bright a prospect as Acosta has been, 2017 has the feel of a breakout year for the Dallas Homegrown star. Before this MLS season even began Acosta was making headlines with a pair of goals in the first leg match against Panamanian side Arabe Unido to send FCD to a 4-0 win and on to the CCL semifinals.

On Saturday Acosta followed up by ruining Curt Onalfo’s L.A. Galaxy coaching debut, scoring a brilliant game-winner as he continues to challenge the limits of the defensive midfielder tag.

And while he had to settle for a 1-1 draw in his Columbus versus Chicago, 21-year-old goalkeeper Zack Steffan was solid in his Crew debut and his progress gives Columbus and U.S. MNT fans one to watch for the future.

And what about Alphonso Davies! Just 16 years old the Liberian-born Canadian national scored in Vancouver’s CCL win versus the Red Bulls earlier in the week before impressing in a 90-minute stint in the Whitecaps 0-0 MLS season opener versus Philadelphia Sunday night.

There were other youngsters on display across MLS on opening weekend, including Philadelphia’s 20-year-old midfielder Derrick Jones, who battled Davies Sunday night.

It’s early yet but if some of the U.S. U20’s can make a mark when they return from winning that CONCACAF title, then 2017 could go down in MLS legend as the Year of the Kids.

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England Strike Late to Stun U.S. in SheBelieves Cup
England Strike Late to Stun U.S. in SheBelieves Cup avatar

Harrison, N.J. – It took 180 minutes but England finally came up with the goal that broke a day long deadlock on a brutally cold afternoon at Red Bull Arena to upset the United States before a partisan crowd of 26,500.

You could see how much this result meant to England when White scored. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

You could see how much this result meant to England when White scored. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

After Germany and France had played to a 0-0 draw in the matinee England earned the breakthrough with a late spell of pressure that gave the visitors a pair of corner kicks in the final moments of the match. Jordan Nobbs took them both with Lucy Bronze hammering the second off of the crossbar to set off a mad scramble in front of the U.S. goal, with England substitute Ellen White getting the vital touch.

It was quite a turnaround for England after conceding an added-time goal on Wednesday to lose to France with veteran England midfielder Fara Williams saying “the atmosphere really changes,” and now she is looking forward to “hopefully get the right result and win the SheBelieves.”

For Jill Ellis, the defeat was a learning opportunity. “I think sometimes you don’t learn about the details of the game and how important they are unless you unfortunately sometimes pay a price.” The details Ellis’ had in mind surrounded her team’s defense on the England goal.

“Making sure you are there for that second ball, making sure players are doing what they need to do,” Ellis explained. “Would I rather learn those lessons now? Sure?” “I think sometimes,” the U.S boss said, “when you fail the lesson hits home harder.”

It was clear that Sampson was ecstatic with the result. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

It was clear that Sampson was ecstatic with the result. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

If Ellis was philosophical following the match, England coach Mark Sampson was not surprisingly feeling proud of his team, his entire team. “Not just from the goalkeeper to the front,” Sampson explained, “from the goalkeeper to the 23rd player tonight.”

“It was a real squad effort tonight and it’s got to be to win in America,” Sampson remarked, noting, “not many teams do that.” “To come here and win,” the coach underlined, “was an important result for us.”

With the games coming fast and furious in the SheBelieves tournament all four coaches engaged in a certain amount of squad rotation today with Ellis sending out seven different starters from the opening win versus Germany Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

The U.S. continued with the new three back formation, with Becky Sauerbrunn the lone returnee. Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger completed the back three, with Johnson, in particular having a strong night. Lindsey Horan joined Wednesday’s starter Sam Mewis in the center of the park with Crystal Dunn again starting on one side of the midfield while NWSL rookie Rose Lavelle got the nod on the opposite wing.

Lavelle showed a few nerves early on before settling down. “She was fantastic,” Ellis said afterward. “She was one of the best players on the park.” More accustomed to playing centrally Lavelle was a dynamic presence on the wing, combining at times with another diminutive speedster, Mallory Pugh, to cause havoc in the English defense.

Lavelle was outstanding for the U.S. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lavelle was outstanding for the U.S. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Unfortunately for the U.S. Lavelle’s efforts failed to yield a goal, a fact that brought a groan from the Boston Breakers rookie after the match. “I know,” Lavelle sighed when asked about a first half chance. “I think I hit it right at the goalie,” she said, adding, “I wish I would have buried that one.”

Today’s results mean that the second annual SheBelieves Cup will go down to wire with the title up for grabs when all four of the teams gather Tuesday at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.

Once again the Americans will feature in the nightcap, facing France in a 7:00 o’clock start after England and Germany play in the opener. After two games France sits atop the SheBelieves Cup standings with four points. England and the U.S follow with three points and Germany trail the pack with a single point.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 0 0
ENG 0 1 1

ENG – Ellen White 89th minute

Lineups:
USA: 24-Ashlyn Harris; 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 8-Julie Johnston, 11-Ali Krieger; 19-Crystal Dunn (12-Lynn Williams, 64), 3-Samantha Mewis (20-Allie Long, 77), 9-Lindsey Horan (6-Morgan Brian, 77), 16-Rose Lavelle, 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.) (17-Tobin Heath, 76); 2-Mallory Pugh, 13-Alex Morgan (23-Christen Press, 63)
Subs not used: 1-Alyssa Naeher, 5-Kelley O’Hara, 7-Casey Short, 14-Jessica McDonald, 15-Emily Sonnett, 18-Jane Campbell, 22-Brianna Pinto
Head coach: Jill Ellis

ENG: 13-Siobhan Chamberlain; 3-Demi Stokes, 4-Lucy Bronze, 5-Steph Houghton (capt.), 7-Jordan Nobbs (8-Jade Moore, 90+3), 10-Izzy Christiansen (6-Millie Bright, 90+2), 15-Laura Bassett, 17-Fara Williams, 19-Toni Duggan (11-Ellen White, 76), 20-Karen Carney (18-Jill Scott, 63), 22-Nikita Parris (9-Jodie Taylor, 77)
Subs not used: 1-Karen Bardsley, 21-Mary Earps, 12-Rachel Daly, 14-Casey Stoney, 16-Gemma Bonner, 23-Rachel Williams
Head coach: Mark Sampson

Stats Summary: USA / ENG
Shots: 14 / 14
Shots on Goal: 2 / 3
Saves: 2 / 2
Corner Kicks: 2 / 2
Fouls: 11 / 7
Offside: 1 / 2

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Carli Lloyd (caution) 68th minute

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Germany and France Finish Level in SheBelieves Cup
Germany and France Finish Level in SheBelieves Cup avatar

Harrison, N.J. – Germany and France played to a goalless draw in the SheBelieves Cup curtain raiser to the U.S.A. vs. England game today at Red Bull Arena.

Sarah Bouhaddi, saved a penalty to keep France in the game. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Sarah Bouhaddi came up big for France. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Despite starting the match with something resembling its first 11 France was fortunate to escape with a share of the spoils. French keeper Sarah Bouhaddi came up with the save of the match when she stoned Mandy Islacker on a 24th minute penalty kick. Bouhaddi bailed herself out with the save after she downed Hasret Kayikci who had slipped behind the French defense.

Kayikci was a late addition to the German squad and with coach Steffi Jones electing to leave several regulars on the bench Kayikci was one of the young guns to impress for the Olympic champions. In an evenly played first half on what was a frigid afternoon in Harrison, France came closest to scoring when towering center back Wendie Renard
snapped a header off of the crossbar moments before Germany’s penalty try.

The second half was a different story with the Germans pelting Bouhaddi’s goal with shot after shot, aided in part by some shaky handling from the normally reliable French keeper.

France held on for a point  and a chance to win the tournament. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

France held on for a point and a chance to win the tournament. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

German coach Jones kept the pressure on, introducing first teasers Alexandra Popp, Anja Mittag, and Leonie Maier as the half unfolded. France looked certain to succeed but somehow Les Bleues held on.

This result leaves France with one win, one tie and 0 losses heading into Tuesday’s finale against the U.S. while Germany stand at 0 wins, 1 loss and 0 draws with England remaining

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U.S. Advance to U20 World Cup
U.S. Advance to U20 World Cup avatar

Needing only a tie to secure a place at the 2017 U20 World Cup the U.S. went one better Friday night, defeating El Salvador 2-1 in San Jose Costa Rica behind first half goals from Emmanuel Sabbi and Eryk Williamson.

Etyk Williamson got the game winner for the U.S. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Etyk Williamson got a goal and assist to lead his team to victory. U.S. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

The Americans were up for the challenge and that showed early with Tab Ramos’ crew flying out of the traps. With a quick turnaround since Monday’s 1-0 win over Mexico the U.S coach made some changes to his lineup, including playing Sabbi up top and that move paid early dividends.

Williamson took a good entry pass from Auston Trusty, receiving his first start, and smartly slipped a pass to send Sabbi in alone on goal. The Las Palmas, La Liga prospect did the rest, with a cool, clinical finish and after just 18 minutes the U.S. were on track for South Korea.

Seven minutes later a trip to South Korea was more or less assured when Williamson scored the goal of the tournament on long range rocket. A cross from Brooks Lennon, who is enjoying a fine tourney, fell to to Williamson 25 yards from goal and University of Maryland midfielder let fly leaving El Salvador keeper Mario Martínez with no chance.

Marvin Marquez got one back for the underdogs in the 35th minute taking a cross from Josue Rivera and beating Jonathan Klinsmann in the 35th minute. With his father looking on from the stands the keeper got a touch on the ball and but could not keep it out of the net.

The second turned scrappy and El Salvador finished the match with just nine men on the field while just 10 Americans were on the pitch for the final whistle. El Salvador’s Kevin Reyes was shown a second yellow card ten minutes from time before U.S. midfielder Sebastián Saucedo and El Salvador’s Marcos Rodríguez were booted in the 89th minute.

It was a sloppy end to the match but the U.S. will take it and move on, hoping to claim a first ever CONCACAF title at this age group with a win versus Honduras on Sunday at 4 P.M. ET.

But win, lose or draw the U.S. has qualified for a third consecutive U20 World Cup under Ramos and its 15th overall. After a dreadful performance in a 1-0 opening match loss to Panama on February 18 the Americans rebounded to reel off four wins on the trot and Ramos must be credited with keeping his young squad calm and turning things around.

Now Ramos will try to claim that first ever CONCACAF U20 title before leading his team into the World Cup in Korea Republic which runs from May 20 June 11.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 2 0 2
SLV 1 0 1

USA – Emmanuel Sabbi (Eryk Williamson) 18th minute
USA – Eryk Williamson 25
SLV – Marvin Marquez (Josue Rivera) 35

Lineups:
USA: 1-Jonathan Klinsmann; 2-Marlon Fossey, 4-Tommy Redding, 6-Justen Glad, 13-Auston Trusty; 8-Tyler Adams, 5-Erik Palmer-Brown (Capt.) (11-Sebastián Saucedo, 32), 7-Eryk Williamson; 17-Brooks Lennon (16-Jeremiah Gutjahr, 80), 18-Emmanuel Sabbi (19-Coy Craft, 72), 10-Luca De La Torre
Subs not used: 12-JT Marcinkowski, 3-Danny Acosta, 9-Jeremy Ebobisse, 15-Jonathan González, 20-Jonathan Lewis
Head coach: Tab Ramos

SLV: 1-Mario Martínez; 2-Oscar Menjivar, 3-Roberto Domínguez (Capt.), 15-Denilson Rosales (16-Diego Chávez, 21); 5-Josue Santos, 6-Diego Cartagena (14-Marcos Rodríguez, 66), 7-Kevin Reyes, 13-Fernando Castillo (11-Jonathan Aguilar, HT), 17-Walter Chiguila; 10-Marvin Marquez, 19-Josue Rivera
Subs not used: 18-Alan Carrillo, 4-Ronald Gómez, 8-Héctor Quinteros, 9-Brayan Paz, 12-Enrique Contreras, 20-Amilcar Bermúdez
Head coach: Eduardo Lara

Stats Summary: USA / SLV
Shots: 14 / 7
Shots on Goal: 6 / 3
Saves: 2 / 3
Corner Kicks: 5 / 2
Fouls: 30 / 23
Offside: 2 / 4

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Auston Trusty (caution) 31st minute
USA – Brooks Lennon (caution) 44
USA – Tommy Redding (caution) 49
USA – Justen Glad (caution) 61
SLV – Kevin Reyes (caution) 67
SLV – Mario Martínez (caution) 70
SLV – Kevin Reyes (caution) 80
SLV – Kevin Reyes (sent off) 80
SLV – Josue Santos (caution) 82
SLV – Marcos Rodríguez (sent off) 89
USA – Sebastián Saucedo (sent off) 89

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