10/10/17 US must win or tie vs T&T tonight 8 pm beIN Sport, Pulisic was magical, Argentina must win to go to WC

So the game is on beIN Sport tonight – and I know a lot of folks don’t get that channel – anyone up for gathering someplace to watch?  RE: and let me know if so.  Perhaps Stacked Pickle on Old Meridian or downtown Carmel?

The US had their backs to the wall on Friday night vs Panama and boy did they come thru !  Bruce put out an offensive attack with Altidore and Bobby Wood up front with Pulisic underneath them in the middle as attacking mid.  Then Nagbe and Arriola on the wings and Bradley handling the #6 by himself in the middle.  They came out possessing and attacking – gave Pulisic room to run and man did he come thru.  The first run up the middle off a neat flick from Wood to Altidore who would flick it to Pulisic on his sprint was brilliant – especially by Pulisic.  His control unbelievable, his finish sublime.  He followed this a few minutes later with a fake to the right, a cut to the left, and a fantastic feed across goal to Altidore for the tap in and the rout was on.  This Pulisic kid is truly fantastic!

I also thought DeAndre Yedlin reminded us what we have been missing at right back with him injured. Man he was world class – and showed he has really learned to play defense in the EPL.  Was surprised to see Cameron left off for Gonzales in the middle of defense.  My guess is Gonzo and Besler have this communication having played together so long that Bruce felt this was a key.  Overall the defense bent some but honestly the shutout was deserved.  Finally – I thought Bradley did a workman job in the middle.  He was really strung out in an up and down game – but I thought he held his own until fellow #6 McCarty came in to help in the middle after the US went up 3-0.   Not sure what the US should do tonight. Obviously in muddy conditions I think you play a little more conservatively tonight. Perhaps a back 3/5 with Cameron inserted in the middle of defense.  That and I think McCarty gets the start in the midfield with Bradley to help protect.  Also I think Dempsey maybe gets the start tonight in the mud –he’s a classic mudder and I can think of no better way for Dempsey to break the US Scoring record he shares with Landon Donovan than by scoring a goal tonight to put the US thru to World Cup 2018!

Here’s how the USA can qualify for Russia, win, lose or draw in its finale:

Win: It’s simple. Win, and the USA is in. The USA has qualified in Trinidad before–starting its streak of World Cup qualification in 1989 with Paul Caligiuri’s famous goal. T&T is out of the tourney and has little to play for other than to ruin the US chances.

Draw: If the U.S. draws, it’ll go to 13 points. A Panama win would bring Los Canaleros level on points, but the goal differential tiebreaker means it’d take a huge win over Costa Rica to pass the Americans. Honduras is in a similar boat, but in an even worse position than Panama. It would need to make up a 12-goal gap while beating Mexico and hoping the USA loses handily. It’s quite unlikely, and in short, a draw should definitely send the USA through in third place.

Loss: A loss would be fairly catastrophic, but it would not necessarily eliminate the Americans from contention–it would leave them looking for help from Costa Rica and Mexico. Panama would need to beat Costa Rica Tuesday in order to bump the USA out of third. Honduras could bump the USA out of third as well with a win over Mexico. One of them winning and the USA losing would force the Americans into a playoff against either Australia or Syria. The death scenario: If the USA loses and Panama and Honduras both win, then the USA is out altogether. It’s unlikely, but it’s in play.

USA

Tactical Approach to Tonights Game – ArmChair Analyst – Matt Doyle

Going to Be a Nightmare Field Situation Tonight – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

Check out the Field at Trinidad and Tobago

US Have 1 foot in Russia – Ian Durke – ESPNFC

US Ability to perform under Pressure both a Blessing &  A Curse – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

US Still has Work to Do –

US – Arena pushed All the Right Buttons – Matt Doyle – mls.com

Bruce Arena’s Line-up Gamble Pays off with huge win – Charles Boehm MLS.com

US Wins big over Panama – SI – Grant Wahl

Pulisic Finally Gets some Help in Win over Panama – Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

Player Ratings – Pulisic a 10 – Jason Davis ESPNFC

Players Ratings – MLS.com Greg Seltzer

Preparation was Key for US vs Panama – SI – Grant Wahl

US 4- Panama 0 –US Soccer Players

Pulisic Sends Game Jersey to young Fan Raising money for Puerto Rico –

What’s Pulisic’s Best Position – SI  Brian Straus – Oct 5.

US Defender John Brooks – Close to Returning from injury at Wolfsburg

US U17s win 2nd Advance to WC Round of 16

US u17s Win first Game 3-0 vs hosts India

WORLD

Around the World of Qualifying – Argentina Struggles, England Formation Switch Gab Marcotti ESPNF  

Argentina and Chile battle for last spot – if Brazil loses to Chile – that could knock out Argentina

Iceland Makes It In to World Cup

Wales left Heartbroken in loss to Ireland – out of WC

Mexico looks to Shut out Honduras from World Cup Tonight

World Cup Draw Seeding Implications for Qualifying Finals- for US –

GAMES ON TV 

Tues, Oct 10                     World Cup Qualifying

5 am ESPN3                     Australia 1-0 vs Syria (US might play the winner here?)

7:30 am FS 2                  Spain U17 vs Nigeria U17 WC

10:30 am FS2                 Brazil U17 vs Korea U17 WC

2:45 pm  FS 1                Portugal vs Switzerland

2;45 pm FS 2                 France vs Belarus

8 pm  beIN Sports      Panama vs USA 

Thurs, Oct 12                    

7:30 am FS 2                  Turkey U17 vs Paraguay U17 WC

10:30 am FS 2      US U17 vs Colombia U17 WC

10:30 am Fox sports Ghana U17 vs India U17 WC

Sat, OCt 14

7:30 am NBCSN               Liverpool vs Man United 

10 am NBCSN                   Man  City vs Stoke City (Cameron)

9:30 am FS2                       Bayern Munich vs Freiburg

10:15 am beIN Sport Getafe vs Real Madrid

12:30 NBC                          Watford vs Arsenal

12:30 pm FS2                   Ausburg vs Dortmund (Pulisic) vs RB Leipzig

2:45 pm beIN Sport     Atletico vs Barcelona

7:30 pm myindy Tv   Indy 11 vs NY Cosmos

Sun Oct 15

7:30 am NBCSN               Brighton vs Everton

9:30 am Fox Sport 1    Bayer Leverkusen vs Wolfsburg

11 am NBCSN                   Southampton vs Newcastle (Yedlin)

2:45 pm beIN Sport     Inter vs AC Milan

Mon, Oct 16

7:30 am FS 2                  2A vs 2 C  U17 WC (Rd of 16)

10:30 am FS 2               1B vs 3 ACD  U17 WC (Rd of 16)

Tues, Oct 17

7:30 am FS 2                  1C vs 3 ABF  U17 WC (Rd of 16)

10:30 am FS 2               1F vs 2 E  U17 WC (Rd of 16)

2:45 pm Fox Sport 1                         Real Madrid vs Tottenham (Champ League)

2:45 pm Fox Soccer  Man City vs Napoli (Champ League)

2:45 pm Fox MW        Maribor vs Liverpool

Weds, Oct 18

7:30 am FS 2                  1A vs 3 CDE  U17 WC (Rd of 16)

10:30 am FS 2               1d vs 3 BEF  U17 WC (Rd of 16)

2:45 pm Fox Sport 2                         Barcelona vs Olympiakos (Champ League)

2:45 pm Fox MW        Chelsea vs Roma (Champ League)

2:45 pm Fox Soccer  Bayern Munich vs Celtic

7 pm                                    Butler vs Indiana University at Butler Bowl !!

Thurs, Oct 19

1 pm Fox Sport 2        Crvena vs Arsenal (Europa League)

8:30 pm Fox Sport 1                         USA vs Korea Republic

Sat, Oct 21

7:30 am NBCSN               Chelsea vs Watford

7:30 am FS2                   U17 WC Quarters

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Frankfurt vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

10 am NBCSN                Man United vs Huddersfiled Town (Johnson)

10 am CNBC?                 Stoke City vs Bournemouth

12:30 pm Fox Sport 2                      Hamburger (Bobby Wood) vs Bayern Munich

Sun, Oct 22

7:30 am NBCSN               Everton vs Arsenal

7:30 am FS2                   U17 WC Quarters

7:30 am Fox soccer   U17 WC Quarters

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Freiburg vs Hertha

11 am NBCSN                Tottenham vs Liverpool

Wed Oct 18 -7 pm  – Butler Men Host Indiana University

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

EPL 2017 Schedule

 

Armchair Analyst: Tactical preview of USMNT at T&T World Cup qualifier

October 9, 20171:21PM EDTMatthew Doyle  MLS.com – Senior Writer

Consider, first, the pitch conditions at the Ato Bolden Stadium:

View image on Twitter

Nothing about Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier (8 pm ET; BeIN Sports, NBC Universo) looks like it’s going to be pleasant. There will be puddles, and there will be highlight-reel-for-all-the-wrong-reasons slide tackles, and I simply doubt that there will be much in the way of build-up play from either side.Lucky bounces will be important, and set pieces will be especially important. It’s one of those “just find a way to get a result” games, and if the Yanks manage that, they’ll have officially punched their ticket to Russia.

What Trinidad & Tobago Will Do

  • Sit deep and counter

The Soca Warriors had 32 percent of the ball in Friday’s 3-1 loss at Mexico. They completed a decent-enough 69 percent of them, but that number cratered to below 30 percent in the attacking third, and zero percent on crosses. More than 25 percent of their passes were long-balls.This is just pure, Route 1 goodness:

There’s an obvious difference between playing at Mexico and playing at home, of course. T&T will be a little more aggressive in getting on the ball and trying to do actual soccer things, and Kevin Molino and(*) Joevin Jones will probably start, so the US can expect to see at least a few dangerous, inverted runs coming in off the wings of the likely 4-1-4-1 the Soca Warriors will trot out.(*) Molino’s out via yellow card accumulation. Thanks Phil!

But the basic gameplan will be the same on Tuesday as it was on Friday. Sit, be compact, then go long and direct as hell. And maybe in the process, ruin the USMNT’s chances of going to the World Cup.

What the US Should Do

  • Dominate in the air and on second balls

No Kenwyne Jones means no big, strong, dominant target forward for T&T, which should make knockdowns of those long-balls a little bit less dangerous (the above goal notwithstanding). Still, the Trinidadian forward contingent here aren’t tiny, and they are not afraid to contest literally anything hoofed out of the back. And there will be tons of balls hoofed from the back.The US need to win those first headers, and in guys like Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, they have the ability to do so. More important, though, is that they have to win those second balls at midfield once the header is either knocked down, or cleared back up into the scrum. Thus far that has simply not been a strong point for the US under Bruce Arena.Part of the reason for that is Arena’s habitually gambled upon leaving central midfield relatively barren in exchange for a more attack-oriented approach. We saw this in its glory on Friday, that 4-0 win over Panama fired by the US overwhelming the opposing defense with five attackers.We could very well see the same thing at T&T. What I’d prefer, though, is this:

Wood/Dempsey

Pulisic

Villafana//McCarty//Bradley//Yedlin

Besler//Cameron//Gonzalez

Guzan

It’s a 3-5-2/5-3-2. I chose Dax McCarty ahead of either Kellyn Acosta or Alejandro Bedoya as Michael Bradley‘s deep central midfield partner strictly because Dax is the best of the bunch at winning those second balls. I also chose Clint Dempsey over Jozy Altidore because Dempsey’s a mudder – if there’s anybody destined to score a record-breaking goal in a swamp, it’s Deuce.I also just want to get three center backs on the field. First, it helps when dealing with the inevitable fusillade of T&T punts. Second… set pieces. The US haven’t been great (or even “good”, really) defending them for half-a-decade now. Adding a third center back makes sense, given the stakes.It also makes it much less likely that the US will be able to send numbers forward and just overwhelm the hell out of T&T like they did to Panama, but the field conditions would make that a risky strategy anyway. For this one, I’m content with the idea of a Dempsey – Bobby Wood – Christian Pulisic triumvirate with occasional up-the-flanks help from Jorge Villafaña or DeAndre Yedlin. That really should be enough.

A few more variables we’ll tackle bullet-point style:

  • Arena has been a big believer in squad rotation, so don’t be surprised if we see the likes of Tim Ream and DaMarcus Beasley out on the field. YMMV on how much you approve or disapprove of this.
  • People freaked out of Cameron not making an appearance on Friday, but I’m convinced it was because they didn’t want to overwork his balky hamstring. He’d missed most of September for Stoke, only coming back last weekend – during which he played 90 minutes at the center of a back three. The turnaround from Saturday-to-Friday was probably a little bit too tight. Now he’s got an extra four days rest, and I’ll bet you an arm he’s in the XI.
  • A win and the US are officially in. A draw would certainly do it as well, given current goal differential (the US are +5, Panama are -2 and Honduras are -7). A loss… a loss and the US could end anywhere from third to fifth place, depending upon other results.It’s all still there to play for.

Stejskal: Who should the US start against Trinidad & Tobago?

October 9, 20173:49PM EDT  Sam Stejskal Contributor – MLS.com

Last week, I took a crack at putting together my preferred starting lineup for the US national team’s do-or-die World Cup qualifier against Panama.I called for a 3-5-2 formation, which was way, way different than the 4-4-2 diamond that Bruce Arena rolled out in Orlando. That setup worked out just fine, of course, with the US romping their way to a dominant 4-0 win against Los Canaleros.

The victory put the US in full control of their World Cup qualification hopes heading into Tuesday’s match at Trinidad & Tobago (8 pm ET; beIN SPORTS, Universo). A win against the Soca Warriors, and the Americans are in. A draw would more than likely do the trick, too. A loss would make things tricky – let’s hope we don’t have to worry about any of those permutations.

While the US were rampant on Friday against Panama, I don’t expect Arena to be as aggressive with his lineup on Tuesday. The field will likely be a mess, the US are on the road and they only need a draw. Those circumstances lend themselves to a more conservative approach than what we saw on Friday, and they played a pretty big role in determining how I’d line things up.

The biggest change I’d make would be in the formation. I’d be excited to see the US use the diamond again, but it’d be more prudent to shift to a 4-2-3-1. That means switches in the midfield and up top, including bringing in the responsible, smart and experienced Alejandro Bedoya to play alongside defensive midfielder Michael Bradley. I’d also make a switch in net, starting Brad Guzanover Tim Howard to keep that goalkeeping competition kicking as the US edge closer to a probable trip to Russia next summer.

Here’s how I’d lineup the full team:

4-2-3-1, left to right

GK: Brad Guzan – Jorge Villafaña, Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin – Michael BradleyAlejandro Bedoya – Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, Paul Arriola – Jozy Altidore

Pitch will be far from perfect as United States aims to lock up World Cup spot

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad — World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF never ceases to amaze. There is drama, crazy incidents and even crazier weather conditions. is that last aspect that has taken center stage ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier between the United States and Trinidad and Tobago. When the U.S. arrived for its usual prematch practice at the game venue — in this case, Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva — it witnessed a partially flooded playing surface, a surrounding running track that was almost completely submerged and a solitary water pump gamely trying to move the water into a nearby drain.This of course led to a bit of back and forth between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association on social media and elsewhere. Turns out that the TTFA didn’t take kindly to a few tweets from the USSF’s Twitter account highlighting the state of the field. The TTFA was thoughtful enough to include a picture of the “Snow Classico” with the press release insisting that the track “was the only area affected at the Ato Boldon Stadium,” even though that wasn’t the case.U.S. keeper Tim Howard admitted that he has seen worse in England.”Those games get canceled, though,” he quipped.There have been some differing explanations as to exactly why Ato Boldon Stadium was chosen as a venue. The official line is that problems with the lighting system at Hasely Crawford Stadium, the usual venue for Trinidad and Tobago national team matches, necessitated the change. Another T&T official said back in June that it was done to cut security costs (Crawford Stadium’s capacity is 27,000, while Boldon Stadium’s is 10,000).Regardless, as of now, the game is going ahead as planned, though that could all change if there is additional precipitation. The current forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of rain around midday Tuesday, with skies expected to clear late in the afternoon.”There’s always something,” said U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley about playing on the road in CONCACAF. “It doesn’t faze us. It’s the reality of qualifying for a World Cup for us. You take it for what it is, you get a good laugh about it, and ultimately you make sure that in no way it throws off what we’re trying to do and what we’re all about.” And for all of the head-shaking and tut-tutting over the condition of the field, it doesn’t change the fact that the U.S. still has a World Cup qualifying berth to secure. A win on Tuesday guarantees a trip to Russia. Only an otherworldly set of circumstances will deny the U.S. should it tie the match. But a loss opens the door for one or both of Panama and Honduras to jump over the U.S. and either condemn the Americans to fourth place and a playoff against Australia or Syria or knock them out of qualifying entirely.The varying scenarios create a bit of an awkward situation for the Americans. Friday’s 4-0 win over Panama was as close to a must-win as you can get. That, obviously, won’t be the case on Tuesday, and that can create a mental trap for the players.”Obviously, that’s a slippery slope,” Howard said. “A tie in the end will be great, if that happens, but it’s not something that we’re planning on doing. We’re going to try and be aggressive, get our goals and play well enough to win.”There also is the added wrinkle of playing a T&T side that already has been eliminated, with manager Dennis Lawrence opting to field younger players. Kenwyne Jones wasn’t called in, and midfielder Kevin Molino is suspended, due to accumulation of yellow cards. Given that the field will be littered with players trying to prove themselves, T&T could be a dangerous opponent — and it looked the part in a 3-1 loss to Mexico on Friday.Those circumstances, along with the playing conditions, require many things from the U.S. They need to be confident in their approach but adaptable, as well.”It’s having an idea before the game of what we think the game is going to be like and how we think it’s going to play out,” said Bradley, during a roundtable with reporters. “But you also have to have guys who then, that when the game gets going, can read things and understand what’s going on, because things change, things change quickly, especially in these games where there is so much on the line.”The biggest concern for the U.S. heading into the match surrounds the health of Christian Pulisic, who sustained a calf injury against Panama. Pulisic indicated the calf has improved but stopped short of saying he would play. Manager Bruce Arena sounded a bit more optimistic that Pulisic would recover but stressed that a final decision would be made Tuesday morning.If Pulisic does play, Arena will engage in his usual ritual of determining where to play the 19-year-old. Pulisic dazzled in a central role against Panama, but on the road, Arena has tended to play him out wide in a bid to provide a bit more defensive stability alongside Bradley in the center of midfield. That could mean that one of Dax McCarty or Alejandro Bedoya will get the nod in the center of midfield and Pulisic will move ostensibly wide but with plenty of license to drift into central positions. If Pulisic can’t go, then the supporting cast that performed so well against Panama will need to provide the kind of collective effort that can compensate for the midfielder’s absence, conditions be damned.”I certainly wouldn’t expect it to be a night where there’s tons of perfect football, that’s for sure,” Bradley said.Given the stakes and the odyssey that this team has endured in qualifying, there doesn’t need to be perfection. If the U.S. can get the job done, it can leave crazy behind and let the celebrations begin.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

United States have one foot in Russia after a fraught qualifying campaign

Ronald Reagan was president and the movie “Top Gun” was breaking box office records the last time the United States failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1986.Back then, outside a tiny minority of soccer diehards, nobody in America even cared; the tournament might have been held on Mars, for all most people knew. After all, the list of failures to qualify dated back to 1950, the year of a fabled 1-0 win over England in Belo Horizonte.How times change: The U.S. has been at every World Cup since 1990 and a growing army of fans not only care, but expect to see their team on the big stage. Moreover, a generation has grown up watching live action from the top European Leagues, while Major League Soccer has gained increasing traction.In 2014, TV ratings went through the roof and, as we covered the team in Brazil, stories reached us of business people in Wall Street timing their lunch break to watch the Americans play and new converts were not disappointed.Jurgen Klinsmann’s team won hearts and minds in advancing from a mighty tough group that also featured comprising Germany, Portugal and Ghana. The U.S. even found themselves adopted as lovable underdogs by neutrals until their campaign ended in an extra-time defeat to Belgium in the Round of 16, despite the heroics of goalkeeper Tim Howard.It was a run that did much to spread word that the U.S. were not some kind of joke team and, to emphasise that point, Klinsmann also engineered away friendly wins at Italy, Germany and Netherlands during his tenure.But attempts to qualify for Russia next year have been beset by problems.Klinsmann lost his job after defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica in the first two games of the “Hex” — the final, six-team round that decides the three automatic qualifiers from the CONCACAF region. Back came Bruce Arena, the grizzled MLS coach who took the U.S. to the quarterfinals in 2002.He repaired the damage until a costly 2-0 home defeat in September to the clever Costa Ricans, who took their chances and ruthlessly squeezed America’s teenage talent Christian Pulisic out of the game.Suddenly the U.S. were outside the prized top-three places and staring at an unthinkable failure to make the World Cup. Such a failure would cost millions of dollars, as well as the loss of kudos and the damage done to the image of the sport across the nation.But with the pressure on and amid tangible tension, Pulisic ripped a hitherto miserly Panama defence to shreds during a 4-0 win in Orlando on Friday.The 19-year-old Dortmund attacker from the chocolate bar town of Hershey, Pa., insists upon his name being pronounced the American way: “Poo-liss-ick.” Mature beyond his years, he wears the No. 10 shirt of former poster boy Landon Donovan and has emerged as the team’s headline act.Now one more victory, away to bottom-of-the-table Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, will take Arena’s team to Russia at the end of this white-knuckle ride. Indeed, even a draw should be enough, such is the U.S.’ goal-difference advantage over Panama and Honduras. But might there be a sting in the tail?The American defence, which has had 19 changes in the Hex so far, does not inspire confidence and the T&T team can play with freedom with nothing but pride on the line. What’s more, they created several good chances against the U.S. earlier in the campaign, despite a 2-0 loss.Away games in CONCACAF are tough for everyone given the usual heat, imperfect surfaces and raucous intimidating crowds. So even against what is likely to be an experimental line-up, this is no formality for the Americans, who have taken just three points from four previous road qualifiers.Yet having grasped a lifeline in Orlando and with the attacking trio of Pulisic , Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood in top form, it will be a shock if the U.S. fail to clinch a spot at an eighth successive World Cup.Perhaps if those three fail to get the job done, 34-year-old Clint Dempsey can come off the bench to get the goal that would put him out on his own as the country’s all-time record scorer. After that, he can go about trying join Pele, as well as Germans Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose, as the only players to score at four World Cups.Ian Darke, who called games for the network during the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, is ESPN’s lead soccer voice in the U.S. Reach him on Twitter @IanDarke.

United States’ ability to perform under pressure both a blessing and a curse

ORLANDO, Fla. — The United States has been flirting with danger for much of this World Cup qualifying cycle. But on Friday, with everything on the line, the Americans took a massive step toward securing qualification, as they obliterated Panama 4-0.This backs-to-the-wall response is nothing new, of course. After dropping the first two games of the final-round Hexagonal, the U.S. hammered Honduras 6-0. In the semifinal round, a loss at Guatemala also imperiled the Americans’ qualifying hopes, but the U.S. responded with a 4-0 victory in the return encounter a few days later. The U.S. then cruised from there with victories over St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.On the one hand, it’s an impressive trait to be able to respond with a dominating performance when the pressure is highest. But looked at another way, why does it take such circumstances to bring the best out of the U.S.?Granted, summoning a performance like Friday’s isn’t like ordering a pizza, where you dial it up and get exactly what you want in the allotted number of minutes. It takes equal parts preparation and execution. The quality and form of the opponent, along with the varying conditions between home and road games, obviously play a part as well.But the performance against Panama, as good as it was, does highlight just how inconsistent the U.S. has been this cycle. There have been times when the team has been dominant and others when it seemed to lack urgency, which explains why that word came up so often during the team’s stay in Orlando. Certainly there has been a lack of continuity from game to game in terms of lineup choices, which no doubt also has had an impact.Manager Bruce Arena isn’t looking at it that way, of course.”We’ve had a great year despite what some of you people think,” he said at his postgame news conference. “We’ve come a long way. We’re well positioned to hopefully qualify for [the 2018 World Cup in] Russia.”He later added, “We’re doing well. I know everyone thought we were going to qualify in six games in 2017. It doesn’t happen that way. I think we’re moving along well, we’ve advanced from sixth to third, we’re positioned well with goal differential, and now we have to finish it off on Tuesday in Trinidad.”Arena has some numbers to back him up, the biggest being that the U.S. has lost but one game since he took over late last year. His overall record is 10-1-6. That record includes the Americans’ run to the title at a watered-down Gold Cup, but in World Cup qualifying, Arena’s record is 3-1-3. There has also been a 10-goal swing for the U.S. since the start of the year — from minus-5 to plus-5 — in terms of goal differential.Other figures aren’t as kind. Some predate Arena’s arrival, but others don’t. The home form, with losses to both Mexico and Costa Rica, has been spotty, to say the least. The Americans’ road form has been subpar as well compared to previous cycles. If the U.S. fails to secure victory against T&T on Tuesday, it will mark the first time since the 1986 cycle that it failed to produce at least one victory outside the U.S. in its final round of qualifying. And even if the U.S. wins against T&T on Tuesday, the six road points in the Hex will be the fewest since the 2002 cycle, when the Americans secured just five points, and one victory.That inconsistency is the biggest concern heading into Tuesday’s match. The pressure on the Americans has been relieved to a degree, not only by the win against Panama but also by Costa Rica’s dramatic tie against Honduras on Saturday. The results leave both Panama and Honduras on 10 points, two behind the U.S., and now a win on Tuesday will clinch third place outright.Given the immense advantage the U.S. has in goal differential over its rivals — it has a seven-goal cushion over Panama and a whopping 12-goal advantage over Honduras — even a tie against the Soca Warriors ought to be enough.So will the U.S. relax, or bear down even more in a bid to finish the job? Outwardly, the U.S. players seemed determined to not let any complacency creep into their collective transom. After Friday’s match, there was universal recognition among the players — from Michael Bradley to Christian Pulisic to Jozy Altidore — that the job is not done. That isn’t to say the U.S. shouldn’t draw inspiration from Friday night. Clearly it should.”We’ve got to enjoy this, use it for confidence and spirit, and make sure that come Tuesday, we’re ready to finish the job,” said Bradley, the U.S. captain.It’s been a habit of the U.S. during the Hex that whenever it seemed ready to put some distance between itself and its rivals, it has been dragged back into the mire with a lackluster performance. Clearly the U.S. team’s psyche is in as good a place as it’s been all year. Keeping lineup changes to a minimum — health permitting — should enable Arena to keep it that way. Then it’s down to the players to get it done on the field.The U.S. has a firm grip on qualification after Friday’s impressive performance. Now it’s time for them to make it secure, leave nothing to chance, and get a victory in Trinidad.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle. 

Warshaw: US national team fans beware – Arena’s team still has work to do

October 9, 201710:58AM EDT Bobby WarshawI’m about to say something, and not support it, because I’m pretty sure you know it’s true: The subconscious is stronger than the conscious. This girl is right for me; this girl is definitely not the one. My mom keeps driving me crazy; I should call my mom. It’s okay for me to leave only a 12 percent tip for this guy; I’m a bad person.We can work really hard to want something or to make the logical decision, but it never compares to the subconscious desire within us. We are always kinda at the mercy of the little seed planted deep in our minds.It’s the same for the players you see out on the field. Players can say the right things – “It’s gonna be a battle out there and we’re gonna have to fight for every inch” – and do the right things like showing up early to training or staying late to do extra work in the weight room. But they can’t change the little thought in the back of their brains.

US still has work to do

The country celebrated Friday evening when the USMNT trounced Panama 4-0, but it may have all been a bit premature.The US still is not mathematically set for Russia. In fact, it’s not even totally logically locked.

Bruce Arena and Co. currently lead both Panama and Honduras by two points. It’s a super slim margin given 1) Panama and Honduras both play at home and 2) both Panama’s and Honduras’ opponents, Mexico and Costa Rica, have already qualified and do not have anything to play for and 3) it’s CONCACAF.

As such, it’s very possible that both Panama and Honduras could win on Tuesday night, forcing the US to need at least a point on the road in Trinidad and Tobago.As US fans, we tend to take matches like T&T for granted. But I remind you once again, it’s CONCACAF; and an everything-on-the-line game. Put both of those in a pot and find out what comes in an hour-and-a-half. It definitely won’t be whatever they had on the box.The USMNT needs to plan to get a point on Tuesday to qualify for the World Cup. And yet, those words are more easily logically understood than subconsciously registered. Like, we can all mathematically say we know the US needs a point, but Friday was so amazing! And are Panama and Honduras really going to win? Panama was so bad last game. And even if we don’t play our best, we can still beat Trinidad, right? I mean, it’s Trinidad. And they don’t even have Stern John anymore.See what I did there? It’s really easy to convince yourself that the game isn’t important, that you don’t need to bring the I-will-kill-you-for-this-seemingly-and-probably-worthless-loose-ball-in-the-middle-of-the-field mentality.Human brains are lazy. Players are no different. If you give a player an inch, he will take a mile. National team players are a little different, of course – it’s how they got to make the national team. But they are still human. They still have sub-conscious tendencies; they’d still prefer to coast at 4-0 than fight to the death at the end. If the brain gets a sliver of a sense that it can relax, it will.

Complacency: It happens

It’s happened to every player. You look at the schedule and you see what should be an easy game coming up. It’s kind of nice to see; it’s nice to get a break from the never-ending grind. You’re just so tired. You tell yourself, though, not to get stuck in the trap.

You promise to double your efforts in the week to stay sharp. You do your reps and your preparation. You show up to the stadium a few minutes early to make a mental statement. You go through the usual pre-game routine, maybe doing a couple extra knees-to-chest to make sure the body know what’s coming.

Then the game starts and you are a second slow on everything. Your brain isn’t clicking at the same speed and your muscles aren’t firing with the same intensity. The dude who has no business running by you is running by you. You hate yourself for letting it happen.You did everything you could, but your brain never got past the “easy game” thought. The subconscious won.

If there’s one line I will use over and over and not apologize for it: The margins at the top level are slim and every percentage point makes a huge difference. If a player drops his intensity or focus by one percent, he loses his margin of advantage.

Think about all the players who have moved down a level and struggled; their ability hasn’t diminished, they just haven’t been able to get their brain to same level of desire. If your subconscious brain thinks it’s going to be easy and drops your focus by that one percent, you’re not going to be the same player. And it’s really hard for the logical part of your brain to convince your subconscious to change.

Can they avoid the trap?

What can a player do to protect against the complacency? I wish I had a better answer, but I don’t know. Tell me how to manipulate the subconscious and we’ll go make a billion dollars together.Some players naturally have a high level of intensity. When you hear players mention each other’s professionalism, this is largely what they mean: how much desire does he bring every day to the job? Does he provide the same work rate in everything he does? It generally aligns with what you’d guess from watching on TV.A coach plays a huge rule, as well. The staff can show clips of the opponent’s best moments, creating a sense that the team is better than previously perceived. Some coaches also just have that sense of “if you drop your intensity for one second I will kill you with my bare hands” vibe. Or sometimes a manager can rotate players, and start a group who will be excited to be on the field at all.Training environment, too, has a huge effect. If a player or team trains at a certain level all the time, it doesn’t have it in its muscle memory to drop its performance. Again, though, it’s tough to get humans to that level every single day. Coaches who try don’t tend to last very long.Complacency is one of the top problems all teams and players face. It’s always lurking around the corner. You even know it’s there. But it’s only when you stop looking for it that it pops out.The USMNT might not need a result on Tuesday. But call your moms, y’all. 

Armchair Analyst: Arena whispering in Caesar’s tomb

October 7, 201710:29AM EDTMatthew DoyleSenior

Most of my takes are in the video above or in the special edition of ExtraTime Radio linked below, but I’ll give you the short version here: Bruce Arena’s made a career out of taking calculated risks. In general most of those risks – the 5-4-1 at Mexico in June, or the 3-5-2 vs. Mexico in the 2002 World Cup, or the seen-them-too-often-at-the-time-but-in-hindsight-I-sorta-get-it double d-mid formations of the 2002 and 2006 qualifying cycles – were defensive in nature.On Friday night, in a must-win game against Panama, he went in the other direction. Our man Charlie Boehm covered it in detail in his column, and here’s the telling quote from the manager: “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”Wait no, that quote’s from something else. Here’s the real one: “We wanted to push five players forward into the attack as aggressively as we could.”They did exactly that, again and again and again, until the scoreline read 4-0 and Hernan Dario Gomez read the Panamanian press the riot act. They played a wide diamond, which I’d not have done and which displeased me when I saw it; they played Christian Pulisic as a burst-through-the-lines No. 10, which I most certainly would have done and pleased me greatly; they used the fullbacks to support rather than overlap, which gave a solidity and structure to the back four that has, at times, been lacking.  And also this:View image on Twitter

Bradley is not a perfect player, and a lack of consistency in formation and squad selection has led to some subpar passing numbers relative to what he’s done in the past, and what he does on the weekly with Toronto FC. But you don’t take this chance – you don’t go full Mark Antony – if you have just any old defensive midfielder covering that spot. Your risk calculations probably push you in the other direction, toward a grit-and-grind one-goal result.The US have had a lot of those over the decades, and Arena was particularly masterful at pulling them off during his first tenure as manager. His teams did so with such frequency that it was a point of unquestioned belief amongst the fanbase that he was a conservative, defensive manager first and foremost.This win over Panama, and the 6-0 over Honduras to start his eight-game run-in as resuscitator of the program Jurgen Klinsmann nearly smothered to death, gives the lie to that belief. Arena’s not an ultra-defensive manager; he’s an ultra-pragmatic manager. And sometimes pragmatism demands that you’re Antony in Caesar’s tomb, vowing total war via all-out attack.Not against Mexico, mind you, and not against Costa Rica either. Panama was a different sort of challenge and so it was a different sort of calculus for the manager and the players. But the idea of “let’s make Bradley’s job a lot harder so that the attack’s job is a bit easier” was a worthy trade-off. What comes next will be interesting to see. Even after a 4-0 I still think we’ll get a more defensive set-up at Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday for the final qualifier of this cycle, because it just feels like the right call for a road game where all that’s needed is a draw. That could mean a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-5-2 or even a 5-4-1 (that last one feels a step too far).After that, assuming the US does indeed qualify for Russia, it becomes a more open question of what the US can become over the next eight months rather than the question of what the US mustbecome that dominated 2017.Arena’s pragmatism in answering that second question has revealed him to be something of an idealist. That’s not the risk I thought he’d take. I’m glad I was wrong, and I’m very much looking forward to finding out what it might mean next summer, with the whole world watching.

Boehm: Bruce Arena racks up latest big-game win as lineup gamble pays off

October 7, 201712:38AM EDTCharles BoehmContributo

ORLANDO, Fla. – This is just a hasty, back-of-the-napkin calculation, so don’t take it as statistical gospel.But by my approximate count, going all the way back to his University of Virginia days and including his long career in MLS and the US national team, Friday’s World Cup qualifier vs. Panama was the 1,020th high-level soccer game that Bruce Arena has head-coached.People often toss around phrases like “I’ve done this a thousand times,” but in Arena’s case, he really has seen just about everything in his three-plus decades on the sidelines. So as the USMNT gathered in central Florida this week, their World Cup hopes hanging in the balance as fans and the media fretted and probed, the players could look to their grizzled, wisecracking leader and know that he’s been there, done that.“He prepares his teams well for whatever situation that we’re in,” defender Matt Besler said of Arena postgame. “He did a great job of motivating us and preparing us the right way. Then at the end of the day it’s in our hands. He gives this team confidence and he has an experience about him, the way that he goes about things, because he’s been in these positions before. And that carries over to his teams.”And when the opening whistle blew at Orlando City Stadium, all the careful planning and intense preparation clicked, unleashing a vicious storm of attacking soccer that left Panama bruised, breathless and humiliated, to the tune of a 4-0 rout.“In all my years with the national team, this is probably the most prepared I think the team has been, in terms of the work that the coaching staff put in,” said Jozy Altidore, who scored two goals and set up a third. “It’s a huge, huge A+ to them.“From Sunday, since the guys landed, they were showing video, pulling guys aside, making sure we were prepared for this game. They made us understand how important the game was to them. Kudos to Bruce and his team for preparing everybody.”Details matter at this level. And though Arena makes a good show of dismissing the game’s complexities with his wry smile and smart-aleck demeanor, he’s shown time and again that he can master them, and deploy them to help his teams win.On paper, the USMNT started in a 4-4-2 (or 4-1-3-2 if you’re being pedantic) that many – this correspondent included – were quick to depict as more of the same for a squad whose recent performances seemed to suggest they needed something much more dramatic. There was even a whiff of recklessness, perhaps overconfidence, in a setup that piled a great deal of responsibility on Michael Bradley, the sole defensive midfielder behind five attack-minded colleagues.“I think we’ve played some of our best games like that,” said goalkeeper Tim Howard. “Michael is as honest and hard-working as they come. The guys who played in alongside of him were asked to do two jobs: spring the attack, get in off the shoulder, and then also protect the fullbacks. So tough job for Darlington [Nagbe] and Paul [Arriola], but they did it well tonight.”As it turned out, the home side weren’t leaving their backsides exposed so much as baring their teeth – and their guests were quickly devoured, falling behind 2-0 before 20 minutes had elapsed.“They smelled blood from the beginning,” Howard said of Altidore, his strike partner Bobby Wood and Christian Pulisic, deployed underneath them as a classic No. 10. “Any time they picked up the ball it was either a yellow-card foul or some sort of breakaway. They clearly recognized that from the beginning. We spoke about being aggressive, not just ‘being up against them and kicking them’ aggressive, but getting the ball, playing forward, putting them on their heels. We stuck to the game plan – it was good.”The USMNT had spoken repeatedly of the importance of scoring first in the lead-up to this game, which is easy to say. But Arena set up a starting XI that made that easy for his players to achieve, too. When Panama got up off the canvas and began to mount a response, Arena had a plan for that, too.“Yes, it was,” he said postgame when asked if he considered his team’s tactics and shape a gamble. “We wanted to push five players forward into the attack as aggressively as we could. The way Panama plays, we could afford to do that.“They made a change when they took [Edgar Yoel] Barcenas out [in the first half] and they went to some version of a 4-2-1-3, maybe, and put a little bit more pressure on Michael, had three players in the central part of the midfield. That’s why we brought Dax [McCarty] in, to play next to Michael, give him a little bit more help.”While their fans were fretting, the US were building the tools for victory, secure in the knowledge that their boss had a solid plan for success in a big moment, in front of an appreciative, partisan crowd.Turns out, he did.“Everybody was relaxed,” Altidore said. “We knew we were coming to a place where we were going to have heavy support, as we did here tonight, and we knew we just had to make sure we were the protagonist tonight, and put them under pressure from the first minute, and we did that.”

Christian Pulisic finally gets some help as U.S. teammates step up vs. Panama

ORLANDO, Fla. — The debate has raged for much of this calendar year. Where do you play Christian Pulisic?The 19-year-old usually plays out wide for his club, Borussia Dortmund, though the particular wing he plays on changes every so often. U.S. manager Bruce Arena has alternated Pulisic between wide and more central positions, but the discussion has tended to obscure an even larger truth about this U.S. team: If the players around Pulisic don’t play well, it doesn’t really matter where he lines up. He’ll be smothered, kicked and largely shut down.So on a night when Pulisic was reinserted into a central role in the U.S. attack and excelled, it was the collective contribution from players not named Christian Pulisic that proved to be a huge difference in the 4-0 victory over Panama on Friday night.”We played in a way from the get-go that left no doubt as to who was going to win the game,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. “Across the board we had guys ready for a big game, and come through in a huge way.” Without question, Pulisic reveled in his newfound (or was it regained?) freedom, drifting up field in a bid to provide closer support to forwards Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood. It allowed him to find pockets of space and when the U.S. lost the ball, he was intent on attacking as quickly as possible before Panama could get sufficient numbers back.Pulisic pushed forward even when the U.S. didn’t have the ball, relying on Darlington Nagbe, Paul Arriola and even Altidore at times to put in more of the defensive dirty work. It’s what allowed Pulisic to score one goal, assist for another and run at the Panama defense countless other times that led to plenty of near-misses.”I think with Christian playing in the hole like that, he’s able to just sniff stuff out, and I thought he was the difference, between playing him in the middle and on the wing,” Altidore said. “He was able to disrupt them in so many ways, and you saw the difference he can make in the middle of the park, being able to go each way and just being so dynamic. I thought that was a big plus for us.”But instead of waiting for Pulisic to carry the load in the “save us Christian” offense, his teammates were right there with him, taking the initiative. Wood and Altidore were dynamic in their movement and precise with their touches. Or at least precise enough, as evidenced by Altidore’s layoff to Pulisic for the Americans’ opener, one in which Pulisic had to reach back and touch the ball into open space and before rounding Panama keeper Jaime Penedo and scoring into an empty net.”We needed a lot of movement against a physical Panama team that was going to sit in and not make it easy for us,” Pulisic said. “Our movement was good today. I was able to play off [Wood and Altidore]. They had some great layoffs to me and think the spacing was pretty good for most of the night.”Wood and Altidore got on the scoresheet as well, with Altidore scoring twice before half-time — including a deft, Panenka-style penalty — and Wood scoring the Americans’ lone goal in the second half. It amounted to a complete performance from both players.That was by no means the extent of the attacking help supplied to Pulisic. Nagbe and Arriola excelled on the wings, albeit in different ways: Nagbe served as the crafty playmaker, while Arriola used his speed to offer a more classic wing presence. It seemed that whenever the U.S. engaged the hyper-drive in its transition game, Arriola was joining the attack to provide another passing option for Pulisic, or whomever else was manning the controls on a particular counter-attack. And it was Nagbe who at times provided the pressure-breaking pass, like the ball he played into space for Pulisic in the run-up to Altidore’s 19th minute goal.”We were dynamic; we could play on either side tonight, and I think that makes it tough on defenses,” Altidore said.That mobility was an aspect with which the Canaleros simply couldn’t cope, leaving Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez playing tactical catch-up. He subbed out Edgar Barcenas after 26 minutes and changed his formation to put more pressure on Bradley. While Panama did threaten a few more times thereafter, it proved unable to do anything to slow down the U.S. offense, which continued to find opportunities on the break.The irony is that this was a night when the U.S. didn’t finish all that well.”We could have scored a lot more goals,” Arena noted.Wood and Arriola in particular had opportunities to pad the U.S. lead but such was the dominance displayed, both individually and collectively, that it didn’t matter. Even though the Americans had some shaky moments early on in defense, it recovered to deliver a better second half.Credit is due to Arena as well. He took some deserved heat for his decisions during the September fixture period. But on this night, he sensed a weakness in Panama’s defense and set his team out with a tactical plan that used their speed advantage.”In all my years with the national team, I don’t think I’ve ever been this prepared,” Altidore said. “Since the guys landed on Sunday, the coaching staff were showing video, pulling guys aside, making sure we were prepared for this game. They made us aware how important this game was to everybody. At the end of the day, the players have to go out and do it but I thought we were very well prepared today.So Arena will be keeping Pulisic central for the foreseeable future, right? If only it were that simpl.Arena may very well keep the same formation against Trinidad & Tobago. But against more potent teams — like the kind the U.S. will encounter at the World Cup, assuming they qualify — the single holding midfielder setup will likely come under more pressure.This is not intended as a knock on Bradley, rather an acknowledgement that one less defensive domino needs to fall in order for teams to get a chance at goal. Even a team like Trinidad & Tobago, who the U.S. will face on Tuesday, stretched the U.S. defense to the breaking point in their World Cup qualifier last June. Right now that appears to be a tradeoff Arena is willing to make.”Yes, it was [a gamble]. We wanted to push five players forward in the attack as aggressively as we could,” Arena said. “The way Panama plays we could afford to do that.”That won’t always be the case, but that is a concern for another day. The U.S. team’s World Cup qualifying campaign is back on track, the swagger has returned and while Pulisic’s play remains a source of confidence, this time so were the performances of everyone else on the field.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

Pulisic makes his case for a central role as U.S. crushes Panama 4-0

ORLANDO, Fla. — The U.S. men’s national team got its World Cup qualifying campaign back on track with a 4-0 victory over Panama on Friday night. The Americans did most of their damage in the first half as Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore scored inside the first 20 minutes, and Altidore converted a penalty in the 43rd minute. Bobby Wood closed out the scoring with a 63rd-minute tally.Here are three thoughts from the match:

  1. U.S. transition play instrumental in crushing Panama

There was tension in the U.S. camp heading into this match. Altidore admitted as much. But tension isn’t always a bad thing. It can create a reservoir of focus, determination and resolve. That proved to be the case.The U.S. clearly learned its lesson from its last home match, a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica in World Cup qualifying. In that game, the U.S. — for all of its possession — rarely threatened the Ticos’ back line. Panama was expected to do much the same, but the U.S. was determined not to fall into the trap of constantly having to break down a set defense. The plan was simple: break as quickly as possible with every opportunity, and if Panama did get set, play quickly through clever touches and off-the-ball running.Panama had no answer for this approach, as the Americans connected twice in the first 20 minutes. A long ball in the eighth minute from U.S. keeper Tim Howard was flicked on by Wood to Altidore, whose quick pass was touched into space by Pulisic. In alone on goal, Pulisic rounded Panama keeper Jaime Penedo and slotted the ball in from a tight angle to put the U.S. up 1-0.The explosion of joy both on the field and in the stands was understandable. The U.S. spent much of the past two games trailing, and going a goal up in this match meant it could now dictate the game tactically, with Panama forced to come out of its shell a bit.It wasn’t long before the U.S. was up 2-0. A clever ball over the top by Darlington Nagbe put Pulisic in the clear. He beat Michael Murillo and made a low centering feed that found Altidore for an easy tap-in. Altidore helped himself on the play as Felipe Baloy bit hard on the U.S. forward’s near-post feint, allowing Altidore to move toward the back post and convert.Panama threatened a few times, with Alberto Quintero going on one mazy run that was thwarted only when his shot was blocked by DeAndre Yedlin. But the U.S. capped its dominant half when Panama substitute Armando Cooper hauled down Wood in the box, and Altidore converted the ensuing penalty kick with a “Panenka” that sailed just under the bar as Penedo dove hard to his left.The U.S. was largely untroubled in the second half as it continued to threaten on the counter, even after Pulisic was subbed out in the 57th minute. Wood fired home a shot on the turn in the 63rd minute to complete the rout.

  1. Pulisic states his case for a central role

One of the big talking points surrounding the U.S. side has been where to deploy Pulisic. Coach Bruce Arena has tended to position the 19-year-old in a central role at home, and in a wider position on the road. On this night, Pulisic certainly drove home his point in terms of how effective he can be in the middle. He was free to drift wherever he liked, and he played well off Wood and Altidore. Pulisic, an attacker for Borussia Dortmund, linked up especially well with Altidore.But this was also a night when Pulisic’s teammates stepped up in a big way. A case can also be made that Pulisic benefited from the speed in the U.S. lineup. Paul Arriola was constantly providing an outlet in transition moments, giving the Panama defense no easy answers as to who to defend. The Americans’ off-the-ball movement was also much sharper, as Altidore didn’t hesitate to go wide to drag defenders with him. Of course, Pulisic was dynamic too, darting into spaces to spark the U.S. attack.The U.S. needs a win against Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday to all but guarantee third place in the Hexagonal — and a spot in the World Cup — and the case for keeping Pulisic in the middle is strong indeed.

  1. U.S. can exhale, but job is only half-done

While Pulisic’s central role seems cemented, some other areas of the Americans’ game still need some sharpening. The weakness created by Pulisic playing in the middle is that it leaves Michael Bradley with an immense amount of defensive work to do in the center of midfield. On this night, Arriola and Nagbe did their bit to tuck and provide some help.But there were also some moments when Panama was able to break pressure, including one instance in the 30th minute when several defensive dominoes fell, allowing Gabriel Torres a clear look at goal, but Howard was able to parry the shot. Center-backs Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez had to engage in some emergency defending at times, and each had some difficult moments, but it seemed that when one was beaten, another defender was there to scramble the ball away. The return — and speed — of Yedlin also put the U.S. in a better position to recover.Arena seems to understand the defensive limits of the diamond midfield and the amount of punishment that Pulisic should have to take. He was the recipient of some heavy hits again, both on and off the ball. So with the game in hand, Arena substituted Dax McCarty for Pulisic to give the boy wonder a rest and to add some defensive stability.Arena can look to hone those issues in the coming days. But this was precisely the kind of performance the U.S. needed, enabling the side to exhale a bit after enduring a month of doubt and anxiety about its World Cup qualification bid. The U.S. now sits in third place, two points ahead of Panama and three points ahead of Honduras, pending the Honduras-Costa Rica match on Saturday.The U.S. job is only half-done, however. The team hasn’t won consecutive games in this round, yet will need to if it is to hang on to third place — which still wouldn’t be guaranteed if Honduras overturns a minus-12 goal differential to the U.S. Trinidad and Tobago is in last place, but that can be a tricky proposition. Unlike the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago will have nothing to lose and no pressure Tuesday. But based on Friday’s performance, it appears the U.S. has regained its form just in time.Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.

Christian Pulisic just short of perfect 10 leading U.S. to massive win

Facing the possibility of missing out on the World Cup for the first time since 1986, the United States men’s national team responded with a resounding 4-0 win over Panama at Orlando City Stadium on Friday night in Orlando, Florida. Christian Pulisic starred, but the win was a team effort for a beleaguered group in desperate need of a strong performance.

Positives

With an ultra-attacking mentality that brought as much risk as it did possible reward, the Americans made their chances count to take a 3-0 halftime lead. Pulisic stole the show, illustrating that it’s not necessary to get the teenager a wealth of touches for him to impact the game. The attacking group as a whole — Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Bobby Wood — worked well in combination, especially on the counter.

Negatives

The flipside of the attacking posture the Americans took was acres of space left in front of their backline. Michael Bradley did what he could floating across the field as a lone shield, but a reactive posture from the center-back pairing exacerbated problems at the back. A lack of defensive work from the flanks of the “diamond” contributed as well. Luckily for the U.S., Panama wasn’t good enough to take advantage.

 

Manager rating out of 10:

8.5 — Bruce Arena took a chance and it worked. Whatever tactical naivety Panama manager Hernan Dario Gomez showed with his choices, the U.S. boss deserves credit for trusting his team to score goals and mitigate the defensive vulnerabilitiesinherent in the formation. If there are any bones to pick with Arena, it’s regarding his choice to leave Pulisic on th field as long as he did with the youngster facing physical play from Panama.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Tim Howard, 6.5 — Not asked to do much, with just two simple saves on the evening.

DF DeAndre Yedlin, 8.5 — Showed why he’s the first-choice right-back whenever healthy. Used his speed to help cover for a shaky central defense on more than one occasion.

DF Omar Gonzalez, 5.5 — Shaky and reactive for much of the night. Made a few important clearances in the air. Seemed unsure of his partnership with Matt Besler.

DF Matt Besler, 5.5 — Dropped too quickly and allowed space for Panama players at the top of the box, especially in the first half. Improved in the second half.

DF Jorge Villafana, 6 — Competent, professional display on a night when he was not overly tested or asked to involve himself in the attack on a consistent basis.

MF Paul Arriola, 6.5 — Just a touch or two off an excellent performance. Went missing at times but added more midfield defensive work in the second half with the U.S. leading.

MF Michael Bradley, 7 — Left isolated in front of the back line until Dax McCarty’s introduction, did what he could to slow down Panama. Pushed the Americans forward to establish tone in the first half.

MF Darlington Nagbe, 6 — Started brightly, driving the ball out of midfield to set up American dominance. Played a perfect pass on the second goal to spring the break, but was lost on defensive side of the ball much of the night.

MF Christian Pulisic, 9.5 — A near perfect performance from the teenager. Provided danger on every touch of the ball, and set the game up for the Americans with the opening goal. His star rises higher.

FW Bobby Wood, 8 — Rewarded with a goal a half hour from full time after a full night of providing energy and danger. Won a penalty that led to a goal and was key to more than one counter-attack.

FW Jozy Altidore, 8.5 — Did everything asked of him, including scoring a goal. The tap-in finish was simple, but his work dropping in and flicking on balls for advancing midfielders was crucial to the excellent first half and his cheeky Panenka penalty was well taken.

 

Substitutes

MF Dax McCarty, 7.5 — Did exactly as asked when inserted to change the U.S. midfield and get Pulisic out of harm’s way. Passed the ball with precision and intelligence.

FW Clint Dempsey, NR — Had limited touches and never really impacted the game.

MF Alejandro Bedoya, NR — Helped see out the match in a late cameo.

Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.

 

SMNT Player Ratings: Attacking trio shines in blowout victory

October 6, 201710:46PM EDT

Greg SeltzerContributorThanks to the stylish efforts of their attack hydra, the US national team easily got their backs away from the World Cup qualifying wall with a convincing 4-0 rout of Panama in Orlando on Friday night.

Jozy Altidore, Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood got the home side off to a racing start and would eventually provide all the goals needed to lift the Nats into prime position for another World Cup ticket.

Tim Howard (6.5): The US netminder was rarely tested, but he comfortably made an important first-half save. Howard also completed a handful of long boots, including one that led to the opener.

DeAndre Yedlin (7): The Newcastle right back made the biggest defensive play of the night when he raced over to wipe out an Alberto Quintero penalty area chance near the half-hour mark. Yedlin didn’t threaten much on the overlap, but he ably supported possession when called upon.

Omar Gonzalez (6.5): Gonzo was turned early, but was solid defensively the rest of the way. The defender also played some smart passes to ignite the break.

Matt Besler (6.5): Though sent scrambling by pace in space on a couple of occasions, Besler effectively shut down Panama’s crossing game. Like his partner, the Sporting Kansas City man offered some incisive passes into attack.

Jorge Villafana (6.5): The Santos Laguna left back played conservatively on the ball, but smothered most of the Panama attackers that ventured into his corner.

Michael Bradley (6): Guilty of a couple of cheap giveaways in the opening frame, the skipper kept it safer after intermission. Bradley covered a lot of ground defensively until the subs gave him some late help.

Paul Arriola (7): The D.C. United winger was ever eager to provide pressure valve work and turn these moves into counterattacks. He eventually picked up a smart assist to go with his eight total defensive stops.

Darlington Nagbe (5.5): It was a somewhat vanilla outing for Nagbe, even if he completed 22 straight passes after committing a weak early turnover in central midfield. The Portland Timbersmidfielder definitely could have offered more defensive resistance.

Christian Pulisic (8.5): The Borussia Dortmund phenom’s fancy feet were in full effect. Pulisic’s technical skills were key on both his icebreaker and the set-up for Altidore’s first. He also beat five defenders on the dribble in the opening 25 minutes, setting the tone for this important romp.

Bobby Wood (8): The Hamburg ace’s movement on and off the ball thoroughly unsettled Panama’s defensive set-up. Wood’s insistent dribbling earned the US a spot kick, and after a couple of missed chances he chalked up a deserved goal with a splendid turn-and-finish in the box.

Jozy Altidore (8.5): The team’s cobra head was in a strike pose from the onset. Altidore repeatedly plowed the road forward with his link touches, most notably on Pulisic’s quick opener. The Toronto FC star then got to the end of some moves to bag a double.

 

Coach Bruce Arena (7.5): The boss took a tactical gamble and it paid off big time. While the US were worryingly stretched at the back a few times, they never broke and the team’s aggressive game plan lit up the scoreboard early and often.

Subs

Dax McCarty (7): The 57th minute sub put in one of his most assured US performances. McCarty moved the ball shrewdly and offered Bradley some needed help guarding the gate.

Clint Dempsey (5.5): The Seattle Sounders goal monster was never in a position to strike for the USMNT scoring record, but typically kept the ball moving.

Alejandro Bedoya (–): Just a few touches in a late cameo.

 

Unstoppable Pulisic, Altidore Set USA Back on Course for World Cup Berth

  • Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore were dominant early, while DeAndre Yedlin’s return made a difference and the USA took a big step toward qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.Grant WahlOctober 06, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. — The U.S. responded to the threat of missing World Cup 2018 by unleashing one of its best performances in recent memory on Friday night, thrashing Panama 4-0 in a World Cup qualifier the Americans were desperate to win.Emerging U.S. star Christian Pulisic had a game to remember, scoring a brilliantly poised goal in the eighth minute and assisting on Jozy Altidore’s strike 11 minutes later to give the Americans a cushion they would not relinquish. Altidore added another goal from the penalty spot, followed by a Bobby Wood insurance goal in the second half.The victory vaulted the U.S. (12 points) past Panama (10) into third place in the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal with one game left. The top three teams will qualify automatically for Russia, while the fourth-place team will face Australia or Syria in a two-game playoff in November for a World Cup berth.The four-goal margin of victory was also helpful for the U.S.—it left the Americans with a plus-5 goal difference and Panama at minus-two. That means the U.S. would almost certainly have the tie-breaker over Panama as long as the U.S. can tie at Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

Here are three thoughts on the game:

PULISIC HAD HIS BIGGEST GAME IN A U.S. JERSEY

The 19-year-old has played in important games in front of 80,000 fans for his club, Borussia Dortmund, against opponents like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, but Friday was a defining moment for Pulisic in a U.S. jersey.His eighth-minute goal was a masterclass of skill, athleticism and speed of thought. He followed his first touch—a mind-bending reach-back to corral Altidore’s pass—by torching Román Torres, cutting wide to evade goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and finishing at a perilously acute angle at dizzying speed. How many attackers anywhere would have had the poise to pull that off? Just 11 minutes later, Pulisic skinned Michael Murillo on a textbook cutback out wide before delivering a pinpoint cross to Altidore for the goal. Pulisic had a ton of pressure on his shoulders Friday, and he delivered. He has now been directly involved in eight of the U.S.’s 15 goals in the nine games of the Hexagonal so far.

YEDLIN AND ARRIOLA WERE WELCOME STARTERS

The right back position got a big upgrade with the return of DeAndre Yedlin, who hadn’t played in any qualifiers since June due to injury. Yedlin’s speed allowed him to push up in the U.S. attack, and his work with Rafa Benítez at Newcastle United has turned him into a much more astute defender with more tactical awareness. The 24-year-old Yedlin made a series of good defensive plays and reminded everyone that he can make a difference.

As for Paul Arriola, his motor ran non-stop on Friday, creating space and chances for the U.S. and putting the Panamanians on their back foot. Arriola can still add some nuance to his game, but his energy is infectious. He’ll deserve to get more starts moving forward.

THE VIBE AROUND THIS U.S. TEAM CHANGED IN AN INSTANT

All week long we heard stories asking what it would mean if the U.S. missed its first World Cup since 1986. And while that talk would return if the U.S. lost on Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago, the talking points changed dramatically on Friday night.How good can Pulisic end up being? How impressive was the understanding between Pulisic and Altidore—who scored twice and showed remarkable poise on his Panenka penalty? And wasn’t it refreshing to see the U.S. score early and then continue to drop the hammer instead of letting the opponent back in the game?On Tuesday the Americans will have a chance to string together their first consecutive wins in this entire angst-ridden Hexagonal. It would be the perfect time to do it—and seal a berth in World Cup 2018 on a high note.

USA Stars Point to Planning, Aggressive Approach in Curing World Cup Qualifying Woes

  • “In all my years with the national team, I don’t think I’ve ever been this prepared.” It showed for Jozy Altidore and the USA, who moved within reach of a World Cup berth after routing Panama on a memorable night in Florida.

Grant Wahl October 07, 2017

ORLANDO, Fla. — In the days before the U.S.’s tension-soothing 4-0 World Cup qualifying blowout of Panama on Friday, the players went through what Jozy Altidore called some of the most detailed preparations he had ever encountered in his national team career to ready a gameplan that would attack Panama mercilessly from the opening whistle.The key, captain Michael Bradley said, would be found in movement, especially among the three lead men—Altidore, Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood—in a bold five-man attack.“I thought we were smart in how we went about it,” Bradley said on Friday night. “We talked a lot about making sure that Jozy and Bobby and Christian were mobile and not making things so clear and easy for [Panama], not giving them reference points. I thought the three of them did a really good job.”Added Pulisic: “We needed a lot of movement against a physical Panama team that’s going to sit in and not make it easy for us. Our movement was good today. I was able to play off those guys, and they had some great layoffs to me. I think the spacing was pretty good for most of the night. Still some things we can do better, but I think the gameplan was pretty much executed.”

The Panamanians had conceded only five goals in the first eight games of the Hexagonal, but the U.S. attack tore them apart on Friday, scoring two goals in the first 19 minutes and four overall in a victory that put the U.S. on firmer footing in its quest to reach World Cup 2018. After a week in which many wondered what would happen if the U.S. failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986, the discussion changed on Friday. A win at last-place Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday will clinch a spot in Russia, while a tie will likely do so as well.What stood out the most for the U.S. was the renewed brilliance of Pulisic, the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund star who’s already the U.S.’s best player, and his often telepathic understanding with Altidore in both directions. It was Altidore’s early lay-off passes that created chances for Pulisic, including his expertly taken eighth-minute goal. And it was Pulisic’s ankle-breaking drive that created space down the left wing before his cross hit Altidore for a ruthlessly efficient finish and a 2-0 lead.“They smelled blood from the beginning,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “Anytime they picked up the ball, it was either a yellow-card foul or some sort of breakaway. They clearly recognized that from the beginning. We spoke about being aggressive and not just being up-against-them and kicking-them aggressive, but getting the ball forward and putting them on their heels. We stuck to the gameplan.”As Altidore said, “In all my years with the national team, I don’t think I’ve ever been this prepared. The coaching staff from Sunday since the guys landed was showing video, pulling guys aside, making sure we were prepared for this game … At the end of the day, the players have to go out and do it … This game is an easy game when you play with good players, and [Pulisic] is a quality player. Such a young kid, and he gets it. Every time I play with him, you can see he keeps improving every game.”Wood did well too, earning the penalty that Altidore converted before Wood himself scored the fourth goal later on. Wood is at his best when he’s stretching defenses, as he did often on Friday, with Altidore more focused on holding up balls underneath and laying them off for Pulisic.“That’s one of Jozy’s best qualities,” said Pulisic, who has now been directly involved in eight of the U.S.’s 15 goals in the Hexagonal. “He scores goals, but he’s a great passer. He knows where I am. He knows where everyone is. He’s a great guy to play with.”Pulisic was walking with a noticeable limp after the game, the result of the disgraceful repeated physical targeting by the Panamanians (who did the same thing in the teams’ 1-1 tie in Panama back in March). U.S. coach Bruce Arena pulled Pulisic out of the game in the 57th minute with the U.S. up by three goals.“He was kicked a few times,” Arena said. “He’s been getting beat up in these games in CONCACAF. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t look like anything is going to change. He took a few shots, and we thought it was smart to get him off the field.”For his part, Pulisic said he would be fine for Tuesday’s game. The environment will be significantly different in Trinidad, with all the usual challenges of playing on the road in CONCACAF except perhaps for the menacing crowds. (The Soca Warriors, who led at Mexico late before succumbing 3-1 on Friday, are already eliminated.) But the stakes are just as high. A World Cup berth is still up for grabs. If the U.S. is as aggressive as it was on Friday, the objective will be achieved.“On a night when so much was on the line—maybe everything—we played in a way from the get-go that we gave no doubt as to who was going to win the game,” Bradley said. “Across the board, we had guys ready for a big game and come through in a huge way. So we feel good about that. But now we’ve got to understand that the job isn’t done yet.”On Tuesday, they hope, it will be.

 

Why Argentina are struggling, France’s clutch win, England’s formation switch

So it all comes down to Tuesday night in Quito, at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. Argentina need to beat Ecuador, otherwise they won’t be going to the 2018 World Cup. (A draw might suffice too, but that would require three other results to go their way, and it’s not something you want to count on.)You can blame 101 different factors for why they’re in this situation. They’ve had three different coaches and used 38 different players, suggesting a lack of clear thinking. They’ve been without Lionel Messi for eight games during which they collected just seven points, as opposed to 18 in the nine matches he played. South American qualifying is a legitimately tough affair — with six nations in the top 16 of the FIFA rankings — and margins are slim. Plus, in their past two matches, they ran into two goalkeepers (teenage sensation Wuilker Farinez of Venezuela and Peru’s Pedro Gallese) who stood on their heads and pulled off a gaggle of stunning saves.For all their woes, they could just as easily have beaten Peru and Venezuela, and if they had, they’d be second right now, behind only Brazil, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.It’s important not to lose sight of this fact, especially when considering Jorge Sampaoli, the man who was called over from Sevilla this summer to steer them to Russia. Sampaoli was never given a real shot in his native country, emigrated to various lower-profile South American countries (Peru, Ecuador and Chile) to pursue his dream and eventually made history at Universidad de Chile and with the Chilean national team, winning the Copa America. He came back to Argentina with a point to prove and quickly found himself embroiled in the national psychodrama.Sampaoli’s brand of football (pressing all over the field, interchangeable positions) requires work — hours of it — on the training pitch. He’s the opposite of a quick-fix type of guy. His football needs to be learned, metabolized and understood. Knowing he’d have no time to do this, he set up Argentina far more conventionally, hoping there would be enough there for the team to respond. They did, to some degree, in terms of performances. They did not in terms of results.Should the unthinkable happen and they come up short in Ecuador, the worst thing Argentina could do is make yet another change. Folks will want a scapegoat, fine. But it’s not him. After all, they haven’t seen the real Sampaoli. On the flip side, if they do make it, he will have time to show what he can do, including a three-week pre-World Cup training camp. Then, and only then, will we see the genuine article. Then, and only then, can we judge him as a manager.

 

Credit Deschamps for France’s vital win

It could have gotten hairy for Didier Deschamps. Really hairy.Since World War II, France had played eight times away to Bulgaria, losing seven and drawing once. Bulgaria had taken 12 of 12 possible points in the group. Oh, and then there was the small matter of this, when David Ginola failed to keep the ball in the dying moments of a qualifier, Emil Kostadinov scored at the other end, and France were condemned to watching USA 1994 on television.These past performances shouldn’t really weigh on the present, but inevitably they do. And when your psyche has already been rattled by things like that Twilight Zone home draw against Luxembourg, you’re bound to be vulnerable.Credit Deschamps here. He opted for a 4-3-3 formation, dropped Olivier Giroud for Alexandre Lacazette and gave Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe licence to roam rather than forcing them to operate as traditional wingers. Blaise Matuidi bagged the only goal and while Les Bleus are not out of the woods yet — they need to beat Belarus at home to be mathematically sure of first place — it’s a giant step towards “mission accomplished.”

 

Why are England experimenting now?

With England comfortably qualified, Gareth Southgate sought to change things around in his final group game Sunday, and that was to be expected. The likes of Kieran Trippier, Aaron Cresswell, Harry Winks and Harry Maguire started, and it’s a full competitive cap under their belts, which matters. What was curious was Southgate’s decision to switch to a 3-4-3 after playing most of qualifying in a 4-2-3-1 and his belief that the former is a better option against better teams at the tournament level. I’m all for trying out different things, and sure, a number of big Premier League sides have gone with a back three of late, from Chelsea to Arsenal to Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur on occasion.”It gives us more stability in transition, and the passing angles [are better],” Southgate said.Maybe so, but there’s also a question of personnel. A back three requires depth at center-back. Even if you count Eric Dier as a central defender, are there really enough high-quality options there that you want to shoe-horn another guy into the mix? Dier and John Stones? Sure. But Gary Cahill may not be a regular for Chelsea come the end of the season. The same goes for Chris Smalling at Man United, while Phil Jones has a horrendous injury record. That leaves Maguire, Michael Keane and, going forward, maybe Ben Gibson.Not to mention the fact that while many English sides play a back three, only Cahill’s team plays one every week. And that’s before we get into the wing-back issue.

 

Sympathy for Dick Advocaat

Sometimes it must really feel as if fate is conspiring against you.Take Dick Advocaat: before Saturday, his Dutch team were chasing France and Sweden in Group A and despite a roller-coaster qualifying campaign, he still felt moderately bullish for a playoff place. After all, Sweden traveled to Amsterdam for the final group game, and with the Dutch three points back, they would control their destiny.If both countries won their games Saturday — Advocaat’s men away to Belarus and the Swedes at home to Luxembourg — it would be merely a question of goal difference. And ahead of the Saturday games Sweden had a six-goal edge in that department — nothing that a 3-0 Dutch win on Tuesday couldn’t cure.That’s when Advocaat was asked in the prematch press conference about the possibility of a big Swedish win over Luxembourg (say, 8-0) and how it might affect the group.”They won’t win 8-0; what a stupid question that is,” he said.

 

“They won’t win 8-0, what a stupid question that is. 8-0? Well, no, I don’t believe that.” – Dick Advocaat. pic.twitter.com/9JWHWoDQ9M

— 🇸🇪 (@SwedeStats) October 7, 2017

 

Famous last words, eh? Sweden did win 8-0 while the Dutch won their game 3-1. That meant Sweden’s goal difference was now a massive 12 goals greater than the Oranje and that the Dutch will need to not just win, but win by at least seven goals.It’s hard not have a teeny, tiny bit of sympathy for Advocaat.

Egypt’s heartwarming World Cup return

By the time it rolls around, it will have been 28 years, which is longer than most of these players have been alive. That’s how long it has been since Egypt last qualified for a World Cup, and that’s why we witnessed this reaction to Mohamed Salah’s penalty deep in injury time.What made the whole wait more emotional — and unusual — is that Egypt have been a continental powerhouse in that time period, winning the Africa Cup of Nations on four different occasions, yet somehow coming up short in World Qualifying, often falling at the last hurdle, often in dramatic circumstances. It’s one thing for a minnow to live a fairy-tale dream and make it to the big show; it’s quite another when you’ve endured nearly three decades of underachievement.This time, it was different and somehow fitting that it was Hector Cuper who led them to the promised land. Sixteen years ago, he was one of the hottest managerial commodities in the game, capable of leading Valencia to consecutive Champions League finals. He made the big leap to Inter Milan, a side with the likes of Christian Vieri and Ronaldo, Clarence Seedorf and Javier Zanetti, and from there, his career took a downward spiral.Now, at 61, he gets another shot at the big stage late in life — much like his goalkeeper, Essam El Hadary, who turns 45 in January and should comfortably become the oldest player ever to appear in a World Cup game next summer.abriele Marcotti is a Senior Writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Marcotti.

 

 

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