4/2/21 US out of Olympics, US Men Win Twice, Champs League back Tues/Wed, US Ladies vs Sweden/France next weekend

 

US Eliminated from Olympics by Honduras Sun 2-1  

The US Men failed to qualify for the Olympics again – for the 4th straight time – the U23 US men are not going to the Olympics.  They were knocked out again by a good Honduras team that simply would not be denied.  Despite having more possession in the first half (55-45) the US trailed in shots 4-1 and in goals as Honduras scored on the final play of the 1st half off a free kick from distance was bodied in beyond Stefan. The US simply had no connection in the final third and missed on numerous opportunities to line up shots in the first half.  I thought having Jack Yuelle not playing the #6 holding midfield and instead playing the 8  – hurt the US making the transition from offense to defense which really didn’t make sense. Early In the 2nd half – US GK Ochoa – after saving the US all tourney long –made a stupid play and mishit a ball dropped to him right into the Honduras forward and it bounced painfully into the net.  The 2-0 deficit was too much to overcome for the US despite repeated shots and attempts late in the 2nd half.  The US dominated the final 15 minutes and had numerous shots towards goal that simply would not go in.  To say its devastating to the US and the men’s U23 is an understatement.  Yes you can argue that this is unfair as most of the best players who are U-23 in the US who are really good – were playing for the full national team on Sunday.  Pulisic, Dest, Reyna, Musah, were all wearing beating Northern Ireland rather than playing in this tourney – as most European clubs won’t release our best players to play.  Still the thought of adding a few of our real superstar U23s for the Actual Olympics certainly had my mouth watering.  A full U24 list of US stars could have certainly competed for Gold – but you have to qualify – and this B team of US players simply couldn’t get it done.  Yes our B team should have gotten it done – but alas – the US men are once again sitting home for the Olympics since the last group played in 2008.  That’s 15 years of no Olympics for the men.  Sad. 

US Men Dominate 2-1

The US Men won their first European road game in over 10 years as they defeated a slightly undermanned Northern Ireland 2-1 over the weekend.  Pulisic and Reyna scored the US goals and both looked on target for most of the day Sunday.  The US came out in a 3-5-3 alignment with Brooks and Carter back in Germany removed off the backline.  Robinson held down the left with Pulisic playing a similar role that he plays now with Chelsea on the left inside tucked behind our #9.  Overall the US held possession for about 60-40 and outshot NI  – as well.  A good game for the US Overall.  So Weston McKinney was bared from playing for the US this past week by Juve because he had a slight knock.  So what does he do?  He hosts a party at his house during Covid.  He along with some teammates have been suspended from this week’s games – f

US Women to Face Sweden Sat Apr 10 1 pm on Fox and France Apr 13

The US Ladies will face a pair of top 10 foes on the road in Europe as a warm up to the Olympics this summer.  This roster which includes 20 of the 21 players on the She Believe’s Cup roster could well be a final preview of who will be on the 18 person roster to Japan this summer.

USA Women’s Roster GOALKEEPERS

Jane Campbell (Houston Dash), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)

DEFENDERS

Alana Cook (PSG), Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Midge Purce (Sky Blue FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit)

MIDFIELDERS

Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Manchester City), Catarina Macario –OUT HURT (Lyon), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (Manchester City)

FORWARDS

Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Manchester United), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage), Tobin Heath (Man United) is Still Injured

 

Champions League Is Back!  The Final 8

The final 8 of Champions League returns Tues/Wed on CBS Sports Network and Paramount at 3 pm with Man City vs Dortmund I assume on Paramount and Liverpool and Real Madrid ((without Sergio Ramos) on CBS Sports Network Tuesday.  Wed gives us Bayern Munich (without Lewendowski) vs PSG (with Neymar) on CBS SN and Chelsea and Pulisic vs Porto on Paramount plus both at 3 pm.  Don’t ask me why they can’t spread these dam games out and not play them at the same time?  Its crazy – best 8 teams in the world and they play the only 2 games of each day as the exact same time.  European Soccer is just stupid sometimes – especially EUFA.  

 

GAMES ON TV

Sat, Apr 3

7:30 am NBCSN   Chelsea (Pulisic) vs West Brom

9:30 am ESPN+                  Dortmund (Reyna) vs Frankfurt

12:30 pm ESPN2                RB Leipzig (Adams) vs Bayern Munich

12:30 pm NBCSN               Leicester City vs Man City

2:45 pm ESPN2                  Bologna vs Inter Milan

3 pm NNCSN                       Arsenal vs Liverpool

3:30 pm beIN Sport          Athletic Club vs Real Sociadad

Sun, Apr 4

9 am NBCSN                       Newcastle vs Tottenham

9:30 am ESPN+                  Stutgart vs Werder Bremen (Stewart)

11:30 am NBCSN               Aston Villa vs Fulham (Robinson)

2:30 pm NBCSN                 Man United vs Brighton

3 pm beINSport                  Sevilla vs Athletico Madrid

Tues, Apr 6

3 pm CBS SN                       Real Madrid vs Liverpool  UCL

3 pm Paramount+             Man City vs Dortmund (Reyna) UCL

6 pm FS1                             Marathon vs Portland Timbers  CCF Champ League

8 pm FS1                             Alajulense vs Atlanta United CCF Champ League

10 pm FS 1                          Cruz Azul vs Archaie

Weds, Apr 7

12:45 pm ESPN+                Juve (McKinney) vs Napoli

3 pm CBS SN                       Porto vs Chelsea (Pulisic) UCL

3 pm Paramount+             Bayern Munich vs PSG UCL

6 pm FS1                             Saprisa vs Philly Union  CCF Champ League

8 pm FS1                             Leon vs Toronto FC  CCF Champ League

10 pm FS 1                          Olympia vs America  

Thurs, Apr 8

12:45 pm ESPN+                Juve (McKinney) vs Napoli

3 pm CBS SN                       Granada vs Man United  Europa

3 pm Paramount+             Aresenal vs Slavia Praha Europa

8 pm FS1                             Real Esteli vs Columbus Crew  CCF Champ League

Fri, Apr 9

3 pm NBCSN                       Fulham (robinson) vs Wolverhampton  

Sat, Apr 10

1 pm FOX                           Sweden vs USA Ladies

3 pm beIN Sport              Real Madrid vs Barcelona (El Classico)

Wed, Apr 13

3 pm ESPN2                      France vs USA Ladies

 

USA Men
5 things we learned from USMNT friendlies

Berhalter explains new formation; Pulisic wants to be USMNT leader

Berhalter shares next step for USMNT Man of the Match winner Pulisic

US men’s national team player ratings: Reyna, Pulisic …
USMNT vs Northern Ireland: Player Ratings- Pulisic stars
OneGoal USMNT Player Ratings – USA v Northern Ireland …
 USMNT player ratings: Reyna, Pulisic, Aaronson impress vs. N. Ireland
U.S. men’s national team breaks out a three-man back line, extends unbeaten streak

Musah tied to the US with appearance at Northern Ireland
USA v. Northern Ireland, 2021 Friendly: What we learned
Daryl Dike reportedly drawing interest from Everton
McKennie, Juventus teammates facing fines after party

 

U 23s Men Fail to Qualify for Olympics
Why FIFA blocks the U.S. men’s national team from playing for an Olympics spot

US U-23 player ratings: High marks for Yueill, few others in Olympic qualifying failure

Boehm: Three takeaways from the US’ gutting Olympic qualifying failure  Boehm MLS.com 

Kreis: US “absolutely devastated” after Olympic Qualifying defeat

Carrillo: ‘Arrogance’ knocks U.S. out of Olympics

The USMNT has talent, now it’s up to US Soccer to create a culture of winning

 

US Ladies

Macario out of U.S. games vs. France, Sweden
U.S. women’s soccer calls up 23 players as Tokyo Olympics preparations continue

Host Cities for 2023 World Cup Announced

 

WORLD

Champions League predictions: Bayern Munich, Chelsea to reach the final?
Neymar back for PSG in time for decisive week

Juve suspend Dybala, McKennie, Arthur vs. Torino
Pandemic blamed for lack of VAR in World Cup qualifiers after Ronaldo fury

The history of promotion and relegation in the Premier League era

Champions League is Back

Sources: Ramos to miss Barca, Liverpool ties

Man Utd, Liverpool can play Euro ties in Spain

Haaland one of the best in the world – Guardiola
Battle for Premier League top four heats up

Bayern without Lewandowski, French title tussle and long-awaited final – what to watch in Europe

Basque rivals finally meet in delayed Copa del Rey final

Why FIFA blocks the U.S. men’s national team from playing for an Olympics spot

Kevin Baxter Mon, March 29, 2021, 4:34 PM 

Honduras defender Wesly Decas, center, comforts U.S. forward Sebastian Soto, right, beside Ulysses Llanez following Honduras’ 2-1 win in a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying match on Sunday. Why isn’t the U.S. men’s national team allowed to play for an Olympics berth? (Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

A U.S. national team featuring 15 players off European megaclubs such as Barcelona, Manchester City, Chelsea and Roma beat Northern Ireland on Sunday in a friendly, the soccer equivalent of an exhibition game. Teenager Gio Reyna scored the first goal and Christian Pulisic, the youngest player to ever captain the men’s national team, scored the second as the U.S. beat a European team at home for the first time in six years.

Four hours after that game ended, another U.S. national team kicked off in Mexico needing a win to qualify for the Tokyo Games. That team featured only three players from outside MLS, including a goalkeeper who has made just one MLS start. That team lost to Honduras and the U.S. failed to make the Olympic cut for the fourth time in five tries.

Which begs a simple question: Why was the A team in Europe playing a relatively meaningless friendly while a lesser team was in Mexico losing to Honduras in a game that meant everything? The answer isn’t as simple, but it has a lot to do with FIFA, the governing body for global soccer.

For starters FIFA required those big clubs to release their players to their senior national teams because Sunday’s game took place during an official match window set aside for international competition. But they weren’t required to release their players to events such as Olympic qualifying, which FIFA classifies as an age-group tournament. Even Atlanta United, an MLS club with close ties to U.S. Soccer, declined to let three of its age-eligible players go to the Olympic qualifying event.

While the women’s Olympic tournament, which debuted in 1996, has always been considered a major championship open to the best players in the world, that is more a product of FIFA’s long-held disdain for the women’s game than it is an attempt to raise the profile of the tournament. FIFA has long conspired to make sure the men’s Olympic event pales in importance to the World Cup, although the two competitions have a common beginning.

FIFA actually managed the 1920, ’24 and ’28 Olympic tournaments, which were amateur events that proved so successful the winners were considered “world champions.” But the International Olympic Committee opposed opening the competition to professionals, so FIFA took the sport out of the 1932 Games in Los Angeles to create and promote its own tournament, the World Cup.

Soccer returned to the IOC’s calendar in 1936, under FIFA’s direction, yet by then the World Cup had eclipsed the amateur tournament and the Olympics have never regained the prestige it once had — and both the IOC and FIFA share the blame for that.

By clinging to strict rules banning professionals into the 1980s, the IOC effectively kept the best players in the world out of its event, allowing the World Cup to become the globe’s largest and most important sporting competition. And FIFA intended to keep it that way, so when the IOC voted to allow professional players for the 1984 L.A. Games, FIFA watered down the competition by placing restrictions on who could participate.

It codified that in 1992 by turning the Olympic tournament into an age-group competition, limiting rosters to players aged 23 and younger, with three over-age exemptions. The IOC, it should be noted, didn’t protest, fearing that a World Cup-level event during the Games would overshadow traditional Olympic sports such as track and field, gymnastics and swimming.

But while some nations have figured out how to make that work — Argentina won back-to-back gold medals in 2004 and 2008, and Mexico has made the knockout round in seven straight World Cups while qualifying for six of the eight Olympic tournaments in the U-23 era — the U.S. has not.

Not only did the Americans miss the 2018 World Cup, but they’ve played in the Olympics just once since 2000 and have won just four matches in the Summer Games since 1992. Not exactly the kind of resume that cries out “soccer nation.”

However, Sunday’s loss to Honduras — a country that qualified for four straight Olympics and two of the last three World Cups — will sting more than the rest.

With the likes of Pulisic, Reyna, Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Tim Weah all age-eligible for Tokyo — provided they were able to secure release from their clubs, the final FIFA-constructed hurdle — the Americans would have entered the Games as medal favorites.

Now they’ll be watching on TV instead. And that will leave a mark, said World Cup veteran Stuart Holden, who, in 2008, scored the game-winning goal in the last Olympic match the U.S. won.

“You think about the opportunities we have to play in a tournament that replicates the World Cup, but also where we actually get to play in games that mean something against top teams from all around the world. That doesn’t happen other than the World Cup,” said Holden, now a Fox Soccer commentator. “The Olympics is that other opportunity that is a truly global tournament.”

Lionel Messi’s only international title came in the 2008 Olympics. Neymar delivered a gold medal for Brazil eight years later.

“Some of the best players to ever have played the game have played in the Olympics,” Holden said. “It actually kind of infuriates me that people just write it off as ‘Well, the Olympics doesn’t really matter.’ It definitely matters because of that opportunity. Imagine we could roll out a team with our best under-23s. We’d be up there for the first time ever, when it comes to a global tournament, with one of the best five teams going to the Olympics. That’s putting yourself in a conversation with Germany and Spain and Brazil, Argentina.”

On Sunday, expecting a U.S. victory, Holden broke out the Olympic jacket he wore during the Beijing Games, hoping to feature it during the Fox broadcast. Instead, he put it back in storage after the loss to Honduras. But the experience of those Games remains fresh, and Holden is sorry this year’s team won’t get the chance to make memories of its own.

“That stacks up with my best lifetime achievements,” said Holden, who won two MLS Cups, a Gold Cup and played in a World Cup match. “I remember walking out representing the United States in the opening ceremony, and you’re walking with the best athletes from all other sports, and it’s really such a unique opportunity, where sports collide.

“You feel like you’re representing Team USA. It was just such a special moment. I had a wave of emotions, anger, frustration, disappointment [that] these guys will miss out on that opportunity. It means so much to go to the Olympics.”

Apparently not to FIFA.This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Three takeaways from the US’ gutting Olympic qualifying loss to Honduras | Charles Boehm

March 28, 202110:31PM EDT  Charles BoehmNational Writer

All together now: Time is a flat circle.At least it is when it comes to US men’s national teams in must-win games over the past half-decade or so. Drop in the McConaughey “True Detective” gif wherever you see fit.On Sunday the US Under-23s had one game to win, one opponent to navigate past in order to reach the Tokyo Olympics, and they failed. There’s really no other way to say it. We can talk about circumstances and challenges and letdowns – and there is important context to consider – but for all the bumps and diversions on the road they’ve traveled over the past two years, this was an attainable ask for the U-23s.And they shot themselves in the foot, and were duly defeated by a deserving Honduras outfit. Goalkeeper David Ochoa wears the goat’s horns for his horrific error in possession right after halftime, but as you load your slings and arrows, remember: Ochoa, the youngest player on this roster, saved his team’s bacon in their vital opening win over Costa Rica, without which the US would’ve never gotten this far.Here’s three observations from another U.S. Soccer Waterloo.

They got the details wrong

Coach Jason Kreis made some debatable choices with his rosters, and could be accused of being overly dogmatic with his team’s shape and insistence on building out of the back. From where I’m sitting he did, however, trot out the strongest and most sensible starting XI at his disposal right now. Things got dicey soon after that, however.For some reason Andres Perea was preferred as the single pivot at the base of midfield, while usual holding mid Jackson Yueill pushed up into a No. 8 role, and the United States’ possession game suffered as a result, looking plodding and tentative for the game’s first hour.Perea is a rangy, powerful engine-room presence, while Yueill has the cultured range of passing to set the tempo and switch the point of attack. To me they would’ve made a lot more sense in the opposite deployment, but this was a purposeful wrinkle to try and catch Honduras out.“Andres is a great player, he disrupts a lot of the opponents’ transitional play and I think he’s very crafty with the ball,” said a somber Yueill postgame. “I think our game plan was to get me into higher spots and try to play good balls in behind to the runners.“The first half was a little slow in those moments, trying to break them down, but as the game got on I think me and Andres’ connection got better and better and we were able to find each other more. I think we could have utilized the outside wingers a little bit better and got behind them a little bit more.”It didn’t work, and that stymied US hopes of seizing the initiative with an assertive, front-foot start to the match.

The wiser, more mature team won

Soccer, it’s often said, is a game of mistakes. The side that makes fewer of them usually wins. And so it was at Estadio Jalisco on Sunday.

Los Catrachos did what they have done throughout this tournament and what their national teams have done for much of their modern soccer history: They were organized, tough, intense, committed, quick and purposeful in transition. As the final seconds of the first half ticked away, Honduras kept focus when the North Americans’ slipped, and were rewarded with Juan Carlos Obregon’s scrappy finish from close range, an opening goal of enormous weight.Obregon is actually a product of the US system; he was born in New York and played some college soccer before turning pro. His most recent club was USL Championship side Rio Grande Valley Toros. He didn’t tilt this game in his team’s favor with some transcendent display of skill; he sniffed out space at the back post on a speculative set-piece delivery into the US penalty box, committed himself at the right time and bundled home.From there on the US were chasing the game, and Ochoa’s gift on the other side of intermission magnified that. Why was the Real Salt Lake ‘keeper so casual with the ball at his feet? Why did he entertain such glaring risk with such scant corresponding reward?

We know that Jason Kreis and the coaching staff have been doggedly committed to playing out of the back, emphasizing the long-term gain even when short-range pain results. But composed decision-making is central to that philosophy and in that crucial moment, it was lacking. That’s on both Ochoa and the staff that have been preparing him for times like this.

This is one developmental data point among many

There are no excuses for the US men’s latest Olympic failure, EVEN IF the U-23s were missing the top 20 or so players on the depth chart due to their clubs electing not to voluntarily release them.And EVEN IF this created a talent deficit relative to what an ideal US roster could’ve been here, the group in Guadalajara fluffed their lines in a must-win situation, much like the full USMNT did on that fateful final night of 2018 Concacaf World Cup qualifying down in Couva, Trinidad & Tobago.It’s cause for self-criticism, even recriminations, any time a team of professionals falls short in such scenarios. But the alarm bells don’t screech quite as loudly this time as they did in 2012 and 2016, because over the past year or two the senior national team has practically become a U-23 team itself as a golden generation of young talent climbs into some of Europe’s biggest leagues and clubs.This month’s USMNT roster for the friendlies vs. Jamaica and Northern Ireland had an average age of just over 23, and were the protagonists in both of those two victories. We don’t yet know how that group will handle truly high-pressure games – we’ll learn more when they contest the Concacaf Nations League semifinals and World Cup qualifiers later this year – but it doesn’t seem overly optimistic to speculate that they’ll handle it better than the Olympic squad did.If they don’t? That’s when the panic strikes in earnest.

The USMNT has talent, now it’s up to US Soccer to create a culture of winning

More trophies, less crying  By Parker Cleveland@AekprrAcdeellnv  Mar 29, 2021, 7:30am PDT

The American soccer program has a long history of winning that is based not only on technical skill, but also a mentality that losing is not an option. It seems to get stronger as matches drag on and ruthlessly exploits whatever weakness an opponent has to overcome whatever strategy they’re using to stand in the team’s way. In fact, the strongest competition the team faces is for spots on its own roster. Of course this pertains to the US Women’s National Team.They are winners and competitors in the purest sense even conniving to have managers replaced or shunning family members in favor of following a training regime that gives an edge. If you somehow combined the will to win of Tom Brady and Serena Williams and multiplied it by 11 and you have the spirit of the USWNT. This is not something that is shared by the USMNT and was not on display as the USMNT U-23 team lost to Honduras last night.The game was pathetic and overall the US played badly in the tournament. Against Costa Rica the highlight was the performance of David Ochoa playing the game of his life to preserve a 1-0 win. Group stages in tournaments will have tough games like this, but it wasn’t an overall stellar performance. The team easily beat the Dominican Republic, but only after a fairly unsteady first half and several substitutions that clearly signaled a shift in the gameplan, whatever it was. With the game against Mexico, the USA conceded for the first time in the tournament, but the overall defensive approach to the game and entire qualification process hampered any ability to make a comeback.The US really played badly and was outmatched by Honduras. Yes, David Ochoa made a mistake in goal, but the overall moment of that goal pales in comparison to the overall approach of the team in the tournament. Rather than trying to be on the front foot and take the game to the opponent from the start, the side relied on its defense which was outmatched time and again aside from the Dominican Republic game. This is not how you win a tournament or even come in second place in one.Taylor Twellman, the distinguished statesman of deep cutting rants after disappointing losses, had this to say last night:

Obviously, the players share some responsibility for this, but the overall mentality and approach to the way they play is set by the coaching staff. After the game, Jason Kreis said this to reporters about what he told the team following the loss to try to pick them up:Right, ok Rocky, it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you get hit and get back up. The point is though that you have to pick yourself up in the middle of the fight and get up, no champion sits around after a loss and laments that they lose more than they win.

Here’s what first came to my mind when I saw this:

This from the last match Kreis managed before becoming USMNT U-23 coach. In it, Orlando City lost its sixth game in a row and he blames the players for not trying hard enough. Aside from basically asking to get fired, this mindset should have disqualified him from being U-23 manager, or running an Arby’s or whatever. It is a mindset that the US Men’s program needs to erase from its vocabulary.If Michael Jordan thought to himself after he got cut from his high school basketball team, “well, you lose more than you win” we would have to suffer through everyone talking about if John Stockton or Patrick Ewing was the best basketball player of the 90s, MJ never would have punched Steve Kerr in the face and nobody would know who Steph Curry is. This is the kind of stuff on the line here, not the Olympics, but the entire cascade of events and history that follows it. Do you really want to live in a world where Reggie Miller and Karl Malone have won NBA titles? That is the world US Men’s Soccer wants you to live in.This is the kind of mentality that has a coach down a goal late in a Gold Cup Final against Mexico and he looks to his bench and uses his last sub on DANIEL LOVITZ. Luckily, some of the players on the senior squad seem to have a harder edge to their competitiveness than Kreis and possibly Berhalter. At the very least, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie seem absolutely hellbent on being the best possible player they can be and challenging themselves at the highest level.That said, setting the overall tone will come from Gregg Berhalter for the USMNT and changing the mentality from the one that Kreis feebly demonstrated to one in which the expectation is higher for the men’s program overall will need to be set by Sporting Director Earnie Stewart and General Manager Brian McBride. Frankly, they really do not need to look any further than to their counterparts on the USWNT for the culture of a champion.

. USMNT Tests Out a Different Look in Friendly Win at Northern Ireland

The 3-4-3 wasn’t an unequivocal success in the 2-1 victory, but formation flexibility will be key as the U.S. men’s national team progresses into the matches that truly matter.

BRIAN STRAUS  3/28/21 Sports illustrated

European national teams traditionally present a high hurdle to the U.S. men, and on Sunday in Belfast, coach Gregg Berhalter added an additional challenge to his players’ plates: a new formation.

For the first time in nearly two years, the Americans played with three center backs and two wing backs in a 3-4-3, and although there were several predictable growing pains, the visitors handled their assignments and their opponents well enough to secure a tight 2-1 triumph over Northern Ireland at windy Windsor Park. Gio Reyna scored on a first-half deflection, and Christian Pulisic added the game-winner from the penalty spot.

The victory not only extended the Americans’ unbeaten run to nine (8-0-1) dating back to the fall of 2019, it marked the first win against a European side on its home soil since June 2015. After four straight friendlies against Concacaf opponents and a nearly-two-year stretch during which 16 of 18 matches have been against regional rivals, Berhalter and his players were excited this week to prepare for a different sort of challenge.“It’s going to be a test for us. It’s something we haven’t seen in a little bit and I think the guys are excited to play a non-Concacaf team, and I know our coaching staff is really excited for this test and just to kind of get out of our own kind of region,” U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen said before the game. “We don’t have many opportunities to come to Europe and play European teams on their soil, so we want to get a win—an away win. So this is a really good test for us.”Northern Ireland is hardly a top European team. It entered Sunday’s game on an 11-match winless run. It failed to qualify for this summer’s European Championship. It’s ranked 45th in the world (well below the USA at No. 22) and on Sunday, it fielded only one player who started in the World Cup qualifying loss at Italy on March 25 (Blackburn Rovers midfielder Corry Evans). Yet the Green and White Army still presented a stiff challenge, as European teams always seem to do when they’re surrounded by the comforts of home. The depth of quality on soccer’s most powerful and successful continent is just different.Add to that the formation change, and the USA was in for an interesting day. Berhalter last played with three in the back in a June 2019 friendly against Jamaica, a 1-0 defeat during which the Americans created almost nothing going forward. Since then, he’s been focused on the 4-3-3 and on getting his young team more comfortable with a single, consistent approach. The best teams can vary their approach, however, and with talented players like Pulisic (Chelsea) and Sergiño Dest (Barcelona) playing in different spots with their clubs, the manager decided it was time to expand his side’s repertoire while giving future opponents more to think about.Berhalter said the formation change was prompted in part by Northern Ireland and in part by his team’s evolution.”We knew it was going to be difficult dealing with their first balls. We know they play with two strikers and the one player’s tall, really difficult to win the first ball from. So we wanted some protection for second balls,” the U.S. coach said following the game. “The second thing is, looking at their shape, we felt like we could exploit some spaces with our midfield configuration the way we had it, with basically four guys in midfield. The other thing is that we think it’s important to continue to challenge this group, and it was a good opportunity to do so tonight.”

The starting U.S. side was anchored by Aaron Long, Matt Miazga and Tim Ream in a back three, with Dest (on the right) and Antonee Robinson (left) as flank players. Dest had impressed as a left back in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Jamaica in Austria, but he plays as a right wingback for Barcelona and said this week that he’s happy either way.“For me personally, it’s not that hard. I can play on both sides,” Dest said after scoring a gorgeous goal against Jamaica. “Right back is good for me. Left back is good for me. I don’t prefer any to be honest. I just like to play the game, and it doesn’t matter for me which position I play.”With Dest and Robinson supposedly offering more width in the attack, Pulisic and Reyna, normally wingers in the 4-3-3, might have more opportunity to play inside and get closer to goal. Striker Jordan Siebatcheu, who plays in the Swiss league with Young Boys, made his first start. In the seventh minute, the new formation showed its promise. Siebatcheu laid the ball off for a nearby Pulisic, who split the opposing center back and right back with a smart pass toward the end line. Robinson was there to run on to it. His cross was just a bit too far in front of Siebatcheu, but the Fulham back’s ability to get behind the Northern Irish back line would’ve been exactly the sort of play Berhalter was searching for.Unfortunately for the USA, however, those plays were few and far between. More frequently, the unfamiliar runs and positions, some congestion in the offensive half and Northern Ireland’s ability to put pressure on the ball disrupted the visitors and led to slow, sluggish or broken play. Not surprisingly, the crispness and immediate fluidity just weren’t there. On two occasions in the first half, awkward midfield turnovers resulted in quick counters and scoring chances for the hosts. In the 16th minute, veteran Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty was played through but rolled his shot wide. And in the 38th, Shayne Lavery was set up with a similar chance but saw his goal-bound shot well saved by a diving Steffen.

“We trained about eight minutes,” Berhalter said of the new 3-4-3. “When you see the game you can see that there were good parts, but we still have a lot of work to go in the spacing, to really hurt the opponent. We got into some really good positions but weren’t able to hurt the opponent enough, I thought. But overall I’m proud of the guys the way they took in that information.”Where Northern Ireland failed to take advantage of its chances, the USA had the quality and good fortune required. In the 30th, Reyna enjoyed the sort of bounce he was looking for during a more frustrating outing three days earlier against Jamaica. Ream had some time and space in the left channel and fed Reyna inside, where the Borussia Dortmund youngster had an opportunity to take a couple touches and set up a right-footed shot. His blast deflected wildly off Northern Ireland defender Ciaron Brown and over the helpless goalkeeper.The match remained close as substitutes started to change the game’s complexion. But Pulisic, who played only 45 minutes against the Reggae Boyz, remained on the field and finally was rewarded for the confidence he demonstrated this week to use his dribbling skills and take on defenders. Pulisic was tripped up in the penalty area in the 59th minute and took the penalty himself, rolling it a few inches to the goalkeeper’s left for his 15th international goal.Berhalter lauded Pulisic’s skill, effort and work rate after the Chelsea forward’s man-of-the-match performance.”Forget about all the great stuff he does on the ball,” Berhalter said. “He just competed today, and when he’s in that type of mode he’s just an unbelievable player. That’s what I was most happy with today. It was relentless pressing. He just kept going and going and going, and he’s so good on the ball he can unbalance the [other] team. To me he had an overall really strong performance.”Said Pulisic when reflecting on both games this week, “I was happy with my performances and the team’s. It’s really good. It helps our confidence going out and getting two good results. It’s really nice to come in and get minutes again, get 90 today, and I’m definitely proud of the guys.”Regarding his role in the 3-4-3, Pulisic said, “I was definitely playing my game. Obviously positionally things changed a bit and from a formation standpoint, but when I get the ball I still have the same objectives in mind. I’m still going right at the goal and trying to create things, and I was able to do that today.”The U.S. had more of its way during the game’s latter stages as both teams made changes. Substitute forward Daryl Dike came close on a couple of occasions to scoring his first international goal, and Sebastian Lletget hit a one-timer reminiscent of his two goals against Jamaica. This time, however, his shot was saved. Northern Ireland halved the American advantage in the 88th minute as Aberdeen’s Niall McGinn beat Steffen with a beautifully struck, dipping half-volley from an acute angle.Northern Ireland will look to rebound quickly as it faces Bulgaria in a World Cup qualifier on March 31, while the Americans will return to their respective clubs. The next time Berhalter gathers his team, the stakes will be much higher. After a friendly at Switzerland on May 30, a first-choice USA will face Honduras in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals at a U.S. site to be announced. A third-place game or final against either Mexico or Costa Rica will follow. Although the Nations League title isn’t a major one, that international window is expected to be the final time Berhalter calls up his top European-based players before World Cup qualifying begins in September.

Champions League predictions: Bayern Munich and Chelsea to make it all the way to the final?

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Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC

Pep Guardiola and Manchester City must navigate a daunting route to the club’s first-ever Champions League final after the draw for the quarterfinals and semifinals pitted the Premier League leaders against Borussia Dortmund and the winners of the clash between Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

With UEFA mapping out the road to the final in Istanbul by drawing both the quarters and semis, the prospect of Liverpool repeating their 2005 Champions League success at the Ataturk Stadium depends on Jurgen Klopp’s team overcoming Real Madrid in the last eight, before facing the winners of the Chelsea-Porto tie. Before winning the Champions League in 2005, Liverpool beat Chelsea in the semifinal with Luis Garcia’s infamous “ghost goal.”

The draw also keeps alive the prospect of an all-English final, with a box office clash between Real and Bayern also possible.

With the route to Istanbul now clear, ESPN has attempted to predict how the final rounds will shape up — and who will meet in the final on May 29.


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Manchester City vs. Borussia Dortmund

While Manchester City will be strong favourites to progress over a Dortmund team that’s outside the top four in the German Bundesliga, it could all go horribly wrong for Pep Guardiola’s team if they fail to nullify the threat of Erling Haaland.

The 20-year-old, whose father Alfie played for City between 2000 and 2003, is a major summer target for Guardiola, but right now, he’s the biggest threat to City’s prospects of reaching the semis. Haaland is the top scorer in this season’s competition with 10 goals and will be unfazed by facing City, but Dortmund also have the attacking talents of former City youngster Jadon Sancho to cause concern for Guardiola and his players.

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UCL draw: Madrid vs. Liverpool, Bayern vs. PSG

Dortmund’s weakness is at the back, as they’ve conceded nine goals so far this season in the competition. City, meanwhile, have allowed just one goal in eight Champions League games: a 14th-minute goal in City’s 3-1 win over Porto back in October. But as impressive as City have been, they’ve not faced a striker of Haaland’s quality during a soft run to the quarters, so the tie is less clear-cut that it would seem on paper.

City’s overall strength, with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling, should see them progress, but Haaland could turn the tie on its head.

Who qualifies? Manchester City

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