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USMNT works 0-0 draw to Mexico in Azteca

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It was progress for the USMNT but no win.

It was progress for the USMNT but no win.
Image: Getty Images

In the end, Gregg Berhalter did everything we asked, what most USMNT fans asked. He didn’t treat the trip to the Azteca as something to just get through. It wasn’t just a lottery spin. It wasn’t about keeping the powder dry for Sunday. Berhalter looked at the Mexico squad, looked at his, and thought, “We can win this.” And he went for it.

He put out just about the strongest lineup possible. His tactics weren’t balls-to-the-wall, which no team can really do at 7,200 feet above sea level while breathing in tangible beer farts. But they weren’t conservative either. The U.S. picked its spots to press, it picked its spots to attack and throw men forward, and it knew when it needed to call off the dogs and just defend. For 80 minutes, it went about as well as any USMNT manager or fan could have hoped.

What Berhalter can’t do though is stop his forwards’ feet from turning to concrete when it matters most. Which is why the U.S. only ended up with a 0-0 draw.

It is probably a sign of progress, though an infuriating one, that the U.S. can walk out of the Azteca with a draw, its third straight there, but this time feel as though it left something on the table. That it should have won. And it can feel that way while missing three of its four most important attackers in Weston McKennie, Brendan Aaronson, and Sergino Dest. It’s just hard to recognize progress when it leaves you feeling, “What if?”

Because as a manager, you can’t go out there and finish this:

And you certainly can’t legislate for your most in-form striker to forget which way he’s facing and come closer to the corner flag from six yards out than the goal:

You can understand Gio Reyna going full LeBron on Jordan Pefok, because anywhere on frame and the U.S. is taking all three points. To be as fair as one can be to Pefok, maybe he was expecting Reyna to shoot himself. But if you’re a No. 9, you’re always expecting that ball to come to you and to finish it off. But even that’s being awfully charitable.

From there, Berhalter basically declared for a draw at 80 minutes, switching to a back five, hauling off Tyler Adams to spare him a yellow card that would rule him out for Sunday’s game against Panama, as well as Pulisic. They had to hang on a bit, but then Mexico didn’t really generate any truly scary moments either. This was about the easiest way to see out a draw in Mexico City as the U.S. has had. Even though I paced around the living room for the last five minutes out of reflex, and the clock didn’t move because that’s what it does at the worst moments, the pulse never really rose.

Most observers will leave the final judgment of whether or not this was worth it until they see how the U.S. looks on Sunday in Orlando, and whether players like Pulisic, Adams and Musah can recover from 90 minutes in the altitude sludge so quickly. The U.S. didn’t get all the other results it needed. Costa Rica was able to beat Canada, the latter finding every possible way to not score in the second half even with 10 men. But Panama drawing at home with Honduras is a good result for the U.S.

What it means is that even a win on Sunday would not automatically see the U.S. through to Qatar. However, should the U.S. win, and Costa Rica win on Sunday, it would leave the Costa Ricans needing to not only beat the U.S. in the last game of the window but to do so while making up a huge goal difference (the U.S. is currently seven goals better off than Costa Rica). So a win Sunday, worst case, is everything but the dotted i’s and crossed t’s.

A draw never feels like a positive, but to hold Mexico at arm’s length on the road missing three certain starters is a statement of where the U.S. is, or at least can be. The problem for the U.S. has been backing up the good results with more good results. Wins have been followed by dispiriting performances. The draws against Canada and Jamaica as well as the losses to Canada and Panama followed what were seen as steps forward. The U.S. can’t really afford that now.

No, I didn’t get my win in Azteca. And maybe the chance won’t come again, at least until I’m long dead. You have to look for it, but there’s an understated sense of satisfaction from casually getting a draw at what was once seen as an impenetrable fortress. Like when BIlly the Kid in the first Young Guns says to Dick Brewer, “I could have killed ya.” The U.S. let Mexico off the hook, at home, when they could have administered a knockout blow. It’s on the U.S., not Mexico, that they didn’t. Man in the mirror indeed.

Just stop, Gonzaga

Flipping to basketball for just a second, the NCAA needs to ban Gonzaga from the tournament. We do this every year. They’re not going to win, they’re going to waste everyone’s time, and Mark Few will coach with both hands wrapped around his neck. Even CBS can’t put much passion in their “Is this the year?” video packages. We all know it’s not. Give their spot to a school that actually wants to use it. Let it run up 30 wins in whatever podunk conference its in and then everyone can go home. We’ll all be happier this way. At some point, you don’t get any more spins. Gonzaga…banned.



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Kilmarnock 2-1 St Johnstone

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Highlights of the Scottish Premiership match between Kilmarnock and St Johnstone.



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Kawhi Leonard’s return puts the Clippers back in the Western Conference hunt

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Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard
Photo: AP

It’d been nearly 16 months since LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard played an NBA game before Tuesday night’s preseason win over the Portland Trail Blazers. Leonard finished with 11 points in 16 minutes but, more importantly, looked to be fully recovered from the torn ACL he suffered in game four of the 2021 Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz.

Last season the Clippers hung around through the first two months of the season with Paul George leading the way until he went down with an injury in late December. Paul missed over three months before returning at the end of March, but the damage had been done. The Clippers fell from the top five when George was healthy down into the play-in tournament, where they were eliminated, missing the playoffs just one year removed from the franchise’s first WCF appearance.

That’s all behind them now, because Leonard and George are back and healthy, making the Clippers a favorite in the West this year. Stacked up against the rest of the West, this LA team has the tools and depth to make a run at the Warriors’ western conference crown.

Of course, everything is predicated on Leonard’s ability to stay on the floor and be available in the postseason. Based on that notion, the Clippers have more than enough depth to compete with the best teams in the NBA. Over the last two years, head coach Tyronn Lue has proved that he’s more than a product of LeBron James. Lue can coach and has been labeled by many as the best coach in the league at adjusting.

LA should be able to go deep into their lineup, with 10 players receiving significant minutes on a given night. Having that depth should also help preserve Leonard and George through the long 82-game season.

In the backcourt alone, minutes will be tight with a six-guard rotation. Besides George, the Clippers have Reggie Jackson, Norman Powell, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, and the newest addition John Wall as players that will battle for minutes on the floor. Leonard, Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris Sr., Nicolas Batum, and Robert Covington comprise the Clippers’ frontcourt and should all see significant minutes, depending on the matchup. And many of these players can play multiple positions.

The road to winning in the NBA is rough, but those teams with depth are usually among the last left standing in the end. Sure, this league is about stars, but those stars also need to be surrounded by pieces that fit their game and what they do best on the court. The Clippers still don’t have a true starting point guard, as Jackson is more of a combo guard, but as we’ve seen in the past, he can certainly get the job done in big moments when called upon.

But again, none of this matters without Leonard on the court when it matters. Depth is fantastic — we just saw the Warriors and Celtics meet in the Finals possessing two of the deeper rosters in the association. Hopefully, there won’t be a need for too much load management in Clipperland this year, and Leonard can play at least 65 games. That’s a feat he hasn’t accomplished since he was in San Antonio.

Again, the main goal is to keep Leonard and PG-13 healthy enough to make a run in the playoffs. This is what the Clippers should be focused on heading into the 2022-23 campaign. You get to play a lot of bad teams through the course of an NBA season. These Clippers are good enough to beat most teams in this league. Against the top four or five teams in the NBA is where stars and depth will be most important. If the Clippers can get through the season primarily healthy, there isn’t any reason they can’t be right back in the WCF. 



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David Moyes ‘extremely relieved’ with West Ham’s win over Wolves after seeing Bruno Lage sacked

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D

avid Moyes admitted he was “extremely relieved” at his West Ham side’s victory over Wolves on Saturday, having watched Bruno Lage lose his job in the aftermath of the result.

The Hammers picked up only their second Premier League victory of the season to move out of the relegation zone and are now looking to kick on when they face Anderlecht in the Europa Conference League tomorrow night.

Moyes has watched his side crawl out of the blocks in the League following a summer of significant overhaul, with eight new signings to bed in.

One report in the build-up to to the Wolves clash had suggested early pressure was beginning to build on the Hammers boss to arrest the alarming slump, but it was Lage who paid the price for his own team’s poor start as he was sacked by the Midlands club on Sunday.

“[I was] extremely relieved,” Moyes said. “Look what happened to the manager at Wolves, which was really unfortunate, and there was very little between our positions in the league.

“I’m not saying there’s no difference between my position at West Ham and his at Wolves, but certainly our league positions weren’t much different.

“But I think that’s what we’re seeing in football at the moment. An awful lot of changes. I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors at other clubs.

“At our club I’ve had great support from the owners, and everybody behind it. We think we’re trying to build something. Trying to make West Ham a consistent team in the Premier League. That isn’t an easy thing to do, but we’re trying to make a good fist of it.”

While the Hammers are only now showing signs of clicking into gear on the domestic front, in Europe, they have made a fine start with two wins from two group stage matches so far.

Victory in Belgium tomorrow would see Moyes’ side take a significant step towards sealing qualification for the knockout stage after Christmas and doing so early could afford the Scot the luxury of a dead-rubber amid the fixture pileup later in the campaign. Moyes, however, is taking nothing for granted.

“I wouldn’t in any way disrespect Anderlecht at all,” he added. “We’re away from home in Europe. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do to come away and get results. Anderlecht are a proud club. They’ll see the chance of beating us and getting ahead of us in the group.

“But we’re going to play each other twice very quickly, and at the moment both us and Anderlecht look like the team with the most points. That could change. But [this week] is important. We’d like to win the group if we could. But, as I said last year, if we qualify and we’ve got European football after Christmas, that will be a real bonus for us once again.”



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