USMNT beats El Salvador, advances to CONCACAF Nations League semifinals

International football, especially this season, is very strange. So while the USMNT’s 1-0 win over El Salvador to clinch a spot in the Nations League semifinals doesn’t look like much — and it didn’t— you have to consider that most of the teams were subject to their club teams, they had the World Cup in the middle of the season, they had an ocean flight plus a flight to Grenada and back and two games in four days. It doesn’t have to be beautiful and often it won’t be.

Not much can be taken from these two games, because Grenada is almost nothing and then everyone is worried about whether they will return to Europe healthy. One thing that should have encouraged us is that the only MLS player on the roster, Miles Robinson, looked as powerful in central defense as he did before he tore his Achilles last spring. It could very easily have been U.WITH.the best player that night, and he had the striker from El Salvador in his pocket.

We also learned that against any competent opposition – El Salvador barely qualified — IN.WITH. still not much of a solution when Tyler Adams isn’t around. Both Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah do not keep the midfielders, and there were several moments in the first half when they left the four-lane highway for El Salvador to fight back.

IN.WITH. struggled to find the final cross or pass for much of the game, with inconsistent passing and positioning from McKennie and Musah a problem and some others just having off nights. At least those were the problems until they weren’t:

McKennie will occasionally pull this dirt, which makes you wonder how he can struggle to complete a five-yard pass so often. It was also shocking that Ricardo Pepi scored, because the story from this U.WITH. camp was the forward position, and mostly about the forward who wasn’t there but might be soon (more on him in a second). Daryl Dike got the start, but was mostly on the periphery. He’s a nice blunt tool to have, but it seemed like he was on his heels or waiting for the ball to come to him more than making the runs needed at this level. It was telling that Pepi, within two minutes of coming on for Dike, made this kind of action-inducing run, which McKennie was only too happy to heed. In this level you have to run before the passage is sometimes obvious.

It was the right time for Pepi, one because he’s looking for a transfer to greener pastures in the summer from FC Groningen in the Netherlands, and two because the USMNT might just be importing the biggest weapon at center forward they’ve ever had. His name is Folarin Balogunand recently retired from the England Under-21 team and spent a week in Orlandowhere the USMNT just happened to be for this break.

Balogun has scored 17 goals in the French Ligue 1 this season, the best being Kylian Mbappe. If he makes the switch, it will be the first time the U.WITH. had the right no. 9 hits in the top five Europa League by…Clint Dempsey? Who really wasn’t No. 9? Let’s just say it was pretty damn rare. Balogun won’t turn 22 until July, fitting the profile of most of the rest of the squad, a player who can grow alongside the others until the next World Cup on home soil. Balogun is lightning fast and ready to press, which should fit in with what U.WITH. wants to do, although his link-up play could use some work. But then again, he’s 21.

The USMNT will try to repeat in the summer of 2021 with the A-Group (probably) playing two Nations League round-up games, then the MLS B-Team and less-used players being assigned to the CONCACAF Gold Cup after that. It certainly sounds like Balogun could use the Nations League as an introduction to the team. Pepi did his best to make us feel good about a world where he doesn’t.

MLB umpires are already in midseason form

MLB players seem to be ready for the season, i.e. the skinniest jerks this side of the police, who they mostly think they want/are dying to be:

Armed with a new set of enforceable rules, you can expect to see plenty of players getting rabbit ears this season when they call for a clock violation from a pitcher or batter, and barely manage to hide their erection when they then get around to throwing the pitcher or batter for even a facial muscle twitch that could be considered an argument.

The NBA has been full of referees and their itchy fingers lately, seemingly escalating things themselves to justify their impulsive ejections of players and coaches. It seems like MLB umpires won’t be outdone, because that’s their job.

You have to see this Help Nathan MacKinnon

You should probably turn off the lights, light the candles and get out the goodies to watch Nathan MacKinnon pass to Valeri Nichushkin last night:

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