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USMNT overcomes poor first half, battles back to draw Panama

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USMNT overcomes poor first half, battles back to draw Panama

Behind two subpar performances to open CONCACAF Gold Cup group play, the U.S. men's national team faced arguably their toughest test against 2013 runner-up Panama on a sweltering Monday night. The game was about pride and momentum, and some gumption was required before the U.S. showed either in front of an announced crowd of 18,467 at Sporting Park.

Goals either side of halftime from Blas Pérez and Michael Bradley saw the Panamanians finish in third place with a slim chance of advancing to the knockout stages, while the Americans locked up top spot in Group A and a quarterfinal meeting with the Group B/C winner on July 18. 

Jurgen Klinsmann reinstated the back four that scraped by Honduras in the opening match, replacing the quartet of Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, and Greg Garza that edged Haiti on Friday. Kyle Beckerman deputized for Mix Diskerud in his usual holding midfield role, flanked by Alfredo Morales and Alejandro Bedoya, who stepped in for Clint Dempsey and Graham Zusi. Gyasi Zardes and Chris Wondolowski partnered up front in place of Aron Johannsson and Jozy Altidore.

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It was Hernan Gomez's side that threatened first, however, as, Luis Tejada found the back of the net off a free kick in the 10th minute, but was correctly flagged offside by the assistant referee on the far sideline. 

For much of the first half, Klinsmann's outfit continued to mold into a very deep, defensive shell, as Brad Guzan was required to make a number of saves throughout as Panama knocked on the door. Ten minutes shy of the halftime interval, though, the U.S. were punished.

Tejada was at the heart of the move once more, turning on Alvarado, darting toward the end line and crossing for a wide open Pérez to finish from close range in the 34th minute. 

Two minutes short of halftime, Wondolowski looped a fantastic ball over the top of the Panamanian defense, sending Bedoya sprinting through on goal. The FC Nantes midfielder approached the top of the 18 when he appeared to be clipped from behind by Harold Cummings, but referee Roberto Garcia waved play on.

[MORE Gold Cup: USMNT wraps up Group A play against 2013 finalist Panama]

The U.S. took two shots in a disappointing first half, which prompted Klinsmann to introduce Dempsey and DeAndre Yedlin at the start of the second half.    

Bradley, making one of his vintage, late runs to the back post, was rewarded in the 55th minute. Following an excellent buildup highlighted by tight exchanges from Dempsey and Zardes at the edge of the penalty area, the ball kicked out to Bedoya, who supplied a pinpointed delivery to the captain to finish it off and pull his side level.

The renewed intent and increased tempo culminated in a laborious effort to deny Panama in the late stages, as the U.S. cobbled seven points together to finish the group stage. Now, they'll await the results from Groups B and C in the next two days to determine their quarterfinal opponent in Baltimore in five days time.

United States Starting XI (subs):

Brad Guzan; Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Ventura Alvarado, Timothy Chandler; Kyle Beckerman, Alfredo Morales (DeAndre Yedlin, 46'), Michael Bradley (C), Alejandro Bedoya (Aron Johannsson, 71'); Gyasi Zardes, Chris Wondolowski (Clint Dempsey, 46').

Panama Starting XI (subs):

Jaime Penedo; Roman Torres, Harold Cummings, Erick Davis, Valentin Pimentel (Miguel Camargo, 62'); Armando Cooper, Gabriel Gómez, Anibal Godoy, Alberto Quintero (Abdiel Arroyo, 86'); Blas Pérez, Luis Tejada (Roberto Nurse, 71').

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”


Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of MLSsoccer.com, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.