Wednesday, September 11, 2013

USA Advances to World Cup

From Huffington Post Sports:

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The United States has qualified for the World Cup while Mexico has taken another step backward after the Americans held on for a 2-0 victory over their CONCACAF rivals in a crucial CONCACAF qualifying match at Columbus Crew Stadium on Tuesday.

Coming off a devastating loss at Costa Rica four days earlier, Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan scored in the second half to put the Stars and Stripes in position to finish in the top three of the Hexagonal to book a place in Brazil next summer.

The USA, which moved back into first place ahead of Costa Rica, officially qualified for the World Cup after Panama lost to Honduras an hour after the final whistle of its win.

Fighting for position, the U.S. was without arguably the region's top player, Michael Bradley, who sat out for the second straight game with an ankle injury. Three additional Americans also missed the match because of yellow card accumulation: forward Jozy Altidore, midfielder Geoff Cameron and defender Matt Besler.

Ahead of the game, Klinsmann called in four additional players, including Clarence Goodson, who started in place of Besler in central defense along with Omar Gonzalez. Fabian Johnson shifted from midfield to the back line opposite of left back DaMarcus Beasley. Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey, Donovan, Alejandro Bedoya and lone striker Johnson filled out the 4-2-3-1 formation.

Mexico opened the match with a different feel from Friday, when the team had a late second-half collapse at home against Honduras for its second loss in the Hexagonal that ultimately led to the firing of coach Jose Manuel de la Torre. He was replaced by Luis Fernando Tena, who put star striker Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez back in the starting XI despite the striker coming off a hamstring injury.

After shifting much of their lineup from the Costa Rica loss, the Americans looked a bit unsettled after kickoff. Mexico was on the attack early, forcing goalkeeper Tim Howard to make a diving save on an attempt from Christian Giménez in the 18th minute for the first scoring opportunity from either side in the first half.

But after the nervy moment, Jurgen Klinsmann's men calmed down and had some chances of their own, with both Dempsey and Donovan getting into the box for shots that were blocked by Mexican defenders. Johnson nearly had the opener off a corner kick in the 32nd minute, but Mexico keeper Jesus Corona saved the attempt on the goal line.

The teams entered the half scoreless. But that wouldn't last long.

Playing with a sense of urgency in front of a raucous crowd, the U.S. came out of the locker room much like Mexico did to open the game. However, the Stars and Stripes were able to capitalize off of their surge when Johnson used his head to slip one into El Tri's goal.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

USA Wins Gold Cup

From Huffington Post Sports:

CHICAGO -- Jurgen Klinsmann helped get them there, and a young American squad did the rest to get their coach his first trophy with the United States.

With Klinsmann sitting in a booth high above the playing field at Soldier Field, the Stars and Stripes overcame their coach's suspension and dominated Panama to walk away witha 1-0 victory and a Gold Cup title in front of a crowd 57,900 on Sunday afternoon.

Brek Shea scored the lone goal in 69th minute in a match the U.S. controlled from start to finish with 69 percent of the possession, pushing the team's record winning streak to 11 games.

The U.S. has now won five Gold Cups, but this is the first trophy for Klinsmann, who took over the national squad two years ago and has the team headed in the right direction ahead of next summer's World Cup in Brazil.

Klinsmann was suspended for the match after getting tossed out of his team's 3-1 victory over Honduras in the semifinals last Wednesday. In Klinsmann's absence, his two assistant coaches, Martin Vasquez and Andreas Herzog, handled responsibilities from the sideline.

Their first major coaching decision came in the 23rd minute when they subbed out Stuart Holden after the midfielder went down with a knee injury caused by a collision with Panama's Alberto Quintero. Holden, who has been battling knee injuries for the last two years, was replaced by Mix Diskerud.

Holden's injury, which is being called a sprained knee and will be reevaluated, overshadowed anything that happened on the field in a first half that was lacked any real scoring chances for the Americas.

But things would go much more smoothly for the hosts in the second half.

Playing with a sense of urgency, Landon Donovan nearly drew a penalty kick shortly after halftime when he kicked the ball into a defender's hand, but the referee decide it was incidental contact. Moments later, he headed a cross just wide of the goal.

With full momentum on their side, the much-anticipated goal would come in the 69th minute. Donovan whiffed on a cross from Alejandro Bedoya but the ball rolled to Shea at the far post for an easy tap-in goal.
Shea, who had recorded his first international goal earlier in the tournament, scored just 43 seconds after entering the match for Joe Corona.

After the goal, Klinsmann left his box and would appear on the pitch after the final whistle to celebrate with the mostly reserve side that proved how deep the U.S. player pool has gotten since the German-born boss took over.

Monday, June 3, 2013

US Surprises Germany 4-3

From Fox Soccer:

They were strange and unusual scenes: the United States men’s national team picking apart the three-time world champions Germany in a 4 - 3 romp.

This startling result came on the back of the USA’s embarrassing 4-2 defeat to Belgium on Wednesday, in which they had been resoundingly outplayed.

“I think we saw a lot, a lot of good things on the field,” said head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who faced the team he starred for and later coached. “Today, we set the tone right from the beginning, we pressured them high. We made it very difficult for them to play out of the back. There was a far higher pace in our game, a better understanding.”

The game marked the United States Soccer Federation’s hundredth anniversary. So a grandiose opponent was found in Germany to properly mark the occasion and frame the cocktail parties, gala dinners and other festivities which surrounded it. A boisterous sell-out crowd of 47,359 crammed into decrepit old RFK Stadium, where the overwhelmingly pro-USA patrons saw entertainment sufficient to justify the $60 average ticket price.

So abundant was the merriment that it was easy to forget that this was only a friendly, and that Germany had shown up with its second string – players from Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, who form the core of the squad, were unavailable – or that the USA had given up two late goals, allowing the contest to become unnecessarily close.

In the sweltering 85-degree heat and 60-percent humidity, the heralded opponents, rumored to have been swayed with an eight-figure match fee, wilted quickly. Ahead of the game, Miroslav Klose, who would captain the Germans on Sunday, had denounced the predicted weather as “extreme”. And sure enough, the Germans looked very sluggish and a step behind the pace. At half-time several of them slumped over in exhaustion.

“I would almost call my team sleepy at times,” Germany head coach Joachim Low said following the game.

But if their opponents were hamstrung by their surroundings, the USA, looking resplendent in their white 1950 World Cup throwback jerseys, made the most of the opportunity afforded them. For the first time since their World Cup qualifier against Jamaica in Columbus in September, they zipped the ball about purposefully for long stretches. Jozy Altidore formed a good target, Clint Dempsey connected the dots around him and Michael Bradley dictated a smooth rhythm. At last, runs were sharp and transitions snappy.

“We did a better job with keeping possession in the attacking third, creating chances for ourselves and being sharp in front of goal,” said Dempsey.

The USA showed its willingness and intentions early, earning a series of looks from corners. With the backs overlapping well, allowing the wingers to drift inside to create a presence in the center of the park, ball circulation was markedly improved from previous outings. That’s how Graham Zusi was found out on the right in the 13th minute. Zusi quickly deposited a cross onto the boot of Altidore, who was wide-open in the box and struck his volley past the well-beaten Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Three minutes later, the high pressure USA head coach Klinsmann has so vociferously advocated throughout his time in charge forced Stegen into a bad own goal. Trying to play a square pass on a goal kick, ter Stegen mishandled defender Howedes' return pass so awfully that it trickled past him into his own net.

It was a deserved lead, but not one that went unthreatened. In the rare German jousts upfield, they twice created wide-open looks. But Per Mertesacker and Andre Schurrle both inexplicably sent their finishes wide and Klose drifted offside on his disallowed goal. The Germans looked disinterested and, at times, comical in moments of ineptitude, like when a teammate struck a pass into the back of Julian Drexler’s head.

Early in the second half, Heiko Westermann rose amid a pack of Americans and hammered his header through the raised arms of Tim Howard to make it 2-1. But soon enough, the newly-confident Altidore prepared a chance for Dempsey, who smashed in the USA’s third. A few minutes later, Dempsey deposited a sharp curler behind ter Stegen from outside the box.

“Having a player like Clint Dempsey on your team is just a privilege,” said Klinsmann. “This is one of the best players I think in U.S. history, you see him perform almost now every game on a very, very high level.”

With the stadium rocking, the USA grew emboldened and tinkered with the fancy stuff: the stepovers, the little chips, the against-the-grain clips. For the regular observer of this team, it was a strange and somewhat unsettling sight, the USA taking liberties with mighty Germany. And it would backfire. Max Kruse was afforded the room to hit in the 4-2. Then, Sydney Sam's shot was poorly handled by Howard, allowing Draxler to sweep in the 4-3.

This unloosed a topsy-turvy, end-to-end finale in which both teams had a bundle of chances. The USA maintained, however, and was allowed to add Germany to the high profile teams it has vanquished in friendlies, along with Mexico and Italy.

“We’re a little bit frustrated that we conceded three,” said Dempsey. “We thought the game should have been 4-1, 4-2 – that would have been nice. But still we take confidence from this going into the World Cup qualifier games.”

That’s the big question now, how this game affects the Americans going into their crucial bouts with Jamaica, Panama and Honduras between June 7 and 18. Spirits could soar, but the draining conditions may have sapped precious energies as the USA readies itself to travel to Kingston on Tuesday.
The legacy of this game will be decided by its aftermath, throughout the next month. It could prove a harmful and ultimately needless overexertion, or it may transpire to be the badly-needed boost in morale.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Consolation Championship

The problem with being a fan of an elite team like FC Barcelona, is that merely winning the league title isn't really good enough.  Earlier this week Barca wrapped up it's 22d Spanish league title.  Fans of most other soccer teams in any nation would be thumping their chests to win their league title.  For example, when hapless DC United finally wins the MLS Cup again at some point in the future, you can be sure that the team's fans will go berserk with happiness. 

However, for Barca, any year they don't also win the Copa del Rey and the Champions League title, somehow feels sub-par.  The expectations for this magnificent team are so high and, frankly, unrealistic.  No team can keep on winning every cup and title in sight, not even a side led by Lionel Messi; and neither did Manchester United win the English Premier League title every year under Sir Alex Ferguson. 

This year in particular, the drubbing that Barca received at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League tournament, has really seemed to dampen enthusiasm for winning La Liga title.  Twenty-two league titles is an awesome achievement, especially since this is the fourth La Liga title in the last five years.  Yet somehow, it does not feel as joyous for Barca fans as it would in other years.

So, congratulations to FC Barcelona for yet another Spanish league championship.  For most Barca fans, it somehow feels like a consolation prize-- the consolation championship of 2013.