U.S. under-23s: no time for the mourning after, but time for some to release the hand brake

Leave a comment

There is absolutely no time for rebukes and rehash in the under-23 men’s national camp. They are on the field again in 36 hours, and if they can’t get their Olympic-bound cart out of the ditch, we’ll have all summer for autopsy.

Manager Caleb Porter sure gets it. “We’re all disappointed,” he said after last night’s 2-0 loss to Canada. “The reality is we need to move on. We need to get back to work tomorrow. We can’t dwell on this.”

All of his post-game comments are here.

Meanwhile, we’ll look quickly at three important individuals who simply must find the next level. U.S. international sides have a history of being at their best when things get bumpy; historically, they are better as underdogs, greater when pushing through hard times, lesser when leading the pack.

So, here are three who need to lead the “step-up” charge:

Freddy Adu

Adu loves the playmaker role. He’s OK out on the wing; I truly believe this is a far more mature Freddy Adu these days, one who has been through the professional wringer and knows what’s up in the world. He doesn’t complain about manning the flanks, but his true love is at central playmaker. He said so when I spoke to him during the Dallas training camp in February.

Fair enough. So step up. Be the creator in there – if that’s where Caleb Porter wants to put you.

Listen to what Porter said about the halftime adjustment, the centerpiece of which was moving Adu inside from the right wing. “We didn’t use the width we talked about at halftime,” Porter said. “We put Joe Gyau on and talked about creating 2 versus 1 situations wide. We didn’t do that well enough.”

That’s not all on Adu, of course. But much of it is. The thing with being a playmaker and orchestrator – you have to orchestrate. And it’s not always easy, especially when teams stack the midfield in a Christmas tree (4-3-2-1) formation as Canada did. It is what it is, and Adu has to find a way.

Bill Hamid

Monday’s match will go far in defining the young D.C. United goalkeeper’s career. Right now, he’s a talented work in progress, one who made a huge and costly mistake. That’s over. So now what is he going to do about it?

I say all the time, the problem with young goalkeepers isn’t the “mistake,” per se. It’s how they handle it. Can Hamid jog out onto the field for warm-ups Monday knowing, in his heart of hearts, that he can still manage the job? Does he know, beyond all doubt, that he’s the backstopper Porter needs to get the car back on the road? For there is no other way to play. He cannot hesitate, blink or think about things for a nano-second back there. Big-time goalkeepers are ‘keepers of supreme confidence – the rest just fall in line as good league-level men between the sticks.

(All that is assuming Porter sticks with Hamid; it was always close between he and Sean Johnson.)

Teal Bunbury or Terrence Boyd

Everybody is bummed about Juan Agudelo, and who can blame them? But as they say, he’s not coming off that bench now. So one of the remaining American strikers simply must do more. Bunbury got the start but was only dangerous last night when pressuring and harassing. Boyd got the last half hour and needed to plant the big idea in Porter’s noggin: “I have to start this guy next time.” But Boyd didn’t.

The best U.S. moments Saturday came when Brek Shea was unshackled on the wings, putting something worthwhile into the mixer. That’s just half the recipe. He needs someone finding the vulnerable spots in front of goal, and doing the deed from there.

Note

I didn’t pick center back Ike Opara as one of the “step-uppers” because, in all honesty, I suspect he’s all he can be at the moment. He hasn’t been very good over two matches, confirming what many suspected anyway, that he was slightly in over his head. It’s up to Porter now: stick with Opara and provide the necessary cover when possible or change personnel. That’s about it.

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

Getty Images
2 Comments

AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
1 Comment

Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4