U.S. head coach Caleb Porter gestures during the second half of their U-23 international friendly soccer match against Mexico in Frisco

Predicted lineup, and a prediction for tonight’s Olympic biggie

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Under different circumstances, a manager might follow an underwhelming performance by sweeping out the lineup, punching up several changes ahead of such a significant, absolutely critical contest.

But U.S. under-23 manager Caleb Porter has his hands tied to some extent. (See the previous ProSoccerTalk post for how Porter and his side were left to fight with a shorter stick, roster-wise.)

Beyond the FIFA-related roster vagaries, the U.S. is a man down due to Juan Agudelo’s unfortunate knee injury. Otherwise, promising backups aren’t exactly falling off the U.S. bench.

Take the situation at striker, for example. Agudelo, the promising Red Bulls’ marksman, was clear and away the best U.S. choice among Porter’s trio of choices.

Teal Bunbury and Terrence Boyd are the other possibilities for topping Porter’s 4-3-3 arrangement – but neither was particularly effective Saturday against Canada. So it’s probably on Bunbury again, even if he failed to find the passing lanes or to open up the Canadian defense on the dribble. Otherwise, the coach would be leaning on a young man (Boyd) who doesn’t even start for his club, Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, where Boyd is a reservist.

Porter’s only other option is playing Joe Corona or Brek Shea at striker rather than at their more comfortable spots, attacking midfielder and left winger, respectively. Honestly, that one sounds like a reach.

Moving into the midfield, Jared Jeffrey struggled to make an impact Saturday. But Porter’s No. 2 option, the Philadelphia Union’s Amobi Okugo, seems more prone to picking up cards and didn’t add much upon his introduction Saturday. So, where does that leave things?

We’ve covered the unimpressive situation at center back. It is what it is; Perry Kitchen and (especially) Ike Opara simply have to rise and be bigger, more focused and just a little meaner than they’ve been over two matches.

The situation at outside back probably doesn’t need much attention. Zarek Valentin looked better Saturday as a right back than he did previously on the left. He was more a factor going forward than Kofi Sarkodie against Cuba.

Speaking of the left, one of the few bright spots of Saturday’s loss to Canada was Jorge Villafana’s solid attacking along that side. So the outside back situation isn’t a problem.

Finally, does Porter make a change in goal after Bill Hamid’s costly error, favoring Sean Johnson instead? Best guess: I doubt it. There’s a reason (whatever it might be) Porter made the choice of Hamid over Johnson in the first place. And so long as Hamid can keep his nerve, I suspect he won’t go up casually for anything inside his six-yard box tonight. Not a chance, I’d say.

Predicted lineup:

Bill Hamid; Zarek Valentin, Ike Opara, Perry Kitchen, Jorge Villafana; Jared Jeffrey, Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona; Freddy Adu, Teal Bunbury, Brek Shea.

Match prediction:

If the Americans can manage the match and not succumb to debilitating panic, they’ll get a goal eventually and probably win along the lines of 2-0. The key is patience; they can’t get stretched by pouring players too far forward, too early. It’s about managing the match and understanding they only need to win by one, not by three or four.

Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to FIFA.com ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

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Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.