Chelsea all-departure team (2004-present)

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Clearly, I’m a bit fixated on this Didier Drogba-thing, but just let me get it out of my system. It’s not every day that one of the world’s most recognizable players leaves his club (let alone 72 hours after he helped win a European title). I’ve got one, maybe two more posts to go on this. After that, it’s back to our regular scheduled (and probably, closer to home) programming.

But I couldn’t help but thinking about al the other prominent departures Chelsea’s endured since José Mourinho’s arrival (summer 2004). After going through the last eight years’ squads, it wasn’t too difficult to come up with a nice little team:

G – Carlo Cudicini

Before José Mourinho’s arrival Cudicini was one of the premier goalkeepers in England. In the summer of 2004, Petr Cech was brought in, relegating Cudicini to the bench. In 2009, after five seasons deputizing, Cudicini switched to rival Tottenham, where he has served as a backup to Heurelho Gomes and Brad Freidel.

LB – Wayne Bridge

The year before Mourinho’s arrival, Bridge was bought from Southampton for £7 million and Graeme La Soux. By 2006, he was second choice to Ashley Cole, who José had lured from Arsenal. After three years of backing up Cole for club and country, Bridge was brought to Manchester City by Mark Hughes, where he quickly lost his starting spot. He’s since been spent time on loan at West Ham and Sunderland.

CB  – Ricardo Carvalho

The best defender of the Roman Abramovich era, Carvalho come with Mourinho from Porto’s 2004 Champions League-winner. The year he arrived, Chelsea reduced their goals allowed by 50 percent, conceding only 15 times in 2004-05. In the summer of 2010, Mourinho brought Carvalho to Real Madrid, though he has since lost his place in Real’s starting XI.

CB – Alex

Alex’s cannon right foot never got a consistent run in the starting lineup, but with Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry proving fragile during Carlo Ancelotti’s tenure, the Brazilian defender proved a importnat part of a title-winning team. Though he spent three years on loan at PSV, Alex would departure for PSG this winter having played 87 times for the Blues.

RB – William Gallas

Otherwise known as Ashley Cole’s makeweight, Galas proved to be an important utility man for Chelsea, playing across the Chelsea back line before being sent to Arsenal in 2006. In five years at Stamford Bridge, Gallas made 159 league appearances, scoring 14 goals. He went on to captain the rival Gunners before travelling the rarely used road between the Emirates and White Hart Lane.

DM – Claude Makélélé

The man for whom a position has come to be named, Makélélé came to Chelsea as a casualty of Real Madrid’s Galacticos era. At Stamford Bridge he helped usher in a new chapter in contemporary soccer tactics, illustrating the value of the deep-sitting, midfield destroyer. The position has since become known as “the Makélélé role,” nomenclature adopted long before the Zaire-born midfielder moved to Pars Saint-Germain.

CM – Michael Ballack

Unfortunately, Ballack will be remembered as much for accosting officials as he will for his play in midfield, but the then-captain of German proved to be a vital to Chelsea’s transition away from its dependence on Makélélé. A starter in midfield with Michael Essien and Frank Lampard, Ballack help Chelsea claim their third Premier League in 2009-10.

CM – Lassana Diarra

This is the weakest pick of the all-departure team, but thanks to Frank Lampard’s incredibly longevity, there hasn’t been remarkable turnover in Chelsea’s midfield. Diarra’s playing time was a casualty of that stability, the French international making only 13 league appearances from 2005-07. Diarra would see similarly sporadic playing time at Arsenal before establishing himself at Portsmouth after of a move to Real Madrid.

LW – Arjen Robben

Chelsea paid €18 million to get Robben from PSV. They were repaid with nine all-competition goals during the Dutchman’s injury-filled first season. After two more seasons in a tenure that saw Robben collect five major trophies, Real Madrid’s €35 million bid was accepted, taking Robben to the Santiago Bernabeu. In 105 games at Stamford Bridge, Robben scored 19 times.

RW – Joe Cole

Before Joe Cole became an oft-ill-used metaphor, he was a pretty useful player for Chelsea. Moving from West Ham in 2003, Cole would go on to collect eight honors in seven seasons at Stamford Bridge. But as injuries started to pile up, Cole lost his regular place in the team and decided to try his luck at Liverpool starting in 2010. In his time in blue, Cole score 40 times, twice hitting double-digits.

ST – Didier Drogba

Here are the other Drogba stories we’ve put up over the last couple of days, but as you look at this list, ti’s pretty easy to see: Didier Drogba is the most important departure of the Abramovich era.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
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What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

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Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —