Marco Pappa 3

Guatemala: masters of gamesmanship and distraction

1 Comment

U.S. Soccer players and staff, in quite moments, while still observing the statesman tenants of political correctness, will cautiously allow that no country has “gamesmanship” down like Guatemala.

They work in skillful dark arts of naughty distraction the way Spain works in passing, or the way Leo Messi works in “awesome.”

So they’ll step on toes. They’ll say naughty things. They’ll swing elbows of menace, quick and hard to detect. They’ll grab things that have absolutely no business being grabbed.

And that’s all empowered by that notorious backdrop of intimidating atmosphere.

The dubious deeds, at highest crank when playing at home in Guatemala City, are not just about distracting visitors from their night’s task; it’s also about baiting. Don’t think for a second that Guatemalan coaches haven’t circled U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones. He’s surely the most likely candidate to lose his mind out there, the odds-on choice to be undone by the sneaky and the naughty.

You may not like the dubious tactics of the underdog. I certainly don’t endorse them. But I do get it.

Guatemala wants desperately to accomplish the unthinkable, to nail down that elusive berth in the World Cup.

With a population of almost 14 million, it’s a little bigger than Honduras, a nation that did accomplish the highly implausible two years ago, putting itself with tremendous pride on the global soccer map with an appearance at World Cup 2010.

The Guatemalan people, among the poorest in Latin America, would benefit so handsomely just seeing their land arrive at a World Cup, being mentioned alongside the majestic likes of Brazil, Argentina, Spain, etc.  It’s lottery-like in this way; dreaming about it all is half the fun.

The players understand – and that understanding justifies the antics in their minds. They’ll want desperately to make this dream happen for themselves and for the impassioned supporters, who will fill the stadium by pre-game warm-up time, cheering for the point or points that will get their team just a little closer to Brazil 2014.

Guatemala has a chance to do so, too. Not a great one, but a chance. Soccer America tells you here about some of the men who matter for Guatemala.

Carlos Ruiz is a familiar name, and the longtime MLS can be at his pesky, infuriating best when wearing the national shirt. He won’t be in tip-top shape; at 32, Ruiz is currently between clubs. Then again, Ruiz has spent much of his career at less-than-full-fitness due to his out-and-about lifestyle – but his static, physical playing style means he doesn’t have to be supremely fit to be a big ol’ bother.

Marco Pappa (pictured), the Chicago Fire midfielder is a difference maker who can turn a match in an instant.

Veteran forward Dwight Pezzarossi will be targeting his 60th cap, and that experience will count against the Americans.

Barcelona, Neymar make it formal: Signed into 2021

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 19: Neymar of Barcelona holds off pressure from Raheem Sterling of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group C match between FC Barcelona and Manchester City FC at Camp Nou on October 19, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

T’s are crossed and i’s dotted on Neymar’s new contract, keeping him at the club through the 2020-21 season.

Neymar, 24, will make his 100th La Liga appearance with his next step onto the pitch.

Lionel Messi’s deal runs through 2017-18, and Luis Suarez’s goes through 2018-19.

[ MORE: Guardiola on Aguero omission ]

He’s scored 59 goals in league play, and has 91 total when you include all 150 of his matches in a Barca kit.

Neymar is on a similar scoring rate to last season, when he netted 31 times. The Brazilian also has 49 international goals in 73 caps.

Guardiola seethes at reports Aguero unwanted at Man City

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City is congratulated by Josep Guardiola manager of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League match between Manchester City FC and VfL Borussia Moenchengladbach at Etihad Stadium on September 14, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Pep Guardiola is seething with reports that claim star striker Sergio Aguero is not in his plans for Manchester City’s future.

Aguero started on the bench for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League loss at Barcelona, inspiring talk that the Argentine star wasn’t long for the Emirates Stadium.

[ MORE: Conte on Mourinho, Pogba ]

Guardiola says that’s garbage, and that he simply needed more midfielders for his attack. Next time, just ask.

From the BBC:

“It was a tactical decision. I wanted one more midfielder, I tried to keep the ball in the Camp Nou and when you have the ball, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez don’t.

“I spoke with Sergio and he was understanding, I thought in the last 30 minutes, with the Barcelona centre-halves tiring, he could help a lot from the bench. When Sergio decides to leave it will be his decision. Next time before you (the media) decide he is not in my plans you can call me.”

Still, not using Aguero is risky business.

The striker believes, rightly, that he’s among the most dangerous players in the world. Guardiola has said as much, too.

While few would put him in the class of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, it’s difficult to imagine either being sat for tactical reasons against one of the best teams in the world.

Chelsea: Conte expects warm reception for Mourinho; Terry is fit

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 26:  A fan wears a Chelsea scarf with the image of the club's former manager, Jose Mourinho before the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Watford at Stamford Bridge on December 26, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The managers are meeting the media ahead of this week’s Premier League matches, and many eyes are trained on one specific match-up.

Chelsea and Manchester United meet on Sunday, the first time Jose Mourinho will manage against his old side since his unceremonious exit last winger.

[ USWNT: Holiday has tumor removed ]

Mourinho, of course, led Chelsea to the 2014-15 title only to see a miserable start to the following campaign. He was hired at Manchester United this summer, but Conte thinks Mourinho’s Chelsea laurels have earned him some love from Stamford Bridge.

“I have great respect for Mourinho. He deserves a good reception. He was an important man for Chelsea and wrote part of the club’s story.”

Conte also touched on Paul Pogba‘s decision to head back to Old Trafford. Pogba is coming off a starring role in United’s 4-1 win over Fenerbahce, and Conte guided the French midfielder during their time at Juventus.

“It was Paul Pogba’s dream was to return to Manchester United. I wish him well, but only after this game.”

Conte said John Terry is available to return for Chelsea, and that could be invaluable against a big, strong forward like United’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With the Red Devils having played Thursday, Conte will like his chances a bit more than usual.

Canada vs. U.S. among top-notch CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 20:  Gershon Koffie #28 of the Vancouver Whitecaps brings the ball up field against Dax McCarty #11 of the New York Red Bulls at B.C. Place on June 20, 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images)
Photo by Jessica Haydahl/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The bracket is set for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, and ensures that at least one MLS vs. Liga MX semifinal will happen next Spring.

No. 1 seed New York Red Bulls will cross the continent to meet No. 8 Vancouver Whitecaps, with the winner moving on to face the victor of Mexico’s Tigres UANL vs. Pumas UNAM.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

The possibility of an all-Liga MX or all-MLS final still exists, with Pachuca and FC Dallas on opposite sides of the bracket. Arabe Unido gives Panama hope for its first CCL semifinalist, while Saprissa can be Costa Rica’s first semifinalist since 2011.

Of the remaining teams, only Pachuca has won a title in the CCL era (2008-present). Tigres lost in the 2016 final, the only other team to make it that far.

Full schedule
New York Red Bulls (1) vs. Vancouver Whitecaps (8)
Tigres UANL (4) vs. Pumas UNAM (5)
Arabe Unido (2) vs. FC Dallas (7)
Pachuca (3) vs. Saprissa (4)

The first legs will be played in late February, and the bright side to the intra-league quarters will be one MLS side waiting a round before facing a more in-form club playing a traditional season schedule (though that’s an overblown excuse at this point).

Some fans don’t care much for the tournament, while others — myself included — are extremely keen to see an MLS team win the CCL and represent North America in the Club World Cup, where it can get a high profile litmus test in a serious competition (Real Madrid beat Cruz Azul 4-0 in a 2014 semifinal).