Study points ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier: United States vs. Guatemala

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A win puts the United States in great shape one-third of the way through semifinal round qualifying en route to Brazil 2014. A U.S. loss is hardly crushing since the Americans took care of business at home last week, but it will turn up the pressure slightly in qualifiers ahead.

Plus, since there’s still a sports-loving set out there that doesn’t understand the thorny side of CONCACAF qualifiers in Central American hot zones, nor the wolverine-like fight in these smaller nations, especially when they feel the emotional burden of playing for something larger than themselves, the Jurgen Klinsmann critics will feast on anything less than a solid Guatemalan thumping by the U.S. men.

Here’s what’s on my mind ahead of this one inside a Nacional Mateo Flores Stadium that promises to be insane with passion and nervous energy:

  • Guatemala is desperate. Already.

That’s because they’ve lost already. True, it was on the road, at Jamaica. So it can’t be totally unexpected, although this is hardly Jamaica’s best version.

The problem is that Guatemalan fans, players, coaches and media all see the reality of the situation. A win Friday could have created some wiggle room, at least. Now, a loss likely leaves Guatemala way behind the qualifying 8 ball, stuck with zero points after two matches, with a scary stretch of ground to make up between the United States and Jamaica.  It would pour a huge pot of hot soup pressure all over Los Chapines at the worst time, with about three months to hear about it until the next round of matches in early September.

They’ll take a point, but what they really, desperately crave is three of them.

source:

  •  What’s going on with the U.S. back line?

It’s really all about Fabian Johnson, and where the left fullback up-and-comer stands in his bid for fitness.

If Johnson can play (and be effective), then U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann has just one choice, and not even a great big one: who to partner with captain Carlos Bocanegra. (Bocanegra, by the way, got the goal last time these two met in Guatemala City in World Cup qualifying, a 1-0 U.S. win in 2008.)

If Johnson can’t go, Klinsmann has three important decisions, starting with where to play Bocanegra. The U.S. veteran defender moved over to left back on Friday following Jose Torres’ injury, and that turned into a quick fiasco. Oguchi Onyewu took Bocanegra’s center back spot – and didn’t take long to remind everyone that he’s a mistake waiting to happen these days.

Clarence Goodson will surely be in tonight’s match; no matter how many times people want to marginalize him in the U.S. center back conversation, Goodson always acquits himself well when provided opportunities. The Brøndby IF captain just hasn’t had a stinker in the U.S. shirt yet – while Onyewu’s matches of woe are getting harder to keep track of.

Here’s the problem: if Bocanegra is forced to play out wide, does Goodson partner centrally with Geoff Cameron, who has limited international experience, and who would be playing his initial World Cup qualifier? That’s a fine “how  do you do”, some way to get your first qualifier test, down in the roiling cauldron of Guatemala City.

If Johnson can play, Klinsmann shouldn’t really have a hard time at all: It’s Bocanegra and Goodson in the middle. (And trusty Steve Cherundolo on the right, as always.)

  • The midfield mix; still tinkering

In the four games so far in this late-spring series, Michael Bradley (pictured above right) has played closer to the forwards at times, but he’s always been the designated holding man, tucked in behind Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu at times.

For this one, I agree with the sharpies over at The Shinguardian, who reckon in their game preview that Edu will sit deeper, tasked with doggedly holding the ground in front of the back line. From the Shinguardian preview:

Edu’s speed of defending will come in to play here and in this role he’ll be used just like Ricardo Clark was used against teams like Costa Rica and Honduras for Bob Bradley. Seal off the counter and bide time until his teammates get back behind the ball.

Edu will handle the tackling and tracking; It’s all about him being smart in ball handling. He’s got to distribute with utmost simplicity and clarity. No chances in this one can be accepted from the Rangers man.

I asked Klinsmann about this one in Tampa. He said essentially that these three are his  go-to guys in midfield now, and that he has faith in them whichever way he tilts the roles.

Jermaine Jones must keep his head.

I went over that one here. Long story short, the Guatemalans know he’s the guy to bait. So he can’t take it. That bait, that is.

I keep wondering who starts at forward

Well, no more. Herculez Gomez keeps starting. And keeps scoring. And keeps drawing effusive praise from his boss, Herr Klinsmann, for relishing all the dirty work that comes in the job description.   source:

I wanted to see a little more creative combining from Gomez on Friday against Antigua and Barbuda, a match that needed a little more dynamic presence from everyone along the U.S. front line. But Tuesday’s match is a Central American blue collar special, and there’s nothing “dynamic” about it. These are about guts, about having the stomach for the fight, about not being a bit undone by the roar and by the spittle and the eye gouges and anything else. It’s about effort and staying stubbornly on mission, about getting the job done.

Gomez looks up for it.

More, including lots of facts and figures, is here on the match from U.S. Soccer.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.

Wenger called ref Dean “not honest,” “a disgrace” to earn ban

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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accused a referee of being “not honest” and called him “a disgrace” in a rant inside the match officials’ changing room that led to a three-match touchline ban for one of English soccer’s most experienced coaches.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

The English Football Association published Tuesday the written reasons behind its decision to ban Wenger for being abusive toward referee Mike Dean after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Dec. 31.

In his match report given to the FA, Dean said Wenger “was pointing aggressively at me saying, ‘You’re not honest’ on numerous occasions.” Dean then said Wenger said “you’ve done this to us many times before, you’re supposed to be professional, you’re a disgrace.”

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

Wenger had been incensed at Calum Chambers being penalized for a handball and West Brom converting the resulting penalty to equalize late in the game.

The FA said “there is simply no justification for this behavior” and considered a stadium ban for Wenger.

Wenger was also fined $54,200 for his conduct.

FA Cup: Leicester, West Ham survive replays to reach 4th round

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Two more Premier League sides reached the fourth round of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Tuesday, winning their respective replays and joining 10 other top-flight clubs already through to the next round…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town

Kelechi Iheanacho moved to Leicester from Manchester City for $33 million this summer and has, through his first half-season in the East Midlands, failed to live up to that price tag. In nine PL appearances, he is yet to score his first league goal. Tuesday, however, saw the 21-year-old Nigerian international put forth a bit production and performance more befitting a player of his promise and pedigree.

Manager Claude Puel picked a side consisting of first-team regulars and lesser-used squad players for the Foxes FA Cup third-round replay against League One side Fleetwood Town. It was Iheanacho, who started alongside/just behind target man Islam Slimani, who shown brightest with a pair of goals, in the 43rd and 77th minutes, to send Leicester into the fourth round. Iheanacho’s second, the one that put the game away for Leicester, was originally ruled out for offside, but was eventually after consultation of the video-assistant referee.

Leicester will travel to League One side Peterborough in the fourth round, on Sat. Jan. 27.

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town

It took far longer than Hammers fans would have liked — or expected — but West Ham, over the course of 120 minutes, survived the Cupset bid of third-division Shrewsbury Town. With eight minutes remaining before Tuesday’s replay went to penalty kicks at the London Stadium, 21-year-old defender Reece Burke fired home from inside the box to break the scoreless deadlock.

West Ham will be away to the winner of the replay between Bournemouth and Wigan Athletic (Wednesday), on Sat. Jan. 27.

Elsewhere in FA Cup replay action

Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Wednesday’s FA Cup replay schedule

Chelsea vs. Norwich City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Swansea City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 2:45 p.m. ET
Wigan Athletic vs. Bournemouth — 2:45 p.m. ET

Report: Newcastle sale talks between Ashley, Staveley collapse

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Talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley over the much-desired and -rumored sale of Newcastle United are off, according to a report from Sky Sports and various other UK news outlets.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Sky has quoted a source close to Ashley as having said: “Attempts to reach a deal (with Staveley) have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time.” (Full quote below)

Ashley, the club’s current and long-beleaguered owner, has been seeking a potential buyer since putting the club up for sale back in October. Staveley emerged as the front-runner (the only runner, perhaps) in the days following Ashley’s announcement, and reportedly tabled an offer of $335 million in early December before reportedly offering something closer to $400 million a couple weeks later.

Ashley selling the club — and doing so before the end of the January transfer window, which now appears nigh impossible — appeared to be one the few scenarios in which Rafa Benitez would remain the Magpies’ manager beyond the end of the current Premier League season (Newcastle currently sit 15th, just three points clear of relegation) after constant rumors of his discontent and lack of financial backing last summer.