Talkers from U.S.-Guatemala draw on Tuesday


Some U.S. fans may be spilling their beer in frustration at a U.S. World Cup qualifying bid being built on small, solid taps rather than one decisive sledgehammer blow.

But a 1-1 draw Tuesday in Guatemala leaves the United States adequately positioned after two matches in semifinal round World Cup qualifying. Four points and a tie with Jamaica atop the group isn’t a terrible spot.

What to talk about from this one:

  • Night of U.S. composure – and that’s not as easy as it sounds

Admit it, you were sure Jermaine Jones would twist off at some point, yes?

But Jones mostly kept his cool. So did his teammates, even when it wasn’t easy.

No one can be surprised that Guatemala got more of the referee calls. It’s a road game in CONCACAF, and that’s how the regional cookie crumbles. Still, it’s not easy for players to keep a lid on the frustration. Especially given that …

Some of the U.S. yellow cards were soft as warm butter. Michael Bradley’s early in the second half for time wasting was just this side of bizarre.

Meanwhile, there was way too much Guatemalan fouling; never did a match cry out for a persistent infringement booking or two like this one. I mean, what they were doing to Clint Dempsey out there, time after time, was absolutely criminal.

And poor Jozy Altidore. Yes, he fell asleep frustratingly as Michael Bradley squared one ball for him beautifully. But otherwise, no calls from the man in the middle were going his way, and that wasn’t Altidore’s fault. One PK shout needed further review. And he wasn’t to blame as a whistle went early, a potentially game-turning sequence that defined advantage clause.

  • U.S. midfield up for the job

Let’s just cut and paste this one, to save the weary fingers a few keystrokes in the future: “Michael Bradley was easily the most important and influential U.S. midfield figure.”

source:  Bradley linked the lines and provided more than his share of attacking push through midfield. He was always connected to Maurice Edu on the defensive end, ready to provide necessary cover.

Jermaine Jones moved reliably into attacking positions and covered ample ground along the right. Maurice Edu sat deeper, screening the defense.

I know that not everyone saw a good match from Edu and Jones.

Yes, Jones lost possession a few times. What can you say; the man is not Michael Bradley. On the other hand, Jones didn’t lose the ball in bad spots. He moved possession aggressively forward when possible and did the tackling and tracking without being, well, all Jermaine Jones about it.

Edu? As I said on Twitter during the match, people sometimes forget what that position is about, especially in a scrappy, shapeless contest like this one. He never needed to “make” the game for the United States; he just needed to make things tough on Guatemala coming into dangerous spots. So, mission accomplished.

  • U.S. set pieces need work

And how. Guatemala handed Jurgen Klinsmann’s men opportunity after opportunity on set pieces. By halftime the United States had been gifted five free kicks inside the attacking third – and any visitor must make defenses pay for that rate of fouling. But Donovan’s insufficient deliveries and one poor shot from Herculez Gomez let the hosts off the hook before the break.

More of the same in the second half. For instance, if Jones needs reminders as to why he should never stand over another U.S. free kick, he can look back at his ridiculous blast over the bar Tuesday.

Meanwhile, from about the same spot, Guatemala’s Marco Pappa kept his team in the World Cup hunt with a swell free kick strike.

  • Too much emotion from the hosts

Guatemala came out like a loaded spring, too emotional, too anxious, straining too hard to make something happen. It’s a fine balance, admittedly uneasy to strike. Underdogs must play with emotion; it’s really their best hope to unearth something special. On the other hand, too much emotion is counter-productive.

Too-frequent fouling isn’t the only danger of being overly keyed up; Dempsey’s opener demonstrated a further threat. Dempsey still had lots of work to do as he accepted Fabian Johnson’s pass just outside the penalty area. Dempsey’s nimble turn left one Guatemalan defender flailing, and one more quick touch to his right took another man out of the play.

Both Guatemalan players needed to get position and defend. Rather, they took big, sliding swipes and finished on their butts. Rather than keep their feet in a composed stance, they lunged rashly, leaving Dempsey with a clear view at goal and an unchallenged shot from 16 yards.

Yeah, he’s going to make that one.

Griezmann sets pre-World Cup deadline for transfer future

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French striker Antoine Griezmann is no stranger to seeing his name in the transfer rumor mill, but that familiarity doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for the Atletico Madrid attacker (who celebrates his 27th birthday on Wednesday).

Long-tipped for a move to either Barcelona or Manchester United, Griezmann knows one thing: He wants his future sorted before the World Cup.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“I want to travel to Russia without this concern,” he told L’Equipe. “It’s not about knowing where I’ll play, but about having the peace of mind if I’m still in one place or another.

“It may be boring, but I have told my sister that, whether I stay or not, this will have to be resolved beforehand. What bothers me the most is that everyone asks me about this issue.”

That’s both honest and reasonable, and we can imagine it’s not a blast to answer questions on your future every day. He also has a contract through 2021-22, which won’t make any transfer a simple one.

Griezmann has 23 goals and 13 assists in all competitions for Atleti this season, as La Liga’s second place side remains alive in the UEFA Europa League. He’s scored 106 goals for Atleti since arriving from Real Sociedad.

NYCFC signs second Homegrown Player in history

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Four years, two Homegrowns.

That’s the decent track record for New York City FC, which has spotted a second youngster from amongst its ranks in 15-year-old Joe Scally.

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Scally joins United States youth international James Sands as Homegrown Players from NYCFC. Here’s USMNT legend and NYCFC technical director Claudio Reyna:

“Joe has been one of the top performers in the Academy for the past few seasons and represented US Soccer at U-15 and U-17 level.”

“He has all of the attributes we look for in a right-back: he’s strong in defense and can support in attack to help create chances from wide areas.”

Sands was signed last summer, and played 23 minutes for NYCFC against Colorado in his lone senior appearance.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”