Fab Five of talkers from a huge U.S. win over Mexico

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It has come to the point now where, when talking about “signature wins under Jurgen Klinsmann,” you’ll need to be pretty specific.

Previously, we would all have circled a 1-0 result in Italy. But Wednesday’s 1-0 win in Mexico stands every bit as momentous. No, Mexico doesn’t have the World Cup trophies or global chops of Italy, but El Tri is the predominant regional rival.

The United States had never, ever won in Mexico City – but has now. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact of this one when Klinsmann and Co. inevitably return for World Cup qualifier fun.

Here are five talking points from Wednesday’s history maker at Estadio Azteca:

Outstanding defense

Distribution out of the back was nothing special, but the defending was just this side of flawless.  Considering the alarming lack of experience in this one (and that two of the foursome were playing out of position) this was a remarkably focused and tight effort.

Geoff Cameron (pictured) was the best of the foursome, dominating everything that came his way. But Edgar Castillo – let’s go with the “much-maligned” Edgar Castillo – was a wonder along the left side. He didn’t do much on the attack, but that’s not what this night was about for the outside backs. His one-on-one defending particularly stood out.

Fabian Johnson did what he needed on the right, and makeshift center back Maurice Edu channeled his inner Carlos Bocanegra and manned the right center back spot like someone who had been there for a decade.

Others with nights to be proud of:

source: Getty Images

Start with Tim Howard, whose two remarkable second half saves – one of composure and physical balance, the other of world class reflexes – helped preserve the U.S. smash-and-grab. That man continues to be one that you absolutely, positively want on your side.

How about Kyle Beckerman? I cannot for the life of me figure out why so many fans have such a problem with this guy. The RSL man has figured out exactly what Klinsmann wants from that holding midfield spot and delivers it perfectly. He finds good defensive positions and keeps the ball moving. (As opposed to Jermaine Jones, who always needs two beats to find a pass rather than Beckerman’s one.) It’s a simple game; Beckerman sees it that way.

Some that needed better:

You have to think that Jose Torres is just about out of free passes under Klinsmann. The ever-candid U.S. coach said he needed more consistency from Torres, which is code for “get it right, or we move on.”

Here’s the thing: in a game where the United States will spend most of its time on defense, the guy is lost. He tries, but he’s just not good at it, not the tracking, the tackling or interrupting of passing lanes. So then he’s left to go find the game – except that he’s not very good at that either, apparently. When the game is settled and balanced, with at least half the possession going the U.S. way, Torres serves a valuable function. Otherwise? Not so much.

Danny Williams was poor, but playing a nominal central role in a 4-3-1-2 was a big ask for the young man.

DaMarcus Beasley was better once switched to the right, but his entrance at halftime was wrought with tracking failures and inability to produce much with the ball.

Formation and tactics

A knock on Klinsmann has always been his alleged flagging tactical acumen; I’ve never been sure about that one. Personnel and program management are his forte, but I doubt he needs help sorting his wingbacks from his wide midfielders or whatever.

Either way, the U.S. coach sure nailed this one. The slightly more aggressive 4-3-1-2 wasn’t working, so they wisely downshifted into a 4-4-2 with Landon Donovan and Torres interchanging between the left and withdrawn forward spot.

Recognizing that his team wasn’t going to get much possession, the best chance of success was going to be through tight defending and good shape with the extra man in midfield, all while trying to steal a goal. Which is precisely what happened.

As for personnel, summoning Brek Shea for the 22-man roster proved a master stroke. He produced immediately, aggressively running at goal to create the scramble that Terrence Boyd helped along and Michael Orozco Fiscal put away.

(By the way, last year in Klinsmann’s U.S. debut, a 1-1 draw with Mexico, it was Shea’s aggressive dribbling along the left, just like Wednesday, that made the goal.)

Bottom line and overall assessment

The United States was generally awful in possession, but held up in defensive shape and demonstrated extraordinary belief. Everyone loves Tim Howard, and rightly so, and Geoff Cameron is progressing at international level at a pace that can only be labeled “exceptional.” Remember, he was a national team curiosity at best coming into the January camp just a few short months ago.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday