Shipped from Abroad, England: ‘Til the landslide brought them down

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LONDON – The Brendan Rodgers era at Liverpool would have gotten of to a worse start if there was anything to glean from their 3-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion. At least, there wasn’t much to glean as it concerns their prospects to improve this season. After Saturday’s match, we can say Liverpool are incapable of stopping aberrational Zoltan Gera goals and they don’t play well when they’re down to 10 men. But there’s nothing more general – more applicable to future games – which came from the match. No team stops that Gera goal, and teams are generally pretty poor when outmanned. As it concerns Liverpool’s 2012-13, Saturday was neither hint nor revelation.

“It was just one of those games” is one of soccer’s many overused clichés, mostly because “those” is so ill-defined. In the context of Saturday’s game, it means a match where your team had little chance to winning. West Brom’s first goal (Gera’s) was unstoppable, and while Daniel Agger’s straight red was probably the right call, the penalty kick awarded after Martin Skrtel was judged to have fouled Shane Long almost certainly wasn’t. Peter Odemwingie’s conversation, coming minutes after Pepe Reina had stopped Long’s attempt after Agger’s foul, sealed the match.

Without the Skrtel call (at which time the score was 1-0, West Brom), perhaps Liverpool could have held out for half an hour before stealing a goal late. But to score two and allow none while down a man? That was too much.

There is a counter to the claim Liverpool could do little to win Saturday’s match: They could have scored some goals before Agger’s sending off. That’s fair enough, but Liverpool isn’t the first talented team to go an hour without scoring. They were on the road, against a moderately talented opponent, facing a man (former assistant Steve Clarke) who knew their personnel inside and out. They also generated a number of chances for Luis Suarez, with the Uruguayan justifiably disappointed not to have converted two relatively easy headers. Though it’s always precarious to apply “if” to strikers, it’s natural to wonder how the game would have changed if Suarez converted with his normal efficacy.

Rodgers is unlikely to be up late thinking about Suarez’s finishing. Those goals will come, though there are other issues that should cost Rodgers sleep. Suarez was Liverpool’s only real threat, with Fabio Borini, Stewart Downing and Steven Gerrard failing to generate chances. The Reds looked disjointed, often needing to play directly to their main threat rather than crafting better chances. In the middle, Lucas Leiva’s obviously rusty, while at the back (particularly, in the middle), Liverpool looked predictably slow, offering the Baggies little second half resistance.

But Leiva will undoubtedly improve. Rodgers still seems to be looking for help in attack (he shouldn’t be happy having to start Downing), while Jamie Carragher, badly exposed at times on Saturday, won’t play often (though Agger will now serve a suspension thanks to his dismissal).

There’s no need to listen to Chicken Littles, if there are any chirping about after Liverpool’s opener. It was just one of those games.

Two 5-0s, and it could have been worse

Reflexively, you want to give credit when teams score five goals, but the terrible defending we saw from Queens Park Rangers and Norwich City makes it difficult to aggrandize Swansea City and Fulham. With both winners early Premier League leaders (sitting on top of the table thanks to their +5 goal difference), they don’t need adulation from random American bloggers to round out their raucous openers. If I point out the lopsided scores were more the defenses’ doing than the attacks’ skill, they won’t notice, let alone take offense.

Norwich City, under new manager Chris Houghton, were inexplicably stoic, with players often standing still, the Canaries’ midfield and defense cemented to their positions as Fulham weaved through them. Against a Cottager attack that Martin Jol’s based on passing and movement, it was a disastrous approach. Mladen Petric scored twice in his Premier League debut, while the likes of Damien Duff, 20-year-old Alexander Kacaniklic, and Steve Sidwell also open their accounts. It’s not like Fulham needed performances from the likes of Moussa Dembele, Bryan Ruiz, and Clint Dempsey (not in the game day squad) to post the landslide.

Elsewhere in West London, QPR was giving new Swansea manager Michael Laudrup an unexpectedly warm welcome to the Premier League, making new attacking midfielder Michu look like an early steal. The former Rayo Vallecano man was brought to Wales for £2 million this summer. Within an hour of his debut, he had two goals. The first was the result of a botched effort from new goalkeeper Robert Green. The second came after it became clear Park Ji-Sung, failing to track a jogging Michu through midfield on a counter, left his third lung in Manchester.

Nathan Dyer followed with two relatively easy goals, while Scott Sinclair was unbothered as he came off the bench of tee up the fifth.

Queens Park Rangers were disorganized, lacked initiative, and were a poor reflection on a manager who had over a month of training to get his team prepared for this game. Mark Hughes claiming (post-game) his team should have been much better was as much an indictment of his preparation as his players’ performance.

Elsewhere in England …

  • Arsenal dominated Sunderland but could never break through, opening the season with a 0-0 at Emirates Stadium. It’s a disappointing result, but one that should (but likely won’)t leave Gooners encouraged. Santi Cazorla looks like he might be on of the leagues best players. The team constantly generated chances. Alex Song wasn’t missed. The defense was largely fine (if untested). Fans need not be worried unless Arsenal strings together two more of these.
  • Stoke City’s the same as ever, which was almost enough to get three points at Reading. According to the BBC, captain Ryan Shawcross was warned in the first half to calm his team down, the Potters giving the Royals a rude (and rough) welcome back to the Premier League. Perhaps it was only appropriate that a penalty allowed Reading to snare a point on their return.
  • There was unwarranted controversy at the Boleyn Ground, with many onlookers thinking West Ham’s Ricardo Vaz Te was offside before setting up Kevin Nolan’s goal against Aston Villa. Replays showed Mike Dean made the correct call, noting Ciaran Clark played a header back to the Hammers’ attacker. Of greater importance than the perceived blown call to Villans: Their team gave no impression this will be anything but a long, dramatic year for the Midlands’ biggest club.
  • In the Match of the Day, Tottenham gave fans reason to believe the transition to Andre Villas-Boas will be a smooth one. Unfortunately or them, Newcastle was still able to take a 2-1 win. Though Spurs looked the better side for much of Saturday’s match at Sports Direct Arena, a great second half goal from Demba Ba and penalty kick drawn (and converted) by Hatem Ben Arfa were enough for the Magpies to take three points. Spurs missed Luka Modric and need more striking power (Harry Kane was their forward off the bench). Perhaps instead of creating undo drama (and wasting time) with Modric, Daniel Levy can start addressing this squad’s needs?

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

[ MORE: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.