United States v Jamaica - World Cup Qualifier

Jamaican joy, U.S. despair: Points on the match

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So now we know: the difference makers for the United States … well, they make a difference.

No Landon Donovan? That one stung Friday night in Kingston. A Clint Dempsey that could not possibly have been at “Full Dempsey,” given his three-month removal from competitive soccer? That one was always going to leave a bruise, too.

But the killer was no Michael Bradley in midfield. Oh, how that one put a deathly chokehold on the U.S. attack and ability to hold the ball.

The United States was an absolute mess between the defenders and the front line. None of the three in there (Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu nor Jermaine Jones) will remember the U.S.-Jamaica match fondly.

Nor will U.S. fans, for that matter.

I know this is not what U.S. fans want to hear. They get their Uncle Sam hats on and the “Don’t Tread on Me” t-shirts, and they don’t want to hear that sometimes, in some situations, ties are OK. But here goes …

Believe me, sometimes ties are OK.

Case in point, when you crawl out of Jamaica on the business end of a 2-1 Red Striping. It was a deserved score line, too; Jamaica was the better team. For darn sure in midfield.

We’ll come back later and talk about how much trouble the U.S. qualifying might suddenly be in. (Hint: some, but things are hardly dire.)

For now, let’s go over some talking points from the first Jamaican win ever over the United States. (Yes, the Reggae Boyz record against their Yankee regional rival is now 1-18-10.):

  • A U.S. back line already missing some experience got scary-young when Steve Cherundolo was ruled out due to a calf strain. So the back line, right to left was Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson, Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson. Considering the piecemeal look of it, the back line was not the problem at all. All in all, the rear guard held up admirably. Now, about that midfield …
  • Jurgen Klinsmann arranged a 4-3-1-2, with Dempsey behind two strikers. Trouble is, neither Jones nor Edu could solve the problems in there. They couldn’t deal with Jamaica’s pressure, couldn’t find the outlets, couldn’t find the little seems. It wasn’t all their fault, however. …
  • Parkhurst and Johnson, given their international inexperience, were never going to supply the wide threat. So things were painfully jammed up through the middle. With no outlets wide, Jamaica could target Jones and Edu. And they did. It usually broke down there. When Dempsey did find the ball, things were still too narrow.
  • Beckerman was OK in his role – until the moment he got behind the play, lunged in, committed a foul and set up Jamaica’s first goal. He usually plays the position exceptionally, like a man who understands his limits to the inch. But foot speed is always the point of contention with Beckerman, and it stung him this time.
  • Outside of that first-half goal (which squeezed through the wall – something that should never happen) and Luton Shelton’s fantastic second-half free kick, Tim Howard had little to do.
  • Despite the goal from Dempsey after just 36 seconds, the United States never established midfield possession. In the 44th moment – finally! – the Americans found some patience and possession. It ended with Dempsey being denied from close range. And … yeah, that was about it. From there, the only U.S. opportunities came in the last 15, desperate minutes. And those were half chances at that.
  • Aside from the flagging possession, Klinsmann’s side never created enough drive through the midfield to even create a few restarts that would allow Goodson and Cameron to come forward. In the area of “drive through the midfield,” that’s Bradley’s game. He knows just when to play safe and when to seize more initiative. That’s harder than you think.

(More to come on the blog … so check back)

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.