“That” moment in U.S. Soccer qualifying


In social media funniness, they call it “that” moment.

You know, you say “that moment” and then attach an awkward or absurd moment. Let me give you a “for instance.” It goes like this:

That moment … when your team’s World Cup qualifying effort shows signs of unraveling, and when a million dreams of Brazil 2014 threaten fall apart faster than the U.S. midfield against Jamaica.

So, yeah, that moment.

I’m really just having a little fun with the collective, reactionary voice in U.S. Soccer supporters. I know everyone is a little freaked out over Friday’s result in Jamaica, the 2-1 Kingston clubbing delivered to Jurgen Klinsmann’s men.

But here’s the reason everybody should calm down a little:

Every World Cup qualifying cycle has that moment. Some have a couple of them. It’s a moment where panic and portent of misfortune begin to infiltrate supporters circles, and with potentially toxic effect.

It’s almost always a loss or a draw on the road (usually in Costa Rica), where everyone loses perspective and needs reminding that qualifiers on the road are painfully tricky business. I know everyone wants the United States to be the regional bully boy, to go romping and stomping through the field, never mind if the match in question is being played in dusty Guatemala City or humid San Jose, Costa Rica, or Kingston, Jamaica or wherever. Fact is, the United States just isn’t there yet.

None of this means that questions don’t need to be asked about yesterday’s contest, where the defense looked OK, but where the game plan and personnel choices may have been half-baked, the midfield trio failed at basic tasks and the forwards – well, in all honesty they didn’t get the ball enough to make many quality assessments.

(MORE: Talking points off Friday’s match)

So, we can, have and will again visit about all that before Tuesday’s must-win in Columbus featuring the same two sides.

Still, let’s remember that nothing is lost just yet. Two of four teams in this group advance to final stage qualifying, and the United States has three winnable matches remaining.

So … what does history say about that moment? Let’s look?

World Cup 1998: On June 27, 1997, a 1-1 draw in El Salvador left the United States with a 1-1-3 record after five matches in final stage qualifying. That’s why the subsequent 1-0 win over Costa Rica in Portland was nothing less than massive. (I was lucky enough to be there; it remains today one of the best soccer experiences I’ve had – and I have been to four World Cups.) After two more draws, Steve Sampson’s team clinched a spot at France 98 with one contest to spare.

World Cup 2002 (semifinal round): Semifinal round qualifying in 2002 did not go smoothly. A tie right away in Guatemala and a subsequent loss at Costa Rica had fans falling over sideways. After two wins put things back on track, a scoreless tie in (you may want to close your eyes for a second) Columbus left Bruce Arena’s team requiring a win in Barbados to ensure passage to the final round of qualifying. (And at one point in Barbados, the United States was 25 minutes away from being out. As in OUT!)

World Cup 2002 (final round): A 2-0 loss late in final stage qualifying in Costa Rica threatened the effort. Arena’s men got back on track with a 2-1 win over Jamaica in Foxboro. (That match was memorable for what most fans didn’t see: the match itself, which was preempted by news reports of the war beginning in Afghanistan.

World Cup 2006: A tie with Jamaica in Kingston, a win over El Salvador in Foxborough and a draw with Panama in Panama City may sound OK. In the end, it was. But that draw in Panama came courtesy of a late Cobi Jones strike. And the draw in Jamaica had been a similar nail-biter. So, U.S. Soccer fandom was not feeling great about things. Then, in final round qualifying, a 2-1 loss in Mexico City may have been more palatable – except that it was the second contest. So, low-level panic ensued.

World Cup 2010: Remember when the United States always lost in Mexico City? Yeah, those were the bad ol’ days. Except that everybody conveniently forgot about that when Bob Bradley’s men lost at Azteca (again!) on Aug. 12, 2009, making things a little close for comfort en route to South Africa 2010. The United States (and its concerning penchant for conceding early leads) stood 3-2-1 in final stage qualifying, still in reasonable shape, but moving into an absolute must-win match in Salt Lake City against El Salvador.

$280m? Who cares? Salah is the rare “unsellable” player


The gossip reports are out there, with lofty claims that Real Madrid and Barcelona are willing to pay as much as $280 million dollars for Mohamed Salah.

Normally that figure triggers something in my brain that screams, “Sell! Sell! Sell before they realize what they’ve offered!”

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

That’s not happening with Mohamed Salah.

This isn’t an inflated fee for a young English player like Ross Barkley or John Stones, nor is it a club throwing a lofty and desperate figure at a very good but supremely overvalued player like Philippe Coutinho. Even Raheem Sterling, who I advocated selling, has proven replaceable.

In the case of Salah, his Golden Boot figure is likely to dwarf any in the Premier League era. He’s at 28, three behind Luis Suarez’s 31. Cristiano Ronaldo has bagged 31 once Alan Shearer and Andy Cole hold the modern record with 34.

Salah needs six to tie Shearer. Here’s Liverpool’s run-in: Crystal Palace (A), Everton (A), Bournemouth (H), West Brom (A), Stoke City (H), Chelsea (A), Brighton and Hove Albion (H).

Five of those teams absolutely hemorrhage goals. Would you bet against Salah?

By the way, Salah has 10 assists, too. Sure Jurgen Klopp deserves credit for buying and deploying the Egyptian wizard, but

When Klopp argued that Liverpool was not a selling club, this is the exact example to follow. Selling Coutinho — again, not trying to poke the bear that is ornery overvaluing fan — is fine in a world where your club has Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah

But selling one of Europe’s leading scorers is almost never okay for a club challenging for a Champions League crown and with the clear caliber of a Premier League title hunter.

I’d argue that for this club, one who has sold Coutinho and Suarez, there is not a fee that meets Salah straight-on.  He’s 25 and living in the air just below Lionel Messi and Neymar.

The Messi comparisons I keep reading are fun but still unbelievably premature by every stretch of the imagination. By the time Messi was Salah’s age he had league seasons of 34, 31, 50, and was en route to a 46-goal mark. He posted 68 combined assists over those four seasons.

If this is somehow an aberration, and Salah cannot find this form ever again, well, that’s bad luck and a risk worth its weight in standard setting.

There is not a replacement player.

There is no fee.

Say it again now.

Dangerous playmaker Silva joins Montreal Impact (video)

Photo by Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Alejandro Silva’s got a creative mind, and that’s something Montreal will welcome with open arms.

The Uruguayan signed with the Impact this week, joining Ignacio Piatti and Saphir Taider as playmakers in Quebec.

[ MORE: Top PL summer buys ]

Silva, 28, is a right-sided and forward-playing attacker who can also play right back if necessary.

The Impact lost two of three to start the season, winning this weekend’s 401 Derby versus Toronto FC to put a number in the win column.

Lanus has been a fertile ground for Major League Soccer clubs in recent years, with Lucas Melano (Portland Timbers) and Miguel Almiron (Atlanta United) making the move to North America.

The South American club has also sent Gustavo Gomez to AC Milan and Oscar Benitez to Benfica.

Kante squashes PSG rumors: “I am at home” with Chelsea

AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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At least one and erhaps two big Premier League clubs are going to finish outside of the UEFA Champions League this year.

As it stands now, those clubs are Arsenal and Chelsea. The former could still seal a spot in the UCL via winning the Europa League but Chelsea needs wins and help from the field to find a way into the fray.

[ MORE: Best PL summer buys ]

An absence for either side will send UCL-bound vultures over the rosters of the failed clubs, hoping to woo the best players with Champions League dreams.

N'Golo Kante has been a name bandied about as a potential departure should Chelsea miss its mark, with the French star mentioned as high atop Paris Saint-Germain’s wish list.

The midfielder, who turns 27 at the end of the month, has moved to squash those rumors (from The London Evening Standard):

“I am at home. It is my club, I am a Chelsea player.

“We will fight until the end to finish in the top four and to get in a Champions League position. We also have the FA Cup to play for – it is a good competition. Last season we failed in the final. It is the only trophy we can win this season, so we have to give everything to get to the final and win it.”

That’s good, because we’re looking forward to seeing what a midfield with Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko could do with an offseason together.

Yet is there anyone out there doubting Kante’s intentions?

Who’ve been the most impactful Premier League summer buys?

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It’s been a heck of a season for Premier League transfer buys, and that includes a bevy of intra-league purchases.

So who’ve been the best imports? Probably a safe bet to set some parameters.

[ MORE: Alonso, Pedro have Morata’s back ]

We won’t count players like Aaron Mooy, who’s Huddersfield Town purchase was formalized after a loan, or those who returned from loan like Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen or Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.

We’ll also opt against a couple Chelsea loanees signings, if just to whittle our list. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was magnificent before a long-term injury at Palace, and Kurt Zouma probably just sits beyond the Top Ten.

Mainz loanee Jonas Lossl of Huddersfield Town fits the bill, too. And for injuries: Who knows how high  Benjamin Mendy would’ve surged up this list?

Stats culled from WhoScored and Squawka.

Honorable mention – Antonio Rudiger, Mario Lemina, Richarlison, Alexandre Lacazette, Mat Ryan, Bernardo Silva, Steve MounieKyle Walker, Alvaro Morata, Florian Lejeune.

10. Jordan Pickford, Everton — Under siege at Sunderland for most of last season, Pickford probably expected smoother sailing than this: the Everton backstop has been forced into making the most saves in the Premier League (95). Fifty-four of those required him to dive. Only four teams have allowed more goals than Everton, which explains why some of you might be scratching your head at his inclusion.

9. James Tomkins, Crystal Palace — I thought the signing was silly, but Tomkins is nearly unrivaled in terms of interceptions per game in league play. Palace hasn’t been a defensive powerhouse, but his former club West Ham looks terrible since he moved across London.

8. Davinson Sanchez, Tottenham Hotspur – There have been bumps along the way — Sanchez is 21 — but he’s blessed with the speed to make up for his and others mistakes. A fine passer, Mauricio Pochettino should only further benefit from his career progression.

7. Ahmed Hegazi, West Bromwich Albion — Hegazi’s 2757 minutes played are the most amongst field players in the Premier League (though Alfie Mawson, Harry Maguire, Jack Cork, and Lewis Dunk could pass him by playing more than an hour in their match-in-hand).

6. Harry Maguire, Leicester City — The Foxes badly needed to lower the age of their center back corps, and can count their purchase of Maguire from Hull City as a coup. Perhaps no player other than Wilfred Ndidi has been as influential for Claude Puel‘s bunch.

5. Romelu Lukaku, Manchester United — Lukaku started dispelling myths about his production versus big teams when he was one of the lone stars in United’s Super Cup loss to Real Madrid. While he’s been up-and-down in terms of goals in said contests, his hold-up play and work ethic have been better than expected. His 21 key moments (14 goals, seven assists) are even with Roberto Firmino and trail only Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Sergio Aguero, and Leroy Sane. Anthony Martial is the closest United comparison, and he has 14. Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard have 12.

4. Pascal Gross, Brighton and Hove Albion — The Ingolstadt transfer’s promise was quickly realized, and he’s posted five goals and eight assists. On a team with the fourth-lowest goal total in the league, that’s impressive. The only players with more PL assists: De Bruyne, Sane, Dele, David Silva, Salah, Pogba. Gross also ranks third in the league in crosses per game.

3. Nemanja Matic, Manchester United — It’s hard to fin the numbers to meet the eye test, but Matic flat out makes his team better. Maybe it’s organization, maybe it’s toughness, but there’s little doubt United is better in the middle of the park while former club Chelsea has struggled to find the same form since he skipped town. Advantage: Mou.

2. Ederson, Manchester City — Look only to last season’s status of City net minders to know how important the sweeper-style passing keeper is to Pep Guardiola‘s side. The Brazilian has pushed himself into competition for the starting gig at one of the World Cup favorites.

1. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool —  There is no other answer here, and Harry Kane’s injury essentially gift wraps the Golden Boot to the Egyptian. There was a question as to whether he’d bring his Serie A flourish over to England, and that seems absurd now.