“That” moment in U.S. Soccer qualifying

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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.

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