Through the middle: Looking at what the U.S. midfield produced against Jamaica

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I spent most of Sunday morning starting at chalkboards at MLSSoccer.com, obsessed with one idea: “That pass Maurice Edu played (to Herculez Gomez) in the first minute. Why didn’t they try that more often?”

That’s easier said than done, though the concept is pretty straight forward. The team saw something that worked right off the bat: Herc running; midfield hitting him; profit. Why didn’t we see more of that?

That gets into a bigger, more subjective debate than I want to tackle here. For now, all I want to do is present some numbers to try and answer an implied question: Did we really see a lack of Edu-esque passes on Friday?

Starting with the premises that the first minute pass from Edu was a good thing, players try to perform that task, and teams would want to see more of that, I looked through the last four U.S. men’s games (three World Cup qualifiers and game in Mexico). I wanted to see how often Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is playing those types of passes, whether those numbers look high or low, and which players are playing the most passes of that type.

What are we looking for?

First, I need to define what type of passes I’m talking about. Check out how Edu’s Friday ball looks on the Opta-fueled chalkboard:

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Fascinating. If there’s a more boring way to represent that pass, I can’t imagine it.

Regardless, there are four characteristics of this ball that I think are important:

  • It’s a forward pass,
  • outside of the final third,
  • into the opposition’s final third,
  • and within the width of the penalty area.

That’s the criteria I’m using. How many times has the U.S. (and, to get context on each match, their opponents) completed passes that meet that criteria.

Disclaimer time: These Opta numbers can’t be taken that as gospel, especially if you’re not willing to re-watch a game and confirm them. In addition, the numbers without context are pretty useless.  A lot of these passes I’ll be citing may have no significance, and there are surely some that were important which don’t fit the criteria I’ve established.

So why even do this? Because if we get enough observations together, it does alleviate concerns that one or two deceptive passes can skew the whole endeavor. Plus, the Opta data and chalkboards gives us a way to establish some objective criteria (in this case, direction and location) that mitigates other subjective factors.

Opta has a number of different ways they characterize passes: Chip, dropped from hand, flick on, goal kick, headed ball, launch, and pass. Almost all of those can also be from a free kick. I’m focused on events from open play that are passes or short chips (trying to tease out crosses).

I’m also only looking at completed passes, even though tracking attempted passes might better capture a team’s intent. There are a number of other factors that come into play when collecting a negative result (all surrounding whether it was appropriate to play the pass at all). I decided to exclude them.

Jamaica vs. the United States

On Friday, the U.S completed nine passes that met this criteria. Jamaica had 10. Jermaine Jones’s four passes was tied with Jamaica’s Jason Morrison for game high. Maurice Edu (two) was the only other U.S. player with more than one:

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The numbers confirm that idea that Jamaica and the United States were on somewhat even footing. Jamaica never scored from open play, while the U.S. went 89 minutes without beating Dwayne Miler. But among the many things the number don’t do is provide context. Are 10 and nine (or, on the individual level, four) large or small numbers? What should we have been expecting from the U.S.?

Recent matches (Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica)

Looking back at the matches the U.S. has played since World Cup qualifying began adds a little more to the picture:

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It’s impossible to draw conclusions from this table, but it looks like defending was as much a problem as attacking. Jamaica didn’t score an open play goal, but both Beckerman and Edu’s fouls came after Jamaica had established possession in the U.S.’s end.

Regardless, the U.S.’s entries into the final third seem in line with what you’d expect, based on these four games. Mexico’s a superior side, while Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala offered far less resistance. Jamaica proved slightly tougher than Guatemala, though perhaps we wouldn’t have expected the final third passes to jump from three (at Guatemala) to 10 (again, insert relevance caveat here).

Individual numbers

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This is like looking at stats in the first week of the baseball season: Fun, but not very informative. There are some things here that jive with our instincts, like the downgrade from Bradley to Beckerman It’s also interesting to note where Edu and Jones sit on this list, particularly given 90 of Edu’s minutes are in defense. While this sample is small, they have better rates than their potential replacements, Torres and Beckerman.

Back to the initial point, which was about the Jamaica game. Why didn’t we see more passes like the one that put Gomez through? Looking across at the U.S.’s previous games, it’s not clear we should have expected more.

Though perhaps the point. Whatever the numbers were on Friday, they weren’t good enough. They led to the U.S.’s first loss in Jamaica. Perhaps looking at these and saying “they’re when we would have expected” may be too close to saying “the U.S. should have expected to lose in Jamaica.” For many people (including, probably, U.S. Soccer), that’s not acceptable.

FIFA approves Simunovic switch from Croatia to Bosnia

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has approved a change of nationality for Croatia-born defender Jozo Simunovic to represent Bosnia-Herzegovina in its push to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

[ MORE: Mbappe to Man City? ]

FIFA says it informed the Bosnian federation on Tuesday that its players’ status panel granted the request to change eligibility.

The 22-year-old Simunovic has Bosnian family roots but represented neighboring Croatia at youth level.

Simunovic could switch teams under FIFA rules because he never played a competitive game for Croatia’s senior team.

The Celtic player can now be selected next month in Bosnia’s squad for World Cup qualifying games away to Cyprus and Gibraltar.

Bosnia is third in its group, one point behind Greece in the runners-up spot, which can earn a playoff place.

Premier League in USA: Checking in on Manchester clubs, Spurs

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Three Premier League giants are continuing their tours in the United States of American with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur all competing in the International Champions Cup.

[ MORE: Latest PL preseason news ]

Man United and Spurs have both played twice in the ICC, while Man City play their second game Stateside on Wednesday against two-time reigning champions Real Madrid.

Tottenham and Man City will face each other in Nashville on Saturday to finish up their preseason tours of the USA.

Below is a look at the latest action for Spurs, City and United.


Manchester City vs. Real Madrid – Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena

After losing to Manchester United in their opening preseason game in Houston, Texas last week, Pep Guardiola‘s men will step up their preparations against the might of Real Madrid. With Danilo and Benjamin Mendy now on board (the latter is recovering from a small injury so will not feature), plus Kyle Walker and Ederson with Bernardo Silva on a break after appearing at the Confederations Cup this summer, Pep is likely to have two new full backs and a new goalkeeper on show in this one.

[ MORE: Kylian Mbappe to Man City?

Youngster Phil Foden dazzled against Manchester United at NRG Stadium last week and should be given plenty of chances to impress in preseason. Real Madrid are without Cristiano Ronaldo for these games but Zindeine Zidane’s men still have plenty of firepower, even though their big names failed to dazzle in the penalty kick defeat to Man United over the weekend in Santa Clara, Calif. Spanish clubs do start preseason later than PL teams due to the La Liga schedule.

Guardiola coming up against Real Madrid is always a tasty affair and City will then complete their U.S. tour by facing Tottenham Hotspur in Nashville on Saturday. Real face arch-rivals Barcelona in Miami on Sunday before then facing the MLS All-Stars in Chicago on Aug. 2.


Manchester United vs. Barcelona – Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. ET at FedEx Field, Washington D.C.

In their four games Stateside this summer United have a 100 percent record and Jose Mourinho has hailed the trip as “magnificent” for preparations and a game against Barcelona the “perfect” way to end things.

After beating Man City 2-0 and then Real Madrid on PKs after a 1-1 draw, Mourinho will face a familiar foe in Barcelona and United will meet them in a repeat of the 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfer deals

Mourinho will continue to rotate his team as new signings Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof have both impressed so far and the Red Devils have switched between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations. Juan Mata and Ander Herrera will not feature after picking up knocks, while Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo remain out long-term.

Barca beat Juventus 2-1 at MetLife Stadium on Saturday with Neymar scoring twice in the first half and the Brazilian’s future is the main question for the Spanish giants as Paris Saint-Germain reportedly line up a world-record bid to sign him. Expect a packed house at FedEx Field just outside Washington as United aim to end their preseason tour of the U.S. in style.


Tottenham 2-3 AS Roma – at Red Bull Arena, New Jersey on Tuesday

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men battled back from 2-0 down to tie it up late, but then Roma scored in stoppage time to win the International Champions Cup clash.

All of the big guns started for Spurs but it was Roma who took the lead with Diego Perotti scoring from the penalty spot after a harsh handball call on Spurs’ U.S. national team youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers. Tempers flared up throughout this game as Harry Kane thought he should have had a penalty kick and then lunged into a tackle, while on the sidelines Mauricio Pochettino was close to losing his cool. Maybe that was down to some uncharacteristic lackluster defending from his side…

Roma went 2-0 up in the 70th minute when Cengiz Under finished calmly but Spurs rallied late on as substitute Vincent Janssen hit the post but fellow sub Harry Winks tapped home the rebound, then Janssen equalized in stoppage time as it looked like Tottenham would grab a draw. However, Marco Tumminello struck in the 92nd minute (despite looking to haul Kevin Wimmer to the ground in the process) to grab the win for Roma in front of a raucous RBA crowd with plenty of Tottenham fans turning out to see their team in action.

Take a look at the video highlights below from the wild friendly, while next up for Spurs is their final International Champions Cup game in Nashville against Manchester City on Saturday. Roma play Juventus on Sunday to finish up their U.S. tour.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Sanches to Man United; Lemar, Fabinho off

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Just 24 hours after Jose Mourinho confirmed he wanted to sign a central midfielder and a winger the names of potential signings are already starting to fly in.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams “dangerous” transfers

Renato Sanches of Bayern Munich is the latest midfielder to be linked with a move to Manchester United, according to the Independent.

The Portuguese teenager almost arrived at Old Trafford last summer but instead joined Bayern Munich before impressing in Portugal’s triumph at EURO 2016.

Despite being one of the hottest young properties in Europe Sanches found minutes hard to come by under Carlo Ancelotti and it is believed he is available for $56.1 million.

Sanches agent happens to be Jorge Mendes, the agent of Mourinho, and with the youngster clearly brimming with talent, can he become the latest Portuguese import to flourish under the Special One?

AC Milan are also said to be interested in the two-way midfielder but with United said to be chasing Nemanja Matic and Radja Nainggolan, they may be after a center mid more suited to the defensive side of the game.


It looks like Monaco are saying “enough is enough” when it comes to selling their star players from last season.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday vice president Vadim Vasilyev revealed they are in talks with Kylian Mbappe over a new contract, while Thomas Lemar and Fabinho will not follow the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva and Tiemoue Bakayoko out of the exit door at the Stade Louis II.

“Fabinho and [Thomas] Lemar are essential players, they will stay with us,” Vasilyev said. “We have kept all of the key players we intended to keep.”

Vasilyev admitted that they have “important offers” for Mbappe but are hopeful he will remain a Monaco player for at least the upcoming season.

As for Fabinho and Lemar, the former was linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, while the latter was said to be on his way to Arsenal in a $60 million deal.

Fabinho can operate at right back or in central midfield and Mourinho has already said he wants to strengthen in that area of the pitch. Lemar is comfortable out wide, primarily on the left, and would add an extra cutting edge to Arsenal’s attack, especially if Alexis Sanchez was to leave this summer.

Can Monaco really stand in the way of these players as they look around and see three stars from last season bagging big money moves to Manchester City and Chelsea?

Barcelona “confident” of signing Philippe Coutinho

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Barcelona are said to be “increasingly confident” of adding Philippe Coutinho despite Liverpool’s insistence he is not for sale.

[ MORE: Coutinho agrees deal with Barca? 

Coutinho, 25, has become the main man at Anfield over the past season and although Jurgen Klopp has reaffirmed the Brazilian playmaker is not going anywhere, Sky Sports in the UK is reporting that Barca still believe a deal can be done.

The Spanish giants are said to be readying a bid of $116 million for Coutinho to test Liverpool’s resolve after an earlier bid was reportedly turned down, while reports in Spain suggest that Coutinho has already agreed personal terms with Barca over a move.

Barcelona’s push for Coutinho could suggest that Neymar’s potential world-record move to Paris Saint-Germain is edging closer, but where could Coutinho fit in at the Nou Camp?

He would be perfect as a playmaker in Ernesto Valverde’s team and with Andres Iniesta no spring chicken, Barca need to look at filling his considerable shoes long-term. Coutinho excelled last season in the PL, scoring 13 goals and adding seven assists as he battled back from a mid-season injury to help the Reds return to the UEFA Champions League.

Coutinho can either star in a central playmaking role or could be a direct replacement for Neymar if he was to leave for PSG this summer.

Just imagine Coutinho threading through passes to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez with the trio jinxing around defenders. Ahem, stop drooling.

Yet Liverpool’s stance remains clear: he is going nowhere. Klopp spoke about his future last week and confirmed he had a word with Coutinho during preseason but wouldn’t reveal the details of the chat.

Coutinho only sign a new new five-year contract in January but such have been the quality of his performances in setting the tempo of their play and delivering exceptional set pieces, plus scoring stunning long-range goals, the biggest teams on the planet are often linked with the former Inter Milan and Espanyol star.

Turning down Barcelona would be tough for any player and if the Catalan club do offer over $100 million for Coutinho then Liverpool will perhaps have to pay serious attention. When they sold Luis Suarez to Barca in 2014 there were extenuating circumstances around the deal, but Coutinho is about to enter his prime and could be the leader of Liverpool’s trophy push for many years.

If he is sold then it says plenty about their ambition to re-join Europe’s elite and would be a hammer blow for Klopp who has already struggled in the transfer market this summer as top targets Virgil Van Dijk and Naby Keita have yet to arrive with both valued at over $80 million by their respective clubs.

Coutinho certainly has the talent to be a star for Barcelona but the Brazilian leaving Anfield would be one of the biggest shocks of the summer. That said, does anything really surprise us anymore in this crazy transfer market?