Head coach of the U.S. national soccer team Klinsmann of Germany looks at his players during a practice session at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City

At some point, the goals need to come for the USMNT

3 Comments

If you’re still basking in the joy of last night’s victory, you may want to come back to this post a little later, because this is where we starting picking things apart. The first stop is attack. After three straight one-goal performances, it’s worth considering whether goal scoring a problem for the United States.

And, of course, there are two ways to look at the issue. The U.S.’s six goals through four qualifiers is tied for third in the region. Only Mexico and El Salvador have scored more in third round play, and with the U.S. closing the round with two games where they’ll be reasonably heavy favorites, you’d expect the States to increase their production.

But that’s the relative view. The absolute view sees one goal performances against Guatemala and Jamaica (twice) and asks what that means for the hex, when competition will be tougher. The only match this round where the U.S. has found multiple goals was hosting Antigua and Barbuda, who lost 3-1 in both Tampa and Guatemala City. Antigua and Barbuda is the least hex-y team in the group.  Can the U.S. expect to increase their production when the games get tougher? That’s usually not how things work.

Subtly concerning: the scorelines against Antigua and Barbuda are not the only similarities between the U.S. and Guatemala. The teams  have identical records, equal numbers of goals scored and allowed, and both lost 2-1 in Jamaica. It’s a faltering comparison for Guatemala, who have never qualified for a World Cup, but the U.S. is trying to make their sixth straight finals. Most fans wouldn’t be happy with insinuations the U.S. is playing at Guatemala’s level.

Back to the one-goal games. Even if the rest of the region were scoring exactly one goal per match, it would still present a tactical problem. As we were reminded in Jamaica, a team doesn’t necessarily need to dominate a game in order to turn around a one-goal deficit. A couple of set pieces, a defensive mistake, or just the fluke nature of the sport could see that lead disappear, particularly if you have to defend it for 89 minutes. Clearly, second goals are good.

So how does the U.S. go about getting more second goals? If we knew that, we’d be on Klinsmann’s staff. But getting Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan healthy will help. If Klinsmann and Jozy Altidore can find a role for the prolific AZ man, that would help, too. And once he’s fully settled in at Tottenham, Clint Dempsey will improve (though goal scoring wasn’t a problem for him this week).

The biggest issue might come back to style. On Tuesday, the U.S. generated a number of chances on Dwayne Miller but still weren’t able to get an open play goal. It’s something we’ve seen throughout Klinsmann’s tenure: The Arsenal-esque inability to convert good build up into goals.

The answer may be something Klinsmann told Monica Gonzalez at halftime on Tuesday. He wanted his team to play faster, to pass and moved with a higher tempo. In theory, that would help alleviate one of the issues faced by teams who rely on short passing to build play: Allowing the defense time to set up (regain their shape) as they’re being pushed back. Get rid of the ball quicker, run into the spaces before your defenders get there, and you’ll start taking advantage of the style.

All of that comes down to comfort in the system. The U.S. has gotten used to what Klinsmann wants, but they’re not experts, yet. We’re still not seeing the off-the-ball movement that opens up defenses. We’re still not seeing quick passes being strung together. We’re still not seeing a familiarity with each others’ movements.

Even though we’re over one month into the Klinsmann era, these things are still going to take time. The U.S. hasn’t played many matches that have mattered. Now, with the pressure of World Cup qualifying, the learning process accelerates.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
1 Comment

Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.