Excuses for United States in tonight’s World Cup qualifier? No – we’ll have none of that

4 Comments

A commenter in a previous post mentioned a certain sinking and unpleasant feeling. He was alarmed that a few U.S. Soccer “concerns” over Friday’s World Cup qualifier were more “excuses in the making.”  In other words, he was concerned about the ol’ gambit most commonly known as “covering your butt.”

The concerns were about U.S. injury issues that have stripped away a layer of talent available to coach Jurgen Klinsmann, helping to reduce a significant gap in talent between tonight’s competitors, the United States and Antigua-Barbuda. (The visiting Americans still enjoy a significant edge in skill, of course.)

(MORE: Injury crisis at left back for United States)

(MORE: Brek Shea, Landon Donovan ruled out)

And it was about field conditions in Antigua, about U.S. eagerness to get into the country yesterday and see how the cricket ground is holding up.

I suppose it is easy to see this as U.S. Soccer arranging excuses in case things go horribly sideways. But … that’s not it.

From the U.S. Soccer perspective, and from my perspective as a journalist, it’s not about making “excuses” or being gullible and naive enough to write thoughtlessly about them. I promise, my “built-in, shock-proof, BS detector,”  which Hemingway famously called an essential requirement in every journalist’s tool belt, works fine.

The bottom line here is this: the stakes are remarkably high.

So this falls under “concern” and “being thorough.” (And now I will paraphrase from what I told the commenter yesterday):

At an international soccer level, all of this becomes quite serious. (Sometimes too serious, I think, although the easy-going Klinsmann has taken that down a notch from the Bob Bradley days, where things were sometimes treated with a Pentagon-level somber and substance.)

It is usually the same for big college football programs, for most professional sports programs, etc.  When the stakes are elevated, they fret over even the smallest of details, like how many pats of butter are on each table at the night-before dinner (true story of one college football program.)  And shouldn’t they?  If Klinsmann and his staff gets caught off guard – not over pats of butter, but something a little more substantial – myself and a bunch of men and women like me will bite right into the center of that chewy little chocolate delight.

For instance: U.S. Supporters might look at a crappy surface and assess: “Man, the field looks like a real mess … Hey! Who wants another beer?”

But team officials don’t have that luxury; they must actually prepare for all scenarios. Fretting over this stuff, conditions, injuries, logistics, proper roster cover … the whole shootin’ match, that’s why they get paid good money.

(MORE: previous qualifiers in Antigua, and a prediction on tonight’s match)

And then the stakes: I’ll let the Sporting News’ Brian Straus tell you about that one. This piece says why; it’s a look at what might happen if the U.S. (gasp!) fails to qualify.

This also should be said: if the United States does crash land, there will be no excuses. It will be seen as a colossal failure.

So, setting up excuses? I think once we all give that one some thought, we can all agree that’s a moot exercise.

There will be no excuses.

FA Cup Final preview: Desperate Arsenal meets Double-seeking Blues

Getty Images Sport
Leave a comment
  • Clubs split PL series
  • Chelsea’s Conte aims for double
  • Chelsea 8W-3D-2L vs. Arsenal since 2012

Arsenal and Chelsea face off with a trophy on the line for the fourth time this century when the London sides hit Wembley Stadium for Saturday’s FA Cup Final.

Arsenal beat Chelsea in the 2015 Community Shield, the first silverware match-up between the two sides since the 2007 League Cup Final in Wales. The Blues won that one, 2-1, while Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0 in the 2002 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: Conte open to contract extension ]

A win would be Arsenal’s third FA Cup trophy in four seasons, and Arsenal would be thrilled to put something shiny in its trophy case following a season of tumult at the Emirates Stadium which ended without UEFA Champions League qualification for the first time in 20 years.

Conte knows Arsenal is desperate for something good.

What they’re saying

Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on what a win could mean“We wanted to finish higher up in the league, there is no doubting that. We cannot hide from that and we need to own up to that. The FA Cup is a big trophy, one we want to win and which would definitely boost morale going into next season.”

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte on the match: “If you ask me who is the favorite now, I can tell you it is Arsenal because Arsenal now has the possibility to find a good season after a win in the FA Cup. For this reason, we must play with great patience. We must find in ourselves the right motivation, the right anger because the game can be very difficult for all of these reasons.”

Prediction

Could go either way, with many players not just glory-hunting but in the shop window. Will Alexis Sanchez be the difference maker? Mesut Ozil? Maybe, but we think Chelsea ratchets up the intensity one more time and claims a double with a 2-1 win.

Chelsea’s Conte open to extending his contract

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte is readying Chelsea for a bid at a season double, with the Blues meeting Arsenal on Saturday afternoon for an all-London FA Cup Final.

Conte is on a London-high himself, having led the Blues to a Premier League title in his first year in charge. He’s moving his family to the area, scooping up plenty of individual hardware, and has dynastic aims for the Stamford Bridge set.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

His first deal was for three years, and Conte is thinking beyond that now.

From the BBC:

“If the club give me the possibility to stay and extend my contract, for sure I’m available to. … We have the same idea about the future, the way we have to do together, to improve the squad and the team.”

How they improve the squad will be interesting, as veterans Cesc Fabregas, Willian, and Diego Costa have uncertain futures at the Bridge. But why wouldn’t Conte sign a bumper new deal after wild first year success?

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

Leave a comment

Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle players picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

Kim In-chul/Yonhap via AP
Leave a comment

Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.