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

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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.

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”