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.

Miguel Almiron knew nothing about MLS, everything about Tata

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Miguel Almiron’s future is going to be a big part of the story for as long as he’s in Atlanta United, but his past is in focus following another cool post in The Players’ Tribune.

It’s a cool read, for sure, to examine Almiron’s rise from “too skinny” kid without a club to one of the top prospects this side of the Atlantic Ocean, but the story of why he came to Atlanta is an argument for the “big name” manager (Tata Martino in this case).

[ MORE: Liverpool fan trouble in Sevilla ]

Before the Paraguayan youngster was the talk of the transfer market, MLS Newcomer of the Year, and the No. 1 jersey sale in the league, he was being recruited to the Georgian expansion outlet.

“I didn’t know much about MLS. I didn’t know where Atlanta was. I didn’t know anything. But Tata was manager, and that was all I needed to know.”

Given that Martino arrived not too long before Almiron, the following Tweet makes the point I’ve been trying to make as well as anyone:

Sevilla manager reportedly told team of cancer diagnosis at half

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When it comes to locker room tales, few compare to this one.

Any big comeback, especially one as high profile as Sevilla’s stunning second half against Liverpool, inspires the question, “What was said in the team room at halftime?!?”

Down 3-0 at halftime and in danger of bowing out of the UEFA Champions League, Sevilla manager Eduardo Berizzo gave his team some very serious news.

[ MORE: Liverpool fan trouble in Sevilla ]

According to Spanish reports relayed by The Telegraph, Berizzo informed his players of his prostate cancer diagnosis.

Sevilla confirmed that Berizzo is battling adenocarcinoma, saying, “Future medical tests will determine a course of treatment. Sevilla FC wants to show maximum support to its manager in these moments and wishes him a prompt recovery.”

It adds extra weight to Ever Banega’s postgame comments:

“We have to go out there with that attitude, for the fans that always back us and for the coach who has turned this around. He is the most important of all of us, he has us on the right path and we are with him to the hilt.”

Our best to Berizzo, and — sorry Reds supporters — it’s pretty cool Sevilla was able to rally after such stunning news.

Liverpool releases statement after Sevilla stadium supporter outcry

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Liverpool has proffered a strong and cautionary statement regarding its supporters’ treatment at Sevilla on Tuesday.

Claims of police punching a woman in the back and throwing her “political” flag at her, a Liverbird with the word “Defiance” on it, are just the tip of the iceberg.

[ REPORT: Palace to get new digs ]

Fans claim that many were either delayed or denied in entry to the stadium, with “police in riot gear not letting you get to your seat” in some cases.

The Reds have released a statement, from LiverpoolFC.com:

Following detailed and troubling accounts given by Liverpool supporters attending the match against Sevilla last night, the club is seeking to establish the facts regarding their treatment at the hands of the host stewards and local police force.
The safety and security of our supporters is our paramount concern and we intend to gather all the relevant information before responding further.

Supporter treatment away from home is deservedly a hot button issue, and especially at Liverpool given the horrible Hillsborough disaster that killed 96 and wounded almost 800 more in 1989.

As for the match, the Reds squandered a 3-0 lead at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium, drawing 3-3.

Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones