Italy v USA - International Friendly

Matches in Antigua rarely easy affairs; U.S. fans may wince, but expect a close match tonight


Friday could be bring a commanding United States win, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann’s and Co. to go bounding into Kansas City for next week’s group play finale needing nothing more than a draw to secure passage into final round World Cup qualifying.

Most American soccer fans would like to see the United States do just that, ride roughshod over the tiny nations of Central American and the Caribbean, establishing regional dominance as more or less a practice exercise en route to bigger and better at the World Cup finals.

But history suggests otherwise. Whether it’s down to an ongoing U.S. failure to capitalize on the enormous advantages in resources, or whether it’s the far more vague province of “is what it is,” these regional lands are rarely pushovers when playing at home.

And that’s not just when playing the United States:

Let’s look quickly at Antigua and Barbuda’s other home games this round:

  • Guatemala did escape Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in September with all three points, but it was awfully close. Carlos Ruiz scored in the 25th minute, and it took a solid night of work from visiting goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez to hold the score to 1-0.
  • Back in June, Jamaica could do no better than a scoreless draw in Antigua. This is where the Antiguan team’s cohesiveness as a group, not just a collection of individuals – most of the regulars play together in the U.S. third-tier league (USL Pro) – greatly assists the effort. They are far more organized than most Caribbean sides, not committing too many players into the attack, remaining in the best places for recovery once the ball is lost, and generally managing the game fairly well. The United States saw as much in only winning by two goals (3-1) earlier this year in Tampa Bay.

So, two matches so far at the cricket ground in Antigua have produced just one goal.

My expectation: a 2-0 United States win. (Followed by a predictable amount of subsequent teeth gnashing that it couldn’t have been more.)

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.