Why the United States soccer fan has reason to be concerned

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I keep saying it, and will never come off this point: in international soccer, you win on the road. Do that, stamp it “mission accomplished” and move on.

In that regard, the ongoing over-reaction to a 2-1 result over tiny Antigua and Barbuda is so much wasted breath. On a poor excuse for an international soccer field, on the road, in the rain and against a reasonably well-organized Caribbean side, a win is a win is a win.

But! … That doesn’t mean there is reason for alarm.

It’s not about last night. It’s about a string of “last nights.”

As I like to say, “One could be a mistake. Two starts to look like a trend. But three is definitely a problem.”

Mitigating factors like that field and injuries notwithstanding, the underwhelming win over Antigua and Barbuda, a side that will never even get within bribing distance of a World Cup, was just the latest cause for concern. Let’s look at the U.S. semifinal round results:

  • The 3-1 win in over Antigua and Barbuda back in June in Tampa, on a far better field, is probably more concerning in retrospect than last night’s contest, where the result was acceptable, even if the “look” of it wasn’t.
  • A 1-1 draw in Guatemala might have been OK but for the way it finished, with the United States failing to close out a match, conceding a late goal.
  • A 2-1 loss in Jamaica was even worse than the result looks – and it doesn’t look good by any stretch. Clint Dempsey scored right away, but the United States gave up another lead, conceding imprudent fouls that led to free kick goals.

The team looked quite capable in a 1-0 win over Jamaica in Columbus, but the bottom line was a slim, one-goal win – a.k.a., too close for comfort.

There are individual concerns, too … but we can dive into those later.

Jurgen Klinsmann was hired to elevate the program, to push boundaries and achieve new levels. And that may yet happen.

But there’s scant evidence of this push for progress right now. I think it’s unfair to say the team has regressed – and that sentiment is out there.

But the players and the team as a whole need to show more. So at this point, it’s hard to argue with the alarmists. That one, big, crashing, resounding win would help a ton, helping to restore the wavering fan faith and the player confidence.

The whole thing does need to get better, and even Klinsmann says so.

“We have the three points and that’s the most important thing. Do we have to play better? Absolutely. Individually, we’re not happy with what we saw, but we expected a very difficult challenge and it came down to the wire,” Klinsmann said. “There are a couple of things we have to discuss internally that we need to do much, much better in Kansas City.”

 

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

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  • 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

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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”

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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)

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

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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.