United States v Jamaica - World Cup Qualifier

The big preview: United States-Guatemala, a shot at the World Cup on the line

2 Comments

KANSAS CITY – Everyone believed things would be different under manager Jurgen Klinsmann, this talismanic figure, uniquely positioned to elevate U.S. Soccer and bring the U.S. national team forward in a stalled march toward greater global prominence.

Well, it is different –but this is not what most of us had in mind.

For the first time in a dozen years, the United States goes into its final match in semifinal round qualifying with a little nervous edge framing the night. In the run-up to World Cups in 2006 and 2010, passage into the final round of regional qualifying was assured by the semifinal round closer.

Not this year. The United States could pay the ultimate price for a slip tonight against Guatemala in the final match of semifinal round CONCACAF qualifying. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his men are heavily favored for tonight’s contest at sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park, one of the top MLS venues and one that promises to be teeming with patriotic support for the 7 p.m. ET kickoff (ESPN2).

Odds are with the United States, which needs only a draw to advance. There is even a possibility that a loss could see them through.

(MORE: the qualifying scenarios)

Most of the U.S difference-makers are here, Landon Donovan as the one exception. Otherwise, Tim Howard has been his usual steady self in goal; Livewire attacker Clint Dempsey has scored in three of five qualifiers in this round; Midfield general Michael Bradley returned to the U.S. lineup in Friday’s win over Antigua & Barbuda after missing the previous two matches due to injury.

The United States has not lost to Guatemala since 1988, with a 12-0-6 mark in that time. Plus, the Yanks are 6-0-5 all-time in World Cup qualifiers against Los Chapines of Guatemala.

The home-team support promises to be strong at Livestrong. The Heartland venue was selected specifically to allow for more precise U.S. Soccer ticket distribution control. Plus, the roof over Livestrong’s seats will help keep the pro-American ruckus reverberating with an impassioned tenor through domestic soccer’s most modern, high-tech ground.

(MORE: Klinsmann and U.S. players love this facility)

Even a slightly weakened U.S. lineup shouldn’t not have trouble creating chances against the tiny, Central American country, which also needs only a tie and will almost surely dig in defensively and look to create free kick opportunities with direct balls into combative striker Carlos Ruiz.

The Americans will miss some width in the attack due to injury absences of Donovan and Brek Shea. Plus, left back Fabian Johnson remains in Germany, ill with a stomach virus.

(MORE: The United States can figure on a physical match)

So, why the worry? Why are some media members so critical of it all, when safe arrival into the next round seems like a money-making bet?

There’s a sense that U.S. Soccer has regressed under Klinsmann, a notion that is debatable but certainly not kooky by any stretch. This small margin for error tonight, for instance, certainly is disconcerting. But people do tend to forget that regional qualifying is rarely easy for the big kids on the CONCACAF block, the United States and Mexico.

The Americans have not looked altogether convincing in this round – but they haven’t looked awful, either. Three of five goals allowed in five matches have come off free kicks, an indication that the defense, while imperfect, hasn’t been bad.

(MORE: Tim Howard says “don’t give up free kicks”)

The attack has been more concerning, with Klinsmann’s team finding just enough goals to put themselves into this favorable position. Even Klinsmann admits the team needs more bottom-line production.

The collective U.S. supporters attitude following Friday’s win in Antigua: “They needed Eddie Johnson to score in the 90th minute to beat … Antigua?”

But were there mitigating factors? Bad fields in Jamaica and Antigua? Clint Dempsey’s transfer window drama, the hold-out that reduced him to something  less than “full Dempsey” for two matches? The injury to Donovan, who has been so important to the U.S. attack for a decade now?

(MORE: Klinsmann assures U.S. will not play for a tie)

How does Dempsey feel about the semifinal round that has turned into an unexpected slog: “It’s so hard to tell,” said Dempsey, a no-nonsense Texan who is not known for riding the excuse caboose. But, he did note the lumpiness of a roster full of players who, like himself, have drifted in and out of form and fitness. And he took note of those poor excuses for fields and defensive tactics built to frustrate the Americans.

“But we’re looking forward to tomorrow,” Dempsey said from Livestrong late Monday afternoon. “Being on a good pitch, no excuses. We ought to be able to take our game to them and take our chances.”

Final round qualifying, which will include better teams – Mexico is in, Costa Rica is close, plus the possibility of improving programs in Canada, Honduras or Panama – would begin early next year.

(MORE: Michael Bradley explains why a commanding win is luxury, not necessity)

(Check back through the afternoon … we’ll have even more on tonight’s match)

Three things we learned from Leicester’s huge win vs. Man City

1 Comment

Leicester City beat Manchester City 3-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with the Foxes extending their lead at the top to six points.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

They are now the legitimate favorites to win the Premier League title this season. Think about that for a second.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League table ] 

Here’s a look at what we learned from what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the title race.

LEICESTER’S CLINIC IN COUNTERING

They do it pretty much every game but nobody can handle it. Nobody. I’m talking about Leicester’s ridiculously efficient counter-attack. At the home of the title favorites — well at least until before this clash — Leicester struck early in both halves and never looked back. Ranieri’s side played like men without any pressure on their shoulders and at this point of this season they have none. Favorites for relegation ahead of this campaign, they now sit 13 points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United as failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League would now be hugely disappointing. How they’ve got there is by getting in-behind teams early and often. Whenever Marc Albrighton, N'Golo Kante or Riyad Mahrez got the ball their first instinct is to clip it over the top for Jamie Vardy or Shinji Okazaki to run onto.

It’s not just long-ball, it is playing into spaces defender don’t want to go in with a purpose. Vardy and Okazaki’s incredible work rate typified Leicester’s performance at City and with the center back duo consisting of an ageing Martin Demichelis and a battered and bruised Nicolas Otamendi, Leicester had the better of City’s defense all game long. The Foxes struck fast and hard at the heart of City’s defense and made the most of their set piece opportunities with Robert Huth showing his eye for goal.

This fairytale just keeps on getting more believable and now Leicester’s clash at fellow title contenders Arsenal next Sunday, Valentines Day, will be pivotal in proving whether or not the most romantic storyline in recent PL history will have the fairytale ending it deserves.

GUARDIOLA’S SHADOW LOOMS LARGE

City scrapped a 1-0 victory away at Sunderland in midweek but in all fairness they weren’t very good. On Monday Manuel Pellegrini announced he would be leaving this summer and it was also confirmed that Pep Guardiola will be arriving as the new manager at the end of the season. From the very start, the timing seemed odd.

Nobody was really pressing for the news to break, it was already basically accepted that Guardiola would arrive this summer but Pellegrini decided it was time to announce he was leaving. Talking of departures, most of his players should have joined the fans and left the stadium early on Saturday as they didn’t turn up for a key game in the title race. Win and they would’ve been top on goal difference but they look deflated from the start as Pellegrini’s tactics of playing Fabian Delph on the left and Yaya Toure alongside Fernandinho didn’t work. Toure and Delph were both hooked off in the second off and the former didn’t do his defensive work, as we should expect by now, with Kante and Danny Drinkwater dominating the center of midfield.

With Guardiola’s imminent arrival casting a huge shadow over the Etihad it’s only natural for a few of the players to be concerned about their future and feel a little uneasy. That said, they must be professional and are still in with a shout of winning four trophies during Pellegrini’s final months in charge. That said, they let a huge chance to boost their PL title hopes slip and Guardiola will not have been impressed with the lack of drive, spirit and energy omitted. Yes, City have injury problems with Kevin De Bruyne out and Vincent Kompany still struggling back, but the most expensively assembled team in the PL should be able to cope with these absences better. In a few weeks time the decision to announce the managerial switch at a pivotal stage in the season may seem like a very silly one if City don’t win the League Cup, fail in the UEFA Champions League and fall further behind the Foxes. It’s easy to point to Guardiola’s arrival as a determining factor in this loss, but in fact Leicester where better than Man City in every department.

HUTH AN UNSUNG HERO

When Robert Huth joined Leicester City on loan from Stoke City in January last season, the big German center back was no longer a regular for the Potters. The Foxes were starring relegation square on and looked doomed. At around this time last season I received a message from somebody who knew Huth and it read: “Huthy believes they will stay up, he’s certain of it.” That wry smile on my face reading the text turned into a head nod of appreciation after Leicester won seven of its final nine games last season to stay up. “Wow. He was right.” Now, Huth has become the leading man in Leicester’s defense and he put in an incredible display on Saturday at both ends of the pitch.

Huth, 31, swept home Leicester’s opener less than three minutes into the game and then preceded to pretty much block every City shot or cross which came into the box. He then headed home a looping effort after 60 minutes to score his second and Leicester’s third and the towering center back is proving to be one of the best bargains in a team full of incredible buys. Huth was bought for $5 million this summer from Stoke and his goals away at Man City and Tottenham over the past three weeks have helped Leicester knock off two of their title rivals. Scoring crucial goals aside, his first job is to defend and his partnership with Wes Morgan has been one of the less talked about success stories while Vardy, Mahrez and Kante are around. Now, though, Huth’s resurgence has coincided with Leicester’s dramatic rise to the top. I wonder what he’s thinking they’ll achieve this season…

Manchester City 1-3 Leicester City: Foxes on fire, six points clear at top

Leave a comment
  • Huth scores twice
  • City had 4 shots on target
  • Leicester 6 points clear at top

“We’re going to win the league!” was the chant from Leicester’s fans throughout their clash at second-placed Manchester City on Saturday and after this showing they have to be the favorites.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

Leicester beat Man City 3-1 and dominated the game from start to finish with Robert Huth scoring less than three minutes into the game and then Riyad Mahrez scoring less than three minutes into the second half. Huth added another on the hour mark and City were stunned by the Foxes as Sergio Aguero’s late header was nothing more than a consolation.

With the win Leicester increased its lead at the top of the table to six points as Claudio Ranieri‘s side have 53 points for the season and go into their clash at Arsenal next week as the favorite to win the Premier League.

[ RELATED: Watch full match replays

The Foxes had a dream start as Mahrez’s free kick from the right was swept home by Huth from close range and inside three minutes Leicester was 1-0 up. The home fans inside the Etihad were stunned.

City responded well to going behind with Raheem Sterling causing problems with his pace, but it could have been 2-0 to Leicester inside 10 minutes. A good ball from Marc Albrighton found Jamie Vardy in-behind but Joe Hart denied him as he rushed off his line, then Nicolas Otamendi denied Shinji Okazaki‘s follow-up.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Leicester continued to look dangerous on the break with City failing to make the most of their superior possession. That said, Silva did roll a shot just wide of the far post which took a nick off a Leicester defender as City turned up the heat. Vardy then beat Otamendi for pace and drilled the ball across goal for Okazaki but he couldn’t get enough on his effort and the ball skipped wide.

City then went close as Pablo Zabaleta was brought down by Christian Fuchs right on the edge of the 18-yard box although replays suggested it was on the line and should have been a penalty kick. From the resulting free kick Aleksandar Kolarov whipped in a great free kick that Huth somehow managed to deflect over his own cross bar.

[ RELATED: Latest Premier League standings ]

Less than three minutes into the second half Leicester went 2-0 up as Kante’s driving run and through ball saw Mahrez skip passed Otamendi easily and he coolly sent Hart the wrong way with a composed finish. 2-0 to the Foxes as their fans were in dreamland. Outgoing Man City boss Manuel Pellegrini was in the middle of a nightmare as his side were all over the place.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

City pushed to get back into the game and substitute Fernando headed downwards but Kasper Schmeichel scrambled the ball away to safety. Terrific stop from the Danish goalkeeper.

At the other end Okazaki saw his effort blocked by Demichelis — even though the ball looked to come off the Japanese striker last — and from the resulting corner the Foxes went 3-0 up as Huth rose highest and headed home majestically. Scenes at the Etihad as the home fans were stunned into silence.

Man City never recovered from the third goal — Hart denied Vardy his first goal of the game and Leicester’s fourth, while the PL’s top scorer also fired into the side-netting late on — and home fans streamed towards the exit way before the final whistle. Those that did missed Aguero’s header which made it 3-1 but that was no more than a consolation even if he had another good chance and Leicester withheld some late pressure.

Ranieri’s side had put in a memorable display as they extended their lead at the top with ease against a lackluster City outfit.

Watch Live, Stream: Spurs-Watford, Liverpool-Sunderland; every 10am ET game

WATFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28:  Erik Lamela (4th R) of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on December 28, 2015 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Six Premier League games are coming your way at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, with plenty of tasty matches on the slate involving some of the big boys.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Click on the link above, or the individual links below, to stream every single game live online via Live Extra. Plus, if it’s lineups, stats and a box score you are after, click on the link below.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

So, here is your one-stop streaming shop for every PL game kicking off at 10 a.m. ET.

Saturday, 10 a.m. ET kick offs

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) –  [STREAM]

Spurs could move up to second with a win, while the Hornets have won just one of their last seven games.

Liverpool vs. Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA) – [STREAM]

Jurgen Klopp will not be on the sidelines after going down with appendicitis. The Black Cats desperately need points in their battle against relegation.

Aston Villa vs. Norwich City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

A simply must-win game for Villa if they’re going to get themselves off the foot of the table. The Canaries are hover just two points above the drop zone.

Stoke City vs. Everton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Two teams hoping to make a charge towards the top six clash. Both have plenty of injuries. This will be tight. Will Martinez be getting out his best dance moves at full time?

Swansea City vs. Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Three games unbeaten for the Swans as they ease relegation fears but they still aren’t out of it. Palace have lost five on the spin and are without a win in seven games.

Newcastle vs. West Brom – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

The Magpies are still in the bottom three and will see this as a must-win. West Brom haven’t won in four and are just above the drop zone.

VIDEO: Mahrez strokes a beauty; Leicester cruising at Man City

Leave a comment

Riyad Mahrez is hot again, and so is Leicester City.

The Algerian playmaker has an assist in three-straight matches, and added his first Premier League goal since a Dec. 19 brace against Everton as the Foxes are cruising at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday morning

[ WATCH LIVE: Man City vs. Leicester City ]

Mahrez makes his move into the box to lash a classy “no look” shot past Joe Hart, and temporarily — at least — keep Leicester six points clear of hosts Manchester City atop the PL table.

Robert Huth has scored on either side of Mahrez’s goal, and it’s 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium.