Jurgen Klinsmann, Eddie Johnson

Tick, tick – what’s that? The sound of the U.S. attack clicking


For a few minutes on Tuesday, it finally came together. And by a few minutes, I mean almost a full half. Fourteen months of promises that we’d see a different kind of soccer started to manifest into real, tangible results. The emphasis on sharper attacking that had come to the forefront after mixed performances in qualifying finally took hold. From the first movement, when Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson hinted they might be anticipating instead of reacting to each others’ movements, the U.S. Men’s National Team started to transcend the rhetoric.

Given what happened five minutes later (Carlos Ruiz putting Guatemala in front), you can understand why the attack didn’t steal headlines. After coming face-to-face with the reality of elimination, advancing was the big story, not the improvement. In the big picture, however, a huge step forward for Jurgen Klinsmann’s rebuild is a bigger than the qualification of a team that’s habitually in The Hex.

Perhaps it was the frustrations of St. John’s. Maybe three days of hearing their coach’s admonitions sank in. Maybe the team just got tired of know-it-all bloggers chirping. Whatever happened between Friday and Tuesday, it led to a U.S. attack that finally showed what the future might hold.

That future is effort, the type that Herculez Gomez used to win the corner kick ahead of the States’ opening goal. That future is decisiveness, as we saw from Eddie Johnson in creating the second goal. It’s the ability to get people forward, like Michael Bradley did on the third goal. It’s executing the little things in those final, most important moments at the end of attacks, as we saw from Clint Dempsey all night. And perhaps most crucially (as it concerns Klinsmann’s desire to change the foundations), it’s quick, progressive, decisive play throughout the team. Let the actions match the words.

It’s not as if we’ve never seen those qualifies before. But we haven’t seen them used as the team’s foundation. We haven’t seen them leveraged so effectively, so exclusively. Last night U.S. soccer fans were given reason to think a new, more proactive era is close. At least, it’s closer than it looked on Friday.

There are a couple of caveats, though. Since Eddie Johnson was put in the starting lineup, the U.S. has been playing more long balls forward. That first movement I alluded to above? It started with a long ball targeting Dempsey, not that playing a occasional long ball an anathema to what Klinsmass is trying to do. Part of the reason the new coach has been so discouraging of such tactics is the team’s previous dependence on them. It’s hard to claim your being a revolutionary if you turn your head to the ills of the old regime. In this transition phase (perhaps before the U.S.’s backs were against the wall), Klinsmann couldn’t walk that middle ground. In his ideal world, though, he’ll want all weapons at his disposal.

The other caveat that’s already being leaned on, one I completely discard, is the opposition. It’s only Guatemala, you’ll read. It’s not Mexico, as if we need to be reminded that competition in third round qualifying is not the same as The Hex’s.

The reminders need to go the other way. Everybody is aware Guatemala is not an elite soccer nation, but we’re also aware that the U.S.’s changes are a process, something we’ve been reminded of by the series of mixed performances throughout the round. Nobody’s expecting the States to become Germany in 14 months, which is why Tuesday shouldn’t be discounted. If, at next summer’s Gold Cup, the U.S. is still having problems with the Antiguas and Guatemalas in the world, break out the told you sos.

For now, look at that first half and see the future. At least consider it a proof of concept. That performance needs to become the rule rather than the exception, but for one night, the team showed it’s possible. That’s progress.

LIVE: Man City, Stoke, Everton face second-tier teams in League Cup quarters

Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City FC
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Three of the four Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday with three Premier League teams facing second-tier opposition.

“What’s that, did somebody say banana skin?”

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Manchester City host Hull City at the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini‘s side hoping to have David Silva back in the starting lineup but Joe Hart is still out injured so Willy Caballero will continue in goal. Steve Bruce‘s side drew 1-1 at the Etihad last season when they visited City before being relegated from the Premier League. The Tigers are fighting for instant promotion back to the big-time and knocked out Leicester City on penalty kicks in the last round.

Everton face a tricky trip to the Riverside Stadium as Roberto Martinez and the Toffees play Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka’s side lost in the play-off final to Norwich last season but are looking good for promotion this term as they sit second in the second-tier and knocked out Manchester United on penalty kicks in the last round. Can Everton sort out their defensive frailties?

A third PL club has a tricky test coming up on Tuesday as Stoke City’s reward for beating Chelsea on PKs in the last round is a home game against Sheffield Wednesday. This will be no stroll in the park for Mark Hughes‘ side as the second-tier Owls comfortably knocked off Arsenal in the last round and this game has “cupset” written all over it.

Below are the fixtures for Tuesday as you can click on the link above to follow all the games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET

FIFA sponsors demand “independent oversight” of reforms

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LONDON (AP) Five of FIFA’s sponsors have written to the executive committee of soccer’s scandal-battered governing body demanding “independent oversight” of the reform process.

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Sponsors were originally promised places on the FIFA reform committee. But instead of being invited into meetings discussing the overhaul of the organization, they have only been offered seats on an advisory board which is yet to be appointed.

The sponsors’ letter was sent from Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch to FIFA’s ruling body ahead of meetings this week.

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The letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, says it is “clear to us that such independent oversight needs to run long-term through the implementation and evolution of the reform process.”

The reform committee was established following the indictment of soccer officials by American authorities.

VIDEO: Gerrard returns to Liverpool for training in MLS offseason

Liverpool v Sunderland - Premier League
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Steven Gerrard is back at Liverpool.

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The legendary midfielder, 35, has returned to the Reds just six months after leaving his hometown club for a new adventure in Major League Soccer with the LA Galaxy.

Gerrard spent a glittering 17-years at Anfield, guiding Liverpool to the UEFA Champions League title and winning every other major title except for the elusive Premier League crown.

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After suffering an early exit from the 2015 MLS Cup playoffs with the Galaxy, Gerrard is now back in England and he’s using his time at home to train with Liverpool’s first-team and help out in any way he can as Jurgen Klopp has allowed him to come back into the dressing room he called home for nearly two decades.

“It’s a good situation,” Klopp said. “Everybody had a smile on their face when they saw Stevie. It’s good to have him here and we hope we can help him, and he can help us for sure with being in the dressing room. It’s cool.”

Below are photos and videos from Gerrard’s return as Klopp once again quashed any rumors regarding a loan move for the former Liverpool skipper who will enter his first full MLS season in 2016 with the Galaxy.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

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Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.