Canada v United States

Good performances hard to find in U.S. draw with Canada

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If the idea of a January match is just an exercise in January camp motivation, a way for U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann to get his players through three tough weeks of conditioning with a little more skip in their daily step, then Tuesday’s dullard of a friendly hit the note, I suppose.

On pretty much any other account from the U.S. side, there wasn’t much good to say about this one, a scoreless draw at BBVA Compass Stadium against a visiting Canadian that should have been easily overmatched.

Credit to well-organized and hard-working Canada for a worthy response after getting the maple leafs knocked out of them against Denmark just three nights back. Even so …

These matches aren’t about results, of course. But they are about opportunities, about getting a couple of individuals to distinguish themselves. The chances to do so were certainly there for U.S. attackers as Canada happily ceded possession.

Finding someone in the U.S. blue to take advantage? Those were pretty tough to pinpoint out there.

Three take-aways from the match in which plenty of opportunities turned into swinging misses:

(MORE: Individual opportunities wasted; too few sharp edges)

The lineup didn’t work. And then some.

What an interesting choice by Klinsmann to put Brad Evans in the chief playmaking position, at the top of a midfield diamond. The versatile Seattle Sounders’ midfielder may be a lot of things, but he’s not the guy to punch holes in tightly packed Canadian defensive stack-up.

The Canadians played a relatively high line and dropped their attackers – few that they were – back. So it was up to the U.S. midfield and overlapping backs to break through 10 Canadians in a 30 to 40-yard box. With Kyle Beckerman almost always making the safe choice, and with Graham Zusi reliably restrained on the right, unable to find a bit of joy in getting past Nik Ledgerwood, there just wasn’t much happening.

If Klinsmann’s lineup selections were all about rewarding performance over three weeks of training, fair enough. But as a tactical selection for a one match, Benny Feilhaber or Mix Diskerud would have been a better central, attacking choice.

Even Evans’ positioning relative to strikers Chris Wondolowski and Eddie Johnson indicated “safefy first,” as he was generally too far away.

Quite a few U.S. men showed their offensive limitations.

Evans … we already addressed. And he wasn’t much better as a right back, although that’s not his position, so it’s a tough ask. Johnson can clearly be dangerous around goal, but he’s not as adept in a game that requires the United States to handle the ball most of the time. Same with Wondolowski.

Zusi was wide right in the 4-4-2 and simply wasn’t effective, mostly just stuck in the mud over there, so to speak. Some of that was due to Tony Beltran being less aggressive than Justin Morrow on the other side in pushing into attacking spots.

Nor could Beltran manage to release the crosses when he did get forward, which he did a bit more after about 30 minutes. Beltran, who had such a good camp, was subtracted at halftime.

Further back, as the ball moved back and forth across the field, Beckerman rarely turned with the ball or pushed aggressively toward the few gaps in Canada’s alignment. As we’ve seen, at the international level, Beckerman is a better in a match where the United States is defending more than attacking, where he’s more destroyer and less distributor.

It was crowed and tough out there, no doubt. But this is where Zusi and Brad Davis, who similarly failed to distinguish himself, needed to show something. Something!

None of the forwards did any distinguishing either. Wondolowski needed to do better with a couple of half chances that came his way. Juan Agudelo, in for the last 30 minutes, did not look particularly sharp.

Good nights? Yeah, a couple.

Matt Besler was the best passer, managing at least to look occasionally for the passing lanes that would help break up the logjam. Morrow was easily the best offensive threat of the two U.S. outside backs.

Omar Gonzalez demonstrated that he can be a bother at international level on those attacking set pieces, which we’ve all seen him do in MLS.

Josh Gatt certainly kept his stock pointed in the right direction, enlivening the left side. He was easily the best U.S. man at taking on defenders and showing a willingness to ask some questions of the Canadian back line.

Feilhaber looked OK in possession, and his set pieces fell dangerously.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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