Brazil 2014 or bust! Final World Cup push begins for United States national team

4 Comments

Tension will be high Wednesday in Honduras, where the United States soccer team launches its final push toward World Cup 2014, as security concerns and the grave consequence of failure hang heavy over coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. 24-man assembly.

Should the United States be expected to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil? Absolutely.

Is it a slam dunk? Absolutely not.

The United States national team, under the direction of its enthusiastic, enigmatic German coach, meets an improving and confident Honduras as the “money round” of qualifying commences. Small though it is, Honduras advanced to its second World Cup finals in 2010 and qualified for the 2012 Olympics (when the United States did not).

Wednesday’s match in San Pedro Sula, the most violent city on the planet according to the U.S. State Department, is the first of 10 final-stage qualifying matches in the CONCACAF region (North and Central America and the Caribbean). Final round qualifying runs through October.

The Hondurans hope to maximize any edge against the more experienced Americans by kicking off at 4 p.m ET, when the heat and humidity could become problematic for the majority of U.S. men who make their living in Europe.

(MORE:  Weather for Wednesday in Honduras: a scorcher)

(MORE: Security concerns in San Pedro Sula)

The United States must finish top three in the six-team group (along with Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Panama) for automatic passage to Brazil ’14. The group’s fourth-place finisher gets one last chance, a home-and-away series in November against the Oceania winner (probably New Zealand) for the 32-team tournament’s final spot.

Mexico and the United States are favorites to advance, and qualification certainly has become habit here in domestic soccer’s modern era. The country last failed to qualify in 1986, so this would be U.S. Soccer’s seventh consecutive World Cup finals appearance.

While the odds favor a U.S. side blessed with Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey – not headliner “stars” in Europe, but easily in the next tier of talent, highly valued men for solid clubs in esteemed leagues of the Old World – nothing can be taken for granted. The tension here lies solidly in consequence of failure.

Such a thing would be viewed as catastrophe in U.S. Soccer, a crash in the ongoing ascent of the sport domestically.

Not all is perfect in the U.S. cause. Midfield creators are scarce and the back line still has questions as a new generation, led by center back Geoff Cameron and two young German-Americans, transitions in.

Landon Donovan, responsible for single-handedly rescuing a couple of the potentially wayward matches in the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle, can’t quite untangle his career mid-life crisis. Donovan, 30, remains on extended break and not with the U.S. team in Honduras.

(MORE: Landon Donovan’s career crisis)

Semifinal stage qualifying was bumpier than expected, beginning with a draw in Guatemala and then (egad!) a loss at Jamaica. Eventually, Klinsmann and Co. righted matters by taking good care of business at home and qualifying for the final round atop the group.

A recent 0-0 draw with Canada didn’t help assuage any concerns, never mind that Klinsmann’s “B” team was minus its top talent.

(MORE: Why the points are so important in Wednesday’s match)

Those semifinal road wobbles raised red flags of concern among media and supporters, especially as Klinsmann (pictured above, Tuesday in Honduras along with Michael Bradley) had been recruited – at almost five times the salary of his predecessor, Bob Bradley, whose base was less than $500,000 annually – to move the United States forward, off a plateau.

The United States made it to World Cup 2006 but looked immediately unsound and exited quickly. Only a dramatic, late Donovan goal in 2010 helped the United States slip into the second round. But a subsequent Round-of-16 loss left the bitter, incomplete taste of opportunity lost.

Now it’s on Klinsmann, who guided Germany to a third-place finish in 2006 but is going through his first qualifying campaign as a manager. (Germany was invited automatically in 2006 as hosts.)

(MORE: Wednesday a national soccer holiday in Honduras)

“There is no easy way, not for Mexico, not for the United States, not for anybody,” Klinsmann said via national teleconference Monday just before charter departure into Central America. “You have to get your points, you have to win your games and you have to get the job done. You have to go into every game with the expectation that it’s going to be difficult, that it will challenge you to the limits.

“That’s our approach: take it seriously every time you go out onto the field, very seriously, and be very awake and then we’ll see how it runs out through those 10 [final round] games. I told the players it’s all about alertness, commitment and determination. The way they train, the way they presented themselves already this morning, it looks like they are ready.”

(MORE: How many points will it take to get to Brazil)

(MORE:  U.S. history in Honduras? Successful – but surprisingly brief)

(MORE: Massive opportunity for U.S. defender Timmy Chandler)

(MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann addresses the Benny Feilhaber situation)

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Leave a comment

AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.