Stock falling: Which U.S. men needed to be better …


This is where we typically post a “Stock Up, Stock Down” piece, assessing which players’ personal standing rose, and whose fell during an important U.S. international match.

Clearly, an opener in final round World Cup qualifying deserves ear-marking as “important.”

Trouble is, as the United States picked a terrible time to deliver a real clunker, it’s hard to see any stock rising from Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in San Pedro Sula.

A few might have held serve. Clint Dempsey, scorer of the lone U.S. goal, comes to mind. Otherwise …

Let’s look at who needed more out there at Estadio Olimpico.

Omar Gonzalez: In his first World Cup qualifying start, Gonzalez’s defending was usually good enough, that killer case of ball watching on Honduras’ game winner (we talked more about it in the previous post) as the obvious exception.

The bigger problem was in his passing from the back. Looking somewhat nervous initially, the LA Galaxy man completed just four of 10 passes before halftime, and that’s simply not good enough.

Meanwhile, for all his physical ability, Gonzalez’s game just lacks that little bit of maturity. He’s got to find it fast, or he will lose Klinsmann’s trust.

(MORE: Further discussion of the Gonzalez/Carlos Bocanegra choice)

Danny Williams: If the young German-American is going to be Klinsmann’s holding midfield go-to, he’s got to raise that game a notch. Williams simply was not assertive enough, unwilling to scramble some eggs in there, to apply a little more selective midfield pressure and, generally, make that area a real SOB for the home team.

The heat surely had something to do with timid tackling and an outing that lacked the intensity and the bite commensurate of the moment. (It’s final round World Cup qualifying!) He has to find a way to impact the game, if not through clear distribution, then through knocking a couple of guys on their Honduran backsides.

Perhaps it was sheer fatigue, but Maurice Edu came in to replace Williams early in the second half; we seldom see changes in the holding midfield spot when things are going well.

Michael Bradley: The Roma man actually did OK. The problem here was in his effectiveness compared to Roger Espinoza, the engine room of Honduras’ busy midfield. Espinoza delivered the kind of commanding, driving, leave-it-all-out-there performance we usually see from Bradley, probably the most important figure in a U.S. shirt now.

Bottom line: We’ve seen better from Bradley, and will again.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match – by default – Michael Bradley)

Eddie Johnson: Stationed on the left wing last fall against Antigua and Barbuda, and then again at home against Guatemala, Johnson was adequate as a left-sided attacker, one who worked inside frequently. But I warned back then that it wasn’t a solid plan against tougher competition ahead in the final round of regional qualifying. Sure enough …

He just isn’t strong enough in possession to play that close to his own goal. And he certainly isn’t a creative influence in there. Sacha Kljestan’s introduction for Johnson in the 65th minute was surely about improving the non-existent U.S. midfield possession.

That was a bad choice by Klinsmann and a tough ask for Johnson, so we should probably limit his personal demerits.

(MORE: What we learned about the United States from Wednesday’s match)

Sacha Kljestan and Graham Zusi: Both players came in as second half subs. We think. Let me check …

Yes! The box score says so.

If this is to be their role, as second-half game-changers, they’ll need something a little more zippy than what we saw Wednesday.

In fairness, the heat and humidity had zapped so much life from what was a pretty messy, shapeless match all along. And with such humble U.S. passing out of the back, combined with the fact that neither U.S. outside back dared get forward (they probably wouldn’t have had the legs or lungs to get back) there were limited chances for either man. Still, it’s on them to find a way.

Tim Howard: As mentioned in the previous post, if he comes flying off the line for a through ball, he has to get it. That’s it.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]