What we learned from Wednesday’s U.S. loss to Honduras in World Cup qualifying

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Final round World Cup qualifying is off to the rockiest of starts, and the disillusionment with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will surely reach critical mass after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Honduras.

Overall, the United States was on its way to managing out a 1-1 draw, which would have been a satisfactory result. But what could have been a routine defensive play in the back fell apart in spectacularly and well …

Here’s what we can take away from the match in hot and humid San Pedro Sula:

Why the loss hurts:

As we’ve said before, a loss on the road in World Cup qualifying is hardly a deal-killer. Nine matches remain, including five at home, where the United States has been next to unbeatable through the last few qualifying cycles.

But the final round qualifying schedule, which fell so unfavorably to the United States, adds pressure. Consider that the United States may well lose its next match road match, at Mexico. That makes the March 22 contest at home (in Denver) against Costa Rica an absolute must have victory for Klinsmann and Co.

Otherwise, the United States could go into final round Match Day 4 with zero wins. That would be very, very bad.

(MORE: Which U.S. men needed to be better)

The bold linecup selection that backfired:

You can’t say Klinsmann is afraid of changes or bold gambits. Lots of them, in fact, especially considering such a short camp to rehearse the adjustments. Jozy Alitdore’s inclusion at striker over the usually preferred Herculez Gomez fell as a surprise.

Same for Eddie Johnson as a starter, once again nominally along the left, as we saw toward the end of semifinal qualifying.  But none of the changes ticked the shocker box like the eye-catching choice across the back line. Klinsmann adjudged that the future was now in making a brave switcharoo: captain Carlos Bocanegra took a seat on the bench as Omar Gonzalez was blooded in the harshest of CONCACAF environments in his first World Cup qualifier appearance.

Gonzalez, of course, just came off his first extended U.S. camp. On Honduras’ goal, it wasn’t so much that Gonzalez was in there; the problem was more about someone not taking charge. Had Bocanegra been there, perhaps communication – so important from the center backs in a flat four defense – would have been sharper and catastrophe could have been dodged.

(MORE: Discussing the Carlos Bocanegra/Omar Gonzalez switch)

Lots of blame to go around on the winning goal:

Tim Howard is everyone’s hero, but he didn’t do well on the home team’s game-winner. Bottom line there, if the U.S. goalkeeper comes for that ball, he’s as to get it. Period.

Meanwhile, Geoff Cameron needed to clear the danger. Period. Even if Howard was screaming for it – we may know more later after hearing from the U.S. men – no one would fault Cameron for putting that menacing, sneaky little through ball somewhere into urban San Pedro Sula.

And then there was Gonzalez caught ball watching rather than tracking behind the play.

Credit to Honduras’ Oscar Boniek Garcia, the Houston Dynamo jitterbug attacker for his committed work to create that goal. But from the U.S. side, that goal in three words: What a mess.

(MORE: Klinsmann addresses the loss)

The formation:

Klinsmann lined up his team in a modified 4-4-2, with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson sometimes swapping positions, striker for left-sided midfielder.

The United States did a reasonable job of pressing up high, as a unit, which is the only way to make that effective, of course. On the other hand, getting the ball back doesn’t help much if you can’t do much with it.

The U.S. passing out of the back: pedestrian.

The U.S. passing in midfield: uninspired.

Still, strategically, the United was managing out a solid, tactical match in hot and humid conditions. (So debilitating that Klinsmann had used all three subs by the 66th minute.) The visitors sat deep and waited for chances, like the 29th minute hook-up between Johnson on the left and Jozy Altidore, who needed just a little more separation from his defender to get a little better effort on goal.

No, the Americans didn’t create a bucket full of chances, and Honduras had far more possession. But neither did the home team bother Howard often. Well, except for …

(MORE: Missing Landon Donovan. A lot)

Bad defending on the first Honduras goal, too:

We saw shades of USMNT 2012 on the Hondurans first half goal. The overhead kick finish by Juan Carlos Garcia was wonderful, no doubt, and all credit for getting his team back into the match with something truly special. But it should not have gotten there.

The marking and inability to organize and react quickly after the initial corner kick clearance is disappointing at best, perhaps inexcusable for a team that wants to be at a higher level. It might be tempting to say this is what you get from having two inexperienced center backs, but the fact is that goals were allowed in 2012 where the same missing element (failure to organize quickly after a restart) was in play.

Klinsmann warned that it was all about being competitive, vigilant and alert. His men were anything but as Maynor Figueroa was uncontested to chest down a ball 14 yards from goal, arranging Garcia’s equalizer.

Jermaine Jones good, Jermaine Jones bad:

Dempsey’s first half goal was great stuff, a clever run to match a precise, technical finish. But it was only the punctuation mark on a great sentence, so to speak, one written by midfielder Jermaine Jones.

Jones is among the chief whipping boys of U.S. fans, and for good reason. Klinsmann loves him some Jones for the infectious warrior spirit and ability to inspire that fearlessness in others. But the man’s technical ability and speed of play kills the United States possession time and again. It certainly did on plenty of occasions Wednesday.

Klinsmann contends that Jones has game-changing passes in him, and the Schalke man showed it for one very important moment in San Pedro Sula, arranging Dempsey spectacularly with the best U.S. pass of the afternoon.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match Wednesday in San Pedro Sula)

Klopp: Liverpool “not 500 miles away” from Man City’s standard

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Jurgen Klopp remains bullish on his Liverpool’s credentials as one of the Premier League’s top-four sides title challengers this season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup | Sunday preview — Spurs vs. Liverpool ]

While everyone else might be writing off the Reds due to their propensity for defensive disasters on an every-game basis, Klopp refuses to concede that a gap of “500 miles” exists between his side and Manchester City, the early-days runaway leaders of the 2017-18 season — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t compare City with us, but I think everyone can see we are not 500 miles away. But they fly. It was a very decisive day when we lost 5-0. Dealing with a 5-0 defeat is not the easiest thing. We didn’t lose confidence but we were not that fluent afterwards and it was not like we could close our eyes and finish [thinking about it]. They did exactly the opposite. I saw the Stoke goals, you see the shot from Fernandinho and you think, ‘If it works, it works even like this.’ They are a fantastic team and we don’t have to compare, but it starts so early again with us having to apologize for the season so far because one team is flying.”

“Their way of football I would say is not something we are too far away from but to be as clinical as they have been so far? We weren’t.

“That’s the thing. We are still in the race, not with City in the moment because they have I don’t how many points, and I don’t say already that we should only fight for a top-four place. Performance-wise we are a team that should be there but now we have to get the results.”

[ TACTICS SESSION: Inside the brilliant mind of Kevin De Bruyne ]

All due respect to Klopp and Liverpool, the league table says City currently have 25 points (having played one game more), while Liverpool have 13. That’s not a difference of 500 points, but taking into account not only results but performances, it might as well be.

Ligue 1: Falcao, Balde score to keep Monaco close to PSG

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PARIS (AP) French champion Monaco got back to winning ways with a 2-0 home win against Caen on Saturday.

Monaco lost three and drew one of its previous four games in all competitions. But coach Leonardo Jardim’s side was largely in control against a Caen side that started brightly and faded after Keita Balde’s opening goal and first for Monaco.

“It was important to win, to get a bit of confidence back,” Jardim said. “We’ve been working hard and the players were very serious today.”

Captain Radamel Falcao scored his league-leading 13th from the penalty spot in the 59th, confidently sending goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre the wrong way.

The win moved second-place Monaco within three points of Paris Saint-Germain, having played one game more. Unbeaten PSG is away at bitter rival Marseille on Sunday.

Falcao’s partnership with teen star Kylian Mbappe was crucial to Monaco’s charge to the league title and the Champions League semifinals last season. Mbappe left to join PSG in a high-profile move — as did several other key players — but Falcao’s new partnership with the unselfish Balde looks a promising one.

“We’ve lost a few players and we need a bit of time, it’s been a bit difficult for us,” Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic said. “I hope we can stay at the top of the table and that the young players can shine. We have a lot of quality here.”

Balde has been sharp in his handful of appearances since joining from Lazio in the offseason, but mainly as a link player and a provider.

This time, the Senegal forward finished off the move as he ran onto Thomas Lemar’s perfectly weighted pass into his path, cut across a defender on the edge of the penalty area and slotted the ball into the bottom left corner.

Lemar almost created another goal when his corner was headed against the crossbar by Brazilian defender Jemerson late in the first half.

Falcao put the game beyond doubt from the spot after Slovenian midfielder Jan Repas fouled attacking midfielder Rony Lopes.


After a tricky start to his tenure at Nantes, Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has turned things around.

Nantes beat Guingamp 2-1 at home to move up to third place, extending Ranieri’s unbeaten run to eight matches after losing the first two.

Nantes, which scored through defender Chidozie Awaziem and midfielder Abdoulaye Toure, is just two points behind Monaco.

The 2 Robbies: Terriers Triumph And Chelsea Leave It Late

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe start today’s show off by discussing Huddersfield Town’s surprising win against Manchester United (00:20), Jose Mourinho’s measured post-match interview (03:50), praise Manchester City again (10:30), discuss Sean Dyche’s next move (16:10), analyze that exciting match between Chelsea and Watford (18:30) and finally, weigh in on Slaven Bilic’s future at West Ham United (27:30).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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La Liga: Barca win to maintain lead, but Valencia won’t go away

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona regained a four-point cushion atop the Spanish league with a ho-hum 2-0 win over visiting Malaga and surging Valencia dismissed Sevilla 4-0 at home on Saturday.

Barcelona faced last-placed Malaga in the closing match of the day, with added pressure from second-placed Valencia, which has won five in a row.

Barcelona is unbeaten after starting with seven straight wins and drawing with Atletico Madrid last week.

Seldom-used Gerard Deulofeu opened the scoring for Barcelona after just two minutes, and Andres Iniesta celebrated his first of the season in the second half thanks to a brilliant assist by Lionel Messi.

Defending champion Real Madrid hosts Eibar on Sunday.

Barcelona benefited from a flagrant referee misjudgment to get its go-ahead goal against Malaga. Left back Lucas Digne was allowed to center the ball after it clearly crossed the byline, and Deulofeu acrobatically back-footed it inside the net.

Despite the blow, the visitors got back up and managed to neutralize Barcelona for most of the first half, but lost striker Diego Rolan just before the second period. The Uruguayan import was forced off by injury.

Without Rolan, Malaga lacked bite in its pressure of the home backline, and Barcelona was able to polish ball circulation and find Messi with more frequency.

Messi received a clean pass from defender Javier Mascherano, drew the defense, and dropped a perfect pass for Iniesta, whose shot was deflected by defender Roberto Rosales on its way to the upper left corner.

Malaga surrendered and Barcelona dominated the rest of the way.


Gonzalo Guedes opened the scoring for Valencia near halftime with a majestic strike from outside the box after deftly outmaneuvering two defenders on the chase.

Simone Zaza added his eighth league goal after the break with a spin and low cross shot. Santi Mina came off the bench and scored the third with just five minutes to go, finishing off a speedy counterattack for the hosts.

But the show was all Guedes, and the Portuguese midfielder rounded off his great game with the closer, subtly poking the ball over goalkeeper Sergio Rico in added time.

Sevilla has lost three in a row in all competitions. Managed by Eduardo Berizzo, the team started off red-hot in La Liga but has floundered lately, ranking fifth.