U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann addresses Wednesday’s loss

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A March 22 date always stood out for the U.S. final round qualifying chase; it was the lone contest on home soil among the Americans’ opening foursome, it was always the security blanket.

Now, given the shape of things after one round, that match in Commerce City outside Denver is practically a life-support device. The mission will be brutally simple: get all three points that night against Costa Rica or risk falling way behind in a six-way chase (for three automatic berths in Brazil ’14) that could  quickly get  more complicated than anyone of us truly believed.

That’s more or less what Jurgen Klinsmann and his players said about the  2-1 loss. From USSoccer’s official quote sheet following the match:

It’s not what we wanted. We wanted to start with a positive result. We have to fix that right away now against Costa Rica in March. But we knew it would be really difficult. Both teams play on the same field and there are no excuses. When you lose a game there are reasons for it and the reasons today were too many players performed under their level.”

He said later (although it is not in the quote sheet) that his team lost the ball too quickly in the midfield, which is why they needed to make early midfield subs.

That’s not just on the players, of course. Klinsmann may want a do-over on some of his lineup selections. Danny Williams, 23, looked in over his head, perhaps not ready to police the game the way a holding midfielder should. And the choice to once again station Eddie Johnson out wide on the left needs a serious re-think, too.

He can be effective around goal, but the Sounders’ man is way out of his element as a midfielder.

And then there’s Jermaine Jones, who did manufacture a wonderful moment, but who otherwise struggled with simple midfield passing and receiving chores.

As for Klinsmann’s choices in the back, Grant Wahl points out in his story at SI.com that Klinsmann seems committed to the young back line, where three of four defenders were given their very first World Cup qualifier starting assignment.. The choice of Omar Gonzalez over far more experienced Carlos Bocanegra will be particularly scrutinized.

We believe Omar is ready for the next step, ready for the international level. The only way you find that out is to give him a chance and throw him in the cold water. Overall he has done well. There will always be moments there might be miscommunication between two center backs or chemistry [problems] with the No. 6 in front of the center backs. It takes time to develop. But the back line wasn’t the reason we lost that game.”

That’s where Klinsmann went on to talk about the midfield issues.

In our ProSoccerTalk coverage yesterday, we probably didn’t say enough about the lack of midfield pressure on Honduras’ game-winning goal. Yes, Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, and Gonzalez needed to be better. But where was the pressure on that initial pass? To give Maynor Figueroa an opportunity to pick out a slashing Oscar Boniek Garcia, who had a wonderful second half – that was asking for it.

Bradley, among this group’s best at thoughtful analysis, told Wahl the team needs to be smarter at times, to think their way around the match a little better. (Easier to do when the “back 5” – the back four plus the hold midfielder, that is – are all so young.

Average age of that group: 24.2 years.

From Bradley:

At times, knowing how to tactically be a little smarter as a team. And to know that in different parts of these games, the ability to stay disciplined and connected without running crazy. In a smart, solid way to control situations. … At times we did that well tonight, and as the game went on we got pulled around a little bit. They started to find some space between the lines.”

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.

MLS All-Stars to face Juventus in 2018

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For the first time, Juventus will be taking on Major League Soccer’s best in the MLS All-Star Game.

MLS announced on Thursday that the six-time defending Italian champions will take on the MLS All-Stars in Atlanta United’s Mercedez-Benz Stadium on August 1, 2018. Juventus will be the second Italian club to play in the MLS All-Star Game, following AS Roma’s appearance in 2013.

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Since MLS adapted its all-stars vs. foreign club format in 2002 (with a brief return to the old East vs. West format in 2004), MLS has gone 9-6. Last year the MLS All-Stars lost 4-2 on penalty kicks to Real Madrid in Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Klinsmann: “I’m sure I’ll come back” to coaching

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Jurgen Klinsmann hinted that he could return to full-time coaching after the 2018 World Cup.

Klinsmann appears to be enjoying life as a full-time soccer dad after his dismissal from U.S. Soccer in November 2016, having taken home a portion of a $6.2 million buyout from U.S. Soccer for he and his staff. Speaking to Socrates Magazine in Germany, Klinsmann gave his thoughts on the Bundesliga, the German National Team, and whether he’d be back in the hot seat one day.

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“I’m sure I’ll come back,” Klinsmann said. “Right now I’m having a nice break, I enjoy it. I do not know when I’ll take on a coaching job again. I’m looking forward to the World Cup in Russia and then I’ll be back in action.”

Klinsmann has been linked with a number of jobs over the past few years, even before he was fired as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, including with Everton, Sunderland, and Club Tijuana in Liga MX. But instead, Klinsmann has remained in the stands, cheering on his son Jonathan at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup along with the rest of the U.S. parents in their section.

Following the disastrous start of World Cup qualifying and the fact that Klinsmann never took the U.S. to the level he promised, it is hard to see where he will go next, unless it’s a lower level, with lower expectations. Based on his work with the USMNT and Bayern Munich, he has shown that he struggles tactically and is mainly a man-motivator, which is just one part of the coaching package.

The 53-year-old former German coach and player also had a bit of a warning to the Bundesliga, after a particularly tough season in Europe. Three Bundesliga teams (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig) made the UEFA Champions League, but both Dortmund and Leipzig finished third in their groups, dropping down to the Europa League. FC Koln, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin all failed to advance to the knockout stages in the Europa League as well.

“The recent development at the European level is not a good sign, it is important that everyone is aware that success is lacking,” Klinsmann said. “Recently, you have lost too much ground.

“It’s a very critical moment. There is a certain amount of satisfaction after winning the World Cup in Brazil and the Bundesliga clubs having done very well in the Champions League.”