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.”

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”