Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Klinsmann’s picks: Sure seems like the coach got a lot right on Friday


For a lineup that had so many uncertainties before kickoff in Commerce City, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann sure seemed to get a lot of things right last night. From the patchwork backline, to the formation, to the midfield alignment to the forwards, everything seemed to work, as much as a roster missing so many of its regulars can work.

Let’s start at the back

Brad Guzan was fine for the most part, but that was the easy one. With Tim Howard out, the Aston Villa No. 1 was the obvious choice, and while some early second half forays away from his line drew some gasps from the American faithful, Guzan was otherwise reliable. He was sure-handed, confident. He was expected what everybody expected.

We knew Omar Gonzalez and Geoff Cameron would start at the back. The question was where. Gonzalez was going to start in the middle, but electing to go with experience instead of injecting Tony Beltran, Klinsmann pushed Cameron to right back. It’s not a spot he’s used to with the national team, but he plays there with Stoke.

It was a safe choice, one that allowed Clarence Goodson to start a left-center half. It also allowed Klinsmann to get his most experienced defense on the field.

In truth, Cameron wasn’t that good. His distribution was poor and he did little to prevent Bryan Oviedo from being Costa Rica’s most dangerous player. Part of that was the weather, and part of Oviedo’s success was on Graham Zusi, but it was still a patchy performance from the Potter.

But there we no major errors. For a team protecting a 1-0 lead for most of the night, that was the biggest thing. Those Oviedo crosses could have proved painful (especially a first half ball that fell for Bryan Ruiz), but ultimately, Cameron’s growing experience outweighed his errors.

The revelation at defense was DeMarcus Beasley, who was having trouble getting called in at all before starting at left back. His night looked like it would end early when he went face-to-head with Omar Gonzalez, but the Puebla midfielder recovered to have one of the States’ better nights. Whether he holds up at Azteca is another matter entirely, but after for one night, DMB gave U.S. fans reason to think he’s got left back covered.

And he also revitalized his chances of getting to cap No. 100. In all likelihood, Beasley will reach appearance 99 Tuesday at Azteca.

source: APMidfield balance

With Danny Williams out, Klinsmann could have inserted Kyle Beckerman or Maurice Edu and maintain his tendency to select three players who normally play deep in midfield. But in a must win game at home, it was no surprise that Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones (right) were asked to do the job by themselves.

The slight surprise may have been the depliyment. We think of Michael Bradley as the midfielder most capable of getting forward, and on Clint Dempsey’s goal, he showed how he can contiribute without ever touching the ball. But for most of the night, Bradley was the deeper of the two, sitting deep to act as a fulcrum.

Jones was allowed to do what he does best – roam, disrupt, use his strength and athleticism to be as annoying as possible. In attack, that gave the U.S. a player to act as an outlet just inside the final third. In the buildup, it allowed the U.S. to patiently kick it around while the Costa Ricans trudged through the snow.

Add in Clint Dempsey’s contributions dropping into the void above the pivot, and the midfield struck a perfect balance. That perception was aided by the early goal, Costa Rica’s five-man defense, the field conditions, home field advantage, and the U.S.’s inherent edge in midfield talent, but the result’s enough to bolster opinion that Klinsmann needs to stick with two, not three, defensively-inclined midfielders.

Attack did enough

Jozy Altidore had one of his better nights of the Klinsmann era. His holdup play was excellent, and Costa Rica seemed to lack the willingness or personnel to compete for the long balls coming out of the States’ end. With a strong work rate and improved off-the-ball movement, Altidore is starting to improve on the qualities that made him an iffy fit before.

Herculez Gomez got the call on the left ahead of Eddie Johnson, a decision that’s more difficult to judge. Gomez was fine, and his experience seemed valuable as he shunned the weather and got to work. On set pieces and with the ball at his feet, Gomez offers a bit more, and his work rate is always among the team’s best. But it’s not difficult to image Johnson being as effective, if in a different way.

source: Getty ImagesOn the other flank, Graham Zusi (right) was a non-factor in attack and a detriment tracking Oviedo, but it’s hard to fault Klinsmann for this selection. In what the coach had labeled a must win game, Zusi’s recent successes were always likely to earn Klinsmann’s nod. Gomez could have started on the right while Johnson played on the left, but on a day when possession was going to be important, you can see why Zusi got the call.

On Tuesday, however? It’s hard to feel that confident about that right side matching up against Andres Guardado and Jorge Torres Nilo, particularly when Mexico scored each of their Friday goals while attacking the defense’s right. Klinsmann may have no better defensive option than Cameron, but for that flank to work, Zusi will have to be better running back toward goal.

And then there’s Dempsey, who was never not going to start, but the main issues with “Deuce” as a No. 10 had been his ability to keep the play moving. For both club and country, there’s been a tendency so slow play down outside the final third rather than build momentum. Positionally, a supporting striker’s role allows Dempsey to do the kind of penalty area poaching that made the difference last night, but when that role requires a No. 10’s flare in a 4-2-3-1, Dempsey’s limitations are exposed.

In the snow of Colorado, those limitations were equalized. Everybody became a player who had trouble building momentum. It wasn’t even worth trying. Smart, well-hit passes that actually got to your teammates became more important, and in that environment, Dempsey’s strengths stood out. Putting him in the middle of a 4-2-3-1 proved a valuable focal point for a team that needed to hog the ball.

Credit the coach

Nobody was surprised by Friday’s selection, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t significant choices to make. And it looks like Klinsmann made all the right ones. The right side could have been better, but you could see the coach’s logic. And in the choice of formation, midfield selection, promotion of Beasley, and putting Dempsey (back) in a No. 10’s role, Klinsmann seemed to get it right.

Not a bad a frying pan performance for the scrutinized boss.

No clean sheet, no cake for Leicester at Rainieri’s birthday party

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Leicester City mascot Filbert Fox is seen prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace at The King Power Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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It’s a happy birthday celebration for Claudio Ranieri, though cake will be missing for Leicester City’s players.

The manager turned 65 on Thursday, and was ready to share some of his gigantic birthday cake with his players if they fulfilled his requirements on Saturday.

[ MORE: Match recap | Fuchs’ great goal ]

The Foxes picked up a comfortable-enough 3-1 win through Ahmed Musa, Christian Fuchs, and Shinji Okazaki, but Yohan Cabaye‘s late goal means no dessert.

“I said I would share my birthday cake in the dressing room if I got a clean sheet,” Ranieri joked to the BBC. “They clearly don’t want a piece.”

Ranieri also explained Jamie Vardy‘s bench place being down to squad rotation after a busy week — Leicester beat Copenhagen in the Champions League — and said Musa is about ready to kick on after an adjustment period in England.

Birthday-boy Wenger plans to drown sorrows after Arsenal draw

BURNLEY, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Burnley and Arsenal at Turf Moor on October 2, 2016 in Burnley, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger turned 67 on Saturday.

His Arsenal side didn’t reward him with the present of three wins as the Frenchman watched them labor to a 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough.

[ MORE: Bradley’s Swans solid ]

The Gunners thought they’d snatch victory at the death but Mesut Ozil’s goal was offside and although they dominated possession, Middlesbrough looked dangerous on the break with Adam Traore, Alvaro Negredo and Gaston Ramirez all going close.

Speaking to the BBC after the game, Wenger thought his Arsenal side looked a little bit tired following their 6-0 win in the UEFA Champions League at home against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

“It is a game where you had a lot of possession but there were tired legs and you are prone to counter-attacks. You make it difficult for yourself. 75% possession but you could have lost the game, that is modern football.  When you are not sharp, you lack creativity in the final third. I must say, we gave everything but we did not have the legs today.

“The energy levels were a bit down but we were intelligent enough not to lose it. We were exposed at times. When you cannot win, you must not lose. They had chances but our goalkeeper saved us today. Petr Cech had a good performance in decisive phases. We tried. You don’t win on command though. We lacked our creative potential around the box. That is part of it.”

He was also asked if he plans to have a drink to celebrate his birthday. Wenger’s response was classic…

“At least you can have a drink on your birthday. When you win you deserve it. When you don’t you need it,” Wenger said with a smile.

Regardless of a small slip up and an end to their six-game winning streak, Arsenal sits top of the Premier League on Saturday after the 10 a.m. ET games.

Surely that’s reason enough to have a few glasses of Champagne, Arsene?

Christian Fuchs’ bullet a highlight for Leicester City (video)

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Leicester City showed the class of champions on Saturday, improving its Premier League standing with a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.

The King Power Stadium saw some dicey late moments thanks to a Yohan Cabaye goal, but first got to celebrate an absolute stunner from an unlikely source.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

While Ahmed Musa and Shinji Okazaki goals are more encouraging signs for the Foxes’ attack, it was a scintillating bit of work from Christian Fuchs that really stoked the fire.

Fuchs came onto a ball with Leicester leading 2-0 and lashed his left football through the ball for a venomous volleyed goal.

Bob Bradley “disappointed” as solid Swansea fail to take chances

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 22:  Bob Bradley, Manager of Swansea City claps the fans prior to kick off during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Watford at the Liberty Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Bob Bradley got his first point as a Premier League manager on Saturday but the American coach knew it should’ve been more.

[ VIDEO: Pulisic’s late goal ]

Gylfi Sigurdsson hit the post and Mike Van der Hoorn produced a fine save from Hurelho Gomes as the Swans drew 0-0 with Watford at the Liberty Stadium in Bradley’s first home game in charge.

Making five changes to his Swansea City side which lost 3-2 at Arsenal last week, Bradley made the Swans much tougher to break down as Watford’s striking duo of Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo barely had a sniff at goal.

Young center back Alfie Mawson impressed, as Bradley changed three of the back four who looked shaky at Arsenal last time out, and for most of the season.

Speaking to the BBC about the 0-0 draw, Bradley was happy with the second half display and Swansea’s first clean sheet in eight Premier League games.

“The second half was strong and we came out right from the beginning looking for a goal. It didn’t happen but there are a lot of positives. It was important to get a clean sheet and the play from our center halves was solid as Deeney and Ighalo are difficult to play against. This is a step we can build on,” Bradley said. “Alfie (Mawson) impressed and it is not a surprise when you see him day in, day out. He is strong, good in the air and I am very happy with him.”

“I think the team we picked today made sense, we had a solid game but we are disappointed. It is a home match so we want three points, but you see the chances we are creating and we can feel good and try to move in the right direction. There is disappointment for sure, but a shared feeling of an all-round good effort.”

If you look at the stats below, it suggests just how tight Bradley’s side was at the back, with the expected goals map showing a 0.4 rating for Watford.

We all know that Bradley will bring defensive solidity and improved organization but the fact that he has done it so quickly at Swansea will be a big bonus for the New Jersey native.

Bradley knows that the goals will come with Sigurdsson and Modou Barrow particularly dangerous, once again, but the main thing which will help the Swans climb up the table and away from the relegation zone is clean sheets and nicking wins.

With the next four games handing Bradley two tough matches and two winnable ones — they face Manchester United and Crystal Palace at home and Stoke City and Everton away — the Swans will look to keep it tight and take their chances when they come.

They didn’t do that on Saturday but the progress is clear for all to see. For a team who is without a win in eight PL games, they aren’t letting it impact their play as Bradley continues to whip them into shape.