Jurgen Klinsmann, Eddie Johnson

Will the fabled German lean to pragmatism prevail for Jurgen Klinsmann against Mexico?


Mexico is reeling, clearly, and the United States is in a better place thanks to a restorative, memorable achievement Friday. Given the initiative in the Jurgen Klinsmann era to press the attack, to pressure teams high up the field – heck, ambitious attacking is in the German manager’s DNA – this might look like the perfect place to carpe that doggone diem and knock the staggering opponents onto their Mexican keesters.

But is it?

In reality, nothing has changed in terms of an American team still missing lots of first-choice defensive pieces.

And nothing has changed in terms of Azteca Stadium being tough as razor wire for collecting points. This is still Mexico, a talented collection even when reduced to a place of lesser confidence. This is still Mexico City, burdened with the thin air (7,200 feet) and smog so thick a U.S. player once told me it was like playing inside a smoky bar.

This is still a stadium of abundant mystique, where Mexico has historically dominated, never mind that draw last month with Jamaica.

(MORE: PST general match preview for  U.S.-Mexico)

A more pragmatic approach seems in order here. After all, even a draw in Mexico City would be seen as a “win” for everyone involved. There’s no question that Klinsmann’s men would feel OK about taking a point from tonight’s match – leaving the Mexicans with just three points from a possible nine, disappointing 105,000 or so fans on hand and stacking yet more hardship on embattled El Tri manager José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre.

That’s not to say the United States should “park the bus” at Azteca, sitting back in an overly defensive crouch and hoping to tie. Klinsmann will always be hard-wired for the win … but how they go after it needs tweaking for this one.

Inside a building where the team owns a meager 1-19-1 record, the tactics and lineups just need prudent adjustment into something slightly less aggressive, perhaps akin to the useful setup that guided his team into a confidence-inspiring win in Italy last year.

That lineup included three defensive-minded midfielders (Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Danny Williams) along with just one striker (Jozy Altidore). Similarly, Klinsmann assigned three midfielders (Williams, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones) to fairly deep roles last August as the United States upset El Tri, 1-0.

It just makes sense to lean a little more defensive in this one. Who cares if critics complain that defensively inclined tactics look too similar to the way of former manager Bob Bradley? Bradley was a good manager, after all, who guided the team to second-round appearance at World Cup 2010. Yes, his tactics were predictable and conservative – and so what?

Klinsmann arrived with a mandate of moving the program forward, of incorporating more creativity and a set-up meant to seize greater initiative. But that shouldn’t be done in a vacuum. No one should be hell-bent to attack to such an extent that all practicality goes out the Mexico City window.

A young United States defense didn’t gain that much experience over 90 character-testing minutes in snowy Denver. Omar Gonzalez, talented as he is stall, and the other young defenders still need protection from positions ahead of them.  And that back line probably needs a lineup adjustment.

Converted midfielder DaMarcus Beasley was the right choice for a home match against a defensively dug-in opponent. That much was clear from the first 30 minutes Friday – the only period of a unique contest where any discernible tactical shape was evident, before deteriorating conditions made it strictly a game of will, wits and ball-winning.

source: ReutersBut Klinsmann should opt for real defenders in this one. Which is why Maurice Edu should be along the U.S. back line, or perhaps one of the younger, true fullbacks, like Justin Morrow. That’s also why Geoff Cameron should remain at right back, helping to pack as much defensive instinct as possible along the back line.

There is still Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez (pictured, on right) to deal with.

Playing Beasley further up the field might make sense; he knows the Mexican game and never has a problem honoring defensive duty out of midfield.

None of this is to say the United States should not try to win; but the way Klinsmann and Co. looks for another historic achievement needs wise management.

For instance, in Clint Dempsey the United States has a man who knows how to manage his fitness (limited, having just come off injury with Tottenham), who understands how to select his moments, and who can still go claim a huge goal even when not at his best. That’s exactly what we saw from the current U.S. captain Friday with an immense strike at DSG Park.

So, they could manage with one fewer offensive type in the starting XI.

To keep the score low, protect the defense, look to pick off a goal and get out of Azteca with a point (or, with some luck, all three) would be monumental. It would leave the U.S. drive for Brazil 2014 in a good place.

The only way to erase all the progress in improved team accord made last week would be to take a 3-0 or 4-0 beating in Mexico City – and who north of the border wants to see that?

MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas 2-2 (3-5 agg.) Portland Timbers

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers are headed to their first MLS Cup in club history after defeating FC Dallas, 5-3 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (2-2 draw in the second leg). Fanendo Adi scored in Sunday’s second leg, giving Caleb Porter’s side a 4-1 aggregate lead before Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez scored inside the last 25 minutes to give Oscar Pareja’s bunch a late lifeline, but Lucas Melano’s spectacular tap-in sealed the Timbers’ trip to MLS Cup. The third seed heading into the playoffs, Portland bounced Sporting Kansas City in an epic penalty shootout in the knockout round and outlasted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals before knocking off the West’s top seed over two legs to advance to MLS Cup 2015. No matter who advances from the East finals later on Sunday, Portland will play away in MLS Cup, to either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

54′ — Adi fires past Gonzalez to make if 4-1 — Oscar Pareja elected to go with Walker Zimmerman at center back on Sunday, dropping regular starter Zach Loyd to the bench. On the game’s opening goal, it was Zimmerman who wound up on the ground as Adi received the ball, turned and fired a massive away goal past Jesse Gonzalez.

68′ — Diaz’s magical ball curled home by Hollingshead — Mauro Diaz is a wonderful magician capable of playing the kill through ball from anywhere on the field — this we’ve known for quite some time. His chipped through ball to set up Hollingshead’s goal was extraordinarily brilliant, even for him.

73′ — Perez heads home the free kick to pull within one — Would you be surprised to hear that it was Diaz who set up FCD’s second goal? His free kick was Perez-finding missile and found the head of the Panamanian striker at the top of the six-yard box, where 34-year-old headed home with ease.

90+5′ — Melano rounds Gonzalez, seals MLS Cup berth — Poor Jesse Gonzalez. Absolutely schooled and posterized by Lucas Melano. What a way to sew up a place in the championship final.

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

Man of the match: Mauro Diaz

Goalscorers: Adi (54′), Hollingshead (68′), Perez (73′), Melano (90+5′)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Arsenal’s injury crisis — add Sanchez, Cazorla, Koscielny to the list

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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From title challengers to just hoping to hold on to a top-four place while Arsene Wenger is forced to play reserves and academy players because half of his star players are currently out injured — the annual story of Arsenal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Oct. 27, when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both went down with injuries in the same game, marked the unofficial start of Arsenal’s 2015-16 injury crisis, but things didn’t really get going full bore until the last seven days, when five more players — four of them full-time starters — picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for anywhere between three weeks and three months.

Added to the list last weekend: Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks)

Added to the list on Sunday: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – MORE DETAILS), Santi Cazorla (knee), Laurent Koscielny (hip)

Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, Wenger said Koscielny “could not walk” due to the hip spasm that forced him out of the game after just 11 minutes. He also divulged that Cazorla, who could not be subbed off because Wenger had already used all three subs late on, played the second half “on one leg.” Sanchez came into Sunday injured after picking up a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Arsenal fans were up in arms during the summer transfer window — let’s be honest, the following is true of every transfer window the last five years — crying out, “We must buy, we must buy.” Have a look at Arsenal’s complete injury list at the moment, and try to say, “They didn’t need to buy in the summer.”

In chronological order: Danny Welbeck (knee – early 2016 return), Tomas Rosicky (knee – Christmas time return), Jack Wilshere (leg – Christmas time return), Theo Walcott (calf – December return), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks), Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Laurent Koscielny (hip – to be assessed), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – to be assessed), Santi Cazorla (knee – to be assessed)

WATCH: PL Download — Crystal Palace: South London and Proud

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Check out the latest episode of Premier League Download, a look inside Crystal Palace and the club’s passionate supporters.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Win, lose or draw it’s always a party for the fans of Crystal Palace and Roger Bennett travels to Selhurst Park to learn how the beloved team went from Championship strugglers to a Premier League success story.

[ WATCH: Past episodes of PL Download ]