Slow start leaves Mexico to defuse their own soccer crisis

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After the eight days of turmoil that has surrounded the U.S. and Jurgen Klinsmann, we’re very familiar with what goes into a soccer crisis. So let’s consider the U.S.’s rivals to the south, a team with a history of near-breakthroughs who were supposed to finally transcend CONCACAF this cycle. They won Olympic gold this summer, have as big a talent edge in the region as they’ve had since the late 1980s, and were expected to roll through CONACAF qualifying. Mexico was supposed to become a global, not regional power.

Instead El Tri sits fifth out of six teams after Tuesday’s 0-0 with the United States. Shut out over 180 minutes at Azteca, Mexico’s already dropped four points at home. And remember the qualifying cliché: You have to win your home games (even if nobody in CONCACAF wins them all).

That last part may be the most disappointing part of Mexico’s start. Their schedule hasn’t been particularly hard, especially when contrasted with their rivals’. The United States sit one point ahead of El Tri, and they’ve already finished what are arguably their two most difficult trips: to Mexico City and San Pedro Sula (insert nod to Saprissa here). While Mexico did just finished a historically troublesome trip to Honduras, they also failed to win home games against the States and Jamaica.

Mexico should have expected at least six points from these first three rounds, if not nine (given the talent on this team). Instead, they have three. Thirty percent of the way through CONCACAF’s final round, those results demand some kind of scrutiny.

That scrutiny isn’t about whether Mexico will qualify for Brazil – they will. It isn’t about whether they have the talent to meet their fans’ ambitions, because we’ve seen how this team performs when it’s clicking. The scrutiny needs to be about whether they’re getting the most out of their talent. Or, when they’ll get the most out of their talent.

(MORE: Omar Gonzalez – Man of the Match.)

And let’s be real about this: That kind of language is code for “is this the right coach?” Even typing that out, part of me thinks it’s ludicrous to question Jose Manuel de la Torre – a man who has yet to lose a competitive match. Yet when a team’s results not only fail to meet expectations but their play is starting to regress, you have to ask whether the side’s headed in the wrong direction. And if you determine it is, the question becomes whether the man at the helm is also the best man to lead their recovery.

It’s two months before Mexico plays again, and Mexican futbol will immediately start debating Jose Manuel de la Torre’s performance, he’s likely to survive until El Tri goes to Jamaica on June 4th. But three days later, Mexico’s in Panama, then they host Costa Rica ahead of the Confederations Cup. Particularly with those two road games, things don’t look to get much easier for “Chepo” going forward.

That’s why there may be some urgency here. If something is deemed wrong with the team, can the FMF risk it? Can they risk letting an under-performing go to two tough road matches with the possibility of coming out the other end winless through five rounds?

Of course not. In a Hex that’s looking deeper than ever, round five may prove too late to guarantee a top three finish without others’ help.

(MORE: A little luck needed to get result in Mexico)

That’s the process that will be going on the media over the next two months: Do we make a change? If not now, when? Where do we need to be come after June’s qualifiers? And is it worth waiting to see if that happens?

For a coach of Chepo’s stature, it seems unfathomable that three draws could guide him out the door. But the pieces are starting to fall into place.

You think the U.S. was in crisis last week? Imagine that plus Mexico’s expectations, plus a disappointing result against your arch rivals. Because right now, El Tri‘s approaching DEFCON 1.

Usain Bolt claims he’s signed with professional team

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A former world-record sprinter is set to take his opportunity as a soccer player, however, he won’t reveal which club just yet.

[ MORE: Three things from Man City’s Carabao Cup triumph ]

Jamaican athlete Usain Bolt revealed on Sunday that he has signed a contract with a professional side, although the 31-year-old wouldn’t state which club or where the side resides.

The veteran runner retired from track and field last year after winning eight Olympic gold medals in his career.

Bolt has been connected with several major European clubs in the past, including Manchester United — whom he has been a lifelong supporter of — and Borussia Dortmund.

Bolt was set to have a trial with the German side next month, although it’s unlikely that the Jamaican will have that chance now that he’s signed with a team.

Last month, he also trained with South African side Mamelodi Sundown.

Guardiola hails Man City as trophy haul begins

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LONDON — Trophies were expected to come by the bucket load when Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City in the summer of 2016.

It has taken deep into his second season to deliver his first piece of silverware, but Guardiola secured the League Cup trophy in resounding fashion as Man City hammered Arsenal 3-0 in the final at Wembley.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking after the game, Guardiola admitted the League Cup isn’t at the top of City’s list of priorities as they set their sights on winning the Premier League and UEFA Champions League in the final months of the season.

“It’s important. There are titles more important than this one, but we are so happy. Congratulations to everyone,” Guardiola said. “Big congratulations for all of Manchester City. From Sheikh Mansour to Sheikh Khaldoon until the last person and fan in the club. That is why it is important to win titles because maybe it is going to help us to win the next games in the Premier League to win the league.”

[ MORE: Kompany reacts to League Cup heroics

The Spaniard also played down the importance of his first trophy in England, as much has been made about his expensive rebuild of a City squad already brimming with talent after trophy successes under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini.

Guardiola thanked Man City’s owners from Abu Dhabi for sticking by him after a trophyless maiden campaign in England.

“I’m so happy but I am part of Manchester City. Every title we won, we won as a staff in the past. You are part of the group. That is why I am so happy for Manchester City because I cannot forgot how they take care of me last season when it wasn’t so good in terms of results and winning titles,” Guardiola said. “I cannot forgot. I will always remember all the club, Sheikh Khaldoon and all the people who helped to support me. It was so important. That is why Manchester City won.”

Another reason why they won was because City’s veteran core stepped up big time.

After a testing week which saw them lose in the FA Cup at third-tier Wigan, the hopes of an unprecedented quadruple were dashed. They’ll just have to settle for a treble now.

Captain Vincent Kompany was named Man of the Match, scored the crucial second goal and shackled Arsenal’s danger man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Sergio Aguero and David Silva both scored and helped City grab the trophy.

“These three guys plus Yaya [Toure], Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta a lot of names, they helped to be what Manchester City is right now,” Guardiola said. “It is special. Sergio, Vincent and David scored the three goals and they help us to understand what it means in the club. They won titles. They put pressure on us to continue to win titles. If you are able to win more titles in the future, the people who are coming here have to know here have to win titles. That’s why it is so so important. Especially for the performance. The first half was not good but the second half Vincent was all over the game, Sergio started amazingly, despite the brilliant goal the way he played, and in the second half David came back to how he normally is.”

Kevin De Bruyne, the star of City’s season so far, has now switched the focus to sealing the PL title as quickly as possible and focusing on delivering the Champions League.

“We have had a good season already, and now we need to keep going,” De Bruyne said. “We have this one in the bag and now we have to maintain the same focus in the Premier League and the Champions League. The potential for this club is amazing, and the way we play is probably one of the best in the world.”

Guardiola is now off and running in terms of trophies and you get the sense this is just the start.

Schalke wins 2-0 at Leverkusen to move 3rd in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) Nabil Bentaleb‘s late penalty sealed a 2-0 win for Schalke at 10-man Bayer Leverkusen, lifting his team to third in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Leverkusen was left to rue Dominik Kohr’s sending off in the first half as the home side missed the chance to go second and instead dropped to fifth, outside the Champions League qualification places.

[ MORE: Man City 3-1 Arsenal | 3 things ]

Guido Burgstaller fired the visitors into an early lead after a long ball over the top from Daniel Caligiuri. The Schalke forward did well to lift the ball over Leverkusen defender Panagiotis Retsos before dispatching past goalkeeper Bernd Leon inside the left post.

Leon Bailey came very close to equalizing with Leverkusen’s best chance of the half, but the hosts took a hit shortly before the break when Kohr was sent off with his second yellow card for a late tackle, minutes after earning his first for the same.

Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich brought on Argentine forward Lucas Alario after the break, and then went all out with two more forwards, Stefan Kiessling and Karim Bellarabi, for the closing stages.

However, the best chance fell to Schalke’s Breel Embolo, denied by a brilliant reflex save from Leno.

Retsos brought down Embolo in the penalty area, allowing Bentaleb to seal the win from the spot in the 89th minute.

Leipzig had the chance to go second later Sunday with a win over last-place Cologne.

Kompany felt he’d score, relishes League Cup win after injury troubles

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Vincent Kompany turned in a Man of the Match performance as Manchester City dominated Arsenal to win the League Cup Final by a 3-0 margin on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Kompany redirected a goal for City’s second of the day, and had a number of key interventions as he bottled up Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

The 31-year-old center back has been through the ringer in recent years, with injuries haunting his seasons. Kompany now has three League Cups, an FA Cup, and two Premier League crowns. From the BBC:

“It was a difficult game, but as much space there was for us and Arsenal, we did well and controlled the space and I am proud of the team. Winning 3-0 at Wembley is a massive result against any opponent.

“Before the game, I thought I was going to score. I came close during the game so there was some luck on the day, but also self-belief.

“I have been in the game for 15 years and I have been training well and supporting the lads when I don’t play. When I get the call I want to do the job.”