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.

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

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According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.

Diego Costa injured, but will stay with Spain squad for friendly

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Chelsea striker Diego Costa pulled up in Spain training on Sunday, and with the Blues in first in the Premier League and Costa in great form, there were obvious concerns.

With Costa struggling with leg and ankle injuries, the RFEF informed Chelsea that there was an issue, and Costa was pulled from training and sent for tests. X-Rays at the local hospital in Madrid were negative, and he’s rejoined the squad.

According to the RFEF, doctors will continue to monitor the 28-year-old and he will continue with the national team for the rest of the international break. With a World Cup qualification win over Israel already in the books and just a friendly against France to go on Tuesday, it’s odd that Spain would risk Costa moving forward, but they will continue to keep him around.

Costa has scored 18 goals this season to lead the Blues, and he scored in the win over Israel. Spain takes on France in Saint-Denis on Tuesday, with both teams leading their World Cup qualification groups. Spain has a goal-differential lead on Italy with both teams miles above the rest of the Group G, and France is ahead of Sweden by three points in Group A, with the Netherlands back in fourth.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.