EPL Team of the Year, what do you think?

Leave a comment

After the official EPL Team of the Year was announced on Sunday evening, much debate ensued about the selections.

Title winners Manchester United led the way with four players selected, however, there were some notable absentees as the likes of Michu, Christian Benteke and David Luiz all had stellar campaigns.

But let’s take a few moments to discuss the players who made it, and of course, lets us know who you thought should have been named in the team of the year in the comments section below.

Goalkeeper – David De Gea (Manchester United)

After a shaky first season in the EPL, the young Spanish stopper has come flying back into contention as one of the world’s top young ‘keepers. His slight frame is still an issue in the hustle and bustle of the English game, however a string of fine saves and unconventional stops using his feet has seen De Gea’s stock rise this season. Fergie put so much trust in the youngster and after a terrific campaign, the former Atletico Madrid star is firmly the No. 1 at United.

Right Back – Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City)

Solid, steady and ever dependable, the Argentine right back has had another stellar season with City. He has added a few goals and some asissts to his play, with lung-bursting runs from defense being his trademark. He has marshaled City’s backline — the best in the EPL after conceding just 31 goals all season — expertly and often cleans up others mistakes with consummate ease.

Center Back – Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)

The veteran defender won this award because of two things. Number one, he is back to his imperious best. Number two, he’s stayed healthy. For many, many years now lingering back issues have threatened to derail Ferdinand’s illustrious career at United. But this season he has been fit and raring to lead the charge for the title. With plans for a testimonial coming up and a new contract in negotiations, Rio should stay put for at least another two to three seasons on this form.

Center Back – Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham Hotspur)

The big Belgian defender came with a great pedigree, having captained Dutch side Ajax at a young age. His reputation has risen tenfold after a sensational first season in the EPL. He has chipped in with goals as well as showing off his versatility with composed displays at center back and left back. The conveyer belt of top talent from Belgium just keeps on coming.

 Left Back – Leighton Baines (Everton)

Lauded by many as England’s left back for years to come, the Everton full back has had a great campaign. Many just expect solid performances from him week after week, but Baines has also created more scoring chances than any other EPL player this season. Quite remarkable.

Right Midfield – Eden Hazard (Chelsea)

Bit of a surprise pick, but another Belgian star who has impressed in his first EPL season. Hazard hasn’t been without his controversies — banned for an altercation with a ball boy in the league cup semifinal with Swansea City –but on the pitch his fast feet and direct style of play has seen Chelsea’s attacking impetus improve as the season has worn on.

Centre Midfield – Juan Mata (Chelsea)

The diminutive Spaniard has quietly been the hero at Stamford Bridge this season, 14 goals and 18 assists has seen Mata become the heartbeat of every Chelsea attack. His chances with Spain’s national team are on the up and his trickery alongside the likes of Oscar and Hazard has seen Chelsea become one of the leading attacking outfits in the EPL.

Center Midfield – Michael Carrick (Manchester United)

Quietly going about his business, many believe this season United have won the title because of Carrick’s consistency. His vast array of passing and workmanlike displays have seen the Red Devils grind out 1-0 and 2-1 wins at their mercy, as Carrick’s covering in front of the back four has allowed United’s flair players to express their talent. Well deserved inclusion.

Left Midfield – Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)

The man of the moment, Bale’s inclusion was a foregone conclusion. He has played across the midfield and forward line, wrecking havoc wherever he popped up. Scoring 22 goals and setting up numerous chances for teammates with his pacey, incisive runs, Bale has become the complete player for Spurs. They will do well to hold on to his talents.

Forward – Luis Suarez (Liverpool)

He had to be in here. But not many will like it. 23 EPL goals and a wonderful player, Suarez is let down by his crazy antics on the pitch. After receiving a 10-game ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez’ time in the EPL may be coming to a close. If it is, he has ended it (playing wise) on a high with a superb season that has rescued Liverpool from mid-table obscurity.

Forward – Robin van Persie (Manchester United) 

A very, very close second in the Player of the Year race, RVP has scored 24 goals to lead United to the EPL title. He was brought by Ferguson to score crucial goals at crucial times, and that is what the Dutchman has done in abundance. He can go on to spearhead the Manchester United attack for the rest of his career, with an EPL title under his arm and an “I told you so” smirk on his face for Arsenal fans.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

2 Comments

Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

Leave a comment

The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

[ MORE: Player ratings | 3 things ]

Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw at Panama

AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco
1 Comment

What did we learn from the United States’ 1-1 draw in Panama City on Wednesday?

For one thing, that the coach isn’t going to matter without a number of your very best players.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT saw precious few moments of brilliance from its injury-ravaged side, saved by its soon-to-be all-time leading scorer, its 18-year-old star attacker, and its legendary goalkeeper.

But mainly, we saw that you can change the boss, but you need better performances to make a difference.

Limits of depth tested in ugly affair

Bruce Arena was without his best center back pairing thanks to injury, and you could argue he was without his best back four if you see Fabian Johnson as a left back (John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, and Johnson).

The U.S. also couldn’t pair Bobby Wood with Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey, and lost Sebastian Lletget to injury on Friday. Timmy Chandler has rarely thrived with the USMNT, but it certainly would’ve been nice if Arena had called him up for the second match alone (He was suspended Friday for yellow card accumulation).

Given the above, this was not a pretty match. You just have to hope this isn’t the result that keeps them from Russia.

Mexico, revisited (What game plan?)

This might be an unpopular take, but Tuesday’s loss was nothing more than the performance put forth against Mexico in Columbus.

The main differences? Tim Howard was there to make a tremendous save, and Panama is nowhere near to the level of El Tri.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The Yanks didn’t have a great plan other than to outwork Panama. This isn’t a big knock on the coach’s tactics given the lack of starting caliber players noted above, but once Panama flooded the middle of the pitch with fouls and tight tackles, an answer wasn’t provided by the players or the coach.

Plan B hasn’t been a U.S. strong suit for a long time, perhaps back to the finer moments of the Bob Bradley era. Arena got away with one on Tuesday.

Rough road ahead

This is something we know, but my was it reinforced: Winning CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers at home is a necessity, because there’s carnage and bad pitches on the road.

Perhaps that could’ve changed if referee Cesar Ramos brought a yellow card out for either team at any point in the proceedings. Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe were fouled as part of Panama’s game plan, and the Yanks’ beleaguered defense went with a similar plan as the sloppy match wore into the waning moments.

The U.S. is still in control of its own World Cup destiny, of course, but simply must handle its business in remaining home matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, and Costa Rica. T&T is next, and anything other than three points sends them into Azteca in a bad, bad way.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s 1-1 draw in Panama

Leave a comment

Player ratings reverted to old form after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Panama City, though fortunately one of the other U.S. tropes is dead.

That’s because “Christian Pulisic is the future” can officially be moved into “Christian Pulisic is the present”.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

The Borussia Dortmund teenager again manufactured the United States’ best moment, feeding Clint Dempsey for the Yanks’ lone goal.

Starting XI

Tim Howard  — 7 — Don’t know what he’s supposed to do on the goal, but his jewels save to deny Luis Tejada could be a World Cup saver.

Jorge Villafana  — 4 — One of the many star men from the win over Honduras was too adventurous and less composed. Bad combo.

Omar Gonzalez  — 4 — I say this in a way that ignores Timmy Chandler’s fine work in the Bundesliga: Is Gonzalez going to be Bruce Arena’s Chandler? Hopefully this is the last time he has to start.

Tim Ream — 5 — Had a bad time on the goal, and made several bad plays. But it’s hard to get a read on the Fulham’s man night because he bailed out Gonzalez and Villafana on a number of occasions.

Graham Zusi  — 5 — Gets bumped up a point for handling a very difficult situation, still adapting to right back in a match where Panama’s tactics were to attack his side. A better second half than the first.

Michael Bradley  — 6 — Nothing exceptional from the captain, but still an upgrade from his form under Jurgen Klinsmann. A little too deep in the formation on the evening, but that could’ve been the plan?

Jermaine Jones  (Off 75′) — 5 — Ornery as usual, his only successes came in standing up for his oft-fouled midfield mates.

Darlington Nagbe  (Off 68′) — 6  — This game looked set up for him to pick the ball up from Michael Bradley and dance into the midfield, but he only got a few chances as Panama’s tactics were aimed at fouling the Yanks’ two best dribblers in him and Pulisic.

Christian Pulisic  — 9 — A simply incredible bit of work to work two veteran defenders and assist Dempsey’s goal. Failing an unforeseen dip in company, Pulisic is going to be one of the most important players in American men’s history.

Clint Dempsey  — 6 — Scored the goal that earned the point, but otherwise fought to be a part of the match. That’s the sign of a legend, though, still finding a way to make himself matter on a poor evening.

Jozy Altidore  — 5 — Might’ve had a dozen touches in the game. Part of this was down to the U.S. aiming balls at his head and not his feet, but not his day.

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 68′)  — 6 — Dogged work rate from the Union man.

Kellyn Acosta (On 75′) — 6 — Some creativity on display in limited time

Paul Arriola (On 83′) — N/A —