Everyone take a breath: The United States national team HAS been here before. Every year, it seems

12 Comments

The rise and fall of national regard for Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team looks like a heart rate monitor, a continuing patterned series of sharp rises and steep falls.

And on it goes …

Fans and voices in the chattering class were about fed up last year as World Cup qualifying in the semifinal round seemed be wandering off the rails. But restoration of faith came in three wins to close the round and all was sweet peaches and plums in placid Klinsmann Valley.

Well, until a listless draw with Canada to open the 2013 calendar, followed by a stinker at Honduras. And we were all fed up again.

Well, until a determined and gritty night in Denver, followed by a determined and gritty defensive stand in Mexico. In a five-day period, faith was dutifully restored. “Say, when do tickets go on sale for Brazil 2014?”

Well, until …

A rising European power worked the United States defense the way a Belgian brewmaster works the lagers and ales. And now … well, you get the idea.

(MORE: United States defense exposed in 4-1 loss to Belgium)

But here’s some important information, especially as Klinsmann’s forces prepare for another toughie on Sunday against Germany, which might help supply some context:

This is something of a May-June rite for the United States national team, which seems to find itself getting dressed down annually once or twice about this time of year.

  • Surely everyone remembers last year about this time, when U.S. fans and media were falling over backwards about the 4-1 loss to Brazil? Even Klinsmann was hacked about that one; noting rather notoriously his team’s flagging “nastiness.”
  • In 2011, Spain delivered the punishing reminder of a yawning gap between the United States and global soccer’s ruling class. The message came via a 4-0 win outside Boston. Words like “thoroughly embarrassed” and “dominated” careened with a menace through the internets. A week later, a loss to Panama seem to confirm it once and for all: The United States would never win another match. Ever.
  • In 2010, a close loss to Netherlands in Amsterdam could be forgiven. A robust Dutch side did, in fact, go on to finish second in South Africa that summer. But a 4-2 loss on home soil to the Czech Republic was certainly a basis for fist-slamming concern, especially where Oguchi Onyewu was concerned. Too bad the warning didn’t seem to take; Bob Bradley’s faith in the big center back, who was recovering from injury, proved misplaced.
  • The first team was on the field in 2009, when Bradley’s team got conked on the head in Costa Rica, 3-1. It was a double whammy because that was a World Cup qualifier, and because it was painfully close to the 2009 Confederations Cup. Speaking of which, the United States lost its first two matches there by a combined 6-1 – Time for pitchforks and lanterns? – before the big summer rally, including a huge upset over Spain, a signature victory for Bradley’s time a charge.
  • The team was shut out three consecutive matches over 12 days in 2008, by England, Spain and Argentina (all quality teams, of course.) A scoreless draw with Argentina outside New York was the punctuation mark, and that doesn’t sound too bad – until you consider that Tim Howard had to wear two super hero capes just to keep the United States from being run plum off the field that night at Giants Stadium.

So, yes, you can see that this is something of an annual moment for U.S. Soccer. That doesn’t excuse a mistake-strewn performance against Belgium, and there are certainly problems around the field (not just in the back, by the way) that require quick address.

But if we can take a step back and inhale, we can see this, at least: We’ve all been here before.

(MORE: United States misses its “brain,” Michael Bradley)

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

Pete Christopher/The Oregonian via AP
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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

Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images
Leave a comment

They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

Photo by Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.