United States needs big improvement for today’s friendly against powerful Germany

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Nobody is suggesting that U.S. Soccer should have lined up a patsy as opposition for Sunday’s 100th anniversary outing. But did they have to target one of the world’s top clubs, Germany?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s team has big work ahead in the second and final preparation match before three critical World Cup qualifiers this month.

German boss Joachim Löw won’t have anything close to his best lineup, still missing the men of European and Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich and most from fashionable Borussia Dortmund for today’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff n Washington, D.C.  But the visitors’ lineup will be oozing with quality, as the national team’s efforts about 10 years ago to kick-start a program getting dull around the edges has paid handsomely in filling out a deep player pool.

Sunday’s centennial match inside sold-out RFK Stadium is helping the U.S. Soccer federation marks its 100th anniversary; it can be seen live on ESPN2 and on Spanish-language UniMas.

(MORE: United States soccer history at RFK Stadium)

The match is also a “Klinsmann Double,” of sorts; the current U.S. coach was a legend as a player for Die Mannschaft, and later guided the team as manager to a third-place finish at World Cup 2006.

In German soccer, there may be just one name bigger in historical context (Franz Beckenbauer).

Perhaps only one nation (Brazil) owns a more decorated historical resume. Germany is a three-time World Cup winner (1954, 1974, 1990) and three-time European Champions (1972, 1980, 1996). They have finished as runner-up three times in Europe and four times in the World Cup.

They weren’t looking very decorated for a window in the last decade; Klinsmann was among the architects that restored Die Mannschaft sheen. Now, players like Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker or Lukas Podolski, or Dortmund’s Kevin Großkreutz may not even be first-team selections for  Germany, and yet they are stars in the world’s game, or something close to it. All are in D.C. today.

But Klinsmann isn’t concerned with legendary status, his or Germany’s, at the moment. He’s mostly concerned with correcting the mistake seen in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to Belgium. Everyone has focused mostly on the back line booboos, but possession was awful through midfield and chances created out wide were scant. Everyone keeps banging on striker Jozy Altidore’s ongoing goalless streak in the national team shirt and … well, in short, it was a night to forget.

(MORE: Which Jozy Altdidore shows up today?)

If the little things cannot improve, like sharper movement off the ball so that possession isn’t lost so easily, then it could be another long afternoon.

“We want to try to play simpler out of the back,” Klinsmann said, speaking generally. “Here and there we always look for the complicated ball into Jozy, into Eddie Johnson, and into Clint instead of just carrying it through the midfield, just playing it to people’s feet,  moving off the ball and keeping it simple. We made it a little too difficult for ourselves there, and if we do that than people get insecure and the passing gets insecure.”

Changes are surely ahead, starting with the addition of midfielder Michael Bradley, who was just into camp ahead of Wednesday’s loss and given the night off. He’ll surely be in his usual spot, as a connector between defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones and attacking midfielder Clint Dempsey.

(MORE: The United States clearly misses midfield “brain” Michael Bradley)

And it seems clear that Fabian Johnson (similarly late into camp and unavailable against Belgium) will be back into the lineup, possibly as a left-sided midfielder ahead of DaMarcus Beasley, who has found a second (or is it third … or even fourth?) international life as a left-back.

Again, this is one is just a friendly, but a trip into Jamaica is up later this week, and that’s where things get quite real. So, mistakes in the back need correcting, but the Americans must do more in the attack, too, and wean themselves from the continued reliance on set-piece goals.

“It’s a work in progress,” Dempsey told Soccer by Ives. “We’ll just keep creating chances and putting shots on goal, and if you do that you’ll get goals. But the most important thing is that we iron those things out.”

(MORE: Joachim Low weighs in on U.S. Soccer – and gets some of it wrong)

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.