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


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)

La Liga: Barcelona unbeaten after 29 games; Ronaldo scores 4

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United vs. Spurs in FA Cup semis; Chelsea-Southampton]

Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

Updated numbers for Barcelona’s current unbeaten run in La Liga: 29 games this season; 36 dating back to last season. The quest for the unbeaten league season is now just nine games from reality.

Perhaps even more impressive than the W-D-L record is their defensive record: 13 goals conceded in 29 games (they’ve also scored 74 and have a +61 goal differential).

Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Bilbao saw Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Co., go 11 points clear in the title race and all but secure their third title in four seasons, thanks to results elsewhere (see below).

Paco Alcacer opened the scoring after just eight minutes, and Messi made it 2-0 right on the half-hour mark (his league-leading 25th goal of the season; 34 in all competitions).

Real Madrid 6-3 Girona

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged four goals of his own to bring his season total to 22 (32 in all competitions), now second ahead of Suarez and three behind Messi for the Golden Boot, and in the process push Real Madrid (60 points) to within four points of Atletico Madrid in the race for second.

Ronaldo scored goals no. 1, 2, 4 and 6 for Madrid, with tallies from Lucas Vazquez and Gareth Bale sprinkled in between.

Villarreal 2-1 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid were the last side within touching distance of Barca — “just” eight points back coming into the weekend — but that’s no longer the case following a late collapse and a 2-1 defeat away to fourth-place Valencia.

Antoine Griezmann put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot in the 20th minute, but Enes Unal bagged an equalizer in the 82nd and the game-winner in the 91st. Atleti finished the game with 10 men after Vitolo was sent off in the 92nd minute.

Real host Atleti in the Madrid derby on April 8, a game which will go a long way towards crowning this season’s runners-up.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia 3-1 Alaves (Saturday)
Leganes 2-1 Sevilla
Real Betis 3-0 Espanyol (Saturday)
Celta Vigo 0-0 Malaga
Real Sociedad 1-2 Getafe (Saturday)
Levante 2-1 Eibar (Friday)
Deportivo La Coruña 1-1 Las Palmas (Saturday)

FA Cup: Conte “pleased” by Chelsea’s rebound after CL defeat

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The mark of a truly great team is not only found in the number of trophies won, but how they bounce back from failure.

[ MORE: Chelsea drawn against Southampton in semis; Man United-Spurs ]

After bowing out of the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday, Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea could have gone one of two ways during Sunday’s FA Cup quarterfinal clash with Leicester City — and for the rest of the season, for that matter. When Jamie Vardy pulled Leicester back to 1-1 with fewer than 15 minutes until full-time, the Blues had a choice to make: keep fighting, or fold under (more) pressure.

[ MORE: Spurs advance to FA Cup semifinal | Man United join them ]

To their credit, they were undeterred and booked their place in the semifinals, where they’ll face Southampton, courtesy of Pedro‘s 105th-minute winner. Following the game, Conte was highly complimentary (by his standard) of his players — quotes from the BBC:

“A tough game but we knew this. The last game at home we suffer a lot against Leicester. We must be pleased today. I saw a good performance and great character from my team. After the game in the Champions League when we spent a lot of energy they showed good heart to beat Leicester.”

“When you arrive at this point, every game is difficult. They (Southampton) have just changed coach but now it is important to be happy and to go for another game at Wembley. We will try to do our best to reach the final. We want to give satisfaction to our fans.

“I think that for us our target is to try and do our best. To work hard with the players. I must be pleased with the commitment of the players. If you can win a trophy it is important for a team like Chelsea. But the most important thing is for us to fight until the end in every competition. We will try to reach the final.”

[ MORE: Southampton see off Wigan | Chelsea complete the final four ]

As for Pedro, he believes scoring a goal of Sunday’s import will do wonders for his confidence, which could prove a massive boon in Chelsea’s quest to overcome a five-point deficit and usurp fourth-place Tottenham:

“It was a very difficult game. It was good for me to score for my confidence and to get to the next round.

“It was hard to find the pass in between the lines. Leicester defended very well and pressed high. It is difficult to win against this team.

“The most important thing for us was the teamwork and to make it through to the next round. “We have to fight in the next few games. It is a difficult situation for us in the league but we have to fight.

“We have a good opportunity to go to the final and fight for a place in the top four. But now is the moment to relax and enjoy this win.”

Leicester 1-2 Chelsea: Blues battle to victory

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  • Morata scores first goal of 2018
  • Vardy nets, score 17th of season
  • Pedro scores in extra time

Chelsea beat Leicester City 2-1 after extra time to seal their spot in the FA Cup semifinal.

Alvaro Morata gave Antonio Conte’s men the lead, but Jamie Vardy equalized to take it to extra time.

Pedro then struck to send Chelsea into the semifinal for the second-straight season.

Leicester started well and went close when Marc Albrighton‘s effort from the edge of the box squirmed just wide.

However the longer the first half well, the more dangerous Chelsea looked.

The West London club threatened on the break through Morata with Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses having plenty of space out wide.

Morata then made the breakthrough right on half time as Willian nicked the ball, surged forward and released the Spaniard who finished calmly for his first goal in 2018.

After the break Leicester finally came to life as Wilfred Ndidi picked out Vardy with a wonderful pass but the Leicester forward looped his header over the bar.

Albrighton whipped in plenty of inviting crosses as Leicester pushed hard for an equalizerand eventually broke through.

Vicente Iborra got on the end of Riyad Mahrez‘s cross and he was denied twice by heroic blocks but Vardy was on hand to tap home. Game on.

Substitute Shinji Okazaki almost got on the end of a cross soon after and at the other end Morata hit the post with an acrobatic finish… but he was in an offside position.

Morata was then denied twice by Kasper Schmeichel at the end of normal time as the game went to extra time.

Pedro was the hero for Chelsea as he headed home the winner in extra time to send Chelsea to Wembley.

FA Cup semifinals draw: Man United vs. Spurs; Southampton vs. Chelsea

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All four of Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Southampton have one final chance to win a trophy this season: the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Spurs advance to FA Cup semifinal | Man United join them ]

Man United and Tottenham reached the semifinals with wins on Saturday, followed by Chelsea and Saints on Sunday.

[ MORE: Southampton see off Wigan | Chelsea complete the final four ]

The semifinals draw, which was held immediately after Chelsea’s extra-time victory over Leicester City on Sunday, has pitted Man United against Tottenham with Spurs the de facto away side in their temporary home at Wembley Stadium. The two sides are currently separated by just four points (with eight games to go) in the race for second in the Premier League.

In the other semifinal, it’ll be Southampton versus Chelsea. The Blues made it all the way to the final last season before losing out to Arsenal. Similarly, Saints lost last season’s League Cup final, to Man United.

The games will be played on Saturday, April 21, and Sunday, April 22.

FA Cup semifinals schedule

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Southampton vs. Chelsea