Data behind the U.S.’s 2013 defensive performance

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SEATTLE, Wash. — On Saturday, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked about the growing partnership between Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, one about which Major League Soccer fans have every reason to be excited. Both players have been brought up through the domestic league and, along with the likes of Graham Zusi and Brad Evans, are starting reestablish MLS’s influence on the national team. Remember, only three MLS players represented the U.S. at the last World Cup, with Landon Donovan the only one to make a significant contribution in South Africa.

Right now, Klinsmann could probably care less his new center backs play in Major League Soccer. Of course, he’s supportive of the domestic league, even if he stresses players continue to push themselves, even if that means leaving home soil. But when it comes time to pick a squad, it’s all about what you’re capable of doing, whether you play for an MLS cellar dweller or an EPL Champions League contender.

So no surprise, the U.S. head coach was full of positives about his center back duo, with Friday’s late goal the only score the Besler-Gonzalez pair has been on the field for in two qualifying starts.

Klinsmann:

“I think they’re on a very, very positive path. They’re gaining experience … they did very well. It’s a partnership that is growing, that is developing. We have other center backs there as well …

“The more they play together, the better their understanding is, the better they’re fine tuned and know what the other one is doing. We can do more work in a tactical way. So every training session helps there.

“But overall, we’re very pleased with the development of the back line and the alternatives that we have there.

(MORE: Klinsmann talks injuries, absences ahead of Panama)

Words are nice. Data can often be nicer. So we went back through the U.S.’s 2013 games and looked at the performance of the center backs, how they’ve done both individually and as tandems, and collected the numbers.

Here’s what we found:

Individuals – All 2013 games

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We didn’t worry about who was at fault for goals and whatnot. This is just goals allowed while a player was at center half (so Cameron’s work elsewhere isn’t included here).

(MORE: Remember Klinsmann preaching adaptation? Look at that left side.)

Omar Gonzalez has played every minute of every game at center half for the U.S. in 2013, including all four World Cup qualifiers:

Individuals – Final Round World Cup Qualifiers

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Chemistry being what it is, we also looked at how players performed as tandems. Since Gonzalez has been ever-present, this could just as easily be seen as “who’s fitting best with Omar”:

Tandems – All 2013 games

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The all games data is heavily influenced by the recent qualifiers, the Belgium and Germany games featuring seven of the 10 goals the US has conceded this year. Without the Germany game, the Besler-Gonzalez duo has only conceded once in 270 minutes.

Tandems – Final Round World Cup Qualifiers

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There isn’t enough data here to be meaningful, particularly considering the snow game. The Gonzalez-Goodson pairing in Commerce City had the benefit of defending in a blizzard.

(MORE: Quick turnaround, long trip between Jamaica, Seattle)

What does all the data tell us? Not much. We see some positives with Besler and Gonzalez, some negatives with Cameron, and not enough information on Goodson, but they’re merely interesting results – not enough to serve as a basis for any conclusions.

A better basis, until we get more results: Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez look good. They’re the pair that seem most-capable of keeping goals off the board. That’s why they’ll almost surely start together on Tuesday night.

PL Preview: Manchester City vs. Newcastle

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  • Newcastle has lost 8 PL away matches in a row
  • Man City last lost at home in PL play to Chelsea in Dec 2016
  • Newcastle has picked up 1 of a possible 30 points vs. PL top half this season

Manchester City has a great chance to rebound from its first loss of the season as they host struggling Newcastle at the Etihad on Saturday, live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

The Magpies have picked up their terrible mid-season form of late, but still remain just three points above the drop. They are unbeaten in three, with a win and two draws, and have lost just once in their last five.

Through Newcastle’s losing streak, the Magpies struggled to keep the ball out of their own net, with defensive issues all over the place. They suffered through a nine-game winless run where they conceded 19 goals. However, of late, the roles have reversed, and suddenly they can’t score. In their last four games, they have just two goals.

City, meanwhile, have a few injuries to deal with on the defensive side of things, where they cannot afford them. Fabian Delph went down in the last match and could be out for significant time, along with Vincent Kompany who continues to show his age and history of fitness issues.

INJURIES: Manchester City – OUT: Fabian Delph (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee). QUESTIONABLE: David Silva (illness), Vincent Kompany (fitness). Newcastle – OUT: Jesus Gamez (ankle). QUESTIONABLE: Dwight Gayle (knock).


What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on build-up of injuries: “In these situations, it always depends on the mentality of the players, if they can make a step forward. If they can they play in positions that are not natural positions and the other guys help them, everything is going well.”

Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez on not having a full squad: “When you have a short blanket, if you pull it to your face, your feet are cold, if you cover your feet, your top half is cold.”

Prediction

Newcastle has been ok of late, but not nearly enough to keep Manchester City out of the back of the net. This could get ugly, with the Citizens looking to rebound from their season’s first loss. 3-0 Man City with the possibility that it could get much worse if Newcastle gives up.

PL Preview: Burnley vs. Manchester United

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  • Burnley has 1 win vs. Man United in last 23 meetings
  • Manchester United has not conceded a goal in 2018
  • Paul Pogba is joint-top of the league with 9 assists

A critical top of the table battle comes our way from Turf Moor (!!) on Saturday as Manchester United travels to Burnley live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

WATCH LIVE, HERE

Since losing at Chelsea back in early November, Manchester United in unbeaten away from home and has won four of the five road matches. Burnley, meanwhile, has lost three matches in a row to start the new year and has not won in Premier League play since December 12th against Stoke City.

The goalscoring form of each team is also in stark contrast. Manchester United has not allowed a goal in any competition in 2018, and last conceded back on Boxing Day in a 2-2 draw with this Burnley side. The Clarets, meanwhile, have just one goal in their last three Premier League games and just three goals in their last six.

INJURIES: Burnley – OUT: Chris Wood (knee), Stephen Ward (knee), Jonathan Walters (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Chris Taylor (ribs). Manchester United – OUT: Daley Blind (undisclosed), Eric Bailly (ankle), Michael Carrick (heart), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee). QUESTIONABLE: Marouane Fellaini, Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Burnley manager Sean Dyche on the gap in riches between clubs: “I don’t think any of us are surprised by the gap in the Premier League – I think it’s been there a long time and it’s getting harder year on year since the business model of football has changed.”

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho on focusing despite transfer rumors: “In this moment, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan our player, [Alexis] Sanchez an Arsenal player and with a match tomorrow, I want to switch off and focus on the most important thing, which is the match.”

Prediction

Burnley may be coming back down to Earth, but they are still a formidable team with great organization, and Manchester United will be once again held to a draw, this time 1-1.

Alexis Sanchez in Arsenal squad, could play vs Crystal Palace

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Ahead of his nearly imminent move away from the Emirates, Alexis Sanchez could make an appearance for Arsenal against Crystal Palace this weekend as he was with the squad at the team hotel on Friday night, according to reports in England.

According to the reports, Arsene Wenger has not decided if he will play Sanchez against Palace or not, as any potential injury could seriously jeopardize any outgoing transfer in the works. However, naming him to the bench and allowing Sanchez to make one last appearance in front of the home fans would be a nice touch before he leaves, likely for Manchester United.

It probably doesn’t help Wenger’s selection that oft-injured Danny Welbeck will miss the match after picking up a muscle problem in training.

Sanchez did not travel with the team to Bournemouth last weekend as Arsenal lost 2-1 in stunning fashion. Sanchez has missed four Premier League games this season, and Arsenal has lost three of them.

The reports state Sanchez trained with the Arsenal first team on Friday, but only because the youth team he trained with the day before had left for a road trip.

Reports: LA Galaxy trades Gyasi Zardes to Columbus for Ola Kamara

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According to a reports by the LA Times and by ESPN, the LA Galaxy have traded US international Gyasi Zardes along with allocation money to the Columbus Crew for striker Ola Kamara.

Both reports state that Columbus will receive $400,000 in guaranteed allocation money in the deal, plus another $100,000 should Kamara score 12 goals next season to trigger the incentive.

Zardes was once a force along the wing for Bruce Arena and the Galaxy, but the 26-year-old has declined heavily in the last two seasons as injuries and poor form have held him to just eight goals over the last two seasons, including just two last campaign. Meanwhile, Kamara has been a star for Columbus in his first two years in Major League Soccer, scoring 16 goals in 2016 before netting another 18 last season, leaving him third in the league in goals scored over those two seasons.

The LA Times report states that Kamara will earn a new contract after the trade, giving him a raise over his current $482,500 yearly salary.

Zardes is an interesting case who shouldn’t be given up on just yet. A homegrown player for the Galaxy, he scored 17 goals in the 2014 season, including on in the MLS Cup Finals as the Galaxy won it all. He earned a seemingly permanent place on the USMNT as a result, and has 37 caps to this date. However, his goalscoring form has since evaporated, leaving him with no more than six goals in an MLS season since, and has just six goals in those 37 caps for the national team.

The Galaxy will need to acquire an additional international roster spot in order to activate Kamara for the season opener on March 4th against Portland, as they have filled up their seven spots as of now.