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

source:

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

source:

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

source:

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

source:

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.

Giovinco strikes twice to lift Toronto FC to Canadian Championship (video)

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Sebastian Giovinco scored twice including in stoppage time as Toronto FC overcame Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla’s fantastic strike to win 2-1 in the second leg of the Canadian Championship at BMO Field on Tuesday.

TFC held the advantage after a 1-1 first leg in Montreal. The Reds advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Tabla, who just turned 18 in March, is an Ivorian-born Canadian youth international who now has four senior goals for the Impact.

Montreal veteran Patrice Bernier saw red in the 89th minute, putting the Impact’s chances behind the 8-ball.

[ MORE: USMNT Gold Cup questions ]

Toronto FC entered the match with a road goal advantage, which was undone in the quick flash of a left-foot, as Tabla dug a ball from underneath him and past a flying Clint Irwin to make it 2-1 on aggregate.

The goal was a double whammy for Toronto, which went to the break knowing it would need to score twice (or win in penalty kicks) to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League.

Yet TFC came back after a horrendous pass from Montreal, as Michael Bradley pinged a gorgeous diagonal ball to Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant recovered from a tough opening touch to bury his chance. 1-1.

And, oh yeah, watch this man work for his second…

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side¬†Ramat haSharon¬†in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona —¬†The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan —¬†Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer —¬†If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing¬†junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow¬†and¬†Eric Lichaj —¬†The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at¬†Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance:¬†Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati¬†vs. Chicago Fire —¬†The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance.¬†Upset chance:¬†Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs.¬†Sacramento Republic —¬†If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.¬†¬†Upset chance:¬†Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.