United States v Honduras - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Life without Jermaine Jones: This central midfield doesn’t look so deep anymore


SEATTLE, Wash. — When he first inherited the U.S. Men’s National Team, Jurgen Klinsmann had the luxury of giving Michael Bradley, the team’s best central midfielder, some time off. Not only was Klinsmann committed to giving players like Kyle Beckerman a chance to work his way into the national team picture, the new U.S. boss also had players like Maurice Edu, José Torres, Danny Williams to evaluate. By the time Bradley and Jermaine Jones settling into the starting roles, central midfield seemed the U.S.’s deepest position.

Fast forward to today, and the U.S.’s squad suddenly looks thin in the middle, especially with the news that Jones will miss Tuesday’s match. The first choice midfielder revealed Sunday that the concussion he suffered in Jamaica will keep him out of the Panama match. With right midfielder Graham Zusi suspended for the match, Klinsmann has to find two new starters from his limited options.

“These moments happen,” was Klinsmann’s sanguine response when asked about some of his absences. In trademark Klinsmann fashion, he was more apt to talk about the new chances than the misfortunes.

“With every player getting an opportunity, for whatever circumstances — some players injured, some missing, whatever it is — this is the opportunity they get,” Klinsmann explained, espousing his general philosophy while speaking of Brad Evans’ opportunism. “You always break into a team by the fact something happens or you convince the coach that you’re good.”

As it concerns replacing Jones, Klinsmann’s squad has three players who could get the change to show the coach they’re good.

Sacha Kljestan, never fully embraced as a middle-of-the-park option under Bob Bradley, saw time centrally during pre-qualifying friendlies. Often playing in the middle for Anderlecht, Kljestan would be a proactive choice, enhancing the U.S’s ability to hold the ball and dictate play going forward.

Geoff Cameron, however, may be the most Jones-like player of the group. While it would be risky to ask him to replicate the ranging destruction that’s characterized Jones’ play, Cameron is capable of providing a physical (if deeper) complement to Michael Bradley.

Klinsmann was also impressed with what Cameron offered in Jamaica.

“The way Geoff Cameron jumped in and he played a number six was outstanding,” the coach said. “He helped us a lot there.”

If Klinsmann is looking at people who “convince the coach that you’re good,” do Cameron’s Kingston contributions give him a leg up?

Stu Holden is the only other central midfielder on the roster, but it would be a stretch to see him get the start. Perhaps the Bolton midfielder has impressed in training, but playing only nine minutes for the U.S. in the Klinsmann-era, getting a World Cup Qualifying start would be a huge step up.

The trio are a collection of imperfect alternatives, which isn’t surprising. There’s a reason some players start while others are understudies. Still, with the likes of Eddie Johnson having shown the ability to have an impact from wide, you wonder if switching to a 4-3-3 formation could prove helpful.

If central midfield is hurting, Klinsmann may elect to throw numbers at the problem.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

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Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

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

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]