Preview: Confident United States expecting victory against Panama

4 Comments

SEATTLE, Wash. – The rhetoric surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann’s time with the U.S. men’s national team has always cast the coach’s tenure as a process, one that would require the program to regroup and reset before moving forward. Two weeks ago, as Belgium was slicing through the team in a Cleveland friendly, that process appeared to be sputtering, but after wins against Germany and Jamaica, confidence is high ahead of the team’s latest challenge – Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifier against Panama.

“We need to confirm what we’ve built over the last couple of games,” was Klinsmann’s assessment as the team arrived in Seattle, site of Tuesday’s match. After their 2-1 win in Kingston, the U.S. sit second in “The Hex” – the six-team final round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying tournament. With three teams advancing directly to Brazil 2014, the U.S. will take a big step to a seventh-straight World Cup with a win over Panama.

“We want to get three points on Tuesday night, badly,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a must-win. Every home game is a must-win. We know that.”

(MORE: The U.S.’s long trip, quick turnaround after Jamaica)

With the qualifying tournament just short of its half-way mark, the game’s far from a must-win, but with the well-established maxim of ‘win all your home games’ entrenched in CONCACAF lore, you wouldn’t expect a coach of one of the region’s favorites to say anything less. And while the math may not support Klinsmann’s urgency, given the progress the U.S. has made over the last two weeks, anything but full points would be a major setback. Against a team that’s never reached a World Cup, a draw could be a step back.

Panama’s chances of getting that result took were dealt a severe blow this weekend when Blas Perez was ruled out of Tuesday’s match. The veteran FC Dallas striker and Panama’s most dangerous goal-scoring threat, Perez was ruled out with gastrointestinal problems. The 32-year-old’s absence will make life easier on defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, who now will focus their attentions on Luis Tejada and Rolando Blackburn.

There are, however, other points of worry in the Panamanian team. In captain Felipe Baloy, the Canaleros have a defender capable of starting for any team in the region, his physicality capable of neutralizing even an in-form Jozy Altidore. In the middle, former Philadelphia Union midfielder Gabriel Gomez has always been a force for country, even if he failed to have a significant impact in Major League Soccer. He’ll be a major focal point for Michael Bradley.

(MORE: Bradley’s importance could be tested | Without Jermaine Jones.)

Even with those talents, Panama’s challenges down to a coaching truism. If Klinsmann’s team plays to their potential – if the team that faced Jamaica and Germany boarded the charter to Seattle – the United States will win. It will probably be difficult, as most U.S. games are, and there may be moments where a Brad Evans-esque player will have to unexpectedly step up, but the U.S. is beyond doubting their capabilities to do so.

The bigger question is how many of those of those capabilities will be at Klinsmann’s disposal. Jermaine Jones, the much-maligned midfield hard man whose become one of Klinsmann’s obligatory starters, is out while recovering from a concussion. Graham Zusi, so crucial in providing service from the right for Altidore’s recent goals, was cautioned in Kingston, leaving him suspended with after accumulating too many yellow cards.

The extent to which Klinsmann’s replacements click will dictate how easy the U.S. has it against Panama. In the middle, Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron is most likely to take Jermaine Jones’s mantle, his utility man’s ability to play central defense, right back, and midfield focused in support of Bradley. In place of Zusi, the situation is more nebulous, with Eddie Johnson, Joe Corona, and Brad Davis all potentially starting against Panama.

(MORE: “Adaptability” in action, just as Klinsmann preached.)

The biggest names, however, are there. Clint Dempsey will wear the armband. Tim Howard will protect the net. Jozy Altidore will be chasing goals, while Omar Gonzalez looks to continue his ascent in defense. With nine of eleven starters returning from the Jamaica match – and with Panama missing their leading scorer – there’s little appetite to accept excuses.

If the States win, they could very well sit top of the group through five rounds, the Hex-leading Costa Ricans facing a tough task in Mexico City. Any other result, and the States will be examining at themselves instead of the standings.

(MORE: Costa Rica plan plan Mexico upset, Honduras host Jamaica)

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

  • Columbus Crew SC win vs. New York City FC on Sunday and …
  • Chicago Fire tie or lose vs. Houston Dynamo on Sunday and …
  • Atlanta United tie or lose vs. Toronto FC on Sunday
Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).

Bilic, Fonte react to brutal home loss to Brighton

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Leave a comment

Jose Fonte tried to shoulder some of the blame after West Ham United piled more pressure on its manager with a 3-0 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Friday.

“It’s not only the manager, it’s the players as well,” Fonte said. “We have an unbelievable squad and should not be in this position.”

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

Fonte said he understands why fans are booing the club, which has eight points and sits in the bottom half of the Premier League.

Given the club’s summer spending, with Javier Hernandez, Joe Hart, and Marko Arnautovic amongst the buys, pressure’s been on Bilic to deliver the goods. So far, the Irons have not.

Bilic did not deny his role nor his responsibility. From the BBC:

“It’s very hard for me to say anything clever now. I take full responsibility for it. I don’t want to hide.

“It is not a good situation and the board will do what they are going to do. It’s their decision.”

Not a man who feels like he’ll have his job much longer, but is it fair? A lot of West Ham’s key pieces are new, but surely they are not a club who should be peering over its collective shoulder to see the drop zone.

West Ham 0-3 Brighton: Gulls fly past Irons

Leave a comment
  • Murray heads Gross free kick
  • Izquiero strikes from distance
  • West Ham blanked at home
  • Murray earns, converts PK

Glenn Murray scored twice and Jose Izquiero also scored to lead visiting Brighton and Hove Albion past West Ham United 3-0 at London Stadium on Friday.

The loss will do nothing to ease the pressure on West Ham manager Slaven Bilic.

Brighton moves into 10th with 11 points, behind Newcastle United on goal differential. West Ham’s eight points keep them ahead of 16th place Everton, also on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton took a lead in the 10th minute when Premier League veteran Murray lost Pedro Obiang and turned Pascal Gross‘ free kick across a diving Joe Hart and inside the far post.

Murray now has PL goals for Brighton and Hove Albion, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace.

West Ham had chances from Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, and — perhaps most dangerous, a left-footed rip from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez that nearly saw its way inside the far post.

And then… well, wow. Izquierdo darted inside from the left and hit his hard shot at Hart, who could only slap the ball inside his goal:

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Manuel Lanzini threatened with a slightly deflected 65th minute free kick, and the Irons wasted the ensuing corner.

A dizzying, creative run by Anthony Knockaert provided Murray a 1v1 with Hart, but a second touch allowed the keeper to close down the Englishman.

Murray earned Brighton a PK within a minute, unable to get past the block of Pablo Zabaleta. He took his shot well.