Jozy Altidore

Altidore, Johnson goals lead United States past Panama, to top of CONCACAF qualifying

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SEATTLE – And just like that, all the consternation of the Jurgen Klinsmann era seems like a distant memory, with the United States Men’s National Team’s 2-0 victory over Panama on Tuesday vaulting the team to the top of their World Cup qualifying group.

A perfectly executed a first half counter attack say Jozy Altidore finish a Fabian Johnson cross in the 36th minute, opening the scoring for the Americans. Early in the second half, Geoff Cameron lofted a ball over the Panamanian defense for Eddie Johnson, the Seattle Sounder finishing into the left of goal in front of 40,847 of his local fans, giving the U.S. their two-goal margin.

The win leaves the U.S. at the top of CONCACAF qualifying, their three points enough to leap-frog a Costa Rican team that drew, 0-0, in Mexico City.

In a game played without starting midfielder Jermaine Jones, we knew Michael Bradley was going to be important, and while dropping back early and orchestrating play toward a left side the U.S. seemed intent to leverage, the American maestro was quickly at his game-dictating best. But it was his drive, not his orchestration, that helped produce the first goal, with Bradley taking a 36th minute ball won by Cameron and snapping the Panamanian defense.

Bursting through midfield, Bradley drew the back line to him before playing wide left at the edge of the U.S.’s final third. There Fabian Johnson had all day to hit an indefensible ball across goal for Altidore. The striker’s third goal in as many games gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead.

(MORE: Five things we learned from the U.S. win)

Having controlled play through much of the half, the U.S. were right to claim the first goal, one that could have come earlier. In the third minute, Fabian Johnson’s half-volley from nine yards out flew over the Jaime Penedo’s goal. Three minutes later, a cross from DaMarcus Beasley whiffed on by Johnson saw Clint Dempsey’s own half-volley rushed by Carlos Rodriguez. In the 22nd minute, a cross knocked down for Bradley was headed for nylon had it avoided Dempsey at the edge of the six. By the time the U.S. broke through in the 36th minute, a series of chances complemented their constant forays down the left to cast them as the more effective side.

Panama, however, had their own isolated moments as they tried to exploit Brad Evans down their own left side. Left back Carlos Rodriguez appeared to beat him early before slipping on a suspect pitch, one that saw each side’s players in constant danger of going to ground. As the half went on, left-wing Alberto Quintero gave Evans problems, but with Panama unable to maintain significant possession, the Canaleros had far less success down their left then the U.S. had down theirs.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings vs. Panama)

After an initial feeling out period to start the second half, the United States doubled their lead in the 53rd minute. Beasley, on the ball near the center line, was allowed to cut in before playing forward to Cameron. The Stoke City defender turned before lifting a ball behind the defense for Eddie Johnson, who’d beat Rodriguez from his right midfield position. After settling the ball in the right of the box, Johnson used his second touch to finish far post on Penedo, giving the U.S. their 2-0 lead.

Although Dempsey nearly added to the U.S.’s lead in the 63rd while Beasley hit the post in the 79th, the Americans second half was defined by a confident control they had exhibited from the opening kickoff. Without Blas Pérez in the team for Panama, the visitors lacked a focal point in attack, though even if the FC Dallas striker had made the trip, it’s unlikely he would have changed his team’s destiny. As they did in Jamaica, the U.S. looked like a team that has come into its own, but whereas a second half blip forced the States to find some late heroics to win in Kingston, Tuesday’s game displayed a calm authority befitting the best team in their region.

Sitting on top of “The Hex,” the U.S. has CONCACAF’s best claim to that title, though if there are any doubts as to whether Klinsmann’s team is for real, the squad get another chance to silence critics next Tuesday. At Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah, the U.S. will have an opportunity to avenge their only loss of qualifying’s final round when they face the fourth-place Hondurans in Sandy.

Watch Live: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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