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


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.

Sporting KC giving away creative “Bike Opara” bobblehead

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In his ninth Major League Soccer season, Ike Opara has scored just a dozen regular season goals.

He’s known more for his physicality in the backline, for creating space for teammates on set pieces, or heading balls on to teammates with slightly more fleeter feet.

But in June 2017, it all came together for Opara in a magical moment, where he beat an offside trap from the LA Galaxy and scored an insane bicycle kick for Sporting Kansas City.

Now, to honor Opara’s ridiculous goal, Sporting KC has announced the first 10,000 fans through the gates at Children’s Mercy Park on March 31 will get a “Bike Ike” bobblehead, with him in flight kicking the ball towards goal over his shoulder.

You’ve gotta love the creativity and fun the Sporting KC marketing department is having. Hopefully, Opara can give the team another memorable goal in 2018.

Van Dijk named new Netherlands captain

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Virgil Van Dijk has had a pretty decent last three months since moving to Liverpool, and the towering defender earned a new personal achievement on Thursday.

Van Dijk was named the newest captain of the Netherlands National Team, where he’ll play under former manager Ronald Koeman. Van Dijk’s first game as captain will be against the nation where he currently plies his trade, England, on Friday.

“I am very happy with it, it is a great honor to be the captain of your country,” van Dijk said at a pre-match press conference Thursday. “Everyone knows that Koeman gave me the chance at Southampton, I am very grateful to him. This is very special.”

Van Dijk’s commanding presence in the Liverpool backline and previous stops at Southampton and Celtic make him an obvious choice for captain, taking the place of the now-retired Arjen Robben. At just 26-years old, van Dijk could carry the armband for a half dozen years if he keeps up his strong form.

MLS All-Stars to face Juventus in 2018

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For the first time, Juventus will be taking on Major League Soccer’s best in the MLS All-Star Game.

MLS announced on Thursday that the six-time defending Italian champions will take on the MLS All-Stars in Atlanta United’s Mercedez-Benz Stadium on August 1, 2018. Juventus will be the second Italian club to play in the MLS All-Star Game, following AS Roma’s appearance in 2013.

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Since MLS adapted its all-stars vs. foreign club format in 2002 (with a brief return to the old East vs. West format in 2004), MLS has gone 9-6. Last year the MLS All-Stars lost 4-2 on penalty kicks to Real Madrid in Chicago’s Soldier Field.

Klinsmann: “I’m sure I’ll come back” to coaching

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Jurgen Klinsmann hinted that he could return to full-time coaching after the 2018 World Cup.

Klinsmann appears to be enjoying life as a full-time soccer dad after his dismissal from U.S. Soccer in November 2016, having taken home a portion of a $6.2 million buyout from U.S. Soccer for he and his staff. Speaking to Socrates Magazine in Germany, Klinsmann gave his thoughts on the Bundesliga, the German National Team, and whether he’d be back in the hot seat one day.

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“I’m sure I’ll come back,” Klinsmann said. “Right now I’m having a nice break, I enjoy it. I do not know when I’ll take on a coaching job again. I’m looking forward to the World Cup in Russia and then I’ll be back in action.”

Klinsmann has been linked with a number of jobs over the past few years, even before he was fired as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, including with Everton, Sunderland, and Club Tijuana in Liga MX. But instead, Klinsmann has remained in the stands, cheering on his son Jonathan at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup along with the rest of the U.S. parents in their section.

Following the disastrous start of World Cup qualifying and the fact that Klinsmann never took the U.S. to the level he promised, it is hard to see where he will go next, unless it’s a lower level, with lower expectations. Based on his work with the USMNT and Bayern Munich, he has shown that he struggles tactically and is mainly a man-motivator, which is just one part of the coaching package.

The 53-year-old former German coach and player also had a bit of a warning to the Bundesliga, after a particularly tough season in Europe. Three Bundesliga teams (Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig) made the UEFA Champions League, but both Dortmund and Leipzig finished third in their groups, dropping down to the Europa League. FC Koln, Hoffenheim and Hertha Berlin all failed to advance to the knockout stages in the Europa League as well.

“The recent development at the European level is not a good sign, it is important that everyone is aware that success is lacking,” Klinsmann said. “Recently, you have lost too much ground.

“It’s a very critical moment. There is a certain amount of satisfaction after winning the World Cup in Brazil and the Bundesliga clubs having done very well in the Champions League.”