FBL - WC2014 - QUALIFIER - USA - HON

Jurgen Klinsmann gets his lineup selection spot on again

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As the United States completed the 1-0 win over Honduras to pick up the full 9 points out of 9 possible in this round of World Cup qualifying matches, one thing became clear: not only has Jurgen Klinsmann found continuity in the U.S. lineup sheet, but also has fully capable backups in positions where needed.

In Salt Lake City, Klinsmann’s selections saw a slow yet methodical work rate on the pitch, plugging away at the Honduras defense until it cracked, with the opposition offering a few shots in return yet ultimately little danger.

Los Catrachos attempted to play for the 0-0 draw, funneling the U.S. into the middle where it remained considerably less dangerous than out wide.  It was a clear tactical maneuver, and worked for the entirety of the first half and into the second half.

Klinsmann’s lineup selection, however, continued to pick away until the dam gave way, and Jozy Altidore poked home from close range for the goal and three points.

Let’s look at the main talking points about the lineup Tuesday night:

– Klinsmann reinserted Jermaine Jones into the starting eleven, replacing Geoff Cameron who sparkled against Panama.  This was the easy route, as it would have taken serious guts to bench a healthy Jones, stick with Cameron and hope for more than just a one-hit wonder.  The main benefit of Cameron in the middle was allowing Michael Bradley leeway to venture forward into the attack.  With Jones back, Bradley disappeared again, but Jones was instrumental in the middle.  He fed the ball out wide, something which Honduras specifically attempted to prevent.

As the match went on, Jones pushed harder and harder to get the ball to Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson on the wings.  The boss made the right move here.  It’s wonderful to know that Geoff Cameron is there when we need him, and he’s probably got a better long ball than Jermaine. But Jones is the guy and his point guard play in the beginning of buildups made the difference.  Jones had a few wonderful runs on the ball as well that pressed deep into the Honduras territory.

– Graham Zusi returned, replacing Fabian Johnson on the wing, and allowed Johnson to move back into left back.  It’s not exactly tactical brilliance considering this was the first choice setup before Zusi missed out against Panama for yellow card accumulation, but the two paired wonderfully yet again and it proved a number of things.

First, Fabian Johnson has established himself as the clear first choice left back.  DaMarcus Beasley has had an up and down (but mostly up) last year with the USMNT, but Johnson’s ability to cover the back and contribute out wide up front makes him an invaluable asset in the starting lineup.  It’s why I named him Man of the Match against Honduras.

Second, Zusi again provided both during open play on the wings and on set pieces.  The U.S. has proved its most dangerous when the ball is either out wide and crossed in, or on set plays.  Ever since Landon Donovan took his sabbatical, Zusi has been at the forefront of both those situations, and his accuracy has not only given the U.S. a venomous attack, but it’s also contributed to revitalizing Jozy Altidore’s international career.

– It must be pointed out that now eight members of Tuesday night’s starting lineup are sitting on a yellow card, and thanks to this idiotic rule, a number of them will most likely end up with another in the next few matches and be forced to sit out one in the near future. Those eight are: Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Michael Bradley, Brad Evans, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson, and newly Jermaine Jones.  In addition, Geoff Cameron has himself a yellow as well.

Just by the nature of their positions, Besler, Evans, and Jones are probably the most likely to end up with a second.  Clint also early last night looked like he was on a mission to get his second, but settled down when he realized the referee wasn’t having it.

Thanks to relatively clean play, the U.S. has a full squad for Costa Rica on September 6, but Klinsmann will no doubt have to shuffle a few things going forward.  Mexico follows that on September 10, but the U.S. can theoretically clinch a World Cup berth with a win in Costa Rica and some help, so it remains to be seen how important the matches down the stretch are.

MLS Preview: Can anyone separate from the pack? Western leaders get big tests

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Shkelzen Gashi #11 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With last week’s draw-fest in the past and both conferences still jumbled, all eyes are on the top of the Western Conference with this week’s list of matchups.

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Three teams – Colorado, Real Salt Lake, and FC Dallas – are all tied atop the standings on 17 points. The first two respectively play each other. The final one crosses sides to play the 3rd place team in the East. Should this week go differently than last – meaning, fewer than the eight draws we were handed across Week 8 – some teams could find themselves with some valuable separation atop the standings.

So, who has the opportunity to make moves?

Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake — 9:00 p.m. ET Saturday

Each with 17 points at the top of the West, there’s plenty at stake at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Colorado is four games unbeaten, although it dropped points for the first time in a month last time out. The Rapids feasted upon underachieving teams during its three-game winning streak, but when faced with the leaders of the Eastern Conference last weekend, they needed a pair of comebacks to earn a point. Nonetheless, the Rapids have put their early-season struggles firmly behind them.

The Rapids have struggled against RSL in the recent past, losing the last time out in Salt Lake City, and sporting a 1-4-2 record against RSL in the last seven meetings at DSG Park. Shkëlzen Gashi continues to be the key for Colorado’s attack, having pumped 25 shots on target this season so far. For RSL, last week’s win put the demolition at the hands of Los Angeles firmly in the past, changing the narrative to five wins in their last six, a significant rise in form.

Toronto FC vs. FC Dallas  7:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FC Dallas also has a chance to go atop the West with a result on the road at BMO Field. Dallas’s grip on the West is gone thanks to a pair of flunks against two eighth-placed teams – a bad sign as the Jeckyll and Hyde season continues. They’re in a great place, but have also looked lost at times. All three heavy defeats have come on the road, and wouldn’t you know it, now they’re serving as Toronto’s May home opener.

The East has been a mire thus far, but for Toronto to sit third after three wins in an eight-game road trip, Sebastian Giovinco and company have put themselves in great position. Nonetheless, Greg Vanney said the club still needs to “prove itself” in front of its home fans, and those fans are sure to be up for it after the long wait.

D.C. United vs. New York City FC  7:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Two of the four teams stuck on 10 points in the middle of the Eastern Conference have a critical matchup at RFK Stadium Saturday. D.C. has gutted things out through the softer part of its schedule, but now a meeting with a team in the hunt will test D.C., who will be without the suspended Chris Rolfe after his dangerous challenge on Nick LaBrocca. If anything, the break could give Rolfe a chance to collect his thoughts after a slow start to the season.

They face a NYCFC team that picked up just its second win of the season last time out. Draw-happy early on, NY had lost three of four before the 3-2 win over Vancouver, a gritty win that took overcoming adversity after Vancouver went ahead, then came back to tie things up before Steven Mendoza tied things up with 17 minutes to go. This one’s a big one in the East mix, can anyone come out on top?

Elsewhere

Orlando City FC vs. New York Red Bulls — 7 p.m. ET Friday
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET Saturday
Columbus Crew vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Houston Dynamo vs. Sporting KC — 8:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 10 p.m. ET Saturday
L.A. Galaxy vs. New England Revolution — 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Men in Blazers podcast: Jurgen Klopp pod special

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog sits down with Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp to give you a taste of his new documentary on the eccentric German boss.

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Klopp hails “unbelievable” player performance to send Liverpool to Europa League final

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool gives instructions to captain James Milner of Liverpool during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Jurgen Klopp didn’t want any of the credit after Liverpool defeated Villarreal 3-0 at Anfield to send the Reds to Basel with a spot in the Europa League final.

“Wonderful night – a brilliant game from my side,” Klopp said to BT Sport after the game. “What power, what a performance, what attitude with the readiness, motivation, emotion in the game – everything.”

Liverpool held 60% of the possession and out-shot Villarreal 25-6, including 12-2 among shots on target.

“We go to Basel. We take 50,000, 60k, 70k Liverpudlians with us – maybe 100k – not in the stadium, but in the city,” Klopp said of the upcoming final. “Everybody is invited. It is a nice city by the way, close to my home! Let’s go there, create an atmosphere and do our best again. It is well deserved and I am really, really pleased for all the boys.”

Klopp, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany which is under a three hour drive from Basel, made the call to start Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can.

Sturridge was on the bench for the first leg against Villarreal when Liverpool was held scoreless and played the full 90 minutes in their loss to Swansea over the weekend. This time, he forced the opening own-goal and scored the second. Can, meanwhile, hasn’t played in a month due to an ankle injury, but he was a force in front of the Reds back line.

“The only thing we said at half time was that the first half an hour was a big emotion,” Klopp said after the game. “It was great but then the last 15 minutes of the first half we lost patience. We didn’t move them over the pitch as much and tried to go down the middle, but there was no space so we lost balls. We defended well though so nothing happened. The second half plan was to keep going with the emotional football plus using your brain little a bit more and in the end it was brilliant – wonderful goals. The whole night was unbelievable.”

“We have to create atmospheres like this in each Premier League game too.”

Barcelona’s Neymar left out of Brazil’s Copa America squad

RECIFE, BRAZIL - MARCH 25:  Neymar of Brazil reacts  during a match between Brazil and Uruguay as part of 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Qualifiers at Arena Pernanbuco on March 25, 2016 in Recife, Brazil.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Barcelona star Neymar has been left off Brazil’s squad for the Copa America, which will be played in the United States next month.

Brazil’s coach Dunga accepted the Catalan club’s request to use the striker either at the Copa America or at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August – and the Olympics won.

Dunga’s squad, named on Thursday, includes seven players under the age of 23 – all of whom will be eligible for the Rio games.

Dunga says “We are bringing a competitive team for an important tournament.”

Brazil is in Group B with Ecuador, Haiti and Peru and starts its campaign on June 4 against the Ecuador in Pasadena, California.

The competition, which is celebrating its centenary, will take place for the first time outside of South America.

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Squad:

Goalkeepers: Alisson (Internacional), Diego Alves (Valencia) and Ederson (Benfica).

Defenders: Daniel Alves (Barcelona), Fabinho (Monaco), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Douglas Santos (Atletico Mineiro), Miranda (Inter Milan), Gil (Shandong Luneng), Marquinhos (Paris Saint Germain), Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paulo).

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Elias (Corinthians), Casemiro (Real Madrid), Rafinha (Barcelona), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Lucas Lima (Santos) and Willian (Chelsea).

Forwards: Douglas Costa (Bayern Munich), Hulk (Zenit), Ricardo Oliveira (Santos) and Gabriel (Santos).