United States player ratings vs. Honduras

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SANDY, Utah – How the United States men did individually in Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium:

GK Tim Howard (7): Was only asked to do something beyond routine when Andy Najar got loose late in the first half, parrying the Honduran blast, and in stoppage time in pushing away a ball with a heavy-impact collision surely coming. Otherwise, claimed a couple of potentially dicey, low crosses after the break and beyond that … just offered some pats on the back here  and there for the inexperienced center backs in front of him.

RB Brad Evans (5): As a stop-gap defender, the Seattle Sounders’ utility knife did fine once again. But there were definitely times when Evans needed to be more aggressive with the ball, to turn and take on a defender rather than playing balls safely rearward, to push further up the wing the way Fabian Johnson was on the other side. This is where Steve Cherundolo was so sorely missed – because the veteran right back would have been more comfortable in adding further push up the right side.

CB Omar Gonzalez (6): Still some wobbles here and there in his game, like the bad give-away that led to an early Honduran free kick in a spot where no team wants to face them. Afterward was happy to distribute with the safety cap on, so to speak, allowing Michael Bradley and Matt Besler to direct the chancy stuff the rest of the half. A couple of nice passes early in the second half seemed to restore confidence to his efforts out of the back.

CB Matt Besler (7): Sure-footed, confident clearances marked a very good night for the emerging U.S. international, who was better than his central partner in this one. (And some of those clearances were quite important ones, not the easiest to handle, either.) Easily the better passer of the two central stoppers. One hiccup was a big one, dispossessed by Andy Najar, and the former D.C. United midfielder got a good chance out of it.

LB Fabian Johnson (7): Once again tucked into the left back slot (for the suspended Damarcus Beasley), Johson may have been the top U.S. attacker in the first half, combining well with Eddie Johnson in front of him and delivering several well-placed balls into scoring areas. Honduras paid more attention to Johnson after the break, but he picked his spots and was dashing once again into position as Graham Zusi dummied Clint Dempsey’s through ball, leaving it for the U.S. left back to arrange a game-winner. Defensively he was solid, with just a couple of lost challenges.

MF Jermaine Jones (5): Jones has been sharper with the ball; a few too many forced efforts toward Clint Dempsey or Jozy Altidore marked this night. And giving up two free kicks in the defensive third could have turned to disaster. He did have his moments, like winning a bunch of midfield headers, and like a big 33rd-minute run through the heart of the Honduran defense.  That one earned the United States a dangerous free kick and saw the first visitor booked. Managed to keep his cool despite some rough stuff inside. And Tuesday saw a return to some of the old communication issues with Bradley, as in, who holds the screening job and who pushes forward?

MF Michael Bradley (6): As usual, he called the shots in midfield, although finding the holes in a well-organized defensive midfield triangle (within Honduras’ 4-3-3) proved tricky. Pushed forcefully with the ball through midfield twice in the first half as a useful change of pace, something Bradley appears to have added to his game lately. Tried the Route 1 approach a few times with marginal success as the United States probed for ways through. Mostly, Bradley was his usual tidy and considered self in possession.

RW Graham Zusi (7): He was one of the main guys who “turned up the tempo,” as manager Jurgen Klinsmann said, after intermission. Rather tame in the first 45 (other than those sharp set piece hits, which are almost always well targeted), Zusi found more places to be effective. He suffered in the first 45 a bit from Evans’ inability to get forward more aggressively, which would have prevented Honduran left back Emilio Izaguirre from latching onto Zusi so tightly.

MF Clint Dempsey (6):  While Dempsey didn’t always find ways to be useful beyond the 18, and while he wasn’t always expertly linked into Altidore’s movements, he certainly managed to find opportunities near goal – which really is what Dempsey’s game is about. Probably should have done better with an uncontested header off Zusi’s corner kick just 8 minutes in. On the other hand, he probably should have earned a penalty kick during that mad scramble-jamble of the 64th minute, when his header near goal hit Wilson Palacios’ arm. Dempsey did work more into the game in the second half, and it was his shrewd through ball that sprang the only goal.

LW Eddie Johnson (6):  Started on the left, swapping sides from last week but in the same essential role. And he swapped liberally with Zusi throughout Tuesday. Drew an early foul for a U.S. free kick (but soon fouled Roger Espinoza to create an early, dangerous free kick for the visitors.) Found ways to put his speed to good use at times and was generally good in possession.  Johnson did fall asleep once on defense, and was beaten here and there, but that’s what you get when you ask a striker to fulfill additional defensive duties as a winger/midfielder.

FW Jozy Altidore (8): Where would the United States qualifying be right now if not for this guy? There was precious little room between Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares and the far post, but the United States’ brilliantly in-form striker found it with the well-targeted, calm and technical finish. (The U.S. striker also had a sweet finish in the 59th minute, but he was two steps offside on Dempsey’s through ball.)  Altidore was not as proficient as a week ago with the little flicks and the other technical work 20-30 yards form goal, but he still managed some effective target play. Oh! And the game-winning goal, of course.

Subs:

Brad Davis, 73rd minute for Zusi (6) – A swell run in the 82nd minute earned a great scoring chance on a free kick. Tracked back like a pro to help kill the game.

Geoff Cameron, 73rd minute for Jones (7) – By his third minute, had already delivered more telling balls forward than Jones. The guy really covers ample ground with those long strides. Another solid shift as a holding mid.

Edgar Castillo, 87th for Eddie Johnson (NR) – Brought on late for additional defensive help.

 

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.