Preview: US hope to rout minnows Belize in Gold Cup opener

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  • USA and Belize have never played eachother
  • Belize’s population is 335,000, roughly the size of St. Louis
  • Landon Donovan notched his 50th and 51st US goals against Guatemala last week

The US national team will begin their quest for Gold Cup success this evening in Portland, as the host the small Central American nation of Belize. The crowd at JELD-WEN Field are sure to create a raucous atmosphere, as the Timbers Army and American Outlaws go all out to welcome the USA back to Portland for the first-time since 1997.

For Belize, it is their first-ever trip to the Gold Cup, with American coach Ian Mork in charge of the tiny soccer nation. While Jurgen Klinsmann’s much-changed US side are looking to get off to a dominant start in their Group C opener.

Elsewhere in the group, Costa Rica play Cuba which begins at 8:30 pm ET, also up in the Rose City.

Despite the US having a ‘B’ squad available, the Yanks’ reserves should comfortably wipe the floor with the Jaguars. The USA’s diverse roster has several different clusters of players, with experienced pros and young upstarts all looking to edge their way into Klinsmann’s World Cup 2014 plans.

 

(MORE: Which U.S. men may go from Gold Cup to World Cup)

Tuesday night’s clash will mark the first-ever meeting between the US and Belize, while the USA have played in Portland on three prior occasions, grabbing two wins and a draw.

We all remember the demoralizing 4-2 defeat in the 2011 Gold Cup final to Mexico. After racing into a 2-0 lead at the Pasadena Rose Bowl, Bob Bradley’s men imploded in the second half and that was to be his last act as USMNT manager.

After that debacle, only five players who were involved in the 2011 final defeat are included in Klinsmann’s 23-man roster, with veterans Landon Donovan, Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu all looking to make amends. Despite everyone wanting and expecting Gold Cup success this summer, US fans will be keen to see which players can adapt and morph into a key component of Klinsmann’s new system. Stuart Holden, Mix Diskerud and Jose Torres have shown glimpses that they can force their way into the midfield picture, this Gold Cup is huge for them.

No doubt, the squad assembled will be going flat out to try and better the achievements of the US national teams three wins from three in the recent CONCACAF Hexagonal qualifying round.

After smashing Guatemala for six last time out, Klinsmann’s hybrid squad looked hungry and defiant to stake their claim for the Gold Cup trophy. It all starts in front of the partisan crowd at JELD-WEN Field at 11pm ET this evening on Fox Soccer.

While Belize will simply be hoping to keep the score respectable against the US and Costa Rica in their first group games before meeting their final game against Cuba. They’re ranked No. 130 in the latest FIFA rankings and have only been a member of the governing body at all since 1986.

The Jaguars qualified for this year’s tournament after a fourth-placed finish in the Copa Centroamericana in January, after beating Nicaragua 2-1 in the group stage keyed by Deon McCauley’s injury-time winner. It was Belize’s first Centroamericana win in 23 tries.

Striker McCauley is their biggest hope for success, and he is still the leading scorer in the current CONCACAF World Cup qualifying round with 11 goals, despite Belize crashing out in the second round way back in 2011.

OTHER NOTES: The USA’s biggest win in an international match came against Barbados on June 15, 2008, when the Nats won 8-0. Can they top that tonight?

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

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Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.