What we learned from the United States national team’s Gold Cup win over Costa Rica

5 Comments

Brek Shea found some badly needed relief

Brek Shea’s late, game-winning finish was calm stuff, but far from perfect; had Ticos’ goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton stood his ground and not committed to his left, the big U.S. winger’s shot probably would have nailed him right in the chest.

Then again, it doesn’t matter. Shea (pictured) did what he does when at his best, seeing a chance to run directly at goal. And then he manufactured a moment that mattered, turning the opportunity into a goal – and strike that will help keep him in the World Cup roster conversation. He needed it something awful after that startling poor afternoon against Cuba.

As we keep saying, this tournament is really all about helping to assess which players are moving up in the depth chart ahead of next May’s important roster decision. Speaking of which …

Some players are running out of time

Alejandro Bedoya and Michael Parkhurst, combining along the U.S. right side, failed to do much at all. And that may be it for them, because the matches are only going to get tougher, and neither have made an impact on the tournament.

Jose Torres was useful in the middle for a half – he played nominally on the left, but spent most of the evening leaning well inside – but his influence faded after intermission. So, like a lot of U.S. men, his evening summation rated a solid “Meh.”

(MORE: United States nicks Costa Rica on a late goal)

Chris Wondolowski probably needed to be more active and find another portal or two into the impact creation zone. But two previous, encouraging performances means the San Jose Earthquakes striker has more wiggle room. One unproductive night won’t kill him at this point.

Generally, the United States lacked for ideas on the attack. The contest begged for some problem solving; Costa Rica’s 5-4-1 was tough stuff to break down, especially on a warm, muggy night that demanded a certain efficiency in movement off the ball.

Stuart Holden still has a long way to go

The Bolton midfielder played all 90 minutes, and that’s a huge step. But his recovery remains a clear work in progress.

Holden’s technical work in the midfield was fine. It’s not like he lost the ball a lot or failed to track or “hid” behind opponents the way players leaking confidence sometimes will. But his choices on the ball tell a tale of flagging aggression, of timing that just isn’t where it needs to be. Overall, there is just a smidge of lacking confidence.

Too many of his passes were safe, and too many opportunities to drive forward from the central midfield areas were passed over. Again, this isn’t a deal-killer. He’s just not there yet.

Who had good nights in the U.S. shirt?

Beyond Shea’s big moment … Clarence Goodson had a decent enough night in the back, organizing the back line, steering away a few dangerous balls and joining the attack periodically. Michael Orozco, playing alongside, proved dependable enough.

Mix Diskerud, playing alongside Holden in the middle of a 4-4-2, was easily the better of the central pairing. Torres, as noted earlier, was influential in possession over the first 45. And Donovan had a nice moment here and there, none better than his savvy, early ball that put Shea clean through.

Young goalkeeper Sean Johnson made the big save that mattered, but his communication with the back line looked dodgy, as did a couple of choices on getting off his line.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

AP Photo/Armando Franca
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia