Osvaldo Alonso

Osvaldo Alonso: ‘I’m very happy’ for Cuban national team’s success in Gold Cup


SEATTLE — Despite not being able to play for his native country anymore, Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is not afraid to support Cuba in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He watched the final group match against Belize, an improbable 4-0 win that sent Cuba into the quarterfinals.

“They have to play now [against Panama] like they did with Belize,” Alonso said after Sounders training on Thursday. “I hope they go to the semifinal.”

It’s the second time in Gold Cup history that Cuba advanced beyond the first round. The other came in 2003, when a 2-0 win over Canada and 3-0 loss to Costa Rica was enough to advance out of the three-team group, based on that head-to-head result with Canada. (All three teams in the group ended on three points — Costa Rica had a plus-2 goal difference, while the others finished with minus-1.)

Under intense scrutiny every time it takes the field, mostly from people counting players to see whether any of the 23-man roster has defected to the United States, Cuba has held onto every player so far. When the team played in Portland, Ore., against Costa Rica to open its tournament, Alonso made the short drive south to watch the game.

“They’re focused. I don’t know anybody [who has] defected yet, but I think they’re focused on the game,” he said. “They want to win. I spoke with them when I went to Portland. They told me they’re going to play hard to be in the final.”

Alonso had only positive memories of his time playing with Cuba, despite life off the field driving him to defect to the U.S. He left the team during the 2007 Gold Cup, on an outing to a Wal-Mart in Houston.

He trained with Chivas USA for a short time, eventually signing with the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer Leagues First Division. After he won the USL-1 Rookie of the Year, Seattle Sounders FC picked him up.

“Always good things go through my mind, being with the national team,” Alonso said. “Representing Cuba is something good, but now I have to focus on Seattle. I have to forget Cuba. I’m not allowed to play anymore, so the only thing I have from Cuba is just my friends.”

Charleston, where Alonso signed his first American professional contract, has become somewhat of a haven for Cuban defectors. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Maikel Chang and forward Evier Cordovéz currently play for the Battery. All three left the Cuban team prior to a World Cup qualifier against Canada in Toronto in 2012.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to come here, to play in the MLS and USL — any league,” Alonso said. “I’m very happy for them, to come here and get the opportunity to play professionally.”


Klinsmann side-steps blame, calls USA-Mexico one of world’s best rivalries

Jurgen Klinsmann, USMNT
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The rivalry between the national soccer teams of the United States and Mexico is one of the fiercest and most unique of its kind in the world of sports. Anyone who’s participated in, or simply attended, a competitive fixture between the two sides will immediately attest to that.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

Speaking to FIFA.com ahead of Saturday’s clash against Mexico at the Rose Bowl, it’s quite interesting to hear current USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann describe the rivalry from his point of view, both before and after having coached in it on a number of occasions.

Before we get to that, though, Klinsmann had a bit more blame side step regarding his side’s fourth-place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, the USMNT’s worst-ever showing at the tournament for CONCACAF nations.

Q: What did you learn from this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, where you lost to Jamaica in the semi-finals?

A: There were so many things that happened in the tournament and decisions that were made that affected the outcome. It was difficult for the players to know what to expect. For Mexico and for Panama it was the same thing. The lesson is that you just have to roll with it and try to control the things you can.

What’s the no. 1 thing players can’t control? Who gets called into the team/plays in the games.

What was the no. 1 problem for the USMNT at this summer’s Gold Cup? Who got called up/played game after game despite performing very poorly. Ultimately, it’s what undid them in the semifinals and third-place game.

Just once — once — would it hurt Klinsmann to answer a question with an “I,” or “me,” or even “we?” The question was “What did you learn,” yet the answer always come back to “the players,” or “they,” or “them.” At this point, Klinsmann either believes he’s infallible, or he’s simply trying to see how many ridiculous statements he can get away with.

Q: You’ve been in the top US job for almost five years now and you’ve met Mexico many times. How would you define the rivalry between these countries on the pitch? Can you compare it with others you’ve experienced?

A: The USA-Mexico rivalry is one of the greats in world football. For me, it compares to Germany-Holland in terms of the intensity and emotion it brings out in the fans. As USA coach, it was a learning curve to understand how much this rivalry means to our fans. We had won some games against big nations, but the reaction from everyone to when we went down to [Estadio] Azteca and beat Mexico there for the first time was just amazing.

Q: What makes the rivalry unique?

A: What is unique is that there are so many Mexican-Americans living in the United States, so the rivalry crosses borders. We have seen many times in these last years that younger Mexican-Americans will wear a Mexico jersey to our game, and when we start doing well they take it off and have a U.S. jersey underneath! More and more they’re supporting us, and we hope to continue to win them over.

Klinsmann gets this one absolutely right. With the two countries situated right next to each other, the aforementioned immigration of so many Mexican soccer fans into the U.S., and the classic battles between the two sides over the years, USA-Mexico not only feels amazing to get one over on your rivals, but perhaps more than anything it’s avoiding that feeling of defeat, of embarrassment, of being taunted and haunted for days, weeks, months and sometimes years, that makes beating the old foe so satisfying.

Ozil, Coquelin: Arsenal can win the title this season

Mesut Ozil, Arsenal FC
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I suppose, in theory, that any Premier League club that fields a team could win the league title for a given season, so the above headline could have been written in reference to any one of 20 teams a few short weeks ago.

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Fast forward eight rounds of fixtures to the present day, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer with every passing week that it’s a three-horse race — Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United, who currently sit 1-2-3 atop the league — for the 2015-16 Premier League title.

So — and stick with me for just a second — why not Arsenal? [The crowd gasps loudly] Arsenal midfielders Mesut Ozil and Francis Coquelin believe the Gunners have what it takes to win the title this year, so why doesn’t anyone else?

Ozil and Coquelin, on Arsenal’s progression to title contenders — quotes from the Guardian:

Ozil: “We have a great team with many world-class players. Our goal is to win the Premier League and I think that this season it’s possible to do it, if we all stay healthy. But the season is long.”

Ozil: “I didn’t expect [Bayern Munich] to beat Dortmund 5-1. Their recent results show they are simply in great shape … But our victory against Manchester United was a sign: when we play and want it 100 percent, then we can beat Bayern.

“We are playing at home. Although we have respect for them, we don’t have any fear. We know how to score goals against Bayern and we can be successful. It will be difficult – but we have the potential to beat any team.”

Coquelin: “We proved a lot of people wrong. Inside the dressing room we knew we could do good things this season. We knew we could be contenders, but obviously we have to be consistent.

“We are getting stronger against the big teams. We beat City last season, now United. It’s all about consistency. The league is getting tougher, so we need to be getting results every week … We knew we had to put it right after Olympiakos and that’s what we’ve done.”

Coquelin is absolutely right — no one expected Arsenal to throttle Man United the way they did on Sunday. The Gunners acquitted themselves quite well, though it should be mentioned that Louis Van Gaal set up United to fail miserably with the immobile midfield duo of Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger against a quick, dynamic Arsenal unit.

[ MORE: “Super computer” predicts final Premier League standings ]

That’s not meant to take anything away from Arsenal’s scintillating performance, because they did exactly what they should be doing against a poorly planned side — that’s not always been the case for Arsenal against top teams. The Gunners will play hosts to Man City on Dec. 19; perhaps we’ll better be able to dub them contenders or pretenders based their showing that day.