Looking forward, United States in good shape for Gold Cup’s final rounds


That was the last of the U.S.’s warmups. With the exception of the last group game against Costa Rica, a match with the convenient safety net of having already qualified for the quarterfinals, the Gold Cup’s been a walk. The U.S. is 4-0-0 and has a +14 goal difference, the kind of dominance that had us drooling over the Mexico’s team during the last tournament (El Tri was also +14 after four matches). If this wasn’t a weaker, in-World Cup Qualifying Gold Cup, U.S. fans would be doing back flips over the team’s performance.

But it is a down Gold Cup, meaning there’s only so much we can take beyond the confines of this six-match gauntlet. Within those confines, however, we can ask how ready this U.S. team is for the big step up that’s about to happen.

Come the semifinals, there are not more El Salvadors, and the days of Belize and Cuba are long gone. Panama and Mexico occupy one side of the bracket, while the U.S. face either an always difficult Honduras or a Costa Rican team unlikely to rest Álvaro Saborío and Michael Barrantes on the bench again. All have World Cup-caliber talent. All have a chance to win this tournament.

If today was any indication, however, the U.S. appears to be in good shape. They look as good as anybody other team in the tournament, and if it wasn’t for a couple of uncertain moments from a relatively untested defense, there would be few worries going into the final matches. With Omar Gonzalez set to join the team in Texas, however, there’s reason to think the defending can improve (even if Gonzalez has had his own problems with lapses during qualifiers).

The attack, however, is where fans can find be encouraged. Sixteen goals in four games provides superficial proof, but if anybody needs more proof of the team’s capabilities, consider the first 30 minutes on Sunday. The team looked assured, confident, enacted a plan that leaned heavily on building down the right, and most importantly (given what we’ve seen from Klinsmann’s teams since his arrival) executed. They actually translated control into goals.

Landon Donovan deserves much of that credit on Sunday, but there were other positives, mostly from players who had been questioned by fans in the lead-up to the match. Jose Torres may not have been the most influential of players, but he was solid, and his ability to come in and contribute centrally while ostensibly being a left midfielder is particularly valuable if the team continues leaning right. Kyle Beckerman’s not going to win over Stuart Holden’s ardent supporters, but his distribution at the base of midfield proved the right choice today. And while Joe Corona’s production has been questioned, his has quietly put together a solid tournament, one that included a goal on Sunday.

Chris Wondolowski’s lack of influence was mildly concerning considering a history of waning influence against tougher And if the U.S. really remains so right-leading, you wonder if Edgar Castillo might be a better choice at left back. (Cue the obligatory backlash every time Castillo’s mentioned.) Still, with Castillo in reserve and Eddie Johnson in the team, Klinsmann has options, should he need to tweak as the stakes are raised.

Regardless, the U.S. is in remarkably good shape headed into the semifinals. While you could still see a Honduras or Costa Rica pull off an upset in Texas, the basics seem to be in place. If the U.S. can execute over the next 180 minutes as well as they did in Baltimore, they should reclaim the Gold Cup.

Griezmann sets pre-World Cup deadline for transfer future

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French striker Antoine Griezmann is no stranger to seeing his name in the transfer rumor mill, but that familiarity doesn’t make it any more enjoyable for the Atletico Madrid attacker (who celebrates his 27th birthday on Wednesday).

Long-tipped for a move to either Barcelona or Manchester United, Griezmann knows one thing: He wants his future sorted before the World Cup.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“I want to travel to Russia without this concern,” he told L’Equipe. “It’s not about knowing where I’ll play, but about having the peace of mind if I’m still in one place or another.

“It may be boring, but I have told my sister that, whether I stay or not, this will have to be resolved beforehand. What bothers me the most is that everyone asks me about this issue.”

That’s both honest and reasonable, and we can imagine it’s not a blast to answer questions on your future every day. He also has a contract through 2021-22, which won’t make any transfer a simple one.

Griezmann has 23 goals and 13 assists in all competitions for Atleti this season, as La Liga’s second place side remains alive in the UEFA Europa League. He’s scored 106 goals for Atleti since arriving from Real Sociedad.

NYCFC signs second Homegrown Player in history

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Four years, two Homegrowns.

That’s the decent track record for New York City FC, which has spotted a second youngster from amongst its ranks in 15-year-old Joe Scally.

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Scally joins United States youth international James Sands as Homegrown Players from NYCFC. Here’s USMNT legend and NYCFC technical director Claudio Reyna:

“Joe has been one of the top performers in the Academy for the past few seasons and represented US Soccer at U-15 and U-17 level.”

“He has all of the attributes we look for in a right-back: he’s strong in defense and can support in attack to help create chances from wide areas.”

Sands was signed last summer, and played 23 minutes for NYCFC against Colorado in his lone senior appearance.

Allow England defender Alfie Mawson to charm you

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Swansea City’s Alfie Mawson is at England national team camp, and the young man is conducting himself in downright adorable fashion.

It seems the 24-year-old London defender cannot quite believe Gareth Southgate called his name for the Three Lions.

[ MORE: Key newcomers for USMNT friendly ]

“A lot of people wouldn’t have even heard my name until this call up,” Mawson told the BBC. “You know it’s down to performing well at certain times, it’s down to doing the right things and sometimes it’s down to being a nice person.”

Mawson has played every minute for Swans this season, picking up two goals and an assist. More importantly, he’s won 3.3 aerial battles per game and 6.3 clearances.

While this won’t necessarily serve him well against the Netherlands and Italy in this week’s friendlies — they don’t put a lot of hopeful balls into aerial or clearing positions — it’s kept Mawson on the England radar for this summer’s World Cup.

Mawson is two seasons removed from playing in the Championship, and was loaned to lower league clubs like Maidenhead United and Welling United. At the time, he was going to “car boot sales with my girlfriend” which from my limited Googling seems the English equivalent of a yard sale and flea market combined.

“We are in a good position now where we don’t really have to do the car boots unless she wants a bit of excitement on a Sunday morning.”

Pretty good position, yeah.

FIFA urges Russia to hasten work on delayed World Cup arena

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SAMARA, Russia (AP) FIFA has urged Russia to speed up World Cup preparations at a stadium which needs “a huge amount of work” to be ready on time.

With less than three months to go until the World Cup, the 45,000-seat Samara Arena is the only one of 12 stadiums which doesn’t yet have a pitch installed.

The stadium in the Volga River city of Samara was already badly delayed due to a complex roof design, but now cold weather in the Russian spring is causing further problems. The pitch can’t be installed until the weather warms up.

“Obviously we would expect further progress than this,” FIFA’s chief competitions official Colin Smith said on a visit to the arena Wednesday. “We don’t yet have a pitch, and obviously we need to wait for some warmer weather conditions in order to get this pitch installed.”

As of Tuesday, instead of a field, there was an area covered with tarpaulins and snow. Temperatures are forecast to stay slightly below freezing for the rest of the week.

“There’s a huge amount of work still to be done,” Smith added. “From the information we’ve received there’s nothing stopping all these areas being completed on time. It just requires commitment and more manpower to get it done on time, and when we talk about on time, we’re talking about the commissioning date of the end of April.”

If that date passes, it could restrict FIFA’s ability to test the stadium with Russian league games and install World Cup equipment. Outside the arena, deep snowdrifts cover much of an area that is due to be landscaped for the tournament and will host some facilities for fans.

Alexander Fetisov, deputy governor of the Samara region, said the stadium will be ready.

“I’d like to avoid unnecessary dramatization of the situation,” he said. “Everything is being done so that the stadium is commissioned in the time required.”

Samara isn’t the only World Cup field which has drawn attention in recent weeks. The stadium in Kazan has been widely criticized by Russian fans after a brown, muddy surface was used for league games after the winter break.

Smith said FIFA was offering Russia help to get its fields ready, adding, “We’re doing everything possible and we’re convinced that we’re going to have a very, very high standard of pitches at this tournament.”