Championship - 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup

What we learned from Sunday’s United States Gold Cup victory over Panama

  • It’s a final, and we know what those look like

The Gold Cup may be only a “tournament-lite” in that the regional big boys chose to send the junior varsity. But the rule on finals – teams get tight and the action bogs down, generally producing matches that are decidedly, well, less than lovely – still applies in lesser tournament. And how.

Sunday’s 1-0 U.S. win at Soldier Field looked nothing like Wednesday’s mostly wide-open semifinal win over Honduras.

A championship is a championship, and good on the United States, clearly the Gold Cup’s top team. But as aesthetics go … well, no need to save this on the DVR.

  • Jurgen Klinsmann (and staff!) keeps making great decisions

One week ago, Eddie Johnson scored 14 seconds after coming onto the field against El Salvador. Check the box on “Great sub!” with that one.

Sunday in Chicago, Brek Shea need a bit longer – just over 40 seconds. Check that box again.

I mean, this kind of prescience would scare the bejeebers out of Las Vegas!

In the bigger picture, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have the Midas touch with his choices. Brek Shea (pictured) was a late Gold Cup roster addition; he scored two goals. (Yes, one was tap-in … but being in the right places counts for something, and Shea’s straight-line approach to opposition goal paid off twice.)

Adding Matt Besler and Eddie Johnson for the elimination matches looks smart, given the results. Hard to argue that Clarence Goodson over Omar Gonzalez in Sunday’s lineup was the right choice given the result. And Gonzalez’s insertion late at Soldier Field proved worthwhile as the big Galaxy center back thumped away several of Panama’s late probing balls of desperation.

The bigger-picture choices on guys like Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden seem validated, too. (Fingers crossed for Holden, of course.) But there will be more time to discuss that. Back to Sunday …

(MORE: United States Man of the Match — Alejandro Bedoya)

  • Kyle Beckerman does his job

I know it’s not enough for some people, who continue to want the Real Salt Lake man to be more, do more, try more, etc.

But that positional discipline, that ability to win the ball, win tackles, distribute simply and wait for the next chance to do it all again … all that stuff is so critical in a match like Sunday’s, when less disciplined men might grow impatient and wander too far forward. That is exactly what Panama wanted, to defend and defend and hope to catch the United  States leaning too far into the attack.

Teams need balance and Beckerman provides a bunch of it. No, he’s not about to displace Michael Bradley or even Jermaine Jones on coming World Cup qualifier rosters. But for depth in the pool, Beckerman as a holding midfield specialist provides essential value.

  • Michael Parkhurst is solid defensively, but …

I was surprised at the apparent surprise that Michael Parkhurst lacked initiative in pushing up the right and overlapping Sunday, unable to create that critical defensive confusion while working in tandem with Alejandro Bedoya.

Because he’s just not that guy. Don’t we know that? When he can barely dent the game against the small fries of the tournament (on offense, that is), do we really believe he is going to unleash some secret, here-to unseen attacking arsenal against what was clearly the second best team at the Gold Cup?

Parkhurst is what he is: a converted center back who is adequate at defense chores along the right, although vulnerable to faster feet.

(MORE: Shea goal guides U.S. to fifth Gold Cup title, 1-0 win over Panama)

  • Eddie Johnson still has some volatility about him

U.S. striker Eddie Johnson has a lot going for him right now. He’s third-ish on the pecking order of U.S. strikers. (The top choice for a Gold Cup final but still behind Jozy Altidore and probably Herculez Gomez in Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board of options.)

He’s a valued member of the Seattle Sounders club, about to be out of contract and highly desirous of remaining with the club that helped him resurrect a wayward career. Clearly, he wants to find his way into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, having played in 2006 but then bypassed for 2010. All that is to say, he is highly motivated.

So wouldn’t it be ashamed if Johnson let’s a dangerous propensity for losing his cool get the better of him. There’s just a lurking volatility about him, one that could be harmful to a team in an instant. We saw it again late Sunday when he got into a completely unnecessary set-do, issued a yellow card for retaliation indiscipline.

Don’t think future opponents won’t take notice and target Johnson as a man to pick on, to potentially incite. That’s not what you pinned on the opposition corkboard.

(MORE: Landon Donovan claims Gold Cup MVP honors)

  • Jose Torres’ stock is falling

Coming into this year’s Gold Cup, wouldn’t we all identify Jose Torres as the creative man of the moment, the guy to slice up defenses with those killer, targeted back line beaters?

Well, Sunday’s match was begging for such a guy – and Torres was nowhere to be found. Time and again in the tournament Torres did OK, but not much better than that. What we know about Klinsmann is that he is absolutely, positively not OK with just OK.

The proof was there Sunday. Joe Corona and Alejandro Bedoya got the starts. Brek Shea got the call off the bench when Corona was proving less than effective.

None of this is great news for Torres, but you cannot say the man didn’t get his chances.

Serie A: Napoli go top for first time in 25 years; Inter a close 2nd

Gonzalo Higuain, SSC Napoli
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A quick roundup of Monday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

Napoli 2-1 Inter Milan

For the first time since the final day of the 1989-90 season, Napoli are top of Serie A all by themselves after a top-of-the-table clash with previous leaders Inter Milan.

Gonzalo Higuain bagged both goals for the Azzurri, the first of which came after just 65 seconds. His tally on 62 minutes held up as the game-winner after Adem Ljajic pulled one back for Roberto Mancini’s side in the 67 minute. The opener (below video) was a powerful finish from inside the penalty area which served as a strong reminder as to why a club like Arsenal is consistently linked to the Argentine striker.

Sassuolo 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina, who had a chance to stake their own claim to the top spot, dropped two points away to seventh-place Sassuolo earlier in the day, opening the door for Napoli to go top with their victory. After shooting out of the gates red hot (6 wins in their first 7 games), the Viola have now drawn back to back games — to Empoli and Sassuolo — and find themselves third, two points behind Napoli.

Borja Valero put Fiorentina ahead after five minutes on Monday, but Sassuolo equalized through Sergio Floccari just before halftime to keep their own dreams of European qualification alive.

Serie A table

Matchup by matchup: Picking a favorite for MLS Cup 2015

Portland Timbers FC
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We’re T-minus 137 hours to the kickoff of MLS Cup 2015, between Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

When the two sides meet at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday (4 p.m. ET), the general public will have picked a slight favorite to hoist MLS Cup, just like any other game. Only, this one’s a bit tougher to call — there’s no clear-cut favorite as is usually the case in MLS Cup, so we’ll do our best to explore a few key matchups that might slant Sunday’s title tilt in one direction or the other…

Crew SC width (Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay) vs. Timbers width (Jorge Villafana, Alvas Powell, Rodney Wallace, Dairon Asprilla)

  • Pinning the wingers back — There’s two ways to beat Crew SC: 1) sit with eight or nine men behind the ball and frustrate them through a lack of space to attack; or, 2) pin Finlay and Meram deep inside their own half, defensively, by getting your full backs forward and forcing them to defend. It’s doable, but it’s not easy. On the other side, best of luck to Wallace and Asprilla with the tracking back they’ll be forced into with perhaps the best attacking right back in MLS, Afful, and Francis overlapping on either side. Fanendo Adi could find himself on an island very quickly if the Crew SC full backs get forward as often as they’d like.
  • Where the help comes from — That’s the biggest issue for Portland, who ever since dropping Darlington Nagbe into midfield, play with a lone defensive midfielder, Diego Chara. He’s great at covering the entire field and providing help to blow up an opposing attack, but he can only be on one side of the field at a time. This means Borchers and Ridgewell will be stretched wider and forced to defend Finlay and Meram in space, where they’re oh so deadly.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Crew SC announce MLS Cup sold out 15 hours after qualifying ]

Kei Kamara vs. Nat Borchers and Liam Ridgewell

  • All it takes is one chance — Neither one of Borchers or Ridgewell can physically compete with Kamara’s rare combination of speed and athleticism — to be fair, few center backs this side of the world can. Therefore, 90 percent of “defending” Kamara will be staying tight to the 22-goalscorer during the regular season and, with any luck, not losing track of him once the ball gets out to the wings. Once Kamara gets that yard of space in any direction and the ball goes up on the cross, the center backs’ chances of winning the next ball are much, much lower. That said, Kamara will find far less space against Borchers and Ridgewell (and Diego Chara) than he enjoyed against Montreal and New York thus far in the playoffs. There’s very few center back duos with the experience and nous of the Timbers’ backbone.
  • Advantage: Timbers

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Timbers midfield three (Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri) vs. Crew SC midfield three (Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp, Federico Higuain)

  • Nagbe the key to balance — Darlington Nagbe will, one day, be an MLS Best XI central midfielder. Today is not that day, though. He’s still a work in progress, and probably the most exploitable individual on the field in Crew SC’s eyes. Tchani and Trapp are, in my opinion, the best deep-sitting midfield duo in the league, and they’ll press, harry and harass Nagbe for 90 (0r 120) minutes, probably starting a fair few of those deadly counter-attacks in the middle third of the field.
  • Advantage: Crew SC

[ MORE: Timbers reach first MLS Cup | Crew SC to host MLS Cup 2015 ]

Gregg Berhalter vs. Caleb Porter

  • Lineups set themselves — Neither coach is likely to throw out a huge surprise before kickoff — dance with one that brought you, or something like that. Up until recently, I was completely convinced that Porter was vastly overrated and didn’t understand the constant adoration that surrounded the man his first two or three years in charge. Everything was a bit stale and rigid, organized, but lacking flair. Then he moved Nagbe into midfield to allow his biggest game-changer more opportunities on the ball to affect the game much more. This leads me to believe Porter is a bit more flexible in seeing his team and system operate in slightly different ways, but only barely.
  • Advantage: Timbers

Crew SC announce MLS Cup 2015 sold out 15 hours after qualifying

Wil Trapp, Columbus Crew SC
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The building formerly known as Crew Stadium has hosted its fair share of famous soccer games since it opened in 1999 — dos a cero, anyone? — and Sunday’s MLS Cup 2015 looks set to rank right up there among them.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Roughly 15 hours after advancing to this year’s MLS Cup, which they will host this Sunday (4 p.m. ET), Columbus Crew SC announced on Monday that MAPFRE Stadium is officially sold out.

Crew SC president of business operations Andy Loughnane addressed the fanbase in a blog post on the club’s official site Monday afternoon and said, “As of late this morning we are sold out of the extra capacity seating that was created for MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium. While there is a small chance that additional seats could be released for purchase as a result of MLS holds being returned, we are sold out of all known available seats.”

[ MORE: Beckham group abandons yet another stadium plan, site in Miami ]

Crew SC, making their second MLS Cup appearance in club history (2008 champions), will host first-time MLS Cup contestants, the Portland Timbers, on Sunday.

PL clubs combined to pay out $200 million in agent fees in 2015

Liverpool Unveil New Signing Christian Benteke
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What a time to be an agent in the footballing world, eh? The rich just keep getting richer and richer and richer.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The steady increase in transfer fees being paid for players — bad, good, great and amazing alike — has made quite a few “selling” clubs rich reach over the last decade or two, to be sure, but it’s also made another group of people obscenely rich: player agents.

As the soccer world has gone crazy with its “now, now, now” approach — managers must win now, or they’re fired; new signings must become stars now, or they’ll be sold; etc. — agents are the ones making out like bandits — no losses to be sustained on players who turn out to be flops; no future loss of wages due to taking “too long” to settle in and being labeled a flop — at the expense of clubs and, most cruelly, the players.

More than $195 million was paid out agents by Premier League clubs across the January and summer transfer windows, with Liverpool — ever the club in constant change — paying out $21.5 million in agents fees to remain top of the table for a second straight year. Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal were the four other clubs to top $15 million.

[ MORE: Premier League Payback — The Diego Costa era over at Chelsea? ]

Agents not only receive a fee when players change clubs through transfers, but can only be compensated again and again when one of their clients signs a new contract with their current club.

For instance, Wayne Rooney has signed at least four new contracts since joining Manchester United in 2004, the latest of which came barely three years after he was given a new five-year deal in Oct. 2010 upon handing in a transfer request in an attempt to force a move to Manchester City. Rooney’s current weekly wage is reported to be in the neighborhood of $450,000. His agent, Paul Stretford, will have received a sizable payday upon negotiating the deal in Feb. 2014.

At the end of the day, sports are little more than a business, and it’s the ones who play the game — the political game, that is — the best, and most ruthlessly, who are making out like bandits.