Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier

Where is the biggest hole in the U.S. lineup on Tuesday?


COLUMBUS, Ohio – While weaving my way out of the Columbus fairground area, home to the Spartan and very yellow Crew Stadium, I wondered about this:

Untimely injuries and the residue of yellow card build-up (some of those bookings legit, others not so much) has left some areas of the U.S. lineup a bit threadbare. So where is the bigger hole in the United States lineup Tuesday against Mexico? Is it right back? Or is it what I like to call the “Bradley role?”

I can say with some certainty that it’s not center back, where I would expect Clarence Goodson to play alongside Omar Gonzalez. Goodson has been on the spot in big U.S. matches before, and he’ll be fine in this one.

Nor will it be at striker, where I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eddie Johnson play in the most advanced role, in front of Clint Dempsey, with Landon Donovan deployed out wide. (Donovan didn’t exactly shine as a target striker Friday, did he? Then again, that’s not his best spot – and it was surprising to see U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann try to pound that square peg into the round hole thusly.)

But right back? Who knows? Klinsmann defended Michael Orozco’s performance there, reminding everyone that Orozco’s finger prints weren’t on any of Costa Rica’s goals. Perhaps that’s technically true – but Klinsmann understands where that position stands at the moment, in a highly unstable place, even if he’s not saying so publicly.

Heck, we are months away from the World Cup now, and way too many of the recent choices at right back represent a “reach.” There is a bigger picture to be considered there, but for now we’ll just talk about Tuesday.

We may well see Orozco once again, although a Michael Parkhurst appearance cannot be ruled out. Truly, there just aren’t many choices there.

Then there is what I call the “Bradley role.” It’s just a linking midfield position, a two-way man to fall back into a dual defensive midfield role when opposition is in possession, but tasked with getting further forward in the middle third than the true holding man.

(MORE: Michael Bradley talks about his injury, absence)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there is no other Bradley on this team. Yes, Jermaine Jones (pictured) can play the position, but not with the wits, awareness and positional precision to which the United States has become accustomed under Bradley. Certainly not with the technical craft and tidiness with the ball.

Best guess here is that it will be Jones, with Kyle Beckerman standing in as the “No. 6,” the strict holding presence.

Of course, the late roster addition of Jose Torres is intriguing. That role fits his skill set better than most of the roles he has been asked to perform under Klinsmann – although none with smashing success, it must be said.  Or it could be a straight Bradley-for-Mix Diskerud swap. If so, this would easily be the most high-profile international assignment for young Diskerud to date.

However Klinsmann’s aligns the side, Bradley’s tremendous influence, his keen sense of the game, that something-extra that tells him when the attacks needs to press forward with authority and when it just needs to be content in possession, will be sorely missed.

For me, that’s the bigger hole – the one where Mexico can make a little hay and sew a little mayhem on an intense and important Tuesday night in Columbus.

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 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.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

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.