Americans Abroad: Tim Howard stays unbeaten, Aron Johannsson scores again

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The Americans Abroad have had a busy time since we last caught up with them, as league play and cup competitions are coming thick and fast after the international break.

From Tel Aviv to Tijuana, Norway to Italy, let’s take a gander across the globe at American soccer players making a name for themselves… and their country.

(MORE: Americans Abroad – Full Archive)

Plenty of US stars shone brightly over the last week, as you’re about to find out.

Let’s get to it.

ENGLAND

On Saturday Tim Howard secured yet another shutout for Everton, as the Toffees beat Chelsea 1-0. The USMNT goalkeeper made six saves, and despite a couple of shaky moments early on, Howard’s side held on for their first win of the season and remain unbeaten.

Up in Sunderland, it wasn’t such a happy afternoon for Jozy Altidore, as the U.S. forward was involved in the pivotal moment during a 3-1 loss to Arsenal. In the second half Altidore shrugged off Bacary Sagna and slotted the ball home to score what he thought was his first PL goal as a Mackem… not so fast Jozy.

Referee Martin Atkinson robbed Jozy of a 70th minute goal, by instead awarding a free kick when he should have played advantage, much to the annoyance of the former AZ Alkmaar forward.

Sunderland are without a win this campaign and sit bottom of the PL standings.

Staying in England’s top-flight, Geoff Cameron played superbly at right back as the Potters held Manchester City to a 0-0 draw at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke are up to seventh in the table, but it could’ve been better as Cameron whipped in a great ball just after half time that nobody finished off.

(MORE: Jozy Altidore and Steven Fletcher; a partnership Sunderland are relying on)

Just down the M6 to Birmingham, and it was another frustrating afternoon for American goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The reigning Villa Player of the Year made six stops to try and thwart Newcastle, but Guzan was helpless as the Magpies won 2-1 following defensive mishaps from Villa. The loss marked a third-straight defeat for Guzan and Aston Villa, they sit in 16th.

source: Getty Images
Jozy Altidore had a goal disallowed as Sunderland’s struggle continued.

Down in the Championship it was an extremely busy week for the Americans.

On Saturday, Nottingham Forest right back Eric Lichaj put in a solid outing as Forest beat Barnsley 3-2, to move back into third spot. And on Tuesday night Forest were in action again, as they drew 2-2 with Middlesbrough. Lichaj was at fault for Kei Kamara’s opening goal, but set up a late equalizer to make amends.

Tim Ream played the first 60-minutes in midfield and then switched to a defensive role for the the final 30 minutes in the Trotters 1-0 loss to Leeds United on Saturday. Then, the former New York Red Bulls defender went the full 90 in Tuesday’s 2-2 draw with Derby County, assisting on Chris Eagles’ goal just before half time. Bolton still remain bottom and winless after seven games.

(MORE: Brek Shea, the painter, nearing Stoke City return)

There were three other Americans playing down in England’s second-tier, as Jonathan Spector‘s Birmingham lost 1-0 to QPR on Saturday, before being hammered 3-0 by Burnley on Tuesday. Zak Whitbread played for Leicester City on Tuesday as they beat Blackburn 2-1.

But things are going better for Danny Williams at Reading, as the former Hoffenheim man played the full 90 minutes in his first start for the Royals in a 0-0 draw with Brighton on Saturday. Then, on Wednesday night, Williams provided the key assist as Reading beat Leeds United 1-0 with a last-gasp winner from Adam Le Fondre.

EUROPE

Now switching over to the European continent, on Saturday Icelandic-American forward Aron Johannsson continued his good start to the season with another goal. The 21-year-old scored a penalty-kick in a 3-0 win over Go Ahead Eagles, the spot kick was his third of the season so far and overall Johannsson put in a lively display up front.

Following his callup to the U.S. national team for the recent World Cup qualifiers, Johannsson now has four goals in his first six Eredivisie games of the season. And Johannsson also started for AZ in their 1-0 Europa League win away at Maccabi Haifa on Thursday.

No doubt Jurgen Klinsmann will be keeping a close eye on the promising striker over the coming months.

In Belgium, Sacha Kljestan has had a mixed week following league success and UEFA Champions League disappointment. On Saturday Kljestan scored in Anderlecht’s 5-0 win over Mechelen, keeping up his terrific record this season with four goals in five league games. Yet on Tuesday night, the Brussels club came unstuck away at Portuguese side Benfica in their Champions League opener. Kljestan’s men lost 2-0, and the former Chivas USA star was booked to compound a frustrating night in Lisbon.

Over in the Bundesliga, Fabian Johnson‘s Hoffenheim beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 2-1, as the left-sided player was involved in the home teams opening goal.

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A bad night for Kljestan, who was booked late on in Anderlecht’s 2-0 defeat to Benfica in the Champions League.

Forgotten man Timmy Chandler created FC Nürnberg’s opener from right back with some inventive play, but the USMNT defender was culpable as they dropped a late equalizer to newly-promoted Braunschweig and remain winless after five games.

(MORE: Is Danny Williams re-inserting himself into the U.S. national team conversation?)

Up in Norway, Mix Diskerud played the full 90 in Rosenborg’s shock 1-0 loss at Tromso. It was the Troll Kids first defeat in 16 games and they are now just two points ahead at the top of the table, with seven games to go.  Elsewhere in Norway, goalkeeper Steve Clark and Hønefoss lost yet again as they continue to struggle at the wrong end of the table. The Michigan born star made one save as his side dropped a late1-0 decision to IK Start.

Down in Denmark, Babajide Ogunbiyi was the hero for Viborg as he scored the winner against AGF Aarhus. Ogunbiyi also played superbly at the back, as his side held on for the 1-0 after his goal.

Over in France, Alejandro Bedoya put in yet another tireless display as Nantes beat Sochaux 1-0 at home. The attacker started off brightly and continued that throughout the game before being subbed late on. The Canaries are now seventh in Ligue 1.

In Austria, Terrence Boyd scored his fourth goal in five games as Rapid Vienna hammered FC Wacker Innsbruck 4-0. But in the Europa League on Thursday, Boyd was on the bench and came on for the final 27 minutes, as Rapid lost 1-0 to FC Thun.

MEXICO

Apart from Club Tijuana’s plethora of American players, another US star is making a name for himself in Liga MX. Former US U-20 international Alonso Hernandez helped Monterrey beat Puebla 1-0 on Tuesday, as the 19-year-old set up the goal with a dazzling run.

Keep an eye on this guy.

On Saturday Tigres UANL beat Cruz Azul 1-0, with US midfielder Jose Torres playing the entire game in what was a fiery contest between the Liga MX rivals. Tigres played most of the second half with 10 men but Torres’ side held on for the three points, with the midfielder showing off his creative skills throughout.

Onto the Xolo’s, and Club Tijuana drew 2-2 with CD Guadalajara on Sunday, but the big story was regarding Edgar Castillo, who left the game with an injury late on. Other Americans Paul Arriola and Greg Garza came on as subs for the Northern Mexican side, while surprisingly USMNT midfielder Joe Corona was once again an unused sub.

Elsewhere on Sunday, Puebla’s US duo DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco Fiscal both played in a 1-1 tie with Toluca. And Puebla looked like snatching all three points until the last minute when Toluca’s ‘keeper scored from the penalty spot, you read that right, to equalize late on.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

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The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

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Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.