United States roster falling to pieces ahead of remaining 2014 World Cup qualifiers

16 Comments

It’s a little early to wonder if Jurgen Klinsmann has recently built a home on ancient burial ground and has been cursed for it – but you have to admit, the national team’s run of misfortune lately is a bit strange, eh?

Klinsmann was quite clear, and immediately so upon qualifying officially for the 2014 World Cup: he wanted his best players for those last two qualifiers. He seemed downright confused by any suggestion of doing anything else.

You may see them as meaningless, and it’s true that next week’s match against Jamaica in Kansas City and the final round closer four nights later in Panama won’t mean a thing for the United States in the official picture. (The U.S. schedule is here.) They are going to Brazil, and finishing atop the six-team group probably will not impact the United States’ ability to get a more favorable tournament draw in December.

But Klinsmann (pictured along with Clint Dempsey) will tell you that opportunities to fine tune and tweak between now and next summer are precious and few, and squandering these chances to reinforce all good tenets and to further fuse the combinations is wasteful.

Either way, he’s not going to have that chance over the next couple of weeks; his plan to use these upcoming qualifiers for further World Cup prep is unraveling, and quickly so.

Let’s look at the first-choice players who will not be available, or who will be limited in their fitness and abilities due to recent injuries:

Michael Bradley could return to the training field for Roma this week, but his ongoing ankle injury makes a trip to the United States seem less and less likely. Everybody should know by now that Bradley is the one absolutely indispensable piece to this U.S. puzzle, so any efforts at a top performance begins with their midfield glue.

Clint Dempsey’s hamstring issue (Where did he get this thing? No one seems to know.) has kept the U.S. attacker out of Seattle’s last two matches. Even if Dempsey’s condition improves, Seattle is likely to lobby for keeping him, for playoff positioning and Supporters Shield pursuits next week. Considering Dempsey is Major League Soccer’s top wage earner, it seems like a reasonable request.

(MORE: U.S. Soccer and Jones refute reports of injury)

Jermaine Jones’ status may be up in the air; reports out of Germany say surgery will have Jones on the shelf for a few weeks. But Jones and U.S. Soccer are refuting those reports, so stay tuned on this one. Either way, if Jones has a knee issue, it’s fair to wonder if Schalke will be excited about extra travel and matches that are, officially speaking, meaningless.

U.S. center back Clarence Goodson was a scratch from Sunday’s match at Chivas USA after suffering a bone bruise on the knee in the Earthquakes’ previous contest. Goodson, recall, was the starter alongside Omar Gonzalez as the United States clinched its spot earlier this month with the win over Mexico. Goodson may have slipped lately on the depth chart (blame young up-and-comer Anthony Brooks for that), but his steady night against El Tri reminded everyone that a tested, reliable veteran is great to have around.

Word came Monday that Fabian Johnson has an ankle injury and may not be available for Hoffenheim’s match Saturday at Mainz 05. If Johnson does not play there, expect some reluctance from Hoffenheim to release their left-sided defender-midfielder for international duty.

source: Getty ImagesLandon Donovan (pictured below) was back on the field for the Galaxy on Sunday in Seattle, so he is likely to be on Klinsmann’s list when the team gathers next week in Kansas City. But whether the Galaxy man will be at full-fitness (and therefor full effectiveness) is another matter.

There is one other element potentially destructive to Klinsmann’s plan: how will MLS teams feel about losing players for “meaningless” contests with significant implications in their one, league contests on the line? Think about Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, all locks to make the final 23-man roster for Brazil. If there isn’t some push back from Sporting Kansas City, the LA Galaxy and Seattle, I’ll be surprised.

(Goodson, too, for that matter, as San Jose’s playoff chances remain in the balance, and the Earthquakes are sure to want their best bunch whenever possible.)

There will still be plenty to work with in the U.S. camp. Jozy Altidore will likely relish some time away from the pit of despair that Sunderland has become. There will be mutual benefit of having Aron Johannsson, so fabulously in form at Alkmaar, in another U.S. camp, especially as the Icelandic American has been in so few sessions under Klinsmann so far. That’s just to name a couple.

And, of course, every absence is an opportunity for someone else to climb the food chain. For instance, if Johnson cannot play at right back, Geoff Cameron may get another look there – and wouldn’t it be nice to see what the Stoke City man can do at the position when the opposition isn’t high-flying Belgium?

Preview: Everton v. Newcastle

Leave a comment
  • Everton have won seven of their last eight games v Newcastle
  • Newcastle have won four PL games in a row
  • Wayne Rooney has more goals (15) against Newcastle than any other PL team

Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both setting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game

The Toffees sit in ninth, with Newcastle in 10th and just one point behind Everton with a game in hand. Rafael Benitez has been lauded for taking his newly-promoted side into the top 10 with defensive solidity, while Sam Allardyce has been lambasted for a defensive style of play despite getting Everton out of a relegation fight following his appointment back in November.

In team news Everton have Mason Holgate and Gylfi Sigurdsson out injured, while Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu but Islam Slimani could make his first start.


What they’re saying 

Sam Allardyce on the job Rafael Benitez has done at Newcastle: “From a difficult period they have managed to recover and get in the Premier League and they have turned it around. They have put together a run of games and we’ll see a better Newcastle than we saw up there [when Everton won 1-0 in December]. Rafa has progressed very well. He has always expressed his disappointment with not enough funds – we can all say we don’t have enough funds. What he has managed with the funds he has, particularly in the January months, has been excellent.”

Rafael Benitez on his Newcastle future: “I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time. I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.”

Prediction
Two teams who are very similar in terms of their style of play should see a bit of a stalemate take place at Goodison. 1-1 draw, which is a much better result for Newcastle and will pile more pressure on Big Sam.

Paul Pogba: “Transfers are not in my head”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Paul Pogba has been discussing his future at Manchester United beyond this season.

The Frenchman delivered a stunning assist in United’s 2-1 win against Tottenham in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday, with the midfielder now named Man of the Match in each of his last two games after plenty of speculation about his future at United in recent months.

Jose Mourinho left Pogba out of his starting lineup on multiple occasions, while Pep Guardiola claims he was offered to buy Pogba in January and speculation about him joining Paris Saint-Germain, going back to Juventus or heading to Real Madrid continue.

Speaking to French outlet Canal Football Club, Pogba had the following to say about his own future.

“Right now, I am at Manchester United and I am honestly only thinking about the present. Transfers are not in my head. We are in the [FA] Cup final and the World Cup is around the corner,” Pogba said.

Pogba also addressed the rumors regarding his relationship with Mourinho with reports stating that the duo do not get along and United’s manager is fed up with the Frenchman’s attitude off the pitch.

“I don’t have a problem with him, and I don’t think he has a problem with me,” Pogba said. “He’s the coach and he has to make choices. I am a player and I accept them. I have to answer on the pitch.”

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP
Leave a comment

Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United