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?

Pochettino’s Spurs put on show for Maradona, Kobe

Leave a comment

Post writers, us included, were drawn to Liverpool’s continued defensive woes following Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-1 demolition of the Reds at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

With Jurgen Klopp‘s personality and post-match quotes regarding uncapitalized goat Dejan Lovren, that’s understandable, but it would be a big mistake to not celebrate the class of Spurs on Sunday.

[ MORE: Match recap | Klopp, Matip reaction ]

Harry Kane is world class, scoring twice and providing a clever assist on another goal as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men showed the well-oiled nature of their machine.

And he was glowing on a match day that saw Kobe Bryant and one of Pochettino’s Argentine heroes, Diego Maradona, at Wembley:

“I spoke to Diego Maradona before the game, it was very emotional. He brings very good energy. He is the best player ever in football history.”

That the win is coming after a draw with Real Madrid at the Bernabeu is even more notable, considering the manners of each match. Hugo Lloris joined Kane as a star of the show of a more defensive-minded away midweek, but was merely a component as Spurs went for the jugular against the dicey defense of Liverpool.

Margins are small in the Premier League, but you could easily make an argument that Spurs are unlucky to sit five points behind Manchester City. Their star goalkeeper Hugo Lloris made gaffes in their lone league loss, to Chelsea, and a failure to finish myriad chances allowed Chris Wood‘s late goal to stand as an equalizer against Burnley.

“It is the third season that we are trying to catch someone. Manchester City are doing very well, they have an amazing squad and one of the best managers in the world. We see what happens, we believe, we will try to catch them. We are focused every day.

There’s another rough stretch ahead for Pochettino’s men, who don’t face City until Dec. 16. Presumably it’ll be second choice at West Ham in the League Cup this week before a trip to Old Trafford, and Spurs have the luxury of making that tough visit without fearing Paul Pogba on the other side of the pitch.

Then, it’s Real Madrid at home in the Champions League, a visit from Palace, and the international break. The North London Derby follows away, and Spurs will hope to have the UCL group sewn up before a trip to BVB days later.

The remaining schedule, save a trip to currently tricky Watford, would set them up to move within touching distance of City following the Dec. 16 match at the Etihad. The interim sees Man City facing Arsenal and Manchester United, so it wouldn’t be absurd to think Spurs could make up ground should City stumble (as unlikely as that looks right now).

Follow @NicholasMendola

Klopp, Matip react to another rough Liverpool defensive showing

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Joel Matip is shouldering the blame for Liverpool’s defensive collapse against Tottenham Hotspur, while the Reds’ manager is placing it on at least partially on Matip’s partner for the first half hour.

“Most teams at home with the stand in their back are always stronger,” Matip said after the 4-1 loss at Wembley Stadium.

[ RECAP: Spurs 4-1 Liverpool ]

“I am a defender and I should take care of this. We don’t think about the title race at the moment, we only try to get back in a good mood for next week.”

As for Klopp, he’s angry as expected following the shipping of four goals to Spurs. That verb works doubly here, as giveaways and mistakes were common place amongst the Reds’ backs and midfield.

Dejan Lovren had a rough day, subbing out after 31 minutes. The injured center back played a big part in Spurs first two goals, including leaping for and missing a Hugo Lloris long ball. From the BBC:

“If I am involved in this situation on the pitch, then Harry cannot get the ball.”

“We have to realize that we are responsible for this and nobody else. Of course we can fix it and we have to fix it as well.”

Klopp also detailed what went wrong with each of the four goals, then proffering that “the game was finished then.” Right.

There’s a lot to love about Klopp, who can be a tactical wizard. But he’s also struggled to convince players of their roles, and has shipped some very decent center back depth out-of-town. The latter is the reason Klopp used a less than fit Lovren on Sunday, and it burned them against a well-oiled Spurs side.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Tottenham Hotspur 4-1 Liverpool: Spurs superb at Wembley

1 Comment
  • Spurs up 2-0 after 12 minutes
  • Salah pulls one back
  • Lovren struggles, subbed after 31
  • Kane with four brace of season

Tottenham Hotspur ran all over visiting Liverpool on Sunday, riding another star turn from Harry Kane to a 4-1 win at Wembley Stadium.

The win boosts Spurs level with second place Manchester United on points, and slips Liverpool ninth behind Burnley on goal differential. The Reds are three points back of the Top Four.

Kane scored twice, and assisted Heung-Min Son‘s goal. Dele Alli added the fourth in the second half, while Mohamed Salah continued his sparkling season with a goal for Liverpool.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

It was 1-0 early, as Kane cut into the center of the attacking third and took advantage of a Dejan Lovren error (prepare for a lot more of that term, sans first name) to hit a left-footed shot into the goal.

It was 2-0 when Lovren leapt to meet a Hugo Lloris clearance and… totally missed it. This Lovren error sprung Kane, who was patient with his dribble and snapped a pass to Son to make it 2-0.

Salah made it 2-1 when Jordan Henderson spied his back post run and his a diagonal ball. Salah put it by an unusually out-of-sorts Hugo Lloris.

Son had a good chance to restore the two-goal lead when he raced past Lovren, but Mignolet blocked his shot and collected a rebound off Lovren’s body.

Lovren left the match in the 32nd minute for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That barely stemmed the flow, as Dele was alone to collect and deposit Joel Matip’s attempted clearance of a Christian Eriksen stoppage time free kick.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Perhaps a riot act was read, because Liverpool came hot out of the second half gates. Spurs dealt with havoc in the first 120 seconds.

Kane made it 4-1 in the 56th minute, off a free kick. Mignolet collided with Matip while trying to collect an Eriksen free kick, then Roberto Firmino blocked a Jan Vertonghen shot off the line before Kane lashed in the third crack.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Barcelona chief backs Catalan leaders in clash with Spain

Photo by Ed Mulholland/Getty Images for FC Barcelona
1 Comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu says Barcelona backs the leaders of Catalonia in response to the Spanish government’s decision to take over the regional government.

Bartomeu said on Saturday “the fact that people have been imprisoned for their political ideas is unacceptable in the 21st century. No one can question Barcelona’s commitment to Catalan society and its democratic institutions.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

To block the Catalan independence push, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy wants the Senate to give him direct power to dissolve the regional Catalan government and call an early election.

Bartomeu says Barcelona sides with those who defend the Catalan people’s right to vote in a referendum for independence. He also says the club aims to remain in the Spanish league.

Barcelona leads La Liga, defeating Malaga late Saturday.