Higuain 5

Big road win for Kansas City; playoff hopes all but extinguished for Columbus

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With only a muted Higuain to deal with, Sporting Kansas City’s early goal held up in a 1-0 win at Crew Stadium. The Crew’s heroic, late bid for the playoffs – they had won three in a row, including two away from home – probably will not be enough now. Still in eighth place, the Crew would almost surely need to win tis final two matches and parlay that with significant help in order to find its way improbably into the playoffs.

Higuain and MLS Player of the Month for September Dominic Oduro had done so much to keep the Crew relevant in the playoff chase. But Higuain (pictured) was clearly not himself, not nearly as mobile as usual, and just not the influence Columbus needed.

Signs appeared early that something was wrong with the Crew’s 28-year-old attacker, as he held his right hip frequently. By the 10th minute, interim manager Brian Bliss had Ryan Finley warming up. No offense to Finley, but he is no Higuain.

By halftime, Higuain was laboring just to move slowly around the field, and he winced noticeably on any quick movements. The result was one shot in the first half and none on target for the home team. (Yes, credit the Kansas City midfield and defense, too, but it’s safe to say the visitors’ job was made far easier by Higuain’s limitations.

He remained on the field, and the Crew did push Kansas City harder, but Ike Opara’s early goal held up.

Klinsmann praises Nagbe, full back concerns, challenges USMNT youngsters

United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann reacts during the first half of a international soccer friendly match against Costa Rica, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
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With a tumultuous 2015 in the books for the U.S. national team, head coach and technical director of U.S. Soccer Jurgen Klinsmann has been reflecting on the past 12 months.

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In an interview posted by U.S. Soccer on their website, Klinsmann, 51, spoke about a variety of topics but a few things stuck out.

The German coach had high praise for Darlington Nagbe who played in both of the USA’s World Cup qualifier in November with the Portland Timbers midfielder finally getting his U.S. citizenship.

Klinsmann also expressed concerns over both full back positions, is more than happy with four points from the USMNT’s opening two 2018 World Cup qualifiers and challenged the youngsters in his squad to battle for starting spots internationally and reach the highest level possible in club play.

[ MORE: Bender, Pato to Arsenal? ]

Below are a few snippets we’ve selected from Klinsmann’s chat. Overall, 2015 has been one that has had highs (beating Germany and the Netherlands away from home in friendlies) but there have been plenty of lows with the Gold Cup failure and the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico. Its also been a tough year for Klinsmann as many are calling for his departure as USMNT boss but U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is sticking by his man.

What have your impressions of the U.S. national team in 2015 been? Are you hopeful for 2016 as World Cup qualifying continues and the Copa America Centenario takes place in the U.S.?

Here’s what Klinsmann had to say on a few selected topics from U.S. Soccer…

Gyasi Zardes, Jozy Altidore & Bobby Wood, USMNT

The challenge to younger players has been to push the established guys for starting spots. What is the importance of that process and how has it gone within the team?

JK: “When asking the younger players to step up and challenge the experienced ones, you want them to challenge themselves on a higher level, whether it’s going to the highest club level as quickly as you can and become a starter there and make your statement, like DeAndre Yedlin does now at Sunderland. In camp, we want them to fight harder to push established players for the spots, because if you want to steal the spot, you have to do more to try and move him out. This is an interesting process between two World Cups. Taking the example of Jones, he’s not ready to give his spot up. He’s 34 years old, but he’s a rock. He’s in there every time it matters, he stands his man. He makes it clear to the younger players that he’s not giving up his spot. These kind of competitions are real important with the team.”

A lot of people had positive things to say about Darlington Nagbe. What did you learn about him from this camp?

JK: “We found a player that is really good handling the ball in both directions. He is responsible defensively, to always go behind the ball and to defend, and help out. When we go forward, he knows when to pass, when to dribble, when to keep things racing forward, and also when to take some risks in a certain moment. He has a change of pace in one-on-one situations when he goes at defensive midfielders. He has the confidence to get past them and to get closer to the box. Darlington is a real nice option now going forward. He had to wait a long time, and we’ve been waiting for him as well, but it’s a great fit and we are glad to have him on board.”

In these last two games you also expanded the team’s options at key positions, including both fullback spots. What type of flexibility does this provide moving forward?

JK: “2015 made it clear that we struggled in a couple of areas. The most difficult area for us is the fullback positions. We moved the center backs to the fullback position. We moved Fabian Johnson from left back to right back, which is the position he played in the World Cup – and was probably one of the best right backs in the World Cup in Brazil last year. But he ended up in his club team in Germany playing left winger. So moving him constantly from left winger to left back or to right back, it doesn’t really help him. And for us, one question remains: how do we fill in those left back and right back positons with a high-quality solution? In the last games, we had Tim Ream helping us out as a left back. He plays center back in Fulham. We had Michael Orozco out as a right back, which he did tremendously well, but he’s playing center back for Tijuana. Hopefully in 2016 it will help us develop younger players in the fullback positions. For us, the next important team to look at is the Olympic team and see what Andi Herzog brings through that team in order to develop a younger player into that full back position for the senior team.”

Going into Port of Spain, Trinidad to face the Soca Warriors was a tough match. Are you pleased with how the team dealt with the challenges of that game on the road?

JK: “I think with the game in Trinidad & Tobago, we all knew it was going to be a tricky one. It’s a good team that proved that in the Gold Cup. And away from home, there’s a rule: don’t lose. At least get one point and don’t give the home team the three points. I think we achieved that. Did we want to win both games? Yes, it would have been nice to have six points now, but four points is ideal going into the two games now with Guatemala. Winning those two games would mean that we are qualified for the next round, so our big goal for March is going to Guatemala and get three points right away, at home in Columbus, one of our favorite places to go, and then look forward to the next round.”

Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones

How do you view the midfield partnership between Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones?

JK: “It’s real critical between Bradley and Jones, like all the fans know, they are important to our team. These two always coordinate themselves on the field. They are experienced and know what to do in specific situations. We constantly go over their tactical approach in a game because they can play many different ways. Now you can complement a Jermaine Jones or a Michael Bradley with a more defensive midfielder, like a Kyle Beckerman, or you can complement them with more offensive midfielders, like a Darlington Nagbe or Mix Diskerud. But the heart of this team is always in the center of the park, which is Bradley and Jones.”

What did you see from Jozy Altidore throughout 2015?

JK: “2015 for Jozy Altidore has been a transition year, but it has become a year where he has gotten stronger toward the end. He had some injury issues. He had some fitness issues in the beginning of the year. We had the episode in the Gold Cup where he was not in the shape where he needed to be. Toward July, August and September he got more into a flow. He started to score goals for Toronto and he got stronger for the National Team, as well. This is a very positive sign for us to have Altidore playing well. We plan to bring him into a very busy 2016 with the biggest highlight of Copa America next June.”

Wenger ready for Black Friday? “I love a bargain!”

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC
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Following a bit of banter in midweek about Arsene Wenger‘s frugality in the transfer market, ahead of Arsenal’s clash at Norwich City on Sunday (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET online via Live Extra) their manager was asked about the Black Friday sales.

Turns out, Wenger loves a bargain.

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The Frenchman, 66, has helped Arsenal finance the move to the Emirates Stadium and still keep the club among the top four in Premier League for 19-straight seasons but has often been criticized for not splashing more cash in the transfer market in recent seasons with the Gunners reportedly having a healthy transfer budget.

Asked about Black Friday, here’s what he had to say.

“I love a bargain. Who doesn’t love a bargain?” Wenger laughed. “I don’t meet many people who don’t like a bargain.”

[ MORE: 10 PL players on World Best XI shortlist

More specifically surrounding transfers, Wenger has been linked with moves for Lars Bender and Alexandre Pato on Thanksgiving as the Gunners start to look a little light in midfield with injuries mounting up. A reporter asked Wenger if people should go out and by two TV’s on Black Friday, even if they didn’t need one, because they were cheap. Translation: “Arsene, will you buy anyone in January?”

“If they need two TVs then yes… but if they don’t need a TV then why should they buy two? That is where you come back to bargains. What is a bargain for us? It is to buy players of top quality. Only top quality strengthens our squad,” Wenger said. “I can tell you I bought Patrick Vieira for $3.7 million. It was a top bargain but first of all it was a top bargain because it was a top quality player. We spent nearly $60 million for [Mesut] Ozil in that deal. I still consider that a bargain because the player is top quality, so that has to be the priority, the quality of the player.”

With Arsenal’s only true holding midfielder, Francis Coquelin, out injured for at least three months, Wenger confirmed that he will do business in January if a player of the required quality comes along.

So, Wenger’s a bargain hunter. Who’d have thought it…

Drogba wants to return to Chelsea… as manager

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Didier Drogba, Chelsea manager.” How does that sound, Blues fans?

[ MORE: Bender, Pato to Arsenal? ]

Current Montreal Impact forward Drogba still has another year to run on his contract in Major League Soccer but he’s already thinking about going into management after hanging up his boots for the final time.

Speaking to BBC Africa the 37-year-old Ivory Coast legend revealed he will return to Chelsea in some capacity once he’s finished playing, and doesn’t see why he can’t manage the Blues.

“I want to give back to the club which has given so much to me. I have agreed that with the club directors,” Drogba said.”Why not manager? Why not sporting director, trainer at the academy or maybe an advising role for strikers?”

So, there you have it. Drogba is hunting down Mourinho…

Not quite, but it’s classy to see that Chelsea will bring back the man who score the goals to help them win four Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League crown, four FA Cups, three League Cups and was one of the stars during the most successful spell in club history. Bravo.

[ MORE: 10 PL players make FIFPro World Best XI shortlist ]

As for Mourinho and the current woes Chelsea’s boss is facing following a nightmare start to the 2015-16 campaign, Drogba believes he has the support of the players and the owner and can turn things around.

“If the club has kept him that means owner Roman Abramovich thinks that he is the right man,” Drogba said. “I think the players trust him and he is giving his best to change the situation.”

And if he doesn’t, well, you have Drogba’s cell number, right Mr. Abramovich?

LIVE – Europa League: Tottenham, Liverpool look to clinch last 32 spot

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Both Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool can clinch a spot in the last 32 of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday, with the Premier League dup doing their best to boost England’s UEFA coefficient.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Tottenham are in Azerbaijan as they sit top of Group J and a win against Qarabag (kick off, 1 p.m. ET) would secure qualification to the Europa League knockout stages for the fourth-straight season. Three points could also seal top spot if Monaco lose to Anderlecht, Mauricio Pochettino is set to rotate his squad with teenage American defender Cameron Carter-Vickers traveling with the first team.

As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp (fresh from practicing his scouse accent) will send his team out against Bordeaux hoping to clinch a spot in the last 32. With a win Liverpool would qualify and set up a winner-takes-top-spot clash with FC Sion in Switzerland on Dec. 10.

Other big games taking place in the penultimate round of Europa League group games include Celtic hosting Ajax knowing only a win will keep alive their hopes of making the knockout stage, Slovan Liberec and Marseille clash with serious Group F implications and plenty of groups hang in the balance with all four teams still capable of qualifying.

Click on the link above to keep up to date with all the scores from around the Europa League on Thursday.