Preview: USA aim to impress against Scotland at Hampden

Leave a comment

GLASGOW — On Friday night under the lights at the famous Hampden Park stadium, the USMNT will be going all out for their first-ever win on Scottish soil.

This will be no friendly.

The last time these two sides meet in Jacksonville in 2012, the U.S. hammered Scotland 5-1 and Landon Donovan bagged a hat-trick. This time, away from home in front of a passionate crowd in Glasgow, facing the Tartan Army will be a much tougher proposition.

For the U.S. this game, and the trip to Vienna to face Austria next Tuesday, not only acts as a great ending to a phenomenal season — where 15 wins from 21 games, World Cup qualification, moving up to 13th in FIFA’s World Rankings and  record 12-game winning streak made for a fabulous year — but also a valuable preparation tool for facing European sides in the World Cup next summer.

WATCH USA vs. AUSTRIA LIVE ON NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 2:45pm ET, TUESDAY NOVEMBER 19

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann believes the USA will face a much stronger Scotland side than the team they beat 5-1 last May.

“We are expecting a completely different game this time,” Klinsmann said. “Everyone is well aware of that. Scotland did us the favor the last time to come over after their season, to Florida in 95 degrees. We knew that it was going to be very difficult for them to bring everything they have when their season was already done. For us, it was a very important preparation game for the World Cup qualifiers, so we were on a totally different page at that moment focus wise.”

(MORE: U.S. national team in high spirits as sensational 2013 draws to a close)

This time around the USMNT has plenty of injury concerns as Jurgen Klinsmann has already lost captain Clint Dempsey and winger Fabian Johnson through this week.

New Scotland boss Gordon Strachan has transformed the Scots fortunes sine Craig Levein left, with the Tartan Army defeating Croatia home and away in the latter stages of World Cup qualifying as a renewed sense of vigor surrounds the Scottish national team.

Scotland have Premier League regulars in Robert Snodgrass, Steven Fletcher, James Morrison, Charlie Adam and many others, whilst plenty of promising youngsters forcing their way into the side. This will be no walk in the park for the USA as the well-organized and physically commanding Scots look to bring their A-game.

(MORE: EXCLUSIVE: U.S. ‘keeper Tim Howard agrees governing bodies can help with head injuries)

USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard is looking forward to the challenge of playing away from home in boisterous atmospheres, something the U.S. have fared quite well with in recent years.

After drawing with Russia and beating the likes of Italy and Bosnia away from home in other friendlies on Europe, the task of taking on a team with a distinctly different style to most of the teams in CONCACAF also provides a huge plus in preparation for any potential match ups with Euro nations at the World Cup.

source: Getty Images
Both Michael Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann believe the tough test against Scotland is great preparation for teams the USMNT may face in Brazil next summer.

“That’s why we’ve taken the games on, because they’re going to be difficult opponents away from home. It is never easy and that causes its own problems,” Howard said. “It will be a good test for us. But, you know, we’ve played away from home in Europe before in the last two or three years and done quite well, so we will be expecting to win this game.”

That confidence was evident throughout the lively training sessions during the week, as a relaxed yet focused attitude reigned supreme around the U.S. squad.

However most of the players I spoke with weren’t getting too carried away, as they agreed that nations like Scotland and Austria are a step up from teams in their home region. USMNT midfielder Michael Bradley believes it will be a tougher test than World Cup qualifying.

“When you compare them to certain teams in CONCACAF, yeah, probably,” Bradley said. “Obviously Mexico have had a tough run but they’re still a very good team and we’ve had big experience playing against other top teams, Germany, Italy, Russia For sure we look forward to these types of games against good opponents in Europe. Good atmospheres, great stadiums.”

As for Stoke City right back Geoff Cameron, he’s looking forward to the games against top opposition in Europe but gave CONCACAF a pat on the back… of sorts.

“CONCACAF is a very tough thing to overcome,” Cameron said. “The teams, you go down there and the conditions and what they do to try and throw you off is very difficult to overcome. But obviously playing over here the pitches are all the same, good quality, maybe just dealing with the cold weather. But Scotland is a good side and Austria will be a tough side as well. It’s obviously two sides with good competition and building up for the World Cup that’s good for us.”

Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson, who has scored five times for the USMNT in 2013, believes it’s not only important to get together and use the game as preparation, it’s all about keeping that winning mentality going too.

“I think it’s about every time we get together as a national team to play on European soil, it’s important for us to come here and try to get a result,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t schedule a better side to play against this coming Friday, who have some good players who play in the Premier League, the biggest league in the world, so it will be a good test for us in preparation for the World Cup. We know it’s going to be a fantastic crowd and two good sides to play against and prepare for the World Cup and get better as a national team.”

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

Getty Images
2 Comments

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

Getty Images
Leave a comment

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.