What we learned from United States versus Austria

9 Comments
  • Jozy Altidore isn’t finishing … but he’s still contributing

We know Jozy Altidore can score. He just came off one of the best years a U.S. striker has ever lived.

Obviously, confidence is a big part of this scoring thing, and it may become an increasingly worrisome spot for the Sunderland striker. But for now, Altidore continues to be a bother on opposition defenses. He certainly was on Tuesday at Vienna’s Ernst-Happel Stadium – and with benefit of the doubt firmly in pocket on the scoring front, that’s good enough for now.

He was busy in making himself available, which is always essential and never exactly easy in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 (Tuesday’s alignment for manager Jurgen Klinsmann). And like Friday against Scotland, Altidore came close a couple of times. So even if the guy is not scoring at the moment for the United States, it’s not like he’s wildly off target.

And wouldn’t it help if the man could get a little bit of service from wide areas? At times Tuesday, Altidore must have felt like he was (Eee-gads!) back at Sunderland.

Which brings us to our second point …

  • The flanks have issues

If Alejandro Bedoya on the right and Brek Shea on the left got off a good cross Tuesday, then I missed it.

Which is really disappointing, considering that both U.S. players needed a big night. The opportunity is there because all the U.S. attacking strength right now is right up the gut, so precious little of it from the wide areas.

(Fabian Johnson could do something about this. So could Landon Donovan … but they have to get healthy. So, uh , get healthy.)

Bedoya has been getting prime minutes lately, but he just isn’t doing much to justify Klinsmann’s ongoing faith. Tuesday, like Friday against Scotland, was full of cutting back onto his left foot. Which is odd … a right-wing man who doesn’t seem to want to cross with his right foot. (Presumably, Altidore thinks so, too.)

In fairness, neither wide man got the ball in good spots Tuesday. Shea didn’t, although some of that was his own doing, as he some tactical inexperience showed.

Shea must learn to vary his positioning some, moving in and out, rather than remaining out wide all the time, predictably so. That makes it easier for defenders and midfielders to shut down passing lanes into him – which means he gets fewer chances to gallop past defenders with those long legs.

The bottom line on it all was that everything was going through Altidore and Aron Johannsson, who was given a shot as a central, attacking midfielder. Which brings us to …

  • Aron Johannsson showed enough in his new role

The young Alkmaar man, a recent U.S. convert from Iceland, has been impressive as a striker in his first few appearances as a Yank. So Klinsmann assigned Johannsson a new role Tuesday, as a playmaker tucked behind Altidore. He had plenty of room to operate since Michael Bradley played just a little further back than usual, a fellow holding mid in a 4-2-3-1 rather than more of a linker in a 4-3-3.

So some early trouble wasn’t in the spacing, but in the touch. Johannsson looked nervous initially, losing the ball four times within the game’s first 13 minutes. The field was slick, and it certainly wasn’t easy out there. Jermaine Jones lost the ball a lot, too. In other words, pretty much the same old, same old there.

But Johannsson did ease into the night. His shot from about 24 yards about 15 minutes in troubled Austrian goalkeeper Robert Almer and seemed to settle the young U.S. prospect, and he worked the channels adequately from there.

It wasn’t a signature night for the man born in Alabama and raised in Iceland. But he keeps showing enough. There is enough control in tight spaces, enough vision and enough speed of thought to keep us all excited. He’s 23 … not exactly a youngster, but hardly a finished product, either. And every time Johannsson steps on the field, his case for a place among the final 23 for Brazil seems to grow stronger.

  • Jermaine Jones gonna Jermaine Jones

Jones’ game-by-game assessment checklist: Lots of turnovers — check. Do something impulsive, potentially harmful to your team and just kind of silly, like give a little slap to an opponent, as Tuesday — check.

Well, we covered this ground before. Nothing new to see here … so let’s just move on.

  • John Brooks will be good … someday

With Goeff Cameron pushed out wide, John Brooks got his second start as a U.S. center back, this time alongside Omar Gonzalez.

Brooks had trouble here and there with positioning, but the foibles looked like teachable moments. It’s not like he cannot cope, in other words.

Brooks stepped aggressively toward the slippery Marc Janko when he might have been better to hold the line, and other times he needed to be closer to Austria’s top striker rather than further away.

But the tools all seem to be there, and his passing from the back was sufficiently varied and technical. He’s not ready to challenge Matt Besler just yet as Gonzalez’s central partner – but the 20-year-old German-American isn’t that far, either.

(MORE: NBC highlights from Tuesday’s 1-0 loss)

(MORE: Video of Geoff Cameron’s goal for the United States … that wasn’t counted)

(MORE: Geoff Cameron certainly helped himself with a good night)

(MORE: U.S. finishes 2013 with a 1-0 loss to Austria)

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

AP Photo/Bryan Woolston
1 Comment

The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)