Upon seeing a screw-up from one of his players, a coach I once knew and liked would say, “The devil got inside him or something!”
Tim Howard, the devil got inside you. Or something.
It wasn’t just a goof or even a double goof from Howard, a longtime U.S. international who is usually solid as the Rocky Mountains. I mean ,the guy may give up a questionable goal here or there through imprecise footwork or positioning that is just a step or so off kilter. But this thing Thursday was something else.
First came a goal kick into a bad spot, putting his defender under antagonizing pressure. Then came the flailing kick-out that led to a penalty kick. And, worst of all, the subsequent red card left his team playing a man down for a big portion of Boxing Day. The resulting spot shot was the only goal as Everton, so tantalizingly close to the top, was unable to recover and dropped three big points at home.
So, to borrow from Christmas Story, it was the dreaded triple-dog goof.
Howard wasn’t the only American in the Premier League to have a rough day. His U.S. backup, Brad Guzan, couldn’t reach Dwight Gayle’s curler in stoppage time as Aston Villa also fell at home.
Geoff Cameron was a victim of his Stoke City teammates’ imprudent ways. The American defender was one of nine men left to deal with Newcastle, which took full advantage of the two red cards in a 5-1 romp. There is this, at least: Cameron got his chance to play at center back for Stoke – and haven’t so many U.S. fans wanted a look at this, although perhaps under different circumstances – as one of the ejections went to starting central defender Glenn Whelan
Then again, at least he was somewhere to be found; American international Brek Shea, once again, was out of the 18-man game day roster altogether.
A back injury kept Bobby Wood from United States men’s national team camp, but the Hamburg striker has been feeling good about the side’s World Cup fortunes since before the big win over Honduras.
Speaking with Hamburg’s team magazine, Wood gave a sprawling interview on his career and time with the national team. Wood praised Arena for scouting in Germany, saying the USMNT boss is a quiet coach who has his own style of playing, one that will prod the Yanks into the World Cup.
He’s very important to me. I believe if Jürgen had not been U.S. coach, then I might have stopped playing football or would have played somewhere in the fourth league.
That is why I am very, very grateful to him. At that time I was in a deep hole – it was real heavy. … He has believed in my quality. We are still in contact, he texts me.
Wood was a part-time player for 1860 Munich when Klinsmann first called him up to the national team side, and now he’s a Bundesliga striker who will be in demand if the club is relegated. Wood has also been mentioned as a target for Premier League clubs.
That’s a pretty good career jump. Klinsmann may have failed to deliver much of what he promised to the national team, but talent mining was done quite well.
Still wounded from the first two matches of the Hex but buoyed by its demolition of Honduras, the United States men’s national team faces an inspired Panama on Tuesday night in Panama City.
The Yanks arose from the ashes of losses to Mexico and Costa Rica to bury Honduras 6-0 Friday behind a Clint Dempsey hat trick and a goal and two assists from Christian Pulisic.
A win on Tuesday in Panama gives the U.S. something that can only soothe the nerves ahead of two summer qualifiers and the Gold Cup: Top Three status in the Hex (as is always expected).
Now the resurgent Americans face a Panama side which sits above them on the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table, having narrowed the gap on a Los Canaleros side who itself has narrowed its sights on a USMNT which burned them nearly four years ago.
Panama looked set to earn an interconfederation playoff berth with a 2-1 lead over the already-advanced U.S. when Graham “San” Zusi and Aron Johannsson led a shocking comeback at the Estadio Rommel Fernández to give Mexico the Hex’s fourth-place.
Los Canaleros shot out of the Hex gates with a win at Honduras and a 0-0 draw at home against Mexico, but fell 1-0 at Trinidad and Tobago on Friday thanks to Minnesota United star Kevin Molino.
Now licking its wounds while eyeing revenge, Panama will hope its pair of draws with the U.S. at the 2015 Gold Cup are the start they need to pick up a first home World Cup qualifying win over the States. Panama won the third-place match over the USMNT via shootout at the that tournament.
Boss Hernán Darío Gómez is no stranger to international battles having led Ecuador, Colombia, and Guatemala. He deployed a 4-5-1 against T&T, and could opt for that again but has usually used either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 with two holding mids against deeper sides than the Soca Warriors.
The former has worked better, and the personnel sometimes serves as a surprise. Last time out, in a 0-0 draw against Mexico, Gomez kept Anibal Godoy and Luis Tejada on the bench in what looks like a 4-2-2-2 at times.
Lletget’s absence is quickly remedied by either Alejandro Bedoya or, more likely, Jermaine Jones, but Brooks is a bigger problem. The Hertha Berlin man cleaned up several messes made by Omar Gonzalez, the ex-LA Galaxy man who — for better or worse — may not have shaken Arena’s confidence thanks to their long relationship.
Geoff Cameron is his best option at CB, and could serve a similar purpose to Brooks. Still, he’s not 100 percent.
Gonzalez and Matt Besler worked well together a long time ago, but Tim Ream was Arena’s first choice when Brooks hit the turf with dehydration on Friday. There’s also wild card Walker Zimmerman, who would be taking the field in his highest-profile match yet.
Arena will want to take the match to Panama, even on the road. How will it look in front of Tim Howard? This is an option for Arena, though not one we expect:
Zusi — Cameron — Ream — Villafana
Jones — Bradley — Nagbe
Dempsey — Altidore
Instead, Arena will probably roll the bones with Gonzalez again, and keep things close to the Honduras win. It would be silly to break up the Villafana-Nagbe partnership on the left, and the top three isn’t changing one bit.
The question is whether Arena ruffles Jones, who is both combustible and not part of the long-term future. But Jones, like all of us, would’ve seen 6-0. So, probably, this:
Cameron — Gonzalez — Ream — Villafana
Bedoya — Nagbe
Dempsey — Altidore
If Bradley provides the same picture-perfect cover for the back four and Pulisic continues to hum off the veteran big bodies of Dempsey and Altidore, the latter of which who is due a goal or two, the Yanks win. At worst, they’re beaten for pace by Alberto Quintero and stymied by Jaime Penedo. But the former can be covered by an in-form Howard, and the latter can only hold out for so long.
A draw puts the U.S. behind Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico ahead of two months off and the knowledge that both Mexico and Costa Rica are home for both June qualifiers.
The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.
Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.
The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.
Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.
Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.