Man United must get creative, City still title favorites, Hammers struggling – View from the booth, with Arlo White

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When watching soccer on TV, have you ever sat there and wondered what the man behind the microphone really thinks?

Maybe this will go someway to helping with that.

In the latest edition of “View from the Booth” we chat with NBC Sports’ lead soccer announcer Arlo White about Manchester United vs. Swansea, David Moyes’ struggles and what he should do in the transfer window. Plus we speak about Newcastle pulling off a shock against Man City at St. James’ Park and what on earth is going on at West Ham United.

(VIEW FROM THE BOOTH ARCHIVE)

You can hear Arlo calling live games this weekend on NBC Sports Network and NBC, and watch every single game available live online via NBC Sports Live Extra,

So, let’s get to it.

Manchester United have lost three games in a row as their season of struggle continues. How significant is their game vs. Swansea for United?

It’s hugely significant, they’ve not lost four in a row since 1961. Back then Sir Matt Busby’s side were on a 10-game winless run which actually left the club in 21st place in December as they continued to rebuild after the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. The last time United had as few as 34 points from 20 games that actually went on to win the inaugural Premier League title by 10 points. But in 1992-93 it was a 42-game season and their rivals were no where near as well equipped as they are today. For me, it’s forget the title, forget trophies. Period (although one would be nice). It is operation fourth place for Manchester United and qualification for the Champions League. They start the weekend five points behind Liverpool with 18 games to go.

source: Getty Images
More misery for Moyes and Manchester United. Arlo thinks this transfer window is massive for the Red Devils.

I’m not sure if the hierarchy at United expected the torrent of titles and trophies to continued to pour into Old Trafford after the immediate absence of Sir Alex Ferguson. But missing out on the Champions League is another matter entirely. It would be a financial hammer-blow, finishing fifth would compound the issue as it would bring a potentially debilitating campaign in the Europa League next season just as they’re rebuilding and trying to reclaim a top four spot. It is well documented that United have lost three on the spin to start 2014, but David Moyes has been nominated for Manager of the Month for December. Their 1-0 win over Norwich on December 28 wasn’t convincing but it was United’s fourth win in December, they need the spirit of the old Manchester United at Old Trafford to rip into Swansea. They also need the memory of a recent winning streak to grab a vital win in front of their own fans because it ‘s a huge and potentially season-defining task that awaits them the week after at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

WATCH MAN UNITED vs. SWANSEA LIVE ONLINE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 12:30pm ET ON SATURDAY

Lee Dixon and I cannot wait to get to Old Trafford, we were their together to see Everton defeat United and I was with Graeme Le Saux for the Tottenham defeat. Manchester United’s fans are being very fair and are heeding Sir Alex’s request to give the new man a chance and give him their full support. But they are growing a little more disgruntled. You can hear the first signs of boo’s at the final whistle as the away fans celebrate in the far corner. This is an absolutely vital afternoon for Manchester United, we can’t wait to sample the atmosphere at Old Trafford.

Plenty are expecting David Moyes to be handed a considerable war chest in the January transfer window. Which positions need strengthening the most?

United need to think outside the box here, in a way that perhaps they’ve never had to do in the last two decades. Champions League qualification is an absolute must for them so they need to get creative. Short-term loans, or maybe sign a player that’s ineligible for the Champions League this season but may help them enormously in the Premier League to help them get back into a top four spot. Their needs overall are plenty, long-term they need new full backs, they need at least one center back and they need to restock in the wide midfield areas, plus they need a central attacking midfielder.

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Only Rooney and RVP are worthy of a starting spot at United these days. Maybe De Gea too.

It’s only Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie who they desperately need to hold onto, who you can say are two definites in a staring XI in the future, with the possible exception of David De Gea who through it all is playing very well indeed.

In the short-term they need some dynamism in central midfield, some energy, aggression and some flair. Whether they’ll find that in January is another matter. But as I say they need to think outside the box, reappraise their approach and get some talent in whether they have to pay more for it at a premium in January and those players are ineligible for the Champions League. They’ve got to improve in the Premier League.

The atmosphere at St. James’ Park is often intimidating for visiting sides, how big a test is this for Manchester City against Newcastle?

It’s very big. Manchester United have a better away record than Manchester City. City have won all ten games at home, they have 30 points out of 30, but away they’ve won four out of 10 and have conceded 17 goals so they’ve accumulated 14 points out of 30. They’ve also scored double the amount of goals at home than they have on the road, the discrepancy between home form and away form for them is still too big although their away record has picked up in the last few games.

WATCH NEWCASTLE VS. MAN CITY LIVE ONLINE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA, 9:05am ET ON SUNDAY

source: AP
Newcastle are a tough nut to crack at home. Can a rampaging Man City side win at St. James’ Park?

Newcastle, as you say are a tough nut to crack at home. I can’t wait to get to St. James’ Park this weekend, we’ve been there once this season. 52,000 fans were there for the West Brom game and it’s a wonderful place to watch football. It’s a true football city with the history you breathe football in the air and you breathe Newcastle United when you walk up the road towards St. James’ Park on the hill. They’ve beaten Chelsea at home this season so far Newcastle, they have top four intentions themselves. They’ve just started to slide into midtable, so it’s a vital game for them. I’m fascinated and so impressed of the emergence of Alvaro Negredo as a striker in the absence of Sergio Aguero. He has got incredible power and has scored eight goals in the league, 18 in total.

I think it’s too soon for Aguero to come back but that’s one of the big decisions Manuel Pellegrini has to make. He often makes different decisions away than he would at home, will he start two up top with Negredo and Dzeko? Or will he go one up top and five in midfield? I think their approach to the game, you will be able to see it through the starting XI Pellegrini selects vs. Newcastle.

Are Man City still your favorites to win the title?

Marginally. This is the season of seasons, in terms of it being wide open. We’re still no closer to a definitive answer and that’s just the way we like it halfway through the season. City are clearly the most explosive, devastating team in the Premier League. When they’re at home their hard work and togetherness shines through, they buzz around in central midfield and work tirelessly to get the ball back. You watch Kolarov at left back and particularly Zabaleta on the right flank and those two tirelessly bomb up and down the flanks to help in attack and defense as well. Fernandinho and Toure at home are unstoppable, they give Manchester City a fantastic platform. If it went on just their home form there would be only one team in it. But it’s this nagging doubt of their away form which prevents me from saying that they’re the outright favorites.

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City’s supreme offense is still taking time for gel away from the Etihad. But recent signs are good for Pellegrini’s men.

Arsenal have recovered nicely from a little wobble before Christmas, they deserve to be where they are. And we will see what they do in the transfer window in January, it’s a big transfer window for Arsene Wenger. He went against his own policies by going out and spending a lot of money on Mesut Ozil in the summer, perhaps he might do the same seeing that Arsenal are in the box seat going into the second half of the season. But Chelsea are impressing me in a different way. It’s possible that in a season of high-scoring football, wide-open games and attack minded approaches that a team that can grind out results and be consistent in that way might just accumulate enough points that when the music stops at the end of the season, they could be the ones on the throne as Champions. So don’t rule Chelsea out at this stage, and I think out of the top four Liverpool are the outsiders but we will see what happens when they get their main stars back as well.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

The trials and tribulations of West Ham United under Sam Allardyce is making a big story in the Premier League. He made so many changes in the FA Cup tie versus Nottingham Forest, as Premier League survival was the priority and the semifinal first leg of the League Cup at Man City, and they got walloped 5-0 by Forest. They are injury ravaged and they then go and get absolutely torn apart by Man City, and they’ve now conceded 11 goals without scoring in their last two games. The Hammers now face a very difficult game away at Cardiff City under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. They’re going to be rejuvenated I’m sure in the absence of Malky Mackay, they played very well in the game we did on NBC against Sunderland where perhaps they were unfortunate to concede a last minute equalizer. But West Ham have got to turn in a performance, they’ve got horrendous injury problems at the back and one or two of their players are going missing.

source: AP
West Ham are beleaguered and languishing towards the bottom. One more big defeat could spell the end for Big Sam.

Andy Carroll can’t get into that team quick enough just to give them a boost. There will be a lot of pressure on him to score goals immediately in a side that’s struggling. But another heavy defeat at Cardiff, I know the owners at West Ham have backed Sam Allardyce to the hilt, but the fans are starting to turn. They are a little bit embarrassed with what’s going on and they’re fearful for the future.

They’ve seen the short-term short in the arm that a managerial change can provide for them, so a hefty defeat for West Ham at the weekend and things could get extremely interesting.

Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica

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The U.S. national team is headed to the final of the 2017 Gold Cup after knocking off Costa Rica 2-0 on Saturday.

Who stood out for all the right — and wrong — reasons, as Bruce Arena’s side prepares to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday’s final?

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 7 — Forced to make two saves, the first of which was a hero’s intervention with Marco Ureña racing in one on one. The second came not long before the opening goal, and he did well to spill it no more than a foot or two in front of him. Howard looks at the top of his game, again.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 6.5 — For the first time all tournament, he got forward with regularity and served the ball into the box. With the entire flank open ahead of him, Villafaña had to fill the void of width. Still, not a ton of quality. Fortunately, he was tested very little in open space.

CB — Matt Besler: 7.5 — Best of the defensive unit, perhaps so much so he’s vaulted himself back into the four-man rotation for the World Cup.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 6 — Besler stood out as the star, hardly putting a foot wrong all night, thus overshadowing Gonzalez for the most part. Costa Rica opted to build with the ball on the ground, thus negating Gonzalez’s greatest strength, his aerial presence. That said, he wasn’t remotely exposed in the weakest facet of his game, either.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Paul Arriola’s presence ahead of him was immeasurably important. I’m still bullish on Zusi as a right back, with the necessary shading of defensive help. Before you lose your mind, consider the italicized part.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 7 — Not his most influential game, but it didn’t need to be. With Kellyn Acosta doing much of the heavy lifting, in terms of covering acreage, Bradley played the part of disciplined organizer slightly deeper in midfield than we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s a role that suits him well, with the right partner ahead of him. His influence on Acosta will also benefit the USMNT for years to come.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 7 — The kid is (still) alright, even after a couple subpar games during the group stage. As stated above, the partnership matters. Afforded a bit more time and space by the Ticos, Acosta pushed into the final third all night long and provided the extra man to play with possession high up the field.

LM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — He’ll always shade more toward the center of the field, even when played as an out-and-out wide midfielder, and that’s what he did against Costa Rica. It’s nice having that extra man in the middle, but it turns the left wing into a barren wasteland. Take the good with the bad.

RM — Paul Arriola: 6.5 — You may not get a ton of final product from Arriola, but with Zusi playing an out-of-role right back behind him, it’s vitally important that the wide player on that side of the field offers defensive cover from the front. Arriola does so, and gets into (and wins) more than a winger’s fair share of 50-50 challenges. He’s a net positive in a lot of things that don’t show up in boxscores. There’s always a place for a player like that.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 6.5 — We’ve known this for a while, but Altidore is far more effective playing with a partner up top. His tendency to drop into midfield helps to link play with someone ahead of him. When he’s all by his lonesome, who/what’s he to link?

FW — Jordan Morris: 7 — Piggybacking on the above point about Altidore, Morris is the perfect complement — quick in short bursts, a burner in the open field, and a smart runner of channels on occasion. He was the best player on the field the opening 30 minutes or so. Faded down the stretch, but the strong first half earns him positive marks.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 9 — An assist and a goal, all in 24 minutes’ work. More on the hero of the day in a bit.

Sub — Gyasi Zardes: N/A — 7 minutes on the field, with little to no real impact on the game.

Sub — Dax McCarty: N/A — 5 minutes off the bench, but he served his purpose in helping to keep possession and put the game to bed.

Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final

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It took considerably longer than Bruce Arena would have hoped, but the U.S. national team edged its way past Costa Rica, courtesy of Jozy Altidore‘s 72nd-minute goal, in the two sides’ 2017 Gold Cup semifinal in Arlington, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

It was Arena’s injection of Clint Dempsey just six minutes earlier which would prove to be the game-changing moment. The soon-to-be all-time leading scorer in USMNT history created Altidore’s goal, the 38th tally of his international career, with a silky smooth turn and through ball that unlocked an otherwise formidable, frustrating Ticos defense. The Nacogdoches, Tex., native pulled level with Landon Donovan on the USMNT’s scoring charts 10 minutes later as he sealed the Yanks’ passage into the final.

The clock read 11 seconds when the USMNT’s first scoring chance arrived. Straight from the kickoff, they worked the ball to a streaking Jordan Morris, who in full stride unleashed a hard, right-footed strike from 10 yards out. Post.

For all the early excitement, and the massive possession advantage (61-39), it was the closest the USMNT would come to beating Patrick Pemberton, as the Yanks failed to put a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

Tim Howard was called into heroic action in the 37th minute, when Bryan Ruiz dribbled through the heart of midfield and played Marco Ureña into the penalty area. The San Jose Earthquakes striker went low and far post with his effort from 12 yards out, but Howard was quick to get down and make the one-on-one save.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

The Americans’ first chance of the second half didn’t come until the 70th minute. Clint Dempsey played a simple square ball to Kellyn Acosta, whose first-time shot forced Pemberton into a tough save to push the ball high into the air.

Two minutes later, the breakthrough. Dempsey slipped Jozy Altidore through with a delicate through ball into space, and the Toronto FC man latched onto it quickly and slotted it past Pemberton despite the ‘keeper getting a hand on it.

Dempsey’s history-making moment seemed innocuous enough from the start — a free kick from all of 25 yards out, at a difficult angle. Whatever, said Dempsey, who went for goal anyway. His bouncing ball evade Pemberton at the near post and gave him 57 international goals.

The winner of Mexico versus Jamaica, the second semifinal which will take place on Sunday, awaits the USMNT in the final on Wednesday.

Mexico block out drama before Gold Cup semifinal vs. Jamaica

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PASADENA, Calif. (AP) After nearly two years as Mexico’s head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio is used to constant criticism of his tactics and lineups. He isn’t surprised by regular calls for his firing from fans, media and former national team players — and that’s just when Mexico is playing well.

“We do our best so that the players cannot feel the criticism,” Osorio said Saturday. “We try not to translate it to the players. We try to maintain the best spirit in the team.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Yet for all of the drama and distraction around El Tri this summer, Osorio is one win from getting a young roster with an ever-changing lineup into the CONCACAF Gold Cup final while he coaches from the stands, thanks to a FIFA suspension.

Mexico faces Jamaica on Sunday night at the Rose Bowl, El Tri‘s home away from home, for a spot in the championship game.

Osorio is already proud of his experimental roster’s Gold Cup success despite a steady drumbeat of criticism from those who don’t like the Colombian coach’s plans or his players’ execution of them. He chose a youthful group for this tournament to build Mexico’s base of experience for next year’s World Cup and the years ahead.

“Our goal is to build a team that can compete at any level,” Osorio said. “We’ve had some losses that have been very difficult, and the scars are there. But at the same time, they show that we’re strong and moving forward, and this team has won much more than it has lost. We are very motivated, and we want to continue building and growing. We want to have more players competing for a spot that can help us. We want to have a present and a future.”

Mexico has won three of the last four Gold Cups, beating Jamaica 3-1 in the 2015 final. These teams also met at the Rose Bowl 13 months ago during the Copa America, when Javier Hernandez scored an early goal in a 2-0 win.

West Ham-bound Chicharito is among several tested veterans not participating in the Gold Cup. Mexico has struggled to replace his offense, scoring half of its six goals in this tournament back in its opener.

“We are all motivated and ready to give our all for the team,” said midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro, who got the only goal in Mexico’s 1-0 quarterfinal win over Honduras. “We all want to be part of this.”

Osorio will watch from the crowd while serving the fifth game of his six-match suspension for what FIFA deemed aggressive behavior toward officials during a match against Portugal in the Confederations Cup, where Mexico finished a disappointing fourth.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

Mexico and Jamaica played to a 0-0 draw 10 days ago during Gold Cup group play in Denver. El Tri dominated possession, but Mexico’s fans booed their own team after it failed to find the net behind stalwart Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake.

Mexican fans booing their own team is nothing new, but El Tri can also count on wild support from Los Angeles’ vast Latino population.

Jamaica coach Theodore Whitmore acknowledges his Reggae Boyz are underdogs, but he believes his players raise their level whenever they get the chance to wreck the plans of the U.S. or Mexico, the pre-tournament favorites.

“I think our confidence is high,” Whitmore said. “We don’t want to be overconfident going into the game. We know the Mexican team has a lot to offer. It is a team that we have to give a lot of respect, based on what they’ve been through over the years.”

Jamaica is also playing without top talent, including Wes Morgan, Giles Barnes and all of its England-based players. Darren Mattocks, the Portland forward who has excelled in the Gold Cup, also could miss the semifinal due to an injury, Whitmore said.

Jamaica showed its offensive potency last Thursday with a pair of beautiful goals in a quarterfinal victory over Canada. Whitmore plans a “totally different approach” from the defensive caution with which Jamaica played El Tri earlier in the month.

“We try to be mean in conceding goals, and that’s been working for us,” Whitmore said. “We want to be still disciplined. We want to be compact in defense, but on the other hand, I think the transition game in defense is important if we want to get past this Mexico team.”

FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT vs. Costa Rica — Gold Cup semifinals

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The last time the U.S. national team faced Costa Rica, the final score was 4-0 in favor of the home side, in San Jose (not the one in California). Six days later, Jurgen Klinsmann was fired and replaced by Bruce Arena.

On Saturday, it’ll be Arena’s USMNT which takes on Los Ticos with a place in the 2017 Gold Cup final on the line. One of Mexico and Jamaica, who’ll face off in the second semifinal on Sunday, comes next.

When: 10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

Arena has made five changes to the team that beat El Salvador 2-0 in Wednesday’s quarterfinal. Incoming are Graham Zusi (for Eric Lichaj), Matt Besler (Matt Hedges), Jorge Villafaña (Justin Morrow), Kellyn Acosta (Gyasi Zardes) and Jordan Morris (Clint Dempsey).

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]