Stacked and packed days for a busy United States national team in Brazil

2 Comments

Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. national team keep squeezing and squeezing, attempting to extract as much as possible from this ongoing Brazilian leg of the annual January camp, holding workouts and training matches in South America for a few more days before returning stateside.

This Sao Paulo-based stretch of the U.S. team’s annual January camp is about two things: getting in the effective workouts, same as they would back in California during any other January camp, and; doing as much to acclimate and familiarize themselves with Brazil, removing some mystery and looking for potential snags at the site of this summer’s World Cup.

No other team has this opportunity, after all, to bring about half the men that will make up this year’s World Cup roster – a full complement of 26 American players are in Brazil, but only about a dozen will make the final 23-man list for this summer in Brazil – to train and stay where they will train and stay this summer.

It’s about removing any hardship borne of the known unknown and the  unknown unknowns for players, coaches and staff. And it is about building relationships with support staff and potential allies at hotels, training grounds, the U.S. Embassy, etc.

How much this familiarization efforts will really help can be debated; at some point, soccer matters are decided by 11 v. 11 on the field. Then again, it can’t hurt, right? It’s a World Cup, after all, and dotting “Is” and crossing “Ts” certainly seems like the prudent and thorough approach.

So the busy days continue. To help keep fans informed, U.S. Soccer has been sending back diaries, like this one on the first “double-day” session from Brazil.

The team has had one closed door training game, a 2-1 loss to national power Sao Paulo.  Details are sketchy, although some intrepid journalists did manage to stow away with the details you see in that piece (linked just above.)

Journalists weren’t as lucky the following day, when U.S. security staff nailed them trying to film some of the workout. Apparently the team’s security staff is slowly plugging the leaks, getting acclimated to the weak spots, too.

The U.S. players visited the Estadio Das Dunas in Natal (pictured above), site of the team’s group opener against Ghana. (Remember, getting out of this tough World Cup group is all about winning that first one over Ghana.) I spoke to U.S. national team communications director Michael Kammarman in Brazil this afternoon; he reported that players and staff thought the building looks fantastic.

Meanwhile, Klinsmann and some other staff members did more complete site inspections today at Natal and at the stadium in Recife.

Assistant coaches Martin Vasquez and Andreas Herzog ran the U.S. workouts on the field while the big boss was site inspecting. Masa Sakihana, the team’s fitness coach, had the players for a gym session later in the day.

See what I mean … the days are stacked and packed.

The team has yet another training game Monday. Details will be scarce once again. Why?

U.S. Soccer typically resists providing details on these closed-door matches because they are so informal that only incorrect or wholly imprecise conclusions can be drawn. That’s the theory, at least.

In last Thursday’s training match – which we might call a “scrimmage” in our parts … but since  the world wouldn’t know anything about that American football term, we’ll call it what the rest of the globe calls it – 24 out of 26 U.S. players got on the field. The outside backs played 30 minutes each, in no particular order, so there’s not much to infer from that.

It’s more “glorified practice” than “match.” At least, that’s what I’ve been told before by U.S. staff.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

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

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)

Chelsea’s Kante claims PFA Player of the Year award

Photo credit: PFA / Twitter: @PFA
Leave a comment

Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante, who many felt was hard done by in not winning the award during Leicester City’s miraculous title-winning season of 2015-16, was named the 2016-17 PFA Player of the Year on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

With Chelsea six games from claiming this season’s Premier League title (they currently possess a four-point advantage on Tottenham Hotspur), it’s impossible to ignore Kante’s presence and impact on each of the last two (presumed) title-winning sides.

While his goal and assist numbers (1 and 1 this season) don’t come anywhere close to those of past winners (Riyad Mahrez tallied 17 and 11 en route to last season’s award), Kante’s industry, energy and rugged, ball-winning ways have integrated so seamlessly into Antonio Conte‘s debut Chelsea side.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

The Blues splashed the cash — $40 million was the fee — to sign Kante last summer, and they’ve reaped unbelievable, immediate return on investment from the 26-year-old.

Spurs’ Alli wins PFA Young Player award for 2nd straight season

Photo credit: Tottenham Hotspur / Twitter: @SpursOfficial
Leave a comment

Dele Alli joined Wayne Rooney (2004-05 and 2005-06) on Sunday as the only repeat or back-to-back winners of the PFA Young Player of the Year award winners since the turn of the century.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Alli showed in 2016-17 — much like his Tottenham Hotspur teammate and 2014-15 Young Player of the year winner Harry Kane — that he’s much more than a one-season wonder, improving upon 2015-16’s goal and assist numbers (10 and 9) with a 16-goal, 5-assist season this time around.

Alli was signed by Tottenham (out of League One and relative obscurity) for a fee just north of $6 million in 2015. Recent rumors have linked the 21-year-old with a move to join the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, for a transfer fee well over 10 times what Spurs paid to MK Dons.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

Between Alli and Kane, Spurs players have won the last three Young Player of the Year awards, and five of the last six (Gareth Bale in 2012-13; Kyle Walker in 2011-12). Only Eden Harzard could break up Spurs’ stranglehold on the award, in 2013-14.

Ryan Giggs (1991-92 and 1992-93) and Robbie Fowler (1994-95 and 1995-96) are the only other players to win the award in back-to-back seasons.

El Clasico: Messi scores 499, 500; Barca, Madrid level on points

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
1 Comment

After 31 (and 32, respectively) games played, three points were all that separated Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the table in La Liga.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

After another 90 scintillating, pulsating, thrilling, plot-twisting minutes of El Clasico on Sunday, there’s not a single thing to separate the two sides (other than Barca’s current tiebreaker on head-to-head meetings, and Madrid’s game in hand). This time, it was Lionel Messi who outshone Cristiano Ronaldo in the meeting of the world’s brightest stars, the former scoring twice and reaching the 500-goal mark in his Barcelona career (all competitions).

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 33 23 6 4 94 32 62 12-3-1 11-3-3 75
 Real Madrid 32 23 6 3 84 36 48 12-4-1 11-2-2 75
 Atlético Madrid 33 20 8 5 60 24 36 12-2-2 8-6-3 68

Casemiro opened the scoring with a tap-in into an empty net in the 28th minute. Marcelo floated a ball to the back post, where Sergio Ramos made clean contact but came up with nothing but hit nothing but woodwork. Fortunately for Los Blancos, the ball ricocheted off the post, bounced across the face of goal and found the Brazilian midfielder all by his lonesome.

The lead was short-lived, though, as a bloodied Messi scored yet another of his patented Messi goals just five minutes later. With two touches atop Madrid’s penalty area, he slalomed past and beat three defenders before applying the cool finish past Keylor Navas with that magical left foot of his.

Following the halftime break, the balance of play tipped in Barca’s favor. Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez went oh so close to putting the visitors ahead either side of the hour mark, but Navas produced a pair of stunning saves that’ll (perhaps) go a long way toward silencing his increasingly vocal critics.

[ MORE: Griezmann scores no. 25 as Atleti win to hold onto 3rd ]

There was absolutely nothing the Costa Rican no. 1 could do about Rakitic’s 73rd-minute strike, though. Cutting inside onto his left foot, the Croatian caressed and curled the ball toward the far post, where it made a hard right turn at the last possible second and nestled itself into the

Already up a goal, the game appeared to swing totally in Barca’s favor just four minutes later. Sergio Ramos, the most Sergio Ramos player to ever Sergio Ramos, went lunging in, with two sets of studs exposed, on Messi. He was rightly shown a straight red card.

Another pair of plot twists were still to come, though, as James Rodriguez got on the end of Marcelo’s cross and slammed the first-time finish past Marc Andre ter Stegen with four minutes of regular time remaining.

Then, with all of 13 seconds remaining in stoppage time, that man — the undisputed best player in the world and the greatest of all time — broke Madridista hearts once again. Sergi Roberto started the sequence all the way back in midfield, and Jordi Alba supplied the cross to the top of the box, and Messi drove that same left foot through the ball to beat Navas for the last-kick winner. The shirt-off-held-aloft celebration was simply salt in the wound.