Right back: a cursed U.S. national team position?

5 Comments

Once upon a time, not too long ago, left back was the problem child position around the U.S. national team. It was the position with issues, the personnel riddle that refused to be solved despite varied and valiant attempts.

It was like that for more than a decade, going back to a time so troubled that ol’ David Regis seemed like the answer.

David Regis was not the answer.

We’ve officially witnessed a changing of the guard, so to speak, during the current World Cup cycle. The position most likely to keep U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann up at night these days: U.S. right back.

(MORE: Chandler injured in Nuremberg match)

Timothy Chandler’s injury today is the latest reminder that every option at this position come with its own set of issues.  Let’s take a quick, fresh look at the candidates to play right back this summer in Brazil. (Or, in a couple of cases, guys who came close to candidacy over the last couple of years.)

  • Brad Evans: He’s the top choice at the moment, even though it’s not his spot for the Seattle Sounders. Playing one position for club and something different for country isn’t exactly unique. Then again, it’s not exactly ideal, either, now is it?
  • Geoff Cameron: The guess here is that Cameron, still doing well at the right back spot for Stoke, will be the starting right back when Klinsmann lines ‘em up against Ghana on June 16 at Estadio das Dunas in Natal. But for whatever reason (as we talked about earlier this week), Klinsmann has been reluctant to embrace the long-legged righty as a fullback, preferring that the player fight his way into central defensive candidacy for Stoke City. Again, it might be changing. Either way, this one may be the oddest duck in a lineup of odd duck personnel conundrums at the U.S. right back spot.
  • Steve Cherundolo: The longtime U.S. incumbent at right back slips further and further from World Cup candidacy with each inactive week that passes. He just can’t get past the injury issues that have taken him out of the Hannover lineup all year.
  • DeAndre Yedlin: Word is that Klinsmann really liked what he saw out of the young Sounders outside back during an eventful January camp. But it’s just too early for him. Might we see a big run from the guy during World Cups in 2018 and 2022? Could be! But for 2014? The guy remains pretty raw.
  • Tony Beltran: Just over one year ago he was among the guys performing pretty well in camp. Then came a rough night as a starter against Canada, and Beltran just hasn’t made up the lost ground since.
  • Fabian Johnson: A natural lefty, Johnson (pictured above) has started here and there out of necessity at right back for the United States. And could certainly do so again; he always looked OK as a right back. But when you use a guy who is “solid” or just “OK” on the right, but who could be potentially dynamic and even game-breaking on the other side of the field, you’ve left something pretty valuable on the table, haven’t you?
  • Michael Parkhurst: Steady performances (nothing sizzling, but a dependable defensive presence) on the right and on the left have put the Columbus Crew man in position for heavy roster consideration. When it comes to those 21st, 22nd and 23rd spots, versatility is pretty clutch. Of course, he’ll be playing center back for Gregg Berhalter at Crew Stadium, so that mucks things up a bit.
  • Timothy Chandler: If your poured the truth syrup over Klinsmann’s morning pancakes, he’d probably confess that the flakey young FC Nuremberg man is alive in this conversation today only because of the positional instability. Otherwise, he’d be dead as a box of hammers to Klinsmann and the U.S. staff. This latest news (today’s injury) adds yet another moving part to it all, at very best. At worst (well, depending on your definition of “worst,” which probably swings in this case on your feelings about Chandler), this more or less eliminates the guy for roster consideration.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone