Manchester United’s tricky test, Liverpool firing, UCL hangover – View from the Booth, with Arlo White

1 Comment

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 Crystal Palace’s battle with Manchester United, Swansea’s trip to face Liverpool, Champions League hangovers and much more.

(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.

On Saturday you are at Selhurst Park to see Palace take on Manchester United. Given the Eagles superb home form and United’s struggles, are Palace the favorites? And how difficult will this be for United?

Palace can’t be favorites for a game against Manchester United, but I’m sure Tony Pulis has them brimming with belief that they are capable of pulling out a first league victory since 1991.

Since the former Stoke boss was appointed in late November, their revival has been nothing short of remarkable. In fact, I’d argue that it is one of the great success stories of this Premier League season, albeit over shadowed by a thrilling title race, the big personalities at the top of the table and the regular managerial casualties around the league.

If the Premier League season started when Pulis was appointed, the Eagles would be in 8th place, only two points behind Manchester United.  It’s an incredible renaissance considering they only earned 7 points from their opening 12 games. Hands up who predicted Palace to stay up?  If you have your hand up, I don’t believe you, or you are a Palace season ticket holder!

source:
Wayne Rooney has signed a lucrative new deal with United. Source: manutd.com

Palace don’t score many goals, but they have become much harder to beat, and are far more resilient against their fellow relegation strugglers. They’ve won three out of their last four in the Premier League, but more tellingly, they’ve turned Selhurst Park into a very difficult place for traveling teams to visit. Pulis has only tasted defeat once in seven at home. Palace had a terrific transfer deadline day.  I’m looking forward to watching Tom Ince against Manchester United. Scott Dann brings experience to the heart of their defense and Joe Ledley has seen plenty of Champions League action at Celtic.

We’ve talked endlessly about United’s troubles in this column this season, so let’s just say that they are capable of winning handsomely at Selhurst Park, but are also vulnerable to a demoralizing defeat similar to the one they suffered at Stoke recently. Wayne Rooney’s new contract announcement is a boost to the club, let’s see if David Moyes’ side can carry that bounce onto the field.

Either way, Rooney can afford to buy a round of sandwiches for the trip back north.

With Liverpool playing after the other title contenders this weekend, the Reds have a chance to go within one point of top spot. What can they expect from Swansea?

Yes, but they could also find themselves chasing by Sunday afternoon. For their Champions League aspirations, they could use a big Chelsea win over Everton on Saturday. For their title hopes, which are slowly growing, they could use the exact opposite.

Brendan Rodgers’ side have been incredible at home this season. Since their only defeat against Southampton, they’ve taken 28 out of the 30 points on offer. Rodgers declared himself tactically culpable for the two points they dropped against Aston Villa, which was another smart piece of man management.

Incredibly, Liverpool have continued their high scoring unbeaten run whilst Luis Suarez has cooled off in pure goalscoring terms. The Uruguayan scored 22 in his first 16 Premier League games this season, but has only found the net once in the last five. He’s still playing well, and it’s a testament to Liverpool’s attacking prowess that Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling and Steven Gerrard have filled the scoring void.

source: AP
Suarez’s goals have dried up a little of late.

Sturridge has scored a goal in the last seven Premier League games. Only Ruud Van Nistelrooy has managed to score in eight straight in Premier League history. Will this be only the 4th game in 19 that he’ll fail to find the net in the Premier League this season?  It’s doubtful.

Liverpool haven’t had too many chances to break their lengthy title drought. After their defeat at Arsenal last week in the FA Cup, they are now free to concentrate solely on the Premier League. This opportunity doesn’t occur too often, can they grasp it and mount a serious title challenge? We’ll know more after Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City have visited Anfield.

Do you expect the Swans to survive? Garry Monk seems to have settled them down since taking charge. Is he the right man, long-term?

I think Swansea will survive but if I were a Swans fan, I’d be a little bit concerned about this game, and it’s timing. Liverpool have scored 43 first half goals this season, more than 16 Premier League teams have managed in total. Swansea have managed just seven.  Can the visitors withstand an early hurricane from the Reds, because they know it’s coming?

The game is nestled awkwardly between the two legs of their Europa League tie against Napoli. They earned a valiant 0-0 draw at home on Thursday night against a side lying 3rd in Serie A, but will their minds wander to the 2nd leg in the Stadio San Paulo next Thursday?

Swansea need to give a good account of themselves at Anfield and in Naples, and then gather points against their fellow strugglers like Palace, West Brom and Norwich in the month of March. As for Monk, he’s enjoyed a terrific start, not least a 3-0 win in the South Wales derby. This is his audition. If Swansea continue to improve then he could be their man long term, but it’s very early days.

With disappointment for both English teams in the Champions League, do you think Arsenal and Man City will be suffering a hangover this weekend?

It’s possible. Both managers will have to tinker a little as both sides played big chunks of time with 10 men, against arguably the best two club sides in the world during the week. That will surely lead to some tired legs in either squad.

source: AP
Champions League woe continues for City, will that impact their performance vs. Stoke?

Both will be delighted to be at home against sides from the bottom half of the table. The challenge for Arsene Wenger is whether to give Mesut Ozil a break. Will Manuel Pelligrini give Demichelis a break and integrate Lescott or Nastasic ahead of the 2nd leg in the Nou Camp?  We’ll see.

It’s simple, if Arsenal and Manchester City are hurting, which they should be, they need to get over it and ensure three points each on Saturday afternoon.

Finally, what else are you looking forward to?

West Brom vs. Fulham will be fascinating. Pepe Mel has failed to win any of his five games in charge of the Baggies, but they have managed draws at the Hawthorns against Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton, so there is something to build on.

But what about Fulham? It’s a Premier League bow for the 60-year-old German Felix Magath, the Cottagers third manager this season.  He’s a task master, but he gets results. Whether Fulham’s players will stand for a boot camp atmosphere at this stage of the season is unknown, but they showed against Manchester United and Liverpool (where they were only outscored 5-4 but managed a solitary point) that they do have a resilient streak. They’ll need it with Magath in charge, and the challenge they face to avoid the drop.

FOLLOW LIVE: Mexico vs. Jamaica — who’ll face USMNT in final?

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Leave a comment

It’s Mexico versus Jamaica in the second semifinal of the 2017 Gold Cup on Sunday, facing off for the right to play the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final.

When: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

[ LIVE: Gold Cup scoreboard ]

It’s the second time these sides have met this summer, having already played to a scoreless draw in the second game of Group C play, en route to Mexico finish top of the group, besting Jamaica by two points on the final day of the group stage.

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

Hit the link above, or click here, to follow along with Sunday’s semifinal action.

Gonzalez follows heart in switch from Mexico to USMNT

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jesse Gonzalez started in the 2015 Under-20 World Cup for Mexico, his parents’ homeland. Then last month, the 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper switched his affiliation to join the United States, his home country.

Gonzalez just felt more comfortable in the red, white and blue.

“The U.S. has given me a lot. I’m grateful for what they have given me and the opportunity they have given me,” he said after joining the U.S. roster for the knockout rounds of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

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

Tim Howard, now 38, remains the top U.S. goalkeeper as the Americans try to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Brad Guzan, who will be 33 in September, is entrenched as the No. 2.

After that, no keepers have emerged at the top level in the next generation. Gonzalez, and fellow 20-somethings Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Cody Cropper and Ethan Horvath all figure to compete with Guzan for the starting job in the 2019-22 World Cup cycle.

“I don’t have any doubt that he will be one of the best keepers in America,” Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said of Gonzalez after discovering the teen prospect when he was playing in a youth tournament.

Gonzalez’s parents emigrated from Mexico, and he was born in Edenton, North Carolina.

“My parents didn’t really find anything around North Carolina,” Gonzalez said. “They thought it was a lonely state, so they got out of there.”

His family moved to Houston and then on to Dallas when Gonzalez was a child. After spotting Gonzalez on a recreational team, Pareja persuaded the family to switch the keeper to the FC Dallas youth academy. He played there alongside midfielder Kellyn Acosta, who has broken into the U.S. starting lineup this year.

“They taught me how to be more responsible,” Gonzalez said. “It was almost like a job at the time, just waking up early and being on time to training.”

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

Pareja, a Colombian national team midfielder in the early 1990s, said the 6-foot-4 Gonzalez’s long arms and quick reflexes immediately reminded him of late Colombian keeper Miguel Calero. Gonzalez debuted for Dallas’ under-16 team in September 2010 and was signed to a professional homegrown player contract in March 2013. Just more than two years later, he became the youngest keeper to start in team history: at 20 years, 89 days.

By then, Mexican team scouts had noticed Gonzalez at a showcase in Sarasota, Florida, and asked whether he had interest in playing for El Tri.

“Richard Sanchez, one of my old teammates, he was there. He talked very well about them,” Gonzalez recalled.

Gonzalez started Mexico’s first four matches at the 2015 CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, then had a pair of saves during penalty kicks to lift Mexico over Panama in the final. At the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand, he played in Mexico’s second and third games,

The following January, Gonzalez turned down an invitation from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to attend a national team training camp in Carson, California. Instead, Gonzalez went to a Mexican Under-23 team camp ahead of the Olympics, but he was not picked for El Tri’s Rio de Janeiro roster.

Gonzalez spent a long time before deciding this spring to apply to FIFA for a change of affiliation. Because he had not played a competitive match for Mexico’s senior national team, he was allowed a one-time switch.

“Whatever you decide, you’re going to be right, because that’s going to be your heart,” Pareja recalled telling him.

“Any time a soccer player is making a choice, whether it’s club or country, it’s important that they analyze the options carefully, they seek input from people they trust, and that they come to a decision that they’re happy with,” said Gonzalez’s agent, Richard Motzkin. “That’s the process Jesse took in making his decision and, rest assured, it wasn’t done lightly or without a lot of forethought. Ultimately, Jesse was fortunate in that he had two very good choices.”

After the switch was announced, Gonzalez received text messages from surprised friends.

“They were funny,” he said without going into detail.

[ MORE: Mexico blocking out drama during deep run at Gold Cup ]

Howard is the U.S. starter as the Americans head into Wednesday’s Gold Cup championship against Mexico or Jamaica, and Hamid is the backup while Guzan settles in with Atlanta. For now, Gonzalez’s role is limited to training and pushing others on the practice field.

“We just want to see what he’s about,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Gonzalez is with the national team to learn. A full international debut might take a while.

“He’s not much of talker, which is good. I think young guys talk too much nowadays,” Howard said. “You’re naive in a good way and you think you know it all, and really it’s the opposite. You have it all to learn. At this age they’re using their athletic ability and their raw talent to keep their head above water, and through that process you learn. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation. It’s got to be everything to you. You’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to get there.”

Gonzalez is willing to wait. He just hopes his absence from Dallas doesn’t cost him playing time in Major League Soccer.

“My backup could come in and have great games. He could stay there,” he said. “It’s difficult for me. I want to be over there, but I want to be here because this is an amazing opportunity for me.”

Pique with the scoop? Neymar “staying” at Barcelona

Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

While the entire world waits for official word — any word, really — on the possible world record-shattering transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain, Gerard Pique just became the world’s most appreciated breaker of transfer news.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

Pique, Neymar’s teammate for four seasons at Barca, tweeted (and posted to Instagram) a photo of himself and Neymar, captioned, “Se queda,” or, “He stays.”

[ MOURINHO: United not signing Bale | De Gea not going anywhere ]

Whether he stays or goes this summer, Neymar is about to get paid, and deservedly so. An unquestionable top-five (or -three?) player in the world, he doesn’t turn 26 for another seven months. There has to be someone awaiting the passing of the torch from Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, both four years Neymar’s senior, some day soon(-ish), so it should come as no surprise that Barca appear to have moved heaven and earth to retain their Brazilian superstar.

Mourinho “guarantees” De Gea won’t go to Real Madrid

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jose Mourinho has always said what he wants, when he wants, how he wants — especially when he’s working an ulterior motive.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

Example no. 6,394: the Manchester United manager’s comments regarding the future of goalkeeper David De Gea, who has long been linked with a move to Real Madrid, which just so happens to be one of Mourinho’s former employers. Long story short, “It ain’t happening” — quotes from the Guardian:

“I can guarantee that he’s not going this season, that I can, and my feeling is it will be very difficult for him to go. Because he’s a very honest boy, very straight.”

“He was contacted for a long time [by Real]. The club was close, then we open because I always have this feeling of when a player has a desire to go I don’t like to stop players to go because in the end you don’t get what you expect from them if they want to move and they don’t.

“I don’t think the feeling from him [towards Real] is very good. I see him very happy and focused and working better than ever so for me 100% he stays with us.”

[ MORE: Man City make a dream come true… for $35 million ]

De Gea has two years remaining on his current contract (with an option for one more), which he signed shortly after United and Madrid’s deadline-day debacle of 2015.