A few U.S. national team men desperately need to make big impressions next week

3 Comments

Every invitation to the United States national team is an opportunity, and every player who has been summoned by Jurgen Klinsmann’s over the last two-plus years should know so. They waste chances at their own peril – because, really, who knows when the next one is coming if you aren’t named Donovan or Dempsey or Howard, etc.?

But some opportunities carry extra weight; Clearly we are at that point when it comes to a few of the U.S. figures who will gather in Frankfurt, and then fly into Cyprus on Tuesday’s for the next day’s friendly against displaced Ukraine.

We are talking serious Last Chance Saloon stuff here for a few guys still straddling the bubble.

(MORE: Klinsmann names squad for Frankfurt camp and Ukraine friendly)

A few of the fellows assembling Sunday in Frankfurt are in, period. Then we have a few are just too far away, without enough time to climb all the way back. But about those bubble types; let’s look at their situations:

Sacha Kljestan: Kljestan never looks bad in the U.S. shirt – but he never looks like a game-changer, either.  If he could so something in camp and (especially) Wednesday against Ukraine, he would go a long way to solidifying his position on that charter into Brazil. His competition for a midfield spot is probably down to Mix Diskerud and Benny Feilhaber, with one or maybe two spots open; Kljestan (pictured) is surely still ahead of Feilhaber but a little  behind Diskerud.

Alejandro Bedoya: Klinsmann needs wingers, figures comfortable attacking from wide areas (who can therefore stretch a defense a bit). And there are precious few of these fellows in the U.S. pool. Bedoya doesn’t really seem to have World Cup quality, but he’s alive in this thing because he does man a position where Klinsmann’s corps are so paper thin. Still, he has to show the manager enough, give Klinsmann reason to feel good about putting him on the plane to Brazil. Otherwise, the manager might just decide that he’s better off with someone else, even if that “someone else” isn’t a flank specialist.

Brek Shea: See Bedoya above … same deal.

Juan Agudelo: Now this could be the late, surprise run from a long-shot figure that we sometimes see. Given the (recent and discomforting) flux of the U.S. forward situation, there’s room for someone like Agudelo (or perhaps Terrence Boyd, who is also in the camp) to work his way up the order with a big camp and / or a goal in Cyprus. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Agudelo to toss in a few goals in the month or so ahead at his new, temporary Dutch home.

Danny Williams: He always seemed capable of getting back into the running, considering the German-American midfielder was a U.S. starter less than 18 months ago. Injuries and instability in his club situation conked Williams on the head, national team-wise in 2013. But here he is … still a young talent, and still blessed with a chance to make a late run if he can get on the field against Ukraine. It’s worth wondering whether Klinsmann might start Williams ahead of Jermaine Jones; the coach knows all too well, after all, what Jones can and cannot do at the holding midfield position.

(MORE: Do not read TOO MUCH into some of these surprise call-ups)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images
Leave a comment

They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

Photo by Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

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

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.

Report: Frank De Boer accepts Crystal Palace job

Photo by Pier Marco Tacca - Inter/Inter via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Frank de Boer is widely expected to be named new Crystal Palace manager this week, as he has reportedly accepted the job after having been offered the position this week.

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

The 47-year-old Dutchman has been out of work since he was fired by Inter Milan in November. He lasted just 84 days at the San Siro, where he managed to win just five of 14 games. Inter Milan is Inter Milan, though, and that’s something worth remembering when critiquing Palace’s impending appointment of De Boer.

Palace are also widely expected to back De Boer in the transfer market this summer, in a big way. Kelechi Iheanacho is the biggest name linked with a move to Selhurst Park, as the 20-year-old Nigerian striker is reportedly unwanted by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola.