Ukraine vs. United States: Grading the players who needed to impress

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On Tuesday night, we went through the list of U.S. Men’s National Team players who needed to impress against Ukraine in order to improve their World Cup stocks. They weren’t Clint Dempsey or Jozy Alitdore types – slumping players who, despite their club troubles, are destined to be with the team when it lands in Brazil. They were players who could have used Wednesday’s game to make their case to Jurgen Klinsmann, whether that case is to be on the 30-man provisional roster U.S. Soccer will name mid-May or the 23-man final team that will dress when the U.S. kicks off its Brazil 2014 against Ghana.

During a 2-0 loss in Larnaca, Cyprus, most of those World Cup aspirants failed to improve their positions. In some cases, players may have opened  doors for others to claim their spots, be those places on the list for May’s camp or seats on the charter that will take off for Brazil.

We highlighted eight cases yesterday. Here’s how they graded out. Obviously, we’re not grading on a curve:

Defense

John Brooks – The 21-year-old Hertha Berlin defender likely has a long international career ahead of him, and in that sense, Wednesday may be eventually been seen as a low point. Whereas Brooks had a chance to play himself into a spot in Brazil (particularly with players like Geoff Cameron and, potentially, Michael Parkhurst able to backup Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, and Clarence Goodson), his performance against Ukraine made it hard to justify the spot. He was badly, inexplicably out of position on the game’s opening goal. Grade: D.

Edgar Castillo – Castillo regularly draw negative reviews form onlookers for his performance in defense, but that’s part of Castillo’s game. The determining factor is whether he balances those deficiencies with influence going forward. On Wednesday, that influence was rarely seen, part of the reason why he was among the second  half’s first subs. Grade: D+.

(MORE: Ukraine 2-0 USA: Disjointed U.S. display sees fired up Ukraine prevail)

source: Getty ImagesMidfielders

Alejandro Bedoya – With the U.S. rarely able to get anything going in attack (particularly in the first half), Bedoya and Fabian Johnson were  forgotten men, with their team unable to get enough of a hold on the midfield to make use of its wingers. Bedoya, who was a favorite to be in the final 23-man squad before Wednesday’s match, didn’t hurt his stock. Given the nature of the game, though, he also wasn’t given many chances to improve it. Grade: C+.

Sacha Kljestan – The Anderlecht midfielder was the main culprit in the team’s midfield problems. We discussed it in an earlier post, but you can’t have a player give the ball, go, and never get back in position to receive a pass (especially in a two-man midfield). In the second half, Kljestan was pulled off, with Clint Dempsey pulled back into the space he was forced to occupy anyway. Grade: D.

Brek Shea – Shea got limited minutes off the bench – a spell that determines how he should be judged. What you’re really looking for in that role is somebody who can come off the bench, provide a different (in Shea’s case, more direct) look, and give you another option to threaten the defense. Shea’s execution came up short on Wednesday, but we saw what he’s capable of doing. He may be another look in May. Grade: C+.

Danny Williams – That he only got 10 minutes speaks to the impression he made in camp, but once he came on in Cyprus, Williams provided a spark. At one point, the Reading man surged toward the penalty area in a way you couldn’t imagine from Wednesday’s Jermaine Jones. While that moment is unlikely to overshadow what Jurgen Klinsmann saw throughout the camp, it was enough to remind viewers of the player that used to be a regular call up. Grade: C.

(MORE: Ukraine vs. United States: Looking back on our five focal points)

Forwards

Juan Agudelo – Like Williams, the lack of time was telling. The new Utrecht (by way of Stoke) attacker only received a few minutes at the end of the match, hinting he hadn’t made enough progress in training to justify significant minutes. With Chris Wondolowski and Mike Magee impressing  in January camp, Agudelo’s chances of making the World Cup squad seem thin, at this time. Grade: C.

Terrence Boyd – Dressed, but did not play. His grade may be incomplete (because he didn’t hurt himself during the game), but having failed to win playing time this week, Boyd now looks a longer shot to be on the plane to Brazil. Grade: Inc.

Bonus

Geoff Cameron – Cameron’s spot on our list wasn’t about making the World Cup squad (he’s definitely going to Brazil). It was about winning the job at right back. On Wednesday, he treaded water. The defense was so bad that you don’t want to judge Cameron too harshly, but on a couple of occasions, he was a part of the chaos. Brad Evans should feel slightly better about his chances of starting game one in Brazil. Grade: C.

EFL Cup Weds preview: East Lancashire Derby highlights slate

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Eighteen teams booked spots Tuesday in the League Cup’s third round, with Watford the lone Premier League side to take a fall.

Six more try their luck on Wednesday, the last day of tournament play before the big boys join up.

[ MORE: EFL Cup Tues. wrap ]

A sleepy big affair is the East Lancashire Derby between Burnley and now League One side Blackburn Rovers, a rivalry which has been staged in three leagues or competitions since the turn of the century. This makes it four, joining the Premier League (2009-10), FA Cup (2004-05) and Championship (six times since 2012-13).

Burnley has three wins and three draws since its last loss to Blackburn, which came via David Dunn penalty at Turf Moor in a Premier League match on March 28, 2010.

Make no mistake, Clarets goalkeeper Tom Heaton thinks it’ll be a fantastic affair (from burnleyfootballclub.com):

“And for the players. Make no mistake, we were all delighted when the draw came in,” said Heaton. “It’s a fantastic match we are all looking forward to. It’s a fantastic night as players, fans and for the club.

“We’ll be going there geared up to win the game and give it everything we’ve got. The new lads coming in will certainly get an eye opener for the atmosphere and how good it is. They’re brilliant games to play in, I’ve enjoyed every minute of them.”

If you’re surprised by the rivalry, you have company in Blackburn boss Tony Mowbray. From Rovers.co.uk:

“I have to say living in the north east of England, Suffolk and Scotland most of my life I never would have grasped that Blackburn and Burnley and the geography of how close they were to be honest,” he said.

“It is not something that has hit me in the face before of a huge rivalry and yet I can feel it from the people around the building who have lived here all their lives how important this game is to them. … We’ll give it our very best shot and leave no stone unturned in trying to get a result.”

Elsewhere…

Southampton, fresh off adding $19 million Dutch center back Wesley Hoedt, will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. Mary’s, one of four 2:45 p.m. ET kickoffs.

Also kicking off at that time is Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest at St. James Park, with USMNT fullback Eric Lichaj likely to feature for the visitors, as well as Rotherham United’s visit to Huddersfield Town and Cheltenham Town’s trip to West Ham United.

A quarter-hour later, the final two second round matches kickoff when Burnley hosts Blackburn Rovers and Rochdale heads to Stoke City.

Southampton lands $19 million Dutch CB Hoedt

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Southampton’s added another defender who checks all the boxes, and used its press release to cement its status on the future of want-away center back Virgil Van Dijk.

Saints added Lazio center back Wesley Hoedt on Tuesday, with the reported fee in the neighborhood of $19 million for the 4-times capped Dutch international.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Gooch scores for Sunderland ]

The 6-foot-2 defender is 23 years old, and played 23 matches for i Biancocelesti last season.

Here’s Saints vice chairman Les Reed:

“Finding a naturally left-footed player is even more difficult. We have been tracking central defenders on our target list for the past 12 months and Wesley has always been at the top of that list, so it was important to act when the opportunity came.”

As our own Joe Prince-Wright pointed out, Saints aren’t exactly rolling out the red carpet for Van Dijk’s departure.

Saints also have Maya Yoshida — who won a penalty for Saints this weekend — Jack Stephens, Maya Yoshida, Jan Bednarek and Florin Gardos in their corps.

Will Van Dijk stay? Betting sites have him at 5:6 odds to stay at Southampton, but somehow 1:1 to join Liverpool and 7:1 to head to Chelsea (Man City gets 24:1 odds).

At this point, we’d love to see Van Dijk stay and buck the summer’s (actually much longer than that) gossip as Saints fight for a Top Six place.

UCL preview: Three keys to Liverpool-Hoffenheim

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A pair of away goals are under Liverpool’s wing as the Reds prepare for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff round second leg versus Hoffenheim at Anfield.

That’s great, but it’s Mark Uth’s late concession goal for Hoffenheim that will have Liverpool supporters wary ahead of the return match.

Three keys to the match for Liverpool? Well, let’s start with an easy one.

1) Avoid these score lines: The 2-1 score line works for the Reds, of course, who will only fail to reach the group stage of the UEFA Champions League through some unlikely scenarios:

  • A two-goals or worse loss at Anfield
  • A 2-1 loss plus failing in penalty kicks
  • A one-goal loss while conceding three or more times

2) Don’t allow gaps in the midfield: Kerem Demirbay was being a little cheeky when he said, “We play better football than Liverpool,” and the sides have one major similarity: If you give them room, they can kill you.

Demirbay is a great example of this. The Confederations Cup winner can rip teams apart in the middle of the pitch, and giving him room allows him to choose between unleashing a cannon from distance and spotting Serge Gnabry, Andrej Kramaric, Sandro Wagner, or even Uth for chances on goal. Heck, even Adam Szalai on the bench is a very good option.

Gnabry and Kramaric played less than a half hour each in Hoffenheim’s 1-0 Bundesliga win over the weekend, while Wagner didn’t play at all. Game on.

3) Embrace the occasion: Jurgen Klopp branded Wednesday’s match and the presumed entry into the UCL group stage “the next step” in the club’s evolution under his watch.

This is Liverpool’s second UCL campaign of this decade, and the first UCL night at Anfield since a 1-1 draw against Basel on Dec. 9, 2014.

That night, Brendan Rodgers trotted out this XI: Mignolet, Johnson, Lovren, Skrtel, Enrique, Gerrard (who scored), Henderson, Lucas, Allen, Sterling, Lambert. His subs used? Coutinho, Moreno, Markovic (the last name earned a red card).

In previous home group games against Real Madrid and Ludogorets Razgrad, the Reds managed two more goals. Gerrard had another and Mario Balotelli the other.

So, and this is hopefully a bit overblown but certainly a concern: A whopping six Liverpool players have played in a home UCL match for Liverpool and no one on the Reds roster has scored a goal at Anfield in the competition.

EFL Cup wrap: USMNT’s Gooch shines; Watford upset

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Six Premier League teams dodged upsets upon entering the League Cup, stylized as the EFL Cup for a second season, but a seventh was not as fortunate.

[ MORE: 426 world clubs, ranked weekly ]


Watford 2-3 Bristol City

Etienne Capoue scored just after halftime to give the Hornets a leg up, but goals from Freddie Hinds and Bobby Reid eight minutes apart gave the Robins a lead that Niclas Eliasson buttressed in stoppage time. Adrian Mariappa pulled one back, but it wasn’t enough for Marco Silva‘s men.

Crystal Palace 2-1 Ipswich Town

The unbeaten Tractor Boys were as much of a problem as advertised, but James McArthur scored in the 76th and 84th minutes to give the Eagles a spot in the next round. Man City loanee Bersant Celina nabbed Ipswich Town’s lone goal.

MK Dons 1-4 Swansea City

Leroy Fer gave Swans a pair of leads at 1-0 and 2-1 before Tammy Abraham and Jordan Ayew scored late to salt away the win at Stadium MK.

Sheffield United 1-4 Leicester City

The popular score line saw Islam Slimani bag a brace in between goals from Demarai Gray and Ahmed Musa.

Carlisle United 1-2 Sunderland

USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch scored an 80th minute winner after assisting on Donald Love‘s opener, as the Black Cats scored a road win.

It’s the 21-year-old Gooch’s first senior goal for the Black Cats in his 19th appearance. It’s also his first assist and should give food for thought to boss Simon Grayson, who has been using him off the bench. Gooch played 362 Premier League minutes last season.

Tuesday’s other results
Aston Villa 4-1 Wigan Athletic
Leeds United 5-1 Newport County
Middlesbrough 3-0 Scunthorpe United
Norwich City 4-1 Charlton Athletic
QPR 1-4 Brentford
Fulham 0-1 Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City 1-2 Burton Albion
Doncaster 2-0 Hull City
Brighton and Hove Albion 1-0 Barnet
Accrington Stanley 1-3 West Brom
Birmingham City 1-2 Bournemouth
Reading 3-1 (aet) Millwall
Bolton 3-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Grimsby Town 0-1 Derby County (1st round match*)

*Derby will face Barnsley in a 2nd round match