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.

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

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

Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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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

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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

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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.