Belgium v United States

Position-by-position: Breaking down the U.S.’s squad for Mexico


The most impressive part of this U.S. squad: the depth, particularly compared to the team assembled in Frankfurt ahead of the team’s match against Ukraine. Where that team ended up starting the likes of Sacha Kljestan, Edgar Castillo, and Oguchi Onyewu, the lineup that will start next week against Mexico will feature locks for this summer’s World Cup. In stark contrast to the squad that Bob Bradley took to South Africa, this summer’s team will be built around North America-based talents.

The most notable of which are Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan, but they’re not why this camp is important. This camp is about Michael Parkhurst and DeAndre Yedlin. It’s about Brad Davis, Maurice Edu, and Luis Gil. And yes, it’s about Julian Green.

Though Jurgen Klinsmann’s sure to relish an opportunity to get so many of his regulars together, the real drama of next week’s out-of-window camp is about the 30-man preliminary roster – the one the U.S. will submit to FIFA mid-May. Who can cement their place on that list? Because without that, you’re out of the fight for the 23-man team that will leave for Brazil.

That’s what this camp all about, so position-by-position, here’s where each everybody stands ahead of next week’s test.

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

It’s amazing how clear the goalkeeper depth chart is. Then again, when we’re talking about a position where only one person can play at a time, perhaps there’s no room for ambiguity. Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) are clearly numbers one and two, after whom we get Rimando (a consistent call up), Johnson (Rimando’s backup, when the big two aren’t around), and Hamid. One through five: no debate; no doubt.

source: APDefenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

Five of these guys are going to Brazil, and given how highly Klinsmann spoke of Michael Parkhurst after the January camp, the versatile Columbus defender seems very close. Add Geoff Cameron to the mix and whether there are spots available may depend on a.) what Klinsmann plays to do at left midfield (and how that affects Fabian Johnson), and b.) whether versatility within the squad means the U.S. can take more than eight defenders.

The most obvious candidate to snare that extra spot is in Europe, but center back John Brooks is staying with Hertha Berlin during this out-of-window friendly. But between his struggles against Ukraine, Cameron’s versatility, and DeAndre Yedlin’s (right) continued improvement for Seattle, the 20-year-old Sounder seems to have a shot, even if that would make five players who can play right back (Evans, Cameron, Parkhurst, Fabian Johnson being the others). It’s a long-shot, and in light of that depth it doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it’s a shot nonetheless.

As much as anybody on this team, Michael Orozco seems to have the thinnest chance of making this summer’s squad. Even on a roster without European call ups, the Puebla defender may be the team’s fifth-best center back.

source:  Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

The stakes are highest for Davis, Edu, and Gil. The rest of the guys are, presumably, on the plane, with Bradley and Zusi having served as regular starters throughout the qualifying cycle.

Edu has the longest odds. His lack of playing time at Stoke City left him on the outside looking over the last two years, but after an impressive start with the Union, Edu can play his way into consideration for a “what id Jermaine Jones, Bradley, or Beckerman get injured” spot. Even then, with Geoff Cameron and Brad Evans also capable of playing in the middle, the U.S. already has other options embedded in the squad.

Gil’s path is slightly different. His competition is more likely to be players like Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan – midfielders who will can come off the bench and give the team a different look. Ultimately, this may cast the 20-year-old into the pool with Yedlin and Brooks – players Klinsmann my take for experience rather than purpose.

Among the people who could be hurt by the Julian Green switch is Brad Davis (right). Klinsmann already has a number of options who can play on the left, among them being Landon Donovan. It’s unclear what Davis would bring to the team that Donovan does not, and with players like Fabian Johnson, Eddie Johnson, Beasley and Green also capable of playing that side, Davis is a good bet tog et squeezed out. He needs to impress next week.

source: Getty ImagesForwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

All eyes will be on Julian Green, who starts his transition from unknown to what U.S. fans hope will be a regular fixture in the squad. Expectations are unreasonably high for a player who most fans have never seen in action, but come next week, those expectations will become grounded in fact, one way or another. Based on how Klinsmann uses him alone, we’ll get a much better idea of where Green ranks against the other players vying for spots in Brazil.

And then there’s Chris Wondolowski (right), the player who has usurped Kyle Beckerman as the most debated part of the national team picture. For some, he’s an exemplar of the limits of Major League Soccer success. For others, including it seems Klinsmann, he’s somebody whose continues to defy doubts to keep himself on the edge of the World Cup squad.

It’s easy to look at the U.S. roster and ask “why would they make a place for Wondo,” but here we are, a little over two months ahead of the final roster announcement, and the San Jose captain has another shot to impress. His odds of getting to the World Cup are still long, but merely by being in this squad, he’s defied expectations. Like Edu, he could keep himself in frame as a backup plan should injuries befall players going to Brazil.

MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting KC (video)

Seattle Sounders defender Brad Evans celebrates after Sounders' Nelson Haedo Valdez scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat Sporting Kansas City 1-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): There’s a ton to unpack here, so we’ll dive right in. The Seattle Sounders topped Sporting Kansas City in the final knockout-round game of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Nelson Valdez scored the game’s only goal, an 88th-minute header, but not without supreme controversy. For starters, Valdez was offside as Joevin Jones played the ball into the box, just as Matt Besler was on a free kick for Sporting earlier in the second half. Besler’s goal was ruled out for offside, Valdez’s was allowed to stand. Benny Feilhaber, perhaps in his final game for Sporting, played like a man possessed and so nearly singlehandedly won the game for Sporting at multiple points on the night. Stefan Frei stood on his head and refused to allow such an occurrence. Osvaldo Alonso could have been sent off twice on the night — once on a straight red; once on a second yellow — but finished the game with just a single caution. Up next, the Sounders will take on Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

10′ — Zusi hits the post with a strike through traffic — Benny Feilhaber’s through ball to set up this double-chance for Sporting in sumptuous, and fully deserving of a proper finish.

53′ — Besler heads home, but he’s offside — This is about as close an onside/offside decisions get.

79′ — Frei denies Feilhaber after a spectacular run — Feilhaber’s run was mesmerizing, but Stefan Frei’s save was the tiniest bit better.

88′ — Valdez heads home the late winner — If Besler was offside, Valdez was offside. An unfitting end to a thrilling game.

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

Men of the match: Benny Feilhaber

Goalscorers: Valdez (88′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

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

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
Leave a comment

The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

Leave a comment

Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.