Eddie Johnson knows the chemistry will come as DC United looks for first points

1 Comment

EXCLUSIVE – DC United have picked up where they left off last season – at the bottom of Major League Soccer.

One of just two MLS clubs without a point thus far, the 2013 basement-dwellers were looking for goals, goals, and more goals when they signed Eddie Johnson to a Designated Player contract this offseason.

While he – or anyone else – has yet to score for DC, Johnson is adamant that early improvement from their first match to their second is promising enough to ease the players, even if it has yet to ease the fans.

“It’s hard to say ‘oh there’s positives things out of two losses,'” Johnson admitted, “but there’s actually some spells in the games where we got some good possession within the team and in the final third, and it’s just that final pass or two that’s not there right now.  But we know with due time that’s going to come, so that’s why we’re not panicking.”

In a vacuum, the two losses mean little in the big picture of a very long MLS season.  However, following the dreadful nature of last season, it’s hard for fans not to panic after the pair of disappointments: a 3-0 loss to Columbus at home to open the season followed by a narrow 1-0 defeat to Toronto.

(MORE: MLS Preview: Chicago Fire at DC United)

Johnson admitted building chemistry with his new teammates at the head of the DC attack has been harder than expected, especially with fellow newcomer Fabian Espindola, but not for the reasons one may think.

The Argentinian is a talented player in his own right, with MLS Cup experience as well as time with one of the biggest South American clubs in Boca Juniors.  For Johnson, working with a player who has many quality facets to his game has been tough to adjust to.

“It’s been a bit challenging because he’s a very good footballer and someone I very much admire, and I want to make the most of my opportunity in playing with him.  It’s been too bad in two games where things haven’t been clicking for us.

“For me, it’s about trying to figure out how I be effective when he drifts wide when it’s too congested in the final third up top when they really squeeze in and make the field small for us.  It’s how can I still be effective, and develop a communication with him and stay connected with him to give ourselves some real chances to be dangerous in front of the goal.  But we worked on that this week and we’re looking forward to seeing all the hard work we put in training this week trying to play that tomorrow against Chicago.”

Cutting off that connection between the two has been a point of emphasis for DC’s early-season opposition, and so far it’s worked.  Espindola has completed just 65% of his passes throughout his first two games.  While that’s not too uncommon for an attacking player, and it’s not terribly far off his last season percentage of 72%, it’s still not where DC will want his service to Johnson to be.

source: AP
Things haven’t gone swimmingly at DC United in their first two matches, but Johnson and the rest of the squad are putting in the hard work to turn it all around.

But with Chicago coming up at 4pm ET Saturday on NBCSN, it’s a golden opportunity for DC to get off the schneid.   The Fire have just two points through three matches in the young MLS season, and having seen them in preseason twice already earlier in the calendar year, Johnson is well aware of what they bring to the table.

“I’m familiar with their back four and their center backs.  I played with [Chicago defender Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado for two seasons in Seattle and I know what he likes and what he doesn’t like, so I’m going to try and play him and get him into positions he’s not comfortable with, and really going out there and putting them on our terms.”

And most of all, he wants to show the fans that last season is in the past.

“You go two games without scoring a goal or getting shots on goal and everyone starts to panic that the guys aren’t gelling and stuff.  But I feel like every game we’ve gotten better, and it’s just a matter of time that the ball starts bouncing our way.  Really, the focus is more on ourselves than the focus is on Chicago.”

With the focus on themselves, Johnson’s really enjoyed his time working with head coach Ben Olsen.  The pair have history, as teammates on the US National Team from Johnson’s debut in 2004 until Olsen’s retirement in 2007. Now, despite one standing as the boss, the two still share a similar relationship.

“Now playing under him as a coach, nothing has really changed from playing with him and his mentality is still the same.  He’s still a hard worker, he’s a winner at the end of the day, and those are the guys he wants in his team every weekend.  The results haven’t been great, but we know they’re going to come so the more we can stay positive and the more we can stay focused on trying to build and create the identity we’re trying to create here, the more successful we’re going to be.”

In addition to his new MLS venture, Johnson is also staring a chance at making his third World Cup in the face. However, as a more experienced player, he believes the two ventures of club and country to him are completely separate entities in his mind.

“If I was younger with no World Cup experience and never having been in this situation before, it would probably be eating me up through these two games not really having opportunities on goal to win games for my teams. But for me, with my experience and being in this situation for the third time now, it’s about taking it one game at a time and staying true to myself, what I believe in, and my abilities.  And if I’m honest with myself at the end of the day putting the work in week in and week out and I can look myself in the mirror and say hey, I’ve been doing all the right things, at the end of the day it’s up to the manager to pick whatever players he wants to see.”

So with the 29-year-old on the squad to take on Mexico next Wednesday, he knows not only is this a chance to earn a trip to Brazil this summer, but it’s also a chance to play Mexico – something that these players never take lightly.

source: Getty Images
Johnson is hoping to make his third World Cup, and has a chance to make yet another impression against Mexico in next week’s friendly.

“It’s not a friendly.  National team call-ups don’t come easy these days, and this is a very important game.  I think a lot of players are going to come into the camp fully focused, committed, and on top of their game, and they’re gonna leave it all out on the field and give themselves a real, real good chance at making the team.  And on top of that it’s our rivals, so any time we play against our rivals it’s about bragging rights and about showing who’s on top of CONCACAF.  [Mexico] are going to have a lot of hunger for revenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”

With making the national team a dream for just about every American-born player, Johnson got nostalgic for a moment when a former club of his was brought up.  As Fulham struggle in the bottom of the Premier League, Johnson hoped the team that gave him the opportunity to play in one of the biggest leagues in the world manages to stay up, just as he did with the Whites six years ago.

“I remember when I first went over in 2008, we were in the same situation at the bottom, and we survived,” said Johnson. “One thing I can say about everyone in that dressing room and organization is they’re fighters at the end of the day, and they’re going to do everything they can to stay up.  So I’m praying for them, I wish them all the best, and they gave me the opportunity to go over and make my dreams of playing in the Premiership come true and I’m forever grateful for that.”

So as DC United look to pick themselves up in the midst of a 14-match winless streak dating back to last year, one thing is for certain: their newly signed forward has the experience and work ethic to get them out of it.  If anyone can scrape DC United off the bottom of the standings, it’s Eddie Johnson.  He just needs a little help from his friends.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
1 Comment

Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France

Dempsey leads way for MLS players during Cup qualifying

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

The latest round of World Cup qualifying saw a major increase in the number of players from MLS called in for their national teams.

A number of those decisions paid off for their countries, perhaps no one more than Clint Dempsey.

A few months ago, Dempsey wasn’t even in consideration for the U.S. after missing the latter half of last season because of a heart issue. But the Seattle Sounders forward scored four times in two matches as the U.S. gathered four critical points in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Dempsey was part of an influx of MLS players contributing during the latest round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

In all, MLS had 55 players called in for qualifying in CONCACAF, CONEMBOL (South America) and UEFA (Europe) competitions. Last September, the league saw 58 players called in to their national teams, but there were more countries still alive in qualification at that time. The 55 players selected this time was an increase of 16 from the last round of qualifying matches in November, and 40 of the 55 saw action during the two days of competition in the past week representing 12 countries.

In the three CONCACAF games last Friday, 29 of the 84 players to see the field were from MLS. That outpaced LigaMX, which had 17 players among the 84 used in the three matches.

Dempsey wasn’t the only MLS player coming up big for his country. Minnesota midfielder Kevin Molino had the only goal for Trinidad and Tobago in its 1-0 win over Panama. The Vancouver duo of Christian Bolanos and Kendall Waston teamed for the only goal in Costa Rica’s 1-1 draw with Honduras.

But not all went well for MLS players during qualifying.

Young Atlanta star Josef Martinez injured his left leg during the second half of Venezuela’s 2-2 draw with Peru in CONEMBOL qualifying. Martinez returned to Atlanta and an MRI revealed a left quadriceps injury that will keep the MLS leader in goals scored out for four to six weeks. Martinez had five goals in Atlanta’s first three games.

U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget was forced off early in the match against Honduras but not before scoring the opening goal for the Americans. Los Angeles announced Tuesday that Lletget suffered a Lisfranc injury that will require surgery and he will be sidelined for four to six months.

[ MORE: BWP a DP; Nephew called up to England U16 ]

MATCH OF THE WEEK: The club that set the bar for expansion debuts faces the newcomer looking to topple that standard.

The Seattle Sounders will host Atlanta United on Friday night. It’s the only regular-season matchup between the two sides, but there’s more than just the competition on the field.

Seattle’s expansion season of 2009 was regarded throughout the sports industry as arguably the best franchise launch ever, not just in MLS. Between ticket sales and fan engagement, Seattle’s start could not have gone better.

Atlanta might be setting a new standard. Atlanta drew more than 55,000 for its first match and more than 45,000 for its second home game, a win over Chicago. Atlanta seems to be following significant parts of Seattle’s blueprint, down to having an influential NFL owner highly involved from the start.

As for the on-field product, the validity of Atlanta’s promising start will be tested over the next month with four straight road matches.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Atlanta defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

BEST OF THE REST: Toronto finally gets to come home after opening the season with three straight road games. The Reds will host Sporting KC on Friday night. The trade-off for opening the season on the road is that Toronto gets five of its next six league matches at home and was able to get five points out of those three road contests to start.

Also of note will be what kind of lineup Vancouver rolls out on Saturday night against Los Angeles. The Whitecaps play in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals four days later.

BACK ON THE BENCH: Real Salt Lake introduced Mike Petke as its new head coach Wednesday, less than two weeks after firing Jeff Cassar. Petke was the head coach of the New York Red Bulls for two seasons, including the 2013 season when they won the Supporters’ Shield. After two years out of coaching, Petke signed on to be the head coach of the Real Monarchs, the minor-league club associated with RSL.

OFF TARGET: The other expansion debut this season by Minnesota United is on pace to set records, but not any they want to be associated with. Simply put, Minnesota can’t play defense.

Minnesota allowed at least five goals for the third time in four matches in last week’s 5-2 loss at New England. Minnesota allowed five goals to Portland and six to Atlanta and is on pace to allow more than 150 goals this season.

LAST WORD: “I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen over the last 10 days. It’s going to take some time to piece that team together.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena after the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Messi explains actions that warranted 4-match ban

AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano
Leave a comment

Lionel Messi is set to miss four Argentina matches for something we arguably see every week on TV.

That doesn’t make it okay, but is anyone else scratching their head at the suspension handed down to the world’s best player for verbal abuse of an official?

[ MORE: Barca defends Messi ]

Messi, 29, shouted an obscenity at the linesman in Thursday’s 1-0 win over Chile, and was both banned and served the first match of his ban on Tuesday, as Argentina was beaten 2-0 in Bolivia.

Messi explained his actions Wednesday with the following:

“My expressions were never directed to the referee, they were said to the air,” Messi told La Nacion.

That’s pretty ridiculous, yeah? But I can’t help but feel the four matches are a bit harsh. Hardly a high-level match goes by without seeing a player clearly being derisive toward an offical, and usually lipreading proves it wasn’t G-rated.

Again, I have no problem for setting a standard, as abuse of officials is unnecessary (and even those of us who are serially offenders know it).

But if confederations and leagues want to get serious about cutting it out, this can’t be a one-off suspension; End the group upbraiding of referees during games, the wild gesticulations, so on and so forth.

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.