The Omar Conundrum: Why Gonzalez is making life hard on Klinsmann and the U.S.

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For all the quality Matt Besler has, it’s hard to find an area of his tool set that’s truly excellent. He may be one of the smartest defenders in the U.S. Men’s National Team pool, but unless you work with a guy day-in, day-out, that’s a bit of an unknown. In the skills we see while watching with the Sporting Kansas City defender, the guy is steadily above-average, across the board. Even on throw-ins, he’s very good.

He’s the exact type of guy you want defending your goal, but he does have his limitations. He’s not slow, but some can still run by him. He’s strong enough, but on occasion, can be pushed around. He’s decent on set pieces but not the man you want marking the opposing team’s greatest threat. Even that suspected high game intelligence doesn’t lead to mistake-free soccer. Solid in all areas, the Sporting captain isn’t the ideal matchup against somebody with an elite skill.

Hence, Aurélien Collin. When he’s on his game, the Frenchman is better than Besler, but he’s not always on his game. In fact, that happens so infrequently that the U.S. international is generally considered the superior player. As last year’s playoffs showed, Collin is capable of being the best player on the field, but over the course of a season — when individual games reveal and occasionally slow, foul-prone, and ill-tempered Collin — you’d probably take the more well-rounded, steady presence.

The Omar Gonzalez Conundrum

All of which brings us to Besler’s national team partner. After last night’s game against Mexico, Omar Gonzalez’s play is again under the microscope. The LA Galaxy Designated Player lost Rafa Marquez on Mexico’s first goal and was left hoping the assistant referee would bail him out of his part in El Tri’s second. At other times, when he was losing aerial duels and otherwise looking amiss in his positioning and reactions, Gonzalez looked every bit the player some want dropped in favor of Clarence Goodson.

source: Getty ImagesIt creates a conundrum for Jurgen Klinsmann. As he showed in the 2012 MLS Cup final, Omar Gonzalez has the ability to define games, and while this summer’s challenges will far exceed those the Houston Dynamo posed the Galaxy back then, Gonzalez represents the U.S.’s best chance to stand up to the likes of Germany and Portugal. When he is on his game, the former MLS Defender of the Year is by far the best center back at Klinsmann’s disposal. To choose him along side Besler’s steadying safeguard is to embrace the U.S.’s best-case scenario.

The other side of that coin defines Klinsmann’s dilemma. Like Collin, more games than not, Gonzalez isn’t a world beater, and his mistakes with the United States have become so frequent, people are starting to reassess the risk versus reward. How many Gonzalez errors become too much to justify his place in the starting XI? And is this just a lottery where, in the end, any winning proposition will likely be offset by the mistakes we’ve invested?

It’s been too long since we’ve seen a dominant Gonzalez performance in red, white and blue. It’s been a long time since we saw one for the Galaxy, too. Ever since his MLS Cup MVP-winnig performance in Carson, Calif., Gonzalez hasn’t played like an elite defender. Wavering between very good and too mistake-prone, his reputation is treading on potential more than performance. Though he’s only 25, Gonzalez’s renown is based on his past more than his present or future.

That’s not to say Gonzalez can’t again be great, but Jurgen Klinsmann needs to get some indication that it will happen. Else, he’s betting on memories. He’s betting the Omar Gonzalez we haven’t seen in over a year will emerge some time between now and June 16. And unfortunately for Goodson, that may create an unrealistic standard. Goodson not only has to out-play the current Gonzalez, he has to outplay the best Gonzalez possible – the one for whom Klinsmann seems to be holding out.

It’s the type of player I often hate writing about, one that feeds into whatever bias viewers want to carry. If you’re inclined to focus on the best parts of a defender’s game — evaluating players on their highlight reels and not their 90-minute contributions — Gonzalez can still look great. Thunderous clearances. Decisive reads. The commanding way he can take a man off the ball. When he’s Best Defender in the League Omar, it’s all there, painting a tantalizing picture of his potential.

But for defenders, mistakes matter. They really, incredibly matter. It’s part of the reason Germany’s Mats Hummels may be one of the most overrated players in the world. Like goalkeepers, defenders can’t just cancel out a key mistake with 89 minutes of good work. You can be great on the ball, spectacular on set pieces, have the strength to sack toss Hulk and the speed to chase down Ronaldo, but in the high leverage situations where defenders must perform, you can’t screw up. Defenders can’t consistently give up good chances.

source: Getty ImagesBetween now and Brazil

Consistency is Gonzalez’s main problem. Not game-to-game consistency, because he has been fairly predictable over the last season-plus. It’s minute-to-minute consistency that’s the issue, the type of varying performance that leads to a couple of nervy moments each match. As has been the case throughout his time under Klinsmann (with the possible exception of a small span last year), Gonzalez hasn’t been able to string together 90 mistake-free minutes with the national team.

Wednesday only reinforced that notion, but there’s still time. Between now and kickoff against Ghana, Gonzalez will have his opportunities to prove he’s more reliable. Perhaps he won’t start every game of the U.S.’s sendoff series, but he’s sure to start at least one. And given the faith Klinsmann’s shown in one of his first choice center backs, one good game may be enough. Gonzalez only needs to show that his past is still possible.

That’s why it’s too early to say Gonzalez played himself out of the lineup. Although the performance fit a larger pattern, Wednesday’s game will be insignificant once the team gets together in May. And there’s no question: Gonzalez will definitely be in Palo Alto, where he’ll have every chance to prove his hiccups are behind him.

Yes, the performance was worrisome, but it’s not going to redefine Gonzalez’s prospects for Brazil. May, however, will.

USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie injured in Schalke draw

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Look away, U.S. Men’s National Team fans.

American and Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie was forced out of Sunday’s 1-1 Bundesliga draw against Hanover 96 after the 19-year-old collided with Felix Kraus.

McKennie, who entered the match in the 62nd minute for Leon Goretzka, managed to stay on the field for nearly 20 minutes before being substituted out.

To this point there has been no indication that the young USMNT player’s injury is serious.

More to follow…

Watford announces Gracia as Silva replacement

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Watford’s replacement for fired manager Marco Silva is indeed veteran Spanish boss Javi Gracia.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

The Hornets announced the 47-year-old’s hiring on Sunday, hours after firing Silva and blaming Everton’s pursuit of the manager for the club’s fall from European contender to the fringe of a relegation battle.

Watford is still four points clear of the drop following Southampton’s draw with Spurs on Sunday.

Gracia led Malaga to eighth and ninth place finishes in La Liga between 2014-16 before spending last season at Rubin Kazan.

Gracia, 47, has led promotion campaigns in Spain and has plenty of experience with perceived smaller clubs battling the drop zone.

Watford will hope the Hornets don’t reach that point after flirting with the Top Seven for the first quarter of the Premier League season.

Pochettino on sloppy Spurs draw, dismisses Malcom “rumor”

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Mauricio Pochettino knows St. Mary’s well, and the ex-Southampton boss has managed a rainy, sloppy match or three there in the past.

[ RECAP: Saints 1-1 Spurs ]

So he knows it’s possible to play well in those circumstances, leaving him feeling like Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw at Southampton on Sunday was a wasted opportunity against a struggling Saints side.

“It is temporary that Southampton are in the relegation zone, for sure they will push up the table,” Pochettino said. “It is two points we are going to miss at the end of the season because it is so tough between six or seven teams.”

[ MORE: Bertrand reacts to draw ]

So why couldn’t Spurs find their foothold? Well, aside from sickness keeping Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris out of the lineup, a bug that may’ve affected more on the team, Spurs just weren’t up to snuff.

“We struggled to play,” Pochettino said. “It was in possession, we made mistakes which allowed them to play. To win the game we should do better and play better. It wasn’t great.

Pochettino was also asked about Spurs’ reported pursuit of 20-year-old Bordeaux star Malcom, who has seven goals and five assists in Ligue 1 this season.

“That is a rumor and I don’t want to speak about it. I am happy with our squad. We are open to quality players but you know very well it is difficult in this transfer window.”

MLS SuperDraft 2018 Live Tracker: Rounds 3 & 4

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Newcomers Los Angeles FC made some serious waves during the opening rounds of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, and other clubs will be looking to follow in their footsteps on Day 2.

Bob Bradley‘s side came up with a pair of defensive picks inside the top 3 on Friday, nabbing Joao Moutinho and Tristan Blackmon to help solidify a growing roster for the Western Conference side.

[ SOURCES: NYCFC’s Jack Harrison likely to join PL side Stoke City ]

Meanwhile, the Chicago Fire were active early and often, which benefitted Veljko Paunovic’s club in a big way. The playoff side from a season ago managed to get two of the draft’s most talented attacking players in Wake Forest forward Jon Bakero and Syracuse product Mo Adams.

Which players slipped through the cracks on Day 1 and will help provide relief to MLS rosters on Day 2?

Follow along on PST as we track the day’s transactions, beginning at 2 p.m. ET.

Third round

47. Los Angeles FC — Jordan Jones — Forward (Oregon State)
48. LA Galaxy — Nate Schultz — Defender (Akron)
49. D.C. United (traded to Fire) — Elliot Collier — Forward (Loyola)
50. Colorado Rapids — Thomas Olsen — Goalkeeper (San Diego)
51. Real Salt Lake — Pass
52. New York City FC — Alex Bumpus — Defender (Kentucky)
53. Montreal Impact — Ken Krolicki — Midfielder (Michigan State)
54. Philadelphia Union — Mike Catalano — Midfielder (Wisconsin)
55. Philadelphia Union — Aidan Apodaca — (Cal Baptist)
56. Real Salt Lake — Pass
57. FC Dallas — Amer Sasivarevic — Midfielder (Grand Canyon)
58. San Jose Earthquakes — Kevin Partida — (UNLV)
59. Houston Dynamo — Pablo Aguilar — Midfielder (Virginia)
60. Montreal Impact — Pass
61. Portland Timbers — Caleb Duvernay — Defender (NC State)
62. Vancouver Whitecaps — Cory Brown — Defender (Xavier)
63. Portland Timbers — Timmy Mueller — Forward (Oregon State)
64. Portland Timbers  — Stuart Holthusen — Forward (Akron)
65. New York City FC — Pass
66. Houston Dynamo —  Sheldon Sullivan — Defender (Virginia)
67. Columbus Crew — Luis Argudo — Midfielder (Wake Forest)
68. Seattle Sounders — Chris Bared — Defender (Villanova)
69. Toronto FC — Andre Morrison — Defender (Hartford)

——

Fourth round

70. Atlanta United — Paul Christensen — Goalkeeper (Portland)
71. D.C. United — Afonso Pinheiro — Forward (Albany)
72. Colorado Rapids –Brian Iloski — (UCLA)
73. Colorado Rapids — Niki Jackson — Forward (Grand Canyon)
74. D.C. United — Rafael Andrade Santos — Midfielder (VCU)
75. Sporting KC — Will Bagrou — Forward (Mercer)
76. Montreal Impact — Pass
77. Philadelphia Union –Matt Danilack — Midfielder (Dartmouth)
78. New England Revolution — Nicolas Samayoa — Defender (Florida Gulf Coast)
79. Real Salt Lake — Pass
80. FC Dallas — Noah Franke — Defender (Creighton)
81. San Jose Earthquakes — Pass
82. Sporting KC –Wilfred Williams — Defender (Oakland)
83. New York Red Bulls — Jared Stroud — (Colgate)
84. Chicago Fire — Josh Morton — Defender (California)
85. New York Red Bulls — Jose Aguinaga — (Rider)
86. Vancouver Whitecaps — Pass
87. Portland Timbers — Mamadou Guirassy — Forward (NJIT)
88. New York City FC — Pass
89. Houston Dynamo — Manny Padilla — Defender (San Francisco)
90. LA Galaxy — Pass
91. D.C. United — Pass
92. Toronto FC — Ben White — Defender (Gonzaga)

Below is a recap of the action from Day 1, which featured the first two rounds of the draft on Friday.


First round

1. Los Angeles FC — Joao Moutinho — Defender (Akron)*
2.LA Galaxy — Tomas Hilliard-Arce — Defender (Stanford)*
3.DC United (traded to LAFC) — Tristan Blackmon — Defender (Pacific University)
4. Montreal Impact (traded to FC Dallas) — Francis Atuahene — Forward (Michigan)
5. Minnesota United (traded to Fire) — Jon Bakero — Forward (Wake Forest)
6. Orlando City — Chris Mueller — Forward (Wisconsin)
7. Montreal Impact (traded to Minnesota) — Mason Toye — Forward (Indiana)*
8. New England Revolution — Brandon Bye — Defender (Western Michigan)
9. New England Revolution — Mark Segbers — Defender (Wisconsin)
10. Real Salt Lake (traded to Fire) — Mo Adams — Midfielder (Syracuse)*
11. FC Dallas — Ema Twumasi — Midfielder (Wake Forest)*
12. San Jose Earthquakes — Paul Marie — Midfielder/Defender (FIU)
13. Sporting KC — Eric Dick — Goalkeeper (Butler)
14. Atlanta United — Jon Gallagher — Forward (Notre Dame)
15. Chicago Fire (traded to Minnesota) — Wyatt Omsberg — Defender (Dartmouth)
16. New York Red Bulls — Brian White — Forward (Duke)
17. Vancouver Whitecaps — Justin Fiddes — Defender (Washingt0n)
18. Sporting KC — Graham Smith — Defender (Denver)
19. New York City FC — Jeff Caldwell — Goalkeeper (Virginia)
20. Houston Dynamo — Michael Nelson — Goalkeeper (SMU)
21. Columbus Crew — Ben Lungaard — Goalkeeper (Virginia Tech)
22. Seattle Sounders — Alex Roldan — Midfielder (Univ. of Seattle)
23. Toronto FC (traded to Minnesota) — Carter Manley — Defender (Duke)

——

Second round

24. LAFC — Pol Calvet Planellas — Midfielder (Pittsburgh)
25. Colorado Rapids — Alan Winn — Forward (North Carolina)
26. Vancouver Whitecaps — Lucas Stauffer — Defender (Creighton)
27. Colorado Rapids — Frantzdy Pierrot — Forward (Coastal Carolina)
28. Minnesota United (traded to Toronto FC) — Tim Kubel — Defender (Louisville)
29. FC Dallas — Mauro Cichero — Forward (SMU)
30. San Jose Earthquakes — Danny Musovski — Forward (UNLV)
31. New York Red Bulls — Niko De Vera — Defender (Akron)
32. Columbus Crew — Edward Opoku — Forward (Virginia)
33. Real Salt Lake — Ricky Lopez-Espin — Midfielder (Creighton)
34. FC Dallas — Chris Lema — Midfield (Georgetown)
35. San Jose Earthquakes — Mohamed Thiaw — Forward (Louisville)
36. Atlanta United — Oliver Shannon — Midfielder (Clemson)
37. Atlanta United — Gordon Wild — Forward (Maryland)*
38. Chicago Fire — Diego Campos — Midfielder (Clemson)
39. New York Red Bulls — Tom Barlow — Forward (Wisconsin)
40. LA Galaxy — Drew Skundrich — Midfielder (Stanford)
41. Minnesota United — Xavier Gomez — Midfielder (Nebraska-Omaha)
42. New York City FC — AJ Paterson — Defender (Wright St.)
43. Houston Dynamo — Mac Steeves — Forward (Providence)
44. Columbus Crew — Jake Rozhansky — Midfielder (Maryland)
45. Seattle Sounders — Markus Fjortoft — Defender (Duke)
46. Toronto FC — Drew Shepherd — Goalkeeper (Western Michigan)

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