Michael Bradley

U.S. World Cup 2014 roster outlook: MIDFIELDERS


Going into the Mexico camp, all us smart guys thought we had a pretty good handle on Jurgen Klinsmann’s midfield pecking order. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were the central pair, Graham Zusi was the obvious choice out right, while Landon Donovan and Fabian Johnson appeared to be competing for a spot on the left.

That description alone should have been a warning sign. Trying to describe Klinsmann as having a set anything is precarious, even if he has picked out players like Tim Howard, Bradley, and Clint Dempsey as being part of his core. But at left midfield? Klinsmann may not be looking for answers as much as he’s trying to find options.

Just because the way we write boils discussions down to starters, first choices, and best XIs doesn’t mean a coach thinks that way. At some point, we need to do a better job of saying “we don’t know.” We need to become better writers.

Last week, Brad Davis emerged as one of Klinsmann’s options. At least, he emerged as a more viable option than we’d previously thought. Before Mexico, the Dynamo star was seen as somebody fighting for his place on the plane, but after he got the start ahead of Landon Donovan, his spot needs to be reevaluated.

Donovan’s does, too, though we should tread lightly. The final arguments will be made in next month. For those on the bubble, making it to May’s camp gives you a shot. You don’t need to be in the 23 right now.

Two months before the 2014 World Cup, here’s how we see the midfield:


Michael Bradley is the obvious starter, and while Kyle Beckerman’s role seemed to free up the Toronto FC star last week, we’ll have to see how Klinsmann uses the Real Salt Lake anchor when Jermaine Jones is an option. While, in theory, the U.S. could use both Bradley and Jones on top of Beckerman, the U.S.’s three-man midfields have tended to leverage Clint Dempsey’s ability to drop back. Jones may not be a fan favorite, but Klinsmann has consistently put him in the starting lineup.

Elsewhere, Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi has the only guarantee, with the rest of the slots open to competition. In theory, Klinsmann needs one more option on the left to provide an alternative to Fabian Johnson (and, potentially, Eddie Johnson). He needs cover for Zusi on the right, and he needs somebody who can work more centrally, likely somebody who can play higher (since all of Beckerman, Bradley, and Jones can play deeper roles).

How many spots that leaves may depend on the forward situation. If Chris Wondolowski goes to Brazil, there are only three open spots in midfield. If “Wondo” (or, potentially Eddie Johnson) gets squeezed out, a fourth spot opens up in the middle.

With so many defenders able to play midfield roles (Beasley, Cameron, Evans, Johnson), Klinsmann can afford to take that extra forward. So who ends up going out of Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona (edge: Bedoya)? Does the battle between Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan claim another spot (edge: Diskerud)? And are we really at the point where Brad Davis and Landon Donovan’s an either-or?

Probably not, but that may be the direction we’re headed. All of these players may need to make a claim in May.

  • Going to Brazil: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi
  • On the bubble (three-to-four spots available): Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Brad Davis, Landon Donovan, Mix Diskerud, Maurice Edu, Julian Green, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Danny Williams

MORE: Goalkeepers and defenders | Midfielders | Forwards

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)
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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)
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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)
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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

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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.