Defining success: Does the U.S. have to make the leap at World Cup 2014?

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Win the World Cup. Develop the American Lionel Messi. Use The Beautiful Game to solve world hunger, and distribute the solution across the galaxy in Neil Degrasse Tyson’s upsetting space sliver. Those are the standards the mainstream sports public has set for soccer’s success in the United States, conveniently setting the bar too high to justify their consistent commitment. With a semifinal run in Brazil, the more patriotic NFL fans might reconsider; more realistically, 2014’s not going to meet those lofty goals.

More rational goals would consider the context of this year’s tournament. Where is the U.S. in its development? What are its goals? What does history tell us about realistic expectations, and most importantly, what obstacles does the team have to overcome? Being oblivious to these factors and defining success the same way you would USA Basketball’s doesn’t even work for baseball, anymore. As soccer fans know, on the men’s side ,the U.S. needs more pragmatic goals.

From a more level-headed perspective, there are a number of ways the U.S. can succeed next month, all of which come down to the same idea that led the  team to bring Jurgen Klinsmann in three years ago: Progress. Is the program getting closer to being competitive with the world’s elite? Are the players being selected, trained, and played in a way that promotes that growth? If the U.S. can’t realistically expect to win the World Cup in 2014, is it at least building for a day when it can?

That’s a lot of questions, something that’s expected when assessing a program in transition. Regardless, this program is very much in transition. The World Cup is just the latest, biggest test of that process, with the team’s response to its difficult group defining whether the 2014 finals can be deemed a success.

Those questions:

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U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati replaced Bob Bradley with Jurgen Klinsmann after the 2011 Gold Cup, sparking the program’s transition.

Where is the U.S. in its development?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s hire was a tacit confession the team needed to go in another direction. To expect it to be at its destination in three years is too much. To this point, the team’s shown progress, but the goals for World Cup 2014 are still defined by the program’s long-term objectives.

That doesn’t mean going farther than 2010. Whereas the draw for South Africa gave the U.S. one of the easiest draws in since the tournament expanded to 32 teams (1998), “Group of Death”  has been thrown around (perhaps lazily) in connection with this year’s draw. As Klinsmann’s contract extension attests, the federation knows the team can both show progress and fail to make the second round.

What are its goals?

There are a number of them, but they all come down to one concept. The team needs to be on the same level as the Germanys and Portugals of the world – top 10 teams who happen to be drawn into the U.S.’s quartet in Brazil.This is about more than one-off wins like the U.S. experienced against Spain in 2009. It’s about consistently being though of as one of the world’s better teams – something that’s not going to happen over the next six weeks.

If that comes, that means the U.S. will be dominating CONCACAF. It’ll be consistently churning out higher levels of talent. The pipeline to the national team will extend not only to a strong MLS but to a few of the best teams in Europe. The U.S. will be dominating Gold Cups and making an impact at Confederations Cups. It will be consistent quarterfinal-threat at World Cups.

Another run to a final eight would make the tournament a success, but it wouldn’t mean the U.S.’s goals are accomplished. Klinsmann was brought in to build something sustainable; not merely reach a World Cup mark. This summer is another test of that sustainability, but it’s not the only measure of success.

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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DaMarcus Beasley (L) was part of the team that made the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. He and Landon Donovan, both 20-year-olds in Japan/South Korea, are hoping to make their fourth World Cups.

What does history tell us about realistic expectations? 

The U.S. made a semifinal in 1930: Important but ancient history. In the modern era (one that started with Paul Caligiuri’s goal in Port of Spain) the U.S.’s quarterfinal run under Bruce Arena in 2002 is the reference point. Fans that have persisted over the last 12 years want that magic back.

There is some reason to think it could return. Germany is clearly the group’s favorites, yet Portugal, despite their lofty FIFA ranking (three), is beatable. Though many have focused on the U.S.’s trouble matching up with Cristiano Ronaldo, the team didn’t have an obvious answer to Luis Figo, either. One-on-one match ups make great headlines, but they don’t always define games.

This year’s Portugal team is no more talented than the one that failed in 2002. Whether the U.S. is as talented as its 2002 entry is another debate. Regardless, just as the last 12 years have shown the team’s win over the Selaccao in Suwon didn’t catapult the program, one result in Brazil won’t be a litmus test, either. More realistically: There are better tests of U.S. success than one group stage result.

Obstacles does the team have to overcome?

The better test is how the team performs over the body of the tournament, and how that reflects on the program’s bigger goals. That isn’t as easy as latching onto a “did we actually win this time” standard, but it is a better predictor of the team’s future. Win, lose, or draw, if the U.S. plays well against Germany, Ghana, and Portugal, the tournament can be seen as a success.

Granted, those quick to reference 2004’s performance won’t think so, but in Germany and Portugal, the U.S. is facing two teams better than anybody that lined up against Bob Bradley’s team in South Africa. One day, the U.S. will be at the point where the bottom line is the only goal, but while big-picture progress is the main objective, the results can be more subtle.

source: AP
U.S. success at Brazil 2014 will likely be determined by how it competes against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. (Photo: AP Photo.)

So what does a successful tournament look like?

Beating Ghana is probably a must. Soccer can offer strange, mitigating scenarios (as the Ghanaians surely know), but it will be difficult for the team to claim progress if it can’t break through against a Ghana side weaker than its 2006 and 2010 models.

The Germany game? The U.S. has a chance, but against teams at that level — the rarefied air taken in by Argentina, Brazil, Spain as well as the Germans — few are expected to win, particularly at a World Cup. Even if the U.S. is blown out by the Germans, many will likely to chalk that up to the immense collection of talent Klinsmann helped build.

It’s the battle in between those two games that could define U.S. success. If the U.S. can’t compete with Portugal, the team won’t have an argument to make. People will look back to how the team performed against England and Ghana four years ago and ask whether the U.S. is better off now. While Paulo Bento’s group is talented, the team is not worlds above where the U.S. should be.

Regardless, progress will be about more than the final result. If the U.S. performs to its potential, it should be able to challenge for second in the group. In the process, the team will continue building a program that makes 2002 more than a one-off.

Perhaps that coveted semifinal run won’t happen this summer, but this summer’s progress could lay the foundation for a 2016 breakthrough.

Three things from Everton’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City (video)

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Manchester City had 10 men for almost 45 minutes, but you could hardly tell as the Etihad Stadium club came back to draw Everton 1-1 on Monday.

[ RECAP: Man City 1-1 Everton ]

An entertaining affair had a bit for everyone, as Wayne Rooney made Premier League history and Everton teammate Morgan Schneiderlin joined City’s Kyle Walker as players to earn iffy second yellow cards.

All that and more, below:

Bittersweet draw for Koeman

Most teams will be quite pleased to take a point at Manchester City.

Most teams don’t have the aspirations of the financial outlay of 2017-18 Everton.

And most teams won’t have played almost a full half with one more man than City, only to manage maybe one more moment of danger against Pep Guardiola‘s men.

So, yes, this Toffees draw feels a bit like a loss. Wayne Rooney had sent Everton into a moment of historical hysteria with a quality first half marker, his 200th Premier League goal off a feed from continuously impressing youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

And when Kyle Walker was given a rather cheap second yellow card in the 44th minute, the Toffees would’ve felt good money for an away win in their quest to join the Premier League’s Top Four contenders.

But City controlled the rest of the match, and it could be argued that a lesser keeper than Jordan Pickford would’ve conceded an equalizer much earlier in the match. Man City was humming.

“Even with one less player on the pitch, they have that high quality on the ball and they can make it difficult. We had a tactical good game, unlucky, the goal. They didn’t create a lot of open chances, but still had the domination of the game and in the counter attack we had some opportunities, but finally it’s a good point and we worked hard for that result.”

The Toffees have loads of promise, and their resilience in holding firm for most of the match is laudable (Mason Holgate‘s clearance into the path of Raheem Sterling is unlucky). Yet three points to start a vicious run of fixtures would’ve been much preferred to the lone marker that made it to the table.

Off day + 10 men = Still a point for City

On a day when Sergio Aguero struggled to find his feet and Walker got his dicey sending-off, Man City was still the better of the two teams and that has to make Pep Guardiola a pleased man.

David Silva remains an important part of City’s attack, and Kevin De Bruyne was pretty good in the draw, but plenty of the hosts’ men didn’t have their A-games.

Aguero had a soft header cleared off the line and wasted a gorgeous first half chance by taking an extra touch. When he was on, like his silky outside of the boot pass to David Silva, the receiver hit the post. Bernardo Silva and Danilo also missed chances that would’ve been fine goals on another day.

Without the “City: Down to 10 men (Walker 44′)” graphic atop the screen, an unknowing viewer would have been stunned upon counting less than 11 City players.

Don’t sleep on Rooney’s day (or Calvert-Lewin moving forward)

Wayne Rooney is one of the best players in the history of English football, and he rightfully joins Alan Shearer as the only players to score 200 goals in the Premier League era.

“To join Alan Shearer with that amount of goals, it’s obviously a big moment and hopefully (there’s) a lot to come,” Rooney said after the game.

While his simple finish through Ederson’s legs lacks the glory of some of his goals (for a reminder, watch below), it’s surprising how many people have absolutely written off England’s all-time scoring leader as a gimmicky signing.

Rooney has two goals in two games, and he linked up well with Calvert-Lewin again on Monday. Koeman was impressed.

“I’m not surprised,” said the Everton manager. “I know the player. I know how eager he was to come back to Everton. Dominic Calvert-Lewin did well. He ran a lot and made it difficult for the Manchester City defenders. Then you can come out of your box and control.”

Perhaps it’s Manchester United overload, or England’s often over-celebrated national team, but Rooney isn’t the sort of player you see every day. Congrats to him on a big day.

Man City 1-1 Everton: Pep’s 10 men tarnish Rooney’s day

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  • Rooney scores 200th (video)
  • Pickford stands tall
  • Walker sent off for MCFC
  • Sterling scores

Wayne Rooney scored his 200th career Premier League goal, but Everton could not hold on to beat 10-man Man City in a 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Monday.

Raheem Sterling scored a deserved equalizer for Man City in the draw as both the Toffees and Citizens scooped up their fourth points of the season.

The Toffees went down to 10 men late, as Morgan Schneiderlin joined Kyle Walker in earning a rather soft sending-off.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Dominic Calvert-Lewin dragged a long shot across goal for Everton’s first real chance, while Kevin De Bruyne‘s deflected free kick was collected by Jordan Pickford as Man City tempted goal.

A long feeling-out period followed, but the match sprang to life when Pickford parried a Nicolas Otamendi chance to Sergio Aguero. The striker’s popped header was cleared off the line by Phil Jagielka.

Aguero wasted a gorgeous pass from De Bruyne with superfluous touches in the 33rd minute. The Argentine made up for it with a inch-perfect pass that David Silva cranked off the left post a minute later.

That’s when Everton scored, with Calvert-Lewin squaring for Rooney’s clinical finish through the legs of Ederson.

Gabriel Jesus chested an Aguero trap into shooting position, but Pickford collected the shot.

Kyle Walker took two yellow cards in four minutes to earn a red card from Bobby Madley, and City was down a goal and two men. The second was especially questionable.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Man City had the better of the early second half play, with Morgan Schneiderlin blocking a De Bruyne free kick and Jagielka racing out to stop the rebound.

That’s when Ronald Koeman readied new Everton signing Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Ederson made an outstanding 80-yard pass to a streaking Aguero, and Man City set up a play that ended with Bernardo Silva bouncing a shot wide of the Everton goal.

Pickford made another strong save when Danilo stepped into the right of the 18 with about 15 minutes to play. An Everton free kick saw Ederson collect a Rooney header moments later.

Sterling gave City its equalizer when Mason Holgate was occupied with David Silva and headed his clearance to the top of the 18 for a near point blank finish.

Schneiderlin made it 10 men a piece in the 88th minute when he collected his second yellow card.

Wayne Rooney’s 200th PL goal puts Everton ahead of Man City (video)

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Wayne Rooney‘s first half goal against old rivals Manchester City made the Everton man just the second player in Premier League history to score 200 goals.

The 31-year-old Rooney now sits 60 goals behind Newcastle legend Alan Shearer on the all-time list.

[ STREAM: Man City-Everton / Full match replays ]

Rooney scored 183 of his PL goals for Manchester United, netting 15 before moving to Old Trafford and now two since his return to Goodison Park.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin had been lively all game and squared for Rooney, who blasted into the box and into a yard of space given by John Stones to side-foot a class finish between Ederson’s legs.

Man City’s Kyle Walker took a pair of quick yellow cards late in the half to further Man City’s plight.

Shearer is happy to have company:

Newcastle to pry $15 million Praet away from Sampdoria

Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images
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Reports in Italy say Newcastle’s nightmarish start to the season may get a prime reinforcement in former Anderlecht midfielder Dennis Praet, now of Sampdoria.

Praet, 23, has a single cap for Belgium and played 34 times for Sampdoria during his first season with the Serie A club. He played 84 minutes of the Genoese club’s 2-1 season-opening win over Benevento this weekend.

[ MORE: Wood to Burnley; Clucas to Swans ]

He arrived from Anderlecht last season for just under $12 million, and Newcastle’s reported cost for his services will be right around $15 million.

More than capable in his own end and productive in moving play along, he’d play a bit deeper in Newcastle’s midfielder.

With Jonjo Shelvey suspended, Isaac Hayden had a feast or famine partner in on-loan Borussia Dortmund mid Mikel Merino in the Magpies’ disappointing 1-0 Sunday loss at Huddersfield Town.