Jurgen Klinsmann

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:

source:
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

source:
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.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Chapecoense adds to crest to honor championship, victims of plane crash

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - NOVEMBER 27:  The team of Palmeiras celebrates with the trophy after winning the match between Palmeiras and Chapecoense for the Brazilian Series A 2016 at Allianz Parque on November 27, 2016 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images
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Chapecoense will acknowledge its Copa Sudamericana championship as well as the many who were injured or died en route to the final on its club badge.

[ MORE: The latest on Chapecoense’s recovery ]

Chape added two stars to the logo. The first goes atop the circle to represent the championship, which was awarded to the club by CONMEBOL at the request of opponents Atletico Nacional.

The second goes inside the stylized ‘F’, and is dedicated to the 71 who died — including 19 players — in the Colombian plane crash.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Liverpool: Klopp joins Reina in backing Karius; “Shut your ears”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool talks with Loris Karius of Liverpool after the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has his goalkeeper’s back.

Loris Karius has faced a good deal of criticism for his performance in the Reds’ come-from-ahead loss to Bournemouth last weekend, even some calls for a Simon Mignolet renaissance between the Anfield sticks.

[ MORE: Stoke’s Hughes likes Arsenal’s PL odds ]

And Reds supporters won’t mind Klopp calling out a rival’s woes to support the claim.

From the BBC:

“He made a mistake, too, which David De Gea made a few days before. Even the best goalkeepers in the world still make mistakes.

“There is no perfect recipe for development but shut your ears or close your ears helps a lot. I’m quite good at that. Hopefully, he can adapt to my skills to this.”

Klopp isn’t alone in defending Karius, as ex-Liverpool star Pepe Reina thinks the keeper’s been outstanding for the Reds.

The 23-year-old German backstop gets a look at West Ham United this weekend.

Follow @NicholasMendola

WATCH, STREAM: Premier League TV schedule – Week 15

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Week 15 of the 2016-17 Premier League season is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live here ]

Watford host Everton on Saturday (7:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) at Vicarage Road to kick things off with both teams out of form and desperate for a win.

Then Arsenal welcome Stoke City to the Emirates Stadium (10 a.m. ET live NBCSN andonline via NBC Sports.com) as Arsene Wenger‘s side look to stretch their unbeaten run to 14 games in the Premier League against a resurgent Potters outfit.

As the same time struggling Swansea City and Sunderland clash (10 a.m. ET live CNBC and online via NBC Sports.com) in a massive relegation battle at the Liberty Stadium. Can Bob Bradley get a big win?

[ MORE: Top PL storylines ]

Rounding things off on Saturday we have a big game for two teams in contrasting situations as Leicester City host Manchester City (12:30 p.m. ET live NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) at the King Power Stadium with Claudio Ranieri‘s side in a relegation battle. As for Pep Guardiola and City, they haven’t had it all their own way recently but are just four points off top spot.

On Sunday league-leader Chelsea host West Brom (7 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Antonio Conte‘s boys aiming to make it eight-straight wins in the Premier League but the in-form Baggies stand in the way. Then Manchester United and Tottenham collide at Old Trafford (9:15 a.m. ET live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) in one of the games of the weekend as both teams still harbor title aspirations but look more likely to simply challenge for the top four this season. 

To round Week 15 off Liverpool welcome struggling West Ham to Anfield (11:30 a.m. ET live NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) with Jurgen Klopp‘s men aiming to get over their shocking defeat at Bournemouth, while Slaven Bilic‘s Hammers will take anything they can get from this trip.

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App, plus you can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this. Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Watford  vs. Everton – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Stoke City – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Sunderland – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Hull City vs. Crystal Palace – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Manchester City – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Chelsea vs. West Brom – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:15 a.m. ET: Man United vs. West Ham – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:15 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Middlesbrough – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham – NBCSN [STREAM]