Those tuning in to the United States friendly against Azerbaijan were met with a bit of deadline drama, as there stood Chris Wondolowski in the Starting XI after Clint Dempsey was yanked from the lineup following some discomfort in his groin.
But it was all precautionary and after a day or two of rest, Dempsey plans on returning to full training ahead of a Sunday friendly with Turkey he won’t dare miss (especially after Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson both threatened goal, the latter scoring in the States’ 2-0 win).
“Yeah, I’ll be ready,” the 31-year-old attacker told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday night. “[It’s] just tightness. I was just feeling it a little bit [on Monday] and it was still tight again today, so it didn’t make sense to push it in the game.”
Klinsmann was aware that the Seattle attacker had experienced some pain in training during two weeks of intense competition, and was not surprised that Dempsey felt it again. After some discussion with the staff, it was decided discretion was the better part of valor.
“No it’s not serious at all,” Klinsmann said in the postgame press conference following the 2-0 win. “He had a little bit of pain yesterday already in training and he told me about it. And then in warm-up, he was just a little bit nervous about it.”
Klinsmann said he discussed the injury shortly before kickoff with USMNT head athletic trainer Ivan Pierra, who recommended they sit the Seattle Sounders star and give him “one or two days of rest” following nearly two weeks of pre-World Cup training camp at Stanford University.
“The players pretty much went on the edge and that’s what we have to do,” Klinsmann added. “We have to prepare them for something bigger.”
Wondolowski nearly scored twice in the first 15 minutes of the match and certainly provided both danger and physical play, but U.S. supporters would certainly have appreciated seeing the difference Dempsey might’ve made for Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.
The States return to the friendly pitch on Sunday at Red Bull Arena against Arda Turan and the Turkish national team. Kickoff is at 2pm ET.
Mourinho has plenty of work to do to first restore United to the top of the PL and then to Europe.
Below is a quick checklist of what Mourinho must sort out first when he likely arrives at Old Trafford in the coming days.
He has a huge job on his hands but if anybody can do it, it’s Mourinho.
1 – Get a new, more powerful spine of the team
A lot has been said about the laborious rate of play under LVG the best two seasons but not much has been said about why it’s been like that. Of course, pace is a huge factor in that but as is winning the ball back in key areas and United haven’t done that enough in midfield and defense. Getting in two destructive players in central midfield and central defense is key for this team. With Nemanja Matic linked to United, that would work in midfield. John Stones and Raphael Varane in central defense would also work and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, boom, there’s your new spine of the team. It’s more powerful and able to dominate teams.
This is a big one and has this storyline has somehow got lost in the shuffle a little in the past few months. Let’s not forget that De Gea missed United’s opening games of the season after he lost focus with his potential move to Real Madrid up in the air. He accepted it when it didn’t happen after an eleventh hour breakdown and the Spanish international was once again named the PL’s best goalkeeper. De Gea, 25, is key to this United team and to that strong spine we’re talking about. Without UEFA Champions League action to offer next season, Mourinho must convince him to stay at United as Real lurk in the background ready to activate his reported release clause.
I’ve seen enough of Rooney in midfield in recent weeks to believe this is where his future lies. United’s captain even seems to believe it now too. However, he should play in a slightly more attacking role than he has been. That is where he’s at his best. We’ve seen him struggle with some of the easier passes and given the ball away in key possessions as he takes too many risks on the ball as a holding or deeper central midfielder. Play him just in front of two defensive midfielders and let him roam free behind a target man like Zlatan or Marcus Rashford.
4 – Keep faith in the youngsters
Okay, so Jose has been terrible at doing this in the past. Wherever he has gone he’s had a short-term approach, a “win now, worry later” mentality which has left some of the teams in ruins after his departure. Yet, at United it can be argued that many of the youngsters giving their debuts this season by Van Gaal were the bright spots. Rashford is a special talent and Jesse Lingard is flourishing, while Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson showed promise. Then you have Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Memphis. The latter could get a new lease of life under Mourinho and, all of a sudden, Mourinho could have a very young team. That said, he’ll likely go out and bring in some experience form his days at Real Madrid or Chelsea but he should not neglect this opportunity to thrust youngsters into the limelight like he has done so readily in the past.
5 – Prioritize the Premier League
He’s won plenty of FA Cups and League Cups with Chelsea in the past but it is time for Mourinho to fully focus on one thing when he arrives at United: finishing in the top four. United simply have to be in the UCL in 2017-18 and their failure to qualify for that tournament this season was the main reason LVG is out. Like Liverpool showed a few years ago and Leicester City showed us this season, when you only have one competition to focus on, then anything is possible. Play the kids in all of the Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup games and keep your star players hungry to succeed in the Premier League.
The USMNT have two more friendlies — Ecuador on Wednesday, then Bolivia on Saturday — before they face Colombia in the 2016 Copa America Centenario opener in Santa Clara, Calif. on June 3.
Klinsmann has already stated the USA’s goal is to reach the semifinals of the 16-team tournament as CONCACAF and CONMEBOL’s finest square off. Getting out of a tricky Group A will be a big achievement for the U.S. as Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay stand in their way.
With the Major League Soccer contingent of players just joining up with the squad, plus others leaving after taking part in the friendly win in Puerto Rico last Sunday, Klinsmann now has the majority of his final 23-man roster with him and available for selection.
Who should start against Colombia in 10 days time? Let’s take a look at the best XI Klinsmann can pick.
USMNT’s best XI
—– Guzan —–
— Yedlin — Cameron — Birnbaum — Johnson —
— Bradley — Jones —
— Bedoya — Dempsey — Zardes —
—– Wood —–
We know that Klinsmann has named Brad Guzan as his starter for the Copa America and given that he’s played more regularly than MLS-bound Tim Howard over the past six months, that’s understandable. Do I still think Howard is overall a better goalkeeper than Guzan? Yes.
The back four, for me, picks itself. DeAndre Yedlin has shown his development, especially defensively, as a solid right back at Sunderland this season. That loan move did him the world of good. Geoff Cameron is the clear leader in central defense (he has been struggling with a hamstring injury but should be good to go next Friday) and you have to select a center back who can compliment him best. I believe Steve Birnbaum is that man even though John Brooks may be the better overall player. Fabian Johnson should play at left back simply because the U.S. doesn’t have many options in that area. The Borussia Monchengladbach winger is incredibly useful going forward but needs must.
Central midfield should be locked down by Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, although Kyle Beckerman or Darlington Nagbe do have a chance of starting in that area to give Bradley the chance to play as the central attacking midfielder.
In an attacking midfield three I’ve gone for Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes as I think they have the perfect mixture of pace, trickery and industry and they will support the man who has risen to stardom: Bobby Wood.
The hopes of Klinsmann’s team rest on the shoulders of Hamburg’s Hawaiian striker but whispers out of training camp suggest Wood is up to the challenge of leading the line after Jozy Altidore went down with an injury. Also, watch out for Christian Pulisic who will likely be used off the bench to support Wood. The 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund sensation can slot into any of the attacking midfield positions and is a real wildcard for Klinsmann to throw in when necessary.
However, a report in The Guardian says he has agree to stay on and has a three-year deal at the club and the Daily Telegraph echoes those sentiments, adding that Benitez will be given full control of the transfer committee and decide who comes in and out of the club.
Benitez took charge of Newcastle’s final 10 games of the season and lost just three times, getting the fans on his side and the season ended with a 5-1 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur even though they’d already been relegated. Newcastle’s fans believe Benitez is the right man to lead them and gave him an outpouring of messages asking him to so.
It was believed Benitez was not going to stay if they were relegated but such has been the warmth of the fans and the lack of other options in the PL, Benitez seems to have made a massive U-turn after assurances were reportedly made to him by owner Mike Ashley about transfer budgets, a new scouting system and many other facets of the club.
The Spanish coach excelled in the final weeks of the season with Newcastle winning three of their final six games and going unbeaten in that stretch but it wasn’t enough to keep their sinking ship afloat after Steve McClaren‘s disastrous spell in charge of the club was cut short after just eight months in charge.
Benitez simple had too little time to save Newcastle but he did appear to get the best out of the players at his disposal in the short time he was in charge. With his initial contract said to have a break clause he could activate should the Magpies get relegated, the former Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan, Napoli and Real Madrid manager has been spending some time away to think about his future.
It seems like he has decided to stay and lead Newcastle’s charge back to the Premier League. If that notion comes to fruition it will be music to the ears of fans of the Magpies.
Speaking to the club website, Xhaka is delighted to have arrived at the Emirates Stadium and explained to Arsenal’s fans a little of what he’s about.
“I am very happy to be here. For me it is a dream come true,” Xhaka said. “I am a player who likes to play football and I am an aggressive player, maybe a leader. I’m only 23 but I was in Germany and captain of a good team.”
Wenger also revealed the extend of Arsenal’s scouting of the former Basel midfielder.
“Granit Xhaka is an exciting young player, already with good Champions League and Bundesliga experience,” Wenger said. “We have been watching him for a long time now and he is a player who will add quality to our squad. We wish Granit a good Euro 2016 with Switzerland and look forward to welcoming him to Arsenal ahead of next season.”
Xhaka will slot straight into Arsenal’s central midfield area which now has considerable competition.
With Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny due to be his main competitor for playing time, the fact that Arsenal has shelled out nearly $50 million to land Xhaka tells you that he will likely be a starter. Then, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla will all have to fight to get a spot alongside him in central midfield.
After Arsenal finished second in the 2015-16 PL table, something which disappointing fans with Leicester City winning the title by 10 points, Wenger has started his business early and has sealed the deal for Xhaka before he heads to the 2016 European Championships in France as a key member of Switzerland’s team.
Gunners fans will be licking their lips as Wenger has been backed in the transfer market and has added power and substance to central midfield. That’s something they’ve been crying out for now for many years.
Is Xhaka the missing piece in the jigsaw as Arsenal search for their first PL trophy in 13 years? Perhaps another striker and center back will persuade many that they will be the favorites to win the PL in 2016-17 but Xhaka’s arrival is a huge sign of their intent to kick on next season.