Squad-for-World Cup squad: Is the U.S. better than Mexico?

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In the world where the United States becomes a soccer power, Mexico is not far behind. In fact, the order maybe reversed. As CONCACAF’s now traditional powers, the two rivals share a symbiotic relationship, pushing each other as well as relying on their rival to provide depth in the region. With apologies to nations like Costa Rica and Honduras (repeat World Cup qualifiers), if CONCACAF’s going to raise it’s international profile — and enjoy all the ranking bonuses and World Cup spots that go with it — it’s going to be off the boots of the U.S. or El Tri.

Logically, that means each side should be pulling for each other in events like the Confederations or World Cup, but sports are rarely logical. Rivalries? They’re even worse. If U.S. national team fans had a choice between Mexico doing well to help CONCACAF’s cause or both teams going out in Brazil’s group stage, they’d be reluctant to give their Mexican counterparts the satisfaction. Even if strong Mexico results could, long down the road, slightly help their cause, few U.S. fans would be able to stomach El Tri success.

That’s why, even ahead of a tournament where they’re unlikely to meet, how the U.S. measures up against Mexico matters. Drawn into an easier group, Miguel Herrera’s team is more likely to make the second round, but U.S. fans will still want a performance that fosters their pride. They’ll want the U.S. to give them a leg to stand on:

Yeah, Mexico got farther, but did you see how we played against Portugal? We would have gotten out of their group, too!

Unfortunately, the debate won’t be settled on the field this summer, leaving the U.S. with the bragging rights they’ve carried over from the Gold Cup and CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. If Jurgen Klinsmann were to matchup with a full version Herrera’s revamped squad, though, he might find things more difficult than he did in the last days of Jose Manuel de la Torre.

Based on the 23-man squads the teams are taking to Brazil (U.S., Mexico, both below):

source: Getty Images

Where the U.S. is stronger:

  • In goal: Between José de Jesús Corona, Guillermo Ochoa, and Alfredo Talavera, Mexico has three good goalkeepers, but la selección lacks a Tim Howard. At one time, Ochoa was on a trajectory to reach that level, but already 28 years old, his international career has faltered to the point his spot on Mexico’s roster was a doubt. As has been the case for a while, the U.S. has an advantage in goal.
  • In midfield: Michael Bradley may be the best player on either team’s roster, and while he’s maligned by U.S. national team fans, Jermaine Jones provides a solidity Herrera may find enviable. With the days of Gerardo Torrado locking down the middle gone, Mexico is currently, if slightly, behind the U.S. in the middle.
  • In results: The straight results in the U.S.-Mexico rivalry are always a little skewed because so many of the meetings take place on American soil. There are, however, a couple of other factors that make it clear which team’s been stronger over the last few years. The U.S. is the reigning CONCACAF champion, and while that honor was won during a “down” Gold Cup, Klinsmann’s team can also point to its finish in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying as proof of its supremacy. The U.S. not only finished on top of The Hex, they took four points from Mexico while doing so.

source: APWhere Mexico is stronger:

  • In attack: Just as Herrera may look to the U.S. midfield with envy, so might Klinsmann look at the likes of Oribe Peralta (pictured), Giovani Dos Santos, Raul Jimenez and Javier Hernandez and be jealous. Even Alan Pulido, a newcomer to the senior team, has four goals in three appearances after a successful U-level career. With all but one player in the group (Peralta) 25 or younger, El Tri’s attacking corps could prove more troublesome next cycle.
  • In defense: How big an advantage this is will depend on how Jurgen Klinsmann’s defense comes together, but Herrera’s group combines the experience of Rafa Marquez, Carlos Salcido, and Maza Rodriguez (combined 328 caps) with the talents of a younger corps he’s helped bring in (or, back): Miguel Layún, Miguel Ponce, Paul Aguilar, Diego Reyes. European mainstays Andres Guardado, having moved from midfield to defense, and Hector Moreno round out a deep group.
  • In potential: The core of that amazing 2011 Gold Cup championship team is still in this squad, but the confidence is gone. Even if they recapture that swagger over the next three weeks, a likely second round meeting with Spain means Mexico’s World Cup will be short. The real potential for Herrera’s squad is to build an ethos that will help El Tri recapture a place at the top of CONCACAF. Humbled by qualifying, Mexico’s World Cup will be about redemption.

Overall

On paper, there isn’t much that separates the U.S. from Mexico, but given a choice between the squads, many may prefer to take their chances with El Tri’s talent and potential than bet on the U.S.’s superior results. Yet there’s a reason the U.S. has those results – results they’ve been able to replicate within CONCACAF for some time. No matter how promising Mexico’s looked on paper, the U.S. has managed to respond. Even when a golden generation threatened to separate El Tri from the pack, the U.S. came back and won World Cup qualifying.

Until Mexico can prove they’ve recovered from its qualifying woes — until the team can play closer to its potential — its “on paper” virtues mean nothing. Against Brazil, Croatia, and potentially Spain, the team will have a chance to turn the corner.

Win or lose, though, Mexico will get another crack at the U.S. this time next year. The next Gold Cup is just around the corner. Until then, barring a huge second round upset in Brazil, the United States has proven itself better. For now.

Teams

Mexico

Goalkeepers: Jesus Corona, Guillermo Ochoa, Alfredo Talavera
Defenders: Paul Aguilar, Andres GuardadoMiguel Layun , Rafael Marquez, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes, Francisco Javier Rodriguez, Carlos Salcido
Midfielders: Isaac Brizuela, Marco Fabian Hector Herrera, Juan Carlos Medina, Luis Montes, Carlos Pena, Jose Juan Vazquez
Forwards: Giovani Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez, Raul Jimenez, Oribe Peralta, Alan Pulido

United States

Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Nick Rimando
Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson
Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Brad Davis
Forwards: Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johannsson, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Julian Green

Sydney FC clinches first place in A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) After clinching first place in Australia’s A-League without taking the field, Sydney FC enhanced its record achievement with a 3-0 win over the Perth Glory on Sunday.

Sydney FC won the Premiers Plate as regular-season champions after the second-place Melbourne Victory lost 1-0 to Brisbane on Saturday, when Sydney had a night off.

The Brisbane win left Sydney with an unassailable 11-point lead in first place with three rounds to play.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Sydney side also created some history: it became the only team to have remained in outright first position in the standings for an entire season.

In the other match Sunday, the Wellington Phoenix beat Newcastle 5-0 to remain within five points of sixth-place Western Sydney for the final playoff spot.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?

An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.