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

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4