U.S. vs. Turkey: Three things that could matter, come Brazil

12 Comments

The United States isn’t ready of the World Cup, but on Sunday, the team showed it’s making progress. Improving on Tuesday’s performance against Azerbaijan, the U.S.’s execution going forward was better against a more talented foe, producing a 26th minute goal that flashed the best of Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson. With Clint Dempsey’s second half insurance, the U.S. went on to a 2-1 win over Turkey, it’s second in as many games of their pre-Brazil send-off series.

The returns, however, weren’t entirely positive. Though the attack improved, problems were revealed at in defense, while the team’s midfield arrangement proved ill-suited to protect an unsettled back four. While the U.S. didn’t get bogged down in front of its opponents’ defense (as it did against Azerbaijan), the team proved too willing to let its opposition move through theirs. The defense’s left side was a big problem.

Six days from now, the U.S. will get a chance to address those issues. For now, here are three things we learned about the team which could matter come Brazil.

1. Bradley looking more like a number 10 …

On Tuesday against Azerbaijan, the U.S.’s diamond midfield was a misnomer. Michael Bradley, ostensibly the team’s attacking midfielder, spent most of the batch behind his two carrileros. On Sunday, that changed, with the normally ranging Bradley almost restraining himself to stay higher in the defensive phase, offering an outlet out of the back.

The flip side of that: Bradley’s positioning allowed him to exert pressure higher up the field, something that paid off in the 21st minute when a turnover in Turkey’s half created a 3-on-2. On the U.S.’s opening goal, Bradley was coming from behind two of the opponent’s central midfielders. He wasn’t in front of them, as a would normally be with his club team.  When the defense turned, Fabian Johnson had his space, and the U.S. had its opening goal.

2. … it’s still unclear that’s the best way to use him.

Speaking to ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp at halftime, Klinsmann noted the diamond midfield left holder Jermaine Jones outnumbered when Turkey threw its highest midfielders into attack. Of course, that’s the sacrifice you make when you go with this midfield alignment. The U.S. either needs to get its wide midfielders (Graham Zusi and Brad Davis) back quicker a la a normal 4-3-1-2 or it needs to pull Bradley deeper. Regardless, it was too easy for Turkey to get numbers at Jones and, consequently, that weak left side of the defense.

On Sunday, the U.S. was able to generate as many chances as its opponents. Against Germany and Portugal, however, that’s unlikely to hold. These psuedo-diamonds are in fashion right now in U.S. soccer, but without players who can play deeper roles in the sides, the formation may leave a suspect defense overexposed.

3. The defense, particularly its left side, may be a weakness.

The wording of that header is a bit “no duh,” but on Sunday, the problems were particularly evident. Against a Turkey team that seemed to constantly go at Matt Besler and Timothy Chandler’s side, the U.S. appeared destined to give up a goal. Though Klinsmann almost got away with it, with his team only conceding near the final whistle, the U.S. coach learned a Besler-Chandler combination either needs help, needs to be avoided, or needs to improve.

This goes back to the criticisms of the midfield, above, but if we concentrate on the defense, it also raises questions about Chandler. Regarding Besler, we know he’s a solid but limited player who, while reliable, needs solid players around him at this level. After Sunday’s game, the question is whether Chandler (a.) can that player, and (b.) how often.

The performance brought back memories of his struggles last February in World Cup qualifying against Honduras. It also made DaMarcus Beasley, a natural midfielder, look more viable. To the eyes, an even per his résumé, Chandler seems like the more viable option. In practice, that may not be the case.

Sunday may have just been a bad day, and the level of competition Chandler faced was much higher than Beasley saw on Tuesday, but that 90th minute mistake should never happen. Being so far out of position on Turkey’s 61st minute chance may have been a problem, too. And those weren’t the only issues on the left side of the U.S.’s defense.

Wolfsburg holds off Braunschweig with Vieirinha blast (video)

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Outworked and outperformed in the first half of their playoff second leg at Eintracht Braunschweig, Wolfsburg needed a wake-up call to steady its hopes of staying in the Bundesliga.

That came off the boot of longtime right back Vieirinha, as the Portuguese veteran ran onto a rebound and fired a 17-yard arrow into the goal to boost Wolfsburg aggregate lead to 2-0.

[ MORE: Barcelona names new manager ]

That would mean the 2.Bundesliga hosts would need three goals to give the second tier a third promotion this season. An 82nd minute red card to Braunschweig’s Maximilian Sauer effectively ended those far-off dreams.

Ingolstadt and Darmstadt were relegated in the season, and Stuttgart and Hannover were promoted from 2.Bundesliga.

Barcelona announces Valverde as next manager

Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Six days after leaving his post at Athletic Bilbao, another dream job has been signed, sealed, and delivered to Ernesto Valverde.

The ex-Barcelona striker is joining the Blaugranas as the replacement for accolade-winning coach Luis Enrique, who stepped away from the position after Saturday’s Copa del Rey victory.

[ JPW: Huddersfield completes the dream ]

Valverde, 53, played two seasons with Barca in the late 1980s, and previously coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia. His spent most of his playing career at Athletic and began as their manager in 2013.

Here’s what Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said about Valverde:

“Valverde has the ability, the knowledge and the experience. He promotes players from the youth teams and he has a style and a way of working like ours. He has a philosophy of the game that is very Barça and he is a hard worker. Also, he is passionate about applying technology to both training and matches.”

Valverde becomes the fourth manager to take charge of Barcelona since Pep Guardiola left in 2012 (Tito Vilanova, Gerardo Martino, and Enrique are the others).

Huddersfield seal fairytale promotion to Premier League

Getty Images
3 Comments

LONDON — Huddersfield Town have been promoted to the Premier League.

Let that sink in.

[ MORE: Wagner reacts to “fairytale” ]

The Terriers, for the first time in their history, will play in the PL and for the first time since 1972 they will be in the top-flight of English soccer.

German-American manager David Wagner has worked a miracle to turnaround a team who finished in 19th place in the Championship last season. They beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks on Monday after a tight, tense 120 minutes of action at Wembley Stadium, holding their nerve to seal an estimated windfall of $218 million next season and up to $372 million if they survive in the PL for another season.

All day long, and perhaps all season long, it has felt like Huddersfield were destined for promotion.

Huddersfield sold out their full allocation of tickets, 39,150, and their fans made the most noise all day long. There was no contest.

In central London Huddersfield’s fans piled on to the tube heading to Wembley for their day of reckoning.

“It’s his first full season as a fan!” said a proud mother decked out in a Huddersfield shirt as she hugged her five-year-old son proudly. “What a time to start!” replied a stranger, also a Huddersfield fan.

Excited chatter filled the 15 minute tube ride from Baker Street to Wembley Park as fans “I can’t believe it,” said one fan to another, quietly. “It will hit home when we get into the stadium,” his friend replied.

Steven Sunderland stood outside Wembley with his wife Melanie and their daughter Megan.

He summed up the surprise that Huddersfield were even one game away from the Premier League to start with.

“It would be amazing to play all of the big clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, clubs like that,” Sunderland said. “I never thought we would make it. No chance. I just thought if we make midtable, it would be an improvement on last season because we’ve been struggling with relegation the last few seasons. This season, David Wagner has got the team playing really well, best team spirit I’ve ever seen for a long, long time. The fans are really connected. It shows today, there are nearly 40,000 Huddersfield fans here today and they are up for it.”

Oh yes. Yes they were.

Amid dissecting the struggles of Yorkshire rivals Leeds United, talk of just going up to the PL for one year and then enjoying it “no matter how we do” was rife among the Huddersfield fans. One Terriers supporter puffed out his cheeks, gripping his can of cider nervously as he walked up Wembley Way.

Tense was the word of the day.

With the future of both clubs on the line, the game itself didn’t deliver end-to-end excitement. With an estimated $218 million on the line for next season and $370 million if they manage to stay up one year in the PL, the economic benefit for Huddersfield the club, and the town, will be huge.

When Michael Hefele headed wide and Isaiah Brown missed a glorious chance early on, you began to wonder if it was Huddersfield’s day. In the end none of that mattered.

Christopher Schindler stepped up and slotted home the winning penalty kick after Danny Ward saved from Jordan Obita as Huddersfield had reached the promised land.

Huddersfield chairman Dean Hoyle summed up his emotions after taking over the club and putting in a prudent plan for promotion involving loan players and a budget less than $12 million this season.

“I’m so emotional. To say I’ve been supporting this club since 1969, to be a Premier League team now – dreams come true,” Hoyle said. “It’s huge what it means for Huddersfield, we’re on the big stage. It proves you don’t have to blow your brains to get promoted. We’ve done it the right way.”

What impact will this have on the Yorkshire town?

Sunderland and his family summed it up perfectly as yet another underdog, just like Bournemouth, Blackpool and Burnley before them, has risen to the promised land.

“It is massive. It is the land of milk and honey if you like, the place where everybody wants to be,” Sunderland said. “It will be brilliant, for the town. Just that little bit of success makes a big difference. We’ve been on TV this season more times than we have been the last 10 seasons. Next year it will be high profile very week. Match of the Day, on TV… Champions League the year after!? You never know.”

What did Wagner have to say? He told ProSoccerTalk he wants Huddersfield to keep the identity he has helped build and nurture.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves. This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They certainly are. Even if their fans can’t quite believe it.

As some posed for photos outside the electronic board at Wembley which said “congratulations Huddersfield!” others stood around in disbelief.

A group of three young Yorkshiremen sat on the tube back to Baker Street in stunned silence.

“We are going to be on Match of the Day!” said one fan, rubbing his hands in glee as he recites an intro to next years show which, of course, features Huddersfield top of the bill.

Discussion then switches to which games they’re most looking forward to. Arsenal, Liverpool and Man United away tops the list.

“We can’t believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said one fan as they looked at each other with dropped jaws.

Believe it, lads.

Watch out, Premier League. Huddersfield are on their way.

David Wagner reacts to Huddersfield’s promotion

Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON — There will be an American coach in the Premier League next season.

David Wagner, 45, led Huddersfield Town to its first-ever promotion to the Premier League as the Terriers beat Reading 4-3 on penalty kicks after a tense Championship Playoff Final at Wembley which ended 0-0 after 120 minutes.

Speaking after the nail-biting win, Wagner was delighted that his team proved everyone wrong and came from nowhere to reach the top-flight for the first time since 1972.

“A lot of the pundits wrote us off before the season,” Wagner told Sky Sports. “Over the season I thought we could do a little bit more, I thought around Christmas when we’d played everyone we had a chance. What happened is an unbelievable story – a fairytale.”

The former U.S. national team forward has galvanized the club, linking the team and fans together with passion and a plethora of loan players from the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

What he has achieved this season has left Huddersfield fans stunned as the former Borussia Dortmund II boss, who left the German giants in November 2015, has built a hardworking, organized team.

ProSoccerTalk asked Wagner if he will look at any of the smaller teams who have been recently promoted to the PL — the likes of Bournemouth, Burnley et al. — to follow a blueprint of how to plan ahead.

“We have to be focused on ourselves and this football club has to be focused on themselves,” Wagner said. “This football club has created an identity and this was always our target, that we create an identity and a style of football where even if we wear neutral jerseys people from outside are able to say ‘okay, that could be Huddersfield.’ I think it makes no sense to compare ourselves with other small clubs. This football club has its own story and I think, we are on the way.”

They are certainly on their way and we will be hearing a lot about the Terriers in the days and weeks to come.