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

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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.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 3: Gap developing at the top

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We’re just three weeks in, and while there’s still obviously gobs of time for teams to right the ship, we are also seeing who’s for real at the top of the table, and while the table doesn’t always show it, we’re starting to learn more and more about each team that picks up the points.

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Atlanta continues to win, still yet to lose in MLS play three matches into its inaugural season, and Portland bounced back to prove they’re still in control. At about the 7-8 mark there looks to be a clear gap developing. Can anyone buck the trend moving forward? Your updated power rankings:


TEAM RANKING (Last Wk)

 

22 (19)

21 (22)

20 (21)

DC United: Six goals conceded, none scored in their last two. Not much else needs to be said.

Minnesota United: Their very first MLS point was an important one, holding on down a man. Still a very long way to go.

New England Revolution: More of the same for New England who admittedly had a tall task against FC Dallas but couldn’t hold on.

19 (20) Columbus Crew: Could this week be the one that starts the climb? Six shots on target out of seven total, that’s efficient. Still need a result against a better team to back it up.
18 (18) Real Salt Lake: No Glad, No Plata, down a man, still almost pulled it out. Still, the defending was poor at times a man down and Beckerman knows better. Need to start picking up points.
17 (16) Philadelphia Union: 14 shots, just two on target. That’s the type of day it was in Orlando. Just a point from three is worrying.
16 (12) Chicago Fire: Ouch. It’s hard to take much of anything from a big loss to a smoking hot team playing 79 minutes with 10 men. Still…that one will hurt.
15 (17) Montreal Impact: They held firm against a good NYCFC attack, and actually did the coming back for once.
14 (14) Vancouver Whitecaps: In a vacuum, no shame in losing to Tigres or Toronto, but now they’ve got a bit of poor form with the Galaxy coming to town and then the CCL second leg. Will want to avoid a string of bad results.
13 (15) LA Galaxy: All road wins are good wins. That said, beating a weakened RSL by a goal after playing a man down the entire second half is not exactly convincing. They were second best until Beckerman went off and managed just 4 shots on target.
12 (13)
Sporting Kansas City: Have conceded just one goal. They have a plan, and it’s working so far. Just need to figure it out on the other end.
11 (5) Colorado Rapids: Give the Loons credit, but a draw against 10-man Minnesota is not a good look. The defending has been poor.
10 (7) San Jose Earthquakes: Bit tough to figure out this San Jose team early on, but with Godoy held in check, they were outshot 15-5 by KC.
9 (6) Houston Dynamo: Caught Portland at a bad time. This is still a good team, but maybe with some soul-searching to do after a big loss.
9 (10)
Orlando City: An extra week of rest helped Orlando and Cyle Larin did Cyle Larin things. Six possible points, six taken. Still need to prove themselves on the road after last season.
7 (9) Seattle Sounders: Just like Portland, Seattle got back to what it does best, and that involved Dempsey and Morris scoring. The attack looked dangerous
6 (4) New York City FC: Montreal hacked NYCFC to death and it worked. They’re still a good team, but will have to figure out how to win ugly too.
5 (8) Toronto FC: A very solid bounce-back win without Giovinco, who will be back after the break. The rough start appears to be more of a blip.
4 (3) New York Red Bulls: The ugly wins finally came back to haunt them. Hard to take much from a cross-country road trip, but they fell short in a tough test.
3 (11) Atlanta United: You betcha. This team’s for real. Well, they certainly appear to be with Josef Martinez on fire, but now he’s injured. Now what?
2 (2) FC Dallas: A win over New England continued FC Dallas’s hot start. It’s mind-boggling how little attention Max Urruti gets.
1 (1) Portland Timbers: That’s more like it. The scary Portland attack bounced back by putting four goals past 2-0-0 Houston.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez injured on international duty

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Atlanta United is sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings three weeks into its inaugural Major League Soccer season, and the bite appears to be every bit as fearsome as the bark for the newcomers.

Now, the club must contend with its first bit of truly scary news.

In-form striker Josef Martinez was injured on international duty with Venezuela and is heading back to the United States for evaluation. The report says he tweaked his left thigh, and after the match head coach Rafael Dudamel said he would release Martinez back to Atlanta, saying, “I do not think it’s good for Josef to travel. This muscle tightness can take 10 days of recovery.”

Martinez was subbed off of Venezuela’s match with Peru in the 59th minute, replaced by Yangel Herrera and walking off under his own power. Venezuela drew the match 2-2, blowing a 2-goal halftime lead and leaving them bottom of the table, 14 points back of the intercontinental playoff spot.

Obviously that 10-day recovery is more ideal than any other long-term prognosis, but it would still see him miss a road visit to Seattle next Friday. The 23-year-old has a whopping five games in his first three MLS games with Atlanta and has been a force. Brandon Vazquez and Bryan Rochez are the two options currently on Atlanta’s roster to replace the Venezuelan in the lineup.

Martinez was signed on loan from Serie A side Torino, but the move was made permanent last week.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.