Two goals from Jozy Altidore completes U.S.’s perfect send-off series

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After seven months without an international goal, Jozy Altidore has some momentum to take into Brazil. With goals in the 32nd and 68th minutes, the previously slumping United States international scored his first goals since World Cup qualifying in October, helping the U.S. complete a perfect send-off series with a 2-1 win over Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla.

Altidore opened the scoring just after the half-hour mark with a tap-in after a pass from Fabian Johnson left him with an empty goal. In the second half, a right-footed blast from 14 yards out saw Altidore beat Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama inside his right post, giving the Sunderland striker his 23rd international goal.

A 86th minute penalty conceded by Matt Besler allowed Victor Moses to score from the spot, preventing Tim Howard from keeping a clean sheet in his 100th international appearance. Over the full 90, however, the U.S. put in the most impressive performance of its send-off series, giving the team reason to belief it’s still improving ahead of its June 16th World Cup opener against Ghana.

Tweaking his lineup from last weekend’s win over Turkey, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought Kyle Beckerman and Alejandro Bedoya into midfield at the expense of Brad Davis and Graham Zusi. Combined with a switch in Clint Dempsey’s positioning, the U.S. was prepared to commit and extra man to the battle in the midfield. Altidore’s early work also portrayed a team committed to complicating Nigeria’s life in the middle third.

The moves left the visitors controlling possession but only generating corner kicks, with the U.S. playing on the counter. In the 32nd minute, the U.S.’s approach paid off when a quick movement down the right flank allowed Bedoya to find an on-rushing Johnson at the edge of the six-yard box. With a square ball between the goalkeeper and defense, the right back found Altidore running between Nigeria’s central defenders. The pass allowed Altidore to finish into an empty net – his first goal of 2014.

Through halftime, the Nigerians continued to control the ball, but most of the Super Eagles’ possession was mostly passive. The team didn’t register a shot on Howard until a speculative chance from Ogenyi Onazi in the 41st minute. By the 44th minute, however, Nigeria had finally come into the match, nearly scoring an equalizer when Efe Ambrose was left unmarked on a corner. While the U.S. made it to intermission with its one-goal lead, Nigeria reached the locker room with some positives.

Soon after returning to the field, Nigeria resumed its control of the ball, but the pressure the team generated at the end of the first half evaporated. Unchanged in its approach, the United States continued funneling play wide before frustrating its opponents, leaving the Super Eagles’ hopes resting on occasional corner kicks and dead ball chances. Through the hour-mark, Nigeria had generated only one good chance on goal.

In the 65th minute, after the U.S. began seeing more of the ball, a strong read from Enyeama was needed to keep the Nigerians in the match. Fed toward the edge of the penalty area by Bradley, Dempsey’s cut back on a Nigerian defender gave him an open look on goal. At the moment Dempsey shed his opponent, however, Enyeama came off his line, cutting down all of the U.S. captain’s angles.

source: AP
United States goalkeeper Tim Howard (1) deflects a ball away from the goal as he collides with Nigeria’s Peter Odemwingie (8). (Photo credit: AP)

Three minutes later, the pressure the U.S. had exerted since the 60th minute paid off, giving Altidore a two-goal performance to carry into Brazil. In transition, a diagonal from Bradley left Altidore one-on-one against Ambrose. Allowed to cut back onto his right foot, Altidore beat Enyeama with a shot inside the near post, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

Frustrated, perhaps fatigued, the passive control Nigeria had experienced to wane. The U.S. was winning possession more often, proving more dangerous on the counter when they did. In the 79th minute, a pass rolled behind the defense by Altidore saw Dempsey again denied by Enyeama, who smothered a through ball just inside the penalty box.

Moments later, Howard had to sprint off his own line to scoop up a Nigeria ball. Then, in the 84th minute, a lapse in defense allowed Emmanuel Emenike to get behind Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, forcing Howard to absorb a shot to keep his clean sheet. Though the U.S. proved more dangerous in the match’s final half-hour, the same late uncertainties that emerged against Turkey were present in Jacksonville.

Ultimately, just as they did against the Turks in Harrison, N.J., the U.S. gave up a late penalty kick that halved the score. Sending his fellow Premier League player the wrong way, Victor Moses beat Howard inside his left post, making it 2-1 after Matt Besler conceded the chance from the spot.

Controlling most of the game’s final minutes, the U.S. eventually completed its first perfect send-off series, scoring six times while conceding twice in its three games before Brazil. Now, however, the games start to count. In nine days, the U.S. kicks off its 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where a Ghanaian team that’s eliminated the U.S. from the last two finals will prove a greater challenge.

Lineups

United States: Tim Howard; Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley (Timothy Chandler 75′); Kyle Beckerman (Mix Diskerud 72′), Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya (Graham Zusi 60′); Clint Dempsey (Chris Wondolowski 88′), Jozy Altidore (Omar Gonzalez 80′)

Goals: Altidore 32′, 68′

Nigeria: Vincent Enyeama; Juwon Oshaniwa, Joseph Yobo, Godfrey Oboabona, Efe Ambrose; Victor Moses, Ogenyi Onazi, John Obi-Mikel (Gabriel Reuben 46′), Ramon Azeez (Michael Uchebo 74′), Peter Odemwingie (Michel Babatunde 46′); Shola Ameobi (Emmanuel Emenike 65′)

Goals: Moses 86′

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.