Fuzzy numbers, Klinsmann, and Captain Clint: Talking points after the U.S.’s win over Ghana

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For the first time in 12 years, the U.S. has won its World Cup opener. In the process, the team vanquished a nemesis, saw its fitness pushed to the limit, and flashed many of the qualities Jurgen Klinsmann’s been trying to instill since he took over three years ago.

Here are six talking points from the team’s 2-1 win over Ghana:

1. Black Stars burn out – Nemesis. Bogey team. Possessors of the United States’s figurative number. Put all that in the past tense, because the U.S. has exorcised that demon, leaving it to wilt in the humidity of Natal.

For much of the second half, the victory looked like it may be an unconvincing one, with the U.S. holding on as its defense failed to adjust to the loss of Matt Besler. Ultimately, winning a game that was only even for five minutes, the Americans can characterize their victory in a different way. When they needed to score goals, they did so quickly, and decisively. Otherwise, despite ceding the Black Stars 62 percent possession, they limited their opponents to three shots on goal (the U.S. had four).

It’s not the most a convincing narrative, but it’s a winning one. Nobody ever expected the U.S. to roll over the Ghanaians.

[ MORE: Brooks wins it late | Man of the Match | Injury update ]

2. Pay attention to the numbers, but then don’t – From a distance, it’s concerning that the possession and shots numbers were so lopsided, but when one team goes up in the first minute, that can happen, especially when the other spends an hour giving them little disincentive to change. Had Ghana been more effective before its second half surge, Klinsmann might have adjusted.

So don’t read too much into the disparities, and don’t listen to too many conclusions drawn from them. Goals change matches, and in this one, Dempsey’s opener meant the United States could leverage the team’s new formation to keep play on the edges. By the time the Ghanaians made them pay, the U.S. could go into late-match mode.

Let’s see some more 0-0 soccer before drawing any conclusions. The U.S. may not have looked great, but there’s a reason why the numbers flattered Ghana. Whenever somebody scored in the first minute, the game could be develop into a weird one.

3. In terms of the group dynamics, this win is huge … – Draw-draw, and the U.S. is going through. A win over Portugal in Manaus, and we’re probably looking at the same outcome, and if you factor in other teams’ potential outcomes, the U.S. may be favorites to get out of their group. They’re not as talented as the Seleccao, but they have more outs.

To the extent the U.S. has that advantage, it’s probably not by much, but it goes to show how things can change over a few World Cup hours. The day started with the States in an uncertain place as it faced down a nemesis. It ends with the team tied atop its group.

source: Getty Images
Jurgen Klinsmann smiles off to victory and embraces his players after the U.S. defeated Ghana in Natal.

4. … but the fitness – wasn’t this supposed to be a strength? – U.S. fans celebrated their fortune when Pepe drew a red card and Fabio Coentrão suffered his own muscle injury against Germany, but after their team’s win, those fans had reason to empathize with their Portuguese counterparts. Jozy Altidore’s hamstring gave way early, Matt Besler had to be taken out at halftime (also, hamstring), while Clint Dempsey appeared to suffer a broken nose. The U.S. had own set of walking wounded.

Perhaps more worrying were the images of players like Alejandro Bedoya and Geoff Cameron stretching during breaks over the last half hour. Much like England appeared to cramp up more readily than Italy on Saturday in Manaus, another team that gave up the ball found itself drained.

Fitness is supposed to be a strength of the U.S. squad, but the team’s preparations proved little match for the conditions in Natal.

[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

5. Jurgen pays off – Klinsmann is the most scrutinized head coach in U.S. Men’s National Team history, and with good reason. He’s trying to reinvent a wheel, one that a lot of people helped build. You can’t claim something’s awry without indicting the people who built it.

Tonight in Natal, however, some of the innovations he’s emphasized paid off, big time. The mentality he forced upon the team by seemingly introducing adversity paid off, particularly when Altidore and Besler went down. After Aron Johannsson and John Brooks came on, the expanded player pool he’s built paid dividends, and when Brooks headed home the winner, the team’s resilience was again on display.

Add tactical flexibility to the pile, but it’s important to note Klinsmann didn’t invent any of these things. He simply enforced them on a program that may have been limiting itself. Where as the U.S. men’s team may have been type-cast as one thing, Klinsmann has challenged it to be another.

If Sunil Gulati wanted a revolution, he may have just seen his general win his first major battle.

6. Captain. Clint. Dempsey. – First minute goal. Broken nose. An hour of mouth-breathing. Finishing a match where, because of other injuries, he was not going to be subbed off.

U.S. fans: Is there something else you want from your captain? Because Clint Dempsey just may provide. Celebrating a goal in his third straight World Cup, “Deuce” played to his armband tonight.

Henry, Aguero discuss playing up top under Pep

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One great striker got another one to open up on an up-and-down year at Manchester City.

Thierry Henry — one of the greatest of all-time, it must be said — sat down with Sergio Aguero ahead of Thursday’s Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium, and asked the Argentine about Pep Guardiola, Gabriel Jesus, and more.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

At times, it’s a fascinating discussion on playing lone striker. Even apart from the obligatory questions regarding Jesus’ arrival at City, Henry and Aguero speak their craft in a manner you don’t see too often.

That’s helped by the fact that Henry played for Guardiola at Barcelona, and can relate to the positional demands of Man City’s boss. Consider this exchange, from Sky Sports:

HENRY: When I was at Arsenal, I played up front and if I wanted to drift out to the left, I could. But when I got to Barca, I had to stay out wide and press. Sometimes doing that can be hard.

AGUERO: The thing I’ve found the hardest has been getting into my head the fact that I have to press the centre-back and the goalkeeper in matches. That’s what Pep asks me to do. It may not be a big deal, but in terms of processing it, the two of us speak a lot. He knows what I’m like.

I’ve been gradually learning and adapting to that style of pressing over the last few months. The first thing he taught me was how to press and how to do it well. Obviously there are times when I might drift out of position or I might press in an area where I’m not supposed to be, which might make it hard for the wingers or midfielders.

In the game itself, I may not realise because I’m so immersed and you can’t stop yourself. I’ve learnt a lot from him in terms of zones. He asks me to play as a No 9 and to stay in that position. I often drift out wide during matches and he looks at me and says, “If there’s a player out wide who wants to cross it in, who’s in there? Nobody.”

HENRY: I know all about that, believe you me.

I love this, because it shows how difficult it is for an elite striker to adapt his mentality. Both Henry and Aguero found world-celebrated success by playing in a certain fashion, and Guardiola understood that and still demanded a change. Earlier this season, the manager somewhat famously spoke of improving Aguero.

Aguero has been linked with Real Madrid given the tumult at City.

PHOTO: Liverpool unveils 125th anniversary kit for next season

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Liverpool rolled out its 125th anniversary kit, featuring a special crest to celebrate the occasion.

The Liver bird has 1892 on one side and 2017 on the other, with “125 YEARS” spelled out underneath the club’s emblem.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

The red shirt with a gold crest has a white V-neck and white at the ends of the sleeves. The goalkeeper kit is green.

The jersey will be available on May 19, and was announced last month.

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Jara’s goal lifts Pachuca to CONCACAF Champions League crown

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Hirving Lozano’s dipping shot rebounded into the path of Franco Jara, who scored the goal that won Pachuca its fifth CONCACAF Championship early Thursday morning.

The Argentine’s goal was the only one of the win over UANL Tigres, and gave Pachuca its first continental title since 2009-10. USMNT veteran Omar Gonzalez played for the winners, while Jose Torres started for Tigres.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Major League Soccer teams were eliminated in the semifinals, with FC Dallas falling to Pachuca and Vancouver Whitecaps losing to Tigres.

Beginning with the 2017-18 tournament, qualified MLS and Liga MX teams will not enter the tournament until the Round of 16. The entire tournament will be held in the same calendar year.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.