Roy Hodgson’s asked about resigning, but England should keep calm and carry on

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During what’s sure to be a difficult period of soul-searching, I’d like to offer this open letter to my friends in England:

Dear Friends:

You’re already doing it. Just calm down. It’s just not that bad.

Sincerely,

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What’s this all about? Consider these headlines, all based on England head coach Roy Hodgson’s reaction after today’s match against Italy.

  • The Telegraph: Roy Hodgson vows not to quit despite England World Cup defeats by Uruguay and Italy
  • The Daily Mail: Roy Hodgson won’t quit after England lose to Uruguay to stand on verge of World Cup elimination
  • The Independent: ‘I will not resign,’ says Roy Hodgson after 2-1 loss left England on the brink of exit
  • The Guardian: Roy Hodgson insists he will not resign as England manager after defeat

You get the picture. At some point today, after Luis Suárez’s late goal sent England to a second straight 2-1 loss, Hodgson was asked if he would step down. He said “no,” and with good reason.

England is not one of the most talented nations in the world, yet as implied by the question (and reaction after today’s result), expectations are unreasonably high. Regardless of their group’s depth or the performances of transcendent talents like Andrea Pirlo and Luis Suárez, England fans expect their team to get out of the group. Never mind England only gave up six shots on target over 180 minutes, and forget about the transitional state of a team that will be stronger at Euro 2016 than it was in Brazil. England hadn’t been eliminated in a group stage since 1958, until now.

All of which is a very narrow view of the Three Lions. Having only lost two competitive matches since Cesare Prandelli took over four years ago, Italy is a proven commodity, one that again showed their quality on Saturday in Manaus. And while Uruguay struggled in World Cup qualifying, the team is a 2010 World Cup semifinalist and the reigning South American champions, achievements that speak to La Celeste’s quality in major tournaments.

source: AP
After 75 minutes against Uruguay, England was even, 1-1. A second goal from Luis Suárez left the Three Lions without a point after two matches at the 2014 World Cup. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

What about Hodgson’s team suggests England should necessarily overcome these foes? They’re certainly capable of beating either team, but closes losses shouldn’t be surprising, either. How are Hodgson’s results so unreasonable?

That’s not to say Hodgson is beyond scrutiny, because there are a series of small decisions which may have made the difference. Why is this Steven Gerrard guaranteed a spot? Or, seemingly, Danny Welbeck, for that matter? Why was Adam Lallana dropped when it was unclear whether Wayne Rooney or Raheem Sterling was the player to use wide? And ultimately, why is England probably going home after the opening round?

Ultimately, it all comes down to that last question, one that’s as frustratingly presumptuous as it straight-forward. England can play with Italy, but over a given 90 minutes, a 2-1 loss is a reasonable outcome. Same with Uruguay, especially on a day when Luis Suárez scores on both of his team’s shots on target. If Andrea Barzagli mistimes his lunge, or Joe Hart stays big on Suárez’s late shot, things turn out different. That’s not to say England deserved those results (they don’t), but it highlights the thin margins in Group D.

Ultimately, Hodgson needs to figure out ways for his team to create and prevent chances. His selection influences how those plans play out, but even in that regard, Hodgson has limited options.

So when people see England had five shots on target to Italy’s four, and six shots on target to Uruguay’s two, how can people justify implying he should resign? Hodgson didn’t head the ball off the post in today’s first half, but be did draw up the play that gave Wayne Rooney the opportunity to do so. And while he didn’t create those first half counterattacking chances against Italy, he did select the attackers that put those plays into motion.

Granted, Hodgson could have recognized the limits of his players and put in a different plan. He could have recognized that a player like Rooney was not going to be as efficient as Suárez. Still, in both of his team’s games, Hodgson put his players in a position to win. They just didn’t take advantage of their opportunities.

Hodgson played a part in England’s exit, no doubt, but so did Italy. So did Suárez. So did a tough draw, and so did his attacker’s missed chances.

But should Hodgson fall on the sword because of things beyond his control? In England, that becomes the demand, but it’s one that’s built from unreasonable expectations. If England can keep calm and carry on, this team should be fine going forward.

Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

[ MORE: Sunday’s transfer rumor roundup | Saturday | Friday ]

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.