Tighter than expected: Talking points after Germany’s draw with Ghana

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Call it the Group of Death if you want, but after Ghana tripped up Germany in Fortaleza, Group G at this year’s World Cup is all about opportunity. Four teams, all vulnerable in their own way, are challenging our notions of order and predictability, bringing some welcome uncertainty to what some saw as a top-heavy group:

  • Germany is the best team on paper, but although they controlled more of the ball on Saturday, Ghana were just as good.
  • Yet that Ghana team fell to a U.S. side that didn’t concede the opportunities they saw against the Germans. Though the Black Stars eventually found a way, they also gave up two goals en route to a 2-1 loss.
  • And that U.S. team that looked so solid against Ghana? Unfortunately, the wasn’t much more than that organized approach. Can the team generate enough chances to force their way into the knockout round?
  • And Portugal? Who knows, but their toughest game may be behind them, and in Cristiano Ronaldo, they still have one of the two best players in the world. They may collapse under the absences of Pepe, Fabio Coentrão, and Rui Patricio, but they also have the talent to take six points in their final games.

That’s the chaotic state of Group G after today’s match in Fortaleza. Here’s three other takeaways from the 2-2 result:

[ MORE: Klose equalizer salvages result for Germany ]
[ RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly ]

1. The gap is smaller than we thought – Germany were the clear group favorites — they are the clear group favorites — but as we’ve been reminded throughout Brazil 2014, the gap between the titans and the pack just isn’t that big. Perhaps that’s because of the increasingly demanding European season. Maybe it’s the challenges of a tournament in a large country with varying climates. Regardless, huge pre-tournament favorites like Argentina, Brazil, and Spain have been proven flawed, if not outright overrated.

Today, Germany joined that group, but the credit needs to go to Ghana. In the first half, we saw what the potential of that German attack, but a series of strong plays from defender John Boye helped keep the favorites off the board. As bad as Boye was against the U.S., he was that valuable on Saturday.

Boye wasn’t the only player who stepped up. André Ayew won a one-on-one battle with Shkodran Mustafi on Ghana’s opening goal, while a great play from Sulley Muntari allowed the Milan midfielder to create a turnover and set up Asamoah Gyan’s 63rd minute finish. Late in the match, Jonathan Mensah and Kwadwo Asamoah made penalty box stops as Germany fought through their fatigue and pressed for a winner.

Germany played well on Saturday, but so did Ghana. The gap between the two teams was just smaller than we thought.

2. Löw’s fullback lament – Germany has attacking talent that rivals any nation in the world, but they’ve slowing become the European Argentina. For all the danger they pose going forward, there are serious questions at the back, where the national team remains vulnerable.

Particularly with Philipp Lahm playing in the middle, those problems are at full back. Jerome Boateng, more comfortable in central defense, started at right back. Benedikt Höwedes, more comfortable in central defense, started at left back. When Joachim Löw made a change at half time, bringing in Shkodran Mustafi for Boateng at halftime, it cost him. The Lazio defender was beaten for Ghana’s first goal.

Löw has often lamented his lack of options at full back, but he has alternatives. With Bastian Schweinsteiger an option in the middle, perhaps Lahm can be moved back to his natural position.

Or maybe defense is just a flaw the Germans have to overcome. Regardless, as Ghana showed throughout Saturday’s 90 minutes, Löw’s team remains vulnerable at the back, making it even more important they maintain control of the ball.

3. It wasn’t ideal, but things are still breaking nicely for the U.S. – A Germany win could have dealt Ghana a mortal blow, but things continue to look up for the U.S. With a win tomorrow, they secure a place in the knockout round.

That fate would have been the same with a Germany win, however, so how does today’s draw change the States’ picture? Ghana, now capable of getting to four points, will be alive on Thursday, no matter what. Plus, Germany has something to play for against the U.S. There’s no scenario that puts the Germans through before they kick off in Recife.

The upside for the States? They have a viable route to claiming first in Group G. Two points will put them into the knockout round, but four points win the group. Instead of Belgium in the round of 16, the U.S. could face Algeria, Russia, or South Korea …

… provided they get there at all. As today’s result in Fortaleza reminds us, nothing’s guaranteed in this year’s World Cup.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”