Signs of progress small but clear for the United States

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Like a political candidate who ran on reform, Jurgen Klinsmann was immediately taken to task after today’s loss. After one question about his substitutions, the second salvo of his post-match press conference jumped right into the debate: Did Brazil 2014 represent progress for the United States?

I’m sorry, is this all coming too soon? Hardly. Even the broadcast disrespected your mourning period, jumping right into the debate moments after going back to the studio. Whomever asked Klinsmann the question in Salvador? He’s got to have his piece up by now. Just like presidential campaigns, the race never truly ends; it only rolls from one race to the next.

This campaign is going to be contentious, though. People are already digging in, trying to make their case why the U.S. is treading water. After all, by purely objective measures, the team appears to have done slightly better in 2010:

  • In South Africa, the team went 1-1-2 (W-L-D) overall, finished first in their group, and was put out in the Round of 16 with a relatively level 2-1, extra time loss.
  • In Brazil, they went 1-2-1 overall, finished second in their group, and were eliminated in the Round of 16 with a 2-1, extra time loss, where they were clearly second best.

For some, bottom lines are the only measuring stick. For them, the U.S. either held steady or receded in 2014. Ultimately, their record was worse in Brazil than it was in South Africa.

But after reading two paragraphs of that, hopefully those points have started to sound hollow. Objectively, sure, the facts hint the U.S. is treading water, but no fact exist without context. Level of competition is important. So is the underlying play. For a program focused on building for tomorrow, these things can be as telling as the results.

And if, in that quest for a better tomorrow, you’re inclined to look for progress, consider …

source: AP
Thomas Mueller scored the winning goal as Germany defeated the United States 1-0 in group play at the World Cup. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

1. Strength of opposition

Let’s do a little exercise, shall we? Take the four teams the U.S. played in 2010, add the nations the States faced in 2014, and make a list. Go from strongest to weakest and rank all the opponents the U.S. saw in the last two World Cups.

What do you get? It should look something like this:

1. 2014 Germany
2. 2014 Belgium
3. 2014 Portugal
4. 2014 Ghana
5. 2010 Ghana
6. 2010 England
7. 2010 Slovenia
8. 2010 Algeria

Maybe, in time, we’ll swap one and two. Perhaps three and four flip, too, but that’s not really the point, is it? By most estimations, the four teams the U.S. faced in South Africa were weaker than every team on the schedule this time around.

Think about that. Whereas the U.S. was drawn into a group of “How the heck is England a seeded team” in 2010, this year they were in one of the three toughest groups – one of the three toughest groups in an insanely unbalanced opening stage. I may not agree with all this Group of Death pandering, but Group G was really, really difficult.

So yeah, the U.S. was slightly worse, record-wise, in 2014. Does that mean they’re a worse team? Of course not. That the 2014 team matched the 2010 squad’s progress is a huge hint: The U.S. is better now than they were four years ago.

2. Injuries mattered

Let’s not act like 2010’s team was healthy going into the finals. Charlie Davies’ loss will forever be under-appreciated after his career changed course in Oct. 2009. Oguchi Onyewu tore his patellar tendon the same month. Bob Bradley had his challenges, too.

This year’s Jozy Altidore injury, however, was big. Say whatever you want about his quality, but the absence forced Clint Dempsey out of position and was a big factor in Michael Bradley’s performances. With one injury, the U.S. not only lost one of their two main goal scorers but also saw their two best players handcuffed. They were set back at two, perhaps three positions.

Then there was Fabian Johnson, who Jurgen Klinsmann lost early in the team’s decisive game. Omar Gonzalez wasn’t healthy coming into camp, sat out the first two games, then played the tournament’s last 210 minutes. And Matt Besler? The U.S. lost him for the second half of the opening match.

Klinsmann spent three years enforcing a resilience that paid off in Brazil, but that doesn’t mean the team wasn’t hamstrung. Bradley may have lost two key players, but unlike the Altidore injury, those absences didn’t affect other parts of the lineup.

Is that progress? No, but it does add context to this year’s results. Not only did the U.S face stiffer competition, but the internal obstacles may have been greater, too.

source: AP
Geoff Cameron (20) and United States’ Jermaine Jones, left, celebrate as Clint Dempsey, center, runs from the goal scoring against Portugal. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

3. The high points of the tournament

Think back to 2010. When did the U.S. truly play well? Not that the team was ever bad, but was there ever a point in South Africa that made you feel as confident about the team as the Portugal game did? There were certainly moments against Slovenia, and the end of the Algeria match is legendary, but this year’s performance against the Seleccao had people discussing whether the U.S. had really turned a corner.

That doesn’t change the bottom line, but it tells us how the U.S. went about their business. It goes to assessing what the team is capable of doing, going forward. It speaks to how, if things to continue to improve, the U.S. can grow, and yes, it speaks to progress. The 2014 team, at its best, showed it was capable for more than the 2010 squad.

4. What others around you are saying

Say you know your soccer. Like really, really know it; know it so much that you don’t usually need to listen to anybody’s opinion on anything. Not only are you perfectly qualified to be a professional sports journalist, but you may also be smart enough to know that, on rare occasions, you’re fallible. And when you are, the whole world’s likely to tell you.

This time, literally the whole world is saying so. Across the globe, this U.S. team has forced soccer fans to take notice. Two weeks after the planet had the same, pessimistic predictions that most U.S. fans begrudgingly made before match one, the world’s woken up. By derailing a talented Ghana and coming back (only to be ultimately drawn) against Portugal, the U.S. gave everybody reason to take notice.

This was more than knocking off Mexico in a 2002. This was beating teams the world thought would cut through a star-less American squad.

But let’s get back to talking about you. I know you’re smart. Hey, you tell us so all the time, but maybe your view that the U.S. was lucky against Ghana is jaded? Maybe, like a lot of other people noticed, the U.S. were just playing like a team with a lead. Perhaps they didn’t “choke” against Portugal (please, stop listening to so much sports talk radio). And although they were outplayed by Germany and Belgium, most of the world would be, too.

Maybe the Americans were actually kinda good. Not Germany good, but still … good, by a more inclusive, fairer standard.

But, of course, I’ll defer to you.

5. Everything else this team has done

The World Cup is ultimately four games. It’s pretty insane to draw huge conclusions based on such a small sample size. You know that Netherlands team that’s now a favorite to reach the tournament’s semifinals? They went 0-3-0 at Euro 2012.  Since then, they haven’t lost a competitive match, going 13-0-1 between qualifying and the World Cup.

So let’s look at the U.S. in the bigger picture. They locked up a World Cup spot in CONCACAF after eight of 10 final round games, ended up finishing first in the region, are confederation champions, and had a 12-game wining streak last year. Yeah, there were some down points, like the team’s performances against Ukraine (this winter) and Belgium (last summer), but nobody expected the U.S. to solve all its problems in one cycle.

If you want to say the U.S. isn’t making progress, that’s fine, but you have to explain why the last two years’ results are so deceivingly positive. You have to explain why the rest of the world is wrong to see the difference, and why the team looked so good at points of this tournament. Once you’re done with that, tell us why the U.S. were able to their overcome injuries, and why a much tougher schedule in Brazil couldn’t send them home after three games.

It’s not an impossible argument to make. I’m just glad you’re the one trying to make it; not me.

Personally, I see progress. It’s not earth-shaking, but it’s there, and it’s clear. The U.S. hasn’t established itself as a soccer power, but they’re better than they were four years ago.

Transfer Roundup: Chelsea on Sanchez; Malcom to Arsenal; Mignolet to leave

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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has responded to reports that the Blues are trying to make a late bid to buy Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal.

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“I don’t know but I don’t think so,” Conte said when asked by reporters on Tuesday if Chelsea were in talks to buy Sanchez.

Reports on Monday had suggested that although Sanchez’s move to Manchester United was edging closer, Chelsea had entered the race late on.

Sanchez, 29, is said to be involved in a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan plus cash but even that deal is proving difficult with Mkhitaryan dragging his feet.

Is there hope for Chelsea? It still seems like a long shot and something would have to go drastically wrong with United’s move for Arsenal.


Bordeaux’s president,Stephane Martin, has been speaking about a potential transfer for his star Brazilian forward Malcom to Arsenal, and it appears the Gunners are a long way from buying the 20-year-old.

Malcom’s agent was in London earlier this week, suggesting a deal was close, but that no longer appears to be the case.

Martin had the following to say when discussing Malcom’s future.

“Things are clear with his agents. It has not been extended and secured this summer to give it away this winter,” Martin said. “We never had a discussion with Arsenal. From our point of view, it’s wind. They can always try, but they will have a hard time taking it from us.”

Malcom has taken Ligue 1 by storm this season and has scored seven goals and added five assists.

It is believed he is valued at over $55 million by Bordeaux and both Arsenal and Tottenham were reportedly interested in the deal. However, Arsenal are said to be the main contenders for Malcom and if Alexis Sanchez does leave, as expected, the youngster is seen as a direct replacement.


Simon Mignolet could be on his way out of Liverpool.

The Belgian goalkeeper, 29, has been speaking about his future at the club after he was dropped for the 4-3 win against Manchester City at Anfield on Sunday.

“After the game against Burnley I had a conversation with the coach, among other things about his ongoing rotation. I did not find that a healthy situation for a goalkeeper,” Mignolet said. “My place on the bench against City confirmed his words. I am not satisfied with that (being dropped) but you have to respect a decision of the trainer.”

“After everything that has happened this season, I know where I stand and the situation has become clearer. I have been in such situations before and have always come out stronger. I have to think about my future and the World Cup is coming. This situation should not last too long, that is clear. But I cannot say more about it either.”

Mignolet has started 29 of Liverpool’s 23 PL games but Loris Karius has played in the UEFA Champions League and Mignolet seems frustrated with sharing time with the German goalkeeper.

Where could he go? The likes of Crystal Palace, Southampton and Newcastle could be good landing spots for the Belgian international, while Liverpool have been linked with a move for Stoke’s Jack Butland in the summer, so maybe Mignolet could be part of the deal?

Tevez on $850k per week move to China: “It was a vacation”

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Fact: Carlos Tevez’s vacations are the most lucrative around.

The former Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus star joined Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenhua in 2016 from his boyhood club Boca Juniors after leaving Juve in 2015 to return home to Argentina.

It is believed Tevez was earning close to $850,000 per week, after tax, in China but in September he was criticized for being overweight and not fit for action.

Tevez left Shenhua earlier this month after four goals in 16 games.

Speaking to Argentine outlet TYC Sports on his return to Boca, Tevez had the following to say about his move to China in 2016.

“It’s fine because I was on vacation for seven months,” Tevez said. “When I landed in China, I wanted to return to Boca.”

Now, 33, Tevez’s return to Boca has been lauded by Diego Maradona and fans in Argentina as the nomadic forward returns home with a huge wad of cash after one of the best paying vacations around.

Report: Real Madrid willing to let Cristiano Ronaldo leave

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It appears that Real Madrid are finally willing to let Cristiano Ronaldo leave the Santiago Bernabeu.

A report from Sky Sports’ Guillem Balague says that Real are now warming to the idea of selling Ronaldo and cashing in on the five-time World Player of the Year while they still can.

Ronaldo, 32, has scored just four goals this season in La Liga as Real, the reigning Spanish and European champions, languish in fourth place in the table.

Per the report, Ronaldo’s former club United are the frontrunners to re-sign him but there are certain complications which come with such a huge deal for one of the greatest players in world history.

First up: Real still want $120 million for a player who turns 33 in February. Yeah, not going to happen. Also, his salary of over $60 million per year, after tax, could be problematic.

Ronaldo has scored an amazing 422 goals in 418 game since joining Real from Man United in 2009 and he’s been instrumental in winning three UEFA Champions League titles in the Spanish capital. Still, with his numbers diminishing this season, a contract which runs out in 2021 and suggestions that he’s not at his physical peak anymore, this is a lot of money for United, or anyone else, to shell out.

Yes, Ronaldo’s name will see the club he plays for rake in cash in many other ways but if his levels continue to drop on the pitch then paying this much for him doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It’s clear that Ronaldo hasn’t been too happy for a while now and it is thought he wanted a new contract last summer but Real have yet to come up with the goods.

Seeing Ronaldo back at Old Trafford and managed by his old boss at Real, Jose Mourinho, seems like something out of a Hollywood movie. Until Real drop their asking price, Ronaldo heading back to Man United will remain a fantasy.

Mkhitaryan holds key in United’s deal for Sanchez

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This is getting very, very interesting. The late bid from Chelsea and Man City’s exit from the deal aside, there’s been another twist in this saga.

Manchester United’s move for Alexis Sanchez appeared to be getting closer to completion but the agent of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the suggested makeweight in the $48 million deal between United and Arsenal, has thrown a spanner in the works.

Mino Raiola has told The Times that United’s deal for Sanchez won’t go through unless his client agrees to join Arsenal.

“Manchester United is not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal.”Raiola said. “Sanchez is part of the Mkhi deal, not the other way around.”

Wow. Okay. He’s really doing this. Now, Mkhitaryan is a good player. You aren’t named the best player in the Bundesliga and signed by Man United if you’re not. But we all know the Armenian playmaker has struggled this season and for the opening half of the 2016-17 campaign after arriving from Borussia Dortmund.

His agent suggesting that Mkhitaryan is the main prize in this deal is obvious from his point of view as he protects the interest of his client, but the rest of the world knows Alexis is the man everyone wants in January.

It is said that Mkhitaryan (who was left out of United’s squad for the 3-0 win against Stoke on Monday due to the uncertainty around his future) would prefer a return to Dortmund but the Bundesliga giants aren’t said to be willing to pay his wages.

Arsenal were interested in Mkhitaryan in the summer of 2016 but he decided to join United instead, but it would appear that getting $48 million and Mkhitaryan for Sanchez, a player who has less than six months to run on his current contract, is a good deal for the Gunners.

Mkhitaryan holds the key to United’s Sanchez deal and it doesn’t seem like he’s in any rush to sort out his future. Could his delay hand Chelsea some time to try and sew up their own deal for Sanchez?

The transfer window shuts in just over two weeks. Tick-tock indeed.