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.

3-time Champions League winner Valdes retires

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Victor Valdes was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation, proven in part by his three UEFA Champions League winner’s medals, and has reportedly called full-time on his footballing career at the age of 35.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Monday ]

Valdes, who joined Barcelona at the age of 10 and went on to win six La Liga titles and two Copas del Rey to go with the three Champions League triumphs during his time at the club, will launch his own television production company, as well as his own show. Valdes made more than 500 appearances for Barca, beginning his first-team career in 2002 before moving to Manchester United in 2014.

If not for his career running perfectly parallel to that of Iker Casillas, Valdes would have won far more than his 20 caps for Spain during any other era, though he does have 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship winner’s medals. Valdes spent the 2016-17 Premier League season with Middlesbrough, starting 28 of 38 games during the club’s relegation season.

Watch, Stream live: Premier League TV schedule – Week 2

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With the 2017-18 Premier League season up and running, there is plenty coming your way in Week 2. Here’s how you can watch it all.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

Kicking things off the season on Saturday Manchester United head to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com)

Liverpool then host Crystal Palace at Anfield (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) as Jurgen Klopp‘s side will have to refocus after their UEFA Champions League first leg clash at Hoffenheim in midweek.

To round things off on Saturday Stoke City welcome Arsenal to the bet365 Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBC Sports.com) as the Potters aim to get yet another positive home result against the Gunners. Will Arsene Wenger‘s defense hold firm?

Sunday sees Huddersfield Town welcome Newcastle United to the John Smith’s Stadium (Watch live, 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) for their first-ever home game in the Premier League as two newly-promoted teams clash.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

Then comes the big one: Tottenham versus Chelsea at Wembley (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) in a huge London derby. With reigning champs Chelsea struggling along, Spurs will want to compound the misery of their London rivals.

Week 2 ends with a Monday night clash between Manchester City and Everton at the Etihad Stadium (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports.com) between two of the biggest spending clubs this summer.

The full TV schedule for this weekend is below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold which also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ]

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday for all the goals as they go in. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App,

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Manchester United – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. Crystal Palace – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Watford – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. West Brom – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. West Ham – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Brighton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Arsenal — NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
8:30 a.m. ET: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United – NBCSN [STREAM]
11 a.m. ET: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Monday
3 p.m. ET: Manchester City vs. Everton – NBCSN [STREAM]

Spurs’ first signing imminent? Wimmer out; Sanchez in

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Tottenham Hotspur are reportedly nearing completion of their first signing of the summer transfer window, as well as the club’s second departure from the first-team this summer.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

According to reports, Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez is pulling out all the stops in order to force a move away from the club, with Tottenham his no. 1 preferred destination. Up until a week ago, Sanchez had scarcely been linked with a move away from the Johan Cruijff Arena, but once word of Spurs’ interest (as well as that of a handful of other European giants) got out, Sanchez had already mentally moved on to the next phase of his career.

Despite being named in Ajax’s squad to face Rosenborg in Europa League qualification on Thursday, Sanchez is not with the squad at the team hotel and the club have refused to comment regarding his current location. The 21-year-old Colombian could cost Spurs as much as $50 million, though the ongoing saga could be seen as a ploy to reduce the price and faster facilitate a move.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

With one center back now expected to make his way to north London, another — Kevin Wimmer, Spurs’ de facto fourth center back behind Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier — is reportedly the subject of a $19-million bid from West Bromwich Albion.

Barcelona’s Suarez out for a month with knee injury

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The hits just keep on coming for Barcelona, the tiny, scrappy Spanish club that just can’t catch a break.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

In the last two weeks alone, the Blaugrana have lost Neymar, spent $47 million to sign Paulinho, failed to land a single one of their reported major transfer targets, and been embarrassed by Real Madrid (of all clubs) in the Supercopa de España.

One of the few remaining saving graces was the Lionel Messi-Luis Suarez partnership — two-thirds of the historically great MSN trio — which remained in place following Neymar’s departure. That won’t be the case for the next month, at least, after Suarez suffered an injury to his right knee in the second leg of the Supercopa on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Diego Costa releases statement — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

The Uruguayan Football Association announced on Thursday that Suarez will be sidelined for four to five weeks and miss for a pair of hugely important World Cup qualifiers against Argentina (Aug. 31) and Paraguay (Sept. 5). Uruguay currently sit third in CONMEBOL’s marathon 10-team qualification round, one point clear of Chile in fourth (automatic qualification) and Argentina in fifth (qualification playoff, versus Oceania).

As for Barca, Suarez’s injury means not only will the club be without arguably the world’s best striker of the last five years, but given the desperate situation they now find themselves in, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund should be expected to demand an additional $5 million or $10 million to land Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, respectively.