Julian Green

As loss to Belgium exemplified, time is now for US to develop game-changing players, style

21 Comments

Every now and again, it is fun to think about: What if just ONE of America’s greatest athletes had played soccer instead? What if LeBron or Cam Newton or Mike Trout or Adrian Peterson or Patrick Kane had chosen soccer instead of their sport?

Tuesday, I think, we saw what it might have looked like: It might have looked just a little bit like Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku.

Did you see him? Holy cow: Did you SEE him? Apparently Lukaku has been disappointing for much of this World Cup, listless, indifferent, unready for such a big stage. That, I guess, is why he was a substitute on Tuesday. Lukaku is only 21 years old, and he has spent much of his young career in the Premier League getting loaned out. He’s clearly trying to find his place.

But talent? Absurd. He’s 6-foot-3. He’s brilliantly fast – have you seen that Quicksilver scene in the new X-Men movie? Yeah, he’s like that fast. Most of all, he’s just overpowering when he runs. Like Peterson. Like LeBron. The Guardian named Lukaku one of the 10 most promising players in Europe.

And Tuesday, in extra time, he came in and he made the World Cup his own by running through a game but tired United States defense again and again – unstoppable, unbreakable, untouchable. It was mind-boggling. The United States would send one, two, three defenders at him and he would just smash through them. He set up Belgium’s first goal by simply running through a stumbling U.S. defender. He scored the second with a powerful run to the near post where he shielded off the defender and left-footed a smash past goalkeeper Tim Howard. He had various other moments that almost ended up as goals.

[MORE: Belgium sinks U.S. in extra time, advances to World Cup quarterfinals]

The United States has had many good soccer players. They’ve had scrappy defenders and tough midfielders and blazing fast forwards. Their goaltender, Howard, put on a display for the ages against Belgium with 16 saves, the most ever recorded for a World Cup game. He’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world; America has had a few good goalkeepers. Well, we’re good with our hands.

[MORE: Howard’s heroics not enough in ‘heartbreaking’ U.S. World Cup exit]

But they’ve never had a Romelu Lukaku. Or, more to the point, America’s Romelu Lukakus have spent the last few decades driving hard to the basket, plowing through linebackers and crashing into fences after long fly balls. What kind of goal scorer could Barry Sanders have been? How about Dave Winfield? What about Tim Tebow?

So far America has never had that soccer force who can scare the heck out of the rest of the world. So far America has not had a player who can take over games the way Lukaku did. And it seems that until American soccer has a Lukaku (never mind a real soccer genius like Messi or Neymar), a player capable of making magic time after time, this round of 16 business just might be their limit.

Oh, make no mistake, this was a very nice World Cup for the United States. Few thought they could escape the so-called Group of Death, with Germany and Portugal both ranked in the FIFA Top 5 and the added bonus of Ghana, the country that ended America’s last  two World Cups.

It wasn’t easy. The U.S. scored almost instantly against Ghana this time, then withstood a furious barrage, and finally scored a late game-winner. The U.S. outplayed Portugal and should have come away with a victory but took the draw after a singular bit of magnificence from Cristiano Ronaldo. Then, even in a loss to Germany, they showed will and gritty defending against a clearly superior team.

What they rarely showed, though, was brilliance. Throughout the tournament, the key word was “possession” – the U.S. gave the ball away again and again … they could rarely build any sort of sustained attack because they couldn’t keep possession long enough. A team can have some success at the World Cup with a well-organized defense and a couple of lightning-bolt goals. But sooner or later, that style runs its course.

[MORE: USA player ratings vs. Belgium  |  Signs of progress small, but clear]

Yes, the United States could have beaten Belgium on Tuesday – if Chris Wondolowski had punched home that remarkable chance in the final minute of regulation, the United States surely would have won. But talking about missed chances in soccer isn’t especially helpful; if Howard had not been Superman, the United States would have lost 6-0. The bigger point was the U.S. was thoroughly outplayed by a much more talented team. The U.S. might have stolen the game, but it would have been just that: A steal. Belgium was much, much better.

And if the U.S. is to take the next step, they cannot go into games where they are thoroughly outclassed. The U.S. needs to develop some players who go beyond tough, beyond rugged, beyond resilient and fit and hard-working. They need to develop some players who can do wizardry.

This is something people have been talking about for decades – the “when will America develop a world-class player” stories were written 30 or 40 years ago – but I suspect the time is now.

Sure, people will keep arguing about soccer’s place in the American landscape. Some will point to the extraordinary way this World Cup took hold in the United States. Others will point to the extremely low ratings of MLS. Some will see the trend of young people embracing soccer. Others will point to the many years of youth soccer dominance in America and how little impact it has had on soccer as a spectator sport. That argument isn’t stopping anytime soon.

But wherever soccer ends up on the great American sports spectrum, there is no question that this is a moment for the team to build on. Two young players – DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green – had auspicious debuts this World Cup. But there’s something else, too.

You know the story of Pelé, right? He was 10 years old in 1950, when his home country of Brazil lost to Uruguay in one of the most famous matches ever played. The young Pelé saw his father crying after the loss. Pelé went up to his father and said, “Don’t worry. One day, I will win it.”

Something like that could very well have happened at this World Cup, too. This was the most-watched World Cup in American history and by far the most talked about. So maybe a 10-year-old who plays all the sports – maybe a whole bunch of 10 year olds – saw the brilliant passing of Ronaldo, the magic of Messi, the sheer physical sway of Belgium’s 19-year-old wunderkind Divock Origi and his replacement, Lukaku. And maybe they thought, “That’s what I want to be.”

The U.S. fell in the round of 16 for the second straight World Cup. They played hard, and they held up well, and they gave us a final 15 minutes to remember, and they were not good enough. But if those kids were watching … this could be the most important result in U.S. World Cup history.

Roberto Martinez linked to Atlanta United gig by Taylor Twellman

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  Roberto Martinez, manager of Everton gives instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
1 Comment

When news of Sigi Schmid’s departure from Seattle broke, there were plenty of folks wondering who could be the second coach in the Sounders’ MLS history.

One of those doing so publicly was ESPN writer Marc Connolly, who asked whether former Wigan and Everton boss Roberto Martinez could be interested in the gig.

[ MORE: Sounders, Schmid part ways ]

Fellow media member Taylor Twellman is obviously well-connected, and his reply raised some eyebrows, especially given the news that technical director Carlos Bocanegra is closing in on selecting the first manager in Atlanta United history.

Ryan is the quarterback of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, for those unaware. Martinez and Twellman worked together for ESPN this summer.

Is Martinez to MLS really a thing? He’s also been linked to the vacant Hull City job, and would be one of the highest profile coaches to make the switch in the history of the league.

Premier League preseason: Everton, Burnley win; Spurs fall to Juventus

MILTON KEYNES, ENGLAND - JULY 26:  Muhamed Besic of Everton celebrates after scoring the third goal during the pre-season friendly match between MK Dons and Everton at Stadium mk on July 26, 2016 in Milton Keynes, England.  (Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Four Premier League teams were in action on Tuesday, with two picking up wins and not a clean sheet in the joint.

[ MORE: Sounders, Schmid part ways ]

MK Dons 1-3 Everton

Ronald Koeman‘s men got goals from Gerard Deulofeu, Ross Barkley and Muhamed Besic, but wasn’t entirely pleased with every facet of their game.

From EvertonFC.com:

“The team, the players, we need to press better. The pitch in some stages of the game was too long. If you press up front, it means the midfielders they need to push up as well and it’s the same for the defenders.”

Bolton 1-2 Burnley

Andre Gray will likely be a well-known Premier League entity when his career is done, and the way he’s playing it could be by the time this season is complete. The Burnley man scored for the fifth time in four preseason games, and Josh Ginnelly also scored for the Clarets.

Barnsley 2-2 Hull City

Adama Diomande and Jarrod Bowen scored as the Tigers stayed unbeaten in preseason play.

Spurs 1-2 Juventus — RECAP

WATCH: “A little bit awkward” — Golf prodigy teaches Neymar to swing

Leave a comment

For every benefit of being ultra rich and even more famous, there’s are downsides, and here’s one of them.

Most of us learned to golf with just our parents, friends or older siblings watching us embarrass ourselves.

Neymar took his first hacks on video for the whole world to see.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

Was it as bad as his first baseball swings? We’ll let you make the call.

The girl who “taught” Neymar before and during the filming of the video is a 16-year-old Spanish golfer named Agueda Cortilla Mas.

Here’s how she described the encounter to the Irish Examiner, adding that Neymar was ready for another lesson:

“He never played golf before so it was a little bit awkward starting the lesson. But after the first few shots he started joking around, playing soccer with the golf ball and all that. After we finished recording he came over to my dad and thanked him for what I did because he knew it wasn’t easy.”

“Afterwards, I was going to my changing room and his manager asked me for my phone number. He told me that Neymar enjoyed the lesson and that he wanted to do more. The next day they called me but I couldn’t answer because I was in school.”

What other Olympic sports are on the horizon for Neymar? Could we see archery, water polo, or diving?

MLS All Star Game preview: Zelalem, Xhaka will play; Kaka the MLS captain

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 25:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is seen in the stand prior to the UEFA EURO 2016 round of 16 match between Wales and Northern Ireland at Parc des Princes on June 25, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
2 Comments

Fans tuning into the MLS All Star Game on Thursday will get a look at USMNT prospect Gedion Zelalem and new Arsenal star Granit Xhaka.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger confirmed the news Tuesday as he met the media along with Petr Cech and Jack Wilshere ahead of Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.

How much they’ll play is unknown, just that Zelalem will be in the lineup and Xhaka will “play a part”.

[ MORE: Everton to land Gueye? ]

Earlier, Major League Soccer announced that Kaka will captain the side, and that FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta and L.A. Galaxy back Jelle Van Damme have been added to the roster to replace Matt Besler and plan for the possible absence of Liam Ridgewell.

MLS has won the last two All Star Games, and the last two against Premier League competition.


Arsenal

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech, David Ospina, Emiliano Martinez

Defenders: Hector Bellerin, Krystian Bielik, Calum Chambers, Mathieu Debuchy, Kieran Gibbs, Rob Holding, Nacho Monreal

Midfielders: Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Chris Willock, Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Gedion Zelalem

Forwards: Chuba Akpom, Joel Campbell, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott


MLS All Stars

GOALKEEPERS: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)

Defenders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Andrew Farrell (New England Revolution), Liam Ridgewell (Portland Timbers), Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia Union), Jelle Van Damme (LA Galaxy), Brandon Vincent (Chicago Fire), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas), Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Kaká (Orlando City SC), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Andrea Pirlo (New York City FC), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)

Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact), Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), Cyle Larin (Orlando City SC), Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), David Villa (New York City FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)