Julian Green

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


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.

Mauritania president stops Cup final out of boredom, sends it to PKs

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 06:  President of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz (2nd R) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens during a session on "Investing in Africa's Future" of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit August 6, 2014 at the State Department in Washington, DC. President Obama hosted the last day of the first-ever summit to strengthen ties between the United States and African nations.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
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Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has taken over a country by coup d’etat, seen his country taken from him by coup d’etat, and also been shot in a possible assassination attempt — one that was labeled an “accidental shooting” by a soldier — so he’s not much for boredom.

But apparently the Mauritania president wasn’t going to leave his country’s Super Cup final between FC Tevragh-Zeina and ACS Ksar without finding out who won.

[ MORE: Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016 for USMNT ]

Bored by a 1-1 match, Abdel Aziz decided the game didn’t need to be played anymore. The president called down to the field, and demand the match be immediately settled by penalty kicks.

The referee complied, and the match was immediately sent to a shootout.

Of course, this is now being hailed as a misunderstanding of sorts. From Gazetta World, via Deadspin:

“I deny in the strongest terms the intervention of the President of the Republic,” the federation’s president, Ahmed Ould Abderrahmane, wrote in a statement. “The decision was made due ​​to organisational issues in accordance with the presidents and the coaches of the two teams.”

Organizational issues… like the organizations decided that if the president didn’t want the game to go on any longer, the game shouldn’t go on any longer.

What I want to know is how rival fans break this down when arguing.

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “We won the Super Cup!”

ACS Ksar supporter:Yeah. Cause the President ordered it.”

Tevragh-Zeina supporter: “Make your own breaks.”

I’ll stop with the jokes here, because I’ve turned to Google and have learned more about Mauritania in the last 20 minutes than I have in my entire life.

Leicester who? Unlikely Angers thriving, ends PSG’s long win streak

Ludovic Butelle - Angers
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Paris Saint-Germain’s only loss this year came at the hands of Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League, and only three clubs in France have managed to even split the points with the Ligue 1 giants.

But Tuesday in Angers, the better story in France took hold of the headlines, as Angers became the third club to hold PSG in Ligue 1 play. Les Parisiens entered the 0-0 draw on a nine-match Ligue 1 win streak.

It’s not just the draw that’s impressive, though. While Angers supporters might’ve signed up for that before the season started. it’s par for the course right now (even if Laurent Blanc wasn’t impressed with Tuesday’s bus parking display).

[ MORE: Klopp not seeking an upgrade to Mignolet ]

The draw with the league leaders brought the newly-promoted club into third place, a point behind No. 2 Caen. And while no one’s pegging, well, anyone to overcome PSG’s 14-point lead at the table, Angers is competing for a place in Europe.

A big part of that is a well-traveled 32-year-old goalkeeper playing out of his gourd. Ludovic Butelle has now posted three-straight clean sheets to help Angers rebound from a three-match losing skid, and overcome scoring just 14 goals this season by conceding just nine.

Whether Les Scoïstes can stay ahead of the pack is one thing, but it looks fairly good that Angers can make it multiple top-flight seasons for the first time since 1981.

In another French note, former U.S. coach Bob Bradley earned his first win for Le Havre. The Ligue 2 side is now in fourth place in their promotion chase, six points out of first.


Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Paris SG 16 13 3 0 37 8 29 6-1-0 7-2-0 42
Caen 15 9 1 5 18 15 3 5-1-2 4-0-3 28
Angers 16 7 6 3 14 9 5 3-5-1 4-1-2 27
Lyon 16 7 5 4 21 14 7 4-2-2 3-3-2 26
Nice 16 7 4 5 30 19 11 3-1-3 4-3-2 25
St. Etienne 15 8 1 6 20 19 1 5-1-2 3-0-4 25
Monaco 15 6 6 3 21 21 0 2-3-2 4-3-1 24
Lorient 16 5 7 4 24 21 3 4-3-2 1-4-2 22
Rennes 15 5 7 3 21 18 3 2-3-2 3-4-1 22
Nantes 16 6 3 7 12 15 -3 3-2-3 3-1-4 21
Marseille 15 5 4 6 23 17 6 2-3-3 3-1-3 19
Guingamp 15 5 4 6 15 20 -5 3-3-1 2-1-5 19
Montpellier 15 5 3 7 18 19 -1 4-0-4 1-3-3 18
Bordeaux 15 4 6 5 20 25 -5 4-2-2 0-4-3 18
Reims 15 4 4 7 15 19 -4 3-2-3 1-2-4 16
Gazelec Ajaccio 15 4 4 7 14 19 -5 2-3-2 2-1-5 16
SC Bastia 15 4 3 8 15 21 -6 4-0-3 0-3-5 15
Lille 15 2 8 5 8 11 -3 2-2-3 0-6-2 14
Toulouse 15 2 6 7 14 28 -14 2-4-1 0-2-6 12
Troyes 15 0 5 10 8 30 -22 0-4-4 0-1-6 5

Venezuela coach offers to quit if it helps players’ dispute

AP Photo/Juan Karita
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CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) Venezuela coach Noel Sanvicente has offered to step down if it helps the national soccer team’s dispute with their federation.

Fifteen players in the national team are threatening to quit unless the entire board of directors of the Venezuela Football Federation resign.

The federation has yet to make any public reaction to the players, who made their statement on social media on Monday, but released a letter on Tuesday in which Sanvicente apologized to the players for unintended offense by his own previous lack of comment.

“If my departure contributes so that these differences are overcome, then I’ll step aside,” Sanvicente said.

The players accuse interim president Laureano Gonzalez of mistreatment and slander, following recent allegations that several players were conspiring to oust Sanvicente.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

“We accept criticism of our performances and, as a team, take responsibility for the results, but in no way do we accept that we were preparing a movement to get the national coach out,” the players said. “We are upset and disillusioned by the lack of support from the national team’s coaching staff over these accusations.

“Our integrity isn’t negotiable, and the damage done can only be repaired renewing the federation’s leadership. We can’t continue working in an environment damaged by these officials.”

The signatories included Genoa midfielder Tomas Rincon, and West Bromwich Albion striker Salomon Rondon.

Gonzalez took over as head of the federation after longtime president Rafael Esquivel was arrested in Switzerland in May as part of the U.S. and Swiss investigations into corruption at FIFA. In September, Switzerland agreed to extradite him to the United States.

Despite progress in recent years under former coach Cesar Farias, Venezuela has lost four straight matches in South American qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Mounting tensions in the national squad were evident following the recent loss to Ecuador when Sanvicente accused his players of a lack of commitment and a sense of entitlement.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?