Bocanegra reaction to U.S. World Cup offers counterpoint to Donovan

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Not everything is about Landon Donovan, but the critique the United States Men’s National Team’s all-time leading scorer offered yesterday sent ripples through the team’s fan base. Though the Galaxy star, left out of Jurgen Klinsmann’s team for Brazil 2014, gave a considered, dispassionate view when he said the U.S. “were not set up to succeed,” many fans were left wondering if his honesty was too much, too soon in the wake of Tuesday’s loss.

But as another prominent U.S. star from South Africa 2010 reminds us, Donovan’s view is just one man’s opinion. Not every player who’s been left on the wrong side of Klinsmann’s selections was left disappointed. Carlos Bocanegra, for one, was complementary of not only the team’s performance but its approach.

Here’s the former U.S. Men’s National Team captain, as reported by Major League Soccer’s website:

“I would have taken that in a heartbeat,” Bocanegra said (of the U.S.’s World Cup outcome) …

“[The defense] did a good job,” the 35-year-old said. “They were very organized, very disciplined and had a great shape. We were playing against some very difficult teams: Belgium, Germany, Portugal and even Ghana, which has some very dynamic attacking players.

“We’re a smart team and nowadays in the World Cup …We’re going in the right direction.”

Rightfully, Bocanegra’s comments are already being juxtaposed against his former teammate’s, but the criticism of Donovan is going a little too far. Perhaps the timing of his observations was slightly ill-advised, he’s not exactly coming at this the same way as Eric Wynalda. There are others who share Dononvan’s views.

After all, consider Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments in the wake of Tuesday’s loss:

“I’m screaming my lungs off on the sidelines, [trying] to push them higher up the field. This is something they have to get out of their minds. Even against talented teams, [we have] to play them higher and higher up.”

Perhaps the problem is less tactics than on-field execution? To me, it was neither. Both the tactics and performances gave the U.S. a chance to steal results from Belgium and Germany. Donovan and Klinsmann may want more, but given the talent gap between the U.S. and that opposition, it’s unclear a different approach would have left the U.S. within striking distance.

Regardless, there are a number of ways to break down what happened on Tuesday, one of which is Bocanegra’s more positive view. Belgium? Germany? Portugal and Ghana? They’re all pretty good teams. There were no 2010 Algerias on this years docket.

Where Donovan may see a wasted opportunity, Bocanegra sees a great performance. And neither has to be wrong.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.