AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Breaking down the USMNT break downs

Leave a comment

There’s a frightening trend for the United States men’s national team, one that hasn’t been a conversation point for the team for some time.

This team is showing a distressing need for frequent wake-up calls.

The U.S. men earned their status as darlings of their fans by succeeding in the face of underdog status. Sometimes, it was the result of favorable draws and results — see the fun 2002 World Cup run.

Other times, a rough group stage was superseded by fortunate math and brave performances in a knockout round, like the 2009 Confederations Cup.

[ MORE: Qualifying scenarios for the USMNT ]

And finally, once it was simply emerging from a perceived Group of Death and getting a Matrix-like performance from your world class goalkeeper.

Maybe some or all of those were cases of dousing garbage in gallons of air freshener — I’d like to think not — and two of those examples included prime players from the current crop of Yanks, but they certainly didn’t feel like the roller coaster ride we’re experiencing now.

Keeping in mind that the Yanks needed results on the last day of qualifying to make it to the World Cup as recently as the 2010 edition, did it ever feel like this, so often?

After battering Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 6-0, Jurgen Klinsmann’s Yanks slept through a 0-0 draw in Trinidad and Tobago before losing to Guatemala for the first time in better than two decades. They responded by blowing out Guatemala, SVG, and T&T by a combined score of 14-0 the rest of the way. So it wasn’t about class.

Klinsmann then lost his job after a horrible start to the Hex, one that may still prove to a major part of a historic downfall. It wasn’t even that the Yanks fell to their two main CONCACAF rivals; Klinsmann’s men were outclassed by Mexico at home and embarrassed by Costa Rica on the road. See ya, JK.

[ MORE: Three things from the USMNT’s home loss to Costa Rica ]

Costa Rica forward Marco Urena celebrates after scoring on Tim Howard(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

All of this demanded change, but also circled the players’ names moving forward. Were they subconscious quitters who just wanted a coach fired? Was their underperformance mostly about the coach, or were they simply not that good? Moreover, how would they respond?

Hello, Bruce. And hello another bellying up to the bar to throw down top shelf stuff in front of a rabid group of partiers. In San Jose, the Yanks waxed Honduras to the tune of 6-0. Yay! Much better!

Again, it wasn’t about class.

So what was next? The U.S. was out shot 9-3 in Panama en route to a 1-1 draw, one that felt fine at the time on account of the four points gained, but looks poor in the residue of Friday’s home loss to Costa Rica.

About that second Costa Rica loss: No, the U.S. wasn’t totally outplayed, but it sure did look outworked (though to ignore some of the worst own- and middle-third passing decisions would be criminal). The word ‘entitled’ even comes to mind, like a team that is ready to buy into its own hype after generating even a marginal amount.

So what’s wrong, overall? The answers from the Internet come from every direction, some grasping at straws, some looking at the minutia, and others going meta. I’ve even read the rationale that the American “pay to play” structure is to blame, with kids being told they are the best players ever by youth clubs desperate to stop each kid’s parents thousands of annual dollars from moving across town. That’s a talk for another day, an embarrassing one that probably doesn’t equate to the national team’s struggles.

But there’s definitely something about mentality here, especially as CONCACAF watches Mexico just go out and win qualifiers. El Tri isn’t free from flaws and its coach has been under fire, but it won its first five matches of the fourth round and conceded just once. It’s conceded just twice in the Hex, and once was on a Michael Bradley bomb. Part of this certainly has to do with the fact that Mexico’s most impactful defensive forces in this generation are really strong (By the way, Mexico was without mighty Hector Moreno and a number of other recognizable names like Miguel Layun and Marco Fabian. They beat Panama).

There’s also a problem the U.S. has had for a long, long time aside from DaMarcus Beasley’s best days: the left side. Thanks to the good people at CONCACAF.com, let’s take a look at how CONCACAF is coming at the U.S. in World Cup qualifiers:

USMNT 1-2 Mexico

Costa Rica 4-0 USMNT

USMNT 6-0 Honduras

Panama 1-1 USMNT

USMNT 2-0 Trinidad and Tobago

Mexico 1-1 USMNT

USMNT 0-2 Costa Rica

So aside from the Mexico opener and the Honduras blowout, the tactical idea is to get the ball on the left of the midfield and see what opens up (more or less, the graphics aren’t perfect).

Here’s a bonus heat map from the Gold Cup Final, one of only three matches in the tournament in which the Americans conceded a goal (Jamaica is going right to left).

It’s probably all of the above in some aspects, but Bruce Arena is not the sort of boss who we should expect to be consistently outfoxed tactically as he was with Darlington Nagbe in the central midfield and Costa Rica just fouling the heck out of the Yanks.

Come Tuesday in Honduras, it’s going to be dirtier, grittier, and filled with desperation. The Yanks, in all likelihood, will respond well. Yet even if they post a 3-0 win and look dominant, this batch of players has proven that we should draw no comfort or expectation that it will continue come October 6 against Panama. That’s just one month away, and that’s scary.

MLS Snapshot: POR carve up 9-man ORL, keep pace with VAN, SKC

Pete Christopher//The Oregonian via AP
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): All of a sudden, the Western Conference has sprung to life as the 2017 regular season winds down — Vancouver Whitecaps, winners of five of their last seven games (unbeaten); Portland Timbers, winners of four of their last six following Sunday’s 3-0 victory over 10-man nine-man Orlando City SC at Providence Park; Sporting Kansas City, losers of just two of their last 15 games; Seattle Sounders, who had their 13-game unbeaten run snapped on Saturday; and Real Salt Lake, winners of four of their last five. With fewer than a handful of games remaining, Vancouver’s lead on Portland and Sporting KC remains one point after all three sides won this weekend; RSL and Seattle are separated by just three points, three points back of second and third. As for Saturday’s game, Diego Valeri is now a top-two candidate for MVP after scoring two more goals (his 19th and 20th, to go with 9 assists) against 10-man Orlando.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three moments that mattered

15′ — Valeri extends his streak, makes it 1-0 — The last time Valeri failed to score in a game, the date was July 23.

29′ — Mattocks taps it home after Asprilla’s cross — Huge credit to Diego Chara for the through ball to spring Dairon Asprilla into acres of space. The ball to Mattocks was simple, and he got it right.

59′ — Valeri gets no. 20, makes it 3-0 — Joe Bendik managed to deny Mattocks’ initial effort, but Valeri followed up when everyone in white had already quit on the play.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (15′ – PK, 59′), Mattocks (29′)

The 2 Robbies: City Sparkle, Chelsea Shine, Liverpool Hold On

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe take a look at some of the weekend’s biggest storylines, including Liverpool’s thrilling victory over Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur’s frantic win away to West Ham United and Manchester City’s demolition of Crystal Palace.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Ederson harbors no ill will after Mane’s personal apology

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
1 Comment

As far as Ederson is concerned, Sadio Mane‘s studs-to-face assault is a thing of the past — save for, the elongated scar he’ll likely wear on the left side of his face for the rest of his life, of course.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

The Manchester City goalkeeper, who was forced from his side’s 5-0 victory over Liverpool on Sept. 9 after his face was raked by the studs of the Reds’ star attacker, revealed this weekend that he received — and accepted — Mane’s personal apology in the days immediately thereafter — quotes from Goal.com:

“Yes, I had contact with him, he sent me a message. I told him to stay calm, those things happen inside the pitch, it could happen anytime. I told him to not worry and wished him a good season.”

“I ended up having a hard hit in the face, but in the same week, I was ready to play in Champions League. I felt a strong kick, but I was always conscious. I knew it had been a long cut. I wanted to keep playing but, for medical issues, I couldn’t keep playing.

“But I was always conscious, even if I had my face a little bit swollen. But after a week it was normal again. In the same week, I was ready to play in Champions League. I faced that game full of confidence again, without any fear and happy for the result we achieved.”

Bundesliga: Leverkusen throttle HSV; Hannover remain unbeaten

Marius Becker/dpa via AP
Leave a comment

BERLIN (AP) Three days after being cleared to play by FIFA, Argentine striker Lucas Alario scored one goal and set up another on his debut for Bayer Leverkusen to beat Hamburger SV 3-0 in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

Alario struck midway through the first half, converting a cross from Leon Bailey, who also set up Kevin Volland’s opening goal just three minutes before.

A moment of class from Julian Brandt sent Alario through with less than 10 minutes remaining, and the Argentine had the awareness to spot the better-positioned Volland to seal the win.

Alario went off moments later to warm applause from fans.

“The goal is the cream on top. He played very well, scored the goal and combined with others. He worked well coming back and his first goal wasn’t so easy to score,” Leverkusen coach Heiko Herrlich said.

Alario’s first appearance for Leverkusen was held up when previous club River Plate objected to his transfer through the Argentine soccer association (AFA), which denied his playing rights.

The Buenos Aires-based club contended that Alario’s transfer was invalid as Leverkusen paid his release clause of $28.6 million on Aug. 31, after the Argentine season began, which it said was against FIFA rules.

Leverkusen then took the case to FIFA, which ruled in its favor on Thursday.

Leverkusen’s second win in six games eased the pressure on new coach Herrlich after a difficult start.

Counterpart Markus Gisdol remains in need of a change in fortune, however, after four straight defeats. Hamburg next faces Werder Bremen, Mainz and Bayern Munich.


Cologne fought its way to its first point in a 0-0 draw at promoted Hannover after starting the Bundesliga with five straight defeats.

Now the last-place side hopes it can build on the point.

“The luck will come back and the chances we had today will go in,” Cologne goalkeeper Timo Horn said. “We’ll start winning the games again. But the precondition was this performance that we delivered today.”

Peter Stoeger’s side, which has scored only one goal all season, hasn’t netted in its last four league games. That highlighted the extent to which Cologne relied on French striker Anthony Modeste, sold in the offseason in a big-money move to Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian.

Modeste scored 25 Bundesliga goals for Cologne last season. His replacement, former Mainz striker Jhon Cordoba, is yet to score in six games.

“We all have to be satisfied with the draw,” said Hannover general manager Horst Heldt, whose fourth-place side remains one of three unbeaten in the Bundesliga this season.

Hannover coach Andre Breitenreiter remained unbeaten in 15 games across two divisions.