Bryan Oviedo

Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images

Is USMNT’s biggest World Cup obstacle between its ears?

2 Comments

Picture this, and forgive yourself if it’s a bit too easy: The United States men’s national team seizes control of its World Cup destiny with a decisive home win Friday against Panama, then needs very little from Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

That second match sees the Yanks off to a slow start at Ato Boldon Stadium, a defensive fluke sending them down early en route to a wild and entertaining ending, failing to find more than an equalizer once they snap out of their funk and get to playing their game.

[ MORE: Three keys vs. Panama ]

If you were to ask me my No. 1 concern for this week’s monumental World Cup qualifiers, the ones that stand between the Americans and their hopes for a eighth-straight World Cup appearance, that’s it: Entitlement.

I’m not sure when the mentality of the USMNT went from upstart grinders to presumed favorites, but it may have happened some time in the intense scrutiny of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. We have to wonder if, under any other coach, advancing from a group with Germany, Portugal, and Ghana would’ve been viewed as anything other than an unqualified success.

(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Klinsmann earned himself the opportunity to be rightly fired when his inconsistent teams looked either ill-prepared tactically or poorly-chosen toward the end of his tenure. The Mexico loss at home was disappointing, and the team looked like it hadn’t grasped what happened when it rolled into Costa Rica and got its guts kicked in by Los Ticos a few days later.

The choice of Bruce Arena as next man up was questionable in terms of ambition and scope, but would almost certainly settle the team. And it did. Though the performances were largely less than impressive, the Yanks didn’t lose for the better part of a pregnancy.

[ MORE: Who should start for USA v Panama? ]

But there were labor pains along the way, performances that raised eyebrows. For every tactically strong 1-1 draw in Mexico, there was the Gold Cup group-stage opening draw with Panama. For every 6-0 waxing of Honduras, there’s a self-satisfied 3-2 sleepwalker versus Martinique. And you could argue it birthed September’s home loss to Costa Rica and draw at Honduras.

Sure there are natural ebbs and flows to every team, but you need look no further than the top teams on the Hex table to see there are two gulfs of difference. In Mexico, there’s a top-to-bottom depth the Americans do not have, but in Costa Rica the troubles are, well, more troubling.

You cannot look at the Costa Rican squad and have much question that the best players are being called up, nor that they aren’t over-performing. Los Ticos did this at the last World Cup, and are doing it again despite changing coaches.

[ MORE: World Cup scenarios for USA ]

With incredible respect to Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Bryan Oviedo, and Marco Urena, they aren’t touching the Yanks’ corps. And that’s what makes it all the more problematic. The U.S. won the Gold Cup with a B Team, but maybe would’ve been better suited to keep more main men in the fold to grow in cohesion ahead of September.

At the risk of turning this into a gripe fest, which would be wrong when I genuinely believe the Yanks should run riot on Friday and then bear down in T&T for another win, it stings to stand not too far from a cliff that would cost Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, and Kellyn Acosta their first World Cups, and DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks their second.

Brooks and Fabian Johnson (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The average age of this week’s squad is 28. It’s good enough to get two wins, especially with clear-cut, no-doubt starters like Geoff Cameron, Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore, and Bobby Wood. Michael Bradley and Tim Howard likely fit that bill, too. So does Fabian Johnson, but that’s another story since he’s not up to snuff according to Arena.

The legendary coach penned an open letter to fans on Tuesday, and in it he hit on some of the talking points which have started to ring quite tiresome. CONCACAF is really hard. That other guy lost the first two games. We almost didn’t qualify before. So on, and so on.

[ MORE: Some roster gripes for Mr. Arena ]

Well, it’s 2017, and it shouldn’t matter if the other teams are a bit better because of Major League Soccer. So are your guys. The resources of U.S. Soccer, the laughably forgiving nature of CONCACAF qualifying, and the talent available dictate that the USMNT should walk to every single World Cup if it’s doing its job in an average fashion.

The U.S. is 2-3-3 in the Hex, snaring about 38 percent of available points. If it advanced with a win and draw or two wins, it will have headed to Russia with either 43 or 50 percent of possible points. Only a handful of nations are on pace to get to the World Cup with around half a points haul.

Even getting past the doubts that Arena is going to see past his tried and hopefully true philosophies and line up a team that doesn’t seem aimed at trolling his critics by becoming, as a friend put it, so anti-Klinsmann that it’s strikingly similar to Klinsmann, the Americans have the talent to pull this off and head to Russia.

Yet for the first time in a long time, it’s not skill, or tactics, or technique that I’m worried about when it comes to what could fell the USMNT; It’s mentality. And at this point, I’d rather have the crew of guys who thought they’d have to win despite their coach than the ones who feel comfortable with their boss.

The Yanks’ A Team hasn’t played well throughout consecutive matches in some time, probably going beyond Arena’s tenure and deep into Klinsmann’s (group stage of Copa America? The 2015 friendly wins in Germany and Holland?).

This week becoming a chance to try out young kids in serious competition was out of the window with September’s results, if not the opening losses to Mexico and Costa Rica. Underperforming on Friday and Tuesday could close down Arena’s chances of meaningful experimentation in November friendlies because of an unnecessary international playoff (or worse).

Maybe it’s as simple as flipping a switch. Maybe I’m overemphasizing minor mental flaws that will be systematically overrun by the magnitude of this week. I hope either of those are correct, but for the first time in ages my anxiety goes beyond skill set. And that’s nerve-wracking stuff.

League Cup Weds. preview: Top teams mind the underdogs

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The giant killers aim their arrows at Premier League foes on Wednesday in the final five matches of the League Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: League Cup Tues. wrap ]


Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers

March 29, 1902 — Doncaster beat Arsenal 1-0. In the century-plus since, Arsenal has won five and drawn once with Doncaster.

Pretty safe to say the in-form Gunners’ and their back-ups will run through the Rovers, though as the old cliche goes, “That’s why they play the games.”

Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest

For a long time, this was a Premier League fixture each season. Now Chelsea welcomes the Championship’s Forest for the third time since 1999.

Everton vs. Sunderland

The Toffees could badly use a nice win after its Europa League beatdown in Italy and a series of tough results against Premier League giants.

Enter Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson, Aiden McGeady, Jack Rodwell, and James Vaughn in a Sunderland squad with plenty of experience playing at Goodison Park (The Black Cats have two further players, Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway, on loan from Everton). USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch could get a starting run versus PL opposition.

Manchester United vs. Burton Albion

The visitors surprised United by forcing an FA Cup replay in 2006, and the Red Devils repaid them with a 5-0 lashing. Burton was in the Conference then, and have risen dramatically in the last few seasons and surprised by surviving a Championship campaign in 2016-17. This one won’t be close, but it’ll be better than 5-0 for Nigel Clough’s Brewers.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City

Tony Pulis has been able to stymy a lot of teams, but Man City isn’t one of them. West Brom boasts 11-straight wins over the Baggies, the last of which have been by multiple goals. West Brom’s last draw vs. City was Boxing Day 2011. Its last win? Sept. 22, 2010 in the League Cup. Can the Hawthorns be the venue for a surprise?

Gold Cup predictions: Mexico and USMNT dominance to end?

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Will inexperience and perceived B-teams be enough to open up the Gold Cup for a side not named Mexico or the United States?

El Tri and the USMNT have won 12 of 13 Gold Cups, with Canada’s unlikely 2000 triumph the only other offering.

Mexico will be without a bevy of stars and coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who was suspended six games by FIFA for his uproarious behavior in the Confederations Cup. Bruce Arena’s U.S. side doesn’t have it’s marquee names, either, with most European-based players allowed to focus on their preseasons.

[ MORE: PL players in the 2017 Gold Cup ]

Costa Rica left some stars behind, but will weaken many defenses with Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell while staying strong at the back with Giancarlo Gonzalez and Bryan Oviedo.

So how will it shake out?

Group A

Costa Rica should coast to the top of the group, leaving Canada and Honduras to dual for second. This one will come down to the last day, with the latter two meeting in Frisco, Texas. Canada isn’t the arctic, but that should favor Los Catrachos.

  1. Costa Rica
  2. Honduras
  3. Canada
  4. French Guiana

Group B

The Yanks were very lucky to avoid a huge challenge, though playing Panama first provides a chance for an early hiccup. Otherwise, this group should be sleepy.

  1. USMNT
  2. Panama
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Martinique

Group C

Mexico and Jamaica are clear favorites, but El Salvador is better than many realize and Curacao is the definition of a wild card thanks to Dutch imports Leandro Bacuna (Aston Villa) and ex-Ajax property Gino van Kessel.

  1. Mexico
  2. Jamaica
  3. El Salvador
  4. Curacao

Quarterfinals

Costa Rica def. Panama
USMNT def. El Salvador
Mexico defeats Canada
Jamaica defeats Honduras

Semifinals

Costa Rica def. USMNT
Mexico def. Jamaica

Final

Costa Rica def. Mexico

Everton 2-0 Sunderland: Toffees remain red-hot

Leave a comment
  • 9 games unbeaten for Everton
  • Sunderland stay bottom
  • Gueye, Lukaku score
  • Lukaku scores 60th Everton goal

Everton beat Sunderland 2-0 at Goodison Park on Saturday as Ronald Koeman‘s men strengthened their grip on seventh place.

Goals in each half from Idrissa Gueye and Romelu Lukaku did the job for Everton with Sunderland going close through Jermain Defoe‘s effort h

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Jordan Pickford returned to the team and looked a little rusty early on as he spilled a shot but recovered to save.

A corner from Everton then caused problems as a deflection found Lukaku at the back post but he couldn’t stretch to get enough on his effort.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Everton looked the more likely to score but found it tough to break down a stubborn Sunderland defense which sat back deep.

Just before the break Everton finally went ahead as Seamus Coleman‘s cross on the right found Gueye and he finished clinically to give the Toffees a deserved lead.

Tom Davies hit the post with a wonderful effort and Ross Barkley went close as Everton should’ve led by more.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Sunderland had a shout for a penalty kick at the start of the second half as Jermain Defoe’s shot hit Ashley Williams‘ outstretched arm.

Everton looked comfortable for most of the second half but then the Black Cats came agonizingly close to grabbing an equalizer as a pivotal few moments arrived with 10 minutes to go.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Defoe cut in from the left flank and drilled an unstoppable shot on goal but the ball hit the crossbar and bounced on the line before being cleared away from danger.

Moments later Lukaku raced cleared and held off former Everton defender Bryan Oviedo before bundling the ball home. 2-0. Game over.

Club-by-club list of Premier League winter transfers

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s a full list of ins and outs, loans and permanent transfers, from around the Premier League.

[ MORE: January 2017 transfer news ]

Arsenal

In: Cohen Bramall (Hednesford Town)

Out: Gedion Zelalem (VVV Venlo, loan), Dan Crowley (Go Ahead Eagles, loan), Kaylen Hinds (Stevenage Borough, loan), Chuba Akpom (Brighton & Hove Albion, loan)

Bournemouth

In: Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United)

Out: Nathan Ake (Chelsea), Emerson Hyndman (Rangers, loan), Callum Buckley (Aldershot Town, loan), Glenn Murray (Brighton & Hove Albion), Lewis Grabban (Reading, loan), Joe Quigley (Gillingham, loan), Jordan Green (Leyton Orient, loan), Harry Cornick (Gillingham, loan), Matt Neale (Wimborne Town, loan), Marc Wilson (West Bromwich Albion, loan)

Burnley

In: Joey Barton (unattached), Ashley Westwood (Aston Villa), Robbie Brady (Norwich City)

Out: Danny Lafferty (Sheffield United), Chris Long (Bolton, loan)

Chelsea

In: Nathan Ake (Bournemouth, loan recall)

Out: Oscar (Shanghai SIPG), John Mikel Obi (Tianjin TEDA), Patrick Bamford (Middlesbrough), Dion Conroy (Swindon Town), Marco Van Ginkel (PSV Eindhoven, loan), Jay Dasilva (Charlton, loan), Isaiah Brown (Huddersfield Town, loan), Fankaty Dabo (Swindon Town, loan), Charlie Colkett (Swindon Town, loan), Fikayo Tomori (Brighton & Hove Albion, loan), Mukhtar Ali (Vitesse Arnhem, loan)

Crystal Palace

In: Jeff Schlupp (Leicester City), Patrick Van Aanholt (Sunderland), Luka Milivojevic (Olympiacos), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool)

Out: Jordon Mutch (Reading, loan), Keshi Anderson (Northampton Town, loan), Freddie Ladapo (Shrewsbury Town, loan)

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Jeffrey Schlupp of Leicester City (L) and N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (R) battle for possession during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on October 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Everton

In: Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), Ademola Lookman (Charlton), Anton Donkor (Wolfsburg, loan)

Out: Tom Cleverley (Watford, loan), Oumar Niasse (Hull City, loan), Gerard Deulofeu (Milan, loan), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Darron Gibson (Sunderland), Antony Evans (Morecambe, loan), Gethin Jones (Barnsley, loan), Russell Griffiths (Motherwell, loan), Tyias Browning (Preston North End, loan), Conor McAleny (Oxford United, loan), Steven Kinsella (Dundalk, loan)

Hull City

In: Kamil Grosicki (Rennes), Oumar Niasse (Everton, loan), Markus Henriksen (AZ Alkmaar), Evandro (Porto), Omar Elabdellaoui (Olympiacos, loan), Lazar Markovic (Liverpool, loan), Andrea Rannochia (Inter Milan, loan), Alfred N'Diaye (Villarreal, loan)

Out: Jake Livermore (West Brom), Alex Bruce (Wigan, loan), James Weir (Wigan, loan), Robert Snodgrass (West Ham), Allan McGregor (Cardiff City, loan), Harvey Rodgers (Accrington Stanley, loan), Jonathan Edwards (Accrington Stanley, loan)

Leicester City

In: Wilfried Ndidi (Genk), Molla Wague (Granada)

Out: Jeff Schlupp (Crystal Palace), Luis Hernandez (Malaga), Harvey Barnes (MK Dons, loan), Matty James (Barnsley, loan), Callum Elder (Barnsley, loan)

Liverpool

Out: Pedro Chirivella (Go Ahead Eagles, loan), Tiago Ilori (Reading), Lazar Markovic (Hull City, loan), Cameron Brannagan (Fleetwood Town, loan), Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace, loan)

Manchester City

In: Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras)

Out: Pablo Maffeo (Girona, loan), Angelino (Girona, loan), Manu Garcia (NAC Breda, loan), Bruno Zuculini (Hellas Verona, loan), Billy O’Brien (St. Mirren, loan), David Faupala (Chesterfield, loan), George Glendon (Fleetwood Town)

Manchester United

Out: Morgan Schneiderlin (Everton), Memphis Depay (Lyon), Sam Johnston (Aston Villa, loan), Joe Riley (Sheffield United, loan), Sean Goss (QPR)

Middlesbrough

In: Rudy Gestede (Aston Villa), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea), Adlene Guedioura (Watford), Mikael Soisalo (Ilves Tampere)

Out: David Nugent (Derby County), Julien De Sart (Derby County, loan), Tomas Mejias (Rayo Vallecano, loan), Emilio Nsue (Birmingham City), Bryn Morris (Shrewsbury Town), Mark Kitching (Rochdale, loan)

Southampton

In: Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli), Mouez Hassen (Nice, loan)

Out: Jose Fonte (West Ham)

NAPLES, ITALY - DECEMBER 02: Manolo Gabbiadini of Napoli during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and FC Internazionale at Stadio San Paolo on December 2, 2016 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
Manolo Gabbiadini (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)

Stoke City

In: Lee Grant (Derby County), Saido Berahino (West Brom)

Out: Bojan Krkic (Mainz, loan), Jakob Haugaard (Wigan, loan), Ryan Sweeney (Bristol Rovers, loan), Ollie Shenton (Wrexham, loan), Joel Taylor (Rochdale, loan), Dionatan Teixeria (released), Moha El Ouriachi (Hearts, loan), Sergio Molina (Albacete), George Waring (Carlisle United, loan)

Sunderland

In: Joleon Lescott (unattached), Bryan Oviedo (Everton), Darron Gibson (Everton)

Out: Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Andrew Nelson (Hartlepool United, loan)

Swansea City

In: Luciano Narsingh (PSV Eindhoven), Martin Olsson (Norwich City), Tom Carroll (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Ayew (Aston Villa)

Out: Neil Taylor (Aston Villa), Modou Barrow (Leeds United, loan), Marvin Emnes (Blackburn, loan), Ryan Hedges (Barnsley), Owain Jones (Yeovil Town, loan)

Tottenham Hotspur

Out: Tom Carroll (Swansea City), Anton Walkes (Atlanta United, loan), Ryan Loft (Stevenage, loan), Shayon Harrison (Yeovil Town, loan), Connor Ogilvie (Stevenage, loan), Luke Amos (Southend United, loan).

Watford

In: Tom Cleverley (Everton, loan), Mauro Zarate (Fiorentina), M’Baye Niang (Milan, loan)

Out: Obbi Oulare (Willem II, loan), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Adlene Guedioura (Middlesbrough), Michael Folivi (Coventry City, loan), Alex Jakubiak (Wycombe Wanderers, loan), Adalberto Penaranda (Malaga, loan)

West Bromwich Albion

In: Jake Livermore (Hull City), Marc Wilson (Bournemouth, loan)

Out: Callum McManaman (Sheffield Wednesday, loan), Craig Gardner (Birmingham City, loan), Saido Berahino (Stoke City), Tyler Roberts (Shrewsbury Town, loan), Andre Wright (Yeovil Town, loan), Joe Ward (released), Tahvon Campbell (Notts County, loan)

West Ham United

In: Jose Fonte (Southampton), Robert Snodgrass (Hull City)

Out: Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Simone Zaza (Juventus, loan to Valencia), Reece Oxford (Reading, loan), Toni Martinez (Oxford United, loan), Marcus Browne (Wigan, loan), Alex Pike (Cheltenham Town, loan), Sam Howes (Hampton and Richmond Borough, loan), Lewis Page (Charlton), Martin Samuelsen (Peterborough United, loan)