Tim Howard

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Trouble brewing: USMNT trails T&T after early Omar OG (video)

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All the U.S. national team had to do to officially qualify for the 2018 World Cup on Tuesday was to avoid falling flat on its collective face.

[ MORE: 3rd? 4th? 5th? USMNT scenarios on the final day of WCQ ]

Through 30 minutes of Bruce Arena’s side’s Hexagonal finale, it’s not gone according to plan. After failing to control the game through possession whatsoever, the USMNT went a goal down when Omar Gonzalez looped the ball high over the head of Tim Howard and into the back of the Yanks’ goal in the 17th minute.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 4-0 PanamaThree things we learned ]

Gonzalez looked lost on the botched clearance, but Howard has never before shown his age so severely… or so costly.

Player ratings: Pulisic, Altidore star as USMNT routs Panama

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Almost as badly as they needed a result and the accompanying three points, the U.S. national team needed to put forth a performance that once again inspired confidence — not only for USMNT fans, but for themselves as well.

Simply put, Bruce Arena’s bunch responded in a manner that left absolutely nothing to chance. Christian Pulisic and Jozy Altidore will (rightly) garner all the headlines, but they were far from the only standouts on Friday night…

[ MORE: Three things we learned ]

GK — Tim Howard: 6 — Asked to make only two saves on the night, but he did so with relative (to the 2014 game against Belgium, at least), and staked his claim to the no. 1 shirt after being selected ahead of Brad Guzan once again. It might just be a godsend the Colorado Rapids won’t sniff the MLS playoffs this year, as he’ll be 39 before next summer’s tournament kicks off.

RB — DeAndre Yedlin: 7 — So that’s what it’s like to have a right back who’s meant to be playing right back. I’ve defended Graham Zusi, Right Back, on a number of occasions (and I’ll continue to do so), but there’s no two ways about it: Yedlin, at age 24, is the right back of the present and the future. In a game that got a little too stretched for most Americans’ liking, his recovery speed snuffed out would-be chances before they could be taken on a number of occasions.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 5 — I think Gonzalez could be good — I really do — in the right system which features a midfield that sits deep and clogs the space in front of him and beside him. Unfortunately for Omar, a midfield diamond where only one of the four actually plays centrally isn’t that. As an opposing attacker, face him up one-on-one, and enjoy.

CB — Matt Besler: 6 — Didn’t struggle as badly as Gonzalez, mostly because he’s more accustomed to playing in open space, but playing alongside Gonzalez really highlights his most problematic deficiency: a minor lack of pace and athleticism. A healthy Geoff Cameron should complement Besler very well, should the two partner one another between Tuesday and next summer.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 5.5 — What’s to say about the left back position right now? Villafaña will continue to play there because no better option exists. If the midfield can remain solid in possession as they were in this one, limiting the direct counters thrown at him, he can pretty regularly avoid being a net-negative.

[ RECAP: USMNT routs Panama to boost World Cup dreams in a big way ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 6 — He was asked to do a lot in this one — run the entire middle third of the field as the only truly central midfielder — which he struggled to juggle at times in the first half, but that’s an impossible ask. He doesn’t need to be a 9/10 performer every night for the USMNT succeed. In fact, they need him to play a smaller part more frequently, and allow every one else to carry their own weight. He can still be Superman when it’s asked of him, but it’s not necessary all the time.

CM — Paul Arriola: 7 — Every team needs a Paul Arriola. The defensive cover he provided down the right side allowed Yedlin ample freedom to venture forward and stretch the field. His relentless pressing and winning of 50-50 balls makes for an uneasy evening for any opposition midfielder, and most importantly, takes that responsibility off Bradley’s plate, allowing him to sit deeper, read the game and dictate tempo.

CM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — *checks boxscore* *checks boxscore again* Yup, Nagbe did indeed play on Friday. Nominally deployed as a shuttler in a diamond(-ish) midfield, it’s not the worst thing in the world to go unnoticed. He remains tidy with his passing and forever an outlet when Bradley is harried. You can make the case he’s “too talented” for such a role, but at this point in time, this is his role and he’s done it masterfully.

CM — Christian Pulisic: 9 — 10/10 ratings are reserved for hat tricks (or three goals and assists combined, at the very least), so the wonderboy checks in with a 9/10 for the parts he played in the first (scoring) and second (assisting) goals, plus the attention (and fouls) he now commands are truly game-changing for everyone else in the attacking third.

[ VIDEOS: Pulisic makes it 1-0 after 8′Pulisic to Altidore for no. 2 ]

FW — Bobby Wood: 7 — Wood’s partnership with Altidore has required some kinks be worked out over the course of the last year, but Friday’s game showed what so many thought possible for the duo: Altidore drops into midfield to 1) pulling center backs out of shape; 2) be the playmaker that he is, and Wood capitalizes on that space by running the channels until his lungs explode. Every goal that Wood scores is oh so deserved.

FW — Jozy Altidore: 9 — Also, no 10/10 when one of the three is a penalty. So sorry, Sir Josmer. I’m not really sure what more needs to be said. When healthy, and in the form of his life as he is right now, Altidore is an impossible nightmare.

SUB — Dax McCarty: 6.5 — Arena brought him on just before the hour mark to 1) save Pulisic’s life; 2) plant someone alongside Bradley at the base of midfield. McCarty accomplished a ton in his 33 minutes on the field, winning the ball back eight times, connecting just about every one of his passes, and threading an inch-perfect through ball to Arriola late in the game.

SUB — Clint Dempsey: 5.5 — The thought of Dempsey as a late-game super-sub next summer should provide all USMNT fans with a wealth of hope and excitement. Provided he remains accepting of the role, he will change one or two games in unbelievably meaningful ways.

SUB — Alejandro Bedoya: 5.5 — Only got 10 minutes, but continues to make his case as a lock-down central midfielder who offers more than most think when he surges forward.

Lalas uses halftime broadcast to rip on USMNT, “Wonderboy” Pulisic

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Beginning by saying, “It’s time for leaders to step up,” and then branding those leaders as “supposed,” Alexi Lalas lashed into the United States men’s national team during an MLS telecast on Sunday.

Lalas took shots at several individual players — some deserving, some not — as the Yanks prepare for next month’s make-or-break World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

[ MORE: Palace makes change ]

In terms of coming from the hot takery, the diatribe is most notable not because of what Lalas says, but because of the messenger himself. Lalas is a former national team member, a sort of fraternity which doesn’t often show cracks. Lalas would likely argue the tough love is quite deserved, and he’s a sort of “boots on the ground” man who’s been around enough fans to know the feeling of the most ardent U.S. supporters.

Is Lalas’ criticism warranted? Sure. Will it be constructive? It’s hard to imagine the guys on the team needed to be fired up to avoid becoming national punch lines for their sport, and the rant doesn’t take away any pressure.

Most notable was Lalas saying anyone he didn’t mention doesn’t deserve to be mentioned, then going on to mention say, “That includes you, Wonderboy” in regards to phenom Christian Pulisic. That’s a tough one, as the 18-year-old does need to be described without his age soon, but also was not one of those players skating through the loss to Costa Rica and draw at Honduras.

Lalas also called out Tim Howard in saying the Belgium game was three years ago, which seems rough considering the goalkeeper isn’t known for resting on his laurels. Then again, it’s worth noting that Lalas would know the player a bit better than those of us who see him in locker rooms or read his book.

Of course we understand that the message also happens to boost ratings for MLS and leads to Retweets, Favorites, and posts like this, and it would be naive to say anything less.

What do you think? The full rant is below.

Player ratings: USMNT’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica a big setback

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Player ratings from the U.S. national team’s 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica on Friday…

[ RECAP: USMNT fails in bid for revenge on Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 4.5 — The 38-year-old was shaky playing the ball out of the back, which is largely par for the course, and was wildly out of position and slow to react on Marco Ureña’s goal in the 30th minute.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Here’s a thing I said about Zusi, the right back, a month and a half ago, and I stand by it today:

During the first half, the USMNT played through Zusi on a number of occasions, resulting in two of its best scoring chances.

CB — Geoff Cameron: 4 — Struggled mightily in the first half, the first time he’d ever started alongside Tim Ream in a four-man backline. Cameron’s poor decisions compounded Ream’s struggles, and vice versa.

CB — Tim Ream: 4 — While much of Cameron’s issues appeared to be Ream-related, Ream was quite poor all on his own. His gaffe in the 7th minute nearly resulted in a goal, and he was the one turned inside and out, failing to see Ureña wide enough, on the opening goal.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 5 — As a left back, it’s really tough to play with Fabian Johnson in front of you. The same issues which prevent Johnson from being a good left back play out further up the field, and you’re too frequently left on an island all by yourself. Unfortunately, there’s still no one better.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from USA 0-2 Costa Rica ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 5.5 — Asked to play, essentially, by himself in the middle of the field, Bradley did everything he could, but was ultimately outnumbered and overrun on numerous occasions. His long-range balls into the channels remain a top-two attacking strategy for the USMNT.

CM — Darlington Nagbe: 5 — Here’s the thing about Nagbe, the central midfielder: it works with a dedicated no. 10 playing ahead of him (see: Valeri, Diego; and, Portland’s MLS Cup 2015 run), but you’re asking far too much of him to play centrally without a creator further up the field. He’ll push ahead way too frequently and leave his partner all by his lonesome, which is exactly what he did to Bradley on Friday.

RM — Christian Pulisic: 6.5 — The kid’s a huge talent, but the most impressive thing about him is how consistently he’s in the conversation for best player on the field. The majority of clear chances had his fingerprints all over them, whether it was his dribbling through midfield, his vision and crossing, or making the necessary run into the box as a target himself.

LM — Fabian Johnson: 5 — What’s Johnson’s best position/role? He was asked to shield Villafaña from the front and press high when Costa Rica try to play out of the back, but he did very little or none of either of those things.

[ MORE: Late drama for Germany; Kane starts scoring on Sept. 1 ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 7 — Best player on the field, especially during the first half. Finally properly cast as a playmaker, dropping into the hole and creating for others. I know, it’s hard to imagine a striker with his build being a finesse player, but that’s the reality everyone must finally accept.

FW — Bobby Wood: 5.5 — His hold-up play is really important for the USMNT, as is his speed which stretches defenses beyond any semblance of comfort. Only, the latter didn’t happen against Costa Rica, and their three center backs remained in lockstep for 90 minutes.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 5 — 65th-minute sub did exactly what you’d ask of an impact sub: find the ball early, find it often, and create chaos, which is precisely the situation in which Dempsey thrives most. That’s a tall task against a defensive unit like Costa Rica, though. His petulant elbow in the 91st minute should have been a red card.

Sub — Jordan Morris: N/A — 84th-minute sub unable to have any real impact on the game.

Sub — Paul Arriola: N/A — 87th-minute sub unable to have any real impact on the game.

USA 0-2 Costa Rica: USMNT face-plants vs. Ticos… again

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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Bruce Arena’s honeymoon is over.

It lasted exactly four 2018 World Cup qualifiers, as the old-boss-turned-new-boss helped the U.S. national team out of a deep hole following the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann, before suffering his first defeat (this time around) in the Hexagonal at the hands of Costa Rica, the side which routed the USMNT 4-0 last November, on Friday.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 0-2 Costa Rica ]

With only three games still to play, Arena’s men sit third in the Hex, now six points behind Costa Rica, and as many as nine behind Mexico (pending their result versus Panama). A victory would have pulled the USMNT level for second. In short, it’s a disastrous result, particularly given the level to which the Yanks controlled the vast majority of the game.

The USMNT was denied its clearest chance of the opening half-hour, when Jozy Altidore was taken down inside the penalty area by Kendall Waston, but the referee was unmoved by the American pleas and waved for play to continue. It was a clear penalty, and a monumental let-off for Los Ticos.

Right on the half-hour mark, Costa Rica made the Yanks pay for their failure to turn spells of possessional dominance into a goal. Marco Ureña found 30 yards of empty space between Tim Ream and Geoff Cameron, and the San Jose Earthquakes striker twisted and turned the former as he dribbled into the penalty area, worked the ball onto his right foot and beat Tim Howard far post.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from USA 0-2 Costa Rica ]

Christian Pulisic was denied by Keylor Navas, in unbelievable fashion, in the 67th minute. Clint Dempsey‘s free kick pinballed around the penalty area and fell to Michael Bradley, who played the ball into space for Pulisic’s left-footed strike. The ball deflected off a defender, wrong-footing Navas in the worst way, but the Real Madrid goalkeeper was spectacular in his reaction, throwing his right hand in the air to palm the ball onto his foot and clear his lines.

With nine minutes left in regular time, Costa Rica landed the knockout punch. David Guzman strolled through the heart of midfield and played Ureña, who had acres of space himself, behind Ream and Cameron, and Howard could do nothing to deny him one-on-one.

The USMNT travels to San Pedro Sula next, for a matchup with Honduras, the side with which they’re tied for third place, on Tuesday.