World Cup Qualifying

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Groin injury costs Arsenal’s Welbeck at least three weeks

Leave a comment

When Danny Welbeck landed awkwardly against Chelsea, many Arsenal fans feared another long absence from the English striker.

Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be too bad.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]

The 26-year-old forward is set for at least three weeks out with a groin injury. Arsene Wenger says his status will be reassessed after the international break ends in mid-October, which doesn’t bode well for his England availability either.

Welbeck had started all five Premier League matches for the Gunners, scoring on Opening Day against Leicester City and posting a two-goal, one-assist day versus Bournemouth.

The Gunners sit 12th with seven points after five match days.

Who’s in form and healthy three weeks out from huge USMNT games?

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’re a little over three weeks away from the United States’ most important World Cup qualifying games in some time.

Consider the matches versus Panama and away to Trinidad and Tobago on our minds, so expect more than a few posts as we build up to the Oct. 6 and 10 matches.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic post-UCL loss ]

In the meantime, injuries continue to pile up. Starting center back John Brooks had already been injured, and backup striker Jordan Morris is also out. Geoff Cameron may be healing quicker than expected, which is good news.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena has maintained that he wants to use players who’ve been a part of the team in qualifying and the Gold Cup, and he’s the sort of defiant character who is likely to stick with that philosophy.

But his center backs, aside from Matt Besler, really let him down in the Yanks’ one-point international break, and Morris’ injury opens the door to someone to join Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Bobby Wood in the strike corps (Chris Wondolowski was also called up earlier this month).

Let’s humor ourselves in spite of Arena’s stated plans, and take a look at Americans in form or back to health, here and abroad:

  • Right-sided man DeAndre Yedlin is back from his hamstring injury and made the 18 for Newcastle last week.
  • Matt Miazga has returned to Vitesse’s Starting XI, and led the back line to its first clean sheet of the season on Saturday.
  • Timmy Chandler has played every minute for Eintracht Frankfurt at right midfield/wingback during the club’s 1-1-1 start to the Bundesliga season, and scored in Cup play.
  • Lee Nguyen is back for New England, and WhoScored rates him as one of only two Americans in MLS’ Top Ten players this season. He has nine goals and eight assists.
  • The leading American scorers in MLS this season? It’s a tie between obviously call-up Altidore and inconsistent but powerful CJ Sapong with 13 a piece. Next is Wondolowski, Dempsey, and Christian Ramirez with 11 each.
  • Not angling for a call-up with this one, but while we’re here spare some positive thoughts for Julian Green. The 22-year-old World Cup goal scorer finally got a start for 2.Bundesliga side Greuther Furth, who broke a four-match losing streak with a 1-1 draw. Green went 90 minutes at left mid.
  • Terrence Boyd has subbed into every 2.Bundesliga match for Darmstadt, nabbing one assist. Lynden Gooch has also been a regular sub in Sunderland’s midfield.

So what’s an early guess at the 23 men Arena will call up next month? Again, this isn’t our 23, just an “Arena’s mind” prediction.

Goalkeepers

Unless Arena has a sudden change of heart and opts for Club Brugge’s Ethan Horvath and DC United’s Bill Hamid (or LA Galaxy man Brian Rowe because, well, LA Galaxy), it’ll be the same trio: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando.

Defenders

Nothing’s certain after Geoff Cameron, though educated guesses say Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana are coming, too. Eric Lichaj didn’t get into either qualifier, but could still be in the mix. Was Arena turned off by Tim Ream or DaMarcus Beasley? More importantly, does he see anyone else who’s a clear improvement (Again, does he see them)? Completing our eight will be Chandler and Yedlin.

Midfielders

Arena called up eight earlier this month, and it seems likely he won’t change much from Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson, Dax McCarty, Darlington Nagbe, and Christian Pulisic. Wild card looks to Danny Williams (if he can get some Huddersfield PT), Lee Nguyen, Cristian Roldan, or Kelyn Rowe.

Let’s face it: It wouldn’t be completely out of left field for Arena to ditch Johnson for one bad performance, and Rowe could get a chance to build on his Gold Cup. But if there’s a change, it’ll be Jermaine Jones for one last hurrah. That would likely come at the expense of McCarty.

Forwards

Jozy Altidore is due for a big, big performance having taken a terrible yellow card to miss the Honduras draw. Bobby Wood will be there, too, and maybe we’ll see them together. Clint Dempsey makes it three, which leaves a spot for… Wondolowski like last time? Old pal Gyasi Zardes? Sapong?

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

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls
4 Comments

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.

Arena wanted Jermaine Jones, but what do the stats say?

Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images
1 Comment

The steel in the midfield of the United States men’s national team was low if not altogether absent for the majority of their one-point international break.

Bruce Arena’s men fell 2-0 at home to Costa Rica before Bobby Wood helped them steal a point in Honduras at San Pedro Sula on Tuesday.

It was Michael Bradley with Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic, and Fabian Johnson on Friday, and then Bradley, Nagbe, Pulisic, and Kellyn Acosta on Tuesday.

[ MORE: World Cup prognoses for all confederations ]

Missing from that mix was combustible veteran Jermaine Jones, out with injury and apparently very much wanted by Arena.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“I know I came from a long-time injury, I got injured with the toe, so me and [US head coach Bruce Arena] we talked and everything is okay. If I’m 100 percent fit I want to focus first on the Galaxy, get that playoff spot, then focus in October on making the national team roster.”

The 69-times capped Jones has four goals for the national team including a stunning blast against Portugal at the 2014 World Cup.

With Jones, who’s been injured for much of this year, the U.S. has one draw and two losses in World Cup qualifiers.

He was also one of the side’s better players in the Copa America Centenario, although he picked up his only red card as a USMNT player when he was sent off against Ecuador.

Jones had been talismanic for Colorado and New England, but how has his presence affected the USMNT since he debuted under Bob Bradley in 2010.

All data via Transfermarkt

With Jones (tournament play): 17W-4D-12L
Without Jones (tournament play): 21W-5D-5L

But hold on, should Jones be punished for not being called up for Gold Cup action since 2011, let’s take another look at those marks without those weakened tournaments (B Teams or not).

With Jones (tournament play exc. Gold Cups): 13W-4D-10L
Without Jones (tournaments exc. Gold Cups): 7W-3D-3L

Jones played every minute of one of the United States’ top World Cup performances in 2014 (1W-1D-2L) as well as the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico. He also played in five Copa America matches (3W-2L) while missing the elimination match versus Argentina with a red card suspension.

That leaves us World Cup qualifying with and without Jones, and let’s only look at Hex matches to eliminate the weaker teams (Sorry 12-1 aggregate wins over St. Vincent, though he played one and missed the other).

With Jones (Hex): 5W-2D-3L
Without Jones (Hex): 4W-3D-1L

Finally what about versus Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago? The Yanks did win in Panama without Jones in the 2013 Hex and drew in T&T with him in the last round of qualifying.

I’m a big Jones supporter, but even in the face of these numbers I find it hard to make the argument that his first international action with this group since March should be in must-win qualifiers with the nation’s soccer reputation on the line.

‘Unfair’ for FIFA to annul World Cup qualifier over crooked ref

Photo by Anesh Debiky / Gallo Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOMERSET WEST, South Africa (AP) The South African Football Association says FIFA’s decision to order a World Cup qualifier against Senegal to be replayed because of match-fixing by a crooked referee is unprecedented and unfair.

SAFA is considering appealing FIFA’s order that the 2-1 win over Senegal in November last year is annulled and the game is replayed because Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was found guilty of manipulating the match.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings ]

Lamptey was banned for life. Although there are no complaints over his punishment, FIFA has effectively also penalized South Africa – and it could end its hopes of making it to the World Cup next year – despite confirming that neither team had any role in or knowledge of the fixing.

The case, not seen before in top-level soccer, centers on Lamptey’s decision to give South Africa a penalty for a non-existent handball against Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly. The ball clearly struck Koulibaly on the knee and dropped to the ground. South Africa, which didn’t even appeal for a penalty, scored from the spot kick and went on to win.

It’s thought that Lamptey was acting on the orders of match-fixers organizing illegal betting scams. FIFA has not provided full details of the case against the referee but says that its findings against Lamptey took into account “reports of irregular betting activities from various international betting monitoring companies.”

The upshot is South Africa has been stripped of its only win so far in the final round of qualifying in Africa.

SAFA senior legal counsel Norman Arendse says FIFA’s move is unfair for a number of reasons and constitutes a “miscarriage of justice.”