Study points ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier: United States vs. Guatemala

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A win puts the United States in great shape one-third of the way through semifinal round qualifying en route to Brazil 2014. A U.S. loss is hardly crushing since the Americans took care of business at home last week, but it will turn up the pressure slightly in qualifiers ahead.

Plus, since there’s still a sports-loving set out there that doesn’t understand the thorny side of CONCACAF qualifiers in Central American hot zones, nor the wolverine-like fight in these smaller nations, especially when they feel the emotional burden of playing for something larger than themselves, the Jurgen Klinsmann critics will feast on anything less than a solid Guatemalan thumping by the U.S. men.

Here’s what’s on my mind ahead of this one inside a Nacional Mateo Flores Stadium that promises to be insane with passion and nervous energy:

  • Guatemala is desperate. Already.

That’s because they’ve lost already. True, it was on the road, at Jamaica. So it can’t be totally unexpected, although this is hardly Jamaica’s best version.

The problem is that Guatemalan fans, players, coaches and media all see the reality of the situation. A win Friday could have created some wiggle room, at least. Now, a loss likely leaves Guatemala way behind the qualifying 8 ball, stuck with zero points after two matches, with a scary stretch of ground to make up between the United States and Jamaica.  It would pour a huge pot of hot soup pressure all over Los Chapines at the worst time, with about three months to hear about it until the next round of matches in early September.

They’ll take a point, but what they really, desperately crave is three of them.

source:

  •  What’s going on with the U.S. back line?

It’s really all about Fabian Johnson, and where the left fullback up-and-comer stands in his bid for fitness.

If Johnson can play (and be effective), then U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann has just one choice, and not even a great big one: who to partner with captain Carlos Bocanegra. (Bocanegra, by the way, got the goal last time these two met in Guatemala City in World Cup qualifying, a 1-0 U.S. win in 2008.)

If Johnson can’t go, Klinsmann has three important decisions, starting with where to play Bocanegra. The U.S. veteran defender moved over to left back on Friday following Jose Torres’ injury, and that turned into a quick fiasco. Oguchi Onyewu took Bocanegra’s center back spot – and didn’t take long to remind everyone that he’s a mistake waiting to happen these days.

Clarence Goodson will surely be in tonight’s match; no matter how many times people want to marginalize him in the U.S. center back conversation, Goodson always acquits himself well when provided opportunities. The Brøndby IF captain just hasn’t had a stinker in the U.S. shirt yet – while Onyewu’s matches of woe are getting harder to keep track of.

Here’s the problem: if Bocanegra is forced to play out wide, does Goodson partner centrally with Geoff Cameron, who has limited international experience, and who would be playing his initial World Cup qualifier? That’s a fine “how  do you do”, some way to get your first qualifier test, down in the roiling cauldron of Guatemala City.

If Johnson can play, Klinsmann shouldn’t really have a hard time at all: It’s Bocanegra and Goodson in the middle. (And trusty Steve Cherundolo on the right, as always.)

  • The midfield mix; still tinkering

In the four games so far in this late-spring series, Michael Bradley (pictured above right) has played closer to the forwards at times, but he’s always been the designated holding man, tucked in behind Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu at times.

For this one, I agree with the sharpies over at The Shinguardian, who reckon in their game preview that Edu will sit deeper, tasked with doggedly holding the ground in front of the back line. From the Shinguardian preview:

Edu’s speed of defending will come in to play here and in this role he’ll be used just like Ricardo Clark was used against teams like Costa Rica and Honduras for Bob Bradley. Seal off the counter and bide time until his teammates get back behind the ball.

Edu will handle the tackling and tracking; It’s all about him being smart in ball handling. He’s got to distribute with utmost simplicity and clarity. No chances in this one can be accepted from the Rangers man.

I asked Klinsmann about this one in Tampa. He said essentially that these three are his  go-to guys in midfield now, and that he has faith in them whichever way he tilts the roles.

Jermaine Jones must keep his head.

I went over that one here. Long story short, the Guatemalans know he’s the guy to bait. So he can’t take it. That bait, that is.

I keep wondering who starts at forward

Well, no more. Herculez Gomez keeps starting. And keeps scoring. And keeps drawing effusive praise from his boss, Herr Klinsmann, for relishing all the dirty work that comes in the job description.   source:

I wanted to see a little more creative combining from Gomez on Friday against Antigua and Barbuda, a match that needed a little more dynamic presence from everyone along the U.S. front line. But Tuesday’s match is a Central American blue collar special, and there’s nothing “dynamic” about it. These are about guts, about having the stomach for the fight, about not being a bit undone by the roar and by the spittle and the eye gouges and anything else. It’s about effort and staying stubbornly on mission, about getting the job done.

Gomez looks up for it.

More, including lots of facts and figures, is here on the match from U.S. Soccer.

Harry Kane’s World Cup optimism encouraging

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Harry Kane raised plenty of eyebrows on Tuesday as the newly announced captain of the English national team had the following to say in a press conference.

“It’s impossible not to dream about lifting the World Cup. It’s the biggest competition in the world,” Kane said. “I believe we can win it – anyone can. I cannot sit here and say we are not going to win it because we could do. We are not favourites but you look at this season, no-one would have thought Liverpool getting to the Champions League final. You look at Manchester United back in the Sir Alex Ferguson days, they had a young team and dominated the Premier League for years to come.

“Being young is not an excuse – it could be a good thing. I believe we can and that is what we want to try and do. Anything else is not good enough.”

And just like that, England’s new skipper appeared to set the bar ridiculously too high once again ahead of a major tournament.

Compare Kane’s comments to that of England captain Steven Gerrard ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

“Anyone who thinks we can’t win the World Cup has to be barking up the wrong tree,” Gerrard said, before England crashed out at the group stage four years ago…

Are England going to win the World Cup this summer? Probs not. Kane, and his manager, likely know that but what’s the point of having a negative mindset from the get-go? True, it hasn’t helped England in the past but this is a fresher, younger squad than in previous campaigns and there is a real sense of optimism building that Kane and Co. are flying under the radar.

The Three Lions have a chance of reaching the last eight, and even the semifinals if the draw is kind to them, and then, I guess, they’ll have a fighting chance. Germany, Spain, France, Brazil, Argentina and Belgium are still the clear favorites.

Still, Kane’s comments will no doubt be scoffed at and dismissed as nonsense by England fans and neutrals across the globe. Yet there is a growing sense that this is the strongest unit the English national team has had over the past decade with individual sentiments put to one side and Southgate fostering a team-first approach.

His selections for the final 23-man squad were based on sensibility and picking players who were in form, and fit, heading into this summer. So often the English national team has been about massaging big egos (Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, John Terry) and trying to fit square pegs in round holes come tournament time.

That’s no longer the case. With a humble, hard-working and talismanic figure such as Kane leading the line, and their charge, this summer, you get the sense that England will end up surprising many in Russia.

They won’t win the World Cup but they could win plenty of hearts for a brave style of play in a 3-4-3 formation and the likes of Kane, Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford excelling on the biggest stage.

Kane’s optimism is encouraging but unless England get out Group G (they face Tunisia, Panama and Belgium) comfortably, the negativity won’t take too long to take over the mood in the England camp.

That’s the way it always works for England as stars from the Premier League are put on a pedestal after a few decent performances and then knocked off it quickly with one slightly shaky displays. Perhaps the failure of the past two tournaments (knocked out in the last 16 at EURO 2016 by Iceland, plus the group stage exit at the last World Cup) will have toughened up this England squad.

With just five players left over from the Three Lions’ last World Cup exploit in the 2018 squad, this is very much a fresh, young squad looking to write their own history and not be haunted by the ghosts of England’s past.

“First-choice” Emery reveals his plans for Arsenal

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Unai Emery spoke to the media for the first time as Arsenal manager on Wednesday, with the Spanish coach detailing his vision for the Gunners as more details emerged about the managerial search.

Emery, 48, was named as Arsenal’s new “head coach” with the former PSG coach replacing Arsene Wenger and edging ahead of Mikel Arteta in the battle to take charge at the Emirates Stadium.

Sat alongside Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis, Emery spoke to reporters at Arsenal’s home stadium on Wednesday and although his English is limited he seemed excited by the challenge ahead.

“My English is not very best now and I want to make sure, to the supporters to explain my idea, my ambition, to explain that I am very excited for this opportunity at a big club, a great city and a grand stadium. Also, great players for this work,” Emery said.

Before adding that “it’s a great challenge but in my career, every year I grow up with new challenge and for me this challenge is a dream.”

Asked about changes to his current squad and which players may stay or leave this summer, Emery wanted to focus on speaking about the club as a whole rather than individuals but hinted at change.

“We think we need change, little things, a little players, today I want to work and want to speak globally for the squad,” Emery said.

Asked about the specific style of play he aims to achieve at Arsenal, Emery believes he can follow a similar style to the one Wenger created over two decades.

“In my career I am very demanding of myself as well as the people at the club and the players. The history here is one thing, they love to play with possession of the ball,” Emery said. “I like this personality and when we don’t have the ball I want a squad to play with intensive pressure. Two important things are position of the ball and pressing when you haven’t got it.”

Gazidis revealed that he led a three-man team in the managerial search which involved Raul Sanllehi, the head of football relations, and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat.

The keys for Gazidis and Co. were to bring in “progressive, entertaining football, a personality and a record of developing players, particularly young players through detailed tactical instructions and cultural demands.”

Arsenal’s CEO also revealed that there was an eight-man shortlist and all eight were interviewed in-person and none of the candidates withdrew their interest.

Gazidis confirmed that Emery was their “first-choice” after meeting him on May 10, and the Spaniard was then recommended “unanimously” on May 18 to the board.

Emery, Gazidis and Sanllehi then flew to Atlanta, Georgia to meet majority owner Stan Kroenke and his son Josh on Tuesday before arriving back in London to meet the media on Wednesday.

“Thank you to all the chairman and the board,” Emery said. “They feel with their heart Arsenal and the conversation with the chairman and the board is very important for me to know better Arsenal. Also, thank you Ivan, Raul and Sven, the first meeting with Arsenal’s board, after three hours I felt a very good feeling and we will work together and we will create a new present and future at Arsenal. Thank you Arsene Wenger for your legacy. For all the coaches in all of the world he is a reference. A learned from him all of the things in football.”

Emery will have a strong Arsenal squad to work with but fans and the board will no doubt expect him to challenge for the top four, at least, and that’s before any big-name arrivals this summer.

Reports: Rooney flying to DC to finalize MLS move

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Wayne Rooney is edging closer to his move to Major League Soccer.

Multiple reports state that Rooney will fly to Washington D.C. on Thursday for a 48-hour trip to check out D.C. United and meet with club executives as he moves towards finalizing his move to MLS.

[ MORE: Rooney to DCU “done deal” ]

Rooney, 32, is already said to have agreed a “deal in principle” with DCU but with Everton without a manager following Sam Allardyce‘s departure last week, there is no real rush for him to push through the move ahead of the MLS’ transfer window reopening in July.

It is also believed that Rooney still has plenty of negotiating to do with Everton about the remaining year of his contract.

Per a report from the BBC, Rooney’s trip to D.C. is more about him getting a feel for the club, the city and what will be on offer as DCU’s coaching staff and players will not be around as they’re currently out on the West Coast and will face LAFC on Saturday.

It does seem like Rooney is moving closer to a surprise move to MLS just 12 months after he agreed to move back to his boyhood club Everton after a 13-year stay at Manchester United.

The potential for the all-time leading goalscorer for England and Man United joining DCU has split opinion in American soccer circles.

Many would rather see D.C. United think outside the box and spend big Designated Player money on younger attacking talents from South America (a la Atlanta United), but some suggest Rooney’s star name will attract plenty of interest towards DCU as they prepare to move into their new home at Audi Field in July.

There will be plenty of eyes on Rooney in the coming days as he nears his move to MLS.

Arsenal announce Emery as new head coach

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Unai Emery has been unveiled as Arsenal’s new head coach.

The Spanish coach, 46, left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the 2017/18 season after winning the domestic treble in France but after two years with Les Parisiens he failed to take them beyond the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

So, maybe he is very well suited to Arsenal…

Emery was handed the two most-expensive signings on the planet in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and although they dazzled domestically, they were knocked out by Real Madrid in the UCL this season after their dramatic collapse to Barcelona in 2016/17.

Following a near 22-year spell in charge of the Gunners for Arsene Wenger, Emery becomes Arsenal’s first managerial appointment since 1996 as the north London club seemed set to appoint Mikel Arteta as their new coach but moved instead for the former Valencia, Sevilla and PSG boss who has won eight major trophies in Europe over the past five years.

In a statement released on the club website, Emery is delighted to have landed at the Emirates Stadium.

“I am thrilled to be joining one of the great clubs in the game. Arsenal is known and loved throughout the world for its style of play, its commitment to young players, the fantastic stadium, the way the club is run,” Emery said. “I’m very excited to be given the responsibility to start this important new chapter in Arsenal’s history. I have met Stan and Josh Kroenke and it’s clear they have great ambitions for the club and are committed to bringing future success. I’m excited about what we can do together and I look forward to giving everyone who loves Arsenal some special moments and memories.”

Arsenal’s CEO Ivan Gazidis added that Emery “plays an exciting, progressive style of football that fits Arsenal perfectly” while majority owner Stan Kroenke hailed the Spaniard as “a proven winner” who can “build on the platform created by Arsene Wenger and help this club enjoy greater success.”

Emery will speak to the media for the first time as Arsenal’s head coach on Wednesday.

And that title as the new “head coach” is telling, especially with so many new roles added within the club in recent months in terms of recruitment and a technical director.

Like Antonio Conte at Chelsea, Emery’s role at Arsenal will be clear: coach the players and make them better. That’s it.

That’s in stark contrast to Wenger’s overarching role over the past two decades and many will see the Gunners have found something of a “yes man” who will simply work with the players he is handed by the board.

Emery’s appointment has raised plenty of eyebrows but given his pedigree of leading Sevilla to three-straight Europa League titles, managing in the Champions League and winning everything in France last season with PSG, his resume speaks for itself.

Yet his reputation as a manager who is solid defensively and loves to set his teams up to counter and react to weaknesses opponents show during a game may see the Gunners add a little more stability to their fluid, passing play.

Surely that’s a good thing, but only time will tell if Emery will shine at the Emirates.