Fab Five of talkers from a huge U.S. win over Mexico

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It has come to the point now where, when talking about “signature wins under Jurgen Klinsmann,” you’ll need to be pretty specific.

Previously, we would all have circled a 1-0 result in Italy. But Wednesday’s 1-0 win in Mexico stands every bit as momentous. No, Mexico doesn’t have the World Cup trophies or global chops of Italy, but El Tri is the predominant regional rival.

The United States had never, ever won in Mexico City – but has now. Don’t underestimate the psychological impact of this one when Klinsmann and Co. inevitably return for World Cup qualifier fun.

Here are five talking points from Wednesday’s history maker at Estadio Azteca:

Outstanding defense

Distribution out of the back was nothing special, but the defending was just this side of flawless.  Considering the alarming lack of experience in this one (and that two of the foursome were playing out of position) this was a remarkably focused and tight effort.

Geoff Cameron (pictured) was the best of the foursome, dominating everything that came his way. But Edgar Castillo – let’s go with the “much-maligned” Edgar Castillo – was a wonder along the left side. He didn’t do much on the attack, but that’s not what this night was about for the outside backs. His one-on-one defending particularly stood out.

Fabian Johnson did what he needed on the right, and makeshift center back Maurice Edu channeled his inner Carlos Bocanegra and manned the right center back spot like someone who had been there for a decade.

Others with nights to be proud of:

source: Getty Images

Start with Tim Howard, whose two remarkable second half saves – one of composure and physical balance, the other of world class reflexes – helped preserve the U.S. smash-and-grab. That man continues to be one that you absolutely, positively want on your side.

How about Kyle Beckerman? I cannot for the life of me figure out why so many fans have such a problem with this guy. The RSL man has figured out exactly what Klinsmann wants from that holding midfield spot and delivers it perfectly. He finds good defensive positions and keeps the ball moving. (As opposed to Jermaine Jones, who always needs two beats to find a pass rather than Beckerman’s one.) It’s a simple game; Beckerman sees it that way.

Some that needed better:

You have to think that Jose Torres is just about out of free passes under Klinsmann. The ever-candid U.S. coach said he needed more consistency from Torres, which is code for “get it right, or we move on.”

Here’s the thing: in a game where the United States will spend most of its time on defense, the guy is lost. He tries, but he’s just not good at it, not the tracking, the tackling or interrupting of passing lanes. So then he’s left to go find the game – except that he’s not very good at that either, apparently. When the game is settled and balanced, with at least half the possession going the U.S. way, Torres serves a valuable function. Otherwise? Not so much.

Danny Williams was poor, but playing a nominal central role in a 4-3-1-2 was a big ask for the young man.

DaMarcus Beasley was better once switched to the right, but his entrance at halftime was wrought with tracking failures and inability to produce much with the ball.

Formation and tactics

A knock on Klinsmann has always been his alleged flagging tactical acumen; I’ve never been sure about that one. Personnel and program management are his forte, but I doubt he needs help sorting his wingbacks from his wide midfielders or whatever.

Either way, the U.S. coach sure nailed this one. The slightly more aggressive 4-3-1-2 wasn’t working, so they wisely downshifted into a 4-4-2 with Landon Donovan and Torres interchanging between the left and withdrawn forward spot.

Recognizing that his team wasn’t going to get much possession, the best chance of success was going to be through tight defending and good shape with the extra man in midfield, all while trying to steal a goal. Which is precisely what happened.

As for personnel, summoning Brek Shea for the 22-man roster proved a master stroke. He produced immediately, aggressively running at goal to create the scramble that Terrence Boyd helped along and Michael Orozco Fiscal put away.

(By the way, last year in Klinsmann’s U.S. debut, a 1-1 draw with Mexico, it was Shea’s aggressive dribbling along the left, just like Wednesday, that made the goal.)

Bottom line and overall assessment

The United States was generally awful in possession, but held up in defensive shape and demonstrated extraordinary belief. Everyone loves Tim Howard, and rightly so, and Geoff Cameron is progressing at international level at a pace that can only be labeled “exceptional.” Remember, he was a national team curiosity at best coming into the January camp just a few short months ago.

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”