PST U.S. Men’s National Team Depth Chart: Forward

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This isn’t about who we think should be at the top of the pecking order. These lists are fun, but as we discovered yesterday, Jurgen Klinsmann’s actual pecking order can be just as entertaining.

That’s the premise behind ProSoccerTalk’s U.S. Men’s National Team depth charts, which we’ll be rolling out over the next few days. If you were able to break into his office in Carson, pop the lock on his file cabinet, and find the folder that says “DEPTH CHARTS” you’d (a) say “whoa, he keeps actual depth charts,” and (b) have something similar to what we’re doing here.

We’re not trying to say where players should be. We’re trying to give our views on where they are.

Given the Jozy-ness of the news cycle, we have to start with the forwards.

1. Clint Dempsey, 29, Tottenham Hotspur (England)

We saw Dempsey’s importance last break. Lacking form after missing action with Fulham, Dempsey wasn’t himself. That didn’t dissuade Jurgen Klinsmann from selecting him. Dempsey went right into the starting XI, assuming his normal, middle-of-everything role. At the end of the match in Kingston, when the U.S. needed a goal, it was Dempsey, rust and all, who was tasked with leading the charge.

2. Herculez Gomez, 30, Santos Laguna (Mexico)

Is Gomez’s emergence the worst thing that’s happened to Jozy Altidore? The veteran attacker doesn’t have Altidore’s physical gifts, yet he’s made the greater impact in the Klinsmann era, his movement and work rate examples of what the boss is asking of from all his forwards.

Gomex has one other key advantage over Altidore: versatility. He can play wide in an attacking three, any role in an attacking two, or he can play up top on his own.

And lest we forget: He was the key player on both U.S. goals last break.

3. Jozy Altidore, 22, AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)

The current controversy needs to play out before we drop Altidore. Klinsmann certainly wants Altidore to be back in the team as soon as possible. In the interim, coach and player need to get on the same page before Klinsmann can trust Altidore with a regular place. That may happen before the team leaves for Russia in November (if the friendly with Fabio Capello’s team gets confirmed). But if the divide between player and coach isn’t resolved by November, Altidore’s place outside the team may become the new status quo.

4. Terrence Boyd, 21, Rapid Wien (Austria)

The same logic we applied to Altidore holds here. We’re not set to drop Boyd based on one omission; at least, we won’t until another player steps up. Boyd’s been called in too many times to think he’s suddenly fallen out of favor. Unlike Altidore, he’s on the stand-by list. We should trust Klinsmann when he says the Johnson and Gordon callups are about matchups. Boyd should be back in November.

5. Eddie Johnson, 28, Seattle Sounders

Given how Johnson’s played for Seattle, it would be surprising if he wasn’t higher the next time we publish this list, even if he doesn’t score this week. Everything Jozy Altidore was not doing for Klinsmann, Johnson has been doing for Sigi Schmid. His hold up play has been excellent. His off the ball movement tests defenses when he’s not in possession. Over the last month, his work defensively has been as good as any forward in Major League Soccer, including on set pieces, where he’s valuable coming back to defend on corners. If Johnson brings those qualities to the national team, he’ll win a permanent spot.

6. Alan Gordon, 30, San Jose Earthquakes

If this was Gordon’s first callup, this ranking would be unjustifiable. But he was in camp for Mexico, and although he didn’t play at Azteca, Klinsmann must have liked what Gordon brought to the squad. His aerial ability has been much-discussed since yesterday’s announcement, but Gordon’s movement and work rate are also play into his favor. And if there are two themes to this international break, they’re movement and work rate.

7. Chris Wondolowski, 29, San Jose Earthquakes

Many fans are wondering why Gordon was called in and not Wondolowski. Wondolowski is clearly close, but as Klinsmann explained, his preference for a aerial presence led him to choose Gordon. Wondolowski is good in the air, but he’s good in the same way Clint Dempsey is good. Against the opposition’s third or fourth-best aerial defender, he can do some damage. Against one of the primary markers, he’s not going to win many battles.

What Klinsmann didn’t say on Monday: Because of the makeup of the national team, it’s hard to see where Wondolowski fits anytime soon. He’s most likely to be used off the bench when the States need a goal, but in those situations, his play would clash with Clint Dempsey’s.

Wondo as a starter – as the forward that plays highest – would be different, but that means he’d have to beat out Herculez Gomez. And Eddie Johnson. And Terrence Boyd, and even Jozy Altidore.

Wondo could very well be called in, especially in January, but it’s going to be difficult for him to earn a consistent role.

8. Chris Pontius, 25, D.C. United

This is where the field starts to even out a bit, but among the many candidates for these last three spots, Pontius has the most to offer. Work rate, positional flexibility and recent results are all in his favor.

9. C.J. Sapong, 23, Sporting Kansas City

Sapong’s up to eight goals this season (after scoring five as a rookie) and brings all the characteristics that don’t make the scoresheet: size, strength, hard work, and holdup play that’s progressing.

10. Juan Agudelo, 19, Chivas USA / Teal Bunbury, 21, Sporting Kansas City

Without his injury, Bunbury would have this spot. With it, we take a wait-and-see.

Agudelo’s stock has plummeted over the last year, but he had an injury issue of his own, hurting his knee during Olympic qualifying. Still only 19, Agudelo needs a better platform at club-level. Right now, the situation at Chivas USA is doing nothing to help his national team hopes.

Big changes are expected in Carson. They might get Agudelo’s young career back on track.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.

Maradona: Argentina drawing Iceland is “a disgrace”

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It’s been a pretty trying and criticism-filled 36 hours for Lionel Messi and Argentina, and that was already true before the World Cup hero that is Diego Maradona weighed in.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

No longer are La Albiceleste simply known as the side that drew tiny Iceland — the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup — but now their efforts on Saturday have been dubbed “a disgrace” by Maradona.

It’s not so much the players whom Maradona, manager of the national team for the 2010 World Cup (quarterfinals appearance, beaten 4-0 by Germany), has gone after, but current boss Jorge Sampaoli for his lack of a proper gameplan befitting the opponent. As for Messi, who failed to convert a critical penalty kick, Maradona has absolved the Barcelona superstar of much of the blame — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s a disgrace. Not having prepared for the match knowing that Iceland are all [6-foot-3] tall.”

“I get the feeling there’s an anger at the heart of the team.”

“I don’t blame the players. I could blame the lack of work rate. But I can’t blame the players, much less Messi, who gave it all he had,” said Maradona.

“I missed five penalties on the spin and I was still Diego Armando Maradona. I don’t think that they dropped two points because Messi missed a penalty.”

England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

WATCH: World Cup, Day 5 — England, Belgium enter the fray

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The weekend might be all but over, but that doesn’t mean that 2018 World Cup action is slowing down anytime soon.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Monday, in fact, will be quite the opposite, as Group G giants — and a pair of popular dark horse picks — Belgium and England make their debut in Russia, taking on Panama and Tunisia, respectively.

Following Germany’s 1-0 loss to Mexico on Sunday, Group F is currently turned upside down on its head. Sweden and South Korea, who’ll face off in the day’s opener, are even more hopeful now than prior to the start of the tournament.

Below is Monday’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 – Monday, June 18

Group F
Sweden vs. South Korea: Nizhny Novgorod, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group G
Belgium vs. Panama: Sochi, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Tunisia vs. England: Volgograd, 2 p.m. ET –LIVE COVERAGE