Going down the checklist after the U.S.’s rout of Ireland

2 Comments

PORTLAND, Ore. — It was the match you’d expect when the top-ranked team in the world faces one a that’s yet to come into their own internationally, but even by those standards, it was an impressive performance from the United States. After an initial feeling out period reminiscent of an undercard’s first rounds, the States woke up, putting a 5-0 pasting on Ireland at Jeld-Wen field.

More readily Alex Morgan woke up. With goals in the 24th, 34th, and 44th minute, 2012’s leading scorer staked the team to a 3-0 halftime. A perfunctory 45 final minutes featuring two goals from Sydney LeRoux, given the U.S. a decisive victory in front of 10,092.

Morgan’s goals pushed her to 27 on the year, the third-highest single-season total in national team history.

Leroux’s double give her 12 goals off the bench, a new record.

As much as the match seemed like a mere exhibition, there were a number of areas of focus for a team whose offensive firepower has often overshadowed areas of relative concern. Drawing from PST’s preview:

1. When will the Sermanni effect be felt?

The U.S.’s new permanent coach doesn’t take over until January, but Tom Sermanni’s new team is aware: A new boss is coming in, and with that comes a new need to earn a place in the team.

For Becky Sauerbrunn, who was making her first start at left back for the national team, a new position provides a possible route into the starting lineup. Although her movements often looked like a player moving from a more comfortable, central position, the former midfielder looked as viable any option Sermanni has at his disposal.

But none of Sermanni’s style was evident tonight. There was no increase in play out of the back. The link up play through midfield was less tactical than physical. The United States were using their talents to overcome inferior opposition, an formula that’s worked thus far.

2. Is the defense improving?

It was impossible to tell. Ireland is ranked 34th in the world and didn’t threaten to qualify for Euro 2013. They’ve won one match all year. This wasn’t the team to test the U.S.’s defense.

3. [Obligatory concern about the midfield here]

As with the defense, Ireland wasn’t the team to test Lauren Cheney and Carli Lloyd. Most of the U.S. build up was through the wings, with the central midfielders’s chances to make an impact on late runs into the box.

Cheney played a crucial part in two of the goals, while Lloyd had little to do against an Ireland team that spent the match on their back foot.

4. Is Heath really a wide player?

Tonight she was. Before Morgan went on her scoring rampage, Tobin Heath was the States’ best player, creating a number of opportunities lined up against the opposition’s right back.

While most of her best efforts still suggested she’s more of a central playmaker than left winger, her defensive awareness supporting Sauerbrunn suggested she has important to offer whomever emerges as the team’s starting left back.

Taking turns with right wing Megan Rapinoe running into the space above Cheney and Lloyd, Heath provided a viable picture of her future as a starting left wing, and although Heather O’Reilly offered a counterpoint with a pinpoint cross for one of LeRoux’s goals, it’s hard to see Heath returning to a substitute’s role while playing at this level.

5. Is Portland ready for the new big time?

There were a number of reasons for Portland to produce a small crowd. A late weekend night start in cold weather against a vastly inferior opponent was hard to sell, especially with an entry-level ticket price of $38. But the Portland faith produced a five-digit crowd, something you’d think replicable with when the prices drop and the team bares the city’s name.

Overall

In the end, it’s only Ireland, and it’s still two-and-a-half years away from the team’s next major competition, But for a team that traditionally come out slow in the first of these two match set games, it was an impressive performance, even if relatively so.

Mesut Ozil lauds Arsenal’s “sexy football”

Leave a comment

Mesut Ozil and Arsenal put on a “sexy” second half display to beat Leicester City 3-1 on Monday, as the Gunners extended their winning streak to 10 games in all competitions and seven in the Premier League.

Ozil, 30, captained Arsenal and put in a silky display as he scored an equalizer right on half time, then orchestrated a thorough dismantling of Leicester’s defense in the second half.

First, his perfect through ball found Hector Bellerin who crossed for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to make it 2-1, then moments later Ozil’s clever flick sparked a flowing move into life as he then dummied a ball into the box before using the outside of his left foot to audaciously flick it into the path of Aubameyang to wrap up the win.

Arsenal’s playmaker took to social media after the game and gave a pretty accurate assessment of what went on.

“I think we played some sexy football tonight. Proud captain of this team and this club!” Ozil said.

Unai Emery handing Ozil the captains armband seems to be a bit of a masterstroke, with the German star having a tough time off the pitch over the past few months due to his ongoing dispute with the German FA after retiring from the international game following their 2018 World Cup failure.

Ozil had a slow start to the season at Arsenal and was subbed off by Emery regularly but it appears he is know the heartbeat of the Gunners attack once again and he looks hungry to lead the team who are currently on the crest of a wave. Ozil has now scored four times in his last six games for the Gunners and after signing his new contract in the summer the former Real Madrid star looks settled under Emery.

It is still too early in the season to see whether or not Ozil and Arsenal are set to mount a serious title or top four challenge but the early signs under Emery are encouraging.

Yes, defensively they are coughing up plenty of big chances and Leicester could feel aggrieved to not be handed a penalty kick but going forward Arsenal are in fine form and Ozil is the main man behind the “sexy football” which looks sharper, quicker and more dynamic under Emery.

Bolt unlikely to agree to terms with Australian club

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Usain Bolt’s search for a professional contract may go on a bit longer.

According to the Central Coast Mariners, the Australian club he’s been training with, they have extended Bolt a contract, but conceded a deal is “unlikely” “without the financial contribution of an external third-party,”

Reports across Europe state that Bolt is looking for a $3 million contract from any team he signs with, and the Mariners appear unable to meet those demands. “We are looking at ways to do this as the club does not have the luxury to be able to do this in the Hyundai A-League,” the club said in a statement. According to a report by the Guardian, the Australian football governing body has contributed $100,000 from its marketing fund for the contract, but would add no more than that.

Bolt scored twice in a friendly last week, and he’s been training with the club for the past few weeks, but the club announced that while talks are ongoing, Bolt will not travel with the team or attend training “to ensure that there is no distraction to the Hyundai A-League squad in preparing for this weekend’s match versus Melbourne City.”

The A-League side said in the statement that while Bolt is improving, the former sprinter requires further training to become a viable professional player. “Usain has made great progression during his time on the Central Coast and we feel that he will improve further with more individual intensive training and competitive game time.”

However, the club’s head coach wasn’t so complimentary. “Do you think he’ll get in our front three? We’ve got a very good front third,” Mike Mulvey said. Central Coast sports former Leeds United, Fulham, and Aston Villa striker Ross McCormack up front, alongside 26-year-old Australian international Tommy Oar and 24-year-old Connor Pain who has one cap for the international side.

Bolt doesn’t exactly have a ton of time to improve his game, already at 32 years of age and with a full Olympic-medal-winning professional sprinting career on his legs.

Man United hosts Juventus to headline Champions League Tuesday

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The stars align at Old Trafford on Tuesday as Manchester United hosts Juventus at the forefront of the Champions League slate.

Cristiano Ronaldo returns to face his old club and his old manager, while Paul Pogba also takes on his former team as the top spot in Group H is on the line. Ronaldo is back in Champions League action since September 19 when he was controversially sent off, earning a one-match suspension he served in a 3-0 win over Young Boys.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho told the players after throwing away a late lead against Chelsea to “use the anger to motivate ourselves to play a big match.” They’ll take on a Juventus team that’s slightly banged up, missing Mario Mandzukic, Emre Can and Sami Khedira all out injured. Manchester United also has its own issues, with Alexis Sanchez unavailable with Mourinho confirming he’s “not fit” although no other injury information was given.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Manchester City travels east to take on Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Group F is crowded through two matches, with City in second a point behind Olympique Lyon at the top. Kevin De Bruyne is in the squad after returning from injury over the weekend, coming off the bench for 32 minutes of Premier League play against Burnley. They’ll look to attack a Shakhtar defense that choked away a 2-0 lead against Lyon last time out. City has Kyle Walker available as well, announced as part of the matchday squad.

Bayern Munich visits AEK Athens having returned to winning ways over the weekend with a 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg. It’s a welcome sight for Niko Kovac, who was under fire for a terrible stretch of games, but now the Bavarians have a positive result to take with them on the road. Robert Lewandowski and James Rodriguez were both on the scoresheet, with the Polish international grabbing a brace.

Ajax takes on Benfica in Amsterdam as the Dutch side looks to extend its lead at the top of Group E. They’re tied with Bayern on points, but hold a slightly superior goal differential. Since falling to PSV Eindhoven in Eredivisie play, they have blown out Fortuna Sittard, AZ Alkmaar, and Heerenveen 11-0 over their last three games. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar already has 10 goals this season across all competitions, and former Southampton attacker Dusan Tadic is right behind him with 9.

Real Madrid has its best chance to turn around the poor run of play as they host Czech club Viktoria Plzen. Madrid has not won since September 22, a run of five matches that consists of four defeats. The club broke a scoreless streak of over 450 minutes last time out in a 2-1 loss to Levante, but the pressure has only increased on head coach Julen Lopetegui.

Other matches

Young Boys vs Valencia
AS Roma vs CSKA Moscow
Hoffenheim vs Lyon

Puel, Schmeichel fume at referee after Leicester loss to Arsenal

Leave a comment

While the world looked on at the performance by Mesut Ozil in awe, Leicester City manager Claude Puel and Foxes goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel were left stewing after the match at a first-half decision which they believed changed the game completely.

Had the referee awarded a penalty for a Rob Holding handball in the first half with Leicester City up 1-0, the game would likely have turned out very differently. Holding, already on a yellow card, would have likely been sent off and Leicester City would have a chance from the spot to go up 2-0.

“I think [the first half was] our best half since the beginning of the season,” Puel said after the match. “We deserved to score more goals and make the difference in the first half. I didn’t understand why the referee didn’t whistle for the penalty, because in this moment it was a penalty, it was a second yellow card and so a sending off for the Arsenal player. This situation can change the finality of the game.”

Puel said that once the call was not made, and Arsenal was able to equalize before the break, Leicester City’s level of play dropped enough for the Gunners to pounce.

“I regret a little our beginning of the second half. We lost a lot of balls and we gave them the ball too easily to put us under pressure, but we have had the chances to score and to be leading in the game with the header from Ndidi. A lot of regret in this game because we showed a lot of quality and we were not lucky with the refereeing decision.”

Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was in agreement with his manager about the key first-half decision. “We got no help from the official,” Schmeichel said. “I’ve never seen a clearer penalty. It’s tough to take because we were so good in the first half but in the second we’ve got to do a lot better than we did.”

At halftime, the replay showed the ball clearly hitting Holding’s forearm while above his head. However, the NBC studio crew argued that the penalty was not called because Holding’s arm was hit into the ball by the Leicester City attacker who attempted a header, and that although his arm was above his head, it was not in an unnatural position due to the natural human instinct to balance the body while jumping into the air.