What we learned from Wednesday’s U.S. loss to Honduras in World Cup qualifying

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Final round World Cup qualifying is off to the rockiest of starts, and the disillusionment with U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will surely reach critical mass after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Honduras.

Overall, the United States was on its way to managing out a 1-1 draw, which would have been a satisfactory result. But what could have been a routine defensive play in the back fell apart in spectacularly and well …

Here’s what we can take away from the match in hot and humid San Pedro Sula:

Why the loss hurts:

As we’ve said before, a loss on the road in World Cup qualifying is hardly a deal-killer. Nine matches remain, including five at home, where the United States has been next to unbeatable through the last few qualifying cycles.

But the final round qualifying schedule, which fell so unfavorably to the United States, adds pressure. Consider that the United States may well lose its next match road match, at Mexico. That makes the March 22 contest at home (in Denver) against Costa Rica an absolute must have victory for Klinsmann and Co.

Otherwise, the United States could go into final round Match Day 4 with zero wins. That would be very, very bad.

(MORE: Which U.S. men needed to be better)

The bold linecup selection that backfired:

You can’t say Klinsmann is afraid of changes or bold gambits. Lots of them, in fact, especially considering such a short camp to rehearse the adjustments. Jozy Alitdore’s inclusion at striker over the usually preferred Herculez Gomez fell as a surprise.

Same for Eddie Johnson as a starter, once again nominally along the left, as we saw toward the end of semifinal qualifying.  But none of the changes ticked the shocker box like the eye-catching choice across the back line. Klinsmann adjudged that the future was now in making a brave switcharoo: captain Carlos Bocanegra took a seat on the bench as Omar Gonzalez was blooded in the harshest of CONCACAF environments in his first World Cup qualifier appearance.

Gonzalez, of course, just came off his first extended U.S. camp. On Honduras’ goal, it wasn’t so much that Gonzalez was in there; the problem was more about someone not taking charge. Had Bocanegra been there, perhaps communication – so important from the center backs in a flat four defense – would have been sharper and catastrophe could have been dodged.

(MORE: Discussing the Carlos Bocanegra/Omar Gonzalez switch)

Lots of blame to go around on the winning goal:

Tim Howard is everyone’s hero, but he didn’t do well on the home team’s game-winner. Bottom line there, if the U.S. goalkeeper comes for that ball, he’s as to get it. Period.

Meanwhile, Geoff Cameron needed to clear the danger. Period. Even if Howard was screaming for it – we may know more later after hearing from the U.S. men – no one would fault Cameron for putting that menacing, sneaky little through ball somewhere into urban San Pedro Sula.

And then there was Gonzalez caught ball watching rather than tracking behind the play.

Credit to Honduras’ Oscar Boniek Garcia, the Houston Dynamo jitterbug attacker for his committed work to create that goal. But from the U.S. side, that goal in three words: What a mess.

(MORE: Klinsmann addresses the loss)

The formation:

Klinsmann lined up his team in a modified 4-4-2, with Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson sometimes swapping positions, striker for left-sided midfielder.

The United States did a reasonable job of pressing up high, as a unit, which is the only way to make that effective, of course. On the other hand, getting the ball back doesn’t help much if you can’t do much with it.

The U.S. passing out of the back: pedestrian.

The U.S. passing in midfield: uninspired.

Still, strategically, the United was managing out a solid, tactical match in hot and humid conditions. (So debilitating that Klinsmann had used all three subs by the 66th minute.) The visitors sat deep and waited for chances, like the 29th minute hook-up between Johnson on the left and Jozy Altidore, who needed just a little more separation from his defender to get a little better effort on goal.

No, the Americans didn’t create a bucket full of chances, and Honduras had far more possession. But neither did the home team bother Howard often. Well, except for …

(MORE: Missing Landon Donovan. A lot)

Bad defending on the first Honduras goal, too:

We saw shades of USMNT 2012 on the Hondurans first half goal. The overhead kick finish by Juan Carlos Garcia was wonderful, no doubt, and all credit for getting his team back into the match with something truly special. But it should not have gotten there.

The marking and inability to organize and react quickly after the initial corner kick clearance is disappointing at best, perhaps inexcusable for a team that wants to be at a higher level. It might be tempting to say this is what you get from having two inexperienced center backs, but the fact is that goals were allowed in 2012 where the same missing element (failure to organize quickly after a restart) was in play.

Klinsmann warned that it was all about being competitive, vigilant and alert. His men were anything but as Maynor Figueroa was uncontested to chest down a ball 14 yards from goal, arranging Garcia’s equalizer.

Jermaine Jones good, Jermaine Jones bad:

Dempsey’s first half goal was great stuff, a clever run to match a precise, technical finish. But it was only the punctuation mark on a great sentence, so to speak, one written by midfielder Jermaine Jones.

Jones is among the chief whipping boys of U.S. fans, and for good reason. Klinsmann loves him some Jones for the infectious warrior spirit and ability to inspire that fearlessness in others. But the man’s technical ability and speed of play kills the United States possession time and again. It certainly did on plenty of occasions Wednesday.

Klinsmann contends that Jones has game-changing passes in him, and the Schalke man showed it for one very important moment in San Pedro Sula, arranging Dempsey spectacularly with the best U.S. pass of the afternoon.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match Wednesday in San Pedro Sula)

Transfer rumors: Willian, Alderweireld to Manchester United

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The transfer rumor mill is picking up steam this Monday, including some persistent whispers regarding two Premier League players with possible futures at Old Trafford.

Both of these make a lot of sense.

[ MORE: Nashville hires ex-Liverpool CEO ]

A day after Nemanja Matic stressed the need for experienced players at United, two good fits hit the rumor mill (again).

Matic’s old Chelsea pal Willian has interest from United if he seeks a way out of London — which seems likely — where he’s said to be ready to go if Antonio Conte remains as manager.

Then there’s Toby Alderweireld, whose been very strong at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur but reportedly fallen out with current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

During a rut, the Tottenham manager claimed that Alderweireld was held out of Spurs’ lineup due to the form of the players in front of him.

Also from Sky, we’ll leave this quote from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the idea of possibly selling Kylian Mbappe.

Al-Khelaifi told Canal+: “You want me to give you a number? More than €1bn! Yes, I said one billion! And even if you gave me a billion, I wouldn’t sell him.”

Pogba: Mourinho “made me progress in leadership”

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Paul Pogba says “we are never sure of anything but contractually, it’s sure” that he’ll remain at Manchester United.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from United’s most expensive transfer purchase, as many have linked him with a move away from Old Trafford.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

He also said he’s not worried about his relationship with United boss Jose Mourinho, and pointed out that his problems and growth in Manchester are a natural part of a player’s progression. From Sky Sports:

“There were times where I wasn’t playing, I was on the bench. There was a lot of talk, people thought it wasn’t working out,” Pogba added.

“But a coach and a player don’t have to be best friends, we don’t have to go to restaurants together. I had a few little problems too… football is sometimes all about the mental side. He put me on the bench and I gave my response on the pitch. I always give everything I’ve got.

“He made me progress in leadership. I had the armband with Mourinho, it was the first time in a club, it’s important for me, it makes me grow to be also a leader in the France team.”

In a candid talk, the 25-year-old Pogba was asked about Paris Saint-Germain and told French television that he’d be open to representing the club in the future despite the fact that his parents are Marseille supporters.

Moore takes hold of West Brom’s promotion bid

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Darren Moore‘s spell as West Brom caretaker manager couldn’t quite pull off a miraculous run to Premier League safety, but the promise it contained has helped him to the first chance at earning promotion back to the top flight.

West Bromwich Albion announced Moore as its new manager on Monday, with the boss promising his Baggies would play attractive football while also being a side “that’s willing to fight and scrap for every ball.”

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

Moore is also happy to carry a flame for minority coaches — called BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) — in England.

“If it does inspire others, I would be extremely proud,” he said. “I don’t just speak on behalf of BAME coaches but the young, aspiring British coaches across the board.”

Moore, 44, only lost one of his six PL matches as WBA boss, winning three times and inspiring many to wonder what would’ve happened had the Baggies’ pulled the plug on Alan Pardew — and Tony Pulis before him — earlier.

A center back in his playing career, Moore spent 18 seasons between a number of clubs including West Brom, Derby County, and Doncaster Rovers. He won promotion as a player twice with West Brom, and again with Derby.

Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan

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BRUSSELS (AP) Belgium left midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of its World Cup squad despite a standout season with Champions League semifinalist Roma.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has long had a difficult relationship with the stormy midfielder. But after being called up for a warm-up game in March against Saudi Arabia, expectations had been that he would be on the 28-man roster announced Monday.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

On top of the troubled relationship, Nainggolan was also the victim of the unparalleled wealth of talent the small nation has produced over the past few years.

Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were all named in the squad, which will be cut to 23 before the World Cup.