Getting realistic about the “Chris Wondolowski to Brazil” talk

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Chris Wondolowski’s sizzling summer of international scoring has mercifully provided fans and media something to argue about during two Gold Cup clobberings, group stage mismatches that were remarkable only for the personnel-related subplots.  

And by scoring six times in three matches (including one pre-tourney friendly), Wondolowski has ginned up the ol’ resume while beginning to adjust a narrative that previously read in part, “great league player although ineffective at international level.”

So … check, check and check-arooney on all that.

What he hasn’t done is punch that magical ticket to Brazil – no matter what some of the overly excited among fans and media seem to think.

Most of the breathless, Brazil-related hyperbole is simply a product of time, place and fallible human psychology, this tendency we all have to overvalue events in the moment, simultaneously devaluing achievement that has drifted just a little further from memory.

Aside from the memory gap, the obvious point of disconnect is the relative weakness of opposition lately. Guatemala, Belize and Cuba might make for reasonable practice opposition, but they hardly represent the kind of quality competition that can test and stretch ability. Not being cruel here; these are smaller countries doing the very best they can – and even rebuilding around younger types in Guatemala’s case. Still, we cannot ignore that element of the Wondolowski conversation.

(MORE: Cheering for Wondo in the World Cup? Great! So … who do you leave out?)

What the San Jose Earthquakes high-scoring striker and current MLS Golden Boot holder has done is this: He has improved his position in the big jostle for 23 World Cup roster spots to be decided in 10 months. He has kept his name squarely in the roster conversation. And good on him.

Remember the Golden Rule about international friendlies and these tournament matches against regional small fries: No U.S. performer can truly play his way onto a World Cup roster, but he can certainly clunk his way out of the conversation. The hard reality is this: the man who cannot handle business in a highly effective way against nominal competition, especially when there is no real pressure afoot, cannot possibly be trusted when the stakes and the quality of opposition rise.

This is no knock on Wondolowski; so far it’s a clear “mission accomplished” for the likeable striker. He still has more to do, but “Wondo” has positioned himself for further chances in the tougher matches ahead, starting with Tuesday’s against Costa Rica. (Mad as hornets, those Ticos are, after the Snow Clasico in late March, where Costa Rican officials felt hard done by the decision to play through that snow storm.)

(MORE: What the U.S. striker depth chart looked like coming into the Gold Cup)

Wondolowski has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that he can pounce on defensive blunder with a brutal effectiveness, and there is certainly value to that. (Plenty of strikers cannot reliably do the same.) That has long been his forte, combining smart runs with a clinical finishing acumen to exploit even the thinnest of defensive inattention or the smallest mistake in positioning.

Trouble is, those back line boo-boos may happen once or twice a match against better defenders, not several times a half as we’ve seen lately in these U.S. matches.

There is one more element to this conversation and ongoing debate – “Wondo: Take him to Brazil or not?” – that we will take up in a subsequent post in about an half and hour. So check back.

Pogba: Brighton was “hungrier” than Man Utd

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Jose Mourinho said Manchester United was “really, really, really down” at halftime of their 3-2 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

His captain, Paul Pogba, didn’t let those vibes temper his efforts to turn the game around, though he admits his Red Devils weren’t up to the challenge.

“They had more hunger than us and the result is the right one for them,” he said.

Pogba said he was disappointed in his performance, and the team’s mentality.

From the BBC:

“I will always try. I know I lost a lot of balls which shouldn’t happen. I tried, I kept pushing, that’s my personality. I tried to help the team as much as possible. It didn’t happen today.

“Brighton prepared the game very well. Maybe we didn’t have the attitude to break them, to kill them when we had to kill them and to go through the lines. That’s a lesson we have to keep in mind.”

There have been warning bells ringing at Manchester United for some time, and Old Trafford will be a nightmare if the Red Devils don’t answer them against Spurs a week from Monday.

Pogba was far from the main problem on Sunday. He set Romelu Lukaku up for what could’ve easily been the opening goal of the game — and usually would be — with a delightful through ball, and influenced the game on several occasions aside from his converted penalty kick.

But with Fred struggling and Nemanja Matic absent, Pogba was needed more in his 2017-18 role and couldn’t dominate defensively. That’s a tall ask down 3-1, but he has to stop the match from getting to that point.

EDIT: Here’s video and some more thoughts from Pogba after the match:

“Everybody likes to play against United. Obviously they want to beat us, they want to win. We need to be more focused,” he said. “Obviously much better than today. I’m not a superhero to see the future but obviously we need to play much better than today.”

Mourinho: Man Utd was “really, really, really down” at halftime

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Many could hardly wait for Jose Mourinho to take the microphone after one of Manchester United’s worst performances under the mercurial manager.

Unless they were hoping for a small jab at referee Kevin Friend for not letting United send one more ball into the fray, Mourinho was a bit of a letdown by design.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pogba reacts ]

“When I speak of individual performances you don’t accept it,” Mourinho said on NBCSN. “The players, the pundits are very critical when I’m asked to go in that direction. I’ll be happy to analyze my players’ performances when they are good. … When I cannot do that, don’t push me to the other side.”

Mourinho also rejected any comment on United’s inability to purchase one of his center back targets.

“The window opens on the first of January. It’s closed.”

What he did say was that Brighton did not let United off the hook for a number of mistakes in the defeat at the Amex Stadium.

And he did not have a clue United would have a bad day.

“I was not expecting obviously big mistakes because we are not speaking about small mistakes,” he said. “Big mistakes, we made big mistakes and we were punished by that. There’s a normal tendency to lose a little bit of the confidence and the direction of the game plan.”

“You go into halftime where the players were really, really, really down.”

United and Mourinho could be in a huge hole if after their first Top Four test of the season next week, when the Red Devils host Spurs on Monday, Aug. 27.

With all due respect to crafty Brighton veteran forward Glenn Murray, Harry Kane would’ve had a field day on Sunday.

Manchester United baffled by Brighton

Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images
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Brighton and Hove Albion stunned a haphazard Manchester United 3-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

The win puts both teams at 1-1, with the Gulls getting goals from Glenn Murray, Pascal Gross, and Shane Duffy. Romelu Lukaku scored for United in the first half, before Marouane Fellaini drew a Paul Pogba-converted penalty.

Manchester United next meets Spurs at Old Trafford, while Brighton travels to Liverpool.

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Pogba played Romelu Lukaku through on goal, but the Belgian’s hard low strike zipped wide of the near post.

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage, and it would be a big dig for United.

Lukaku made it 2-1, rewarding for a fine first half-hour with a knockdown header from Luke Shaw‘s partially blocked shot.

But a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.

Mourinho completed his substitutions early, taking off Anthony Martial, Andreas Pereira, and Juan Mata for Marcus Rashford (HT), Jesse Lingard (HT), and Marouane Fellaini (60′).

United snapped to life with 16 minutes to play, Paul Pogba forcing Mathew Ryan into a flying parry.

But only a Fellaini-won penalty arrived deep in stoppage time, with Pogba converting his effort.

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[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Murray scores beauty as Brighton thumping Man Utd at half (video)

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Might we have an upset on our hands at the Amex Stadium?

Manchester United trails Brighton and Hove Albion on a deft goal from Glenn Murray against the run of play and a quickfire addition to the score line from Shane Duffy.

[ STREAM: Brighton-Man Utd ]

It was mostly United in the first 20 minutes before Anthony Knockaert raced onto a long ball and spun a 20-yard shot wide of David De Gea‘s far post.

Brighton did indeed take the lead through Murray, who cut in front of Victor Lindelof to flick a pretty ball from Solly March beyond De Gea.

Duffy then settled a cross in the heart of the United box before doubling Brighton’s advantage.

Lukaku answered with a headed goal, but a poor pass from David De Gea led to Eric Bailly‘s sliding challenge on Pascal Gross. He converted the penalty to make it 3-1.