Initial take-aways from U.S. win over Jamaica in World Cup qualifying

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KANSAS CITY — The United States clinched first place Friday in CONCACAF final round qualifying out of the region with a 2-0 win over Jamaica, the final World Cup qualifier at home until the process begins anew before World Cup 2018.

Some early thoughts on Friday’s match at Sporting Park:

Credit the U.S. for digging up some urgency

I saw a couple of Twitter pals who thought the United States lacked urgency … and I don’t exactly disagree. Then again, trying to manufacture urgency is tricky business; generally speaking, it’s either there or it isn’t.

In that regard, you’d have to call a wonderful fall night at Sporting Park (another great, loud crowd there) a victory in more ways than one for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men. One of Klinsmann’s larger goals was to create a more aggressive mindset throughout the program. Part and parcel is handling teams in friendlies and in these less meaningful matches – and Jamaica is a team that the United States has regularly handled at home.

The first 60 minutes? Meh. Not much to shout about for the United States. But credit to Klinsmann for a couple of subs that worked out, and to his team for eventually sorting out the midfield and continuing to probe aggressively for channels through the Jamaican back line.

The breakthrough finally came thanks to local lad Graham Zusi (the place nearly came apart when Zusi found the far post in the 76th minute). There was a lot of good work from quite a few U.S. men in that one.

The Jamaicans were pretty much done at that point. The rest was just playing it out, seeing whether the final score would land on 2-0 or 3-0 or wherever.

It took the Americans awhile … but Klinsmann and Co. did ultimately locate that urgency he has worked so hard to create.

Did someone play their way out of roster contention?

In at least one way, this was like a U.S. friendly: the match was mostly about fine-tuning and, from the most practical standpoint, about individual assessment. As I always say with friendlies, the athletes cannot really play their way onto a World Cup team with plum performance in matches that don’t really matter – but they can sure play their way off.

You have to wonder this evening about Alejandro Bedoya.

Bedoya is solidly on the bubble and he was front and center among the brigade who needed a big night at Sporting Park. But the place turned into a mini-house of horrors for Bedoya, who did little right in the first half and was only slightly better after the break.

Klinsmann knows as well as anyone: if a guy cannot do it on a wonderful Friday night with nothing on the line, can he be trusted when it’s all on the line in soccer’s ultimate pressure cooker, a World Cup?

The U.S. back line held up

It’s a little hard to make much of this, as Jamaica’s attack lacks much structure and polish. Generally speaking, the visitors just weren’t very good. That said, Brad Evans and DaMarcus Beasley did well in handling Jamaica’s speed on the flanks.

And centrally, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron were on the job in their first time together as a central pairing. The one nit-pick on Cameron: his passing over longer distances rarely found their targets.

That’s perhaps a product of his playing right back at Stoke, and working with the different angles that come from that spot.

Wondering about Jozy Altidore

Another U.S. man who didn’t have his best night: Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore. He did score toward the end, and maybe that will help him shake the Black Cats funk.

This was always a concern, that he would go to a less-stable situation at Sunderland and watch his game fall to pieces.

There’s plenty of time for a rally. It’s just such a darn shame to see all the good work of the summer more or less evaporate. Altidore is still a good striker – he’s just not a confident striker at the moment. And that’s a problem for the men paid to score goals.

(MORE: 10 quick halftime thoughts from U.S.-Jamaica qualifier)

Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

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Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

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MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

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