Defining success: Does the U.S. have to make the leap at World Cup 2014?

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Win the World Cup. Develop the American Lionel Messi. Use The Beautiful Game to solve world hunger, and distribute the solution across the galaxy in Neil Degrasse Tyson’s upsetting space sliver. Those are the standards the mainstream sports public has set for soccer’s success in the United States, conveniently setting the bar too high to justify their consistent commitment. With a semifinal run in Brazil, the more patriotic NFL fans might reconsider; more realistically, 2014’s not going to meet those lofty goals.

More rational goals would consider the context of this year’s tournament. Where is the U.S. in its development? What are its goals? What does history tell us about realistic expectations, and most importantly, what obstacles does the team have to overcome? Being oblivious to these factors and defining success the same way you would USA Basketball’s doesn’t even work for baseball, anymore. As soccer fans know, on the men’s side ,the U.S. needs more pragmatic goals.

From a more level-headed perspective, there are a number of ways the U.S. can succeed next month, all of which come down to the same idea that led the  team to bring Jurgen Klinsmann in three years ago: Progress. Is the program getting closer to being competitive with the world’s elite? Are the players being selected, trained, and played in a way that promotes that growth? If the U.S. can’t realistically expect to win the World Cup in 2014, is it at least building for a day when it can?

That’s a lot of questions, something that’s expected when assessing a program in transition. Regardless, this program is very much in transition. The World Cup is just the latest, biggest test of that process, with the team’s response to its difficult group defining whether the 2014 finals can be deemed a success.

Those questions:

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U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati replaced Bob Bradley with Jurgen Klinsmann after the 2011 Gold Cup, sparking the program’s transition.

Where is the U.S. in its development?

Jurgen Klinsmann’s hire was a tacit confession the team needed to go in another direction. To expect it to be at its destination in three years is too much. To this point, the team’s shown progress, but the goals for World Cup 2014 are still defined by the program’s long-term objectives.

That doesn’t mean going farther than 2010. Whereas the draw for South Africa gave the U.S. one of the easiest draws in since the tournament expanded to 32 teams (1998), “Group of Death”  has been thrown around (perhaps lazily) in connection with this year’s draw. As Klinsmann’s contract extension attests, the federation knows the team can both show progress and fail to make the second round.

What are its goals?

There are a number of them, but they all come down to one concept. The team needs to be on the same level as the Germanys and Portugals of the world – top 10 teams who happen to be drawn into the U.S.’s quartet in Brazil.This is about more than one-off wins like the U.S. experienced against Spain in 2009. It’s about consistently being though of as one of the world’s better teams – something that’s not going to happen over the next six weeks.

If that comes, that means the U.S. will be dominating CONCACAF. It’ll be consistently churning out higher levels of talent. The pipeline to the national team will extend not only to a strong MLS but to a few of the best teams in Europe. The U.S. will be dominating Gold Cups and making an impact at Confederations Cups. It will be consistent quarterfinal-threat at World Cups.

Another run to a final eight would make the tournament a success, but it wouldn’t mean the U.S.’s goals are accomplished. Klinsmann was brought in to build something sustainable; not merely reach a World Cup mark. This summer is another test of that sustainability, but it’s not the only measure of success.

RELATED: World Cup news, analysis from Soccerly

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DaMarcus Beasley (L) was part of the team that made the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. He and Landon Donovan, both 20-year-olds in Japan/South Korea, are hoping to make their fourth World Cups.

What does history tell us about realistic expectations? 

The U.S. made a semifinal in 1930: Important but ancient history. In the modern era (one that started with Paul Caligiuri’s goal in Port of Spain) the U.S.’s quarterfinal run under Bruce Arena in 2002 is the reference point. Fans that have persisted over the last 12 years want that magic back.

There is some reason to think it could return. Germany is clearly the group’s favorites, yet Portugal, despite their lofty FIFA ranking (three), is beatable. Though many have focused on the U.S.’s trouble matching up with Cristiano Ronaldo, the team didn’t have an obvious answer to Luis Figo, either. One-on-one match ups make great headlines, but they don’t always define games.

This year’s Portugal team is no more talented than the one that failed in 2002. Whether the U.S. is as talented as its 2002 entry is another debate. Regardless, just as the last 12 years have shown the team’s win over the Selaccao in Suwon didn’t catapult the program, one result in Brazil won’t be a litmus test, either. More realistically: There are better tests of U.S. success than one group stage result.

Obstacles does the team have to overcome?

The better test is how the team performs over the body of the tournament, and how that reflects on the program’s bigger goals. That isn’t as easy as latching onto a “did we actually win this time” standard, but it is a better predictor of the team’s future. Win, lose, or draw, if the U.S. plays well against Germany, Ghana, and Portugal, the tournament can be seen as a success.

Granted, those quick to reference 2004’s performance won’t think so, but in Germany and Portugal, the U.S. is facing two teams better than anybody that lined up against Bob Bradley’s team in South Africa. One day, the U.S. will be at the point where the bottom line is the only goal, but while big-picture progress is the main objective, the results can be more subtle.

source: AP
U.S. success at Brazil 2014 will likely be determined by how it competes against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. (Photo: AP Photo.)

So what does a successful tournament look like?

Beating Ghana is probably a must. Soccer can offer strange, mitigating scenarios (as the Ghanaians surely know), but it will be difficult for the team to claim progress if it can’t break through against a Ghana side weaker than its 2006 and 2010 models.

The Germany game? The U.S. has a chance, but against teams at that level — the rarefied air taken in by Argentina, Brazil, Spain as well as the Germans — few are expected to win, particularly at a World Cup. Even if the U.S. is blown out by the Germans, many will likely to chalk that up to the immense collection of talent Klinsmann helped build.

It’s the battle in between those two games that could define U.S. success. If the U.S. can’t compete with Portugal, the team won’t have an argument to make. People will look back to how the team performed against England and Ghana four years ago and ask whether the U.S. is better off now. While Paulo Bento’s group is talented, the team is not worlds above where the U.S. should be.

Regardless, progress will be about more than the final result. If the U.S. performs to its potential, it should be able to challenge for second in the group. In the process, the team will continue building a program that makes 2002 more than a one-off.

Perhaps that coveted semifinal run won’t happen this summer, but this summer’s progress could lay the foundation for a 2016 breakthrough.

Leyton Orient announce COVID-19 positives, stadium closure before Tottenham game

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Leyton Orient have issued a statement after multiple first team players tested positive for COVID-19 and they’ve been forced to shut their training ground and stadium just one day before they were due to host Premier League giants Tottenham.

The fourth-tier club were due to play Tottenham in the League Cup third round on Tuesday but that game is now in severe doubt and the east London club (located 11 miles from Tottenham’s home stadium) said they will be announcing more details in due course about what will happen.

Here is the Leyton Orient statement in full about their current situation:

“Following our game on Saturday 19th September, COVID-19 testing was conducted on all of our first team playing squad. Today (Monday 21st) we received formal confirmation which shows that a number of our first-team squad have tested positive for COVID-19. We have informed the EFL and Tottenham Hotspur and will make a further announcement regarding Tuesday’s match shortly.

“We have also informed Mansfield Town, Plymouth Argyle and Oldham Athletic, our three most recent opponents, prior to the public release of this information. Leyton Orient’s priority is the health and well-being of its players and staff. Those who have tested positive will now strictly follow government self-isolation guidelines. The Breyer Group Stadium and training ground facilities will be closed until further notice. At this time, the club will make no further comment.”

The problem here is that Tottenham don’t have any other available dates to play this game.

With their Premier League and UEFA Europa League qualifying commitments, Tottenham are already stretched to the limits and this game at Leyton Orient is one of four games in seven days for Jose Mourinho’s side.

The rules also state that if a team cannot fulfil the fixture due to COVID-19 positive tests, they will have to forfeit and Tottenham will move on. Leyton Orient are a small team who Harry Kane, a former loanee, has helped raised money for and there’s a very good relationship between the two clubs. This game was also due to be broadcast on TV in the UK and would have helped Leyton Orient out financially at a time when fans still aren’t allowed into stadiums in large numbers. These positive tests have now put all of that in doubt.

Lower league teams will run into similar issues like this when it comes to the FA Cup too, as testing is less prevalent and regulated lower down the professional pyramid in England. EFL clubs are only mandated to test their players during every international break and have stopped testing players twice a week. That has led to Premier League clubs paying for their lower-league League Cup opponents to be tested before games. In this case, multiple Leyton Orient players have tested positive.

Mourinho: Bale could return from injury quicker due to desire

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Bale injury update: So, Tottenham fans would be hoping that a Gareth Bale injury update wouldn’t be coming soon but he is nursing a knee injury he picked up on international duty earlier this month.

Judging by their 5-2 win at Southampton on Sunday, Tottenham will be just fine in attack without the Welsh star they’ve signed on loan from Real Madrid for the 2019-20 season. There is no reason for him to rush back, especially considering his recent history with injuries.

That said, Mourinho is hopeful that Bale can return from injury quicker due to that trust remedy: desire.

“I don’t know when Gareth can be back,” Mourinho said on a Bale injury update. “The only thing that I know is that the motivation is high, he is so happy to be with a club of his heart, he is so happy to play for us and when a player has this motivation, many, many times you can shorten the period of recovering and shorten the period of getting fit and ready to play and we want to help him. So when he is available to train with the team, we are more than happy to have him and to be back to a level that [is] maybe one of the best players in the world.”

This is textbook Mourinho.

It has been noted many, many times that he hates players missing games due to injury and is less than sympathetic when someone is in the treatment room.

This seems like a challenge to Bale, 31, to prove just how much he wants to be back at Tottenham after spending the last seven seasons at Real Madrid. ‘Oh, you want to be back here? Prove it. Patch yourself up and be ready for next week.’ That will definitely probably be Mourinho’s chat with Bale next week.

There is no reason to risk Bale right now but when he is fit, having him play alongside Harry Kane and Heung-min Son in attack is a mouthwatering prospect for Mourinho and Tottenham. Their counterattacking prowess was clear for all to see in the second half at Southampton on Sunday and a fired up and fit Bale will add a lot to this attack.

Hurry up and get that dose of desire rubbed onto your knee, Gareth…

Leicester impressive again in 4-2 win over Burnley

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Leicester – Burnley saw Leicester City flex a bit of muscle en route to a mostly comfortable, yet somewhat thrilling, 4-2 victory at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

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Harvey Barnes, Dennis Praet and James Justin scored the goals for Leicester, plus an own goal from Erik Pieters, as Brendan Rodgers’ side made it two wins from two games to start their 2020-21 Premier League campaign.


3 things we learned: Leicester – Burnley

1. Leicester back for another crack at top-four: It’s only two games, admittedly, but Leicester have the look of a side out to prove that their late-season collapse, which saw them fall from third to fifth in the final five games of the 2019-20 season, was very much an aberration. Rodgers’ men hardly ever looked worried as they cruised to a win against last season’s 10th-place finishers.

2. Foxes firepower: Leicester managed to score four goals without a single one of them coming from Jamie Vardy, who bagged 23 last season. James Maddison only made his return from injury on Sunday as well, lending credence to the notion this is far from a one-man team as has, to a degree, been an issue in the past. They might not actually finish inside the top-four this season, but they have the look of a side with plenty of staying power.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements: Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.


Wood got the scoring started in Leicester – Burnley after just 10 minutes, with equal parts brute force and delicate touch. Charlie Taylor floated a cross to the back post, where Wood was waiting and battling for positioning with a defender. He managed to create a half-yard of space to allow for chest control and a quick, but difficult, finish from the corner of the six-yard box.

Jamie Vardy was instrumental in Leicester’s equalizer 10 minutes later, though hardly the typical manner in which he contributes to goals scored. Vardy latched onto a forward ball in an attempt to split the center backs, but was ultimately forced wide and to hold the ball up. He cut it back to Castagne, who played it on to Barnes for the far-post finish.

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Leicester’s second goal was more a product on constant pressure than exquisite, incisive chance creation, but the ball hitting the back of the net counts all the same. Castagne overlapped down the right flank and hit a cross for Vardy as he streaked past the penalty spot. Erik Pieters wasn’t tight enough to Castagne to deny the cross, only to redirect it past the wrong-footed Nick Pope.

The Foxes’ third goal, however, was the result of a free-flowing attack involving a handful of blue shirts along the way. It ended with Ayoze Perez playing the ball across the penalty area and left back James Justin slotting home for his first PL goal in the 61st minute.

It was Justin who was beaten by Jimmy Dunne as he rose highest to bag a goal on his PL debut 12 minutes later, giving Burnley a brief glimmer of hope. 

It didn’t last long, though, as Dennis Praet bagged a stunning fourth goal for Leicester in the 79th minute. Barnes picked up the assist to go with his earlier goal, but it was Praet’s powerful finish that will get all of the headlines, and deservedly so.

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Klopp reaction on Thiago debut, Fabinho; loved ‘perfect’ Liverpool’s hunger

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The Klopp reaction from Chelsea v. Liverpool was full of smiles and laughs as he called the win ‘perfect’ in every way.

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Jurgen Klopp is a happy, happy man. He usually is, but his side took care of a much talked about Chelsea with minimal fuss at Stamford Bridge on Sunday to make it two wins from two this season for the reigning Premier League champions.

Sure, Andreas Christensen’s sending off right on half time shaped the game but so too did the hunger of Sadio Mane to strike twice early in the second half to secure the win.

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A penalty save from Alisson and a debut for Thiago Alcantara made Klopp even happier and as long as captain Jordan Henderson didn’t suffer a serious injury, he said the trip to Chelsea could not have gone better.

Thiago debut showcases why he was bought?

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk after the game via a Zoom call, we asked for the Klopp reaction on Thiago Alcantara’s debut display and if it underlined exactly why he was signed from Bayern Munich.

Thiago came on at half time and completed 75 passes in 45 minutes, a new Premier League record, as the Spanish international slotted in superbly and allowed Liverpool to dictate the tempo of the game against an opponent which sat back deep and was only focusing on defending.

“We signed Thiago for different reasons and only one of them is against deep defending sides. We improved in that department a lot, I have to say, with all of the players who were already there before. But, yes, it is something that suits him. It is natural to him. I like that. Of course it is good. It is one reason of a lot,” Klopp said.

Fabinho dazzles as a stand-in center back; Jurgen Klopp reaction

ProSoccerTalk also asked Klopp about Fabinho’s display, as the Brazilian switched from his usual position of holding midfield to center back due to injuries to Joe Gomez and Joel Matip.

“Fabinho, yes! If Sadio wouldn’t have scored two goals then I think Fab would have been a proper contender for Man of the Match!” Klopp smiled. “I loved his performance, he played outstandingly well. He helped us a lot, with the ball and in defending as well. A proper performance.”

With Thiago arriving in midfield, Fabinho at center back could be something we see a lot more of this season, especially as Gomez and Matip have a nasty knack of picking up small injuries consistently.

Liverpool send out a message

Klopp admitted that his team are only focused on the three points each week, but when asked about making a statement early in the season by winning at a Chelsea side who has spent over $250 million on new players, the Liverpool boss raved about the performance of his side.

“I liked the performance a lot. We are not playing for two things, for three points and then showing everybody you ‘better be ready when we arrive’ or something. That’s not us,” Klopp said. “The next game will be incredibly difficult for their own reasons because Arsenal is obviously flying since a few months already, it is going to be really tough.

“For ourselves, and that we feel the way we play, with adaptations and improvements, with development, that made us successful and will make us successful if we really throw it consistently on the pitch. This Chelsea game away will, for the next 500 years, be one of the most difficult games you can ever play and it will become even more difficult now when all things things are settled for Chelsea. That is clear. For today, it was difficult enough but we did it and I’m happy enough.”