Klinsmann’s USMNT struggles, experimentation in friendlies: Does it really matter?

6 Comments

Here are some educated opinions I think most would agree with:

– The United States men’s national team as constructed is neither a favorite nor a significant threat to win a major tournament with the world’s best teams.

– The United States has not had answers in defense against top-end FIFA competition for a long time.

– The international soccer calendar and community puts an undue emphasis on friendlies regardless of who comprises each team’s roster.

– FIFA rankings are largely for the birds.

So as much as I’ve rolled my eyes as the USMNT’s back line has been foraged for snacks by the likes of Nicklas Bendtner, Robbie Brady and Mark Gonzalez, none of whom will be mistaken for the ghost of Josef Bican, I have to wonder if these losses — 3-2 to Denmark, 3-2 to Chile, 4-1 to Ireland (yuck) — should represent anything other than a concern at the lack of US youth readiness for the big stage.

[ MORE: Klinsmann explains roster, lineup strategy ]

This is not to excuse Jurgen Klinsmann, whose job it is to get the players ready for the big stage, but rather a brief pause from the “We look terrible! We’re slipping down the FIFA board again!” talk that’s filled comment boards and media spaces across the nation.

The fact of the matter is that as much as Jesse Marsch calls for “an identity” and others tear into Klinsmann, we are learning just how unfit or fit some players are for true and important competition headed its way this summer. If Timmy Chandler, John Anthony Brooks or Alfredo Morales look awful in a friendly against Denmark or Switzerland, then they certainly shouldn’t be given the chance to help the States defend its Gold Cup title this summer.

Does any player who played significant minutes as a fixture in a World Cup that Klinsmann is proud of need to prove themselves by leaving their club for this break? Does Mix Diskerud or any other player whose shone for the States recently need to leave their club in speculative friendlies? Chris Wondolowski shared the lead for goals at the 2013 Gold Cup. Does he need to be taken from San Jose to prove he can probably score a goal this summer by working Denmark’s backline for 15 minutes?

Klinsmann has looked largely calm during these matches, if not happy, and while it’s easy to use his quotes in vacuum to lambaste his logic — whatever he says, his team wasn’t close to being good against Denmark — if he’s told his superiors that these matches aren’t about results rather experience, doesn’t that make a bit of sense?

[ MORE: US U-23s thump BNH, 5-2 ]

I’m not saying I have faith in Klinsmann. That’s another story altogether. Nor am I saying you need to enjoy watching young defenders look like Sunderland vs. Southampton late last year. But if the path the side is taking during this and previous breaks is to see whether their young players are ready to play significant roles, I understand that philosophy. I don’t need to see Geoff Cameron, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman or Matt Besler every international break. I do, however, need to know if Alfredo Morales (nope), Ventura Alvarado (too soon to tell) or Greg Garza (maybe) is ready to compete with them for meaningful playing time in a legit competition.

And the fact remains that this was a European-based break during the early stages of the MLS season in a window where Klinsmann has already criticized MLS offseason fitness. Come April and the U.S. hosted ame against Mexico, if Klinsmann is calling in loads of European players like Morales, Tim Ream and Ale Bedoya at a critical juncture in their seasons over Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Perry Kitchen (DC United) and Lee Nguyen (New England), then we’re going to have words.

Of course, all of this feels good on the Saturday between matches. If Morales gets walked around and destroyed by Xherdan Shaqiri come Wednesday because Klinsmann thinks he should get another chance, then maybe we have things to discuss. I kid… mostly.

Rumblings that Real Madrid has contact with Jose Mourinho

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Madrid sits second in the La Liga table and has only just lost its first league match of the season, but manager Zinedine Zidane is reportedly already on the hot seat.

With a loss to Mallorca this weekend adding to a pair of Champions League disappointments to start group stage play, Zidane’s status is in question. While there is nothing from the more concrete sources, Spanish tabloids have begun to whisper that the club has been in contact with former manager Jose Mourinho, as Florentino Perez has flirted multiple times with returning the Portuguese boss to the Spanish capital over the last 12 months.

El Churingito reports that with Zidane under pressure, Perez has reached out to Moruinho to judge his interest in the position. The two have a history, with Mourinho taking charge of the side from 2010-2013 before a mutual split after what Mourinho called “the worst [season] of my career.” The reports state that Mourinho has a great relationship with Perez which could convince him to return. Rumors of his return are not new, as two months ago another tabloid report claimed an eventual reunion was possible.

Mourinho has been out of the game since he left Manchester United in December, serving as a pundit in a number of different capacities. At Old Trafford, Mourinho was unable to help the Red Devils return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, plagued by negative tactics and inconsistent results.

This season, Madrid has fallen victim to poor defending and a lack of finishing. Luka Jovic has not enjoyed a flying start to his Madrid career, while Gareth Bale again has found himself injured. Raphael Varane was benched for the Mallorca match in favor of Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal was rested, but a seventh minute Lago Junior goal was enough to down the giants. Carvajal’s stand-in Alvaro Odriozola was sent off in the 74th minute, making things even more difficult. With the club failing to win either of its first two European matches against PSG and Club Brugge, the pressure has risen on Zidane despite his past successes with the club.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.

 

Serie A: Lukaku brace helps Inter win shootout, AC Milan caught late

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Inter Milan kept pace with Juventus atop the Serie A table with an exciting 4-3 win on the road at Sassuolo. Romelu Lukaku scored a brace, as did Lautaro Martinez to go up 4-1 with 20 minutes to go, although the visitors nearly coughed up the big lead.

Martinez opened the scoring just two minutes in with a far-post snipe, but Domenico Berardi leveled things back up before the 20-minute mark. Lukaku put Inter back in front on 38 minutes, taking a feed down the center from Stefan de Vrij and posting up Federico Peluso before producing a strong turn and finish. He hit again from the penalty spot just after halftime after Martinez was hauled down in the box, and the Argentinian got his second also from the spot on 71 minutes to go three goals in front. The win moved Inter back to just a point behind leaders Juve.

Krzysztof Piatek struck in the 81st minute to seemingly rescue AC Milan, but Lecce hit back in the 92nd minute to earn a 2-2 draw at the San Siro. Goals from Hakan Calhanoglu and Khouma Babacar had cancelled each other out by the hour mark, but Piatek was on hand to bag his third of the season after Calhanoglu did the hard work down the right. Marco Calderoni was on hand to pip the hosts, however, with a last-gasp strike from distance that found the back of the net and gave AC Milan yet another disappointing result, having won just once in its last five games.

Roma was held to a scoreless draw on the road at Sampdoria, with Justin Kluivert seeing red on a pair of cautions and leaving the visitors to finish the match with 10 men. Roma held 65% possession throughout the match, but managed just a single shot on target amid their nine efforts. Edin Dzeko began the match on the bench, and while he came on at halftime, he did little to change Roma’s fortunes. The draw leaves Roma with just one win over its last four matches, sitting sixth in table, nine points back of the top.

Parma hammered Genoa 5-1 behind a hat-trick from Danish international Andreas Cornelius. The 26-year-old came on in the 12th minute for an injured Roberto Inglese and scored all three goals in an eight-minute stretch that bracketed halftime. The second was a vicious half-volley that impressively rippled the netting. He got his third in the 50th minute by beating Ionut Radu at his near post with a low blast.

Cagliari continued its impressive start to the season with a comprehensive 2-0 win over SPAL. The first goal came inside the opening 10 minutes on a rip-roaring thunderbolt by Radja Nainggolan from miles out, a candidate for Goal of the Season. You can watch the goal here.

Udinese pulled away from the bottom third with a 1-0 win over Torino at home. 30-year-old Stefano Okaka scored the game’s lone goal just before halftime, nodding in with his head while essentially standing right on top of the left post after Rolando Mandragora sent a looping header of his own that way.