2015 Gold Cup: Three things we learned from the USA’s 2-1 victory over Honduras

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FRISCO, Texas — The U.S. men’s national team labored — a lot at times — to a 2-1 victory over Honduras in both sides’ 2015 Gold Cup opener on Tuesday night at Toyota Stadium.

From 2-0 up with 25 minutes to play, to hanging on by the skin of their teeth under a constant siege of Honduran scorings chances during the final 10 minutes, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is off and running as they look to defend their Gold Cup title.

A tournament like the Gold Cup is like a low-burning stove-top coil. With six games to play in order to lift the Cup, peaking in the first game is not unlikely and unattainable, it’s actually highly unadvisable. Games 1, 2 and 3 don’t need a full-on boil. It calls for a steady simmer before heating up in the final — where the USMNT will presumably face Mexico, at which point the pot not only boils, but the lid bursts off and critically maims anyone within six zip codes.

[ MORE: Previewing USA’s Group A | Group B | Group C | The stars of CONCACAF ]

Three things we learned about the USMNT and Honduras during Tuesday night’s 2-1 result:

1. John Brooks-and-Ventura Alvarado is not the USMNT’s best center back pairing — or even close

source:
Matt Besler & Omar Gonzalez, USMNT

Where, oh where, to start with this one. How about here: Why, Jurgen? Why? At no point during his brief USMNT career, really, has Alvarado looked like doing more than furiously treading to keep his head above water. Even in recent victories over the Netherlands and Germany, in which Brooks and Alvarado started together, it’s been dicey in the best of times and an absolute dumpster fire in the worst.

Omar Gonzalez, a right-sided center back with World Cup experience, was on the bench for 90 minutes tonight, while Alvarado struggled yet again with simple tasks, like putting his head to the ball, tracking runners at both the near and far posts, and communicating runners to Brooks. Major League Soccer center backs like Gonzalez, Matt Hedges and Steve Birnbaum could at least match Alvarado’s performances to date.

As for Brooks, Tuesday wasn’t terrible for the 22-year-old (yes, 22), but with Matt Besler, another World Cup veteran, not even on the roster, one can’t help but wonder just how much Klinsmann is willing to risk either going out in the group stage or making their own path through the knockout rounds significantly less favorable, all in the name of playing a couple of young center backs with essentially no CONCACAF experience.

[ MORE: With the rest of CONCACAF making strides, it’s time for the USMNT to do so, too ]

2. Gyasi Zardes as part of a midfield diamond just doesn’t work — that’s not his fault

Gyasi Zardes’ ascension from collegiate athlete at Cal State Bakersfield, to MLS breakout star, and now a regular starter for the USMNT in the span of three years is really, really amazing, and something only possible in the American game. The problem is this: the majority — if not all — of Zardes’ production over that time has come as one of two center forwards in a 4-4-2.

Where Zardes hasn’t impressed — or even played much at all — is as a shuttling midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond formation. On Tuesday, Zardes struggled — again — in that role, and did so for one big reason: in that area of the field, defensively, he’s a total disaster, and though it’s not for a lack of trying — positional awareness and whatnot — too many of the US’s turnovers in midfield were immediately redirected into the left channel between Brooks and Fabian Johnson, which is exactly the space Zardes is supposed to protect.

Mix Diskerud can serviceably perform that role, as can Alejandro Bedoya (my personal choice) and Graham Zusi. It’d be a pretty big surprise — and a mistake — if Zardes is back in that spot Friday night against Haiti.

[ MORE: Reflecting on Michael Bradley from 1-99, as he hits 100 USMNT caps vs. Honduras ]

3. Andy Najar became a man in Belgium — look out, world

source:
Andy Najar, Anderlecht & Honduras

Andy Najar has spent the last two and a half years since leaving D.C. United of MLS playing for Belgian side Anderlecht. In that time, the 22-year-old has not only filled out physically and honed his craft while winning a pair of Belgian league and Belgian cup titles, but he’s developed a killer instinct, as well, and that makes him one of the scariest players in the region.

On Tuesday night — particularly during the first half — Najar was an absolute nightmare up and down the right side of the USMNT defense. Timothy (he has to earn the right to be called “Timmy” again) Chandler not only couldn’t deal with him, but every time Najar received the ball and turned to run at the US goal, a sense of impending doom crept over every last American fan inside Toyota Stadium.

For the game’s first 45 minutes, Najar was the best player on the field by a mile, and if the rest of his Gold Cup performances from here on out mimic that of Tuesday night, he’ll quickly rocket up not only the list of the best players in CONCACAF, but also the transfer lists of any number of major European clubs.

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Brazilian goalkeeper Neto will sign a four-year contract with the Spanish champions.

The transfer completes a swap a day after Barcelona sold Jasper Cillessen to Valencia.

Barcelona says it is paying 26 million euros ($29.5 million) plus possibly another 9 million euros ($10.2 million) in variables for Neto. Valencia paid Barcelona 35 million euros ($40 million) for Cillessen.

Neto will replace Cillessen, who played as a backup for Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Champions League and the Spanish league and only regularly started in the Copa del Rey.

The 29-year-old Neto helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League with a fourth-place finish for the past two seasons in Spain. He also played in Italy at Juventus as a backup to Gianluigi Buffon and at Fiorentina after starting at Brazilian club Paranaense.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

USMNT v. Panama: Three things we learned

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It wasn’t always pretty, but the U.S. Men’s National Team eked out a 1-0 win over Panama in Kansas City, Kan. on Wednesday night to win its group. Jozy Altidore scored the game’s only goal in stunning fashion, finishing an overhead kick to put Panama away and set up a quarterfinal bout with Curacao on Sunday evening.

Here are three of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s win:

[READ: All the latest USMNT news here]


Jozy Altidore is still the best we’ve got

Many U.S. Men’s National Team fans have called for the forced retirements of Altidore and Michael Bradley, among many others, after the debacle that was the last World Cup cycle.

Until tonight, Altidore wasn’t in the USMNT picture, in part due to Dave Sarachan using younger players and Altidore continuing to suffer a series of muscle injuries since October 2017. And yet, if tonight’s game showed anything in Altidore’s 83 minutes on the pitch, it’s that he’s still the best option for the USMNT up top. While Gregg Berhalter clearly prefers Gyasi Zardes right now based on their previous work history together in Columbus, Zardes doesn’t have the strength or skill that Altidore does. It’s hard to imagine Zardes executing an overhead kick and it going in as sweetly as Altidore did.

What does this mean going forward? Regardless of if Zardes starts the rest of the way, Berhalter knows that he has Altidore always around who can give the U.S. a goal, especially on home soil and when fit. But it also lays the marker down for Zardes, Tim Weah, Josh Sargent and the other up and coming strikers that this is the level they need to meet, and beat, if they want to break into the starting lineup under Berhalter.

There’s speed to burn on the wings

It may not have had a huge impact on Wednesday, but in bringing Tyler Boyd and Christian Pulisic off the bench, Berhalter showed exactly why he’s brought so many speedy skill players along the wings.

While Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis couldn’t figure out the final pass or final touch in the box to score a goal, just their presence for 65-70 minutes tired out the backline, and the introductions of Pulisic and Boyd could have really unlocked the Panama defense. While it didn’t totally work on Wednesday, it could in the later stages of the tournament, especially in a potential rematch with either Panama or Jamaica in the semifinals and Mexico in the finals.

With Lewis and Morris likely available off the bench, that adds a new piece opponents have to worry about, both in terms of speed and dribbling ability.

Few impressed in a chance to earn a starting spot

It’s been nearly two years since the debacle in Trinidad and Tobago, and yet aside from maybe Matt Miazga or Nick Lima, there have been very few players who have done much to impress and prove they’re better than the previous cycle’s players. That continued on Wednesday with an MLS-heavy lineup. Wil Trapp, a midfielder with so much promise a few years ago, appears to have stalled. He had multiple turnovers and certainly didn’t look as sharp as Michael Bradley.

While Lewis and Morris have plenty of pace, their final pass was woeful and they didn’t do themselves any favors. Djordje Mihailovic was never going to push Pulisic out of the starting lineup, but Mihailovic didn’t exactly do enough to say that he should be the first man off the bench either, or to push Pulisic into a wing role with Mihailovic in the middle.

Aside from Matt Miazga and Omar Gonzalez in the middle, along with Altidore up top, no one in the lineup really did enough through the first 65 minutes to warrant another start in the tournament. It’s yet another disappointment as young players get chance after chance to prove they belong as starters, only to waste the opportunity, enabling the veterans to keep their role. More players need to keep pushing for those spots, whether through club form or national team performances. Otherwise, we’ll end up in the same situation as before.

 

USMNT remains perfect, tops Panama to win group (video)

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In his first start since the U.S. Men’s National Team’s infamous defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, Jozy Altidore showcased his strength, speed and technical ability to help lead the U.S. to victory.

Altidore’s outstanding bicycle kick goal proved to be the difference in a sometimes dour game as the USMNT topped Panama, 1-0, Wednesday evening at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan. The win kept the U.S. perfect through the Gold Cup group stage with no goals allowed, and it has somewhat erased the memory of the USMNT’s horrible run-up to the tournament, with defeats to Jamaica and Venezuela now firmly in the rear-view mirror.

[MUST-SEE GOAL: Jozy Altidore]

With the win, both teams head to Philadelphia for the quarterfinals this Sunday. Panama plays the undercard matchup against Jamaica while the USMNT faces Curacao.

Coming off two wins to open the Gold Cup, Berhalter decided to use a completely changed starting lineup, featuring ten players from MLS teams along with Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga. Although there was some familiarity of the players on the field, it was at times a very poor match, with the USMNT struggling badly in the final third and even turning the ball over at midfield or leading the attack.

Despite winning the possession battle, 62-38, the USMNT didn’t do much with it. Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis, both of whom were subbed out, struggled on their crosses after beating a defender. The pair provided energy and hard running defensively but it didn’t lead to many chances. Altidore had the best of the first half when he was played into the box, but his strike from the right just went wide of the net.

In the 65th minute, Berhalter tried to inject some life in the game with the introduction of Christian Pulisic. It turned out a goal could come just after, but without the intervention of Pulisic.

Djordje Mihailovic drilled the corner kick to the far post where it was met by the head of Matt Miazga who sent it back towards goal. A missed clearance from Panama popped the ball up in the air above the back post, allowing Altidore the time he needed to lift off the ground and bicycle kick it in for the game’s only goal.

Berhalter later brought on both Tyler Boyd and Gyasi Zardes off the bench to try and score an insurance goal, but Panama’s defense held strong and the U.S. failed to threaten the rest of the way. However, the U.S. backline kept a third-consecutive clean sheet and key players such as Michael Bradley got the entire game off to rest before likely returning to the lineup this weekend.

 

 

Must-See Goal: Jozy Altidore puts USMNT in front with Bicycle Kick

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Jozy Altidore put his stamp on the game and gave U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter more to speak about with one fell swing.

Altidore finished off a corner kick in spectacular fashion, executing a perfect bicycle kick to put the USMNT up 1-0 in the 66th minute. The goal came one minute after the entrance of Christian Pulisic, which perhaps was on the mind of the Panama defense.

It was Altidore’s second-straight game vs. Panama with a goal. His last two were in October 2017, when the U.S. pummeled Panama, 4-0. Of course, a few days later, a tired USMNT failed to win at Trinidad and Tobago.