Should Jurgen Klinsmann be fired? What we learned from USMNT’s Gold Cup campaign

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Following the USMNT’s shocking 2-1 loss to Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals in Atlanta on Wednesday, plenty of questions are being asked of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players

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Rightly or wrongly, his future as the leader of the USMNT is being debated by many fans and pundits with a poor 2015 Gold Cup campaign culminating in a huge upset against Jamaica. After four years in charge of the U.S., has their been real progress under the German coach?

[ MORE: Klinsmann refuses to blame players ]

Let’s break that down and more by assessing the current situation.

Is this a knee-jerk reaction to a poor Gold Cup campaign?

People calling for Klinsmann’s head seems a little premature, it has to be said. Yes, the U.S. has reached the Gold Cup final in the last five tournaments and had said winning this trophy was a must, but they came up against a talented Jamaica side who have spent all summer together and have conceded just six goals in eight games of tournament play. Impressive. What hasn’t been impressive is the play of Klinsmann’s side. There has been a lot of rotation in the lineups throughout this Gold Cup but squeaking past Haiti and Honduras to open up, then a 1-1 tie with Panama showed plenty of cracks. Especially at the back.

When it came down to the big game against Jamaica, Brad Guzan was at fault for both goals and the central defensive partnership of John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado just didn’t work. In particular the defending on Darren Mattocks’ header from a long throw on the first goal was woeful. Klinsmann will get a reprieve for now and should remain in charge until the Confederations Cup playoff in October, but if the U.S. loses to either Jamaica or Mexico in a few months time, the writing could be on the wall.

Progress since 2011 has been minimal

Soccer is a results business. We all know that. Look at the constant chopping and changing of players and coaches across the globe in order to try and achieve success. Klinsmann took charge in 2011 and has won a Gold Cup and lost in the semifinals, got to the last 16 of the World Cup and won World Cup qualifying. In the cycle before him former USMNT manager Bob Bradley won a Gold Cup, got to the last 16 of the World Cup and won World Cup qualifying, plus came second in the 2009 Confederations Cup and was runner up in two other Gold Cups. Right now, it is hard to suggest that there has been progression under Klinsmann in the last four years despite marquee friendly wins in Europe against Italy, Holland and Germany. Sure, they were great, but when it comes down to tournament play and the games that really matter, the jury is still out.

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Guzan and the U.S. defense struggled once again.

Defensive issues remain

One of the head-scratching decisions this summer was the fact that Klinsmann persisted with Brooks and Alvarado as a central defensive partnership. Both are young and inexperienced on the international stage and Klinsmann wanted to test them. Time and time again they just weren’t good enough and how Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream didn’t both, or at least one of them, start against Jamaica is baffling. Leaving Matt Besler at home despite him being a starter at the 2014 World Cup last summer seemed to be almost a punishment for his comments and those of his manager at Sporting KC, Peter Vermes, when Klinsmann questioned the fitness of several experienced players in his squad in January. During the post-World Cup friendlies, late collapses were commonplace as defensive partnerships were changed time and time again. Due to MLS not being on a FIFA schedule, it makes it hard for Klinsmann to keep the same group of players together year round. But he must find a way of doing that and building continuity, especially in the defensive areas. One thing is for sure: veterans Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron should come straight back into the team for the September friendlies.

Handling of Dempsey, Altidore a concern going forward

Deciding to strip Clint Dempsey of the captaincy for his hissy-fit when playing for the Seattle Sounders was a bold move from Klinsmann and seemed to work for most of the Gold Cup as Deuce scored six times in five matches. But now what? With the captaincy handed to Michael Bradley and the U.S. failing to make the final, what will Dempsey’s relationship with Klinsmann be like going forward? Far from positive is the likely answer. As for Jozy Altidore, his omission from the U.S. squad after the Gold Cup group stages due to fitness issues has seen Klinsmann ostracize Altidore and the Toronto FC forward will rightly feel bemused by the decision. Sure, Jozy might not have been fully fit but is a 70 percent fit Alitdore a better option than Alan Gordon or Aron Johannsson? I’ll let you decide that. Dempsey is the second-highest scorer in U.S. history, Altidore is in fifth. Both may now be feeling hard done by and that could backfire massively against Klinsmann if his two top goalscorers are unhappy.

If Klinsmann was fired, could USMNT hire anybody better?

I threw this question out on Twitter directly after the defeat to Jamaica and, understandably, there was plenty of buzz surrounding Klinsmann’s tenure so far and if anybody else could do better. Granted, U.S. fans want their team to succeed like any other fan of a national team, but most are intelligent enough to realize this program has come a long way in a short space of time. With huge improvements in the way all teams are set up from youth level right through to the first team, Klinsmann has done a lot of good things structurally for the U.S., just like he did for Germany before and during the 2006 World Cup. But with Joachim Low kicking on the German national team in recent years and grabbing World Cup glory in 2014 following the foundations Klinsmann successfully laid, do the U.S. now need a fresh figurehead to build on Klinsmann’s project?

It is a question worth asking but another question remains: is there anybody out there right now better than JK? The last thing the U.S. needs to do is gamble on another coach and have things not work out. That could set them back years. Klinsmann holds the role of technical director with U.S. Soccer and has a deal through the 2018 World Cup. If U.S. Soccer fire him anytime soon, that would mean paying huge amounts of cash in compensation to Klinsmann. I’m not sure that’s something they can afford to do, especially if they don’t have a top-class replacement lined up to build on the foundations he has put down.

What next?

As the disappointment of failing to reach the Gold Cup final sets in, the U.S. must now regroup and play in the third place match against Panama at PPL Park in Philadelphia on Saturday. After that, friendlies against Peru on Sept. 4 and Brazil on Sept. 8 await. However, the big game on the horizon for Klinsmann and his players is the Confederations Cup playoff in October. No date is confirmed for that game, but it will be played on U.S. soil against either Mexico or Jamaica to decide which nation will represent CONCACAF at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. If the U.S. lose this one-off playoff game, Klinsmann will be under intense pressure and serious questions will be asked about his future with the USMNT.

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:

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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.