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.

source: Getty Images
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.

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

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Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

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Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina

La Liga roundup: Casemiro’s brace earns injury-riddled Real Madrid win (video)

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Casemiro’s heroic performance against Sevilla highlights La Liga’s Saturday action.

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Real Madrid 2-1 Sevilla

Real Madrid’s goalscoring hero on Saturday wasn’t Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, or even Sergio Ramos.

With two crucial goals in the second half, Casemiro single-handedly earned three points at the Santiago Bernabeu, days removed from cathartic Spanish Super Cup win against arch rivals Atletico Madrid.

With Bale, Hazard, Ramos injured, Benzema on the bench far from match-fit, and Federico Valverde suspended, Los Blancos were in dire need of someone to lead the way, and place pressure on struggling co-leaders Barcelona, who are now under Quique Setien’s tutelage.

By the time the first 45 minutes came to a close, the overall impression was that it would take a miracle for the home side to earn much-needed three points.

That all quickly changed in the second half as the Brazilian midfielder chipped Tomas Vaclik after a picture-perfect backheel from Luka Jovic. Madrid were edging Julen Lopetegui’s side, and Casemiro foreshadowed what was to come.

With the score level, the Brazilian leaped inside the box and headed home a lofting ball from the right flank, catching Sevilla’s defense completely off guard.

Casemiro’s brace came just five minutes after Luuk De Jong‘s left-footed goal in the 64th minute.

League leaders with 43 points, Madrid prepares for their Copa del Rey bout against third-division side Unionistas midweek. Sevilla, on the other hand, host Levante in the same tournament.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Eibar 2-0 Atletico Madrid

Osasuna 0-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-1 Alaves

16-year-old Cherki scores 2 as Lyon advances in French Cup

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PARIS (AP) Two goals and two assists from 16-year-old forward Rayan Cherki helped Lyon win 4-3 at Nantes and reach the last 16 of the French Cup on Saturday.

But the run of Reunion Islanders JS Saint-Pierroise ended with a 1-0 loss away to Epinal, which scored deep into extra time.

Cherki put Lyon ahead in the first minute, deftly rounding goalkeeper Alban Lafont and then clipping the ball beyond a defender. He made it 2-0 in the ninth, slotting the ball through Lafont’s legs after being set up by right winger Bertrand Traore.

New signing Renaud Emond headed in Moses Simon’s cross from the left to pull a goal back for Nantes in the 16th. Cherki then showed great awareness to release forward Martin Terrier with a fine pass from midfield in the 37th for 3-1.

Cherki shaved the crossbar with a shot in the 60th and won a penalty in the 67th after robbing the ball off Thomas Basila. He generously allowed striker Moussa Dembele to take it, but Lafont saved Dembele’s attempt.

Two minuter later, Cherki threaded the ball down the right to Dembele, who slotted in, and the irrepressible Cherki set up another chance for Terrier.

Lyon’s defense remains vulnerable and Simon set up Imran Louza’s goal before heading in late on to ensure a tense finish.

Saint-Pierroise had caused an upset in the previous round by knocking out second-division Niort and the players again traveled 6,000 miles (around 9,700 kilometers) from the small island in the Indian Ocean, located off the east coast of Africa.

Saint-Pierroise, the former club of France midfielder Dimitri Payet, was looking to become the first club from the Reunion Islands to reach the last 16 and almost forced a penalty shootout, despite having forward Jean-Michel Fontaine sent off in the 15th minute.

But substitute Adel Berkane rifled home a half-volley for fourth-tier Epinal with two minutes left in extra time.

Also, there were wins for first-division sides Nice, Lille, Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg.

Lille won 2-0 at fifth-division Gonfreville thanks to goals from forwards Loic Remy and Victor Osimhen, while coach Patrick Vieira’s Nice side held on to beat third-tier Red Star 2-1.

Saint-Etienne won 3-2 at Paris FC, a team fighting relegation in the second division.

Paris FC led 2-1 with goals from former Paris Saint-Germain forward Jeremy Menez and ex-Rennes winger Jonathan Pitroipa. Teen forward Charles Abi equalized for Saint-Etienne with 20 minutes left before veteran right back Mathieu Debuchy netted the winner.

Strasbourg won 5-1 at fourth-tier Angouleme.

On Sunday, Rennes plays at fifth-tier Athletico Marseille and PSG travels to face second division league leader Lorient.

Rennes beats PSG in last year’s final.

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