Mexico post-Herrera: Few answers, many questions as El Tri moves forward

5 Comments

Fifteen; By the time El Tri president Decio de Maria (right) names a successor to Miguel Herrera, there will have been at least 13 full-time and two caretaker managers of the Mexico men’s national team since 2000.

That number could be higher if Mexico names an interim boss. Given their track record, they might name two, as the Federation of Mexican Football has proven itself capable of just about anything.

There’s a good chance Herrera deserved to be out-of-work or at least suspended for a long while if the stories that he attacked TV Azteca journalist Christian Martinoli are true. But there also seems something potentially fishy about the firing, as the bombastic coach has been canned less than a year after he nearly led Mexico to a knockout round upset of the Netherlands (And what if Arjen Robben hadn’t hit the deck in stoppage time?)

[ MORE: Herrera fired as Mexico boss ]

Herrera’s 2015 saw El Tri post seven wins, seven draws and three losses. Those wins include the 3-1 win over Jamaica in the Gold Cup final, while the losses include the 2-1 decision against Ecuador that cost them the knockout stages of the Copa America in Chile (Mexico also drew Bolivia and Chile in finishing last in Group A).

He took over on Oct. 18, 2013, days after Mexico’s World Cup hopes were kept alive by the USMNT’s Graham “San” Zusi. Mexico’s “Hex” finished with just a pair of wins and a stretch run of three losses in four games. El Tri was a mess.

In came Herrera, who oversaw a dismantling of New Zealand in the intercontinental World Cup playoff. That got him the job through the 2014 World Cup, and he built the squad back into fine form before the tournament. There were wins over South Kore and Ecuador, plus a 3-2 win in the Netherlands.

And Mexico made it through Group A of the World Cup, drawing Brazil and beating both Cameroon and Croatia. Herrera’s bunch made life very hard on the Netherlands in the knockout rounds, leading 1-0 until the 88th minute falling 2-1.

All said and done, Herrera lost just 7 of his 36 matches in charge of El Tri, but the FMF was ready for him to go. Many fans joined the fray after this iffy Gold Cup win (which was still a win).

So what now? Who takes over the ship, one in which the majority of the hands reportedly liked playing for Herrera? From a Gold Cup victory, controversial or not, comes a decision that seems to pin its hopes on a batch of players who would hope to impress a new boss.

It’s similar to what happened before the New Zealand matches, only that change came from tremendous failings. This comes from an airport fight, one that the players will seemingly know all about as first-hand witnesses and second-hand peers. Mexico, like the United States, holds its national team to otherworldly and likely unrealistic standards. Is a new name really going to push the right buttons quickly to fix it, or will it just beget another new name?

This new boss will be making critical roster decisions for a group of players aching for the chance to be in the squad. Will the new boss be okay with his players participating in MLS, as Herrera was, or will he look down on Erick “Cubo” Torres and Giovani dos Santos? Will he be inclined to stick with the Gold Cup winners, or drastically shake things up? Can cohesion occur under this new boss than the USMNT under Jurgen Klinsmann after a disappointing Yanks’ Gold Cup run?

Mexico could go to the same domestic Liga MX well that drew out Herrera — Pedro Caixinha has produced several El Tri players from Santos Laguna, and the same can be said for Pachuca boss Diego Alonso — or they could go foreign. Another option will be international veteran, and could fired Portugal boss Paulo Bento fit the bill? Here’s a total wild card: David Moyes, who coaches Carlos Vela and Diego Reyes and Real Sociedad.

In any event, the who question is almost less important than the how long, as in, “How long until the powers-that-be get tired of the new guy?” Whether Herrera punched Martinoli in the neck or not, Mexico’s status quo is change. Consistency continues to elude the CONCACAF power, and this time it could cost them a major tournament.

Barcelona sign Neto in goalkeeper swap with Valencia

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.