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Donovan rues USMNT missing Rio 2016; sees big issues in US player development

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Landon Donovan is disappointed the U.S. men’s national team is not in Brazil for the 2016 Olympics.

In fact, he’s sad.

[ MORE: Donovan on Swansea role ]

The 34-year-old former USMNT and Major League Soccer star had a taste of the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney and believes that the U.S. not qualifying for Rio is a “missed opportunity” to entice more fans to the sport in the USA.

[ MORE: Every PL season preview ]

Earlier we revealed exactly how Donovan is involved as part of an American ownership group which bought Premier League club Swansea City this summer, but the all-time leading goalscorer for the USMNT is still mainly concerned with issues on home soil.

How disappointing is it to sit back and watch the entire nation in awe of the Olympics but for the U.S. not to have a men’s soccer team in it?

“It is very disappointing. In the UK or other parts of the world it is not that big of a deal but for us in this country, we have a lot of fans who only tune in during the World Cup or during the Olympics. So we’ve missed this opportunity to have a bunch of people watch who wouldn’t normally be watching,” Donovan said. “So for us, that’s difficult because we only get so many opportunities to grow our sport that quickly. Our league is doing well. Our national team is doing well. But this is an opportunity that you can’t replace.”

Donovan was part of the 2000 Olympic squad which made it to the bronze medal match but lost to Chile and was the youngest member of that squad. He revealed the experience of competing with Team USA still resonates strongly with him today.

“Apart from the soccer part, it was just a really fun experience,” Donovan said. “That’s why it is sad for me that the men’s team isn’t the Olympics for the U.S. because it is a fun sporting experience but more than that it is just a fun life experience. For me it was really enjoyable, we did really well and almost earned a medal. I absolutely wish I had an opportunity to play in another one because I only got to play in one.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 26: Landon Donovan of the United States dribbles the ball during the Olympic Men's Soccer competition at Sydney Stadium in Sydney, Australia on September 26, 2000. (Photo by Nick Wilson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nick Wilson/Getty Images)

What does Donovan make of the U.S. women’s team — Jill Ellis’ squad won Group G and will face Sweden in the quarterfinals — and how they’ve done at Rio 2016 so far as they aim to win their fourth-straight gold medal?

“I don’t think they’ve been perfect in the way that they’ve played but they’ve had good results and I think the goal in any tournament like this, for a team who has a real chance to win it, is to peak at the right time. They are playing well enough to win and if they can play better I don’t see any reason why they can’t win the tournament again.”

In terms of the men’s team, Donovan was unsure exactly why the U.S. U-23 side has been unable to qualify for both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics under Caleb Porter and Andi Herzog but he doesn’t believe it is strictly down to the talent level of the players.

“I don’t personally see it as a talent thing. When you say talent I assume you mean the amount of talented players that are born in this country and I think we have plenty of talented players,” Donovan said. “I think what we are lacking, and I think England probably sympathizes with too, is that we are not developing players at a high enough level yet. Countries that are consistently good in world football are the countries that are developing players consistently. That’s where we need to get better. That takes time. We haven’t had great youth coach’s because we’ve never had people who know what they are talking about. Now we actually have those people who are former professionals, former players at a high level who are teaching our kids. That will help a lot.”

Donovan is a big advocate of giving U.S. youngsters a chance to flourish in MLS but believes they aren’t getting the chance to do so. He is the head coach of the MLS Homegrown team who play during at the All-Star Game festivities each year and the former San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy forward is passionate about how the USA can develop better players consistently.

Looking at the bigger picture, how can the U.S. produce better players at a younger age who can not only go on to represent the U.S. in the Olympics but also the USMNT? Does the academy setup in Major League Soccer have a big role to play in the future if the U.S. is going to qualify for tournaments and do well on the international stage?

“There’s no question and it is part of the answer. You need 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 years olds players to get better and better. Equally as important for me is kids that are 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. Right now we have too many coaches at that age who care about winning as opposed to caring out developing players and making them better. That’s a big problem, for me,” Donovan said. “If we ever want to get to the next level then we have to get that sort of mentality out of our game. We have to say that we want to develop players and we don’t care if we are making a ton of money or the next coaching gig is based on winning. If you’re an under 8s coach your next coaching gig should be about how many players you are developing. That’s where I think you get better.”

State of play in CONCACAF Nations League

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Well, well, well…

Canada’s controlling 2-0 defeat of the USMNT on Tuesday adding some intrigue to the final two match days of the CONCACAF Nations League next month

[ USMNT-CANADA: Time for change? | Player ratings ]

Mexico nearly provided another shock at Azteca thanks to a relative inability to break down Panama, but young stunner Jose Juan Macias scored for the fourth time in three caps to lead El Tri to a 3-1 win on the night.

Roberto Alvarado saw his 28th minute goal canceled out by pre-halftime own goal, and Mexico had better than 75 percent possession when Macias bagged his winner. Rodolfo Pizarro rounded out the scoring in stoppage time.

Here’s where we sit in the battle for four semifinal spots. The semifinals and finals will be staged in June.

Group A

Canada’s defeat of the USMNT means the Yanks need to make the most of the Canucks visit to the Orlando next month and smash Cuba in the Cayman Islands. Overall goal difference is the second tie breaker, and the Yanks are four behind Canada. A two-goal win in Florida would mean the Yanks would simply need a victory over Cuba to advance to the semifinals. Canada advances with a draw against the U.S., while Cuba has already be relegated to League B.

Group B

Mexico now has six points to Panama’s three and Bermuda’s three. El Tri will visit Panama next and can clinch a spot in the semifinals with a draw or better. Even if Panama beats Mexico, Tata Martino’s men would need to get nothing from Bermuda at Azteca to fail to make the semifinals. Bermuda needs Panama to beat Mexico before getting a blowout win at Azteca. Not looking good.

Group C

Honduras is onto the semifinals. Whether Martinique or Trinidad and Tobago, both on two points, can avoid relegation by getting a superior result against Honduras in November. Honduras heads to Martinique before hosting T&T.

Group D

Curacao had five points compared to its rivals two each and can advance to the semifinals with a home defeat of Costa Rica. If Los Ticos claims the three points, then it will have at least a two-goal advantage on Haiti heading into a home finale.

Three things from ugly USMNT loss in Canada

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We were warned after Couva that perhaps, somehow, the United States men’s national team still had some ways to go before really hitting rock bottom.

It seemed absurd, but after 10 months of the Gregg Berhalter era, which followed the least interesting manager search of all-time, perhaps the warning was needed and should’ve been heeded.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

The USMNT had no answers and no options on Tuesday in Canada, showing no urgency and getting bossed off the pitch against a team which may not qualify for the Hex.

Time for a change? It’s not insane to consider it. The team Berhalter rolled out, with several players who aren’t even standouts in MLS, was inept in Ontario.

Either the plan or players the problem, and both point one way

Canada’s John Herdman and his desperate team were ready for a fight, and the visitors apparently thought their talent and reputation would win the day.

Nuh-uh.

The book on Canada was electric attackers and suspect defense, so what did Gregg Berhalter spring for his opening salvo? No pressing on the back line and two plodding center backs. Tim Ream could work with an athlete like Matt Miazga. Aaron Long, too, but Berhalter put both players together (Long certainly grew into the game).

The result was that Alphonso Davies was shifted mainly to the side of the field with Daniel Lovitz, and man did he run wild.

So did Canada’s midfield who out-worked the Yanks up-and-down the center of the park. It was sad, and littered the match with doubt heading into the break.

Granted the U.S. is short several injured players and lost Jozy Altidore just before the international break, but Berhalter had no answers on his bench, or at least couldn’t manufacture one.

And that’s a huge part of the issue here. If you don’t have any sugar, might wanna prepare something other than cookies.

He removed Christian Pulisic at the hour mark, who had been poor and reportedly sick (see below) but still represents the best playmaker in his pool. Aside from the Chelsea man’s missed 1v1 duel with Borjan, there were no real attacking moments.

This was so bad, and absolutely according to plan by Herdman. No, not Tata Martino this time… John Herdman.

There is every reason to doubt Berhalter right now, and just as many to think that U.S. Soccer hierarchy wouldn’t consider remedying the situation on account of pride.

Given the way national team soccer works, it would not be off-color if the federation pulled the chute on Berhalter. The only possible excuse is injury, but Berhalter knew what he had in this camp and still rolled this plan out there in Toronto.

Pulisic frustrated, off-color, sick, and subbed?

Christian Pulisic didn’t have to do much in Friday’s demolition of Cuba, and he couldn’t do much of anything on Tuesday when asked to carry the team.

The Yanks were absolutely bamboozled in the first half which often had the match asking Pulisic to run wild once the ball actually found its way to him.

But he was dispossessed too often in any event, and missed a necessary goal when Jordan Morris sent him alone 1v1 with Milan Borjan. Yeah, that’s a Champions League goalkeeper with Milan Borjan, but this is the pride and joy of the program and it’s best product maybe ever.

Still, for Berhalter to pull him after 60 minutes begs the question of whether there’s an injury here. If not, well, there are a lot more questions than answers.

EDIT: Berhalter said after the game that Pulisic had been struggling with flu-like symptoms.

Davies roars, Steffen saves USMNT from blowout

While the Yanks’ best players wasn’t in rhythm, Canada’s was borderline symphonic.

Former Vancouver Whitecaps phenom and current Bayern Munich youngster Alphonso Davies was a problem for the Americans from Moment No. 1, and the only thing that could slow him was a 53rd minute leg injury.

Davies had the U.S. back line on its toes all night, and cooked Tim Ream early in the match before doing the same to Aaron Long on a play the Red Bulls man did very well to recover and slide to safety.

Fortunately for Gregg Berhalter, Zack Steffen is used to being put in bad positions due to his starring stint on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf. The goalkeeper made a phenomenal 1v1 stop on Davies in the first half and was often forced to command his box under duress.

USMNT player ratings from a dismal night in Toronto

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Oh no.

The United States men’s national team had its worst performance since, well, last month.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Were there bright spots? Well, at least one.

Let’s dig into an ugly 2-0 loss to the Canadians in Toronto.


Starting XI

Zack Steffen — 8 — Couldn’t do much on the goal, and was the only reason this wasn’t a blowout.

Daniel Lovitz — 5 — Couple of nice slide tackles. Steady enough on a bad day.

Tim Ream — 4 — Slipshod after two-straight notably good caps.

Aaron Long — 4 — Some really good moments and joined Steffen in saving the day despite a few glaring errors, and almost made amends for Yedlin’s awful effort on the goal. That said, out to lunch on Cavallini’s second.

DeAndre Yedlin (Off 73′) — 3 — Another unforgivable lack of attention and intensity on a conceded goal at the back post from Yedlin. Really, really poor.

Michael Bradley — 4 — Poor on the opening goal. Industrious but a step slow on the evening. Not what we expected from TFC’s captain at BMO Field.

Weston McKennie  — 3 — Left all his momentum somewhere between Friday and here. A step back and one that begs if he knew the plan.

Cristian Roldan (Off 73′) — 3 — An awful giveaway would’ve put the Yanks down 1-0 if not for Steffen’s heroics. Not on the level.

Christian Pulisic (Off 60′)  — 4 — Maybe his worst day in a U.S. shirt, bodied up often before missing a point blank chance to give the U.S. a lead. Berhalter said after the game that the player was suffering from the flu, so he gets an extra point for gutting it out.

Jordan Morris — 6 — One of the few bright spots in attack, should’ve had an assist on Pulisic’s missed xG.

Josh Sargent (Off 73′)  — 5 — Industrious but on an island.

Substitutions

Paul Arriola (On 60′) — 6 — Made some decent plays but isn’t a game breaker and didn’t have an outlet for his efforts.

Gyasi Zardes (On 73′) — N/A — This was the time to bring him on, hoping his athleticism and work rate could provide something that was missing.

Nick Lima (On 73′) — N/A — Deserves to start over either full back.

Disheveled USMNT out-muscled by Canada

Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Gregg Berhalter’s doubters found a lot of fuel for their fire as the United States men’s national team was out-worked, out-thought, and out-played in an embarrassing first loss to Canada in over 30 years.

Alphonso Davies and Lucas Cavallini scored for the Canadians in a 2-0 win at BMO Field in Toronto, as Christian Pulisic was removed after 60 minutes.

The Canadians now hold the keys to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals after improving to 3-0 on the campaign to the Yanks 1-1.

[ MORE: Time for a change? | Player ratings ]

Mark-Anthony Kaye lasted less than 10 minutes with a hamstring injury as Canada was forced into subbing one of its top midfielders early in the fray.

And Davies was all over the U.S., and could’ve had a breakaway were it not for a ridiculously poor offside flag when Ream tried to play him offside.

Davies forced Steffen into a save on a bounding shot in the 12th minute. He then cooked Tim Ream but was stifled by Long.

That’s when Cristian Roldan made an unfathomable back pass to Davies, only to be bailed out by Steffen and then Davies pushing the rebound wide of the far post.

The U.S. finally got pressure on goal in the 18th minute as Pulisic set up Jordan Morris for a left-footed shot that was diverted for a corner kick.

Pulisic had two chances in the last 15 minutes of the half, but both didn’t reach the keeper.

The second half saw some early promise but it became property of the hosts when Davies tore down the left of the pitch following a sleepy pass reception from Morris. Davies turned two defenders but one of them, Long, recovered to make a fine last ditch sliding tackle.

Jonathan David should’ve made it 1-0 as Richie Laryea fed the Gent man, who had taken advantage of Long but couldn’t get the ball inside the near post.

At the other end, Morris fed Pulisic for a point blank chance but the out-of-form Chelsea man rifled a shot right at Milan Borjan.

Long grew into the game and made another fine intervention when Davies was sprung down the right at the hour mark.

Berhalter then took off a sick Pulisic for Arriola, and the Chelsea man was visibly emotional on the bench.

There wasn’t much time to stew on that, because Canada scored.

Bradley bungled a ball in his own third and Ream couldn’t get purchase on his clearance. Canada sent the ball to the back post, where Yedlin was absent for another lazy concession in a U.S. shirt.

Morris headed a Yedlin cross to Borjan in the 72nd, but Canada right back at it when Long misjudged a lost 50/50 ball from Ream and Steffen made an outstanding save on David.

Cavallini put the game to bed when Ream and Long made a pair of hesitant plays in the U.S. third.