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The scenarios are clear for USMNT: secure a result in Costa Rica or else

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If there’s one thing the USMNT knows following a late 2-1 loss to Mexico in Columbus to start the Hex, it’s that only a win on Tuesday will ease up on the pressure.

Unfortunately, that’s much easier said than done.

Winning in Costa Rica has been literally impossible for the United States – they have lost eight World Cup qualifiers in a row in Costa Rica, earning just a single point which came back in 1985. Add in that Los Ticos are on a five-match winning streak including a win over Columbia to finish their Copa America this summer and a friendly triumph over Russia, and the task is daunting.

Now, the Stars & Stripes travel to the Central American nation needing victory in the worst way. All three matches in round one of the Hex finished with a winner, leaving the United States three points adrift of anyone else above them in the group. The most devastating result was Panama’s win over Honduras, and while Panama isn’t expected to be a favorite in any other match except the reverse of that fixture, the U.S. still has ground to make up.

[ MORE: Klinsmann throws midfield under bus after Mexico loss ]

According to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index, the loss to Mexico alone slammed the U.S. chances of qualifying for Russia 2018 by over 20%, dropping them from 86% favorites down to an uneasy 69%. A loss Tuesday would likely compound that into a full on free-fall, unless both other fixtures ended in a draw.

Despite all this pressure, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann isn’t afraid. In fact, quite the opposite: he guaranteed the USMNT would come away from San Jose with points. “The message is very simple, we’ve got to go down there and get a result, which we will do.”

They better. While making up a four or six-point deficit with eight matches to go is hardly unheard of, it’s most definitely a position the United States does not wish to see itself in by any stretch. While next international break serves up a relative respite with games against Honduras and Panama, nothing is for certain in the Hexagonal, and any unnecessary pressure during those matches would be counter-productive to otherwise straightforward games.

But they’ve been here before. Just in the last Hexagonal, they suffered a significantly more damaging defeat to Honduras to begin the round. A home win over Costa Rica just days later – the famous snow game in Denver – righted the ship.

[ MEXICO: Vela, Guardado to miss next game ]

With Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago both clear favorites in their matches against Honduras and Panama, the United States could fall significantly behind if they drop points in San Jose, and hand any points to the opponents in the process, as Los Ticos already sit on three after an impressive first-match victory over the Soca Warriors.

Right now, the wound from a last-second loss to a bitter rival is surely fresh, but the actual danger is still relatively minimal. However, the bottom line for Tuesday is clear: a loss against Costa Rica – or even a draw – would add legitimate pressure to the already building uneasiness among fans. Only three points can appease the masses.

2020 MLS Power Rankings, Vol. 1

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With the 2020 Major League Soccer season kicking off this weekend, here’s a (surely brilliant) predictive edition of the Power Rankings, which will be updated at the start of every month here on PST…

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

MLS Cup favorites
Los Angeles FC and New York City FC

We all remember what LAFC did last year, and the fact they didn’t win MLS Cup despite settling most every relevant league record will only serve as further fuel for Bob Bradley to demand even more from (inarguably) the most talented team in the league. One potential pitfall: after trading Walker Zimmerman (for a record amount of allocation money), it’s unclear who’ll start at center back, and if you think it’s clear it’s a less than ideal situation. As for NYCFC, they managed to fly under the radar last year despite finishing top of the Eastern Conference by six points. While they don’t have the household names of an LAFC or Atlanta United, Domenec Torrent’s side (now that of Ronny Deila) played every bit the attractive, fluid attacking soccer of the league’s darlings. In a week East, NYCFC could wind up Supporters’ Shield winners.


MLS Cup contenders
Seattle Sounders, Atlanta United, LA Galaxy and Toronto FC

These teams will be in the playoffs, 100 percent guarantee. (fingers are now crossed) With satisfactory answers to certain questions, they could make the leap from contenders to favorites with ease. Those questions are… Seattle: does the completely rebuilt backline come together, and how long does it take? Atlanta: will head coach Frank De Boer find the right balance between his preferred defensive slant and the roster’s natural tendency to attack at all costs? Galaxy: is the defense, which has been horrific for five or six years now, any better? Toronto: wait, why aren’t they on the “favorites” line? Ah, yes, because only one team per conference is allowed.


See you in the playoffs
Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Philadelphia Union and D.C. United

Here’s the thing about this group: the two teams from the East should finish fourth or fifth in the junior circuit (some ways back of the clear-cut top-three), but they probably wouldn’t make the playoffs in the West. By default, Philadelphia and D.C. get a bump in the tiers for the fact they’ll walk into the playoffs in the East. That is not — repeat not — to say they are as good as RSL or Dallas, who would actually push Atlanta and Toronto for second and third.


In the hunt
Portland Timbers, Sporting Kansas City, Minnesota United, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, Columbus Crew SC, San Jose Earthquakes, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution and Montreal Impact

That’s a long list of teams. As stated above, the teams from the East will be in playoff contention due to not having seven standout sides. Basically, any combination of these teams could wind up in the playoffs. Looking to the West, Portland, Sporting KC and Minnesota have the potential to climb a tier (or two) if all goes right for them, but each of those sides has a glaring, and potentially fatal, flaw. The temptation to say Colorado will actually be quite good and also a playoff team is very strong, but it goes against all human instincts when you think back to how they opened the 2019 season, before firing Anthony Hudson and hiring Robin Fraser and almost making the playoffs anyway.


Fulfilling obligations
FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC and Vancouver Whitecaps

Barely a month into their first season (last season), Cincinnati was very clearly the worst team in the league. Somehow, the offseason has gone even worse for them. They (probably) managed to improve enough so as to not claim back-to-back Wooden Spoons, but enough to contend for a playoff place? Highly unlikely. Orlando City has never — not once in their five-year MLS history — given me, or anyone, reason to believe they are a competent organization. Until they do so for a period of six (6) months or more, they just exist for existence’s sake. Speaking of merely existing, the Vancouver Whitecaps.


Expansion teams, TBD
Inter Miami and Nashville SC

Here’s the thing about expansion teams: they aren’t to be trusted, either way. What looks good on paper can sometimes look terrible on the field, and what looks terrible on paper can sometimes look great on the field. We’ll give Miami and Nashville their first assessments after a month of games.

LIVE, Europa League: Man United, Arsenal, Wolves go for last-16

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It’s time to settle 14 more ties in the Europa League round of 23, including three involving Premier League sides.

Ahead of Thursday’s seconds legs, Arsenal lead Greek side Olympiacos 1-0, Manchester United are level with Portuguese side Club Brugge at 1-1, and Wolverhampton Wanderers are the comfortable ones of the bunch with their 4-0 advantage of Spanish side Espanyol.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores  ]

All three PL sides are expected to go through to the round of 16, where they are once again eligible to face one another.

Meanwhile, some of the competition’s other remaining heavy hitters are also in action: Inter Milan lead Ludogorets Razgrad 2-0; Roma lead Gent 1-0; Sevilla are level with Cluj at 1-1; and Ajax trail Getafe 2-0.

Full Europa League schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Espanyol v. Wolverhampton Wanderers
Basaksehir v. Sporting CP
Porto v. Bayer Leverkusen
Gent v. Roma
Malmo v. Wolfsburg
LASK v. AZ Alkmaar
Basel v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Arsenal
v. Olympiacos
Manchester United v. Club Brugge
Inter Milan v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax v. Getafe
Sevilla v. Cluj
Benfica v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Celtic v. Copenhagen

Colossal Juve-Inter clash could be played in empty stadium

Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images
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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan coach Antonio Conte probably won’t have to sit through a torrent of boos when he returns to Turin for the first time to face former club Juventus.

That’s because there could be no fans there to see it.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

The Derby d’Italia, one of the season’s biggest matches, may be played in an empty stadium on Sunday because of the virus outbreak in northern Italy. The epicenter of the outbreak is in the Lombardy region, and Milan is its capital.

“I hope that from today there will be a regression in the diffusion of the virus so that I, too, can go see Juventus-Inter,” said Attilio Fontana, the governor of the Lombardy region. “We’re monitoring the situation. I’m very calm. We need to see what the situation is. It’s the same as for the schools. We’ll do a check Saturday and then we’ll see.”

Four Serie A matches scheduled for last weekend were postponed, including Inter’s match against Sampdoria. Italy has the most cases of the virus in Europe.

Serie A president Paolo Dal Pinto sent a letter to the government on Monday asking that games no longer be postponed in the affected areas but played without fans in attendance, something which Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said they were in agreement with.

[ MORE: Man City makes statement, comes back in Madrid ]

However, no official decree has been made by the Turin council and Serie A’s governing body has also yet to release a statement, giving rise to the hope fans could be allowed in.

Italy had 447 virus cases as of Wednesday. Twelve people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments, or both.

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two hardest hit regions and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Inter’s Europa League match against Ludogorets was scheduled to go ahead in an empty stadium on Thursday.

On Sunday, Conte will return to Juventus as opposition coach for the first time since he left the club in 2014. Conte led Juventus to the first three of its eight straight league titles and also spent most of his playing career with the Bianconeri.

[ MORE: Alan Pardew confronted by frustrated Den Haag fans on training field ]

“Soccer needs the crowd, to hear the atmosphere around it,” Conte said. “That’s the best thing about the game, the atmosphere around the soccer being played. These decisions have been taken with public health in mind but I hope that everything returns to normal as soon as possible.”

Inter trails the Serie A leaders by six points, although it has played a match less. Juventus, meanwhile, will have to bounce back from Wednesday’s surprise 1-0 loss at Lyon in the Champions League.

“We didn’t play the match we wanted. We have a lot of work to do,” Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey said. “Let’s focus on ourselves and do better than we did today, starting on Sunday with Inter.”

Bayern’s Lewandowski out for a month with leg injury

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Robert Lewandowski will miss the next month, including Bayern Munich’s UEFA Champions League second leg against Chelsea, after suffering a leg injury during Tuesday’s 3-0 thrashing of the Premier League side.

[ MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann’s parting shots cause anger at Hertha Berlin ]

Bayern announced on Wednesday that Lewandowski fractured his tibia near his left knee joint. With the recovery time currently expected to be four weeks, the injury isn’t thought to be serious.

Not only will the Bundesliga’s leading scorer this season (25 goals, four more than second-place Timo Werner) out for leg no. 2 against Chelsea, but he could also miss as many as five league games as Bayern try to win their eighth straight domestic title. With 11 games left to play in Germany, Bayern hold a one-point lead on second-place RB Leipzig. Lewandowski is expected to return before the UCL quarterfinals during the first week of April.

[ MORE: Man City makes statement, comes back in Madrid ]

Lewandowski has 40 goals in 36 games (all competitions) to his name this season and has shown little or no sign of slowing down at the age of 31. Serge Gnabry, who has 10 league goals, is the only other player to have reached double digits for Bayern this season. Next closest to Gnabry is Philippe Coutinho, with six.