Getty Images

How USMNT can beat Costa Rica on the road in the Hex

Leave a comment

The U.S. national team is 0-8-2 all-time on the road against Costa Rica. Welp.

[ MORE: How big is game vs. CR? ]

It’s a daunting task to face Los Ticos on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET on NBC Universo and online here) and especially after the demoralizing, if not too unexpected, home defeat to Mexico last Friday.

Even if the USMNT opens up the Hexagonal with two-straight defeats, it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men will have eight more games in the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying to turn it around and finish in the top three and they’ll be the heavy favorites for most of those matches.

That said, what the USMNT has to have is a clear game-plan for these kind of tough tests on the road in central America.

Here’s a look at three ways the U.S. can shock everyone and beat Costa Rica for the first-time ever on the road.


1. Go back to the 4-4-2

We all saw how much better the U.S. was when they switched to a 4-4-2 against Mexico after 30 minutes last Friday. Yes, it may have coincided with Mexico’s star midfielder Andres Guardado also being injured, but there’s no doubt Klinsmann’s side looked more solid defensively and more capable in midfield to shut down space for opponents. It was a big gamble to play 3-4-3 (basically a 3-5-2 but Klinsmann disagrees) against Mexico and it is not one Klinsmann should repeat in a hurry.

My formation and personnel would be the following: I’d like DeAndre Yedlin to get the nod over Timmy Chandler at right back and I think Michael Orozco will add balance at center back but I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Besler starts ahead of him as the U.S. continues to suffer from the loss of Geoff Cameron. In midfield it is all about continuity and having Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones’ experience is essential in a road World Cup qualifier. There’s an argument to leave out Christian Pulisic for a tough game in a tough environment, but the youngster is easily the USMNT’s most creative player so surely he has to start to help keep the ball and ease some pressure when the U.S. is defending. Up top, the duo of Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood picks itself. Speaking of that…

—– Guzan —–

— Yedlin — Orzoco — Brooks — Johnson —

— Bedoya — Bradley — Jones — Pulisic 

—– Wood —– Altidore —–


2. Keep Altidore and Wood together

The biggest plus to come out of the loss to Mexico was the combination play between Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood up front. Due to Altidore’s injury this summer it has been very rare to see this duo line up together up top. Their movement mirrors one another and with Wood more willing to run into the channels and Altidore able to operate centrally and hold the ball up, their partnership is showing very promising signs. Altidore has been on his own up top for many years with Clint Dempsey hovering around just underneath him. Now, he has a bonafide striking partner and the U.S. looked very dangerous in the second half against Mexico.

Altidore’s hold up play and clever through ball set Wood up to equalizes against Mexico and the power and pace they possess will blow other CONCACAF opponents apart in the Hex. With Altidore 27 and Wood 23, if both stay fit this partnership has the makings of the U.S. forward line for the next five years.


3. Deny Ruiz and Campbell space

Okay, so Bryan Ruiz is an injury doubt after limping off in Costa Rica’s impressive 2-0 win away at Trinidad and Tobago last Friday. However, let’s assume he starts and if he does the U.S. has to stop Costa Rica’s skipper getting the ball in advanced positions. That’s easier said than done but defending with a deep line is something the USMNT is very good at and that was demonstrated throughout the Copa America Centenario this summer and in the 4-0 win against Costa Rica in Chicago.

Locking down Ruiz’s Sporting Lisbon teammate Joel Campbell is very tricky too.

The pacy striker can run the channels and latches onto balls from Ruiz so simply put you have to deny them the space centrally and you can’t allow them to get in-behind. It will be a dangerous game for the U.S. to play because basically they will say to Costa Rica ‘fine, have the ball, you can’t get past us anyway…’ and then rely on set pieces and counter attacks to get at Los Ticos. That sounds likes tactics which have worked well for the U.S. in the past, right? Aiding a deep back four should be Bradley and Jones sat just in front of them to plug gaps for Ruiz to find Campbell.

Make no mistake about it, a point on the road at Costa Rica would be a big boost for the U.S. If they follow the three points above, it may just get them a valuable win and put them back on track in the Hex before the next batch of qualifiers in March.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”

Euro qualifying: Gundogan saves 10-man Germany, Bale earns Wales draw

Getty Images
1 Comment

Germany played for much of its visit to Estonia with 10 men as Emre Can was sent off for a bad last-man tackle just 14 minutes in, but Ilkay Gundogan‘s second-half brace saw Germany slide through with all three points on a 3-0 win to jump back on top of Group C. The all-important first came on a deflected effort from just outside the box to the right of center, while his second came minutes later with a shot from nearly the same place but just inside the area. Timo Werner added the third with under 20 minutes to go.

Wales secured a 1-1 draw at home against Croatia, but both sides will have greivences with the refereeing. Daniel James was taken out by Dejan Lovren on the edge of the box eight minutes in and likely should have been a penalty kick as the Liverpool defender barged James over without playing the ball. After Nikola Vlasic put Croatia ahead moments later, Gareth Bale would equalize just before halftime one a silky play through the Croatian defense, but a foul in the buildup wasn’t called that would have stopped play before the goalscoring moment.

There were also a pair of scary moments that involved nasty-looking head injuries. James came together with a pair of Croatians in the first half, and while it looked initially like Borna Barisic and Domagoj Vida had taken the brunt of the clash, James appeared to lose consciousness thanks to a knee in the back of his head. Despite the appearance of a clear distressing head injury, James was allowed to continue. Just second after the halftime break, Ethan Ampadu settled under the ball for a header until Bruno Petkovic blasted through his torso from behind, sending the Welsh midfielder to the ground awkwardly, holding his head in agony. Petkovic came in so hard that he earned a yellow card and maybe could have even seen red on another day. Ampadu was not allowed to continue, replaced immediately by Joe Morrell. Also notable in the match, Mateo Kovacic was taken off at halftime after appearing to pick up a muscle problem.

Austria held on for a 1-0 victory over Slovenia to temporarily jump into the lead in Group G, ahead of Poland on goal differential. Hoffenheim defender Stefan Posch scored the game’s only goal, a 21st minute effort off a corner. The back line did the rest, holding the hosts to just two shots on target in Ljubljana.

Poland secured qualification to the finals with a 2-0 win over North Macedonia behind goals from Przemyslaw Frankowski and Arkadiusz Milik, both which came in the final 20 minutes. The first was a messy finish from Chicago Fire winger Frankowski, collecting a flubbed Robert Lewandowski shot and poking it through past goakeeper Stole Dimitrievski. The second goal was much prettier, with the referee playing advantage after Lewandowski was fouled, and Milik delivered a delicious looper into the far corner.

Click here to see a roundup of the action from the early slate of games, including wins by Belgium, the Netherlands, and Russia.

Full Sunday Euro 2020 qualification scoreboard:

Kazakhstan 0-2 Belgium
Belarus 1-2 Netherlands
Cyprus 0-5 Russia
Hungary 1-0 Azerbaijan
Scotland 6-0 San Marino
Estonia 0-3 Germany
Poland 2-0 North Macedonia
Slovenia 0-1 Austria
Wales 1-1 Croatia

Teams who have secured guaranteed Euro 2020 qualification:

Italy
Belgium
Russia
Poland

Report: Alexis Sanchez out until 2020 with ankle injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alexis Sanchez has targeted a return to form at Inter, but that may be shelved for some time as an ankle injury picked up on international duty could keep him out of action for months.

The Chilean federation confirmed that Sanchez suffered a “dislocation of the ligaments” in his left ankle in the 0-0 friendly draw with Argentina over the weekend, but did not specify a timeframe for his recovery. However, Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri tweeted that Sanchez will not return until the calendar flips to 2020.

The injury is poorly timed for Sanchez who just broke into the Inter squad after being loaned from Manchester United. He scored his first goal in a 3-1 win over Sampdoria in late September before being sent off and suspended a match. The 30-year-old was also quality in the Champions League defeat to Barcelona, assisting Inter’s only goal.

At worst, a three-month injury layoff would see Sanchez return in mid-January, meaning he would miss the rest of the Champions League group stage as well as a host of Serie A matches. A Milan derby in early February would likely be a significant possibility for a late return.