AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo

Fearless Arena, USMNT overcame all risks vs. Mexico

Leave a comment

The ship is steadied.

That’s the upshot of Bruce Arena’s second international break with the United States men’s national team, where the Yanks dominated Trinidad and Tobago before drawing Mexico on Sunday in Azteca.

The latter is a far more impressive result, with Arena’s game planning getting due credit and Michael Bradley’s early goal making sure it had every reason to flourish in the thin air of Mexico City.

[ MORE: Player ratings for USMNT

Arena’s 3-5-2 took some significant risks, and it’s a credit to the coach and players that even the ones that backfired didn’t hamper the team in pursuit of a result.

The moves that didn’t work are even debatable. DaMarcus Beasley received little help when Carlos Vela toasted him with a counter attack goal, and the left back was limited anyway by an early injury (Whether Arena should’ve bit the bullet and used an early sub with Jorge Villafana is another discussion).

Putting 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta next to Michael Bradley was another risk that mostly worked, though the moments that made that adverb necessary were big ones. Acosta was cooked by Javier Hernandez with a nutmeg and then stayed with the hobbled striker as Vela worked his way to scoring position. That’s two errors on a big play, and it’s almost certain a more experience player takes a card for a tactical foul on Hernandez at midfield. But the Yanks escaped, and now the promising Acosta has an invaluable evening under his belt. Risk rewarded in that sense.

Then there’s Brad Guzan — and I’ve beaten this drum before — who was just fine but not Tim Howard. I realize Guzan has Azteca success, but for me there’s a gulf between the two MLS keepers.

As an aside, it bothers me that preferring Howard — probably the most accomplished of an amazing history of American goalkeepers — could be perceived as a shot at Guzan, who is a fine goalkeeper. But give me Howard every darn time.

It’s more difficult to expound upon the positives because “man those center backs did their job” is often the least sexy route for a writer. But there’s an easy argument that Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez are better for a three-man unit than in a center back duo. And even if it seems an easy trust for Arena to use Cameron as “the man”, it was taking a chance in a big spot.

He also resisted the urge to rest Michael Bradley, who hasn’t been bad but has also not been himself for some time with the USMNT set-up. It wasn’t just the long-distance goal that proved this move astute, rather the calm of the regular metronome in the center of the park.

And as much as I argued for the exclusion of Darlington Nagbe from the XI for this contest, it took guts for Arena not to start the electric Portland Timbers attacker. It’s often going to be a problem to use both Nagbe and Christian Pulisic against teams that can do work in the center of the park, especially while we wait for Pulisic’s continuing evolution. Both are risk/reward players and on a night that saw the Americans anything but successful in keeping the ball — blame an otherworldly night from the magnificent Hector Herrera.

Consider this: Mexico had 67 percent possession and 84 percent pass success. That’s not a horrible night by any means, and the Yanks still managed a point.  I mean, look at the below screen grab from CONCACAF.com. Almost every Mexican player to play significant minutes attempted more passes than the American leader: Pulisic.

Yet it doesn’t feel like a lucky result, and that perception is a feather in Arena’s cap. On a night where Hector Herrera cranked one off the pipe, the Yanks scored an amazing but fortunate goal, and several big name players were kept from the lineup, the U.S. got a result that feels just.

The boys have bought in, most naysayers shut up, and hope springs eternal even with the knowledge that the Yanks will likely be in CONCACAF’s fourth place following Tuesday’s qualifiers in Costa Rica and Panama.

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now

Photo by Marius Becker/picture alliance via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic is the best American soccer player in the world.

Of this, there is little debate.

But there is a debate to who is second, third, and well down the line, and we’ve got our last chance to really assess the full crop with Major League Soccer now out of season for a few months.

[ USMNT: Most to gain/lose from November ]

Let’s set some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one which could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Chris Richards of Bayern Munich II is a better long-term prospect than 32-year-old Tim Ream, but most would rather have the Fulham man in a big spot right now.

Top 25 USMNT players – November 2019

*not currently a part of USMNT squad due to injury
**not currently a part of USMNT squad due to coach’s decision

  1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea*
  2. Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig*
  3. John Brooks, Wolfsburg
  4. Weston McKennie, Schalke
  5. Alfredo Morales, Fortuna Dusseldorf
  6. Sergino Dest, Ajax
  7. Jordan Morris, Seattle Sounders
  8. Matt Miazga, Reading (on loan from Chelsea)**
  9. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen
  10. Zack Steffen, Fortuna Dusseldorf (on loan from Man City)*
  11. DeAndre Yedlin, Newcastle United
  12. Jozy Altidore, Toronto FC*
  13. Tim Ream, Fulham
  14. Timothy Weah, Lille*
  15. Julian Green, Greuther Furth**
  16. Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders
  17. Ike Opara, Minnesota United**
  18. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC*
  19. Fabian Johnson, Borussia Monchengladbach**
  20. Cameron Carter-Vickers, Stoke City (on loan from Spurs)**
  21. Tyler Boyd, Besiktas
  22. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy
  23. Miles Robinson, Atlanta United*
  24. Paul Arriola, DC United
  25. Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes

Next up, established: Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), Walker Zimmerman (LAFC), Eric Lichaj (Hull City), Paxton Pomykal (FC Dallas), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Duane Holmes (Derby County), Bill Hamid (DC United).

Next up, youth: Konrad de la Fuente (Barcelona U19), Alex Mendez (Ajax U19), Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund U19), Ulysses Llanez (Wolfsburg U19), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Donovan Pines (DC United), Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids)

Leaked image shows big fines that face Chelsea rule breakers

Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Frank Lampard‘s ready to go into his players’ wallets if they disobey his laws.

A posted list of fines for Chelsea players, signed by the manager, has been confirmed and we would completely understand if the Blues were on time all the time.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

A player is fined about $640 per minute he’s late to a meeting, and if he misses a practice, well, wow: The fine is nearly $26,000.

If a phone rings during a meeting, that’s gonna be $1,300.

And if any fine isn’t paid within two weeks, it doubles! Seems like Christian Pulisic and his teammates will have a lot of alarms set on their phones.

From The Telegraph:

Lampard has also banned agents from the training ground, unless on official business, and players must inform the club if they intend to travel abroad, even on scheduled days off.

The average Chelsea salary last season was approximately $6.6 million, meaning players make on average $127,000 per week.

The full list of fines is below.

Kompany: Liverpool’s Premier League title ghosts should ‘be to City’s advantage’

Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Vincent Kompany says history could help Manchester City climb back into the Premier League title race even after his former team dropped nine points back of first place Liverpool.

[ MORE: Salah out for Egypt ]

Now at Anderlecht, the center back also said history might’ve played a role in City’s 3-1 setback at Anfield. In a rare bit of explicit honesty, the often interesting Kompany said that players do deal with demons of a club’s past.

“We always struggle at Anfield,” he said, according to Sky Sports. “I said that on Super Sunday, you’re fighting 25 years of not winning at Anfield and that’s difficult, it’s two games in one game: You’re playing a great team and you’re fighting history.”

“Flip it around and the same will happen for Liverpool. They will fight the history of not winning the league for 30 years. That should be to City’s advantage I still think.”

Do you buy that? Most of the buzz around the Premier League is that this Liverpool is a different team than even the dominant one of last season, and City has suffered big injury problems. The Reds players almost went out of their way last year to say they weren’t worried about blowing their table lead last season (which was bigger, later in the season).

Kompany also said that he believes City doesn’t need to add a center back in January, which is bonkers unless he’s coming back, but the Belgian has proven time and again that he’s one of the better minds in the game.

The guy did title  his MBA dissertation, “How professional football clubs in the Premier League can benefit from home game advantage and achieve game-changing levels of improvement” after all. Then again, I’m not sure any of our dissertations on the same topic would’ve been approved had we done that.

Liverpool’s Salah to miss Egypt’s first two AFCON qualifiers

Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Good news for Liverpool, not so much for Egypt.

Mohamed Salah will not suit up for the Pharoahs this month as Egypt begins qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

[ MORE: Will Zlatan rejoin LA? ]

Salah has been dealing with ankle problems since a rough tackle from Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, and it’s acting up following a tackle from Fernandinho in the Reds’ 3-1 defeat of Man City on Sunday.

Egypt needs Salah, but it’s no surprise he’s erring on the side of caution given the tumultuous relationship between the superstar and his country (and Liverpool’s status as a contender in five (!!) tournaments).

Salah, 27, has 41 goals in 67 caps. The next five leading active Egyptian scorers have a combined 31 goals in their careers over 284 caps. The youngest of those is Aston Villa’s Trezeguet (25), followed by Besiktas’ Mohamed Elneny (27).

Egypt are heavy favorites to finish in one of the top two spots and qualify for AFCON 2020, even with the injury. The 49th ranked Pharoahs (FIFA ranking) are in a group with Kenya (108), Togo (124) and Comoros (142).

Egypt hosts Kenya on Thursday to kick off qualification, and visits Comoros on Monday.