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USMNT already vindicated in hiring Arena, firing Klinsmann

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It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction from a stellar point away at Mexico in 2018 World Cup qualifying, but this is so much more than that.

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Fans of the U.S. men’s national team will be waking up with a renewed sense of hope on Monday morning as they watched their team implement a solid gameplan almost to perfection in the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca.

Sure, Mexico was missing several key players, had one eye on the upcoming Confederations Cup and already has more than one foot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but it also shuffled its pack marvelously, and bravely, to come away from Mexico City with a valuable point.

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U.S. Soccer got plenty of stick for firing Jurgen Klinsmann back in November 2016 after two defeats to open World Cup qualifying and then going for a blast from the past in Bruce Arena to guide them to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Despite all the critics (in truth, hiring Arena always seemed like the only real option) this is all working remarkably well and much quicker than expected.

Arena, 65, used all of his experience to navigate two World Cup qualifiers in four days at altitude and the length to which he went to make sure this happened smoothly is remarkable.

Players revealed after the game that Arena planned this out three weeks ago when they first met up ahead of the qualifiers. He had two separate teams training in different formations in order to get at least four points from the two qualifiers.

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Arena himself, as he tends to do, kept things simple when speaking after the 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca, just the third time the U.S. had got something from their travels to Mexico City in World Cup qualifying.

“We told the team on day one of this camp that we would play that way in this game,” Arena said. “We call the formation a 3-4-3 or a 5-2-1-2, or whatever you want to call it. As long as it adds up to 10, we’re good.”

Arena may have made it sound simple, but it was far from that.

Many threw their hands up in the air when Arena was appointed, stating that the USMNT had gone backwards. But was the past really that bad? After all, Arena had led the U.S. to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002. We all know what happened in 2006 but this current U.S. squad was better than any other.

This is not so much about Arena’s superior game management as it is about Klinsmann’s tactical ineptitude. On a big-picture level Klinsmann did plenty of good for U.S. Soccer as a Technical Director. You can already see that with the youth national teams in recent months and the likes of Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks becoming regulars for the U.S. national team.

But what Klinsmann always lacked is what Arena is great at: organization for individual games and man-management.

USMNT center back Omar Gonzalez spoke of the difference between Klinsmann and Arena following the draw on Sunday night. He revealed that he and others knew for weeks that they would be playing in a three-man central defense, rather than at the last minute under Klinsmann for the home qualifier against Mexico in Columbus back in November.

“I was relieved that I knew that early, for sure,” Gonzalez told Goal.com. “I’ve had three weeks to prepare for this game. It’s just a different environment, and a different mentality you can take when you know three weeks out when you’re going to play, how you’re going to prepare. Sometimes with Jurgen you wouldn’t know until the day of the game. It’s just stressful, so with Bruce here taking that kind of approach here, it’s been helping out a lot…

“Bruce is very open, clear with players, straightforward. I like that approach and it’s been great so far. We’ve turned things around since November. Now we’re in third place (in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying) and I couldn’t be happier.”

Now, we will always be reminded of Klinsmann taking the German national team to the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup on home soil but he had Joachim Low alongside him. In the nicest way possible Klinsmann was a figurehead, a cheerleader who galvanized the players and staff, but now we all know Low was responsible for the key tactical decisions and he has shown that in the past 11 years in charge of Germany.

Klinsmann helped set up the system for the young German players to thrive in which the likes of Toni Kroos, Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller soon benefited from. And you could argue the U.S. needed Klinsmann to put a similar rubric in place. You can also argue that having him in charge of the USMNT never really worked and he failed to get the best out of the most talented pool of players the U.S. has ever had.

Just over six months in, Arena is already doing that. Eight points from four World Cup qualifiers points to that, but the main positive is that Arena has the backing of this squad and everyone believes in what he’s doing. He is old school and is keeping it simple.

Of course, there was a certain staleness towards the end of the Klinsmann era. That’s inevitable after six years at the helm and there is usually a short-term boost when a new manager comes in. Arena’s second-coming as U.S. boss feels like he is the right man at the right time.

Looking back at Klinsmann’s reign one final time, there were major ups and downs throughout and he could never get to grips with the ever-changing American soccer landscape. Arena is an old hand at handling that. Under Klinsmann friendly wins against Italy, Germany and Holland, plus the Copa America Centenario run and reaching the Round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup were scattered among a Gold Cup debacle and humiliating defeats to CONCACAF rivals.

It was probably in doubt before the past week, but now it is clear U.S. Soccer pulled the plug on Klinsmann at the right time.

They could’ve done it sooner but they were all-in on Klinsmann and only inept defeats which showcased a lack of detailed preparation could be the signal for his increasingly inevitable departure. That arrived in November and U.S. Soccer acted swiftly to appoint Arena. He may too have struggled against Mexico and Costa Rica last fall, but what we we have seen across Arena’s seven unbeaten games is exactly why Sunil Gulati and Co. made the change.

The Brooklyn native is brash and bold and not everyone’s cup of tea, but my word he’s getting the job done, once again, for the U.S.

With four qualifiers to go there is still plenty of work to do but after the home game against Costa Rica on Sept. 1 and then the trip to Honduras four days later the U.S. will have a strong idea if they’re going to qualify for the 2018 World Cup automatically.

Arena’s job will be complete if that is the case and anything next summer in Russia is a bonus. That’s a good mindset to have as the USMNT looked rejuvenated and refocused under an experienced coach who is surely the best the U.S. has ever produced.

Solskjaer, Mata react to Man Utd draw: “We can play better”

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Manchester United got an away goal in a 1-1 first leg draw with Europa League foes Club Brugge in Belgium on Thursday.

The goals were pretty individual, a big chip of Sergio Romero followed by Anthony Martial’s powerful dribble to equalize for the Red Devils.

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United outshot the hosts 16-10, but fell short in big chances created by a 3-1 margin.

Here’s Red Devils manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, via the BBC:

“It was a game with difficult conditions out there. It was almost like an astroturf. The ball was very quick and lively,” Solskjaer said. “We got the away goal. It was a very good individual goal, worked hard to win the ball and finish so we are happy with that but we know we can play better.”

The second leg is Feb. 27 at Old Trafford, four days after a Premier League encounter with Watford in the same building.

United midfielder Juan Mata had a busy day, winning the majority of his tackles and creating one key pass. He expected better from his team but sees the game for what it is.

Here is Mata, from The Manchester Evening News:

“They scored a goal we shouldn’t concede. We scored a goal from their mistake. we wanted to win, obviously, 1-1 is not a very bad result, but we always want to win,” Mata said. “We just couldn’t find spaces, they defended very well with five plus four. We tried to play a few times through the middle, which we didn’t succeed to do that. Then we scored that goal and from then we played a bit better.”

Solskjaer kept Bruno Fernandes, Fred, Daniel James, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the bench to start the match. Fernandes and Fred came on late.

FC Cincinnati adds Ajax midfielder Siem de Jong

Siem de Jong
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FC Cincinnati got a much-needed bit of good news toward the end of a rough week in Southern Ohio.

Longtime Ajax attacker Siem De Jong has joined a talented FCC attack ahead of the club’s second MLS season.

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De Jong, 31, came up through Ajax’s vaunted academy before transferring to Newcastle United, where he suffered through a series of miserable injuries including two collapsed lungs in 18 months.

He’s been capped six times with two goals for the Netherlands in his career and will join a revitalized Cincinnati attack with Jurgen Locadia and Yuya Kubo.

“The system they want to play is quite similar to the Dutch system, and yeah, Ajax is probably one of the team’s that perfected it,” de Jong said. “Over the years I played there, I’ve learned a lot about this similar philosophy and trying to build up from the back in the Dutch style of play. That was one of the reasons why FC Cincinnati was a good fit for me. Hopefully I can help with the experience I’ve had over the years playing this style of football.”

De Jong scored three times in nine matches this season for Ajax, all of the goals coming in a cup match against third-tier Spakenburg. His other eight matches combined for just 118 minutes.

He may not be with FCC when the season starts as he waits on visa approval.

Man United held at Club Brugge (video)

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Man United were held to a 1-1 draw away at Club Brugge in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 tie as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side battled back from a sloppy start to stretch their unbeaten run to five games in all competitions.

Emmanuel Bonaventure (commonly known as Dennis) scored a beautiful opener to put Brugge ahead but United equalized through Anthony Martial and he also hit the post as the Red Devils looked more dangerous as both teams had chances in a tight, tense encounter.

The two teams met for the second leg at Old Trafford next Thursday, Feb. 27.

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Brugge almost scored with their first attack as Dennis caused havoc behind Luke Shaw and a combination of Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic cleared the ball from danger from close range.

Andreas Pereira fired in a low shot which Simon Mignolet saved well but moments later Brugge were ahead.

Nemanja Matic thought he had won a corner kick but a goal kick was given and former Liverpool goalkeeper Mignolet caught out the entire Man United defense with a long ball over the top to find Dennis who lobbed the ball over a stranded Sergio Romero and in.

Hans Vanaken, Mats Rits and Dennis then all went close to doubling Brugge’s lead as United’s defense was all over the place.

United did draw level before half time as a loose throw-in from Brugge caused their own problems and Martial powered towards goal and calmly slotted home to make it 1-1.

Brandon Williams missed a good chance and Mignolet then pushed Martial’s shot onto the post as United came alive after their opening goal.

In the second half Man United continued to improve as Diogo Dalot‘s cross found Jesse Lingard who flicked wide, while Martial and Juan Mata then combined but Brugge managed to block the danger at the last moment.

At the other end Dennis was denied as Romero saved well down low at the near post and late on Dennis bamboozled Harry Maguire before crossing for Odilon Kossounou who somehow scuffed his shot wide.

Man United finished with a flourish as new signings Odion Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes came on off the bench to try and help the Red Devils grab a winner and although they both looked lively, United couldn’t find a late goal.

VIDEO: Martial scores for Man United v. Club Brugge

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Anthony Martial scored once again for Man United and his goal in the Europa League Round of 32 first leg against Club Brugge was a beauty.

The Frenchman is standing tall in the absence of Marcus Rashford through injury as he has now scored in back-to-back games away from home.

Martial, 24, made the most of a slight defensive mistake from Club Brugge as he powered towards goal and kept his cool to slot home, while he also hit the post in the first half after Simon Mignolet got a slight touch on his curling effort.

When he’s on form he’s a joy to watch and after his towering header against Chelsea on Monday, Martial has done it again a few days later in Belgium. It is the third time this season he has scored in back-to-back games and he has now scored 14 goals in 30 appearances for the Red Devils, his best return since he scored 17 in his opening season at United in 2015-16.

Here is Martial’s goal at Club Brugge, as United need him to kick on and take this tally for the season to at least 20 goals if they are going to be successful.