Getty Images

Change in attitude key for Luis Enrique’s revamped Spain

Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) After only two matches, Luis Enrique already knows the key to his early success as coach of Spain’s national team.

Enrique said the team’s approach in the impressive wins over England and Croatia in the UEFA Nations League is what made the difference for a revamped squad since he took over.

“What I liked the most in these 10 days was the players’ attitude on and off the field,” the former Barcelona coach said. “In only a few training sessions they were able to put our ideas into practice.”

Enrique spoke after Spain’s 6-0 rout of World Cup runner-up Croatia in the Nations League on Tuesday. Three days earlier, La Roja had come from behind to defeat England 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.

“It was a spectacular day. I couldn’t have imagined it,” Enrique said after the team overpowered Croatia. “But regardless of the score, what I saw in the players’ attitude was what was important. With this level of efficiency and with this quality that we have in front of the goal, it will be very difficult to stop us.”

Fans loudly chanted the coach’s name during Tuesday’s game in the southeastern Spanish city of Elche.

“I was a little embarrassed. It surprised me,” Enrique said. “I’m thankful, but I prefer that they cheer the players, they are the real protagonists.”

Enrique was announced as Spain’s coach in July following the team’s World Cup debacle, when the soccer federation fired Julen Lopetegui two days before the tournament and the team eventually was eliminated by host Russia in the round of 16.

His first contact with players came less than two weeks ago in training camp. He immediately imposed his energetic style in the practice sessions, and it translated onto the field in the first two matches.

Enrique had already taken action to bring the players together and build greater camaraderie within the group, including banning cell phones during meals so players could spend more time talking to each other. He also took the squad to an “escape room,” where players had to work together to solve puzzles and try to break out.

“I liked what I saw from the players the whole week,” Enrique said.

On the field, the coach also implemented important changes, making the team apply more pressure without the ball and playing a more direct game in attack, relinquishing the endless short passes that used to be a characteristic of Spain’s national team.

“Luis Enrique asks us to be very aggressive up front, to pressure and try to dominate, not giving the opponent any breathing room,” said Marco Asensio, who scored a goal and set up three others against Croatia on Tuesday. “We needed to get this sort of feeling back. We’ve put in two great performances.”

Asensio was the man of the match against Croatia but he didn’t even start against England. Iago Aspas played at Wembley and also performed well. Saul Niguez, who has become an undisputable starter for Enrique in midfield thanks to his versatility, also scored on Tuesday, as did Sergio Ramos, Rodrigo and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon.

Spain’s next match is a friendly against Wales on Oct. 11 in Cardiff. Four days later it will host England in Seville in the Nations League.

“Now we have time to analyze everything in more detail,” Enrique said. “There are things to improve despite these first two matches.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

PSG’s Neymar, Mbappe injured on international duty

Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Not a banner day for Paris Saint-Germain.

Both Kylian Mbappe and Neymar were injured on international duty Tuesday, the effects of which remain to be seen for the Ligue 1 club (Perhaps it could be an opening for American attacker Tim Weah, or a huge opening for Liverpool as the Reds prepare to face PSG in the Champions League).

[ USMNT: Player ratings | 3 things ]

A 1v1 challenge with Uruguay goalkeeper Martin Campana felled the 19-year-old Mbappe, and France coach Didier Deschamps did not have a decent prognosis.

From the BBC:

“He has a sore shoulder, he’s fallen badly. He will have to see with the medical staff. I hope it’s not bad.”

As for Neymar, he suffered “an adductor injury while taking a shot in the sixth minute, and left Brazil’s friendly against Cameroon in England.

Let’s throw it to the most quoted national team doctor in ProSoccerTalk history, Dr. Rodrigo Lasmar:

“He felt discomfort. He will need a bit more time to evaluate it and take a scan, but in principle it is not a serious injury.”

Sarachan confirms he’s out as USMNT coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

GENK – It didn’t end the way he wanted. But it is over.

Dave Sarachan confirmed his 13-month stint as interim head coach is now over and U.S. Soccer is now expected to announce a new permanent head coach in the coming days.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking after he sent out the youngest USMNT side in the modern era for their 1-0 defeat (courtesy of a 94th minute goal) to Italy in Genk, Belgium on Tuesday, Sarachan was asked by Pro Soccer Talk if that was his final game in charge.

“It was my last game. I haven’t been told that, but it is evident there is going to be a change in the very near future,” Sarchan said. “I feel as though this has been a very good year for the program and I feel as the leader over the last 12 months of the program, I feel as though we have moved it forward. It may not look like that to everybody on the outside but to look back on the games we played, the players we’ve exposed to this level, that we brought forth. I am certain it is going to pay dividends down the line. For me, I feel as though when the next person comes in, they are going to have a great starting point. That makes me feel good and the program feel good.”

Sarachan is a fine man and he’s done exactly what was asked of him. If not more. As the president of U.S. Soccer, Carlos Cordeiro and the new USMNT GM Earnie Stewart looked on from the back of the press conference room at the Luminus Arena, Sarachan seemed emotional as he delivered his final comments as interim head coach of the U.S.

His 12 games in charge saw him finish with a 3-5-4 record, with defeats against the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, Colombia, England and Italy the blots on his copybook.

Sarachan was handed the reins last October after the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and he was tasked with one thing: play the kids.

He did, giving 23 players their debuts over the past 13 months and the average age of the team who played against Italy was 22 years, 71 days.

The long-time assistant of Bruce Arena was given an extremely tough situation last fall and in the last 12 games he has had a mixed set of results. But that is to be expected as he brought in youngsters who were barely playing on their club teams and threw them up against some of the biggest nations on the planet, especially in the last few months.

With Sarachan out, it is all about who is next. That announcement is inching ever closer for U.S. Soccer who are now on the clock.

Report: USMNT turned down Lopetegui meeting request

Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images
1 Comment

The United States men’s national team has been missing a full-time head coach for a long time, and is set to appoint a boss — probably Gregg Berhalter — within the next week or two.

But Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl dropped a bomb on a weary and leery U.S. fan base after FS1’s broadcast of the USMNT’s 1-0 loss to Italy in Belgium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Player ratings3 things ]

Wahl says that former Spain and Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui recently approached U.S. Soccer about the vacancy, but was told the program was too far along in its process.

From Wahl on SI.com:

U.S. Soccer, the source said, replied that it was too far down the line in its process to entertain the interest of Lopetegui, who was undefeated in 20 matches (14-0-6) across two years as the Spain coach. U.S. Soccer offered no comment when asked for a response.

The report will only add more consternation as Berhalter, well-qualified in his own right, attempts to right the good ship USMNT.

How in the world, at any point in the process, a program like the USMNT refuses the chance to speak to Lopetegui would be hilarious most times, though it certainly is likely very late in the process (which has not been anywhere near transparent).

If Berhalter had been told he was hired, that’s about the only acceptable answer (and even if he was, some would still have wanted the U.S. to say ‘Tough break, Gregg. We owe the process this conversation’).

Also a former Porto boss, Lopetegui led Spain’s U-19 and U-21 sides to EURO titles. He was fired by Real on Oct. 29, which would’ve given the Yanks a chance to reach out to him.

Again, I think Berhalter has everything it takes to be a wildly successful USMNT boss, but this process has not been covered in glory.

Player ratings: USMNT loses late vs. Italy

AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert
Leave a comment

The USMNT closed off another year with a sour taste in its mouth, losing track of Italy’s Matteo Politano as the Azzurri finally found a way past American goalkeeper Ethan Horvath with a stoppage time winner in Belgium on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]


Starting XI

Ethan Horvath — 8 — Very good after a nervy moment early, the Club Brugge man will have shown a new coach he should be in consideration for the top job. Could do little on the goal.

Shaq Moore — 7 — Quite decent despite playing 4/5 of the match on his non-preferred left side.

Cameron Carter-Vickers — 5.5 — Beaten a couple of times, but a clean sheet against Italy in Europe is what it is.

Aaron Long — 6 — Left in no man’s land by Lletget in stoppage time.

Walker Zimmerman — 7 — The standout of a decent night for the three center backs, even chipped in with a header on goal in the first half.

Reggie Cannon (Off 76′) — 6.5 — A decent performance with promising moments moving forward for the FC Dallas right back.

Kellyn Acosta (Off 83′) — 7 — I though the Colorado Rapids midfielder was the Yanks’ best field player on the day, with quite decent service on set pieces to boot.

Marky Delgado (Off 62′) — 5 — Inconspicuous

Tyler Adams — 6 Busier than Delgado, but was a bit overran and will take this as a learning experience.

Christian Pulisic (Off 83′) — 6 — Just fine. Saddled with either a second striker or 3+1 attacking midfielder role, Pulisic was understandably troubled by Leonardo Bonucci (though we have to imagine the Italian wasn’t happy to deal with him either).

Josh Sargent (Off 62′) — 5 — Good energy, but clearly taking a step up in class from Hertha Berlin’s reserves. Hesitated to pull the trigger to find Reggie Cannon’s adventurous run in the early second half.

Subs

Wil Trapp (On 62′) — 5 — Looked confused at times in the middle of the park, troubling for a player who’s received plenty of time to get used to these situations.

Bobby Wood (On 62′) — 6 — Just fine.

Jorge Villafana (On 76′) — 6 — An improved performance from last week versus England, albeit in a cameo.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 83′) — 4 — How a clean sheet is quickly undone against Italy: Lletget leaves Politano, who starts a quick exchange between Marco Verratti, Moise Kean, and himself to win it in stoppage time. Maybe harsh on a man who waited almost 2 years between caps, but true.

Romain Gall (Off 83′) — 6.5 — Lively in limited time, Gall earned a corner with a wayward shot from distance (though his ensuing corner service left plenty to be desired).