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USMNT statement on anniversary of World Cup qualifying failure

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Has it really been a year? Sadly, it has. You may have tried to wipe it from your memory, but the darkest day in U.S. Soccer in several decades (if not ever) is hard to forget.

On October 10, 2017, the U.S. men’s national team lost 2-1 in Couva to Trinidad and Tobago as they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

With the USMNT missing out on qualification for the first time since 1986, huge changes have taken place throughout the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) as a result of that shocking performance at T&T.

From Bruce Arena resigning, to a whole host of experienced USMNT stars not playing for the national team again or retiring altogether, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati stepping down and replaced by Carlos Cordeiro, plus Earnie Stewart appointed as the new team GM, there has been a huge amount of change around the USMNT.

One year on, they issued the following statement on Wednesday (titled: “the future is US”) which didn’t directly address that it was one year since the debacle, but they said pretty much implied that with everything that was said.

“Today we look forward. With the march towards 2022 underway and the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America as our guidepost, the U.S. Men’s National Team has embarked on a new journey. The hallmarks of the culture remain, with perseverance, grit and dogged determination fueled by the pride to represent the United States and each and every one of you. We take nothing for granted. The path ahead will be paved with successes and informed by setbacks. We will build strength through commitment and character, accepting challenges and rising every time we fall. We will be aggressive and play without fear, for history demonstrates that fortune favors the bold.

“Like any grand project, ours is a work in progress. We cannot do it alone. Pioneering a new path forward takes the will of a generation full of optimism and hope, bound by the belief that there is nothing we cannot achieve if we are united in the cause. This is the American spirit, from which is born the American dream. It is time to take our destiny in our own hands and turn that dream into a reality. And do it together. The future is US.”

A lot of this is waffly PR talk and most of it will either grate or resonate strongly with USMNT fans.

“Like any grand project, ours is a work in progress” is like saying, ‘hey, give us another year or so, because things won’t be great for a while’ or something along those lines.

And the acceptance that “the 2026 World Cup in North America as our guidepost” shows that the route ahead has been planned out and the 2022 World Cup is somewhat of an afterthought already. Of course, the U.S. will want to qualify, but having such a young squad getting the experience it has over the past 12 months is clearly focused on them succeeding on home soil in eight years time. A lot can change in eight years, but at least the USMNT know they will be in that World Cup (it has yet to be announced officially, but the expectation is that Mexico, the U.S. and Canada will all be handed automatic qualification).

The past 12 months have been somewhat of a wasted year for the USMNT. They have drifted along with no clear direction.

Amid the USSF presidential elections they lost plenty of time to plan and put key GMs and coaches in place to get this team back to where it needs to be. Interim head coach Dave Sarachan has done a very decent job steadying the ship and integrating young talent but this feels like the U.S. has just been treading water.

With an 18 month gap between that fateful night in Couva to their next meaningful game, a 2019 Gold Cup group stage opener in June, the U.S. men’s national team have become a bit of an afterthought.

In the next decade or so we will be talking about October 10, 2017 as either the key date where the USMNT turned itself around, or the day when things began to go badly wrong for the program.

With a promising group of youngster coming through, it seems like the former will be true. But as the USMNT acknowledge themselves, the road ahead will be an arduous one. If the future is really going to be “US” then first they need a new head coach and to get the ball rolling as to what the identity and plan is for this team.

There has been too much time standing still. The USMNT needs to get their act together, fast, if they’re going to rebound successfully from what happened one year ago today. This anniversary acts as a painful reminder as to just how much work still needs to be done to restore pride in the U.S. men’s national team.

Robben claims Anfield to be his “worst stadium”

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What goes up must come down.

That’s essentially what Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben said before the German side heads to Liverpool to take on the Reds in Champions League play this coming week.

“You always have your favourite opponent and there always has to be a negative one,” Robben said to The Guardian. “I think, if you ask [about] the worst stadium for me, it’s probably Liverpool.”

Robben had a pair of Champions League heartbreaks at Anfield, both coming with Chelsea in 2005 and again in 2007. In the latter, Robben had a penalty saved by Pepe Reina in the shootout that sent the Reds to the final against AC Milan.

“At that time [Liverpool] were really capable of being this cup fighter team, also in the FA Cup or [League] Cup,” Robben said of those difficult memories. “In one or two games they could really live up to it and perform; just not the whole season, which was maybe too much. That was their biggest quality: they were there at the moment they needed to be there.”

“Now I think it changed and they developed really well. The manager has done a great job.”

Robben is a doubt to even play in the match due to a thigh injury, and that will probably help Jurgen Klopp sleep at night. The German boss saw Robben score nine goals against Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund across all competitions, including the decisive goal in the 2013 Champions League final in the 89th minute.

PSG chasing another kid named Kylian Mbappe

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What’s in a name? Probably a lot for the 11-year-old named Kylian Mbappe whom Paris Saint-Germain is reportedly interested in signing.

While his older namesake is hailed as the best young player in the world playing for PSG’s senior team and the world champion French national team, younger Kylian Mbappe currently plays for Roissy-en-Brie, the same youth club Paul Pogba played for as a young child before moving to Le Havre’s youth system and then Manchester United.

According to the child’s father, PSG has made an approach to add him to their youth ranks, but the family is taking its time to make a decision about Mbappe’s future.

“He will do what he wants and we will not push him at all costs to become a professional footballer,” said the boy’s father Eric, who is Cameroonian, just like the father of older Kylian Mbappe. “If it is the case that he goes to PSG, who have approached us, we would of course become closer to the other Kylian.”

“I have often been asked if I did it on purpose to call my son what his name is,” Eric added, speaking to French publication Le Parisien. “People quickly forget that there is only an 8-year age difference between the two and so obviously he was not a footballer when my son was born.”

Child Kylian said, “Since the other one became big, I have got used to it. I don’t even pay attention to it even if it generally makes me feel good. I am a PSG fan, I would like to have the same career as him.”

Wouldn’t we all, Kylian, wouldn’t we all.

Balotelli scores again for new club Marseille

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Mario Balotelli sure does love joining a new club.

Balotelli scored in just his second professional match with Inter in 2008. He scored a winner in his first Manchester City appearance in 2010 in Europa League play and bagged a brace in his second Premier League start. He scored seven goals in his first six league matches with AC Milan in 2013. He scored five goals in his first three Ligue 1 appearances for Nice. And now, after signing for Olympique Marseille in the winter transfer window, he is on a tear again.

Despite failing to find the back of the net the entire first half of the season as his Nice career came to a close, in four appearances for Marseille since joining in late January, Balotelli has scored three goals, his latest coming on Saturday as Marseille topped Amiens 2-0 to move above St. Etienne into fourth in the Ligue 1 table.

The 30-year-old Italian is clearly loving life at the Stade Velodrome, as he poked fun at his own teammate with his goal celebration. Florian Thauvin had scored the opener 19 minutes in, but pulled up lame after striking his shot, muting the celebration somewhat. He managed to stay in the game, and when Balotelli scored just six minutes later, he began to mock Thauvin’s injury by pretending his own hamstring was hurt. Thauvin was loving the joke, even joining in to poke fun at himself.

While it’s been an up and down season for Marseille as they fight for their Champions League lives, the club has won three in a row ahead of absolutely critical matches against Stade Rennais and St. Etienne on the horizon. The club then hosts Nice, Balotelli’s old club, where he enjoyed a fabulous start to his time there which served as a sort of revival for the Italian after struggles at Liverpool and AC Milan.

It remains to be seen if Balotelli can enjoy an extended stay at Marseille and prolong his success or if it is just a flash in the pan, but he’s obviously become an important figure in the moment, and Balotelli has always been about the moment.

Sanchez speaks about Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez has been a bit-part player this season at Manchester United under two different managers, and it’s beginning to take its toll.

The 30-year-old Chilean admitted in an interview with BBC’s Guillem Balague that the lack of playing time at Old Trafford is sapping his enjoyment of the game, and his inconsistent time on the pitch is feeding his poor form.

“I’m a player that, if I’m not in contact with the ball, I lose that spark,” Sanchez said, “and sometimes I want to play in every game. You’re in, you’re out, and I’m used to playing.

“It’s not an excuse because if I go on for 10, 20 minutes, I have to perform because that’s what I’m here for, to make a difference. I would like to have brought more joy to the club. Yes, it worries me because I believe in my abilities as a player, I want to show it.”

Sanchez has made 14 Premier League appearances for Manchester United this season, with just six of those coming from the opening whistle. A hamstring injury at the start of December is a major culprit of his lack of playing time this season, but so has been a lack of the creativity that he showed at times during his time at Arsenal. Sanchez has just one goal and three assists in 615 Premier League minutes this season, far below what the team likely expected he would provide.

“Within the group there was that feeling that you were in the team, then out,” Sanchez said of the squad’s waning confidence in Jose Mourinho before he was fired. “Sometimes I didn’t play, then I did, then I didn’t and as a player you lose confidence. I’ve played football since I was five and if I have the ball taken away from me, it’s as if I lose my joy.”

With 12 matches remaining in the Premier League and a tight battle for the Champions League places under way, Sanchez will have plenty of opportunities to make his mark, but he will need to prove he deserves a spot in the lineup moving forward.