USMNT vs. Ecuador preview: More than a legendary tribute

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Credit the shrewdness of Jurgen Klinsmann and US Soccer for this: a win over FIFA No. 21 ranked Ecuador in a normally-ordinary friendly would be a tough feat in any circumstances.

Turning Friday’s match into an amped-up crowd affair as a send-off for Landon Donovan is going to make it more difficult for La Tricolor. And in Klinsmann’s quest to become a seeded team for World Cup 2018, every win over a high-ranked team is critical.

For the record, according to FIFA’s ranking points calculator, even wins are going to drop the States to 900 points. That figure would move them from No. 17 to 20 in this months’ rankings. Two draws? No. 23. Two losses? No. 26. 

[ USMNT: Injured Julian Green leaves team | “My Landon Donovan moment” ]

Let’s cover our bases as it pertains to Friday’s opponent, Ecuador. First off, there’s going to be MLS representation on the visitors roster, as Real Salt Lake’s Joao Plata will hope to earn his second cap in a group that includes just two other forwards (the highest profile being Enner Valencia of West Ham).

The deep midfield corps is highlighted by unattached Segundo Castillo and Dynamo Moscow middleman Christian Noboa. Nineteen-year-old Carlos Gruezo of Stuttgart got a call-up as well, with Ivan Hurtado and Walter Ayovi the biggest names in defense. Starting goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez will be there as well.

But some big names are not coming: Antonio Valencia of Manchester United, Jefferson Montero of Swansea and Felipe Caicedo of Espanyol are all staying away. In terms of big names not getting the call, this is significant and the American Outlaws should expect to be heavy favorites at home in a game of such emotional import.

[ MORE LegenD: Top 5 USMNT goals | Emotional video tribute ] 

[ YOU: What’s your “My Landon Donovan moment?” ]

The question of how they might line up is challenged by Julian Green’s continued rib struggles. Here’s an informed guess at the Starting XI, with the caveat that when Donovan comes off after 30 minutes, it will be to make way for Bobby Wood or Miguel Ibarra (with Chris Wondolowski saved as a late-game sub for Jozy Altidore.

Guzan

Yedlin—Orozco–Brooks—Chandler

Bedoya–Corona–Diskerud

Donovan–Altidore—Gyau

Prediction:

Score: United States 2, Ecuador 1

Goal scorers: ECU- E. Valencia; USA- Gyau, Diskerud

Tribute to Donovan: fitting and emotional

France wins Group E after goalless draw with Ecuador

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France clinched the top spot in Group E with a goalless draw against 10-man Ecuador at the Maracana stadium in Rio.

It was a match full of chances with no one to convert and with the draw, Ecuador becomes the first South American side to exit the tournament. Going against a high-flying France squad it was always going to be a difficult game for La Tri but the pressure ramped up ten-fold when captain Antonio Valencia was shown a straight red card for a daft second-half challenge on Lucas Digne. The Ecuadorians continued to fight but the chances simply wouldn’t fall and with Switzerland cooly handling Honduras, Reinaldo Rueda’s team was left in the dark.

The action began in the 15th minute when Moussa Sissoko unleashed a left-footed rocket from the right side of the box that Ecuadorian goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez did well to save. Five minutes later, it was La Tri’s turn with speedster Jefferson Montero flying down the left side but his shot was snuffed out by France keeper Hugo Lloris.

In the 38th minute it was Dominguez to the rescue again, this time tipping a Paul Pogba header over the bar, a shot the France midfielder should have done better with.

Here’s what we were saying at halftime.

The teams entered the dressing room on even ground but things were made extra difficult for Ecuador when Valencia’s increasingly poor discipline got the best of him as came in later and dragged his boot over the shin of Digne. Down a man, Ecuador showed courage through the press, enjoying flashes of brilliance with Enner Valenica finding Christian Noboa on a 54th minute counter-attack. Noboa found himself wide-open and inside the box but shower poor composure as he nervously sprayed his shot wide of the mark.

France then regained control and for the next twenty minutes produced multiple threats on goal only for Karim Benzema, Morgan Schneiderlin and Pogba to all blast over the bar. In the 81st minute Ecuador was at it again with Michael Arroyo streaking down the left side and into the box unmarked but he too lacked poise, sending his shot wide of the mark. A minute later and third golden opportunity was presented when substitute Alex Ibarra broke Raphael Varane off the dribble and unleashed a left-footed crack that Hugo Lloris batted away.

With the clock winding down it was back to France to blow chances as Benzema and Olivier Giroud interchanged only for the former to rip his shot directly into the arms of Dominguez. Then it was Loic Remy, on for Moussa Sissoko and eager to make an impression, snapping his left-footed shot towards the corner only for a sprawling Dominguez to tip the effort wide.

Finally, one minute into injury time and for good measure it was Giroud putting a wide-open header directly into the hands of Dominguez sealing a horrific finishing display that saw 31 chances on goal and nothing to show for it.

As winners of Group E, France now move on to the Round of 16 where they’ll face Group F runner-up Nigeria on July 30th.

Lineups

Ecuador: Dominguez, Guagua, Erazo, Paredes, Noboa, Montero (Alex Ibarra 67′), W. Ayovi, E. Valencia, Minda, Arroyo (c), A. Valencia

France: Lloris (c), Sakho (Raphael Varane 61′), Benzema, Griezmann, Matuidi (Olivier Giroud 67′), Sagna, Digne Sissoko, Pogba, Koscielny, Schneiderlin

Discipline: E. Valencia (Red Card 50′)

Enner Valencia brace gives Ecuador a Group E boost with 2-1 win over Honduras

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Ecuador’s “that guy” is Enner Valencia, and he put two past Honduras to give La Tri its first three points of the 2014 World Cup and put Honduras on the brink of elimination.

The win wasn’t without trepidation, as the CONCACAF underdogs struck first through Carlo Costly, but just two minutes later Ecuador came back to level things up, and it was only a matter of time after that.

The game started open and stayed that way, with plenty of chances on both ends, although many of them ended in disappointing mistakes.

The Honduran defense played savior early on, as Victor Bernardez cut out a cross in the opening five minutes, and Ecuador’s Enner Valencia was pressured enough on a breakaway that he just curled his shot wide on 20 minutes.

Maynor Figueroa, a defensive force in the first half for Honduras, also put in a solid block as Valencia nearly found Felipe Caicedo in on goal.

Finally, Ecuador was punished for their wastefulness in front of goal as Honduras surprisingly went ahead.  A long ball from the back came forward to Costly, defended by Jorge Guagua.

The Ecuadorian defender mistimed his jump, and the ball clipped off him right to Costly’s feet. With just the goalkeeper to beat, the 31-year-old striker rocketed home through the legs of goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez for the opener.

The goal ended Honduras’s 510-minute World Cup goal drought, the second-longest of all-time.

source: AP
Enner Valencia has scored in six straight Ecuador matches.

However, the lead would not last long.  Ecuador pulled level just two minutes later, when Juan Carlos Paredes took aim from just outside the box and blasted on net. The ball clipped Jorge Claros on the way through, causing it to dribble to the far post where Enner Valencia had beaten Brayan Breckeles, and Valencia pounced for the equalizer, marking the sixth-straight match in which he’s scored for his country.

The first half started listlessly, but Honduras pulled out the biggest chance.  On the hour mark, Jerry Bengtson tried to thread a shot into the lower corner, but Dominguez dove to push the ball out wide.

Ecuador built up a pile of corner kicks as the second half wore on, and they seemed to inch closer and closer towards scoring the winner as each one swung in. Finally, they found the set-piece magic they were looking for in the 65th minute.

A free kick came in from the left edge of the box after a foul by Boenik Garcia, and the out-swinger found the head of Enner Valencia again who nodded the ball home at the far post for Ecuador’s 2-1 lead.  The goal is the third for Valencia of this World Cup, tying him for the early golden boot lead with Karim Benzema, Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Muller.

The deficit pushed Honduras more into the attack, and they came close on a few chances. Costly had a legitimate penalty should waved off as he was wrapped up in the box as the clock hit 75 minutes.

Honduras pushed with heart, but they just didn’t have the quality or creativity to produce any better opportunities to draw level.

Ecuador’s victory marked the eighth comeback win of the tournament, a staggering number at such an early stage.  It also puts them into second place in Group E on goal-differential, ahead of Switzerland. However, they take on France next and one would think they’d need a result against the dominating Les Bleus if they were to go through to the knockout round.

Honduras remains winless in World Cup play, a span of eight matches for the country.

LINEUPS:

Ecuador – Dominguez; Guagua, Erazo, Paredes, Ayovi; Noboa, Minda (Gruezo 83′), Montero (Achillier 90′), A. Valencia; Caicedo (Mendez 82′), E. Valencia.

Goals: E. Valencia 33′, 65′

Honduras – Valladares; Figueroa, Benardez, Izaguirre (J. Garcia 46′), Beckeles; B. Garcia (Chavez 82′), Espinoza, Garrido (Martinez 71′), Claros; Bengston, Costly.

Goals: Costly 31′

At halftime: Sloppy first 45 has Ecuador and Honduras at one a-piece – FOLLOW LIVE

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The first half of this Group E match saw an open 45 minutes, with the chippy match seeing Ecuador and Honduras each take advantage of a defensive mistake to pick up a goal before the break.

Carlo Costly struck first for Honduras on a break-away, slotting through after the half-hour mark to end a streak of poor finishing by both sides.

The goal ended Honduras’s 510-minute World Cup goal drought, the second-longest of all-time.  It also put Los Catrachos in line to become the last CONCACAF team to earn a win in this World Cup, in what would be an enormous mark for the federation.

However, just two minutes later, the lead was wasted as a deflected shot by Juan Carlos Parades fell to Enner Valencia on the far post for Ecuador to equalize.

The game was sloppy, with plenty of midfield turnovers and a few scuffed shots.  Both sides also produced defensive mistakes as well as their share of errors in front of goal, but Costly didn’t miss with his chance.

FOLLOW LIVE: Soccerly’s real-time match center

Goals:

31′ – Out of nothing, a long ball from the back came forward to Costly, defended by Jorge Guagua.  The Ecuadorian defender mistimed his jump, and the ball clipped off him right to Costly’s feet. With just the goalkeeper to beat, the 31-year-old striker rocketed home through the legs of goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez for the opener.

33′ – With an opening at the top edge of the box, Juan Carlos Paredes took aim and blasted on net. The ball clipped Jorge Claros on the way through, causing it to dribble to the far post where Enner Valencia had beaten Brayan Breckeles, and Valencia pounced for the equalizer.

Other key moments:

4′ – The game started incredibly open, and both sides got a half-chance early. A very dangerous cross from Ecuador’s Jefferson Montero was cut out by Victor Bernardez who cleared despite slipping on the ball. It went down the other end, and Carlos Costly found Jerry Bengtson

20′ – Enner Valencia had a gaping opportunity to put Ecuador ahead, but he came oh-so-close.  A ball out of the back found his brilliantly-timed run, and with only the goalkeeper to beat, Valencia took aim for the top-left corner, but missed by inches with his curling effort.

26′ – Ecuador had another break on, but Maynor Figueroa stuck his boot out and blocked the key pass from Enner Valencia who was looking for a streaking Felipe Caicedo.

27′ – A Honduran corner came in to the far post, and Victor Bernardez got a free header with the goal gaping, but it went just wide.

45’+1 – A free kick by Bernardez forced a strong, diving save by Dominguez.

45’+2 – A cross into the box for Honduras caught the head of Costly who clanged it off the corner of the post.  The rebound came out to Jerry Bengtson who put it in the back of the net, but the referee correctly ruled it out for a handball on Bengtson. Even if the ball hadn’t hit his hand, replays showed Bengtson was in an offsides position.

LINEUPS:

Ecuador – Dominguez; Guagua, Erazo, Paredes, Ayovi; Noboa, Minda, Montero, A. Valencia; Caicedo, E. Valencia.

Goals: E. Valencia 33′

Honduras – Valladares; Figueroa, Benardez, Izaguirre, Beckeles; Garcia, Espinoza, Garrido, Claros; Bengston, Costly.

Goals: Costly 31′

Key players:

  • Christian Noboa – The Ecuadorian midfielder was all over the center of the pitch, and although he must clean up his 24/31 passing, those he completed set up a number of chances for his team.
  • Maynor Figueroa – The Hull City defender picked up five ball-recoveries in the defensive half, completed two tackles on two attempts, won three of four aerial duels, and completed all five attempted clearances.  He’s been a massive force in Honduras’s defense.

Numbers to know:

6 – The number of straight games Enner Valencia has scored for Ecuador.

Questions for second half:

  • Can Honduras create enough to go ahead? Ecuador out-passed Honduras in the final third 43-15 and held 62% of possession, proving the much more creative team.  With both teams sloppy finishing chances, Honduras must create more chances in order to produce another goal.  The few minutes before halftime proved promising in that regard.
  • Will Ecuador clean things up? As the more creative side, Ecuador still must clean things up in the midfield and the attacking third. Their passing completion sits at just 78%, and the midfield was clogged compared to their push forward.  If they can’t fix the mistakes in the build-up, Honduras could pip this one off the better side.

Late Seferovic winner gives Switzerland all three points with 2-1 victory over Ecuador

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Seasoned veteran Ottmar Hitzfeld made two changes for his Switzerland side, and both substitutes scored as Haris Seferovic’s tap-in four minutes into added time gave the Swiss all three points in a crucial Group E match.

Ecuador scored first, a 22nd minute header for Enner Valencia, but the Swiss came back with a pair of second-half goals for the 2-1 win.

Switzerland started the most promising, and remained that way throughout the first half, but they could not find the back of the net.

The expected threats of Josip Drmic and Xherdan Shaqiri both had chances inside the first 20 minutes, but a good tackle from Jorge Guagua on Drmic and an easy save low by Alexander Dominguez kept them out.

Ecuador scored first, against the run of play, to stun the Swiss and set the tone for the first half. A free kick from the left edge by Walter Ayovi found his Pachuca teammate Enner Valencia wide open in the box, and he leaped high to finish with his head.

The Swiss were caught off guard, and as a result were timid going forward much of the rest of the first half.

But they found their legs during the break, and a halftime change paid dividends for Hitzfeld.  Bringing on Admir Mehmedi for Valentin Stocker, Mehmedi struck from a set piece of his own.

A corner by Ricardo Rodriguez saw Mehmedi easily out-muscle Carlos Gruezo to nod the ball home from close range.

The match continued to be Swiss pressure followed by Ecuadorian counter, but both sides had chances.  Switzerland had a brilliant chance when Josip Drmic put the ball into the back of the net, but the flag went up right away for offside – which replay showed was incorrect as Granit Xhaka let the ball go while Drmic was in the offside position.

The winner came in the 93rd minute, with end-to-end action resulting in Switzerland’s victory. Valon Behrami dispossesed substitute Michael Arroyo with a chance of his own in the box, and the Swiss pressed forward.

Gruezo tried to stop the break with a foul in the midfield, but he only got man and not the ball, and Behrami got up and continued on advantage by the referee.  Rodriguez got the ball near the left corner flag, and he sent in a perfect cross to Seferovic making a near-post run, and the 75th-minute substitute tapped it in.

The points are crucial for Switzerland, who look to prove they are worthy of their seed and also put themselves into position alongside favorites France to advance from the group.  For Ecuador, they will be devastated by the result, as they were clearly bright throughout the match but undone by their own game – a break at the death.

The win for Switzerland marks the fifth time already in this tournament that the team who concedes first has picked up a win. Meanwhile, not a single draw has been recorded so far in Brazil.

LINEUPS:

Switzerland – Benaglio; Lichtsteiner, Von Bergen, Rodriguez, Djourou; Xhaka, Behrami, Inler; Drmic (Seferovic 75′), Stocker (Mehmedi 45′), Shaqiri.

Goals: Mehmedi 48′, Seferovic 90+3′

Ecuador – Domínguez; Guagua, Erazo, Paredes, Ayovi; Noboa, Montero (Rojas 77′), Gurezo; A. Valencia, Caicedo (Arroyo 70′), E. Valencia.

Goals: E. Valencia 22′