Alashe had a falling out with San Jose coach Mikael Stahre, whose club is bottom of the West, and the 24-year-old Michigan native is moving a lot closer to home.
Capped thrice by the United States at the U-23 level — he’s also eligible to represent Nigeria — Alashe has five goals and two assists in 87 MLS matches.
What will come the way of San Jose and Portland in return? Probably little in the case of the latter, as the move will open up significant salary for the Timbers. San Jose on the other hand may be getting money or future considerations.
Anyone willing to bet against FCC in the USL Playoffs?
The game in 100 words (or less): The first of 623 a few (no one’s really sure of the official number, but there will be a lot) 2016 Major League Soccer “rivalry weeks” is in the books, and wouldn’t you know it, MLS saved its best worst game of the whole weekend for last. The LA Galaxy and San Jose Earthquakes, meeting in the latest installment of the Cali Clasico, played to a 1-1 draw at the StubHub Center on Sunday. None of the game’s big stars did anything more than bang shots off the crossbar (video below), but we were treated to one of the saddest own goals you’ll see all season, plus a perfect how-not-to-defend-crosses tutorial … all inside the game’s final 10 minutes. The other 80 minutes we will speak of as sparingly as possible. With the draw, the Galaxy (20 points) and Earthquakes (19) hold steady in fifth and sixth, respectively, in the Western Conference. One point separates the Quakes in sixth and Real Salt Lake in third. This is MLS.
72′ — Dos Santos nearly breaks the crossbar — David Bingham was beaten, stranded without a chance in the world of saving this rocket off the left foot of Giovani dos Santos. He’ll be thanking the crossbar gods tonight.
83′ — Wynne taps the ball into his own goal —Sebastian Lletget must be credited for the no-man’s-land ball he forced Marvell Wynne to deal with at the far post, but that won’t make Wynne feel any better tonight.
87′ — Alashe answers with a header for 1-1 — Protecting a one-goal with fewer than five minutes of regular time remaining, you might want to mark the only opposition player in the vicinity of a near-post cross. Oops.
KANSAS CITY, KAN. — The United States U-23 national team’s 2015 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship opener, a 3-1 victory over Canada, was everything head coach Andi Herzong could have hoped for result-wise, but plenty of improvement is still necessary as the week-and-a-half-long tournament progresses.
Three things we learned from the U.S. U-23s’ hard-fought, closer-than-the-scoreboard-says victory over Canada…
1. Unbalanced midfield makes for a good counter-attacking team, little else
Earlier on Thursday, I tossed out the idea that a midfield featuring both Wil Trapp and Emerson Hyndman might struggle in early days, given they’re quite similar players who operate in largely the same areas of the field. For at least 50 of their 72 shared minutes on the field Thursday night, that idea proved quite prophetic.
On paper, they’re by far the most talented deep-lying midfielders in the entire youth national team player pool. On the field, though, they struggled in two key areas: 1) maintaining proper spacing when building out of the back; 2) finding and maintaining shape (a midfield diamond) after issue no. 1 reared its ugly head.
On another night, Canada makes more of their numerous counter-attacking chances that began inside the U.S.’s half of the field, and everyone’s freaking out about how much duress the backline was under all night. Without question, an unavoidable factor in the struggles of Trapp and Hyndman was the team’s complete lack of width in midfield (fellow center mids Gedion Zelalem and Fatai Alashe were often shuttled out wide), which conveniently brings up to point no. 2…
2. Lack of natural width makes flanks the area to exploit
When I say “natural width,” I mean both in attack and defensively. Matt Polster, who’s either a defensive midfielder or center back, and Dillon Serna, who’s very much an attacking midfielder, were shoehorned into the right and left back positions respectively. Given that neither player regularly ever plays full back, it should come as no surprise that Canada created most of their chances through quick ball movement out the wings and getting behind the two makeshift defenders.
To compound the awkwardness of Polster and Serna at full back was the aforementioned lack of wide midfielders offering 1) an outlet in possession; 2) defensive cover and an ability to hold their opposite number in check.
It didn’t bite the not-so-baby Yanks on Thursday, because Canada couldn’t turn decent chances into goals, but it’s something to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses. The likes of Mexico, Costa Rica or Honduras could certainly exploit the U.S.’s narrow shape with only slightly improved finishing.
3. Canada acquitted themselves well, look likely to get out of the group
Did I mention Canada couldn’t finish their chances? Because, well, they couldn’t. Keeping in tune with the senior U.S. team, Herzog’s side was out-possessed (much of that can be attributed to game states — a 1-0 lead after 34 seconds) and matched shot-for-shot (14-13 in favor of the U.S.).
Benito Floro, head coach of Canada’s senior side and the U-23 squad, was rightly pleased with his team’s performance — particularly in midfield — after the game. The way Canada set a high line of confrontation, pressed and swarmed the U.S. midfield should not only give American fans cause for concern, but hope to our friends to the north. If the Canucks bring the same kind of energy and commitment against Panama and Cuba, they’ll find themselves advancing from the group and playing for an Olympic berth next week.
Bonus point: Jordan Morris is the real deal. Speed, size, strength, composure — the 20-year-old Stanford University can do it all.
On Thursday night, the United States U-23 national team will kick off its campaign to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics when head coach Andi Herzog’s side faces off against Canada at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
Needing to advance from their four-team group as one of the top two sides and win a single semifinal matchup to qualify for next summer’s tournament, the not-so-baby Yanks are a mere 360 (or 390) minutes away from righting the wrongs of 2012 and proving themselves capable of taking the torch from the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones over the next two World Cup cycles.
So who’s on the roster? Who’s expected to start, and star? Who do they have to beat in order to qualify? And what are expectations for the team as a whole? Let’s dive right in…
For full coverage of the U-23s’ first two group games in KC, make sure you check back on PST throughout the week, and feel free to follow me on Twitter as I’ll be reporting live from Sporting Park through the weekend.
As always, the U.S. player pool is rich with quality goalkeepers. Steffen starred during the U-20s’ run at the World Cup this summer, though he’s far from the most established of the bunch back at their respective club sides. Horvath was recently given a run of first-team minutes with Molde, one of Norway’s biggest clubs, and has so impressed during that stretch that Herzog said during a Wednesday conference call he felt it best to leave the 20-year-old Highlands Ranch, Colorado, native with his club until the official beginning of the upcoming international window.
For games no. 1 and 2, it’ll be either Steffen or Horton, who moved from Cardiff City to Leeds United this past summer.
Defenders (6) — Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur); Eric Miller (Montreal Impact); Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls); Will Packwood (Unattached); Matt Polster (Chicago Fire); Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids)
While Jurgen Klinsmann’s senior team might be struggling for capable center backs — maybe he’s the one struggling to select the right ones — Herzog’s U-23 squad has two of the brightest prospects we’ve seen at the position in a long, long time. Matt Miazga, already a regular starter and budding star for the Red Bulls, has come on by leaps and bounds from 2014 to 2015, fairly warranting talk about a call-up to the senior team sooner rather than later. He turned 20 over the summer.
Then there’s Cameron Carter-Vickers, who won’t turn 18 until New Years Eve later this year. Speaking of stars at the U-20 World Cup, no American player burst onto the scene and announced his arrival more loudly than Carter-Vickers. Built and sculpted like a 26-year-old veteran already — limbs like tree trunks — Carter-Vickers reads the game exceptionally well for a player his age. It won’t be long before he’s being considered by Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino for UEFA Europa League games. Carter-Vickers spoke at length to PST’s Joe Prince-Wright last month in England.
Polster, who has quickly become one of Major League Soccer’s best defensive midfielders as a rookie, gets pushed to the backline due to an abundance of quality, deep-lying midfielders. Having played fewer than a handful at center back this season, it will be interesting to see how much and how quickly Herzog goes to the 22-year-old Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native in the back.
Miller has reportedly been “recalled” by the Impact due to “injury” — his condescending air quotes, not mine, in a frustration-filled Twitter post on Wednesday that has since been deleted — meaning the starting right back job is wide open. Serna, who irregularly features as a midfielder for the Rapids, could actually end up winning that spot.
Midfielders (7) — Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes); Gboly Ariyibi (Chesterfield); Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake); Emerson Hyndman (Fulham); Marc Pelosi (San Jose Earthquakes); Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC); Gedion Zelalem (Rangers)
Trapp, Hyndman and Zelalem are three of the most gifted central midfield players — in that order, present moment — the U.S. system has produced in quite some time. There’s just one problem with that: the former two might be so close to identical players that they’re unable to play together. Trapp has flourished with Crew SC playing alongside big, strong Tony Tchani, a mountain of a tackling midfielder with great passing skills, awareness and ability to organize. That, Hyndman is not.
In a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 system, there’s certainly room for both players to fit into the same midfield, but there’s not enough soccer balls for two very ball-dominant operators. Fatai Alashe, another MLS rookie, seems the best fit to start alongside one of Trapp or Hyndman.
No player in the current U.S. pool has more hype surrounding him right now than Zelalem. The 18-year-old Ethiopian-German-American playmaker (Arsenal) has begun his loan stint with Rangers in scintillating form, becoming a first-team regular for the Scottish second-division side and frequently impressing with smooth dribbling skills and his ability to pick out the decisive pass into the final third. With a clear lack of attacking wing players on the roster, the onus of creating quality scoring chances will fall almost solely on the shoulders of Zelalem.
Forwards (4) — Alonso Hernandez (FC Juarez); Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart); Jordan Morris (Stanford); Maki Tall (FC Sion)
Up top, there’s Morris, followed by the great unknown. Tall showed well in the U-2os’ first World Cup game before missing the rest of the tournament through injury. Still just 19 years old, the Washington, D.C., native moved from Lille to Sion (Switzerland) this past summer.
As for Morris, it was a bit of a surprise to see the Stanford University standout on the U-23 roster when Klinsmann has so regularly called him into senior team camps over the last six months. With the CONCACAF Cup showdown with Mexico scheduled for October 10 — the same day as the U-23s’ potential semifinal appearance — the possibility still remains that Klinsmann plucks the 20-year-old after one or two group games. With Morris in the starting lineup, the U-23s have one of the quickest and craftiest strikers in the entire U.S. player pool, both in terms of getting from Point A to Point B and confounding defenders with intelligent, tough-to-track movement. Without Morris in the squad, who knows where the goals will come from.
Group A schedule
Thursday — vs. Canada (9 p.m. ET, live on NBC Universo)
Saturday — vs. Cuba (5 p.m. ET, live on Telemundo)
Tuesday, Oct. 6 — vs. Panama (9:30 p.m. ET, live on NBC Universo)
The qualifying disaster of 2012, in which the U.S. U-23s failed to even get out of the group stage, both feels and is a long, long time ago now — not only in a literal sense, but considering how much better and deeper the under-23 talent pool is this time around.
Finishing top of Group A — seven of nine points is distinctly possible — should be the only target for Herzog’s squad. From there, it’s a win-and-you’re-in showdown against the runners-up from Group B, could be, but is unlikely to be, Mexico.
Failing to qualify for the Olympics won’t set the senior team back one bit — remember, it’s a U-23 competition with three overage players — but in terms of bridging the gap from the current generation of USMNT regulars to what is looking an increasingly promising group of youngsters working their way through the ranks, it would be a massive opportunity missed to gain invaluable major tournament competition before making the jump up to World Cup qualifying and the World Cup itself.
The game in 100 words (or less): With 10 minutes left to play at Avaya Stadium on Saturday night, the Seattle Sounders’ 2015 season was slowly slipping away. Down 1-0, they were barely 10 minutes from finding themselves in a four way tie for Western Conference playoff places four through seven, having played more games than their three competitors. Then, Obafemi Martins popped up with an opportunist’s goal to equalize in the 82nd minute and, at least for now, improve the Sounders’ playoff hopes just a tad. They’re by no means out of the woods following their 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes, but now fifth is the worst they can find themselves once this weekend is in the books. For the Earthquakes, it’s a disappointing result for a side that so desperately need to hold on for three points at home. After winning three straight to get back into the race, they’ve now dropped five points in their last two games.
37′ — Wondo + post = ‘Quakes heartbreak — This is a textbook turn-and-shoot move from Chris Wondolowski, who definitely deserved a goal for the way he freezes Roman Torres, collects the ball, spins and fires with his left foot.
70′ — Alashe’s header makes it 1-0 — A great ball in from Matias Perez Garcia found Fatai Alashe, on Fatai Alashe bobblehead night, because of course, and the rookie midfielder/defender flicked a delicate, glancing header inside the far post to beat Stefan Frei.
82′ — Martins’ acrobatic finish makes it 1-1 — David Bingham did well to save Zach Scott’s powerful header from close range, but the rebound floated to Martins, who quickly spun away from goal and booted the ball into the back of the net with an acrobatic finish.