Nick DeLeon. United States men’s national team

U.S. Soccer World Cup qualifier to kick off at … 5:30 p.m. locally?

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KANSAS CITY – Tonight’s World Cup qualifier at Sporting Park on the Kansas City outskirts starts at 5:30 p.m. locally – or as I have mockingly referred to it over the last couple of days here, “traditional starting time” for a big soccer match.

Obviously, it isn’t. A “traditional starting time,” that is.

Obviously, it’s all about TV. When it comes to scheduling in big time sports, it’s pretty much always about TV.

When I first saw the start time last week – and let’s just call that time what it is, which is “goofy” – I assumed it was about simultaneous start times for the trio of CONCACAF World Cup qualifers. But that’s only for the final match day.

Without being too specific, U.S. Soccer spokesman Neil Buethe told me his organization and ESPN talked about several different options for tonight’s match. In the end, he said, U.S. Soccer’s target is always to arrange the best possible circumstance to allow the most possible viewers.

(MORE: Low anxiety, but plenty of opportunities for U.S. against Panama)

Perhaps U.S. Soccer cannot say it, but here’s what that probably means:

U.S. Soccer could have had a better start time (say, something really wild and crazy, like 7:30 p.m.) but would have been pushed to an outlet from ESPN’s jayvee roster, ESPN News or ESPNU or whatever.

Tonight’s Mexico-Panama match, a truly meaningful contest for a lot of people in our land, will land on ESPN News, for instance. That one starts at 9:15 p.m. ET.

So why couldn’t U.S. Soccer’s World Cup qualifier get a better start time and land on ESPN? The worldwide leader in sports has a college football package on Friday nights these days.

Soccer may have come a long way in our country – but we all know that football still rules.

An important anniversary for the United States national team and Jurgen Klinsmann has arrived

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So much has happened in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge of the men’s national team, hasn’t it? Players have risen high and fallen hard – sometime the very same player! Jozy Altidore and Brek Shea, for instance.

The fall and rise of Landon Donovan during Klinsmann’s time could be the next compelling Showtime drama.

During the affable German’s time in charge, the whole program teetered on the brink (depending on how deep you believe the fissures of February and March were) and then rallied spectacularly (Can we talk about that 12-game winning streak?).

There have been famous wins (victories at Mexico, at Italy spring immediately to mind), some beautifully surreal scenes (the Snow Clasico, of course) and the big hammer of accomplishment, qualifying for the World Cup with a full two games to spare.

There have also been moments worth of self-examination (losses in Jamaica last year and Honduras this year) and some uncomfortable times (moving on from the Carlos Bocanegra era, and Altidore’s eventually useful benching, for instance). The fusillades of media criticism were arriving in force for a while, mostly attached to stylistic concerns: The high pressure and pacey tiki taka may have trotted here and there, but never quite seemed to take hold and run completely free at full stride.

The point today is this …

How is it possible that all of this has happened in just a little over two years? But this is, for the record, the anniversary of Klinsmann’s first win. On this date waaaaay back in 2011, a 1-0 result against Honduras at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium became the first of 25 wins under the current U.S. manager.

Here is a quick rundown from U.S. Soccer on what has been accomplished in the interim, in the 24 months since Klinsmann got his debut victory as U.S. manager.

Will Costa Rica’s official protest to FIFA go anywhere?

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Costa Rica has indeed submitted an official protest of Friday’s so-called Snow Clasico outside Denver.  We warned you this was in the works, as Costa Rican coaches and administration members were plainly incensed that Friday’s match was allowed to go forward amid worsening, blizzard conditions.

Costa Rica had 48 hours to file an official protest and apparently met the deadline. The choice now rests at FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

(MORE: About the choices and decisions that went on Friday)

Given that this is FIFA, and knowing that decisions emerging from world soccer’s governing body can be wildly unpredictable and sometimes in complete defiance of all logic, it’s impossible to say with any certainty where this might go.

But odds say it won’t go anywhere.

Red cards get protested occasionally, and matches are protested based on decisions made by referees. They generally go nowhere. Remember the infamous Ireland-France controversy during 2010 World Cup qualifying? Ireland’s official appeal was denied, never mind that Thierry Henry’s obvious handball on France’s highly controversial and momentous game-winner.

On the other hand, FIFA has invalidated results beore, so that would not be unprecedented.

Jurgen Klinsmann talks U.S. roster, Clint Dempsey’s fitness and Carlos Bocanegra omission

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Why didn’t Jurgen Klinsmann include captain Carlos Bocanegra for the upcoming pair of World Cup qualifiers? There’s no mystery here, the U.S. manager said.

The veteran U.S. defender isn’t playing for Racing de Santander. Lacking the form and rhythm of regular matches (at a Spanish second division club, no less), Bocanegra could not be expected to perform at a high level internationally.

“With Carlos I had several very good conversations,” Klinsmann said. “The reason he is not here is simply he is not playing.”

The coach did insist during a Monday afternoon teleconference, where he talked about the 23-man roster announced Monday, that Bocanegra’s national team career is not necessarily finished at 110 caps.

“Carlos is still in the picture,” Klinsmann said of the U.S. defender who turns 34 in May. “This is not the end of his international career.”

He talked about the unfortunate situation with Rangers – the financially troubled Scottish giant was forced to dump or, as with Bocanegra, loan out players late last summer – and of the former U.S. captain’s need to get into a more favorable club situation this summer.

(MORE: U.S. lineup announced for qualifiers ahead)

Other highlights of Klinsmann’s national news conference, held in Denver, site of Friday’s qualifier clash with Costa Rica:

  • Twice in the 30-minute call the U.S. coach called Friday’s match a “must-win.” Not that we needed Klinsmann to tell us that … but he did, anyway.
  • Klinsmann talked briefly, although not in much depth, about “other options” out of midfield as options to play fullback. We know DaMarcus Beasley is one of them because he has played there before in World Cup qualifiers (during the 2010 cycle). In fact, he spoke highly of the Puebla man. “He can solve different things, in different positions if needed,” Klinsmann said. “His personality is always as a giving person to the group, to our team. So we have always followed him over last 18 months … therefore, we are happy to have him back in the group.”

(MORE: Looking at the perilously thin, young U.S. back line)

  • Klinsmann said he is not worried about Michael Bradley’s diminishing playing time of late at Serie A club AS Roma. Klinsmann speaks regularly to all players about their club situation, and Bradley is no different. The U.S. manager does not appear concerned. “I’m just curious to hear his side of it. But Michael is the kind of player, maybe if he is on the bench for one game or two, he finds his way back on the field again quickly. And we are confident he is doing that as well.”
  • (I see zero possibility that Bradley will not be on the field Friday against Costa Rica. And probably once again Tuesday against Mexico.)
  • Klinsmann said he has already decided on a captain, but isn’t revealing it just yet. As Bocanegra, Tim Howard and Landon Donovan are all out, there appears to be two logical choices: Clint Dempsey or Bradley.
  • Can Dempsey, with limited playing and training time recently due to injury, go a full match in high altitude venues? No worries, Klinsmann says: “We are confident he can go the distance in both games.”
  • He said Tony Beltran and Justin Morrow are starting candidates based on performance in the U.S. January camp. The trouble is, Beltran probably isn’t a starting candidate based on his sluggish performance in the match against Canada to punctuate that January camp. (Beltran was carrying a bit of an injury, so that deserves mention.) Morrow looked OK in the match down in Houston, a scoreless draw.
  • About the Honduras loss to open final stage CONCACAF qualifying, Klinsmann is clearly ready to move on – even if others don’t necessarily feel the same. “There’s no need for us to discuss [the Honduras] loss anymore.”

Why the United States should (and probably will) claim easy victory tonight over Canada

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HOUSTON – Don’t believe the “Camp Cupcake” silliness, the pejorative term applied to Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team camp.

Laying aside the fact that the athlete’s warm-up during the tough conditioning workouts of the last three weeks would make most of us forfeit breakfast, the players now in Houston for tonight’s contest against rebuilding Canada represent a mix of quality players who will be in Honduras in a week’s time for a final stage World Cup qualifier, and guys with some level of potential to get there.

The talent includes Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Eddie Johnson (pictured), Juan Agudelo, all of whom will be front and center in the U.S. effort tonight at potentially stormy BBVA Compass Stadium. (Kickoff is 8 p.m. CT) They should all like their chances of being called next week when the United States begins its final push for Brazil 2014.

Meanwhile, the players tonight on the other side of the Houston Dynamo’s new downtown home can only help ready the banners for their own extended push: “2018 Russia or Bust!”

That’s not to be disparaging to the Canadian Soccer Association; rather, it’s just to say that these are teams in two very different places.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann had his men in camp for about two weeks longer. He needed the extra time to prep the legs and lungs of 8-10 players for next week’s match against Honduras. A group of 10 or fewer will join the U.S. front-page types, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and the rest of the lot from abroad.

(MORE: Predicted U.S. lineup for tonight)

Canada has been in camp only a few days, so fitness is on the U.S. side, big time.

The Canadians have played a friendly already, and that might be a check for the Maple Leaf. But seeing as that match was just three nights prior, any edge in greater unit cohesion is marginalized by the fatigue factor.

And let’s talk about that match Saturday in Phoenix, a 4-0 Canadian loss to a Denmark side that was hardly fully equipped; like the American team, most of its first string remains in Europe.

Yes, the Canadians have the best attacker on the field tonight in Dwayne De Rosario, who will presumably be motivated, still with many friends and fond memories of his years in Dynamo orange. But “De Ro,” valiant and talented as he possibly can be, is 34. He played 62 minutes less than 72 hours ago, and that was his first full run-out in about five months. Translation: Don’t expect anything more than about ¾ De Ro tonight.

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Canada today, in full youth build-‘em-up mode, is more about guys like Kyle Bekker, the 22-year-old recent MLS draftee out of Boston College. Bekker is a great young talent, but a U.S. midfield of Beckerman, Zusi (pictured right), Benny Feilhaber or some combination thereof should and likely will overwhelm a man fresh out of college.

Gonzalez will be the best defender on the field, probably by some measure.

Let’s not forget that the Klinsmann’s men are playing at home. Just because it’s a friendly, that remains a decided advantage.

Toss in these historical edges: The United States is protecting a 15-game unbeaten streak (8-0-7) in the series since 1985. Plus the obvious, that the United States has been to every World Cup since 1986, while the Canadians haven’t been to once since then.

The United States needs a resounding win here, if only to keep supporter confidence high around Klinsmann ahead of next week’s opening of “Now it counts” time.

Best bet: a 3-0 or 4-0 win for the United States.