Steve Davis

Players who need to make an impact for the U.S. on Wednesday (and there are a lot of them)

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If Steve Davis’s rundown of the U.S. Men’s National Team landscape is anything close to correct, most of the seats on this summers’ plane to Brazil have been locked up. You might disagree with a name here or there, but the 19 players he’s tabbed as being locks for World Cup 2014 are strong bets to get the call, with a handful of Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya types already making strong claims to spots 20-23.

With only Wednesday’s game and a short window in May to impress head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the handful of players vying for those last few spots need to seize their opportunities. Eight of those men are in camp ahead of tomorrow’s kickoff against Ukraine:

Defense

John Brooks – Three central defenders are definitely going to Brazil: Matt Besler, Clarence Goodson, Omar Gonzalez. With Geoff Cameron and (potentially) Michael Parkhurst also able to play in the middle, Klinsmann may not need to pick a fourth true central defender. If he does, however, he can afford to give a young guy experience, meaning the door is open for Hertha Berlin’s Brooks to show he can fit in this summer.

Edgar Castillo – With Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley on the plane, there may not be room for another left-sided defender/midfielder. But given the positional flexibility Klinsmann has at forward and central defense, the U.S. can afford to triple-up at one or two positions. Castillo can still make his case that left back should be one of those positions.

(MORE: Losing time at Sunderland, Jozy Altidore needs to impress for U.S.)

Midfield

Alejandro Bedoya – Opinions on Bedoya’s play were highly polarized during the Gold Cup. Some saw him as a revelation. Others wanted to see more. Regardless, Bedoya provides a true winger on a team were few exist. That’s an advantage he can build on with a strong camp.

Sacha Kljestan – Kljestan’s been on the fringe of a regular place since Bob Bradley was the boss, but he’s never given that one, convincing performance that put him over the top. With Mix Diserkud missing this week’s camp, the Anderlecht regular will likely see big minutes against Ukraine.

Brek Shea – In terms of World Cup hopes, Shea’s move to Stoke has been a disastrous. Though his ability to play as a true winger gives him the same advantages afforded Bedoya, he’s fallen behind the Nantes man in the pecking order. If Shea’s going to Brazil, he needs a strong performance on Wednesday, one that will keep him in the conversation come May.

Danny Williams – The former Hoffenheim, current Reading pivot man has the skill to be a valuable backup in Brazil, but like the other players who’ve lost traction over the last two years, he needs to impress from here on out. With Kyle Beckerman already on the plane, there may not be another spot for a deep midfielder who will backup Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.

(MORE: Fear not, U.S. Men’s National Team fans: Ukraine is on the ground in Cyprus)

Forwards

Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd – With Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan capable of augmenting Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, and Eddie Johnson, forward is another position where versatility can make up for more traditional depth. It’s up to Boyd and Agudelo to show the options they provide outweigh the benefits an extra midfielder or defender.

In that sense, Agudelo and Boyd are probably competing for one spot, at most. What each provides, however, is totally different. If Agudelo makes it, it will be as somebody who can score and create goals. If Klinsmann goes with Boyd, goals will be a part of a package that’s also provides size and a solid work ethic – the type of guy you’d put on late to help preserve a one-goal lead.

As a fourth forward, Boyd is a better fit. That doesn’t mean Agudelo can’t beat him out.

Bonus

Geoff Cameron – He’s a lock to go, but he’s far from a lock to start. Fans see him as the top choice at right back, but he’s not there, yet. Cameron, however, can start to seize that spot tomorrow, where he’s likely to start at fullback. A key will be for how he combines down the flank with Klinsmann’s midfielders, helping promote a possession game.

If Cameron starts anywhere else (central defense, midfield), we’ll have another hint at how Klinsmann sees the versatile Potter fitting into his squad. We’ll also have a few more fans wonder what Cameron has to do to win that job.

Plenty of MLS players will get international duty before the season opens

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The MLS web site put together a list of players confirmed to have been called up for their countries for the upcoming FIFA fixture dates.

While the US and Mexico lists are yet to be finalized, there’s plenty of MLS players in the mix for country. Our own Steve Davis will let you know the implications of the increasing role of top-notch internationals in MLS play a bit later, but we’ll start with the basics here.

Tim Cahill is heading back to England, where the former Everton man will suit up for Australia in a fixture with Ecuador in London. Meanwhile, the English capital will play host to England and Denmark on the same date with Toronto FC’s Jermain Defoe getting a country call.

Freak goalkeeper and No. 1 overall pick Andre Blake will be leaving Philadelphia to join five other MLS players in Jamaica camp for matches against Barbados and St. Lucia. Also in the fray will be Alvas Powerll of Portland, Michael Seaton of DC, Darren Mattocks of Vancouver, Deshorn Brown of Colorado and JeVaughn Watson of Dallas.

The Whitecaps will have Steve Beitashour suiting up for Iran as they host Guinea, while Soony Saad (KC) will be with Lebanon for its match against Thailand in a Group B Asian Cup qualifier.

Goalkeeper Julio Cesar will leave his loan stop in Toronto for Brazil’s match in Johannesburg against South Africa, while Columbus has a pair of Costa Rican players among four MLS products leading their nation into a date against Paraguay. Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis join New York’s Roy Miller and Real Salt Lake’s Alvaro Saborio in San Jose.

Honduras matches up with Venezuela with Jerry Bengtson (New England), Victor Bernardez (San Jose), Martin Chavez (Colorad0) and Boniek Garcia (Houston) getting nods from the blue and white.

MLS commissioner confirms Kroenke won’t buy Chivas USA, gives details on future plan

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With news still reverberating around U.S. soccer circles that Major League Soccer have purchased the Chivas USA franchise from former owners Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes, yes that really happened, attention now turns to what happens next.

Rumors have been circling for months that big changes were on the horizon for Chivas, with plans to rebrand the side leaked earlier this week. The league have confirmed the team will stay in Los Angeles and MLS Commissioner Don Garber also stated that they league will not rush to a solution as Chivas USA will keep the same name and play at the StubHub Center for the 2014 MLS season, with a new club president that will work with a budget from the league to be announced shortly.

Garber also confirmed that several local business groups are interested in acquiring the franchise, which the league had to convince Mr. Vergara and Ms. Fuente’s to sell to them as other interested parties were circling. This shows how strong the franchise is, at least as a business proposition, as years of turmoil on and off the field have made Chivas one of MLS’ most talked about franchises… for all the wrong reasons.

(MORE: Instant reactions to news that MLS has purchased Chivas USA)

With the club up for sale, it’s time to dot some i’s and cross some t’s. American businessman Stank Kroenke recently purchased over 60 acres of land in the Inglewood area of Los Angeles. The Arsenal shareholder and current owner of the Colorado Rapids has been linked with taking over the Chivas USA franchise and building a new stadium in L.A., as the soccer obsessed billionaire seeks to increase his sports portfolio.

But on a conference call with reporters on Thursday evening, commissioner Garber quashed those reports.

“He [Kroenke] is not a candidate to purchase the team, those days are over,” Garber said, referring to the days when multiple MLS franchises were owned by the same families or organizations. “We are not interested in any other owner owning multiple teams. Stan’s been a great owner of the Colorado Rapids. I’m not familiar with what his plans are on the stadium site, we haven’t spoken about that. But all those rumors that I heard about him ‘buying the land so he could launch a second MLS team’ are unfounded.”

Garber was also asked if David Beckham ever considered bidding for the franchise, by PST’s Steve Davis, and the commissioner stated Beckham never showed an interest… but may have had he know the situation Chivas USA now find themselves in.

The words “mess” and “Chivas USA” have been synonymous in recent years. Gaber put that down to “executional issues” but stated that the owners where both huge believers in MLS and in trying to grow the sport in North America.

In the coming days and weeks there will be more fallout from this massive news that has rocked Major League Soccer, as Chivas USA are now owned by the league and are openly being shopped around, as they look for a brighter future for the franchise.

Aron Jóhannsson’s latest goal a reminder: U.S. forward picture starting to look pretty clear

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Twenty-two goals in all competitions is not a bad way to say ‘Hello’ to the Eredivisie, and for U.S. international Aron Jóhannsson, that’s only seven months worth of work. After his latest salvo in AZ Alkmaar’s 1-1 draw on Saturday with Utrecht, the 23-year-old is up to 22 all-competition goals this season. To put that in perspective, Jozy Altidore scored 31 times in his much ballyhooed 2012-13, also with the North Holland club.

Another American hopeful was also on the field today at the AFAS Stadion, but Juan Agudelo couldn’t match his countryman’s impact. In his fifth league appearance with his new club, the Stoke CIty loanee went 73 minutes without a shot on goal. Jóhannsson only managed one greater, but heading home Roy Beerens’ 21st minute cross from the edge of the six-yard box, the Alabama-born striker recorded his 14th league goal of the season.

There was a time not so long when Jóhannsson’s chances of going to Brazil seemed more wish than reality, but with his performances in Holland only reinforcing what we saw at the end of 2013, a player that wasn’t even in the pool this time last year has become a near-lock. Along with Altidore and D.C. United’s Eddie Johnson, Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have three sure bets at forward for this summer’s World Cup squad.

When you consider the positional flexibility of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, the entire U.S. forward corps may be set. When talking about alternatives, Steve Davis debated the virtues of Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez, and Chris Wondolowski, but the debate may end up more complicated. Those four many not only be competing against each other, but they may also be competing against the extra midfielder or defender Klinsmann could add at their expense. With Dempsey and Donovan, the U.S. doesn’t need four true forwards, particularly since Dempsey is currently seen as a starter beneath Altidore up top.

Between three goalkeepers and the three apparent forward locks, the U.S. has 17 other spots to divide between the back line, midfield, and potentially another forward. Depending on injuries, potential match ups, or just fit, Klinsmann may decide a ninth player in the middle or at the back is more valuable than a fourth true forward. Given the players that already locks, he has that option.

As for Jóhannsson, here’s a YouTube-quality version of today’s goal. With efforts like this, he may be the third of three true forwards going to Brazil.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fc2za-gDFxA]

Hull City 0-1 Southampton: Fonte’s second half winner pushes Saints up the table (video)

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Extending their unbeaten run to six games, Southampton took full points from the KC Stadium on Tuesday, a result that temporarily moves the team eighth in the Premier League. On the back of a second half goal from Jose Fonte, Mauricio Pochettino’s team claimed a 1-0 victory over Hull City, a result that completed their season’s double over the Tigers.

Although Southampton had beaten Hull 4-1 earlier this season at St. Mary’s, the team would find things slightly more difficult further north. Despite two early chances for Rickie Lambert, the Saints were taken to halftime scoreless, having nearly opened the scoring when Jay Rodriguez hit the crossbar in the 31st minute.

In the second half, a steady stream of Southampton pressure finally paid off in the 69th minute, with a barrage of chances from in front of Steve Harper’s goal final producing the game’s only score.

The result prevents Hull from vaulting into the table’s top half while blunting the momentum the Tigers took from this weekend’s win at Sunderland. Now, having lost at home, Hull remain four points above the drop, the team still in danger of slipping back into a fight against relegation

Hull nearly conceded within the first five minutes when an attack down the right ended with a ball falling for Lambert near the spot. As Hull’s defense turned to face the ball, the England international had all the time he needed to find Harper’s upper-left corner. Pushing the ball just wide, Lambert missed an easy chance to make it 1-0.

Two minutes later, after a Steve Davis through ball put Lambert in on Harper, the Saints striker couldn’t lift his shot above an oncoming keeper, missing a second chance to put his team in front.

In the 14th minute, against the run of play, a speculative shot from Tom Huddlestone was glanced toward Artur Boruc’s far post by a Shane Long header, forcing the Southampton keeper to dive to keep the shot outt. The resulting rebound went off the post and off Boruc before finding early substitute  George Boyd, who volleyed the bouncing ball order the bar from just outside the six-yard box.

By the mid-point of the first half, the match had reached its equilibrium. Southampton was controlling play while seeing their advances halted just before Hull’s penalty area, while the Tigers were living off the counter, generating two threats down Ahmed Elmohamady’s flank. The closest the visitors came to an opener was Jay Rodriguez’s arching curler from 26 yards that went off the top of the crossbar in the 31st minute. Hull’s best chance saw a cross from Elmohamady find Nikica Jelavic before the Croatian international stabbed a shot to Boruc. The game went into halftime 0-0.

In addition to resuming control after halftime, Southampton increased their intensity, pinning the Tigers deep in their end soon after the game’s second kickoff. In the 69th minute, that intensity finally paid off after a series of chances, Harper saves, and goal line clearances gave way to a Jose Fonte goal. From just outside the six-yard box, the Saints defender make it 1-0.

Late match changes saw Hull mount more pressure over the game’s final half-hour, but with Southampton having made its own adjustments, the Tigers were left rolling the dice with half-chances and long distance speculation. As stoppage time arrived, Jack Cock slammed a 24-yard shot off Harper’s left upright, reminding Hull the result could have been worse.

LINEUPS

Hull City: Harper;  McShane (Boyd 12′), Davies, Bruce, Figueroa (Brady 76); Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Livermore, Meyler (Aluko 75′); Long, Jelavic

Southampton: Boruc; Chambers, Yoshida, Fonte, Shaw; Schneiderlein, Cork; Lallana (Ward-Prowse 88′), S. Davis, Rodriguez; Lambert (Guly 77′)

Goals: Fonte 69′