Klinsmann’s first game yields improved result

A clever pass across the six-yard box from the left foot of Brek Shea to the right foot of Robbie Rogers in the 73rd minute was the equalizer that gave new U.S. soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann the fair result his side earned against Mexico in his first game with the team.

The nations are the same, but much was different about the teams from the last time the United States and Mexico met, in the Gold Cup final just a month and a half ago. Players from each side were missing — most noteworthy, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez from Mexico, Clint Dempsey for the States — as well as Team USA’s coach in the 4-2 defeat, Bob Bradley, who had since been fired.

Robbie Rogers taps the ball into the open net.

New coach Klinsmann introduced a few new players into the same 4-2-3-1 formation the U.S. had played in its three previous games at the Gold Cup. But trailing 1-0 at halftime without registering a shot, his second-half changes would prove to be more important.

Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea were brought on in the 60th minute and provided a spark of energy and creativity that was nowhere to be found in the first 45 minutes. Landon Donovan began to possess the ball more and push the issue on offense. Rogers, brought on in the 72nd minute, had hardly broken a sweat before one-touching Shea’s pass into the open goal frame in the 73rd.

Rogers wasn’t even supposed to play in the game. Klinsmann had only added him to the roster three days before when midfielder Maurice Edu had to decline his invitation due to a calf injury. The goal was his second with the men’s national team.

The second-half adjustments were necessary for Klinsmann’s side after Mexico dominated play in the first half. Oribe Peralta’s 17th-minute goal off a corner kick was equally as lucky as it was skilled, sticking his foot around Michael Bradley and redirecting the cross into the far corner of the net past a helpless Tim Howard. Mexico owned play in the half; the Americans hardly possessed the ball in the final third, let alone try to work a combination to set up a scoring opportunity.

The game could have very well ended differently in the late stages, when a series of calls went against the United States. Referee Raymond Bogle (Jamaica) twice opted not to award the U.S. a penalty kick despite pleas from several players. Replays showed that the first incident, before the U.S. goal, looked more like Agudelo tripped over the ball; the second, in the 80th minute, looked like Donovan was tripped by a defender.

Rogers got free again in the 87th minute from a beautiful ball played over his head. He was clear to goal after beating Mexican defender Gerardo Torrado, who grabbed his shirt and pulled him to the ground. Bogle showed yellow instead of red, much to the dismay of the six American players who got in his face to let him know Torrado should have been sent off.

The resulting free kick was blocked by the wall and the game ended without any spectacular chances through three minutes of stoppage time.

Klinsmann’s first comment after the game: it was fun.

— Notes —

  • The USA wore its red uniforms with the blue diagonal stripe, with a slight twist. There were no names on the back of the jerseys. The starting eleven wore jersey numbers 1-11 and the substitutes wore 12-18.
  • Midfielder Kyle Beckerman played fairly well. I’m more worried about what’s growing on his head. Seriously, look it up.
  • The USA had lost three straight to Mexico by a collective score of 11-3. Two losses were on U.S. soil.

USA 4-2-3-1

Buddle
Torres-Bradley-Donovan
Beckerman-Jones
Castillo-Bocanegra-Orozoco Fiscal-Cherundolo
Howard

Subs: Agudelo 60′ (Buddle), Shea 60′ (Jones), Rogers 72′ (Bradley), Clark 84′ (Torres).

Goals:
Mexico — Peralta 17′
USA — Rogers 73′

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Bradley’s firing gives hope to U.S. national team

The first post in a multi-part series on how American soccer can improve.
The firing of head coach Bob Bradley from Team USA can only mean there are good things to come American soccer.

A few inches one way or the other may have saved Bob Bradley's job as coach of the U.S. Men's National Team, but such is life in soccer. Onto the next.

The development of our national team and our professional league will happen eventually. Simply based on resources that build winning soccer, namely population and money, America can’t stay down for long. It’s not a question of if, but when.

What’s best for a country’s domestic league may not always be best for its national team, and vice versa. The success of one is not always interrelated with the other. Countries with very poor leagues have had success internationally, such as South Korea (2002 World Cup semifinalist), Russia and Turkey (both semifinalists in Euro 2008). Even Brazil‘s national league isn’t great. Conversely, the country with the best league, England, has had very little success in worldwide competition (last major win: 1966 World Cup).

The best way for Major League Soccer to get better is to have its players get experience with national teams, thereby improving the quality and reputation of the league, yet the best way for the national team to get better is to have its players play where the competition is greatest — anywhere but the MLS.

It’s good for American soccer to have American players playing in the American professional league. But that means country-wide feelings on the sport — TV ratings, youth involvement, general acceptance of game — not the U.S. national team.

We want our players playing in their leagues. It’s as simple as that. The competition is so much better. Is it good for soccer in this country — is it good for kids growing up on the game — to have Landon Donovan to be playing at home for the Los Angeles Galaxy? Of course. But would it be better for the national team if he played solely in one of the big three leagues (the English Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A), or even in Germany or France? You bet.

One of the most important features of a national team is the coach, the glue who brings it all together. If we want the best coach, where does it appear he needs to come from?

I liked Bob Bradley as coach of U.S. soccer, but the team would have more success with a foreigner. Bradley is from New Jersey and Bruce Arena before him was from New York. We need to broaden the scope. Western Europeans dominate soccer in all aspects, from players to coaching to tactics. Nowhere else in the world is not only quality soccer, but also ideas and ultimately, knowledge, so readily available across borders than in Western Europe. Not even Brazil can compare in that metric.

The best build off each other and become that much better that much quicker. Even small countries can learn quickly due to the excess of available information; take for example Greece, which won Euro 2004. In America, we only have ourselves to go up against, and we aren’t really that good.

Even the English, who continue to hold the belief they rule international soccer despite going winless in major tournaments in the last half-century, have swallowed their pride and hired an Italian manager for the national team in Fabio Capello. The big four clubs combine for a grand total of zero coaches who were born in England. Two at least are from the U.K., Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson and Liverpool’s Kenny Dalglish (both from Glasgow, Scotland). The others come from abroad: Chelsea’s new head man André Villas-Boas is from Portugal and Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger is French. Even in a local example, the U.S. women’s team, best in the world, is coached by Pia Sundhage, a Swed.

I don’t know if I like the idea from a theoretical standpoint because I think a national team should have to have all of its coaches, trainers, et cetera from that country, but if it helps the USA and it’s within the rules, there’s no reason not to do it. The only coach in the last three World Cup finals not from Europe was Luiz Felipe Scolari, who led his native Brazil to a second-place finish in 2002. A non-European coach hasn’t won the World Cup since 1994.

The Europeans have the experience, the contacts and know-how. They’ve dealt with more talented players than any coach in the American system and might finally be able to whip the Yanks into a winning formation, not Bradley’s midfield mush.

Some players need to be developed as much as they need to be taught. “Mold 21-year-old Jozy Altidore into a star” should be the first bullet on the job description after “play winning soccer.” Here’s hoping the U.S. can get out of its own way and find the right western European coach, a Spaniard, perhaps, for the job. I’d welcome him with open arms.

USMNT vs. Argentina recap

Landon Donovan plays a nice ball off of a set piece, which was eventually finished by 18-year-old Juan Agudelo for his second international goal.

Argentina came into New Meadowlands Stadium last night as winners of three straight under new coach Sergio Batista, who took over as head man after former Argentinean superstar Diego Maradona’s contract was not renewed following a disappointing World Cup performance.

The Argentineans had been playing well under Batista, defeating Brazil, Spain and Portugal by a combined score of 7-2. After dominating the first half and taking a 1-0 lead into halftime, Argentina did well to hold off the U.S. late and escape with a 1-1 draw.

Even without international superstars Carlos Tevez, Gonzaolo Higuain and Diego Milito, Argentina came out and controlled play in the first half. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, put on a clinic of close control as he expertly used teammates and shifty moves to slice and dice the USA’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

Desperation defense, most notably from Jonathan Spector, and superb play from goalkeeper Tim Howard kept Argentina off the scoreboard for most of the first half. Messi and Angel Di Maria both had good looks at goal but shot wide; however, even when they got through, Howard was equal to the task.

In the 42nd minute, the left-footed Messi worked a series a one-touch passes in the box before finding Di Maria right in front of goal. Howard sprawled to make the save, but Esteban Cambiasso came through unmarked and put the rebound into the top of the net from the 6-yard box.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley subbed out Jermaine Jones — who had a shaky first half — and Spector at halftime in favor of two up-and-coming players, 18-year-old Juan Agudelo (third international appearance) and 20-year-old Timmy Chandler (first), as the States switched to a 4-4-2 formation out of intermission.

The extra man up front seemed to disrupt to Argentina’s possession play that was so relaxed and controlling in the first half. The Americans had much more success when attacking as a unit, opposed to Jozy Altidore’s get-it-and-go style he tried as the lone striker in the first half.

A foul in the attacking third awarded the U.S. a free kick in the 59th minute. Several red jerseys moved forward as Landon Donovan lined up a set piece, which were so futile for the States in the World Cup.

Donovan lofted a nice ball over the line Argentina defenders held just inside the 18-yard box. Several players went up to win the head ball and a shot was directed on net. Mariano Andujar made the first save, but Agudelo was waiting on the doorstep and knocked the rebound into the goal to level the score at one.

Both teams went back and forth over the final 30 minutes as play really started to open up. The Americans were much more threatening in the 4-4-2, but neither side could capitalize the remainder of the night. The best chance belonged to Argentina when Di Maria got through in the 73rd minute, but Onyewu and Jay DeMerit combined to close off the attack.

Onyewu had another rough night on the back line and frequently looked flustered with the ball at his feet, but his size is almost always an advantage he has over attacking players. He got the better of Messi when the two went up for a head ball in the 24th minute, and Messi stayed on the ground after, holding his head. He went off briefly to be examined, but came back and played the rest of the game.

The next match for the USMNT is this Tuesday, March 29, when the men take on Paraguay in Nashville, Tenn. Game time is 8 p.m. EST (7 CST) and can be seen on Fox Soccer Channel and TeleFutura.

USA (4-2-3-1) — Bob Bradley, coach

Altidore
Dempsey-Edu-Donovan
Bradley-Jones
Bocanegra-Onyewu-DeMerit-Spector
Howard

Substitutions
IN: Agudelo, Chandler (halftime); OUT: Spector, Jones. USA switched to a 4-4-2 in the second half.

Argentina (4-3-3) — Sergio Batista, coach

Lavezzi-Messi-Di Maria
Mascherano-Cambiasso-Banega
Rojo-G. Milito-Burdisso-Zanetti
Andujar

Substitutions
IN: Biglia (73); OUT: Cambiasso.

Shots/on target: ARG 13/6, USA 7/4.
Corners: ARG 6, USA 2.
Fouls: ARG 9, USA 12.
Offside: ARG 1, USA 0.
Yellow cards: ARG none, USA 4 (Edu, 35; Chandler, 48; Donovan, 79; Bocanegra, 90+1).
Referee: Roberto Garcia (MEX).
Attendance: 78,936.

FIFA world rankings: ARG 4, USA 19.

DeSean Jackson will be the death of me

Dennis Johnson from the NFL Network reported today that 50 percent of fantasy championships will be impacted by Michael Vick.

If Jackson caught footballs liked he picked out sunglasses, I'd be in business. Nice shirt though.

For me it’s not Mike Vick, it’s DeSean Jackson (unless of course he’s implying Vick impacts Jackson). I have two fantasy titles on the line tonight, and both teams are going against DeSean Jackson tonight.

And by “going against,” I mean, “need him to do poorly.”

One of my teams is already screwed by Wes Welker. So here’s how it plays out: One game I have a six-point lead and David Akers vs. Jackson. In the other, I have a five-point lead with Akers and LeSean McCoy going against Jackson.

Right now it looks like I’m going 1-1. That’s okay, except I’m losing the pay league and winning the free one. I’m hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

Here’s my wishful thinking. I think the Vikings are going to get pounded into the turf tonight. I’m not sure Joe Webb is better than Joe Licata. Two days rest for Adrian Peterson helps, but the Eagles are just too good.

I need the Vikings to eat some clock in the first half. Their defense will have all they can from Vick, so give them a break when they finally get off the field. Run Peterson and Gerhart and keep the clock rolling.

I also need the Eagles to get up early. The sooner Philadelphia has the lead, the sooner Andy Reid stops dialing up passing plays. Defensive touchdowns wouldn’t hurt either. They would put the game further out of reach without anyone on offense scoring a touchdown (I’m nervous for punt returns though… Minnesota got burned by Hester).

One thing I have on my side is the threat of the Eagles playing three games in 12 days. Between this Tuesday night game, their Week 17 game and Wild Card weekend, the Eagles could potentially play three times in 12 days. If they get up big and/or early, hopefully Reid will take out some of his stars and let the others play.

Basically what it comes down to is if Jackson scores a touchdown, I lose. If not, I have a shot. I lost the championship last season because Peyton Manning only played the first half of Indi’s Week 16 game. Here’s to hoping karma comes back around.

Oh, and if Jackson wants to do that thing again where he drops the ball before he gets into the end zone, that’d be cool too.


Other notes:

-Everybody blasted Brian Westbrook when he took a dive to keep the clock running instead of taking the touchdown, effectively losing several fantasy championships in the process. When Peyton Manning did it this weekend, nobody said a word.

Where else could you find a picture like this of T.O.? Only Twitter.

-Twitter is growing on me. I love that fact that you can get up close and personal with famous people. Landon Donovan’s Twitter made me laugh one night, and I made a comment about how he makes celbs seem more real. Well, he responded. That’s right, Landon Donovan tweeted at me. The answer is yes, it was as awesome as it sounds.

-Now that Mike Singletary is out in San Fransisco, what are the odds Glen Coffee comes out of retirement?

-The World Junior Classic is going on right now in Buffalo. I’ve been keeping my distance from the event, and I have my reasons. I’m pulling for the States though. Too bad they’ll be the best team in that arena this year.

See you in Qatar

I still get chills watching this video. So the U.S. didn’t win the 2022 World Cup bid. It hurts, but I’m over it.

I can make any joke here about squeezing into a country roughly the size of Connecticut, but that won’t change anything. Don’t take your anger out on FIFA, but channel it towards American soccer moving forward and progressing through qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

It’s important to keep in mind this event is over a decade away, and by the time these games come around, the laptop I’m typing this post on will likely be left behind in oblivion. It’s impossible to stay mad for that long. What is possible is that none of the players on the current roster will be on the team making the trip to the Middle East.

America should worry about building on last summer’s performance and moving up in the FIFA rankings. I know Qatar is currently 113th and behind countries like Iceland, but we are just barely in the top-25.

The USMNT has a record of 5-5-3 in 2010 has scored three goals in a game only once in the last 12 months. I’m fully aware several of these games are played with a diluted lineup, but these are games the Spains and Brazils of the world put away in the first twenty minutes.

Instead of being mad at the system, let’s put that anger towards making something happen now. Let’s kick the you-know-what out of a few teams and make a statement. Develop an identity. The Unites States is pissed and you better look out because they want blood.

My thoughts for 2022? I hope we get drawn into the same group with Qatar. And by then, I want people to fear us. I’ll be satisfied when the residents of Qatar get a cold sweat when they find out they have to play the United States, because they know what they’re in for.

And besides, what’s the only thing more American than hosting the event and making incredible amounts of money off it? Going to someone else’s home turf and kicking the living crap out of them.

The men play next on Jan. 22 against Chile. I’m not expecting a decisive victory in this one, but some emotion, some tenacity would be nice.

It’s a process, but we can use this and build off it. If our eleven guys can get together behind a common goal, the world better look out.

(Is anyone else aware Clint Dempsey is 17th in the EPL in goals?)