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.

This week in sports

You miss a lot when your laptop is broken. Now that it’s finally back from the shop, here’s a rundown of things I wanted to hit but couldn’t get to.

  • U.S. soccer and the Gold Cup

It’s good to be watching U.S. soccer play competitively again in the Gold Cup. It is always good when the States beat Canada. But following it up with a 2-1 loss to Panama was yet another step backwards for the Yanks.

Gabriel Gómez beat Tim Howard on a penalty kick in the 37th minute.

The 2-0 win over Canada was nice, but far short of a convincing performance. The lineup for the States doesn’t get much stronger than it is right now. The Yanks are back on the pitch tonight against Guadeloupe (who?), and nothing short of domination will be acceptable.

It looks like the States will still advance from Group C based on the standings, but that shouldn’t even be a question. Mexico is the second-best team in the tournament by FIFA rankings — despite having the best player, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez — but it has taken care of business, winning all three games with a goal differential of plus-13.

There is no reason the Gold Cup final shouldn’t be USA vs. Mexico every time. It likely still will be, but this tournament should give us a time to perfect our game against weaker regional opponents, not squeak through on a few lucky bounces.

The USA lineup has started the same for the first two games, in a 4-4-2:

Altidore-Agudelo
Dempsey-Bradley-Jones-Donovan
Cherundolo-Goodson-Ream-Bocanegra
Howard

  • FIFA rankings

The States came into the tournament ranked 22nd in the world by FIFA and first in CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football — we need a new name). Mexico is second in the zonal ranking and 28th in the world. Canada, USA’s first Group C opponent, is ranked 76th in the world (seventh zonal) and Panama is ranked 67th (sixth), though it will likely move up next month after beating the States.

Guadeloupe, if you notice, is not in the ranking. I wondered why, and got an answer.

  • Griffs drafted

Jamieson was drafted into the Oakland system.

Three Canisius baseball players were drafted in this year’s MLB draft: shortstop Sean Jamieson in the 17th round (526 overall) by the Oakland Athletics, relief pitcher Chris Cox in the 39th round (1,189 overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays, and starting pitcher Shane Davis in the 42nd round (1,279 overall) also by the Jays.

I talked to Sean before the draft, and basically asked him something I will never get to experience — how much fun is it knowing you’re going to get drafted:

“It’s pretty cool. Not too many people get the chance to go off and play in the minor league system. … [I hear from scouts in] emails, over the phone, after games. It’s always fun hearing from a big league scout. You try not to let it get to you and just take it one at bat at a time.”

  • The MLB draft

The Major League draft goes 50 rounds and had 1,530 players selected. Kolya Stephenson, right-handed pitcher from Ocean City High School (N.J.), was the last player selected, if you really want to know. With that many players you might think there’s more than just one “Mr. Irrelevant,” but not necessarily so. Fifty rounds sounds ridiculous, but there are a ton of minor league levels out there, and every organization needs to fill out the roster of every one of its affiliates.

A lot of the draftees are high school kids, many of whom will play college ball instead and re-enter the draft later. For some college draftees, “livin’ out the dream” may take a back seat to a job offer or a girl. Don’t forget about injuries. If you pitched for your high school team that played 25 games this spring, your arm might not be able to take the rest of the season in rookie ball. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of Major League dream die every year due to injuries. Those players need to be replaced with healthy ones.

  • The NBA Finals

Dirk Nowitzki, Mark Cuban and the Dallas Mavericks won the NBA title on Sunday. I watched the second half, which is about the longest I’ve ever watched an NBA game on TV (I went to my first NBA game in Los Angeles earlier this year; Clippers beat the Nuggets, 100-94).

I follow the storylines in the NBA, but I have a hard time watching the games. They are slow and there are way too many whistles. I don’t even see half the fouls when they show the replay. Putting your head down and dribbling into a guy to try to draw a foul and then having putting up an off-balance shot that has no hope of going in because you didn’t get the call is not exactly entertaining.

Part of the reason we love watching sports is because we want to feel like we could be there, too. I’m not Derek Jeter, but there are some ground balls hit to him I’m sure I could field. In the NBA, I’d have to be an outside shooter. There’s no way I could ever go inside or get a rebound. You almost have to be a freak of nature to make it in the NBA, and that idea of “there’s no way I could have ever done that” takes a lot away from the experience.

I enjoy college basketball. I love covering it and I’ll watch even if the teams playing don’t mean anything to me. I don’t really know how to explain it, or maybe how to back it up, but it’s almost like the college kids try harder. There is a lot more hustle in the college game and they certainly go a lot harder on defense. I think the millions have something to do with it, but I don’t know how much I could really do with LeBron James or Dwight Howard coming at me full speed, either. Maybe it’s easier to defend in the college game because they guys aren’t so gargantuan, but that makes up part of the human element that is the reason NCAA round ball is so much easier to follow, and that much easier to love.

  • Playoff format

With the NBA and NHL finals going on at the same time, there is some debate going on about the playoff series format in a best-of-seven — the NHL’s 2-2-1-1-1 versus the NBA’s and MLB’s 2-3-2.

I prefer the 2-2-1-1-1, and not just because I’m biased towards hockey. To me, the 2-3-2 says we are more about the money than the game. It’s about the media travel and the television deals, not the outcome of the series, which the former takes into account.

If you really wanted it to be fair, they would alternate every home game, 1-1-1-1… until a winner was crowned. That’s a little ridiculous on the travel, which is why the 2-2 start is used, plus it rewards to higher seed with two home games at the start. The 2-3-2 really doesn’t reward the home team at all. If they split the first set, then the home team has to go play three times away. Who cares if you have six and seven at home, you might not even get back that far. If the lower seed takes the series in five games, then they would have had more home games than the higher seed. The higher seed should never be at a disadvantage.

Ask the players, they’d travel across the country if it meant getting a home game instead of a road game. The home team has won all six games so far in the Stanley Cup final. I think Roberto Luongo would rather travel across the country to sleep in his own bed and play in front of people who love him. The 2-3-2 makes travel easier, but for who? The players or the media?

  • Sedin twins

Speaking of the Stanley Cup finals, where have the Sedins been? Daniel has one goal and three assists, Henrik has one goal and no assists this series. Vancouver won’t win tomorrow without its best players. The Crimson Chins better give Harry Potter his invisibility cloak back, because this is the biggest game of their lives. If anybody in Vancouver has the Crimson Chin spotlight to shine on the night sky, now would be the time to bring it out.

  • Women’s soccer

I still haven’t seen Marta and the WNY Flash play in person yet, but I watched a few games on TV and I’m trying to figure out what level of competition they are on par with. I’ll hold judgement until I see them live, but from the comfort of my couch, it looks like a Division I men’s team would handle the WPS. I’m against coed sports because it’s hard to go all-out against women, but if there was a way it could happen, it’d be interesting to see FC Buffalo take on the Flash.

  • Chicharito

Chicharito has five of Mexico's 14 goals in the tournament.

Oh, and remember Chicharito from Mexico soccer? His nickname means “little pea” in Spanish. His dad was “Chícharo” — pea — because of his green eyes, so naturally, he became little pea. That’s a fun fact.

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.

USMNT vs. Chile quick recap

Six players earned their first career cap Friday night at the Home Depot Center as a young Team USA drew with Chile, 1-1.

None of the 19 players who dressed for the match were part of the 23-man World Cup roster last summer.

Chris Wondolowski led the MLS with 18 goals last season.

Chile took the lead in the 54th minute on an athletic finish in the box from Esteban Parades. The States answered 20 minutes later when Teal Bunbury buried a penalty kick into the lower right corner (video here, awesome call from the announcer).

2010 MLS Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski played 59 minutes in his first-ever game with the national team. According to US Soccer’s Twitter, Wondolowsi started the game as the lone striker for USA.

It listed Bob Bradley’s formation as a 4-2-3-1, but you wouldn’t have known by watching the game. Like the 4-3-3 he tried against Colombia, it ended it mushing into a 4-4-2, even with completely different players.

Twenty-year-old Brek Shea started his second straight game for the States. I don’t think he cracks the roster when Bradley has his pick of players, but he has showed some good things so far. If only he could take a decent picture.

The defensive unit showed its youth today and would have been exposed by a more talented opponent. There were a few breakdowns and some looks Chile should have finished.

It takes a while to get used to playing with new people, but the general feeling is that the United States should be able to beat Chile, no matter who is playing. It feels like yet another game that the soccer powers of the world would have found a way to win.

In the last four games on U.S. soil, the USMNT is 0-1-3.

Wondonlowski
Bedoya-Diskerud-Shea
Larentowicz-McCarty
Franklin-Ream-Gonzalez-Loyd
Rimando

Shots: Chile 9, USA 4
On target: Chile 3, USA 4
Corners: Chile 0, USA 2
Subs: Chile 2, USA 7
Yellow cards: Chile 2, USA 1
Red cards: None