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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Which forwards will Klinsmann take to World Cup 2014?

Photo credit: USA Today
Juergen Klinsmann has an interesting predicament: the stable of US National Team forwards is considerably deep. The coach will have to think long and hard about his core of players and it's fair to question the pros and cons of possible selections.

1. Altidore
Jozy is all but assured a place on the plane ride to Brazil. This in spite of a horrific year with Sunderland of the Premier League. Altidore has shown that he is a hold-up forward, a target forward, and a power forward. These traits are tough to match and no other striker in the US pool exists that has them all.

2. Aron Johannsson
Johannsson came into the race for a spot in Brazil relatively late. But he did so in style. The Mobile, Alabama-born Icelandian-American chose to represent the USA late last summer. He rewarded the Americans with speed and excellent timing and a goal versus Panama that gave the US another win of the Hexagonal in qualifying. Not to mention he has scored 20 goals in 25 goals in all competitions for AZ Alkmaar this season. Barring an injury, Klinsmann can hardly afford not to take him.

3. Eddie Johnson
The DC United man has lost his scoring touch lately and this might figure into his calling to training camp for the final 30. Still, Johnson was pivotal in the 2014 qualifying campaign and moments such as the goal versus Mexico in Columbus are not easy to forget. 

4. Chris Wondolowski
Wondolowski is a poacher. He has shown it time and again for San Jose and he has continued to show it for the national team. Wondo has scored 9 goals in his last 10 appearances for Team USA. Hard to argue against that. He is, at the moment, an ace in the hole, a supersub, a game changer.

5. Terrence Boyd
Boyd has been a bit of an enigma. While he has impressed during his time as a starter with Rapid Wien, his national team record is quite incomplete. Boyd just hasn't had enough chances in front of goal because he hasn't had enough chances to be on the pitch to begin with. The same can't be said for any other name on this page. The last trully exceptional moment he had was a pass that led to Michael Orozco's goal in a win versus Mexico at the Azteca. 22 goals in 54 games for Rapid is also impressive, but does that make him a worthy inclusion in the final 23 to Brazil?

Right now it's clear that, given this group, both Agudelo and Herculez Gomez would miss the cut. Agudelo has scored only two goals in a half season with Utrecht. Herculez has not recovered in form after his injury and can be all but counted out. Let's also remember that both Donovan and Dempsey, and to some extent even Julian Green could be classified and played as forwards. Where does that leave the final 3-4 striker selections?

Only four forwards will make it to Brazil. And that assumes Dempsey counted as a midfielder. Wondolowski and Johannsson are in form goalscorers, but they don't match up physically against Ghana or Germany. Altidore and Johnson are the best the US has when in form, athletic and inventive, but can we afford to start them given their lack of clarity in front of goal at the moment?

Klinsmann and the US forward pool is at a crossroads at the moment. This is not Bob Bradley's 4-4-2 squad with speed and strength at the forward flank. This team is about possession and holding the ball, and only one striker is needed for that. Right now it's still Altidore's job to lose, for better or worse. If we want to see Wondolowski and Johannsson deployed then the upcoming friendlies should give us a taste.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Thanks, DCU fans

Today I had a true DC United experience. The fans were loud, the streets were clogged, the drinks were cold. And I realized the value of the 12th man in this city. From kids to grandparents, Barra Brava to the casual fan. Thanks for the memories and I hope to write more about the team in the future.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Observations following USA's tie versus Mexico in Phoenix

Photo credit: azcentral.com
Ian Darke put it well. At the half, Klinsmann's Team USA looked to be playing some of the best soccer under the current coach. They were sharp, they scored, they defended. Second half, however, was all Mexico. 2-2.

Bradley rules the midfield
Michael Bradley showed again why he was playing for Roma in the Serie A. He was fearless in defense and inventive and powerful in attack. He scored the first and assisted beautifully on the second goal. Without him Team USA will not stand a chance at the World Cup.

Wondolowski is our striker
For all the doubters of San Jose's great forward, today should have put a final seal on their arguments. Wondo can score internationally and he can do so well. He was active, even if with a lack of flair, but he was a poacher and scored the second goal. That's all that counts at the World Cup.

Back line not quite there yet
Do they need Evans and Cameron? Perhaps Fabian Johnson? And how does the best defender, and DP of the LA Galaxy leave Rafa Marquez alone in the box? Gonzalez left much to be desired today and not just on that play.

No Donovan, no problem
Injury or lack of form could make America's most talented soccer player a bench warmer. It happened today and what happened to the team? Nothing. In fact, they fared quite well, actually. Zusi picked up the slack and connected well with Beltran in the 4-4-2. But Donovan did inject an extra dimension when he came on board. So don't count him out yet. 

Yedlin in, Green not ready yet
Tonight was Julian Green's chance to make noise in the international scene and possibly book a trip to Brazil. He may yet, but only if the  U-23 team makes it to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Green was nervous tonight and made several mistakes. Rookie mistakes, yes. But he's no amazing prodigy for the news media to fall in love with. Not yet. Yedlin, however, was something else. He defended well and his darting runs forward undid the Mexican left flank several times. I would book Yedlin ahead of many others on the way to Brazil.

We need Europe
Finally, yes, our players abroad very much have a say in this team. While the first half may have made us pause with a razor-sharp game, the second half was flat and without answers to Mexico's changing tactics. This is where players like Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Mix Diskerud, Geoff Cameron and Aaron Johannsson come in. They belong in this squad and make us better. Without them the group of death might as well be called the death sentence.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Liverpool Returns and Performs in the EPL

Photo credit: The Guardian
Liverpool FC, undoubtedly one of the more recognized names in world soccer, has had its long-overdue reawakening. With an unstopabble Suarez, a calm Steven Gerrard and a stout central spine, this team is fun to watch and nearly unstoppable.

Liverpool won't stop scoring. That's the long and short of it. With a league-high 88 goals in favor and all of April and May still to go, and a Luis Suarez primed for a record-breaking streak, it's hard to see how this team can be stopped right now.

Brendan Rogers has finally turned this team around after lackluster performances for almost a decade. The team has not won a major tournament since the Champions League in 2005 and domestically they have not won the league since the 1980s. Back then they had a dynasty. Lately, they were knocked out of the top four for several years until now.

Today's Liverpool is a great respite from the monopolizing Manchester United, Manchester City and Cheslea. And where we might have thought that Arsenal would walk away with the league during the first semester of the tournament, it is now clear that Wenger's team has imploded, paving the way for the Merseyside team.

Anfield deserves a major victory after all the work this team has done. From Skrtel to Sturridge, Leiva to Coutinho, this side has a wealth of dedicated stars to support Suarez in his exploits.

Whatever happens in April, Liverpool deserves where it is right now at the top of the Premier League table. This is going to be a classic finish to the league and all of us fans of the sport are rooting for the team that scores the most and enjoys the game. Right now that is Liverpool.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Julian Green chooses USA

Photo credit: US Soccer

The latest coup for the US National Team in the German Connection is Julian Green. The highly-regarded Bayern Munich player has been a target of Klinsmann and US Soccer since last fall when he burst onto the scene scoring 15 goals in 19 games for Bayern Munich II and playing for Germany in the youth levels. 

Green made an appearance in the dying minutes of a UEFA Champions League match versus CSKA Moscow November 2013. And although he has yet to play again for the German giants, it is clear that he will soon a given his exploits.

What's the real significane of Green's choice to represent the United States? He won't be another Giuseppe Rossi or Neven Subotic. He won't grace another country's jersey, just America's. And if he's a breakout player he will be America's breakout player.

It's true that we don't know his true worth yet but Klinsmann is pretty clear about the youngster's talent. The thought of an unproven player at the World Cup might seem hard to swallow for some but let's remember that Bruce Arena was close to bringing Rossi to 2006. 

Klinsmann has excelled in repatriating and plain capturing players with dual nationality for US Soccer. Aron Johannsson, Fabian Johnson, Mix Diskerud and Joe Corona are all integral players for the team. Julian Green can add to that.

We are frankly all very excited about this turn of events. And we won't need to wait that long to see him in a US jersey. If his paperwork goes through, young Green will be available to play versus Mexico in April.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MLS falters again in the Concacaf Champions League with Galaxy's loss to Tijuana

Photo credit: Concacaf
It's not old news that an American team gets eliminated in the knockout round of the Concacaf Champions League. Tonight it was the LA Galaxy's turn at the hand of heavily-talented Xolos of Tijuana. The team was doomed from the start.

The reason the team lost wasn't as much by the defense but for the lack of result at home at the StubHub Center. A win by at least two goals would have been enough for the LA squad. And this is a point that Sporting KC will also have to contend when they face Cruz Azul on their return match.

It is sad to realize that the league still has ways to go to catch up with other leagues on the international level. Let's remember that Xolos elected not to play with their "full" squad and that their replacements are that much more talented in a very deep pool of players. Hopefully the Galaxy can begin to remedy this with Galaxy II in coming years.

Clearly, the influx of talent into the league from the international sphere with players like Defoe, Henry, Dempsey and Bradley is quite impressive, but this is only skin deep. If the league trully wants to compete then it will have to flex more of a financial muscle and not just on two to three players per team. And yes, that could be a problem too, given the fate of NASL and the impending dilution of talent due to the almost perennial expansion of MLS. But we know that it is an imperative for Garber and many American soccer fans to excell in their continental tournament if the league is to become trully exceptional in our lifetime. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Toronto shows it can be a superclub versus Seattle

Photo credit: CBC
Toronto FC shed its reputation as a minnow in MLS today by going to Seattle and defeating the Pacific Northwest powerhouse 2-1 to earn just the second ever opening day win in the club's eight year history. It was a just score and a credit to what could become a significant team in the league.

No one told Jermain Defoe that it would be hard to be a Designated Player in the league, to settle in, to score. No. Two goals in 24 minutes says it all. Defoe is just as much a superstar scorer as he was at Tottenham in the Premier League.

As for Michael Bradley, let's just say that there was hardly a play he wasn't involved in. In fact, the man looked like he was still playing for Roma, devoting himself to every tackle and distributing balls that Frencesco Totti would be proud of.

Capping it off was a curiously familiar man on goal: Julio Cesar. Yes, Julio Cesar from Brazil. He had the poise on most plays and only Dempsey's deft touch undid his work.

But Toronto is much more than these three players. In fact, Gilberto, their third DP, wasn't even on the pitch. The rest of the squad is compensated at a lower rate than the Bradleys and Defoes, but they did a good job tonight. And they are no pushovers either: DeRosario (former MLS MVP), Steven Caldwell, Alvaro Rey, Justin Morrow.

Seattle had its marksman finally score. Dempsey had a great opportunity and put it away the way we were accustomed to watching at the Premier League. It is clear, however, that Schmid still had much to work on to make the Sounders as fearful as it is to play at Century Link Field.

And yet, would this team be able to go to Seattle and defeat Sigi Schmid's team without Bradley and Defoe? That's the more important question and it is the depth in this squad that counts and why they aren't quite yet a superclub.