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matthew doyle

19 November 4:08 pm

There are always offseason rumors flying around the Red Bulls, but with this one there seems to be no ambiguity:

"There is no shadow of a doubt, I am eager to come back," Cahill reportedly told the Liverpool Echo about his desire to return to Everton on a short-term winter loan. "Hopefully something can be done. It would be nice but it is not down to me. I have to respect that sometimes the ship has sailed."

Cahill, one of three Designated Players on the New York roster, scored one goal in 12 regular-season and two postseason games after arriving from the Toffees, and was hobbled by a calf injury throughout. In his last 55 club games across all competitions, the 32-year-old attacker has four goals and six assists.

16 November 3:39 pm

New York's Rafa Márquez has already made it clear that he wants to go out on loan this offseason.

And he's made it pretty clear that Atlas — his original club, which is struggling mightily in the Liga MX these days — is his preferred destination.

And now Atlas are flirting back:

This, of course, doesn't mean that anything is, as yet, official. But there's certainly a lot more to this one than one stray press release.

16 November 3:33 pm

No.

Does it make sense? Also no.

Is there any discernable reason that the Football Federation of Australia put out a press release saying talks were happening?

I'll let you know if I come up with one. For now, don't hold your breath.

14 November 11:57 am

When it comes to friendlies, Tim Howard may be the greatest 'keeper in the world. He's the hero of Wednesday's 2-2 draw.

And when it comes to soccer, the US are still better playing direct, simple stuff than trying to be Spain. No, you're not going to get many results if you rely primarily on running volleys from outside the 18. But at least that's a club the US have in the bag. Tika-taka isn't.

Anyway, here's what we learned in order of importance:

Jurgen Klinsmann's message got through to Jozy Altidore loud and clear

He wasn't Pelé out there, but he didn't need to be. What the US forwards have done well since the days of Wynalda (and probably before) is work damn hard on both sides of the ball. Even Jozy's done that well at times in his career — notably the summers of 2009 and 2010, and as recently as as last year against Slovenia when his pressure led to Edson Buddle's goal.

That Jozy was back against the Russians. There was little combination play to speak of in the final third — something we'll get to in point No. 2 — but Altidore can't be blamed for that. What he should get credit for is pressuring the Russian backs and checking to midfield constantly, offering a largely outskilled and creatively bereft midfield an outlet when they got in trouble.

And again, he wasn't perfect in that. But he was really good, won a ton of possession-positive headers, found space a few times to let rip, and made a bunch of unselfish runs off the ball. If there was any justice, he'd have gotten a better touch on that Fabian Johnson pass in the 70th minute.

You can have two of Danny Williams, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones on the field at the same time

Any more than two and you get a midfield that plays like ... well, like what we saw today. I don't know how many times we have to see that during Klinsmann's tenure, but let's add a "+1" after Wednesday's draw.

The slightly mitigating factor is that the Williams/Bradley/Jones trio looked a bit more useful when Klinsmann switched away from the 4-3-3 to a lopsided 4-4-2 with 25 minutes to go (with Williams eventually coming off for the effective Mo Edu, which is a like-for-like switch).

The improvement makes sense since the US, as a whole, were much better in 1-v-1 situations than they were in combination play — a bizarre thing to say/think about a team with such strong Bundesliga influences. And, of course, because it opened up space for Bradley to move forward. Without that switch he's nowhere near Juan Agudelo's knock-back header to find the equalizer.

The 4-3-3 can still work with this team, but it needs a midfield trio that can hold the ball and build chances. Williams/Bradley/Jones ain't it.

Josh Gatt is still more athlete than soccer player

I've been harping on this a lot, as I often do with Youtube heroes. And I'm not going to stop.

The player Gatt reminds me of most is Dane Richards. He's got a ton of speed — both at the start and the top end — and can make things happen in the open field pretty damn well. He also attacks the back post ferociously, a prerequisite for any winger in a 4-3-3 (which is what Gatt is for his club team in Molde, and was on Wednesday as well).

However, at this point, he's unable to make decisions in possession, and defensively he's an absolute nightmare. Any simple one-two left him undone (witness his last action of the game, in the 62nd minute), and the Russians went at him incessantly during the game's first 20-odd minutes.

He got better as the half went on, but right now he's a significantly inferior soccer player — and national team prospect — to guys like Chris Pontius, Nick DeLeon and, quite obviously, Graham Zusi.

But figuring out stuff like that is what friendlies are for.

Bonus thought: Once again, the US played better when Sacha Kljestan came on

Other than Landon Donovan, no one in the US pool sees the game quicker. And he's become much, much stronger on the ball in the past two years. If it were my call, his name would be on the starting XI in pen.

02 November 3:25 pm

A rising tide, the saying goes, lifts all boats. And in this case, it helps keep a few afloat.

That's the good news out of NASL and, specifically, Minnesota on Friday afternoon. The club and league announced that a local ownership group has been found, meaning the Stars — who have made it to the past two NASL title games, and won it in 2011 — will be back for 2013.

“We cannot overstate how delighted we are at this outcome,” said NASL Commissioner David Downs in a press release. “The team has represented Minnesota in NASL play in extraordinary fashion over the past two years despite the lack of local owners, and now we believe this will give the Stars the foundation needed to flourish for years to come. As of today, we now have local owners for the team who are clearly committed and dedicated to promoting soccer as an integral part of the community.”

Minnesota had been a league-run team for the past two years, and the ownership search had reportedly become an existential one in recent months.

The fact that it's been resolved in this fashion is good news for fans of the Stars, first and foremost. But from a broader perspective, it's good news for anyone in North America who's a fan of the game. A stable and healthy second division means more opportunities for meaningful soccer all over the map, and more opportunities for youth development in a metropolitan area that's produced a fair number of pros.

Win-win. Today's a good day for soccer.

30 October 7:11 pm

Yes. Yes they are.

And yes, I picked Seattle to win it because it's a moral imperative to stick with the prediction I made in March. But have been wracking my brain to figure out just the right way of explaining why the Earthquakes are such favorites.

Turns out Redditor moatie2000 did it for me in one handy-dandy little chart.

Here ya go:

Not a lot needs to be said beyond that.

17 October 1:57 pm

A Roger Espinoza move to the English Premier League has seemed like a fait accompli ever since Honduras' impressive run in the London Olympics — one that ended with the Sporting KC midfielder receiving a standing ovation from the fans at St. James' Park after earning a controversial second yellow against Brazil in the quarterfinals.

Among those singing his praises the loudest was Wigan Athletic manager Roberto Martinez. And now it looks like the outspoken Spaniard will get his man, as according to The Daily Mail, Espinoza is heading to Wigan once the winter transfer window opens.

Espinoza, who's spent his entire professional career with Sporting, is currently nursing a sprained ankle and is expected to miss this weekend's showdown with New York.

16 October 8:20 pm

A month ago against Jamaica, with the US holding on to a 1-0 lead for dear life, it was the defense that looked just fine while the midfield and attack — for the last 25 minutes, anyway — looked like total strangers.

This time through, even with the result decided, it was the defense that caused the US fans all sorts of indigestion. Carlos Bocanegra, goal aside, played one of his worst games in the US shirt. And with that in mind, we'll take a look at the three things we learned in the 3-1 US win that secured passage into the Hexagonal...

The US need a new answer in central defense

Giving up such a rudimentary goal to as predictable and banal a side as Los Chapines is cause for concern. Michael Bradley's midfield turnover was needless and the dislocation between the central defenders — Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron — was reason to worry with more dynamic, better teams waiting in the Hexagonal.

It's beyond time to get Matt Besler or Omar Gonzalez some serious run alongside Cameron. They've been the two best US defenders in the league this year, and both among the four best, along with Víctor Bernárdez and Carlos Valdés — who are starters for Honduras and Colombia, respectively. Hanging onto the old guard was the original sin of Bruce Arena, and Jurgen Klinsmann would be wise to learn that lesson before it dooms him in a game that matters.

And they're going to start to matter — a lot — come February.

Where's the killer instinct in the attack?

"Job done" is what Ian Darke said just over a minute into stoppage time, and mathematically there's no real argument with him since the the US qualified, after all.

But compare the US job to what Honduras did to Canada earlier in the day. Klinsmann's side had every chance to lay a 5-1 or 6-1 hurting on a Guatemala team that was missing their top three central defenders, and lacked either the ability or the desire to do so.

To put it into perspective: one of Guatemala's starting central defenders was 20. The other plays in the Guatemalan second division. This was not a Hexagonal-level backline.

And this US wasn't ruthless or relentless; it was haphazard and ad hoc. That'd be the reason Klinsmann's side has scored more than one goal in just five of 20 games.

Is it disappointing on an "I hate Guatemala" level? Absolutely. But it's even more disappointing on an "I'd much rather face Jamaica than Guatemala in the next round" level. The US could have knocked Los Chapines out, and didn't do it. Jamaica did it.

Needs more nasty in the box, not in the tackle.

"We need him"

That's what Clint Dempsey said about Landon Donovan, and Deuce is absolutely right.

But even more important is finding whoever Donovan's heir is, and finding him soon. As the last 18 months have shown, Landon's not 25 anymore. He'll be an injury-prone 31-year-old by the time the Hex starts, capable of breathtaking moments only in short bursts. Someone else needs to be the creative hub come February.

It's the existential crisis US fans have been dreading since 2001, and Klinsmann needs to take a longer view with it than he has with the defense. And it needs to start with the next camp.

One final thought...

That may be the last time I ever watch Carlos Ruiz play soccer. Can't say I'll miss him in the slightest.

12 October 9:14 pm

Some of that "Goonies never say die!" magic rubbed off on the US national team on Friday night. Alan Gordon, one of the lead protagonists in San Jose's run to what looks like a certain Supporters' Shield, put it on a plate for Eddie Johnson in second half stoppage time as the US beat a stubborn Antigua & Barbuda side 2-1:

 

12 October 9:08 pm

Even if you play badly, you can still win if you execute on set pieces. That's what the US did on Friday night in a 2-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda. Here's the first goal, courtesy of Seattle's Eddie Johnson on a perfect cross from Graham Zusi: