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US National Team

08 September 7:45 am

We’ve seen plenty of CONCACAF matches just like that USMNT loss in Jamaica on Friday night: physical, scrappy, disjointed rough-and-tumble affairs.

And those are the games where you need the magical play. Those are the scrums where you need the player who can stand out and make something out of nothing.

Right now the US doesn’t have that go-to guy. Especially when Landon Donovan is not on the field (he’s missing out on the Jamaica home-and-home due to a hamstring injury). Donnie Moore's phonebook-tearing techniques can only take you so far.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT was exposed in Kingston for what it really is: a collection of solid role players who ply their trade in Europe and Mexico. Good overall pros who are not even the undisputed stars of their own club teams. Each does some things better than others, but there’s not one field player who excels at a single facet of the game. No one without gloves who can decide a match with a dominant skill.

Who’s the expert dribbler on the team? Who’s the explosive speedster who can at least draw a foul when he can’t run by someone? Who’s the master free-kick taker? Who’s the head-ball specialist feared by opposing defenders? A passing maestro anyone? How about a pinpoint crosser of the ball?

The USMNT needed someone to pull a rabbit out of a hat against Jamaica becase the team game just wasn’t there. The passing and the movement were not synced up. It wasn’t happening. And they had no one to turn to. The man in which the USA usually confides in moments of despair was watching from home. 

Maybe we have taken him for granted. Maybe we thought the golden boy would always be a boy. But injuries are slowly eating away at Landon Donovan’s career. The passing of the years have eroded his exuberant presence on the field. Even Donovan has hinted at it: A future without LD is closer than you think.

Despite their glaring deficiency, the USMNT and Klinsmann will keep on truckin'. Their heart and optimism, courage and fight, is praised around the world. They’ll show that never-say-die spirit even when the scoreline is unforgiving (see Brazil). They’ll punch above their weight sometimes and gut out a win (see Italy). They’ll hammer the inferior teams (see Scotland).

But all the other stuff in the middle – those evenly matched mucks – will continue to produce results like Kingston, Jamaica every so often. It’s just the reality when you don’t have the one player who can tip the balance of a match.

However, that sold-out Columbus Crew Stadium crowd on Tuesday – that might just be enough to take the stars-and-stripes over the top in the scrappy rematch that ensues. More importantly, home field could be enough to sway a key referee call or even win a penalty kick that decides the match.

All is not lost. Even without a superstar.

07 September 10:02 pm

I said, quite a while back, that I was concerned about the US' ability to advance to the hexagonal. Obviously tonight's result in Kingston is a data point that shows I was within my rights to be concerned.

To put it into context: The US had not lost a qualifier that mattered to a Caribbean team since 1969 (credit to US soccer journalist emeritus Michael Lewis for that nugget). We hadn't walked on the moon yet. There was no such thing as "ESPN," let alone "beIn Sport." Jurgen Klinsmann was five years old.

This was a big deal. It doesn't mean the US is out, but it does mean we've got trouble.

If you can't possess, you shouldn't play narrow

And if you play narrow, you have to possess.

Klinsmann was handed the US job with the specific task of instituting a new, possession-oriented style. And for the most part, people have left him alone, taking a "wait and see" attitude as he tries to implement a transformation.

The main issue I have with this is that the results, thus far, have been unimpressive. Yeah, the US got those 1-0 wins at Italy and Mexico, but those wins had waaaay more to do with great goalkeeping and a few timely interventions than they did with keeping the ball. Even against Antigua & Barbuda, which was as unimpressive as a 3-1 win could be, the US were hardly dominant in stringing together long series of passes.

So the question is twofold: Does Klinsmann have the team to play a possession game? And if so, is he lining them up to do just that?

I'd say the answer to the second is "yes", but the answer to the first, with this squad, anyway, is "no." A US team that omits the most skillful midfielders in favor of multiple d-mids is not designed to hold the ball.

And, unfortunately, with the narrowness of the formation, they weren't designed to hit on the break, either. It's not a catch-22, it's just the wrong players.

Speaking of...

I still can't figure out what Jermaine Jones brings to the table

No one on the pitch was worse than him. No one.

Jones doesn't connect passes particularly well going forward, and he's not disciplined enough to play as a true d-mid. He's also poor in traffic, which means he's a turnover machine when two men run at him. Playing him as a true No. 8 (where he was played vs. Jamaica) is slow suicide.

The only thing Jones really adds is a fair share of simulation (blech) and effort tracking back in transition. But there are plenty of guys in the pool - younger, more skillful, more disciplined - who offer effort, as well.

Clint Dempsey is not a distributor

Deuce is one of the four most talented US field players in our history, but if you're relying on him to ignite the offense you're probably in trouble. He's a 9 1/2, not a No. 10, and that means he needs good service and someone to combine with right off his shoulder.

Playing him behind two true forwards can be done, but not if there's zero width and not if none of the three d-mids behind him can get him the ball where he needs it. This was ugly as sin.

And Tuesday is suddenly a must-win affair. Gird your loins.

07 September 12:06 pm

Ça y est, c’est le grand jour. Alors que les éliminatoires de la Coupe du monde commencent en Europe, chez nous, on entre dans une phase cruciale de l’avant-dernier tour. Après mardi, il ne restera que deux rencontres aux douze prétendants pour ravir une des deux premières places de leur groupe.

Actuellement deuxième après un quatre sur six, le Canada accueillera ce soir le Panama, auteur d’un sans-faute jusqu’à présent. Avec un but en deux rencontres, les Canadiens doivent améliorer leur production offensive. Ce n’est pourtant pas la confiance qui manque aux attaquants, mais ils se doivent d’être efficaces en équipe nationale. Meilleur buteur de Montréal, Patrice Bernier est clair à ce sujet : « Je suis un milieu de terrain, mon rôle n’est pas de marquer. »

Quelle configuration offensive choisira Stephen Hart ? Nous en avons parlé avec Olivier Occean dans l’émission Coup Franc, durant laquelle nous avons aussi présenté les principales forces du Panama dont Blas Pérez, une des rares satisfactions d’un FC Dallas en regain de forme. Bonne nouvelle pour les téléspectateurs francophones : ce match, l’un des plus importants du Canada depuis des lustres, sera diffusé sur TVA Sports à partir de 19h00 (coup d’envoi 19h45).

Les États-Unis se déplaceront pour leur part en Jamaïque, où le moral est au beau fixe. Jürgen Klinsmann voit d’un bon œil le fait que ses joueurs évoluent dans des clubs de plus en plus prestigieux, mais compte aussi sur des talents restés au pays comme Kyle Beckerman. On retrouve également de nombreux joueurs de MLS chez les Reggae Boyz.

Ceux de Houston auront le sourire quand ils croiseront Nick Rimando, un des quatre gardiens américains, qui a causé la perte de Salt Lake à Houston hier soir en championnat. Notez enfin que ce samedi, Seattle recevra Chivas USA.

04 September 11:35 am

Équipes nationales et clubs sont à l’honneur de l’émission Coup Franc de cette semaine (à écouter ici), à laquelle se joint Olivier Tremblay, affecté à la couverture de l’Impact de Montréal pour MLSsoccer.com. Au menu :
- Gros plan sur Canada - Panama en compagnie de notre invité, Olivier Occean, qui nous parle aussi de son adaptation à Francfort. Quelle configuration offensive pour le Canada ? Peut-on se passer de Simeon Jackson dans le onze de base ? Que sait-on de l’équipe panaméenne ?
- Discussion sur les autre matchs des éliminatoires de la Coupe du monde dans lesquels sont impliqués des joueurs de MLS, avec Jamaïque - États-Unis, mais aussi Honduras - Cuba ou Costa Rica - Mexique.
- Retour sur Columbus - Montréal : l’adaptation rapide de Federico Higuain à la MLS, la fin de rencontre difficile de Montréal, l’importance du jeu aérien, la gestion du trio Nesta - Rivas - Ferrari, les clefs du match.
- Plus rien ne va à Vancouver, battu pour une quatrième fois d’affilée.
- Bien démarrer : Houston le voulait mais s’est planté à Chicago.
- Chivas USA, qui s’est effondré à San José, pourra-t-il jouer les arbitres en fin de saison ?

L'émission Coup Franc est aussi disponible sur Stitcher et iTunes. Vous pouvez nous joindre par courriel (coup.franc@MLSsoccer.com) ou sur Twitter (@CoupFrancMLS).

22 August 2:33 pm

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – An already murky situation surrounding the future replacement of US goalkeeper Tim Howard has a new wrinkle thanks to news that broke this week in, of all places, Mexico.

Cirilo Saucedo, the 30-year old goalkeeper for Club Tijuana whose mother is a United States citizen, says he has been contacted by US Soccer about a possible call up to join the ever-changing pool of goalkeepers chasing Howard as the top choice for the US national team.

“There is the possibility of being called up for Mexico or the United States,” Saucedo (above) told the sports newspaper Récord. “My mother is American but first I want to focus on Xolos and afterwards we'll see what happens.”

He added: “I'm not closing or opening any door. I want to be in the playoffs with Xolos.”

Born in Mexico City, Saucedo was part of Mexico’s Under-23 setup but has never been called into the full national team, despite suggestions from parts of the local media that it would be deserved.

Earlier this week, Saucedo was named one of four candidates for the Balón de Oro Best Goalkeeper of the Clausura 2012, and he’s been a key part of Tijuana's success since the team was promoted from the second division in May 2011.

The Tijuana 'keeper first became a regular in the 2008-09 season with Indios de Ciudad Juárez before moving to Tigres UANL for a two-year stint, where he was the regular starter. He signed for Tijuana in the summer of 2011.

While Howard is the undisputed No. 1  goalkeeper for the US national team, Saucedo would likely be in the pool of goalkeepers on his tail that has changed dramatically since the 2010 World Cup. Expected incumbent Brad Guzan has lost his grip as the de facto No. 2, and MLS youngsters Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson and veteran Nick Rimando have all battled for the same spot in the past year.

For Mexico's national team, coach José Manuel de la Torre has alternated between Jesús Corona, Guillermo Ochoa and Alfredo Talavera, without giving others much of a look, something that Saucedo mentioned had frustrated him.

There are five other players on Tijuana's first-team squad with US ties, including two who were part of the squad that stunned Mexico at Estadio Azteca last week in Edgar Castillo and Corona. Greg Garza, Alejandro Guido and Stevie Rodriguez are all also on the roster for Tijuana.

21 August 3:39 pm

It turns out the duo that helped the US earn their first-ever victory at Estadio Azteca may yet be reunited at club level.

Maurice Edu has been looking for a destination away from fourth-division Rangers for much of the summer, and manager Ally McCoist revealed on Tuesday that a suitable club may have gotten the process started by contacting the American's representatives.

"We hear from his agent that there is a potential deal to be done with Stoke," McCoist told BBC Scotland.

Of course, that's no indication of a done deal -- or even the beginning of earnest negotiations -- but it does seem to be a good sign for a player desperately in need of a new home.

Would Stoke City be a good move for Edu? Let us know in the comments sections below.

17 August 11:53 am

Después de 75 años de no lograrlo, Estados Unidos finalmente puede decir que le ganaron a sus archirrivales de la CONCACAF en su casa. México cayó en el Estadio Azteca gracias a un gol de Michael Orozco (que irónicamente es mexico-estadounidense).  

Muchos en Estados Unidos piensan que una importante barrera ha caído, que ese triunfo demuestra lo cerca que los estadounidenses están de los reyes de la CONCACAF, algo que llega en un momento critico, ya que recientemente el Tri había superado a Estados Unido en todo sentido… Copa Oro, Olímpicos, Mundiales juveniles, etc, etc, etc.

ESCUCHA: PODCAST CON MICHAEL OROZCO Y MARTIN VASQUEZ

Sin embargo, es solo un partido, y no se jugaron puntos. Es solo un triunfo, en comparación de los muchos que ha tenido México ante los estadounidenses.

Pensando en eso nos preguntamos, ¿Cuántos partidos pasarán para que EE.UU. le vuelva a ganar al Tri en México? ¿Será que la brecha si se ha cerrado, o será que tendremos que esperar otros 75 años para ver esto?

Voten, comenten y escuchen el debate de Tiro Libre… la rivalidad continúa…

16 August 6:30 pm

You would think with last night’s loss at Estadio Azteca, Mexico would be much more upset than it seems they are.

The loss gave Mexico their second historic mark in less than one week, winning an Olympic gold in soccer and losing at home to the rival USA. But the country seems to be more upset that the loss stole their thunder and put a damper on their fiestas than by what it actually means to the historic rivalry.

San Luis Hoy, the local newspaper where American goalscorer Michael Orozco Fiscal plays with Club San Luis, titled their piece “Les Aguaron la Fiesta.” Translation? They rained on our parade. La Cancha, sports section of Mexico City based La Reforma, titled their piece “Arruinan la Fiesta." Translation: They ruined the party.

Fear not Mexico, the game was just an international friendly and counted for no points. So pass another round of tequila and let’s keep the party going.

But maybe you should rethink the ever growing gringo threat and what they will do in CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers coming up.

16 August 11:51 am

Difficile de dire si le Canada est prêt pour sa double échéance contre le Panama, puisque les seules images que nous avons de son match amical d’hier sont celles du résumé ci-dessous. Le résultat contre Trinité-et-Tobago, une victoire 2-0, est toutefois encourageant, tout comme le compte rendu de Gavin Day, un des rares journalistes sur place.

La deuxième mi-temps a particulièrement plu à Stephen Hart, qui espère que ses jeunes auront davantage de temps de jeu dans leur club. Parmi eux, Russel Teibert, qui a laissé une bonne impression tant à son entraîneur qu’à ses coéquipiers.

Du côté de l’équipe nationale américaine, les réjouissances sont moins timides, et pour cause : pour la première fois de leur histoire, les États-Unis ont battu le Mexique au stade Azteca ! Les héros se nomment Orozco Fiscal, auteur du seul but du match, et Tim Howard, qui a repoussé tous les assauts mexicains. Un succès encore plus savoureux pour Herculez Gomez, l’international américain qui défend les couleurs de Santos Laguna.

On a aussi joué en championnat. Vancouver en veut particulièrement à l’arbitre suite à sa défaite 0-2 contre Dallas. Les cancres Toronto et Portland n’ont pas réussi à se départager (2-2). Pas de vainqueur non plus à Columbus - LA Galaxy (1-1), où toutes les pensées étaient dirigées vers Kirk Urso.

15 August 10:14 pm

Well ... that was cathartic. Jurgen Klinsmann didn't do everything I'd have done, but he definitely got the formation and shape right. That's a big step in the right direction. Here are three things we learned from the US national team's first victory in Mexico in 75 years.

1. This is now Geoff Cameron's backline

We at MLSsoccer.com have been talking all week about how a generational shift in the center of defense has been needed.

Carlos Bocanegra has been a great captain and, at times, a great defender, but he's well past his prime. Oguchi Onyewu, meanwhile, simply hasn't ever recovered from that 2009 knee injury. We saw that much against Antigua and Barbuda. The other option recently has been Clarence Goodson, who is tissue-paper soft.

So that left first Bob Bradley, then Jurgen Klinsmann with the task of developing the next generation of central defenders, and to be honest, it didn't go as quickly as I'd have liked. I ripped Klinsmann in my column last Friday for sticking with the old guard for too long, and did the same to Bradley last summer after the Gold Cup disappointment.

The Antigua game, and the disappointing 1-1 draw with Guatemala that followed it, drove the point home, apparently. Klinsmann kicked "tried and true" to the curb in favor of Cameron and Maurice Edu, and was rewarded with one of the best defensive performances in years (this was miles better than the Italy game, in which the US were bailed out repeatedly by a flag-happy linesman).

Cameron was flawless for 80 minutes on the night, both in his distribution (expected) and positioning (a happy surprise). He'd struggled at times with Houston this year, playing more loosely than he should have. That was nowhere to be found against Mexico.

Edu was nearly as good, bar a couple of miscommunications in distribution. They both flagged down the final 10 minutes, but that's to be expected at the Azteca.

But man, was that a big step in the right direction.

The one concern now is that they both land with clubs that are only interested in playing them at midfield. Hopefully Stoke City and Valencia, or Ipswich Town, or whoever is going to sign Edu, watched this game and realized that these guys are defenders, not midfielders.

2. There may be no place to play Jose Torres against good competition

Look, he's gotten plenty of chances. On Wednesday he played 45 minutes with three defensive midfielders behind him, two pure attackers in front of him and a pair of fullbacks who could and would overlap if there was space. It was exactly what I asked for — a chance to see the guy playing his natural spot with plenty of support around him.

And Torres did nothing on either side of the ball. There is absolutely no reason to trust him against top competition at this point, especially if they're physical.

Would you want him out there against Jamaica next month when the games count?

Neither would I.

3. These aren't new tactics

When Klinsmann came aboard, he talked about playing a new, proactive style that would impose the game upon the opposition.

Those were his words. But his deeds have been the total opposite. His team stays deep, defends in numbers and punishes mistakes. They never hog the ball unless it happens to be against Scotland or the like.

That's been the recipe against top teams for 25 years (with a few exceptions). I recently rewatched the 0-0 draw from 1998 World Cup qualifying, and defensively it was pretty much a mirror image of this game.

So full credit to Klinsmann for realizing that, if he wants to write a new manual, he should at least master the old one first.