US National Team

05 October 2:44 de la tarde

Jurgen Klinsmann has spent much of his year-plus at the head of the US national team talking about big ideas and expansive long-term goals.

A few gritty rounds of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying seem to have brought out the flinty realist in him, however.

The German-American coach shared his thoughts on the qualifying grinder and his team’s overall progress in a Q&A with on Thursday. And while he claimed that the rigors of regional competition have been “pretty much what I expected,” and largely adhered to his optimistic outlook, it’s hard not to believe that he’s adapting his ambitious outlook to his current circumstances.

“They are very difficult games going into countries in the Caribbean and Central America,” said Klinsmann. “You have to adjust to the environments there. You have the crowd’s influence. You have refereeing that here and there may not be the way you want it. It’s difficult. It’s very physical and tough.

“You have to respond to it with the right attitude. You have to have respect for those teams. You have to battle them. You have to win your battles first before you play nice football.”

Remember, this is the same coach who proclaimed his desire to play flowing, “proactive” soccer and stand toe to toe with world powers. A week after suggesting in an interview that he would even “send a tall center back up front” and go Route-1 style if the US somehow found themselves chasing the game against Antigua and Barbuda next week, Klinsmann acknowledged his own on-the-job educational process.

“From a coaching perspective, I learned a lot about having games in Jamaica and Guatemala, so I know what to expect the next time I go in there,” he said. “Every coach goes through those learning curves. At the end of the day, we are here for points. We need to qualify for the World Cup, so we need to make sure the players understand the urgency of doing things.

“Going into these last two qualifying matches of the first group stage, it’s really important that the players understand from the first second on that we have a sense of urgency in everything we do.”

Comparing CONCACAF’s underdogs to the awkward UEFA minnows his German national team wrestled past during qualification efforts in his own playing career – including a tight home victory over Wales that nearly kept Die Mannschaft out of the 1990 World Cup that they eventually won – Klinsmann acknowledged the underrated challenges that US teams perennially encounter in their own backyard.

“You have to explain to people that even if you are on paper the big favorite, for your opponent the game against the United States is the game of the year, and maybe the game of the decade,” he said.

“If you take just five percent off the gas, you will struggle. They will come away with a tie, they might beat you. It is important that the players must understand there is no easy game on the agenda. There is no such thing. Soccer is unpredictable. You can mess up again with one set piece, and then they bunker themselves in and you do not find a way through that wall and you lose 1-0 and wonder why afterwards.”

US fans can only hope that Klinsmann and his squad make sure that feeling, which befell them after last month’s upset loss to Jamaica, doesn’t return any time soon.

25 September 1:02 de la tarde

If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire... Jozy Altidore.

12 September 10:47 de la mañana

You've seen it. And if you haven't seen it, you've heard about it. And if you haven't heard about it then, well, you are in for a treat, my friend.

Here it is. The first known sighting of the "Dempsey Face." Drink it in in all its glory, US fans.

Photo courtesy of SB Nation

11 September 10:14 de la tarde

"There's a nervousness about the USA just at the moment."
— Ian Darke, ESPN

That was the comment at the 84th minute, and I have to agree with him. The US national team was scattered throughout the end of the game on Tuesday night, and if they want to make it through the rest of qualifying unscathed, they'll have to rectify that.

But here's something: While the US as a whole were nervous and scattered — not a surprise since they were playing with three d-mids by that point, which as we've seen tends to have dire consequences — the back four looked just fine. For as cringe-inducing as the midfield and finishing can be, if the defense holds up (and it largely has since Geoff Cameron was given a starter's role), there's plenty of reason to be confident in US prospects.

Anyway, three more thoughts about the 1-0 win over Jamaica:

Playing with 2 or fewer d-mids sure makes a lot of sense

When Graham Zusi goes forward, he doesn't lose the ball. When Maurice Edu goes forward, he usually does.

Zusi was excellent for his entire shift, and deserves whatever plaudits are going to come his way (and there will be plenty). Edu is a very good player when used in the right spot. But they are not interchangeable.

The other change was playing Jose Torres at left mid (a risk) and Clint Dempsey in a free role underneath Herculez Gomez (common sense). Torres verged between "acceptable" and "pretty damn good" in his time on the pitch, generally performing well in traffic and opening space for Fabian Johnson on the overlap. It wasn't a "make the game yours" role — it was a "make it easier for someone else to make the game his" role. It's nice to see him used right.

Danny Williams did a lot of convincing at d-mid

Kyle Beckerman's taken a lot of undeserved stick over the past few days since Klinsmann put him in a no-win situation.

But the fact is, Beckerman is not a superior athlete. He's a d-mid that's very, very good when his team's in possession, but very, very susceptible to late challenges and being overwhelmed physically when his side's chasing the game. That's what happened Friday.

Williams isn't as polished, but his athleticism makes him a little more versatile, and a little better at snuffing out the screw-ups of others. Beckerman still has a spot, but Williams should probably be the starter at d-mid next month.

Our whole goal as a soccer culture has to be identifying guys like Gomez earlier

I tweeted this during the game, and professional skeptic Greg Lalas pointed out that maybe it's not a shortcoming in our development scheme. Instead, maybe it's a problem with other countries who are liable to give short shrift to late-developing players.

Greg's mostly wrong, of course. The reason being that in other countries, "late developing player" means 21, like Miroslav Klose, or 23, like Didier Drogba, or even 26 like Luca Toni (an outlier).

Gomez got his first look at age 25 — younger than Toni — but didn't get his first real shot until he was 28. And he's not an exception to the rule.

Consider that Geoff Cameron was 26 before he was moved to central defense full-time. Consider that Chris Wondolowski was 27 before he really got his shot in MLS. Consider that Zusi was an afterthought until the age of 25.

Obviously the development academy will help, as wil lthe rising tide (and profile) of the NASL and USL Pro and the expansion of the MLS Reserve League.

But it really can't come fast enough for me. If there's one thing I'm impatient for in US soccer, it's this.

08 September 7:45 de la mañana

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 de la tarde

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 de la tarde

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 de la mañana

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 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 ( ou sur Twitter (@CoupFrancMLS).

22 August 2:33 de la tarde

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 de la tarde

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.