Toronto FC Makes Designated-Player Splash with Frings, Koevermans

USMNT fans will remember Frings from 2002.

Toronto FC, which failed to make the playoffs in its first four seasons and has been struggling through a roster overhaul in 2011, announced the signing of two experienced European internationals yesterday.

German midfielder Torsten Frings, 34, and Dutch striker Danny Koevermans, 32, each signed designated player contracts with MLS and will be eligible to play for Toronto after July 15, when the summer international transfer window opens.

Frings, who comes to the Reds from Werder Bremen, has played in two World Cups (2002, and ’06) and in the Euro 2008 final. He’s best known to American fans for his handball on the goal-line during the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal between the U.S. and Germany. The infraction went un-called by Scottish referee Hugh Dallas, and Germany went on to win the game 1-0.

Koevermans has just four caps for the Netherlands, but has scored 136 goals in 253 appearances in the Dutch top flight, for Sparta Rotterdam, AZ Alkmaar, and PSV Eindhoven.

Perhaps fired up by their new signings, Toronto FC picked up their first MLS win since May 7 last night, edging Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-0 at BMO Field to run their record to 3-7-9.

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Backpost on the Road: U.S., MLS Roundup

Hey folks, we flew the BP coop for the beach this week, and before we get to the soccer, we’d like to thank the inventors of non-aerosol spray-on sunscreen. Those people deserve a Nobel prize.

If you’re a parent, you are nodding your head in agreement right now.

If not, just know that that stuff can get two toddlers beach-ready at 7:30 a.m. in a fraction of the time with none of the fuss of the old-school goop, and is therefore worth its weight in gold.

It already costs something like 16 bucks a can (and lasts about three days), but we would happily pay twice that. We couldn’t say what number would have to appear on the price tag to make us balk at buying the stuff, but we’re pretty sure it would have to be in triple digits. This is one of the great overlooked advancements of our time.

Okay, Gold Cup final: Yeah, not good. After an incredible start to the game, and a brilliant second goal that went Adu-to-Dempsey-to-Donovan-to-back-of-the-net to put them up 2-0, the Yanks crumbled like Feta cheese (or maybe it was Queso Blanco) and lost, 4-2.

The Mexico comeback had an air of inevitability about it, and El Tri’s ability to get behind the U.S. backline at will was downright terrifying for U.S. fans. The U.S. camp pointed to the early exit, due to injury, of Steve Cherundolo, as an explanation, and while the veteran defender’s calming presence was certainly missed—he may have been the most consistent U.S. performer in the tournament—his absence alone doesn’t explain the problem.

No, the U.S. is simply not as good as Mexico right now. With West Ham winger Pablo Barrera, Tottenham attacker Giovani Dos Santos, and Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez (who scored 20 goals in 45 appearances for the Red Devils this past season), this is one of Mexico’s best teams ever, and they ran roughshod over the Yanks.

Would things have been different if the U.S. had Stuart Holden and Timothy Chandler at the Gold Cup? Probably, but the fact remains that the Yanks lack depth, and have some real concerns as they head toward qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

The backline is full of question marks due to age on the one hand and inexperience on the other. The midfield is a strong suit but still lacks a playmaker in the Claudio Reyna or Tab Ramos mode (though Adu could fill that role; more on him later). And up top, we’re still awaiting the second coming of Charlie Davies.

Let’s look at the good, the bad, and the future of coach Bob Bradley in the wake of the 2011 Gold Cup:

The Good

Freddy Adu! The (still-only) 22-year-old did nothing short of revive his entire career with his Gold Cup performance, showing great skill on the ball and an ability to spark the U.S. offense. Frankly, we’re still in disbelief. It will be a very interesting next season for Mr. Adu.

Eric Lichaj showed a lot of poise, great speed and decent skill on the ball. He’s only 22. If he and Timmy Chandler were the starting outside backs in the qualifying cycle, U.S. fans would take it. Especially as the excellent Cherundolo is 32.

Juan Agudelo and Jozy Altidore. Both showed flashes of the potential to be top-class strikers. Agudelo came on in emergency circumstances vs Jamaica and did very well, and Altidore scored two goals, one of them a blinder, before injuring his hamstring.

The Bad

• Backline depth is very suspect, as exposed by the injury to Cherundolo. Jonathan Bornstein did nothing to dissuade his (many) critics, and Tim Ream showed he’s not quite ready for the best international competition.

• Shockingly, given his track record, Tim Howard had an awful game against El Tri. He was too easily beaten on Barrera’s second goal, an outside-of-the-foot shot that wasn’t all that hard-hit or well-placed, and he was at sea flailing at Dos Santos in the box before the Mexican attacker hit his incredible chip to the far upper 90.

The Coach

Is Bradley done after his team’s failure to win the Gold Cup and a berth in the World Cup dress rehearsal that is the 2013 Confederations Cup?

He could be. The USSF has long said that this tournament was a priority and a measuring stick, and if they were going to make a change, now would be a good time. Any new coach would have time to acclimate before World Cup qualifying starts, and three years to work with the team before Brazil 2014.

Yesterday, The New York Times asked federation prez Sunil Gulati if Bradley would stay on as coach, and his reply was terse: “We’ll have something to say later this week.”

So, what do you think? Will that “something” be a vote of confidence or a dismissal? What should it be? And if Bradley is let go, who would you like to see take his place? (We’re partial to Peter Nowak ourselves.) Let us know in the comments.

U.S. U-17s

The young Yanks tied New Zealand 0-0 in their third group-stage game at the youth World Cup and ended up tied with the Kiwis in the group standings, on both points and goals. They won the tiebreaker—a drawing of lots—and will play Germany in the knockout stage on Thursday (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU, ESPN3.com).

MLS

• The Red Bulls made another blockbuster trade, sending midfielder Dwayne De Rosario, a player they acquired from Toronto in April, to D.C. United in exchange for midfielder Dax McCarty on Tuesday. De Rosario was essentially auditioning for DP money in 2012 from the Red Bulls, and after producing two goals and four assists in 13 games, he apparently botched the audition.  New York cut bait, bringing in the younger (by nine years) and cheaper (by roughly $300,000) McCarty in his place.

• MLS teams began U.S. Open Cup play yesterday and seven of the eight teams from the league won their games to advance to the quarterfinals of the tournament.

Red Bull New York won a unique derby, dropping third-tier FC New York 2-1, with the winning goal coming from John Rooney. The only MLS team to slip up was the Columbus Crew, which fell to the third-division Richmond Kickers 2-1.

MLS teams have won 14 of the previous 15 U.S. Open Cups.

For two takes on the USMNT and the future of coach Bradley, see here, and here.

Seattle 4, New York 2: Sutton Gaffe Seals Red Bulls Fate at CenturyLink Field

Did you know that New York goalkeeper Greg Sutton is the only veteran of Division III college soccer currently plying his trade in Major League Soccer?

It’s true, and if he has another night like last night, Sutton, who went to St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY., may be the last.

His 78th-minute gaffe gifted Seattle’s substitute Roger Levesque his second goal of the night and sealed the hosts 4-2 victory in front of a typically raucous crowd of 46,065 at CenturyLink Field (formerly—until yesterday—known as Qwest Field).

See it here:

In their second straight high-scoring, unpredictable affair in the Northwest (after a 3-3 tie at Portland), the Red Bulls battled back from an early (12th-minute) 2-0 deficit to tie the game 2-2 in the second half.

But slack marking on a corner (after two poor set-piece clearances had cost New York earlier) led to Levesque’s first goal, which made it 3–2  just 11 minutes before he pounced on Sutton’s error to clinch the game.

Full match highlights here:

Adu (That’s Right, Adu), Donovan, and Dempsey Link Up to Power U.S. into Gold Cup Final

The U.S. advanced to the final of the 2011 Gold Cup last night, edging Panama 1-0 in a scrappy semifinal in Houston’s Reliant Stadium. The Yanks will take on Mexico—2-0 extra-time winners over Honduras in the other semifinal—in the final in the Rose Bowl on Saturday night (9:00 ET, Fox Soccer Channel).

The big pregame talking point was the benching of the team’s alltime leader in goals and assists, Landon Donovan. The postgame talking points also involved Donovan—who came on after halftime—and amazingly, Freddy Adu, the onetime prodigy who signed a pro contract with D.C. United at the age of 14 and hadn’t played for the Nats since 2009.

Adu entered the game in the 66th minute and 10 minutes later, he sprung Donovan on the right wing with a perfectly lofted (and weighted) pass from the center of the pitch. Donovan then found Clint Dempsey at the far post with a pinpoint diagonal ball for the matchwinner.

Highlights at bottom, but first, a clip of Dempsey channeling how great U.S. fans and players felt to see Adu back contributing to the USMNT after years of wandering in the wilderness of hype and too-much-too-soon.

Deuce videobombed Adu’s postgame interview with Fox Soccer:

The only thing missing was the pie to the face.

Match highlights here:

Apparently, the benching did not hurt LD’s game, and, given his substandard Gold Cup performances so far, may have helped.

And Adu played well overall, beyond his role in the decisive goal. A few minutes after Dempsey’s strike, Adu made a great run away from three defenders on the right flank, beat a fourth with a stepover move, and cut the ball back for Michael Bradley in the box.

Bradley chose to pass instead of shoot (and his pass went awry) but that could have been a second goal for the U.S.

Finally, coach Bob Bradley is headed down the road to vindication—yet again. He’s got his team to the Gold Cup final, where they were expected to be, and he made some gutsy calls along the way: benching Donovan and starting Kljestan and Bedoya versus Jamaica; holding LD out again last night, and rolling the dice on Adu.

Imagine if Adu had underperformed and the U.S. had lost—there would have been a tsunami of backlash, maybe enough to sweep Bradley out of his job.

As it happened, though, Adu did just the opposite, the U.S. won, and Bradley looked like a coach well in tune with his players’ form—and psyches.

Now, if he can get them to beat the in-form Chicharito and Mexico, in what will essentially be an away game at the Rose Bowl, his critics will have to clam up—once again.

Early-Evening Roundup: Donovan Benched Again, Uzbeks Drop U.S. U-17s

We’re about to bust out to watch the U.S. take on Panama in their Gold Cup semifinal, but we just checked the Twitter feed and found this bombshell: Landon Donovan will start tonight’s crucial game on the bench.

This is obviously huge, and it suggests that his previous benching, against Jamaica in the quarterfinals, may have had more to it than the fact that LD flew in from his sister’s wedding in California the night before.

Here’s the starting XI:

Tim Howard

Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Eric Lichaj

Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones; Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Clint Dempsey

Juan Agudelo

It’s probably safe to say that most (all) observers assumed that either Kljestan or Bedoya would be dropped in favor of Donovan, but that has not happened.

How will the team respond? How will Donovan respond if and when he comes in as a sub?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and enjoy the game.

In other U.S. news, the U-17 American team was upended 2-1 by Uzbekistan this afternoon at the youth World Cup in Mexico.

It’s a surprising result, to say the least, since the U.S. was coming off a convincing 3-0 win over the Czech Republic while the Uzbeks were drubbed 4-1 by New Zealand in their opener.

The young Nats will need a result, and maybe a win, against the Kiwis in their final group stage game. New Zealand and the Czech Republic kick off their second group-stage game at 7:00.

Gold Cup Travel: A Re-Think Is in Order

The U.S. opened its 2011 Gold Cup campaign against Canada in Detroit on June 7.

For their next match, on June 11, the Yanks flew to Tampa to take on Panama before finishing up the group stage against Guadeloupe on June 14 in Kansas City, Kansas.

Three games in seven days in three distant cities.

After surviving this odyssey, the U.S. qualified for the quarterfinals, where they faced Jamaica in Washington, D.C. on June 19.

(All of this equals another reason why Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey’s wedding excursions were questionable.)

The other teams had similar set-ups. Jamaica, to name one, played its opener in Los Angeles, its second game in Miami, for Pete’s sake, and its third in New Jersey before losing to the U.S. in D.C.

We understand CONCACAF wants exposure in as many markets as possible, while matching national teams to suitable cities, but this is taking it too far.

Put it this way: there are more venues (13) than teams (12) in this tournament.

They should make group play a more regional setup, at least.

Maybe CONCACAF prez Jack Warner Lisle Austin  Alfredo Hawit can look into it.