Can Depleted U.S. Hold Its Own Against Italy?

The U.S. national team takes on Italy in Genoa today (2:30, ESPN2), and the absences of definite starters Landon Donovan (bronchitis), Oguchi Onyewu (knee), and Timothy Chandler (hamstring), along with probable starters Jose Torres (hamstring) and Jermaine Jones (calf) have sent the game’s degree of difficulty ticking upward in the past few days.

Given the fact that the four-time world champions are 15-0-5  (w-l-t) in their last 20 games at Genoa’s Luigi Ferraris Stadium, and haven’t lost at the venue since 1924, this was always going to be a tough game. Now, we’re just hoping the Yanks keep the scoreline respectable. A draw would feel like a win this afternoon.

Here’s a clip of the U.S. team in its final preparations:

What lineup would you like to see Jurgen Klinsmann trot out today? Think Sacha Kljestan will get a starting nod? Will Terrence Boyd see the field at some point? Let us know in the comments.

This is the lineup we’d like to see:

———————Howard——————

Cherundolo—Bocanegra—Cameron—F. Johnson

D. Williams——Edu——Bradley——Shea

———Dempsey———Altidore—————

For a more defensive posture, this could be tweaked to a 4-2-3-1 with Edu and Bradley sitting in front of the back four, Williams and Shea on the wings and Dempsey withdrawn behind Altidore. But the lone-striker scenario has never worked very well for the U.S., and we’d love to see Dempsey log significant minutes at striker, where he’s scored 16 goals for Fulham this season.

U.S. U-23s Ready to ‘Come Out Flying’ Vs Mexico Tomorrow

The U.S. U-23 team takes on Mexico’s U-23 side tomorrow night at FC Dallas Stadium in Frisco, TX (10:00 ET, Univision), and now that West Ham midfielder Sebastian Lletget and Hoffenheim striker Joe Gyau have joined the team, coach Caleb Porter’s roster is complete and his players are ready to go.

The 19-year-old Gyau—the son of former U.S. national team player Philip Gyau and the grandson of former Ghana national teamer Joseph—joined Hoffenheim’s U-19 team in the summer of 2010 and has shot quickly through the ranks. He made his first-team debut on Feb 8.

Lletget—whose name is pronounced “Le-GETT,” not “Le-JETT” as in the clip below (come on, US Soccer, he’s one of your own players)—left the U.S. U-17 setup in 2008 to join West Ham’s academy in London. He too has risen through the ranks and is close to a breakthrough with the first team.

Here they are, along with DC United defender Perry Kitchen (who turns 20—or is it 5?*—on game day), talking about tomorrow’s match:

Below is Porter’s complete roster for this final tuneup before Olympic qualifying starts next month:

GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United; Annandale, Va.), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire; Lilburn, Ga.)

DEFENDERS: Greg Garza (Club Tijuana; Grapevine, Texas), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United; Indianapolis, Ind.), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin; Berlin, Germany), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes; Durham, N.C.), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo; Huber Heights, Ohio), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact; Lancaster, Pa.), Jorge Villafaña (Chivas USA; Anaheim, Calif.)

MIDFIELDERS: Joe Corona (Club Tijuana; Chula Vista, Calif.), Mix Diskerud (Gent; Oslo, Norway), Dilly Duka (Columbus Crew; Montville, N.J.), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz; Richardson, Texas), Sebastian Lletget (West Ham United; San Francisco, Calif), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union; Sacramento, Calif.), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy; Naperville, Ill.)

FORWARDS: Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union; Potomac, Md.), Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls; Barnegat, N.J.), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City; Prior Lake, Minn.), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim: Silver Spring, Md.), Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union; Alpharetta, Ga.), Tony Taylor (Estoril Praia; Jacksonville, Fla.)

*Match is set for Feb 29, aka Leap Day.

Bonus footage of Gyau, at 15, lighting up opponents with the U.S. U-17s:

Lionel Messi: Human Gyroscope

Thanks for the feedback on the inaugural, beta edition of Tracking Back, our podcast spinoff. We’re going to produce it every other week for the time being, and if all goes well and schedules allow, we’ll move to a weekly podcast.

One item we discussed in last week’s debut was the great Leo Messi and how he never dives. It’s true, and as we said on Tracking Back, it’s not just on principle that he always tries to stay on his feet after getting kicked, grabbed, hacked and hip-checked by defenders. He does it because his low center of gravity gives him superior balance and enables him to zip past, around and sometimes through opponents’ wild lunges.

Behold:

The game may be overpopulated by divers, floppers, and fakers, but Messi is not one of them. And if you had any lingering doubts that he is the best player on the planet, well, it’s hard to argue against the evidence on display above.

ESPN’S Adrian Healey: MLS Is Among the World’s Top 10 Leagues

In an interview with Northwest soccer website Prost Amerika, ESPN commentator Adrian Healey—who covers La Liga, Serie A, the Premier League, the Dutch Eredivisie, the Champions League and MLS for the network—says that the U.S. circuit is now among the 10 best leagues on the planet.

“I would say it’s right in the mix now with something like the Dutch Eredivisie in terms of the talent, the standard of play and the infrastructure,” Healey told the site. “The only thing it doesn’t have yet is a history and a body of work, but that is coming. It has made amazing strides in just over a decade and a half.”

The last part of Healey’s statement is undeniable, and in truth the amazing strides have been made in the past decade alone. Consider that at the start of the 2002 season MLS had 10 teams, three investors, one soccer-specific stadium, no reserve division or academy system, and zero income from national TV contracts.

This year, the league has 18 investors, 19 teams (the Hunt family still owns two clubs), and several parties keenly interested in launching a 20th franchise, most likely in New York. There are 13 soccer-specific stadiums now, with a 14th on the way after San Jose’s stadium project was cleared to move forward this week, and the league surpassed the NBA and the NHL in attendance in 2011.

The reserve division resumed in 2011 with a 10-game schedule, and the MLS academy system is flourishing, having already produced a number of young players for the league. MLS has national TV contracts with Univision, ESPN, and NBC (and TSN and RDS in Canada), as well as myriad sponsorships, including an eight-year deal with adidas valued at more than $200 million.

Yes—amazing strides. Truly.

As for the second part of Healey’s comment, it’s not as bold a statement as you might think. The top four leagues in the world—pretty much everyone agrees—are in Spain, Italy, England and Germany. Most would probably pick France next, and after that … well, there’s not much consensus. But the idea that MLS could sneak in at No. 10—and the comparison to the Dutch League—are not farfetched.

MLS has been sending successful exports to Europe for years now, and players who’ve been on both sides of the Atlantic downplay the talent gap. Landon Donovan has lit up the Premier League in two recent loan spells. Thierry Henry’s game did not suffer from two years in MLS—he returned to Arsenal this winter looking almost as if he’d never left. And here’s David Beckham talking to Yahoo’s Martin Rogers about MLS:

“I don’t know whether it’s ignorance or snobbery or whether it’s that the people saying these things have never played the game or watched it being played here, but the standard is nowhere near as low as people have been saying it is. For a start, you have to be incredibly fit and physically strong to play here: America’s a country, after all, that produces some of the best athletes in the world.”

The most notable thing about those comments? They were made in 2007. MLS has gotten markedly better since then.

As for the middle portion of Healey’s remarks—the stuff about history, and a body of work being on the way—we need just one look at the Cascadia rivalries, or the talent on Los Angeles’s roster this season, or the league’s performance in the CONCACAF Champions League to say it’s a high-percentage prognostication.

Klinsmann Taps 21, Including First-Timer Boyd, for Italy Friendly

U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann selected 21 players yesterday for next Wednesday’s friendly against four-time world champion Italy in Genoa (2:45 ET, ESPN2, ESPN3, Galavision).

The roster’s biggest surprise was 21-year-old German-American striker Terrence Boyd (above), who had been set to join the U.S. U-23s ahead of their match against Mexico, which kicks off at 10:00 p.m. ET (Univision) the same day as the senior team’s game with Italy.

Klinsmann selected four MLS players (Nick Rimando, Geoff Cameron, Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle) and one based in Mexico (Jose Torres). The remaining 16 ply their trade in Europe.

This game marks the first time Klinsmann has had both Donovan and Fulham striker Clint Dempsey on a roster since he took the U.S. coaching reins in July 2011.

Here’s the complete roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3) : Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (7) : Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Michael Parkhurst (FC Nordsjaelland), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)

MIDFIELDERS (6) : Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)

FORWARDS (5) : Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)

Klinsmann said the roster was “co-developed” with U-23 coach Caleb Porter in part to give Porter’s team optimal preparation before it enters Olympic qualifying in March. Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea, and Teal Bunbury—all three of whom have featured in Klinsmann’s previous rosters—will train with the U-23s and play in their match against Mexico.

There are some other noteworthy absences. Oguchi Onyewu injured his knee last weekend and is out for two months. Sacha Kljestan has been having a standout season at Belgian side Anderlecht, but did not get the nod. The same goes for winger DaMarcus Beasley at Puebla in the Mexican top flight. Some observers have also suggested New England Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber deserved a call.

As for the players he did choose, and next Wednesday’s match, Klinsmann had this to say:

“I’m excited about getting everybody together and challenging a world-class team like former World Cup winner Italy on their home soil,” Klinsmann said. “I think we have put a very competitive roster together.

“It’s very important that we get these games, and in particular playing them on the road. That’s when you really get players out of their comfort zone, and they have to deal with a difficult environment on a physical and psychological level. Italy is a very smart and experienced team, and there is a lot to take away from an experience like this.”

After the Italy match, the senior U.S. team doesn’t play again until May 26 against Scotland. The U-23s begin Olympic qualifying on March 22, taking on Cuba in Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET, Universal Sports Network, Telemundo).

Introducing: ‘Tracking Back,’ Our Spinoff Podcast

We’re not ready to quit our day jobs just yet, but we have launched a soccer podcast. It’s called Tracking Back, and the very first episode is up now. You can download and listen to it right here.

The debut edition features the Lifer, the Newbie, and the Omnivore discussing Landon Donovan and Thierry Henry, Brian Ching and Eddie Johnson, the plight of Glasgow Rangers, and the FA Cup.

Also: Leo Messi, automotive mishaps, and streakers.

The Lifer is a longtime soccer fan, player, and writer. The Newbie is new not only to soccer fandom, but also to sports in general, and the Omnivore is a voracious consumer of sports, both North American and international. And cake.

Please go give it a listen, and be gentle—it’s our first time out of the gate.

BPFL Gameweek 25: Another Family Derby, League Cup Draw, and A Case of the Surging Numpties

Here comes Co-commissioner MGlo with your BPFL wrap-up, sizzling like a skillet full of fajitas:

We are back after a week off for FA Cup action, and with that competition—as well as Sunday’s League Cup Final between Liverpool and Cardiff—in mind, we are beginning our own Backpost League Cup. The top 22 teams in the table will get a first-round bye, and await the 10 winners of this week’s opening round featuring the bottom 20 clubs.

The Draw is as follows:

Bertie Wooster FC        v        Useful Shot, That

ChaiceBrosMakeAllLea          v         tranungkite

Taeguk Warriors            v         Joakimovo stado

Sleeping Giant                 v          Gunters

Tango                                   v         The Rihno’s

RayDomPsychicAdvisor     v     Team Fortress 4

The Losers                            v        Abes Army

Stemmy                         v            Chelsea Chris

DHD Photography              v        YourAdHere

Escobar’s Revenge               v        Fluffy Bunnies

In the event of a tie, the following tie-breaks will be applied until a winner is determined:

Most goals scored in the Gameweek;

Fewest goals conceded in the Gameweek;

Coin Toss

Good Luck to All!

Returning to the BPFL regular season, first-place coloradokeeper increased his advantage over second-place Dynasty of FC Hammer to 5 points. The ’keeper stretched his unbeaten run to five games with a 37–23 victory over UNITED S.U.V., while the Hammers saw their four-game win streak come to an end in a 42–37 loss to Bertie Wooster FC. Third-place Herk City fell 45–33 to my squad, Old27m, and dropped 11 points off the pace.

El nino moved back into fourth-place, ending their two-game skid with a 52–20 romp over Stemmy, while the surging DisgruntledNumpties continued their push for a Champions League spot with a 54–37 win over Joakimovo Stado. It was the Numpties 10th victory in 12 matches. They are in fifth-place and haven’t lost in their last seven games (6-0-1, w-l-t). Trailing the Numpties on Point Differential are sixth-place Giorgio Chinaglia, who have lost two in a row.

One point further back, separated by Point Differential as well, are seventh-place Ahmad Haziq Hashim, who dropped a 63–41 decision to Lildweaver, and eighth-place The Xerex’s Team, who were 40–36 winners over Gunters. The Xerex’s have won three in a row, and lost just once in their last 11 (10-1-0).

Afrikan Letsatsi remain ninth, after four consecutive wins, including this week’s 28–24 defensive squeaker over Taeguk Warriors, while Sunshine FC rounds out the top 10, unbeaten in their last nine, and winners of three straight, including a 34–32 thriller this past week over Chelsea Chris.

Performance of the Week: It took 24 matches, but Sleeping Giant finally awoke from his slumber to take the award this week, with 77 points, most of them from the defense. [Thank you, thank you.—Ed.] The Giant’s backline produced 7 Bonus Points, three goals, and two clean sheets, helping his team run roughshod over YourAdHere in another BPFL Family Derby (Y.A.H. is the Giant’s brother).

Stoke’s Ryan Shawcross earned 10 points, Benoit Assou-Ekotto chipped in 13 and Joleon Lescott racked up 15. That’s 38 points from the defense. Norwich City striker Grant Holt kicked in 12 and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey added 9.

Unlucky Loser: YourAdHere made it a spirited Derby match, mustering 49 points—a total that would have beaten 31 other teams but, much like in the backyard at home when they were kids, was not enough to topple the Giant.

Matches of the Week: Two matches of note headline the upcoming Gameweek 26. First-place coloradokeeper hosts the struggling  sixth-place Giorgio Chinaglia, and fifth-place DisgruntledNumpties visit 11th-place Lildweaver, who are hoping to break into the top 10.

Thanks MGlo. We have a regular Gameweek this weekend: six games on Saturday, three on Sunday. Don’t forget to set your lineups, and good luck in both the league and the Cup.