U.S. vs Guatemala: Field-Level Highlights

These clips always provide an interesting perspective, and in this case, they actually shed new light on the game: As friend of BP Prison Mike pointed out, you can see that Clint Dempsey wasn’t just being safe when he punched in Michael Bradley’s chip for the third goal. The ball was probably heading wide; Deuce made sure it found the back of the net.

Check it out (third replay of the goal shows it best):

A couple of other thoughts:

• Steve Cherundolo’s ball that sprung Eddie Johnson for the second goal looks even better from this angle than it did on the TV broadcast, and that’s saying something.

• The U.S. really should have added a couple more goals. EJ had a good chance or two, and Herculez Gomez bothched two opportunities.

• You can see that after the third goal Dempsey tells Bradley that it was his goal, to which the midfielder replies, if our lip-reading skills are on point, “No way. That was your f****** goal.” He’s got a point, too, and not just because the ball may have been going wide. Dempsey has a great habit of crashing the goal when shots are taken. That instinct got him a lot of goals at Fulham, and it got him that one. While not one but two Guatemalan defenders stood and watched, he charged in and finished the play.

BPFL Week 8 Wrap: MLS—Yes, MLS!—Distracts Co-Commissioner Before Vital Match

Co-Commissioner Our Man at the Valley has your Week 8 BPFL recap, and … well, let’s let him tell it:

Even though I’ve been writing for this blog for more than a year now (‘employed’ isn’t really the right word since the site’s editor has yet to mail the magazines from his day job that I’ve requested as payment), I’m still not a big fan of Major League Soccer.

When my hometown Colorado Rapids were making a run to the MLS title in 2010, I was happy to go to the stadium or the local pub to support them. Now my visits to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park are generally to play on one of the outlying pitches in a league reserved for slow old people with no discernible soccer skills.

Still, when the Backpost editor and a mutual friend created a Backpost league in the MLS equivalent to the FPL, I reluctantly joined as a show of support. In March, I based my initial roster on a combination of an affinity for Omar Cummings and a Backpost piece highlighting the US under-23 squad that was about to participate in Olympic qualifying.  The operative phrase there is “was about to participate”; they all missed the first three weeks of the season and many were only slowly included in their club teams after that.

Thus, I was quickly 0-0-6 and bottom of the Backpost league. This was about the time that the 2011-2012 EPL season ended and, with some additional time on my hands, I played my wildcard early and rebuilt my MLS team. Since then I’ve won 23 out of 24 matches and have clinched the league title. More impressively, I am one of 128 remaining teams in the MLS Fantasy Cup, having won nine straight Cup matches.

Twice I was certain to be eliminated.  I was saved two Gameweeks ago by my then captain, Thierry Henry, who put up a goal and three assists to help me overcome a 33 point deficit.  One Gameweek ago, playing against a local woman who is a frontrunner in a Rapids’ supporters league sponsored by the local pub I frequent, I actually was eliminated, by five points. Then the site took away a Chris Wondolowski assist and I had scraped through by a single point.

This Gameweek I transferred in a guy I had never heard of because Seattle had two matches. I made him my captain and his 24 points ensured victory and a spot in the round of 128.  Thank you, Mauro Rosales. [Just FYI: Rosales has 10 caps for Argentina’s full national team, and has enjoyed success at both Ajax and River Plate in his career. He’s only 31, and he has 13 assists this season in OMATV’s new favorite league.—Ed.]

This is all really a long-winded way of telling you that I lost my BFPL match this week to my co-commissioner, Old27M, because I wasn’t paying attention.

Here are some excerpts from Old27M’s post-match press conference:

Jim White [SkySports]: How did you feel going into this match?

“Well Jim, it was tough preparation because usually the Numpties are a difficult opponent. I had two transfers but was short money and to bring in the players I wanted I needed to make more than the 2 changes. I ended up making 4.”

Phil McNulty [BBC Sport]: That would start you off at -8 points. Did you really feel you could give him such a big lead?

“Normally I wouldn’t have done that, Phil, but having already beaten his brother, the Colorado Keeper, I was pretty confident. My team is playing well and Kevin Nolan is having another great season back in the Prem. So spotting the Numpties 8 points didn’t really concern me. I am sure they are more disgruntled than ever now! “ [Laughs]

Spoony [606]: I heard you have been approached by other clubs. Any truth to that?

“A woman in Colorado recently inquired if I was willing to help out with her MLS fantasy team, but I am fully committed to Old27m.”

Old27M is now in first place in our league. A couple of teams had victory snatched from the head of Demba Ba, as the Newcastle striker scored an own goal that cost Nearpost and Coloradokeeper two vital points.

Whew! That was a rollercoaster of emotion. Thanks OMATV. Don’t forget to set your teams this week, and good luck in Week 9.

Quote of the Day

In a wide-ranging interview published on ESPNFC today, Roger Bennett asked U.S. national team star Landon Donovan if he expects to play in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. His reply:

“I don’t have the answer to that. There are a lot of moving pieces: Will I be playing, period? Will I be part of the team? Will I be good enough to be wanted? If I had to guess I would say it is 50-50. I will have more clarity after I take a break.”

The “50-50” part of that quote lit up Twitter like a Roman candle this morning, and it’s not hard to see why. But we would pay equal attention to the last sentence: Donovan needs a break, plain and simple. He’s been playing professional soccer for 14 years, which is one year shy of half his life, and he’s gone on winter loans in three of the past four MLS offseasons.

He’s suffering from burnout.

If he takes, say, four weeks off in November and December, we’d wager that he’d come back refreshed and renewed, ready to join the U.S. in Jurgen Klinsmann’s January camp, and spark the Nats in the WCQ Hexagonal in February.

Is Steven Lenhart the Dennis Rodman of Major League Soccer?

Following Sunday night’s 2-2 draw between Los Angeles and San Jose at Buck Shaw Stadium, Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez made some unusually pointed comments to the league website about the physical style of San Jose in general and Quakes striker Steven Lenhart in particular:

“I think those guys are a bunch of jokes, the way they play the game. It was just obnoxious. And, you know, it wasn’t even fun out there. It was terrible.”

Gonzalez continued, zeroing in on a play where he and Lenhart had contact and Gonzalez was whistled for a foul that led to a free-kick goal by Marvin Chavez in the 60th minute:

“I would say it was a foul on me—like I got fouled. Because my eyes were directly on the ball, and I’m just running back and, all of a sudden, I got hit. But Jair [Marrufo, the referee] said I fell on him.”

That’s a scenario that will ring a bell with Real Salt Lake fans. Check out this play from earlier in the season, when Lenhart vied for a ball over the top with RSL center back Jamison Olave:

Kind of reminds us of this, from Game 1 of the 1996 NBA Finals:

But back to LA’s Gonzalez, who was just getting warmed up with the comments above. He went on:

“It all starts when the ball’s on the other side of the field, and you’re just running and all of a sudden you get blindsided. You just get checked by Lenhart or something. It’s just dumb s*** like that happens every time, and that’s not the way the game should be played. It’s embarrassing.”

Of course Lenhart’s shenanigans, like Rodman’s back in the day, are not limited to off-the-ball provocations. Sometimes he’ll pull a prank in full view of everyone, and get away with it:

That one kind of reminds us of this less successful stunt by Rodman:

As for the San Jose camp, Quakes coach Frank Yallop wasn’t fazed by Gonzalez’s comments. Here he is yesterday, on ExtraTime Radio:

“He’s entitled to his opinion. But we go about business like we do. Do I want our players fouling and playing dirty? No, I don’t. But hey, it’s give-and-take. He can make his comments, whatever he wants to say about our team. But I will say that we try hard. We give 100% every time we step on the field and yesterday was no different….

“It’s for other people to judge us. And I’m not saying his comments are wrong. Because obviously, he’s free to make his own judgment. But we just go about business like we do, and hopefully it’s enough to go all the way this year.”

Regarding the Quakes’ style and other accusations of off-the-ball gamesmanship, Yallop ignored the gamesmanship part, but said that he’s always liked playing with a target forward, from Ronald Cerritos to Brian Ching to his current tandem of Lenhart and Alan Gordon. The Quakes’ style, he said, speaks for itself:

“People talk about our style—scoring 70-odd goals is a pretty good style.”

San Jose leads the league with 71 goals scored, 20 more than the nearest competitor.

If Gonzalez and Los Angeles can get by sub-.500 Vancouver in the play-in game, they’ll meet San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals.

MLS fans can only hope that matchup happens.

Top 5 Young Players Klinsmann Needs to Call In

The U.S. is through to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, and hey, as J. Peterman once told Elaine Benes, “Congratulations on a job … done.”

Yes, there were some bumps and nervous moments along the way. But now, the team has a chance to regroup, get key players like Landon Donovan healthy, and most important, inject some youth into the ranks, especially on defense, where Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo are both 33.

Here are the five we’d like to see first, preferably starting with the Nov 14 friendly against Russia:

1. Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles Galaxy—The 2011 MLS Defender of the Year tore his ACL last year but has made a solid recovery and needs to be given a shot alongside Geoff Cameron at center back. Clarence Goodson doesn’t look like the answer there, Bocanegra will be 35 come Brazil 2014, and Tim Ream is struggling for playing time with second-tier Bolton right now. Let’s see the 24-year-old Gonzalez.

2. Josh Gatt, Molde FK (Norway)—He’s 21, he can play outside back or winger, and he’s got blazing speed. Cherundolo can’t be excellent forever, and would probably make a great mentor for Gatt.

3. Matt Besler, Sporting Kansas City—Klinsmann called the 25-year-old Notre Dame graduate for the August friendly against Mexico, but Besler didn’t see the field. He’s been one of the best defenders in MLS this season and would provide a little more mobility at center back than Gonzalez.

4. Eric Lichaj, Aston Villa—The 23-year-old outside back has secured a starting spot in the Premier League. He’s ready for another try with the USMNT.

5. Justin Morrow, San Jose Earthquakes—Another speedster who can play on the left—a traditional problem area for the U.S.—the 25-year-old Morrow looked completely comfortable against Chelsea in the MLS All-Star Game. He’s not likely to knock Fabian Johnson out of the left back spot, but could provide depth.

Other possibilities include 19-year-old Charles Gyau of Hoffenheim, and Liverpool academy player Marc Pelosi, 18. Think of the 2002 U.S. team—the most successful U.S. World Cup team of the modern era—and how they benefitted from the inclusion of then 20-year-olds Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley.

U.S. 3, Guatemala 1: Highlights

Better a day late than never (we were on the road yesterday): Below are the highlights from Tuesday night’s tilt at Livestrong Sporting Park, in which the U.S. gave up a shocking early goal to ex-MLSer Carlos Ruiz, then stormed back for a fairly convincing 3-1 win that sent them through to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying and eliminated Guatemala.

Clint Dempsey set up the first goal and scored the other two. Michael Bradley provided solid midfield anchorage, got forward effectively, and proved that he’s the most important U.S. player at the moment. Eddie Johnson was consistently dangerous, and assisted on the second goal.

To the highlights:

Three quick thoughts:

1. Jurgen Klinsmann’s goal celebrations were a tad much. Was it really that much of a relief, coach? Didn’t you expect to win? That said, we recall him celebrating almost the exact same way after Germany’s goals against Costa Rica in the opening game of the 2006 World Cup. So maybe it’s just his thing.

2. This Guatemala team was missing as many players as the U.S. was, and their replacements weren’t as good as Klinsmann’s backups. They started a 20-year-old in central defense, next to a player who plays in Guatemala’s second division, and they also trotted out two players currently without a club. So while the U.S. win was fairly solid, the competition was a step down from what it’ll be in the next round, and they never should have had any of the shaky moments they did.

3. Speaking of that next round, it’s probably the toughest Hexagonal since the U.S. started reaching the World Cup regularly in 1990. Mexico has never been better, and Honduras is loaded with talent, including some of the players who helped beat Spain in the London Olympics. Los Catrachos humiliated Canada 8-1 on Tuesday. The Canucks only needed a tie in that game to advance, and they did not come within a continent’s distance of getting one.

Panama is vastly improved, and filled with athletic, dangerous players, while Costa Rica is always competitive, featuring Real Salt Lake’s leading scorer Alvaro Saborio, and Fulham man Bryan Ruiz. Jamaica is the weakest team of the six, and they beat the U.S. 2-1 last month in Kingston.

Klinsmann’s team will have to sort themselves out before that round, which begins in February (according to U.S. Soccer).

The coach will have to infuse the team with new blood, too, the sooner the better. More on that in the next post.

Klinsmann Enters “Serious As A Heart Attack” Mode

In 15 months on the job, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has displayed an almost annoyingly sunny disposition, always quick with a smile, a laugh, and an everything’s-going-to-be-fine-trust-me attitude, no matter the circumstances.

That all changed today. Today, Klinsmann broke out his game face:

We say the U.S. could’ve benefitted from that demeanor last month, before they lost to Jamaica in Kingston, or last June, before they coughed up a 1-0 lead in Guatemala and tied 1-1. But hey, better late than never.

It’s just hours before the U.S. takes on Guatemala in Kansas City with advancement to the CONCACAF Hexagonal on the line, and we’re happy to see Klinsmann drop the warm-and-fuzzy act, but we’re not sure why he’s allowed his roster of outfield players to dwindle to 16 without calling in any reinforcements.

Midfielder Jermaine Jones, suspended for yellow card accumulation, was the latest, and fifth, departure from this particular camp, and still Klinsmann has held pat, calling what’s left of his group “strong enough” to get the job done.

They only need a draw, but psychologically—for fans, coach and players alike—they need to produce a quality performance and a convincing victory to show that Project Jurgen is still on track and headed in the right direction.

Here’s a little nugget from Elias to sooth the nerves of any anxious U.S. fans: In their last 18 meetings with Guatemala, the Americans are 12-0-6 and have only trailed Los Chapines for a total of five minutes.

So, again, they should be able to get the job done. Who will Klinsmann call on to make it happen? Here’s one possible lineup:

————————Howard———

Cherundolo—Cameron—Bocanegra—Parkhurst

——————Williams

Zusi———Bradley——Dempsey

———Gomez——Johnson

We were tempted to slot Sacha Kljestan in at left mid and move Dempsey up top, but Klinsmann trusts Gomez more than Kljestan, and even though he had a stinker in Antigua, Gomez is good in the air—which should be an asset tonight—and works tirelessly on both sides of the ball.

Depending on how the game develops, Klinsmann could bring in Kljestan and Alan Gordon for offensive spark in the second half.