Klinsmann Gives Nashville Postmortem, Looks Ahead to World Cup Qualifying

There are many differences between U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his predecessor Bob Bradley, but none more pronounced than in Klinsmann’s approach to the media.

Whereas Bradley regarded media interactions as necessary, every so often—not unlike trips to the dentist—Klinsmann appears to do nothing but engage the press and the public, whether it’s through his very active Twitter feed, regularly scheduled teleconferences, or frequent “Studio 90” sit-downs like the one below, in which he discusses the U.S.’s failed Olympic qualifying campaign and assesses what’s next for both youth and senior U.S. players:

To us, the money quote from that was the following:

“The consequence [of not qulifying for London 2012] … is that it will become a lot tougher and harder now for this group of guys to reach the next level in their careers. Because usually an Olympic tournament—and I experienced that on my own—is like a jumping board, it’s like a trampoline towards another level. And now they don’t have that tournament, and they need to find different ways now to show their progress, to show us with the senior team that they one day want to become big players in the senior team. This is a big setback for them”

He was looking at you, Brek Shea and Jozy Altidore, when he made those comments this past Wednesday. The U.S. boss is clearly making an effort to shift the focus from U23 coach Caleb Porter, who absorbed a category 2 hurricane of criticism following the debacle, to the team’s top players.

In a teleconference later that day (in between multiple tweets and who knows, probably several local newspaper and TV interviews) Klinsmann did delve into the Porter situation:

“We believe that Caleb is a very, very talented coach. We chose him for a reason, because I think he has a huge future ahead of him. Sooner than later he will jump into the professional field and become a pro coach, and we hope that we find ways now going forward … [to] find roles for him to improve, to grow, to mature in his coaching career … We really think that he has a lot of upside. I think he’s learned a tremendous amount during the last four months dealing as a head coach for the Olympic team. Obviously he’s more disappointed than any one of us about what happened, that he didn’t get the job done, and that we’re not going to London because he was in charge of that process and he was leading that process. But there were many mistakes being done, and not all of the mistakes were done by Caleb Porter.”

And here’s Klinsmann’s account of U.S. Soccer’s takeaway from the fiasco, including the handling of goalkeeper Bill Hamid’s injury early in the El Salvador match:

“We went through [Porter’s] positions with his coaching staff, and the participation of the medical staff that led to the very late substitution of Bill Hamid in that game against El Salvador. We went through all the other people involved in the process. Did he really have the perfect support from everybody around him? At the end of the day, obviously you need to go through every individual player. Did the players live up to their expectations? Did they do everything they could have done in order to make this thing positive? Were they at their peak or were they maybe going through a low point in that moment? I think some players didn’t live up to their expectations, and you need to get that message across and some players surprised us and maybe were more positive. I look at a [Mix] Diskerud or I look at a JoeCorona who had positive impressions, too. So that’s part of that process, but that won’t change the results. The result was a disappointment.”

The coach’s conference call ranged from the Olympic collapse to player selection for the senior team, including the fate of Santos Laguna striker Herculez Gomez, a 2010 U.S. World Cup veteran who is in scorching form with 11 goals in his past eight games:

“I’ve seen quite a few games of him over the last six, seven months. I know Herculez and I know his qualities. So he’s constantly being watched. Hopefully he continues that goal scoring period, and the more he scores, the more he makes a positive notes out there, the bigger his chances to get the call. It’s as simple as that. That’s our message to all of the players all of the time—keep proving your point. Keep improving where you’re at with every game. So what we do every Monday, we get together either by phone, by conference calls, or by email—we get down to all of the players, we discuss what they did over the weekend, we’re out there and watch them personally or on TV as often as we can. So Herculez is on the radar screen. But he’s always been on the radar screen. So hopefully he can make his case stronger and stronger over the next couple of weeks.”

That seems a little harsh—“the more he scores … the bigger his chances to get the call?” Can he really score more than 1.375 goals-per-game he’s already scoring? That’s nice Herculez, but we’d really like to see you bump that up to an even 2.0 goals per game. Then maybe we’ll talk.

Kidding aside, Gomez has to get the call in May, right? The U.S. faces Scotland on May 26th in Jacksonville, Fla., then takes on Brazil in Maryland on May 30th before facing Canada in Toronto on June 3rd. We’ll be surprised if Gomez isn’t involved in those games.

World Cup qualifying starts on June 8 in Tampa, where the U.S. will open against Antigua and Barbuda.

U.S. 3, El Salvador 3: Highlights

Despite the efforts of their captain Freddy Adu (above), who had two assists, and striker Terrence Boyd, who scored two goals, the United States U-23 team tied El Salvador 3-3 in a game they needed to win to advance to the semifinals of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament.

The result, which eliminates the Americans, came after Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson botched his lines on a seemingly harmless long-range shot by El Salvador’s Jaime Alas in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

Boyd—who absorbed a second-half punch to the face that bloodied his nose and went unnoticed by the officials—opened the scoring 61 seconds into the game, and El Salvador answered with two goals in a three-minute span before halftime.

Boyd tied it up in the 64th and Joe Corona gave the U.S. a 3-2 lead in the 69th, setting the stage for Johnson’s last-gasp gaffe.

Highlights here:

Due to club commitments, the U.S. team was missing several players who could have helped—and probably would have joined the team had it qualified for London—including Jozy Altidore, Timmy Chandler, Josh Gatt, and Alfredo Morales. But this was still a team that should have qualified relatively comfortably.

They had plenty of talent, they fielded multiple players with full-national team experience, and they were playing on U.S. soil (even if Nashville, which drew thousands of Salvadoran fans last night, wasn’t an ideal spot for home-field advantage).

They simply didn’t get the job done, and they’ll look back on their poor defending and very shaky goalkeeping as the main culprits.

World Cup qualifying starts in 43 days. How many of these guys will be a part of it?

“That Was Painful”: One Man’s Running Diary of the Nightmare in Nashville

The U.S. U-23 team lost to tied El Salvador 3-3 in Nashville last night, a result that eliminated them from contention for the 2012 London Summer Games and represents a colossal failure for a team loaded with talent and (allegedly) rising stars.

The manner in which it came—on a glaring, Robert Green–like goalkeeper error in stoppage time—made the loss that much more difficult to take.

Forget that the referee and the linesmen missed a second-half punch by El Salvador’s Alexander Lardin that bloodied the nose of U.S. striker Terrence Boyd (in the El Salvador penalty area, no less), and forget that the crucial tying goal came in the fifth minute of stoppage time when only four minutes had been posted—this result was on the Americans.

They did battle back impressively from a 2-1 deficit, but their defense was terrible, they lost their poise at key moments, and their goalkeeping was simply awful.

The failure to qualify for the Olympics (for the third time since 1976) is bad enough, but when you consider that NBC—the Olympic broadcaster—launched a new TV deal with MLS this season, and a team stocked with 14 MLSers just failed to beat Canada and El Salvador in succession and will not be appearing in the Games on NBC this summer, it becomes that much worse.

We’ll put up some highlights in the next post, but before then, here is a series of emails we received during the match from Our Man at the Valley, who was watching, and cringing, from a remote location in the Rocky Mountains (kickoff was just past 9:00 pm ET):

9:28 p.m. ET:

1.  Alas is a great name for a misfiring striker. [Remember that name—Ed.]

2.  Nice finish on the goal. [Terrence Boyd from Brek Shea, in the second minute.—Ed.]

3.  Very helpful result with Cuba. [Incredibly, Cuba, which lost to the U.S. and El Salvador by a combined score of 10-0, has tied Canada, meaning the U.S. can win the group with a victory in this game, and El Salvador can do the same with a win or a tie. Group winner likely avoids Mexico in semis.—Ed.]

4.  This game is unlikely to end with 22 players on the field.

9:46 p.m. ET:

5.  We have a really slow left back. [That’s Chivas USA’s Jorge Villafana, who made MLS via a reality TV series. Really.—Ed.]

6.  And a right back with no touch. [Houston Dynamo reserve Kofi Sarkodie.—Ed.]

7.  Announcer is blaming Hamid for equalizer but I don’t think it was his fault. [Defenders. Again. Even though they’ve got several inches in height on opponents, they’re giving up headed goals on a corner.—Ed.]

9:50 p.m. ET:

8.  Caleb Porter should have made that substitution 4 minutes ago. [GK Sean Johnson on for the injured Bill Hamid, after El Salvador scores soft goal to go up 2-1.—Ed.]

10:05 p.m.

9.  Freddy needs a right foot.

10.  If El Salvador sit back like they did in the last 5 minutes of the half we have a slight chance.

11.  Except for that whole counterattacking thing.

12.  Porter should bring Diskerud on. [Ha!—Ed.]

10:28 p.m.:

13.  Color commentator—Alan someone [Hopkins? We have the Mun2 feed.—Ed.]—just suggested 4-4-2 rather than 4-3-3 because we are losing midfield. I agree.

14. Glen Davis must have an El Salvadoran girlfriend.

15.  I am taking Bill Hamid out of my MLS fantasy team. May replace him with Jimmy Cuellar.

10:35 p.m.:

16.  Boyd and Adu are the class of this team.

[Goals by Boyd and Joe Corona  put the U.S. back up 3-2.—Ed.]

17.  Really, Adu is the best player on the field. Good thing they allow overage players in this tournament. [Ouch. In U.S. defense, there are four or five other players—U23 players—who would be here if available. Altidore, Gatt, Morales, Chandler….—Ed.]

10:43 p.m.:

18.  If we sit back we’re dead; if we attack we’re in trouble. Should go to 4-4-2 now.

10:59 p.m.:

19.  Shea has looked better over the past 20 minutes. Very poised.

20.  Michael Stephens is on.  He’s on my MLS [fantasy] team! [OMATV is more of an EPL fan than, MLS. But he’s warming up to the domestic league.—Ed.]

11:02 p.m.:

21.  Wow that was painful.

[This email arrived seconds after a speculative 25-yard shot from—yes—Jaime Alas beat U.S. keeper Johnson in the waning moments of the game to tie the score at 3 and eliminate the Americans from the 2012 Olympics. Alas.—Ed.]

U.S. U-23s Rout 10-Man Cuba 6-0 in Olympic Qualifying Opener

The U.S. U-23 national team overcame a shaky start and got three goals from the excellently named Joe Benny Corona to rout Cuba 6-0 in their Olympic Qualifying opener last night in Nashville.

Corona opened the scoring in the 11th minute, settling his team after a fairly nervous start, and the Americans took complete control after Cuba’s Dario Macias received a straight red for elbowing at Juan Agudelo in the face in the 19th minute.

Agudelo headed in a cross from Brek Shea in the 37th, Corona guided home a square ball from Mix Diskerud in the 40th, and Shea forced an own goal with a centering pass bound for Agudelo in the 43rd to give the U.S. a 4-0 lead at the break. Freddy Adu struck a golazo in the 62nd and Corona slotted his third two minutes from time for the final scoreline.

Highlights:

“In the beginning, we were a little sketchy,” Corona told the MLS website. “We could have come out with a little bit more confidence.”

That tentative start, along with what coach Caleb Porter called a lack of hardness “through the middle” in the first half, could be areas of concern for when the U.S. faces more difficult, full-strength, opposition.

But the Americans showed lots of quality overall and they demonstrated that they can thoroughly dispatch a weakened CONCACAF opponent—not always a given with previous U.S. national teams.

The U.S. takes on Canada, which tied El Salvador 0-0 in its opener, on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. ET (Universal Sports Network, Mun2).

Porter Finalizes U-23 Roster, Adding Williams After Gatt Recalled to Norway

The 20-man U.S. U-23 side is set for tomorrow’s start of the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament as coach Caleb Porter named his official roster Tuesday. The team features 14 MLS players, five based in Europe, and one who plays in Mexico.

Porter did have to make one last-minute adjustment as the versatile Josh Gatt was recalled to his club team, Molde, after the Norwegian outfit suffered a rash of recent injuries. Gatt, a speedster who can play in midfield or defense, was replaced by Philadelphia Union defender Sheanon Williams.

U.S. Soccer’s Heather Soltis spoke with Porter and team members at their training site and a Nashville watering hole yesterday:

The U.S. plays Cuba on Thursday (9:00 p.m. ET), Canada on Saturday (7:00 ET), and El Salvador on Monday (9:00). All games will be televised by the Universal Sports Network and Telemundo. The top two teams in each group advance to the semifinals (March 31 in Kansas City), and the two finalists qualify for the London Summer Games.

The other group consists of Mexico, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago, and Honduras.

Here is the complete U.S. roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

DEFENDERS: Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact), Jorge Villafana (Chivas USA), Sheanon Williams (Philadelphia Union).

MIDFIELDERS: Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Tijuana/MEX), Mix Diskerud (Gent/BEL), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz II/GER), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy)

FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund II/GER), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim II/GER), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Tony Taylor (Estoril/POR)

Caleb Porter Calls 19 for Olympic Qualifying

U.S. U-23 coach Caleb Porter has named his roster for the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament, which kicks off next Thursday in Nashville. The former University of Akron coach selected 19 players, with one more to follow before March 20, when official rosters are due at CONCACAF headquarters.

Columbus Crew midfielder Dilly Duka withdrew from consideration after injuring his hamstring over the weekend in an MLS match against Colorado, and according to reports, German side Hertha Berlin was reluctant to release midfielder Alfredo Morales for the upcoming tournament (they’re not required to).

Most observers expect Porter to choose a midfielder—either Morales or West Ham prospect Sebastian Lletget—for the 20th spot.

The current group contains 13 MLSers and six foreign-based players, who range from Mexico to Belgium to Norway and Germany.

Here’s the complete roster:

GOALKEEPERS: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire)

DEFENDERS: Josh Gatt (Molde/NOR), Perry Kitchen (D.C. United), Ike Opara (San Jose Earthquakes), Kofi Sarkodie (Houston Dynamo), Zarek Valentin (Montreal Impact), Jorge Villafana (Chivas USA)

MIDFIELDERS: Freddy Adu (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Tijuana/MEX), Mix Diskerud (Gent/BEL), Jared Jeffrey (Mainz II/GER), Amobi Okugo (Philadelphia Union), Michael Stephens (LA Galaxy)

FORWARDS: Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund II/GER), Teal Bunbury (Sporting Kansas City), Joe Gyau (Hoffenheim II/GER), Brek Shea (FC Dallas)

A few thoughts on the roster and qualifying:

• As Abes Army pointed out recently, midfielder Joe Corona has a top-notch name, especially for a Mexican-American (and especially when you throw in his middle name of Benny).

• This team is solid, and potentially very good. They have multiple players with full national team experience, and a wealth of skill and speed. Anything can happen in CONCACAF, but they should qualify. To do so, they have to finish in the top 2 of their group, which includes Cuba, Canada, and El Salvador, then win their semifinal match against a team from the other group consisting of Mexico, Honduras, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

• There are some age-eligible players—in addition to Morales—who could still be added to the side, including Jozy Altidore, Timothy Chandler, and Danny Williams, who turned 23 last Thursday. (Players born after Jan. 1, 1989 are eligible to play in the London Olympics.)

• If the team qualifies for London, watch expectations soar once the three over-23 players are named. Landon Donovan has said he wants to go, among others. He’d obviously be a great addition, but the side could also do with some help in the back. Maybe a Tim Howard and a Carlos Bocanegra (or Geoff Cameron?).

•The final Olympic roster would consist of only 18 players. So, considering the over-age players to be added, and the potential inclusions of Altidore and Co., several of the guys we’ll see next week—possibly as many as eight—could be on the outside looking in when the summer rolls around.

• Finally, we’re looking forward to seeing Josh Gatt, who missed the most recent U-23 camp, in the U.S. shirt. Here’s a reason why:

That’s some athleticism and skill right there. Gatt can play outside back, or wide in midfield, as he did here, while literally faking a defender off his feet:

The U.S. opens qualifying against Cuba on March 22 (9:00 p.m. ET, Universal Sports Network, Telemundo).

U.S. U-23s Roll Past Mexico, 2-0

What a day for U.S. Soccer yesterday: the women’s team routed Denmark 5-0, the men clipped Italy 1-0 for their first win ever over the Azzurri, and the U-23 side thoroughly outplayed their counterparts from Mexico in a 2-0 win.

All that, and Tony Meola and Claudio Reyna were inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.

The only down note was JoeMax Moore—the fifth leading scorer in USMNT history—not getting into the Hall of Fame. (Though he’s already in the the Name Hall of Fame, so he’ll have to settle for that for now.)

Below are the highlights from the U-23s’ win over Mexico. You should know, though, that they do not reflect the U.S. dominance in the game. The video editor should have included a few passages of the Americans knocking it around skillfully while Mexico chased the game. There were plenty of those to choose from:

The U.S. begins Olympic qualifying on March 22, taking on Cuba in Nashville (9:00 p.m. ET, Universal Sports Network, Telemundo).