U.S. 0, Canada 0: The, Uh, Highlights

Well, this should be a short clip. The United States B-team took on a fairly weak Canada side last night in Houston, and while they dominated possession, the Yanks failed to break down the bunkered-in Canucks, generating very few chances in a drab 0-0 tie.

Take a look:

The game capped off the U.S.’s three-week January camp, and you might have thought, going in, that a team that had been training together intensively since early January would show some cohesiveness and some sharpness. (Not mid-season levels of either, but some.) Instead, they were disjointed in the attacking third, and unable to deliver that final ball—characteristics that coach Jurgen Klinsmann attributed afterward to their having tired legs.

But, but … oh, nevermind.

This January camp was intended to blood some new players and determine which, if any, of the guys from this group might make next week’s trip to Honduras for the opening of the final stage of World Cup qualifying.

Judging by what we saw last night, we’d say center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, though they weren’t exactly tested by Canada, stand a good chance of going to San Pedro Sula next week, along with midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who Klinsmann loves for his lane-clogging abilities in front of the back four.

Beyond those three, Eddie Johnson looked dynamic at times and did well to keep possession up top, and Benny Feilhaber, when he came on in the second half, looked like the only U.S. midfielder capable of unlocking Canada’s D with a deadly pass. Josh Gatt, though full of too much adrenaline, and looking a little uncomfortable on the left, showed that his speed can be a deadly weapon.

Chris Wondolowski seemed on edge to us (no doubt feeling the pressure as his national-team opportunities dwindle) and he fluffed a couple of half chances. But he does have a knack for getting in good spots in the box, so you never know if Klinsmann would consider using him with a better supporting cast around him.

In any event, it was a very forgettable performance, so let’s file it away and look ahead to next week and Honduras.

Advertisements

Backpost Excursion: Argentina Training at Red Bull Arena

The Backpost AV Team went out to Red Bull Arena last night to watch Argentina train ahead of their Clash-of-the-Titans friendly with Brazil tomorrow, and, well, any concerns we had about spending $48 (the Son of Backpost was in tow) to watch a practice session were immediately dispelled when we caught sight, from the fifth row, of Lionel Messi, Angel DiMaria, Sergio (Kun) Aguero , Javier Mascherano and the rest of the Albicelestes pinging the ball around in tight spaces like magicians.

It was well worth it, and thousands of others agreed. Here’s a completely professional, ESPN-worthy* pan of the crowd, where you can see that the lower bowl of RBA is just about full, which would put the attendance close to 10,000 (capacity is 25k):

When we arrived they were playing 11 v 11 in less than half the field—one goal moved to midfield, pitch narrowed to the width of the 18-yard box—and the display was awesome. Mistake-free, one- and two-touch passing, rarefied skill level. Here’s a sample:

A few observations from the session:

• Leo Messi’s first touch is made of rich, creamery butter. No matter what kind of pressure he’s under—and in an 11 v 11 drill in a compressed field, you’re constantly under pressure—his first touch leaves the ball right where he needs it.

• Angel Di Maria looks slight on television, but in person he’s got some starch, and he can absolutely thump the ball. He rocked the post with a shot during the 11 v 11 and later, in a shooting drill, sent one whistling past our ears in the stands. It was wobbling and shifting in the air as it went past.

• As much as we hate to admit it, we wondered how the U.S. national team would have looked running the same exercise. Probably … not quite the same.

They wrapped up the practice with some shooting. Click here to see Messi, at the 24-second mark, bending one into the side netting:

*This statement has not been fact-checked.

Misleading Scoreline of the Week: Brazil 4, U.S. 1

Onyewu is still 6-4; it’s just that Edu and Howard are on their toes, Prison Mike tells us.

There it was, on the left of the screen, in SportsCenter’s upcoming-stories list this morning: “Brazilian Blowout.”

Yes, Brazil topped the United States 4-1 in Landover, Md., last night, and yes, that scoreline, beamed out to the world over the AP and Reuters, looks very much like a blowout.

But the scoreline does the U.S. a bit of a disservice. They were in this game for long stretches and they created a good number of chances against the mighty Brazilians. Oguchi Onyewu hit the crossbar. Herculez Gomez and Terrence Boyd were denied, in quick succession, by great saves from Brazilian keeper Rafael. Gomez bounced a header toward the gaping Brazilian net that Clint Dempsey nearly bundled in—only to see his attempt cleared off the line.

Then there was Brazil’s first goal, on a dubious penalty, that put the U.S. in a hole just 12 minutes in. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann also disputed the fourth strike, saying Alexandre Pato was offside (in real time he looked off; on replay, it looked like Onyewu kept him on), and argued that Gomez should have been awarded a penalty when he was taken down in the box in the second half.

To those grumblings we would add that Neymar was offside on his overlapping run that led to Goal No. 3.

Yet we also have to add that Michael Bradley neglected to mark Marcelo on that play, that Brazil generally made that game extremely difficult for the Americans with their unrelenting pressure on the ball and their speed and possession. (In closeup shots of U.S. midfielders Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, and Bradley, you could see how much chasing they were doing by the fatigued looks on their faces.)

Brazil deserved to win and were the better team on the night, but that 4-1 … well, 3-2 or 3-1 would’ve told the story more accurately for those who didn’t watch.

In any case, on to the highlights:

Some more takeaways for the U.S. side:

• Gomez had an excellent game, and should certainly be part of Klinsmann’s mix going forward. He scored (reacting very well to a deflected cross in front of goal), put pressure on Brazil’s backline, and created opportunities for others.

• Michael Bradley may be the best U.S. player right now. He’s so poised on the ball, rarely gives it away, and is showing new flashes of skill.

Fabian Johnson has won the left back job. Is there any doubt now? He’s athletic, skilled, dangerous going forward and solid defensively. He also faked out the entire stadium with a move on the  left in the second half, before sending in a dangerous cross.

• Canada better be ready Sunday. After competing hard against one of the best teams in the world—and being visibly ticked off about falling short—the Americans should be primed to take out their frustrations on the Canucks at Toronto’s BMO Field (NBCSN, 7:00 pm).

Is the U.S. Poised to Beat Brazil Tonight?

Michael Bradley is playing the best soccer of his life. Landon Donovan followed up comments about his “hunger” for the game possibly waning by blasting three goals and helping set up two others in a 5-1 thrashing of Scotland (LD also hit the post in the game). Fabian Johnson looks very much like the solution to the long-running problem at left back. Jose Torres is coming off his best game ever in a U.S. shirt.

With all those cylinders firing, the U.S. tore apart the Scots on Saturday night in Jacksonville. Take a look:

And tonight, the Americans can add Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore to the mix.

Of course, Brazil is about as distant from Scotland as a soccer opponent as Rio is from Edinburgh (geographically, culturally, and meteorologically). They’ll be bringing the likes of Neymar (Santos), Hulk (Porto), and Alexandre Pato (AC Milan), and even though most of the players lining up in yellow tonight (8:00 ESPN2) are U-23 Olympic hopefuls, Brazil will have over-23 stars Thiago Silva (AC Milan) and Marcelo (Real Madrid) joining Hulk in the starting lineup.

A win will be a tall order for the Yanks, who have played Brazil 16 times and lost 15, but it’s not out of the question. Of those 16 matches, 11 were decided by one goal, and this roster is by far the most talented group Klinsmann has had at his disposal during his U.S. stewardship. Tonight’s as good a time as any to match the Yanks’ 1-0 win in the 1998 Gold Cup.

The most intriguing questions concern how Klinsmann—who has tinkered continuously with the U.S. lineup and formation since taking over the team—will line up his side, who he’ll put out there, and what style they’ll attempt to play. It seems doubtful that they’ll try to take the game to Brazil as they did Scotland, but sitting back too much could put Brazil in their comfort zone, from which they can unlock any defense in the world. Klinsmann has hinted (see below) that the U.S. will try to dictate the game at times.

Another question mark facing the U.S. will be the play of the backline, particularly the central defenders, who were not heavily taxed versus Scotland. Will Geoff Cameron get to test himself against mighty Brazil? If the experienced duo of Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu get the call, will the U.S. have enough speed at the back?

On the other side, apart from the youth spread throughout the team, there appears to be only one potential soft spot, and that’s between the pipes, where 22-year-old Santos keeper Rafael will be making his full national team debut. (Well, that and their atrocious new teal unis.)

Here’s the U.S. camp, previewing the match:

Four Quick Hits on Klinsmann’s May Roster

U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has called in 27 players for a training camp in Orlando, Florida, ahead of the team’s three friendlies and two World Cup qualifiers in the next three weeks.

While there was arguably only one surprise selection—that of Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi—there were a few surprising omissions and one player who unexpectedly declined Klinsmann’s invite. (See entire roster at bottom.)

Here are four thoughts on the roster:

It’s time to jettison Timmy Chandler. The 22-year-old Nuremberg defender said “Thanks, but no thanks” to Klinsmann’s offer, turning down the U.S. for the second time in two years. He did have a busy season, but clearly, he’s still holding out hope for a call-up from Germany. (Appearing in a WC qualifier would have tied him to the U.S. forever.) But just like Germany has other options at outside back, so does the U.S. The rock-solid veteran Steve Cherundolo is not done yet, and two guys who are on this roster, Danny Williams and Fabian Johnson, can fill the role as capably as Chandler—or better, in the case of Johnson. Also: Edgar Castillo had a tremendous season at Club Tijuana this year, and Eric Lichaj, who was (somewhat surprisingly) not called in for this camp, came on strong for Aston Villa at the end of the season. Other possibilities include Birmingham City’s Jonathan Spector, and up-and-coming Molde defender/winger Josh Gatt. Chandler showed fairly well in his friendly appearances for the U.S., but it’s time to move on.

They need to play with two forwards—and those forwards’ names should be Dempsey and Altidore. Ever since Klinsmann took over, there’s been much talk about instituting a 4-3-3, with many observers claiming to have spotted that formation in action for the U.S. We are not in that group. We’ve only ever seen a 4-5-1 (or a 4-2-3-1) or a 4-4-2 in the Klinsmann era. Frankly, the team has looked best in a 4-4-2, which is essentially their native formation. It’s more sound defensively, as it allows for two defensive-minded midfielders, it creates more possession, and perhaps most important, it doesn’t leave a lone forward stranded up top, struggling to hold possession and combine with teammates. Dempsey (23 goals for Fulham) and Altidore (19 for AZ Alkmaar) are both coming off career years. It’s time to see what they can do up top together.

Which uninvited player was dealt the biggest snub? The quick answer here is Sacha Kljestan, the midfielder fresh from a championship season at Anderlecht. But Kljestan is competing against a deep and talented midfield and he doesn’t bring anything new to the table, while lacking some of the attributes of his competition (speed, for starters). So we say it’s a tie between Brek Shea and Eric Lichaj. Shea was a part of every single previous Klinsmann setup, and Lichaj plays a position (outside back) that needs to be re-stocked for the future. (There’s depth there, as we said, and it’s time to start tapping it.)

Goal poachers Gomez and Wondolowski need to make the most of deserved call-ups. Gomez has been lighting it up in Mexico the past two seasons, and won a championship with Santos Laguna this year. Wondolowski leads MLS in scoring with 11 goals in 12 games. They’ve been properly rewarded by Klinsmann, but can they do it at the international level? Gomez had some success in the U.S. shirt in the run-up to South Africa 2010, but Wondo has yet to score in seven appearances for the Yanks. It’s Gomez’s first chance under Klinsmann, but it could be the last for both.

The team will be whittled to 23 players on Friday, May 25, and that group will take on Scotland in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday May 26 (8:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN), before traveling to Landover, MD, to meet Brazil on Wednesday May 30 (8:00, ESPN2).

On June 3, they’ll meet Canada at Toronto’s BMO Field (7:00, NBCSN), and then they’ll open the 2014 World Cup qualifying tournament with a match against Antigua & Barbuda on June 8 in Tampa (7:00, ESPN). Following that one comes the first true test of the Klinsmann era, a World Cup qualifier in the unwelcoming climes of Guatemala City (10:00 p.m., only on pay-per-view).

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

DEFENDERS (8): Carlos Bocanegra (Rangers), Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Alfredo Morales (Hertha Berlin), Oguchi Onyewu (Sporting Lisbon), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (7): Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA), Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Borussia Dortmund), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

U.S. U-23s Blank Atlanta Silverbacks in Final Tuneup Before Olympic Qualifying

The U.S. U-23 national team opens the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament with a match against Cuba on Thursday (9:00 ET, Universal Sports Network, Telemundo), and yesterday, they wrapped up their preparation with a scrimmage against NASL side Atlanta Silverbacks in Nashville.

The Olympic hopefuls got two goals from FC Dallas winger Brek Shea and one from LA Galaxy midfielder Michael Stephens en route to a 3-0 win.

Here’s some postgame commentary from Montreal Impact defender Zarek Valentin and Houston Dynamo wingback Kofie Sarkodie, along with some highlights. Note Mainz midfielder Jared Jeffrey’s extremely sweet feet at the 1:17 mark:

U.S. coach Caleb Porter will name his final qualifying roster today.

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).