One nation under Jurgen Klinsmann with dreams of goals for all

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

After Almost 5.5 Years in Charge, Jurgen Klinsmann is Fired as USMNT Head Coach & Technical Director

After a wretched 4-0 loss in a World Cup qualifier last Monday night in Costa Rica, you had to wonder if Jurgen Klinsmann was done as both the USMNT head coach and technical director. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati was non-committal after the match and after he had a week to think about it, today he made the somewhat expected move: Klinsmann was out in each capacity. By itself, this was disappointing enough but heap on the fact that LA Galaxy head coach (and former USMNT head coach Bruce Arena) is said to be returning once again so I can't help but feel like the U.S. Soccer Federation has lost its common sense.

I understand that it's quite possible many of the key players (Michael Bradley for sure) had begun to tune Klinsmann out, how else do you explain their recent form, but you'll never convince me that Arena or any other American for that matter will be able to match Klinsmann's all-World resume. He was a World Cup winner as a player with Germany and also coached their national team along with Bayern Munich (Germany), one of the most powerful clubs in the universe. Instead, they are at least temporarily going back to a guy that hasn't been in charge of the USMNT in a decade (1998-2006) and who has been coaching in lowly MLS (New York Red Bulls and Galaxy) since then. Ugh. Thanks to Klinsmann, the U.S. was able to bring in many Mexican-American and German-Americans (Jermaine Jones, John Brooks, Julian Green, Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler) who have become some of the top players.

The U.S. just doesn't seem to have a realistic view of itself or rather, they are completely mistaken for what is the proper way to go from a mid-tier country (their usual status) to one that can consistently challenge for major titles. Where is that outside the box thinking that brought them Klinsmann? This is all semantics since Arena is still the winningest head coach in USMNT history but Klinsmann is second (55-27-16) since he took over on July 29, 2011. He led the team to a program-record 12-game winning streak in 2013 and their 16 wins overall and .761 winning percentage in 2013 are an all-time record for a calendar year. They also advanced out of an extremely difficult group at the 2014 World Cup before losing to a far superior Belgium squad in the round of 16. Things seemed to have turned stale this year though as they finished a disappointing fourth in the Copa America on their home soil (losing a knockout game to Jamaica, come on) and they lost a heartbreaker 2-1 to Mexico in World Cup qualifying on November 11 in Columbus, Ohio.

The weird part is that the men's national team has never been more popular and therefore also more scrutinized in the United States than it is today. This is of course a good thing. With such easy access to games from all over the world constantly (featuring many of our brightest stars), we are much more knowledgeable when it comes to the beautiful game. Of course, the sad truth is that the men's team will probably never be an upper-echelon program simply because most of our best athletes play other sports (football, basketball, baseball, hockey, etc) that pay better and bring far more fame at least in the states. Non-soccer fans never quite understand why the USMNT isn't better but that is the main reason why. As technical director, Klinsmann made sweeping changes to the U.S. youth national teams and the fruits of that are already being seen with an amazing prospect like Christian Pulisic who rightfully got the hell out of the U.S. to test himself at a very high level (Borussia Dortmund).

Arena is just a placeholder, a lame duck coach that is said to only be around through the 2018 World Cup. I know we are all starting to get worried about even reaching that point but keep in mind that Mexico had to go all the way to a playoff (vs. New Zealand) to reach the 2014 World Cup and CONCACAF is still filled with numerous awful teams so the U.S. should bounce back in March when they finally reconvene to face Honduras on March 24 and go to Panama on March 27. The U.S. under-23 men's head coach and former U.S. star midfielder Tab Ramos is apparently a candidate further down the road for this job but he's not ready for it yet.

Even before Klinsmann took over, I've felt for a long time that the U.S. men's national team should have a non-American in charge in order to reach our ultimate potential. I believe it's the exact opposite thinking for the U.S. women's national team since they are the gold standard in their sport so why mess with their immense success? He gave us a certain amount of credibility globally that is suddenly gone and will never be replaced by the likes of Arena, Ramos or any other U.S. lifer that has yet to experience the highest levels of competition that the sport has to offer. I know that many bandwagon fans wanted to see this happen but I'm pretty sure this will be your classic case of buyer's remorse when the U.S. fails to really grow at all in the next few years. Honestly, getting to the 2018 World Cup won't be much of an achievement if they bow out in the group stage.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Brazil Destroys US Men's National Team 4-1

It had been a mostly positive 2015 for the U.S. men's national team with signature wins over Germany and the Netherlands counterbalancing a tough loss to Jamaica in the Gold Cup semifinals. This obvious progress came to a screeching halt at least for one night though as Brazil came into Gillette Stadium and embarrassed the Americans 4-1 in a friendly that wasn't nearly that competitive. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to hope that the after-effects are short-lived since his team's next game is Oct. 10 vs. Mexico at the Rose Bowl to decide who gets the final spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Tim Howard was on the bench all night, Clint Dempsey remained in Seattle to rest and Fabian Johnson continued to rehab from an injury and all of their collective absences added up. Granted, the U.S. could have fielded their best players of all-time and they still probably would have lost by a few goals. Brazil is no longer the powerhouse that they used to be (they haven't won a World Cup since 2002 which to them is a long slump) but they brought back the glory days for 90+ minutes in front of a partisan crowd that was mostly wearing yellow.

Hulk got the party started in the 9th minute after Willian's cross hit the post and the striker was able to crush the loose ball in the box past Brad Guzan. Still, after a rough start the U.S. started to gain some possession and find their way back into the game. Trailing only 1-0 at halftime gave the Americans some hope for a second half comeback. That is until early in the second half when their defense went down in flames. First, Neymar (who came on as a substitute to start the 2nd half) drew a clear penalty kick on hometown hero Geoff Cameron and converted it in the 51st minute for a 2-0 lead.

Two American players (Michael Orozco and Danny Williams) were issued yellow cards two minutes apart and then Rafinha scored a sweet goal (if you are a fan of Brazil) in the 64th minute (seconds after entering the game). Neymar topped it with his second goal three minutes later where he beat at least three U.S. defenders then poor Guzan. Williams salvaged the only shred of dignity for the U.S. with a golazo in garbage time-the 91st minute. He hit a shot from at least 25-30 yards out that cleanly went by Brazil's goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe. It's hard to believe that was only his second goal in a U.S. uniform because he clearly has a special ability to hit the ball.

A win against Mexico will erase most of it not all of the negativity stemming from this terrible performance. It's important to keep in mind that as ugly as this was, it really doesn't mean a whole lot (assuming of course that the U.S. shows up vs. El Tri). That is the weird world of international soccer for you where there are so many matches year-round with varying degrees of importance that are affected by a million different factors. It simply wasn't the U.S.' night while Brazil looked dominant, (checks calender) it's 2015 right? Oh well, see you in a month. PS beat Mexico!

Monday, July 6, 2015

U.S. Women Dominate Japan 5-2 In Canada For Their Record 3rd World Cup Title Overall

Even the biggest U.S. honk would have to admit that in their wildest Budweiser-fueled drunken 4th of July dreams, they probably never imagined the 2015 Women's World Cup Final unfolding quite like it did on Sunday at Vancouver's BC Place. What most expected to be a tight match turned into a unbelievable blowout in the span of 16 minutes: Carli Lloyd scored the fastest hat trick in Women's World Cup history and first in a Final as the U.S. jumped out to a 4-0 lead and cruised to a 5-2 victory over shell-shocked Japan. With the win, the U.S. finally took home its third World Cup title (the most of any country) and their first since 1999.

Japan was completely exposed on set pieces as Lloyd scored her first two goals (in the 3rd and 5th minutes) by knocking in a short corner kick from Megan Rapinoe then also following up a loose ball in the box after Julie Johnston had headed a free kick into a dangerous spot by the Japanese goal. Just as a viewer, this all happened so fast that it was almost overwhelming so you can imagine how the Japanese (the defending World Cup champs) were feeling as the match was taken away from them so early. A poor header by one of Japan's defenders led to the third U.S. goal as Lauren Holiday was there to volley it in the 14th minute.

Lloyd's first goal was great and Holiday's was also memorable (her first of this tournament) but the signature moment of this one-sided Final that will be replayed for eternity was Lloyd's audacious chip from midfield that gave her the hat trick in the 16th minute (3rd ever for a U.S. woman at the World Cup). Only someone as super confident as her would dream of trying something so outrageous and while Japan's goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori was slightly out of position, it was a perfect hit by the U.S. captain who not surprisingly won the Golden Ball for the best player in the tournament (6 goals, 1 assist; goals in 4 straight matches).

It took way too long for them to get in gear but Japan showed for a few brief moments why they got here in the first place and figured to pose such a threat to the U.S. Yuki Ogimi cut it to 4-1 in the 28th minute after she was wide open in the box after an assist from Nahomi Kawasumi. Hope Solo (who won the Golden Glove for the best goalkeeper in the tournament) had no chance to stop the shot that went into the corner of the net.

To keep the audience watching (and I bet it was a record rating), the announcers had to pretend that Japan potentially could rally. Haha yeah OK guys. I will admit that it got just a little interesting in the 52nd minute when Johnston's header went past Solo for an own goal. However, two minutes later Tobin Heath put it away for good with her first career World Cup goal (beautifully assisted by Morgan Brian). Look out for those two in the next few World Cups, they are going to be leaders of the team in the near future.

Both Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone were substitutes late in the game, a nice touch by head coach Jill Ellis since both were playing in their final World Cup contest. About the only thing that didn't go perfectly for the U.S. was that Wambach didn't score a goal but we'll forgive her for that after all that she's done over the years in Red, White and Blue.

The cliche of getting better every game actually applied to this team as they saved their best performances for their toughest opponents: Germany and Japan. They had struggled so much to score for most of the month in Canada but then the floodgates opened today and Japan had absolutely no chance to stop it. I think that Fox Sports 1 and Fox did a very solid job of covering this tournament and hopefully the momentum that the sport has gained will continue with the NWSL (where most of these women play) and of course in future World Cups.

The Americans had been knocking on the door for so long and I'm thrilled for them knowing all the hard work that they've put in over the years. Most importantly, they created their own legacy and now they never have to be endlessly criticized for not being the 1999 squad. Nope, this moment sealed their legacy forever. PS while the 1999 team had the greatest impact, this edition had the toughest journey since the field had expanded to 24 teams for the first time and they came out of the hardest group so there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

U.S. Women Reach 2015 World Cup Final With Impressive 2-0 Win Over No. 1 Germany

Thanks to more clutch play from captain Carli Lloyd (who scored a goal for the third straight game), an impenetrable defense (which has five straight clean sheets, 513 minutes without allowing a goal) and an insurance goal by a most unlikely source (Kelley O'Hara), the U.S. women's national team defeated No. 1 Germany 2-0 tonight at Montreal's Olympic Stadium in the 2015 World Cup semifinals. They'll face the winner of Japan/England on Sunday (7, Fox) in Vancouver. With the win, the U.S. tied Germany for most all-time appearances in the World Cup Final (4) as they go for their third title (1991, 1999) overall and first in this century.

Germany came out fast but after the Americans were able to withstand that early push, then they methodically took over possession and in terms of quality scoring chances. German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer (playing in her last World Cup) stopped her club teammate Alex Morgan with a kick save in the 15th minute after the U.S. forward broke in alone for a breakaway. The other notable play in the first half was a brutal collision of heads between U.S. midfielder Morgan Brian and German forward Alexandra Popp going up for the ball in the U.S. defensive box. After a long delay, Popp was left with a nasty gash on her head while a clearly woozy Brian slowly walked off the field. Strangely enough, both soon returned to the game. Ugh.

The U.S. should have been up by at least a goal at halftime but yet again, their lack of finishing touch hurt them. Still, they have not conceded a goal in any second half at this World Cup plus they always seem to ratchet up their execution when it's truly winning time. The second half was a non-stop swing of emotions as first Germany drew a deserved penalty kick in the 59th minute when rising star Julie Johnston pulled down Popp. Johnston earned a yellow card and German goal-scoring machine Celia Sasic stepped up to the spot to take it. American goalkeeper Hope Solo (89th career shutout; 10th in the World Cup tying former teammate Brianna Scurry's World Cup record) wasted as much time as she could and it must have worked on some level as Sasic pulled her curling, low shot just wide of the post. After going 12-for-12 all-time in World Cup penalty kicks, Germany had finally missed one.

It was the U.S.' turn to get a penalty kick as Alex Morgan was taken down right at the edge of Germany's defensive box in the 69th minute by Annike Krahn. Lloyd drilled her third successful penalty kick in a row for the 1-0 U.S. advantage (they've never lost in the World Cup when they have a lead). Given the quality of their opponent and the high stakes of this match, this was undoubtedly the best performance by the U.S over these past six contests in Canada. My favorite aspect of it was that they didn't settle for a nervy 1-0 victory, instead they went for the kill and sent Germany to the third-place match with a beautiful goal in the 84th minute. Abby Wambach pulled it back to Meghan Klingenberg who played the ball ahead to Lloyd, she got a step on her defender and lofted a perfect cross right on the goal-line for O'Hara to re-direct with her foot. Would you believe it was her first ever goal in a U.S. jersey? Talk about timing!

England is clearly the underdog-just happy to be in tomorrow's match vs. Japan who won the 2011 World Cup (5-4 in penalty kicks over the U.S.). Tonight proved without a doubt that the U.S. is the team to beat and it should give them so much confidence going into Sunday's match. There is almost no question that they would come out on top against England but if you are a U.S. fan, you have to be hoping to see Japan on Sunday. After all, it would only be right to have this long drought end by beating the previous champion. This is shaping up to be a storybook journey for the U.S. and that represents the ultimate ending.

UPDATE 7/2: Bring on Japan! They beat England 2-1 last night on one of the most brutal own goals that I've ever seen.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

U.S. Women Reach Their Seventh Straight World Cup Quarterfinal After 2-0 Win Vs. Colombia

After four games at the 2015 World Cup in Canada, I think we are starting to get a pretty good sense of what the U.S. women's national team is all about: they are an outstanding defensive team that for whatever reason simply has trouble scoring goals. It is not the most attractive brand of soccer but so far it has been effective as the U.S.' shutout streak reached 333 minutes (and counting) after a 2-0 victory over Colombia at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. This sets up a juicy rematch of the 1999 World Cup Final with China on Friday night (7:30, FOX).

There was little chance of the U.S. losing this match, even though they mostly sleepwalked through a scoreless first half. It only took them the first 21 minutes of the second half to take control and put Colombia in the rearview mirror. It started in the 47th minute when Colombian goalkeeper Catalina Perez chopped down Alex Morgan on the edge of the area, earning a red card. Abby Wambach subsequently blew the ensuing penalty kick (blasting it wide of the net) but the U.S. would soon take advantage of Colombia playing with 10 women and also down to their backup goalkeeper-Stefany Castano-in the country's biggest match ever.

Morgan opened her account in Canada with a gift from Castano in the 53rd minute: rather than cross it, Morgan chose to put a tough angle shot on net and surprisingly, it trickled in. Ali Krieger had the assist on Morgan's 3rd all-time goal at the World Cup (each scored in knockout games with the last coming in the 2011 Final vs. Japan). The U.S. received another penalty kick in the 66th minute, this time earned by Megan Rapinoe after she made a dangerous attacking run into the box. Carli Lloyd got a crack at the second penalty kick and she came through for the insurance tally.

Colombia never really put together any significant offensive pressure so it was another light workload for goalkeeper Hope Solo (8th World Cup shutout, 87th all-time; tied Brianna Scurry for most wins by an American (133)). That won't always be the case and while China is not the powerhouse that they used to be, they figure to pose more of a challenge than Colombia. There is also the innate pressure on the Americans, something that only host Canada can relate to at the moment; they are expected to be the best and that can be tough to live up to at all times.

Furthermore, the bad news to come out of this match for the U.S. is that star midfielders Lauren Holiday and Rapinoe both picked up their second yellow cards of the tournament so they receive an automatic suspension vs. China. It is also a short turnaround to Friday and they'll be traveling to Ottawa so this should be a good test for head coach Jill Ellis who thus far hasn't exactly impressed. I would like to see veteran Heather O'Reilly perhaps get a start against China (she has yet to see the field in Canada) with their two best midfielders out but Ellis subbed in Morgan Brian and Christen Press tonight so they seem like the safest bet to go into the starting lineup.

This is certainly not the way we thought the U.S. would play but if they win the World Cup next weekend, we won't complain. It is a clearly imperfect team but they have enough strengths and individual talent that they can still go all the way. The winner of U.S.-China will meet Germany or France in the semifinals on June 30.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Your 2015 World Cup Update: The U.S. Women Top Group D With 1-0 Victory Over Nigeria

Well the good news is that the U.S. women's national team advanced out of Group D (by far the toughest Group) unbeaten (2-0-1) with a 1-0 win vs. Nigeria this evening at Vancouver's BC Place. At the moment, all that we know about their round-of-16 match at the 2015 World Cup is that it will take place on Monday night (8, Fox Sports 1) at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium. The opponent will be the best third-place finisher from either Group B, E or F-to be determined by tomorrow's results on the final day of group play.

As you can tell by the modest final score, once again the United States struggled to find the back of the net-an issue which has really plagued them in the last two matches. Their lone goal was an important one in many ways: Abby Wambach leaped up to volley Megan Rapinoe's corner kick with her left foot in the 45th minute. The beautiful tally was huge at the time since the U.S. had dominated possession and scoring chances in the first half with nothing to show for it until then. On a personal level, Wambach needed that (her 14th World Cup goal; tied for 2nd all-time) badly since she had looked terrible so far at this tournament and her confidence had to be wavering at least a little bit.

While the offense still worries us, the U.S.' defense seems to get better with each match (granted Nigeria is a step down from Australia-who finished second-and Sweden who placed third). Goalkeeper Hope Solo picked up her second straight shutout and this one required no heavy lifting at all (2 saves that I can't even remember). The United States has scored just four goals so far and only allowed one. Nobody and I mean nobody could have predicted that the breakout stars for the U.S. up to this point have been defenders Meghan Klingenberg and Julie Johnston. Haha who? The latter had the other play of the game for the Americans besides Wambach's goal: she was beaten by a perfect through ball but recovered in time to block the shot out of bounds for a harmless corner kick.

I get that Nigeria had to go for the win but they were pretty reckless: earning five yellow cards in the match including two for defender Sarah Nnodim who was subsequently ejected in the 69th minute. Even though the U.S. was only up by a goal, when that happened you knew that Nigeria was done for good. Alex Morgan and Wambach both started at forward for the U.S. for the first time at this World Cup along with midfielder Tobin Heath. Morgan had two great chances that were stopped by Nigeria's goalkeeper Precious Dede (name of the year?) but it was nice to see her play for 66 minutes after token appearances off the bench in the first two games. Heath didn't do a whole lot but you could say the same thing about Carli Lloyd who has been invisible while Lauren Holiday was very solid vs. Nigeria.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

After Shaky 1st Half, U.S. Women Settle Down For 3-1 Win vs. Australia In 2015 World Cup Opener

They'll never admit it but the U.S. women's national team is facing plenty of pressure to deliver their first World Cup title since 1999. Tonight, in their 2015 World Cup opener at Winnipeg Stadium, they started slowly but found themselves in the second half of a 3-1 win over Australia. By virtue of Sweden's unexpected 3-3 draw with Nigeria which preceded this match, the U.S. is on top of Group D with three points.

In the first half, the U.S. did not look like one of the top teams in the world. In fact, if not for goalkeeper Hope Solo, who made two spectacular saves, they could have been down at least a goal or two. Instead they took an early 1-0 lead in the 12th minute on a fortuitous deflection. Megan Rapinoe had the confidence to take a shot from outside the box and she was rewarded as it bounced off a defender past Australian goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri.

The Matildas are ranked 10th in the world for a reason though, they are a quality side and not a pushover like some of the shameful results in the first few days of the tournament (10-0, 6-0 etc). They leveled things in the 27th minute as Lisa De Vanna hammered a shot into the corner that even Solo couldn't reach. The first half ended 1-1 and that seemed about right. Neither team made any changes at halftime but the U.S. clearly was a different side in the final 45+ minutes. They had way more possession which helped to slowly wear down Australia.

Midfielder Christen Press was playing in her first World Cup match and she immediately became a nationwide hero by scoring the game-winning goal in the 61st minute for a 2-1 U.S. advantage. Truth be told, ex-Canadian Sydney Leroux did most of the heavy lifting by beating her defender down the flank with her speed then passing it back to the top of the box where Press was able to one-time it in.

For good measure, Rapinoe scored a wonderful goal in the 78th minute (from Carli Lloyd) that basically sealed it. Australia gave her too much time and space to operate so she made them pay with a quick burst and hard, left-footed shot into the side netting. It was the first time an American woman had scored twice in a World Cup game since 2007.

The U.S. gets the pleasure of staying in lovely Winnipeg for the entire week as they will meet Sweden on Friday night (8, Fox) for what should be a must-see match vs. their former head coach Pia Sundhage. The fact that Sweden only gained one point in their opener means that they could really use three against the United States if they want to advance to the knockout stage. There has always been a nice rivalry between these two countries so this should be the latest chapter.

Hopefully the U.S. can come out much faster and I wouldn't be surprised to see midfielder Tobin Heath (who came on as a substitute in the 68th minute) start vs. Sweden. Alex Morgan is working her way back from an injury so she only appeared for the final 14 minutes. Abby Wambach had a rather poor performance by her lofty standards-missing multiple golden opportunities that she typically buries in the net-but she's not coming out of the starting lineup anytime soon and neither should Leroux.

In terms of cards for the U.S., midfielder Lauren Holiday and Rapinoe each picked one up in an eight-minute span of the second half. Holiday's was way more justified but they count just the same. Needless to say, they don't need Rapinoe (or to a lesser extent Holiday) to miss a match due to a suspension (2 yellow cards). Onto Sweden!