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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

U.S. Women's National Team Names Tom Sermanni Its New Head Coach

After much deliberation and a search that reportedly included 30 male and female candidates, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati announced today that they had hired Tom Sermanni to be the seventh head coach of the U.S. women's national team.

Sermanni is 58, he's Scottish but he's been the head coach of Australia's women's national team for 11 years (including 3 World Cup appearances) total and most recently since 2004. He will officially start work on January 1, 2013 meaning that U.S. Soccer Women's Development Director Jill Ellis (who was the temporary head coach for the Germany matches earlier this month) will also be in charge for the last five matches of the Fan Tribute Tour. The U.S. meets Ireland in Portland, Oregon (Nov. 28) and in Glendale, Arizona (Dec. 1) then Sermanni will observe the last three matches of the calendar year which should be announced in the near future.

The biggest differences between him and Pia Sundhage-the women he replaced-is that he's a man. It's a new dynamic but one that shouldn't be that strange since many women's national teams are coached by men. The fact that he's a foreigner when I was hoping that they'd hire an American likely won't be much of an issue either. There won't be the same language barrier that there was with Pia except for the regional dialect he picked up in Scotland and Australia.

If we're being real, the only way we'll judge Sermanni is how he does in World Cups. Sundhage had a nice run including back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics but her team lost in penalty kicks in the only World Cup she appeared in (2011 vs. Japan). The U.S. women are the No. 1 team in the world and as such, they have higher expectations than anybody else. Australia is always competitive which is impressive given their location but clearly, this is a huge step up for Tom. He won't be judged on wins and losses, since you could probably put almost anyone on the bench and they'd rack up gaudy win totals. This is all about what he does in the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Judging by the instant reactions of some national team members on Twitter this afternoon, they seem enthusiastic about a fresh start.
"Really pumped about @TomSermanni being the new uswnt head coach!!! Welcome. #movingforward"-Abby Wambach (@abbywambach)
"Congrats to Tom Sermanni on being named our new #USWNT Head Coach!"-Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13)
I think by the end of Sundhage's reign, they were tired of the constant questions and speculation about when she was leaving to go home to Sweden. Now they've got a guy that is committed and won't be going anywhere anytime soon. This is a dream job if you're a women's soccer coach. Over time, we will figure out his style and tendencies but for now, it's an open book for the U.S. women's national team as they head into 2013 and beyond.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

U.S. Women Settle For Another Tie With Germany, 2-2 In Hartford This Time

If there is a team for the U.S. women's national team to fear in the near future, it's Germany who are loaded with young talent. For the second time in four days, the Germans tied the Americans on their home soil. Tonight, the U.S. blew another one-goal lead (twice) and had to settle for a 2-2 draw at rain-soaked Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT.

The U.S. moved to 23-1-3 this year and 6-0-4 all-time in games pitting the No. 1 and No. 2 FIFA-ranked teams. The U.S. extended its unbeaten streak to 18 games and they are now 17-4-6 all-time against Germany.

There is no doubt that the pouring rain hampered play so for that reason and others (not really in form), the first half was largely forgettable. That is until Abby Wambach pulled to within 10 goals of Mia Hamm with her 148th career goal. After Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe worked the ball through the midfield, Alex Morgan's cross was deflected by a German defender but Wambach was right on the goal-line for the diving header in the 44th minute.

Want to know the next superstar in women's soccer (that's not American)? It has to be Germany's Dzenifer Marozsan. The 2012 MVP of the U-20 Women's World Cup scored not once but twice. In the 48th she received a gift as U.S. defender Christie Rampone whiffed on a pass attempt and fell down at midfield. That allowed Marozsan to walk in alone on Hope Solo and finish into the low corner.

Wambach had two chances for another strike but she failed both times. One-on-one with Germany's goalkeeper, her chip was terrible and later, a header went wide. Morgan once again was the catalyst with her 18th assist of the year (4th all-time for a year). She went to the end line then played it back in the middle to Lloyd. She couldn't connect but Tobin Heath of all people was there to blast in her seventh international goal in the 67th minute.

Solo made a bunch of diving saves and it looked like her team might escape with a 2-1 win but Marozsan had other plans. She scored an absolute highlight reel goal in the 85th minute with a left-foot blast from outside the box to the top corner. Solo had no chance to stop it.

Interestingly enough at halftime on NBC Sports Network, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati indicated that the next women's head coach could be named by November 1. I'm sure that date is fluid but there is little doubt that whomever that person is will make their national team debut November 28 (their next game) when the U.S. plays Ireland in Portland, Oregon. The Fan Tribute Tour (3-0-2 so far) continues with two games against Ireland, the other is December 1 in Glendale, Arizona.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

U.S. Men Beat Guatemala 3-1 To Advance To Final Qualifying Round For The 2014 World Cup

The U.S. men couldn't have gotten off to a worse start tonight in their semifinal round World Cup qualifying match against Guatemala at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City. A simple long ball from Jose Manuel Contreras found the ever dangerous Carlos Ruiz and the MLS star reached daylight behind the U.S. defense before tapping past Tim Howard five minutes in, 1-0 Guatemala.

Thankfully, things quickly turned from there as American defender Carlos Bocanegra tied it up in the 10th minute by redirecting Clint Dempsey's header off a corner kick. That was his 14th career goal for the U.S., the most by a defender. Dempsey wasn't done as he scored twice, in the 18th and 36th minute as Jurgen Klinsmann's team beat Guatemala 3-1 to win Group A with 13 points.

They advance to the final round of qualifying with five other CONCACAF squads: Jamaica (2nd in Group A), Honduras, Panama, Mexico and Costa Rica. That begins in March 2013 with the top three teams making World Cup 2014 in Brazil and the fourth-place squad going to a playoff vs. Oceania (probably New Zealand).

After a good deal of panic, it was nice that the U.S. was able to give their fans something to cheer about (after the nightmare start) and not more heart attacks. Dempsey became the fourth American to score 30 career goals (Landon Donovan, Brian McBride and Eric Wynalda). First, Eddie Johnson flew down the right side then crossed a low but firm pass that Dempsey ran onto and deflected enough to go in.

His other goal was similarly beautiful as Michael Bradley gave him a perfectly weighted pass and once again Dempsey was able to time his run at the exact right moment. Another tap in and some breathing room for the U.S.

Guatemala never really tested Tim Howard in the second half and most importantly, the U.S. was able to control the ball and work the clock down. Sporting KC's Graham Zusi played superbly in front of his home crowd while Herculez Gomez continued to lock down his roster spot going forward.

I couldn't get too excited about this result because while it is satisfying, I totally expected it but I also demand much more from the U.S. men. Beating Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda is one thing but the Americans will have to regroup and play at another level next year. Their biggest issue continues to be their backline which can't seem to find a cohesive unit or the right combination of players.

It still hasn't been confirmed yet by US Soccer but all signs point to one more game in 2012 for the men: November 14 at Russia which would be a quality friendly. Let's hope it happens. The more game situations this team can get, the better they should look. Tonight was only the middle part of what we hope is a long road to Brazil.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Eddie Johnson Rescues The U.S. Men's National Team With 2 Goals Vs. Antigua & Barbuda

Not being able to watch U.S. men's national team games that mean so much is torture, particularly when they play down to awful CONCACAF opponents that they should easily beat by like five goals every time. As I frantically checked the stattracker on and the U.S. men's twitter feed tonight, I was ecstatic when they pulled out an improbable victory.

Making his first appearance in two years, Eddie Johnson saved the U.S. with a pair of goals tonight as they beat Antigua and Barbuda 2-1 in North Sound, Antigua at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium. It was the first time since 2004 (!) that he scored multiple goals for the national team (he had a hat trick in 2004 vs. Panama). Everyone (myself included) was up in arms about Jozy Altidore being left off the roster but at least this controversial move couldn't have worked out any better for Jurgen Klinsmann.

Guatemala's 2-1 win vs. Jamaica means that all the Americans have to do on Tuesday in Kansas City is beat or tie Guatemala and they'll advance to the semifinal round of 2014 World Cup qualifying. The U.S. and Guatemala are tied atop Group A with 10 points.

Johnson leads MLS in goals on headers (9 for the Seattle Sounders) so it's no surprise that he made it 1-0 in the 20th minute on a leaping header off Graham Zusi's looping lefty cross. After a defensive breakdown including Clarence Goodson falling down, Antigua and Barbuda quickly tied it in the 25th minute on Dexter Blackstock's tap in.

It looked like this was destined to be a tie after Michael Bradley's header was stopped in the 85th minute but Johnson and Alan Gordon (his first CAP for the U.S.) teamed up for an absolutely vital strike. Gordon crossed it to Johnson who somehow found an opening and connected with another powerful header.

I can't imagine the reaction if the U.S. hadn't won this match but thankfully, we don't have to think about that too much. Even better news is that we can all watch the game on Tuesday (7:00 p.m., ESPN2) and we don't have to pull our hair out sitting in front of our phones or computers. Other than the first half against Jamaica on September 11, the U.S. hasn't played well at all in this round of qualifying. A positive person would say they are due to put together a full effort. It's late and I'm tired so we'll just run with that.

UPDATE 10/14: Fabian Johnson is still sick so he won't join his teammates in Kansas City for Tuesday's game. No replacement will be added for him as the U.S. will face Guatemala with 19 healthy players (3 goalkeepers). Jermaine Jones is back with his club in Germany after picking up another yellow card on Friday therefore suspending him for Tuesday's match. Has he ever played a US game without picking up a card?

Monday, October 8, 2012

It's Official: Jurgen Klinsmann Hates Jozy Altidore

I try not to read too much into rosters for games, since U.S. men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been scouring every possible direction for anybody that can contribute to his team. Still, it was bizarre today when we found out that U.S. striker Jozy Altidore was left off the 24-man roster for the U.S.' next two important World Cup qualifiers: on Friday at Antigua and Barbuda then Tuesday in Kansas City against Guatemala.

Altidore has obviously never impressed Klinsmann since he has rarely gotten off the bench since the German took over last year. However, considering how well he is playing in the Netherlands this season and the fact that something named Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes) was named in his place makes this borderline mystifying. Gordon is a 30-year-old (31 next week) journeyman that is in MLS and this would be his first CAP.

The U.S. first faces the Benna Boyz on Oct. 12 in North Sound, Antigua. Kickoff for the USA’s first visit to the island is set for 7 p.m. ET and the match will be broadcast live on beIN SPORT. Four days later, the U.S. will close out the semifinal round at sold-out LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan. That match will be broadcast live at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

“The mentality we are bringing into these two games is to get six points,” said Klinsmann. “It’s important that the players arriving into Miami prepare themselves for two ‘finals.’ We must have urgency within the group and a clear understanding that we need to deliver, which means each player has to bring a 100 percent effort. All our focus and energy for the next few days will be on getting the right preparation for the team so we can win the next two games.”

The U.S. is currently even with Guatemala at the top of Group A with seven points and matching totals in both goal differential and goals scored. Jamaica also has seven points but sits in third place due to a lower goal differential. With the three nations tied on points and jockeying for the top two spots, no team will be able to secure a place in the Final Round until the last group matches are played on Oct. 16.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5): Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders)

Bradley is back after missing the two matches against Jamaica in September. This also marks Johnson and Kljestan's return to the national team. The U.S. beat Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 on June 8 in their first ever World Cup qualifier against them. Bradley, Edu, Fabian Johnson, Jones and Zusi all carry yellow cards into Friday night's match meaning they would be suspended for one-game after another one.

The U.S. began training in Miami earlier today and they will head to the island of Antigua on Thursday. Luckily, like the match in Jamaica, we won't be able to watch the game for free on TV so we'll have to rely on Twitter and the few American journalists that are in attendance. CONCACAF!

UPDATE 10/9: Shea (abdominal strain) and Donovan (knee) are out with injuries for both qualifiers and according to U.S. Soccer, there will be no replacements for them.

UPDATE 10/10: Geez, now Johnson (flu) and Castillo (foot) are out for Friday. The team hopes that Johnson will recover in time for Tuesday. Johnson had been a starter with Castillo serving as his backup. Bocanegra and Parkhurst figure to be the left and right backs with Cameron and either Goodson or Edu in at center back. They are down to 20 healthy players (including 3 goalkeepers).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Ireland Will Be Another Team To Meet The U.S. Women's Freight Train

The fine ladies of Ireland don't know what's in store for them. Today, it was announced that they'll be the next sacrificial lamb-I mean opponent-of the U.S. women's national team on their Fan Tribute Tour in 2012.

They'll meet November 28 (10 p.m. ET) at JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Oregon which is home of the Timbers (MLS). Then they play them again on December 1 (10:30 p.m. ET) at the University of Phoenix Field in Glendale, Arizona which is where the Cardinals (NFL) play.

The USA is 8-0-0 all-time against Ireland, with its most recent meeting resulting in a 2-0 win on Sept. 20, 2008, at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Five of the USA’s previous matches against Ireland came on tours after winning Olympic gold medals – two games in 2004 and three in 2008. During the second match in 2004 played in Houston, the two teams were tied 0-0 at halftime before Abby Wambach scored five consecutive goals in the second half to tie a U.S. record for most goals in a game as the USA won 5-0.

Up next, the U.S. women will play a pair of matches against Germany (October 20 in Chicago and October 23 in Hartford). Of course what we're all wondering is when and if the new head coach will be in place by either then or against Ireland. Since Pia Sundhage left for Sweden last month, I haven't even heard any rumors (which is virtually impossible on Twitter) about any candidates or meetings. One can only assume that the U.S. soccer federation is doing plenty of work behind the scenes to make sure they come up with the perfect hire for the best national team on the planet.