One nation under Jurgen Klinsmann with dreams of goals for all

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Monday, July 29, 2013

We'll Always Remember The 2013 Gold Cup (Slight Exaggeration)

I was actually looking forward to the 2013 Gold Cup final this afternoon: U.S. men vs. Panama so shame on me for having any type of expectations that it would be a good match. Sure, I'm happy that the Americans came away with a 1-0 win at Chicago's Solider Field for their fifth Gold Cup title (first since 2007; 2nd most behind Mexico's 6) and extended their team record win streak to 11 games but I must say that it was a really dull event.

As seen above in the video clip, substitute Brek Shea scored less than a minute after he came onto the field in the 69th minute, his second international goal-both in this Gold Cup. True to this match, it was a rather ugly goal-yes they all count the same-as Landon Donovan (Golden Ball winner for the tournament) whiffed on Alejandro Bedoya's cross which it allowed Shea to sprint to the goal-line and touch it in (it was going in anyways).

The U.S. outscored its opponents 20-3 in the 2013 Gold Cup and went 6-0-0. They also tied their longest home win streak (10 games) in team history. They earned a spot in the playoff vs. 2015 Gold Cup winner for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup. If the Americans also win in 2015 then they'll automatically qualify.

U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando only had to make one save for what had to be one of the easiest shutouts of his life. Eddie Johnson could have ended it with a goal in the 84th minute but somehow he put Shea's perfect cross over the crossbar from a few feet away. Oh well, the reason I don't take the Gold Cup seriously is that if you watch the World Cup next summer I'll bet that only one or two players (Donovan and Johnson or DeMarcus Beasley) will start from this B-squad team and competition.

Jurgen Klinsmann was relegated to watching this match in a press box since he was suspended one game for his bizarre outburst vs. a referee in the semifinal on Wednesday vs. Honduras. The only thing that probably bummed him out was another possible serious injury to Stuart Holden's knee. After an awkward challenge caused him to bang his knee with a player from Panama, he came out in the 23rd minute with a limp. Even worse, he was very emotional on the bench and sidelines-showing that he knew it was bad. It was reported to be a sprained knee but we'll see about that. After the match, Klinsmann admitted that it could be serious. Remember Holden missed most of two years with separate knee injuries. Ugh, seeing him hurt again made me sick. Poor guy.

The A-squad is back in action on August 14 at Bosnia-Herzegovina (2:30, ESPN2) in an interntaional friendly. 2014 World Cup qualifying starts up again in September.

UPDATE 7/30: Terrible news for Holden as he tore the ACL in his right knee during Sunday's match.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

U.S. Men Cruise Into 5th Straight Gold Cup Final With 3-1 Win Over Honduras

The U.S. men's national team continued to roll along in 2013 (11-2-2) as they won their 10th straight match overall (extending a team record), a 3-1 victory over Honduras in the Gold Cup semifinals at Cowboys Stadium. Unfortunately, their bitter rival Mexico couldn't hold up their end of the equation as they lost 2-1 to Panama in the other semifinal meaning it'll be U.S. vs. Panama on Sunday (4 p.m. EST, Fox) for all the Gold at Soldier Field in Chicago. That's a rematch of the 2005 final, won by the U.S. in penalty kicks.

This outcome was never really in doubt as the U.S. jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half and improved to 14-4-3 all-time vs. Honduras (11-2-2 at home). The intrigue over the next few days will have to do with whether head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be on the bench or in the stands since he was sent off in the 88th minute for arguing with an overzealous referee about what should have been a foul called on Honduras.

I'm surprised it took me this long to mention him but Landon Donovan has been playing outstanding soccer this entire tournament (5 goals, 7 assists in 5 matches). He continued his torrid pace with two goals and an assist vs. overmatched Honduras-a little payback (emphasis on little, for the 2-1 Honduras win in February during World Cup qualifying) for the U.S.' A-team.

The other American to stand out from the rest has been Eddie Johnson. He opened the scoring in the 11th minute after Donovan played him through then the Sisqo lookalike darted past his defenders and blasted a shot into the upper netting. Former Boston College star Alejandro Bedoya had his best game in a U.S. jersey as he recorded the first two assists of his career. After goalkeeper Nick Rimando's goal kick was headed along by Johnson, Bedoya passed the ball to Donovan in the 27th minute and Landon settled it off his chest then hit it into the corner for a 2-0 U.S. lead.

It's hard to argue with their goal-differential (19-4) but if the U.S. has shown one weakness in this Gold Cup, it's been on set pieces. Once again, they were victimized as Honduras scored their lone goal in the 52nd minute when Nery Medina impressively headed in Marvin Chavez's cross. Oh well.

Well before the time he was subbed off, Donovan answered a minute after Honduras' goal with the final blow. It started with Clarence Goodson's long ball found Bedoya who crossed it to Donovan and he was right in front of the net so all he had to do was redirect it. Along with Klinsmann's transgression, Johnson picked up a needless yellow card in stoppage time (something to remember for the Final).

The U.S. will be looking for its fifth Gold Cup title: 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007 were the champions so it would be the first in six long years. Panama has never won it since only the U.S., Mexico and Canada have captured the crown. Keep in mind that the 2013 Gold Cup winner will meet the 2015 Gold Cup winner for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup (as CONCACAF's representative).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

2013 Gold Cup Update: Landon Donovan Is Earning His Place In The 2014 World Cup

This is coming from someone who spent money on a ticket to last week's the U.S. men's match vs. Costa Rica in East Hartford, CT: By and large the Gold Cup is pretty pointless. Yes, I have paid attention to all the U.S. games and even some that didn't have much bearing on anything but that's only because it's smack dab in the middle of the summer when the lack of choices in the sports world is dire.

I would compare the Gold Cup to preseason games in other sports, the best players either don't play at all or not as much as usual leaving the contests up to the B-squad players. You know, the has beens, never weres and never will bes. Oh and it's against mostly garbage squads from CONCACAF, many of whom don't have a prayer to beat the U.S. (hello Belize). To make my point clear, the U.S. men beat El Salvador 5-1 this afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore but probably all people will talk about is Landon Donovan's re-emergence. The U.S. advanced to the semifinals (for the seventh consecutive time) on Wednesday in Dallas, Texas against Honduras (a 1-0 winner over Costa Rica) at 7 p.m. on Fox Soccer Channel. Mexico plays Panama in the other semifinal.

After his sabbatical from soccer and the U.S.' A-squad, he seems to be returning to form in MLS with the Galaxy (or so I hear) and in this tournament. I believe this makes him a lock to go to Brazil with the U.S. next summer, assuming they reach the World Cup. I also think he could find himself back in the starting 11 after this journey of self-discovery. He still isn't finishing at a very high level but he managed to put up a goal and two assists today, giving him 55 career goals and 54 career assists for the Red, White and Blue.

The funny thing is that this could have been even more of a blowout, the U.S. easily should have scored another goal or two but who can worry about such things after 4-goal victories? Goodson got forward and one-timed Donovan's cross in the 21st minute. Joe Corona, who might have the best name ever, made it 2-0 with a pretty little move then shot from the top of the box in the 29th minute.

El Salvador's only highlight came via a penalty kick in the 39th minute earned by their lone star Rodolfo Zelaya. He chipped it in slow motion down the middle to beat U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando.

A 2-1 halftime lead only motivated the U.S. to put their cleats on the gas more as Eddie Johnson (sporting bleach blonde hair like Sisqo or Cisse, Gus Johnson called him "Demolition Man"-Wesley Snipes movie in 90s-which hopefully catches on) came off the bench and scored seconds later in the 60th minute with a powerful header on Donovan's corner. Johnson returned the favor by finding Donovan for a breakaway in the 78th minute then Mix Diskerud completed the scoring with another header-this time from Donovan in the 84th minute.

We always root against Mexico but I am openly hoping for a U.S.-Mexico Gold Cup Final, that would be a rematch of 2007 (the last time the United States won this dinky competition). The U.S. is currently riding a nine-game win streak, the longest in the team's long history.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

It Was A Good Weekend For The U.S. Men's National Team

Without even playing a game this weekend, it was a great time to be a member of the U.S. men's national team. On Friday, striker Jozy Altidore's long rumored transfer from Holland's AZ Alkmaar to England's Sunderland finally became reality. He is scheduled to have a medical with the English Premier League side tomorrow and that's when the details will be sorted out. In addition, goalkeeper Brad Guzan signed a four-year deal with Aston Villa, meaning he'll stay there through the 2016-17 season.

Altidore's move is the headline since the 23-year-old has been playing the best soccer of his young life in the past season (both with his club and for his country). He scored 31 goals in all competitions for the Dutch team and helped them win their first Dutch Cup in 31 years. It was one thing for U.S. fans to read about that but never really see those games however he's been able to transfer that over to the U.S. with goals in his last four contests: in the friendly vs. Germany and three World Cup qualifiers (Jamaica, Panama and Honduras).

The good part for Altidore-assuming that the move happens-is that Sunderland should offer playing time right off the bat. He was really young when he competed for Hull City in 2009-10, making it no wonder that he struggled so much for a bad team. He is guarantted to have more expectations with Sunderland but that's a positive thing since he has shown lately that he is becoming the great player on a consistent basis that we've all been waiting for.

Guzan is still living in Tim Howard's long shadow for the U.S. but he has more than made a name for himself at Aston Villa. Last season he became the full-time starter and he responded with his best professional season. He is 28 and in limited time playing for the U.S. when Howard was unavailable (due to injuries or mandated rest), he has shown that he could be counted on should something happen to Howard when it really matters.

From Aston Villa's website
"This is just the start now, the start of hard work. We have to build on last year and go forward and that is very much the collective mindset at the club.

"For me, it's an honour and a privilege to play for Aston Villa Football Club and to commit my future long-term. I'm overjoyed by it.

"To have this opportunity to commit my future, with the plans and the future being what they are going forward, it's tremendously exciting and I know that's not just for me but for everybody, including the fans."

UPDATE 7/10: Jozy got a four-year deal worth $13 million.