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What was he Expecting??

The USA National Team beat Slovenia 3-2 tonight to give Jurgen Klinsmann his second win as coach of the USA and it marked the first time the US team has scored more then one goal in a game. It also marked the first time Klinsmann started a game with two strikers, as the USA looked to attack the goal and create chances that, up until tonight, had been few and far between.

I’m writing this not to give a refresher of the game but to question the scrutiny US fans have been getting from Alexi Lalas. Let me set the record straight I love Lalas analyses because he pulls no punches and he says exactly what he thinks. His job is not to be an apologist for the US team but to give a clear and concise evaluation of the game and focus on their good and not so good play. Up until the France game last Friday, that is what he has delivered. Now, what we are getting after the past two games, is a poor review and some silly nitpicking that is beneath him. Maybe if he had thrown his hat in the ring to be the next US coach then he could make the complaints he’s making. If he had been coaching on Friday against France perhaps he would have sent the US on an all out attack and tried to beat the French at the Stade De France, but without Landon Donovan, the USA’s most creative player, it made more sense to be compact and defensive.

Tonight Lalas got what he wanted with the USA in a 4-4-2 formation. The USA came out on the attack and created chances from the very beginning, scoring three first half goals. But, then Lalas writes “it’s only Slovenia.” What does he think the French team said after it beat the USA 1-0 on Friday? “Wow, a world class win against a world class side”? My guess? French Manager Laurant Blanc probably said, “It was only against the USA.” I’m aware the USA has wins over Spain, England, Germany, Argentina, and Brazil in their past, but if Slovenia had won tonight it’s possible they might have thought the same thing as Laurant Blanc.

It’s obvious what Lalas wants to see. It’s what every developing footballing nation wants and that is…forward progress. Just because you hire a former World Cup winner as your manager doesn’t mean changes comes immediately.

In the past I have written that this is the beginning of a long process and the idea that we are going to see huge leaps this soon, is a pipe dream at best. Lalas knows this.

I fully understand the wisdom of critiquing the USA team play. But, l think Lalas has lost sight of what a realistic level of play should be at this point.

Is Arsenal Back?

When the Premier League began this year, Arsenal looked like a shell of a team. They had always been in the top four in the league and now they looked as though they would have been lucky to finish in the top half of the table. After a 2-0 loss to Liverpool and a humiliating 8-2 defeat to Manchester United, they went into emergency mode and brought in reinforcements…and then, just when you thought a comeback might be possible, the Gunners sunk even lower with an embarrassing 4-3 loss at Blackburn. They gave up two own goals after leading 2-1 at halftime. But now, since that match, they have turned their season around winning eight of the last nine games and moving up to seventh in the table and topping their Champions League group.

Today, Arsenal defeated Chelsea 5-3 in a game that at times felt like the final score might finish at 9-8. Robin Van Persie who couldn’t stop scoring, had a hat trick and goals by Theo Walcott and Andreas Santos helped cement the win to put Arsenal ahead at Stamford Bridge. It is difficult to know how long this good fortune will last. Will they find themselves back in the top four or will they ride a roller coaster with more ups and downs?

One thing is certain and the fact is Robin Van Persie is a true world-class goal scorer. Getting him secured to a long term deal should be the most important thing on Arsene Wenger’s “to do” list. The acquisition of Mikel Arteta has also been a huge plus. He may not be as good as Cesc Fabragas, but he is solid and experienced. His work can sometimes be uninspiring, but he has proven at times that he can also be effective. His understanding play in the midfield with Aaron Ramsey and Alexander Song has helped make the Gunners a difficult team to defend.

While all this is good, there is still some not so good as well. The defense has had a difficult time keeping the ball out of their own net and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny has a tendency to leave his line a little early. However, his goalkeeping skills can be solid at times and he is capable of keeping Arsenal in a game.

Another problem comes from a lack of communication and familiarity with a consistent back four. With qualification for the knockout stage of the Champions League close and winnable games coming up against West Brom, Norwich, Fulham, Wigan and Everton, Arsenal has a chance to solidify themselves in the top half of the table and get into position for a run at qualification for next years Champions League. Arsene Wenger has done a fantastic job this last month of helping turn around a team in crisis and molding them into a more solid team.

There is still a lot of work to do and there are more players that will need to be brought in if Arsenal is to make a run at the league but for the first time this season things are starting to look up.

This Game Counts!!!

Last August I wrote an article about the Community Shield in which I said Manchester City really didn’t seem to care about that match. In that game Manchester United came from two goals down and walked up the fabled steps of Wembley to receive the trophy they earned. A much different scenario today at Old Trafford, as United went two down again, but there was to be no fight back this time, as City kept going forward and put a defeat on United no one dreamed they would see in Sir Alex Ferguson’s time.

Before this game, I had not been impressed by United’s performances. I thought Chelsea was the better team when they played earlier, and United’s performances in the Champions League have also been less then stellar. Now, the way City has been playing this season, going eleven on eleven against them was difficult enough but playing ten on eleven proved to be most dangerous, as United found out today.

Those of us who have been watching football in England know that when you play at Old Trafford, unless everything goes your way, the chances of coming away with three points is a pipe dream and a point earned from a draw feels more like a win. The last time United was humbled at home was March 14, 2009 when Liverpool beat them 4-1. Today’s match felt differently, more like Manchester United were the upstarts and Manchester City had to put them in their place. At no time in the game did United ever boss the game and at the same time City looked quite comfortable playing in the “theater of dreams.”

This may be the first time Ferguson will have to answer questions like “How does it feel to suffer a humiliating defeat?” or “How does United recover from a harsh football lesson at home?” Will it be painful? Undoubtedly! Don’t forget earlier this year United humbled Arsenal with an 8-2 thrashing in which the United players took delight in putting it to the Gunners. Today they got a spoonful of it from the other side as City scored three goals near the death and made a point of celebrating each goal for their fans who have suffered so many defeats at the hand of United.

All this being said, United is not done and dusted and City hasn’t won the trophy yet. Manchester United will be back…they will recover…and they will have something to say about who gets the trophy in May. I think that while it was a great day for City, United is not finished. There are too many winners in that dressing room at Old Trafford and Sir Alec most assuredly will get things right again.

But today, the blue side of Manchester are the kings.

One Little Mistake!!!

If you were watching the USA-Ecuador game as I was, we might have had the same feeling.

It looked to me as though both teams played solid defense and the match was going to end as a 0-0 draw. But unfortunately, a mistake by Tim Ream allowed Javier Ayovi to get ball side of him on a cross and Ecuador posted a 1-0 score.

The USA played well and, for the most part, controlled the game. The center back pairing of Carlos Boconegra and Michael Orozco, which was very shaky against Honduras, proved solid tonight as Boconegra had a very motivated Oguchi Onywu on the pitch next to him. Playing regular minutes for your club team makes a world of difference! Onywu was easily the best player tonight, reading the game and breaking up the Ecuadorian attack. He reminded me of the player he was before his injury in the last World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica.

In spite of the fact that Onywu was so good, however, the problem with the USA is they do not have a goal scorer yet and without an individual who can put the ball in the net the most you can hope to achieve are moral victories. What has become frustrating to the USA fans and is starting to frustrate Jurgen Klinsmann, is the fact that the USA is not scoring goals. There is a lot of talent on this team, both in attack and the midfield, with players like Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey on form with their club teams and players like Danny Williams and Michael Bradley in the midfield. The USA shouldn’t have to rely on having a Landon Donovan (out due to injury) on the team to create chances and score goals. For Klinsmann, who himself was a world class goal scorer for both club and country, questions will be raised as to why he can’t find someone who can score.

The next matches the USA will play will be in Europe (one is rumored to be against France) so the difficulties in scoring goals unless something changes, look to continue.

In tonight’s game the USA deserved better. If I could point to one flaw with Klinsmann, it was his sentimental decision to take Carlos Boconegra off and allow Tim Ream to play on his club team’s turf. Tim Ream is a solid player and most likely one for the future but the goal that lost the game was clearly his fault and he should have done a better job to prevent Ayovi to score that goal.

With a little more then six months until World Cup Qualification begins, USA has its work cut out for it… at least they are heading in the right direction.

If you listened to the press talking about the US National Team games this week you might have thought World Cup Qualifying had begun early for the US. They had been saying Jurgen Klinsmann needs a win like it’s the single most important thing on the planet. The fact is that these matches are friendlies and no matter how good you look or how impressive your opponent, a win in a friendly just doesn’t rise to the level of a Qualifier Match.

Klinsmann has had the job for two months and instead of talking about the new system or the players he has tried to bring in, the press has ignored the fact that in the previous three friendlies only one goal had been scored and no wins had been attained.

Tonight in Miami, the US won their first game in the Klinsmann era with a 1-0 win against Honduras. And now, this coming Tuesday, in a game against Ecuador, Klinsmann may be able to breathe a little easier as he now has a good win against a good opponent and can take away a lot of positives as well.

As usual with most friendlies, both sides did not field their best eleven and some players such as US player Landon Donovan and Wilson Palacios of Honduras were not there. Weather was also a factor as rain and strong wind wreaked havoc for the entire game.

Honduras started out brighter and should have gone ahead had it not been for Tim Howard’s strong performance in goal. USA’s Timothy Chandler was excellent at left back (though he prefers to play on the right side) and in his first ever match with the US, Hoffenheim’s Danny Williams had a solid outing. Kyle Beckerman, Brek Shea, and Jozy Altidore were also good and Clint Dempsey showed why he could be playing for a better side then Fulham, when he scored a marvelous goal and might have had another, if not for a poor call when his headed shot was disallowed.

But it wasn’t all good for the USA… Michael Orozco showed he doesn’t have the ability to cope at this level and, the central defense looked shaky at best. There were also some comical misses by Brek Shea and Oguchi Onywu which might have made the score more comfortable then it really was.

For Klinsmann, a monkey (although not a huge one) has been taken off his back so maybe he can relax. With June less then a year away time is still on his side as he decides who is going to be a part of his roster for World Cup Qualifying. At least now he doesn’t have to worry about a US Soccer press asking “when are you going to get that first win?”.

When Referees Ruin Games!!!

As I write this it is the 36th minute of the Merseyside Derby between Everton and Liverpool and I am sick to my stomach. Jack Rodwell was sent his marching orders for doing something players do all the time.

In the 23rd minute Rodwell made a perfect textbook tackle on Luis Suarez and referee Martin Atkinson sent him off with a contentious decision. Now, a game that was an even match-up with both teams attacking up and down has turned into an exercise to see how long Everton can hold out. Will Everton score on the counter? At half-time when I started this article, Tim Howard saved a Dirk Kyut penalty and Charlie Adam had a shot go off the crossbar, so the score is still 0-0.

My reason for writing this now is because a questionable red card has changed the course of the game and it just is not right. If we are going hold players accountable for their mistakes, shouldn’t we hold referees to that same standard? Luis Suarez, the injured party of Rodwell’s tackle, has a history, as many players do, of embellishing a tackle as though they were shot at point blank range with an AK-47. With a player like Suarez, who is always going to make a meal out of any tackle, and Jack Rodwell now facing a three match ban, shouldn’t Martin Atkinson have used his brain and some common sense before pulling out a red card in a derby match as important as this one? I realize being an official is a difficult job and it is not easy to go into these stadiums before 36,000 fans and make a tough call. If you are going to put yourself in this position shouldn’t you do everything possible to avoid showing a red card?

In the 55th minute of this game Tim Howard has made a diving save on Andy Carroll and I can’t help wondering if this pressure that Liverpool is applying is due to Everton’s decision to play more defensively with one man down. I don’t know how this game will turn out as I am writing this but I am encouraged that Everton appears to be handling the pressure well.

I do feel cheated though, since one of the great matches played twice a year has been ruined by a referee making the wrong call on a routine tackle.

Now end to end football has been replaced with defensive counterattacking by one team and full-on pressure by another. With Rodwell suspended for three games (Rodwell can appeal the red card but I doubt he will win it.), I wonder what punishment if any will come to Martin Atkinson who ruined a very interesting game.

N.B. Liverpool Won the Game 2-0.

Is this the End of Marquez in New York???

According to Rafael Marquez there is a problem at New York Red Bull as he says “I think this is a team game and unfortunately there isn’t an equal level between my teammates and I.” Now he said this through an interpreter and I’m pretty good at interpretation myself and I believe what he’s saying is “I can’t believe I went from one of the greatest teams in the world (Barcelona) to play for a Mickey Mouse team in a Mickey Mouse League.” Anyone who has watched Red Bull this year knows they have a problem holding onto leads and they seem to have a set goal to achieve the most number of draws by any team in any league in the world as they have fifteen draws in twenty-nine games, but to make a blanket statement that the problem is everyone in the back but myself is cause for concern, not just for the team but for the league in general. MLS has gone through this before with designated players before. Youri Djorkaeff said he had family problems in the summer of 2006 and was photographed in the stands watching France play a World Cup game in Germany while Lothar Matthaus claimed he was getting treated for an injury and was then photographed on beach with his girlfriend on vacation. However neither of these players made statements which imply that they were better then everyone else and for Marquez to question the ability of his teammates means he has crossed the line. I can never remember any player in any other league whether it be the Premier League, La Liga, the Bundisliga or Serie A throwing his teammates under the bus. Furthermore if you watch the Red Bull play it is clear they have a problem and if you want my opinion the problem is Marquez. New York finally won a game last Saturday against FC Dallas 1-0 they did not give up a goal and they also did not have Marquez on the pitch. Marquez is a solid player and he has been one for years and with the exception of teammate Thierry Henry is probably the best players on the team but his performances of late have been less then stellar and while Tim Ream was responsible for the second goal given up in last nights 3-1 loss to Real Salt Lake it was Marquez who failed to pull up on the offside trap when Salt Lake scored their third. The home fans voiced their displeasure at Marquez by booing him every time he touched the ball after that and it should mean that his days in New York are numbered. It is sad really because when Marquez came to New York last year it was a move that had a lot of promise and his performances were outstanding as he helped Red Bull win some important games and with a rested Henry and Marquez, New York came into this season one of the favorites to win the MLS Cup and while they can still do it assuming they qualify for the playoffs that possibility is becoming more remote as each game passes. I hope Marquez comes to his senses and apologizes for what he said (or at the very least claim he was misquoted) so he isn’t remembered for being a jerk and is remembered for being one of the best players to play in MLS.

Random Thoughts!!!

MLS is fun to watch if you give it a chance!!!

Sir Alex Ferguson is so successful because he’s ruthless. Fergie has no sympathy for his opponents and will do everything in his power to beat them. Don’t believe me? Check his trophy cabinet.

Arsene Wenger doesn’t want to hire a defensive coach or meet with shareholders. This doesn’t inspire confidence.

The Bundesliga is another great league to watch. Too bad it’s on Gol TV.

Fernando Torres will score for Chelsea. Don’t get hung up on his miss this weekend.

David Beckham should not join QPR, Spurs, or PSG. He should re-sign for LA.

Cesc Fabregas set a record for a new player at Barcelona by scoring in his fourth game in a row. Cesc has always credited Arsene Wenger for making him the player is today and thanking him for making the transfer to Barcelona possible. I wonder if Wenger can expect a thank you from Barcelona soon.

Lionel Messi is still the best player in the world…….as long as he’s wearing a Barcelona shirt.

To all the critics in the US soccer community commenting on Jurgen Klinsmann…….These are just friendlies!!!! They don’t count until June.

The Champions League is always must see TV.

Borussia Dortmond could probably run at top speed in a 180 minute game.

Hey Columbus Ohio!! The Buckeyes Suck!! Support the Crew!!

Listen to the podcast The Football Pub!!! I do!!

Harry Redknapp should be the next England Manager.

Hey Europe if you want a Manager why not give Jason Kreis a shot. I’m sure there are a lot of people in the US who would like to see him get a chance.

The two best Managers in the Premier League as far as quotes are concerned are Mick McCarthy of Wolves and Neil Warnock of QPR.

The only problem with the Champions League is all the games are played at the same time so unless you are at a pub you have to choose which games you can watch so even though I had access to all the games, there were only two games I could watch before I would find out the scores to the other games thus watching a game already knowing the final score. The two games I watched were Borussia Dortmund V Arsenal and FC Barcelona V AC Milan and suffice it to say I was not disappointed. Both games were played at a high tempo and both games were excellent adverts for the Champions League and while both games had late goals the feelings of both teams who gave up the late goals (Arsenal and Barcelona) couldn’t be more different. If you had offered Arsenal a 1-1 draw in the game at Dortmund they would have said thank you very much and even though the tying goal from Ivan Perisic came very late I have to think Arsenal will take it. Borussia Dortmund, a former winner in this competition, have not been in the Champions League for nine years but looked more likely to score early on as they put pressure on Arsenal at every turn. Arsenal to their credit did well on the counterattack at times and just before halftime a mistake from Dortmund midfielder Sebastian Kehl allowed Robin Van Percie to get the ball to Theo Walcott who then gave it back to Van Percie who then put the ball past Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller. Arsenal defended well in the second half and looked to be going home with three points before Perisic’s wonder strike but if you look at the situation both teams find themselves in you would have to think Arsenal was the happier of the two teams in this game. In the Barcelona-Milan game it was a situation where one team dominated everything but couldn’t get the win. Barcelona was easily the best team and controlled possession and had the ball in Milan’s half for the entire game. Despite falling asleep at the start of the game and allowing Pato to score a goal for Milan after twenty-five seconds there was little doubt who the best team was from start to finish. Pedro may have scored Barcelona’s goal but it was made by hard work of Lionel Messi. Messi outmuscled Ignazio Abate off the ball before putting the ball across the goalmouth for Pedro’s tap in. The second goal came on the other side of halftime with a brilliant free kick by David Villa and Barcelona should have finished the game with three points if it wasn’t for the brilliant play of Alessandro Nesta and a late goal by Thiago Silva. If I were Milan I would be smiling all the way home as they were under content attack from Barcelona but came away with the result. Arsenal may be able to live with the last minute equalizer as the next time they play Dortmund it will be in North London but Barcelona can’t be happy with the last minute concession, as they should have won the game going away.

It’s not Time to Panic!!!

I’m sure if you asked Jurgen Klinsmann he would say this is not how he had envisioned his first two months in charge of the US National Team. With three matches under his belt the United States record is zero wins two losses and one draw and one goal scored with three conceded. If you listen to the analysts you would think Team USA was in danger of failing to qualify for World Cup 2014 (which won’t start for the US until next June) and would have been better off retaining the previous manager Bob Bradley. While the results have been disappointing the play of the team for the most part has not. Under Bradley the US team played a defensive style that limited the attacking options. With two defensive midfielders providing cover for a shaky back line goals were at a premium under Bradley’s watch. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining about the way Bradley managed the team as it produced results such as winning the 2007 Gold Cup and the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-final victory over Spain. But if you ask most US fans they want the team to move forward and leave this style of play behind. Most US fans want the team to play an attacking style of football that puts pressure on the opponents goal instead of playing counter-attacking football. As I see it there have been two problems which prevent this. The first being a manager who understands and is familiar with attacking football and believes in the US enough to teach it and the second is finding the talent which cam implement it well enough that the US doesn’t end up a laughing stock and while the US has found the former right now they can’t seem to prevent the latter. The US team has not had it’s entire team in camp so it’s safe to say Klinsmann has not been able to use everyone at his disposal but you would think after playing home matches against Mexico and an experimental Costa Rica squad and an away game against Belgium that the US would have at least one win under Klinsmann or have scored more goals but that is not the case but all is not lost for the US Team. Klinsmann has clearly had an effect on the way this team plays and if you watched the last twenty minutes against Mexico or the first thirty minutes of the Costa Rica Match you can see an exciting style of play is starting to emerge and while the US still has a ways to go I am far from discouraged as I watch this team play. Klinsmann has his work cut out for him as he tries to find the right mixture of players that fit this style of play and clearly if it’s going to have any longevity the youth teams of the US are going to have to teach it at the early stages of development as the US tries to go from defense to offense and while these things take time I believe the US is heading in the right direction. It should also be noted that these matches are friendlies which mean exhibition matches which should be used to experiment as the team goes forward. While some people may find the results disappointing and wishing for more all I can say is at least we’re heading in the right direction

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