U.S. Bow Out of U20 Women’s World Cup
U.S. Bow Out of U20 Women’s World Cup avatar

Add the U20 U.S. WNT to the ever growing list of U.S. Youth sides to disappoint after Tuesday morning’s 2-1 extra time loss to North Korea eliminated the Mallory Pugh led side from the U20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.

The young Americans (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

The young Americans never seemed to gel. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

With the disappointment of the senior side’s failure at the Summer Olympics still fresh it was hoped that a U.S. team led by rising stars Pugh and Ashley Sanchez could lead the Young Yanks to a fourth title at the age group but coach Michelle French was never able to get this side to gel once the team arrived in the small South Pacific nation.

While the U.S. struggled through the opening round of play, winning its group with just one win and two draws, North Korea ran the table outscoring its three opponents by a 13-3 margin while the Americans managed just a 4-2 advantage.

Then the U.S. barely got by Mexico in the quarterfinals, needing a goal in the 93rd minute to set up this date with North Korea.

With a place in the final at stake, the U.S. was unable to raise its game and could not cope with the physical Koreans, who often crossed that thin line from tough to dirty in their semifinal win.

If this all sounds familiar, it is. Just two years ago these teams met at the same age group and Korea sent the U.S packing while the Americans elimination at the group stage earlier this year at the U17 World Cup was yet another blow to the U.S. prestige at the youth level.

And this was no fluke. Korea outplayed the U.S. although Katie Cousins was unfortunate to be called for a handball that Jon So converted for the Korea DPR in the 50th minute.

The U.S. looked to be headed home in regulation before a late equalizer by Natalie Jacobs, making her first start of the tournament sent this game into extras.

Korea made short work of the Americans in the extra time, scoring less than one minute into the added session. The Koreans then peppered the U.S. goal for the remainder of the extra session, blunting any hopes of an American comeback.

The Korean's set out to make a statement. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Pugh was subject to some rough play by the Koreans. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

That Mallory Pugh ended this match on the field after leaving for a time to be checked for a possible concussion was a bit of a surprise and Ashley Sanchez also suffered an apparent intentional elbow, indicating a deliberate plan by the Koreans to intimidate the Americans two best players.

Physicality aside, this was yet another discouraging effort from a U.S. team that relied far too often on hit and hope long ball with a side that has been lauded as one of the most talented for the U.S. at this age group.

Coach Michelle French failed to get this group to play anything resembling the cohesive, passing style that Jill Ellis is trying to steer the senior side toward. Earlier this fall the U.S. U17 side bowed out of its World Cup (also won by North Korea) in the group stage after a similar reliance on long ball and individual moments of brilliance.

These results are worrying and indicate that the U.S. has to step up its tactical game if it is to have any chance of maintaining its position as leaders in the women’s game.

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Klinsmann Out-Arena Back In?
Klinsmann Out-Arena Back In? avatar

Five years after he was brought in to bring the United States Men’s National Soccer Team to “the next level” Jurgen Klinsmann has been fired from his dual role as Head Coach and Technical Director by the man who spent almost that much time pursuing him.

Klinsmann came under huge criticism after the Costa Rica's defeat..(ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann came under huge criticism after the Costa Rica’s defeat..(ISI Photos/John Dorton)

U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati had finally seen enough when the U.S. MNT dropped the first two games of the final round of World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex) last week raising the possibility, however slight, that the Americans might miss out on competing in the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

When Gulati finally landed Klinsmann to replace Bob Bradley after the U.S. fell to Mexico by a 4-2 score in the 2011 Gold Cup Final at the Rose Bowl Klinsmann seemed in many ways the perfect choice to guide the Americans to that “next level.”

A former star player and World Cup winner with his native Germany, Klinsmann had earned praise for his work in taking a rebuilding German side to the 2006 World Cup semifinals in Germany.

Klinsmann also garnered praise for his role in bringing new ideas to the German set up, many of which had a somewhat “American” feel. Which was not entirely surprising, given that Klinsmann was living and raising his family in Southern California.

So, Klinsmann seemed perfect. A man with a big reputation in the world game who understood the American soccer landscape.

And Klinsmann has had some successes with the U.S. team, in particular advancing from the “Group of Death” to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and bringing his team to the semifinals of the 2016 Copa America Centenario, although neither achievement was the unvarnished hit that Klinsmann and U.S Soccer liked to present.

The Americans lone victory in Brazil was a 2-1 opening game win against a Ghana side we later learned was in rebellion against its federation over nonpayment and the U.S only extended Belgium to extra time thanks to an epic 15 save performance by Tim Howard.

After advancing to this June’s Copa America semi-final the tournament ended on a bad note for the hosts when Argentina ran roughshod over the U.S. en route to a 4-0 U.S. loss, which was followed by Klinsmann’s side with a 1-0 loss to Colombia in the third-place game, a match that never felt that close.

Perhaps as much as anything Klinsmann’s decision to leave Landon Donovan off of the World Cup squad backfired with U.S. fans and many in the media who weren’t buying Klinsmann’s rationale that the likes of Brad Davis or Chris Wondolowski were somehow “ahead” of Donovan.

Klinsmann survived earlier calls for his head in the wake of a disastrous effort by his team at the 2015 Gold Cup but the coach lost whatever goodwill he had earned from that Copa run with the loss to Mexico in Columbus that ended a run of four straight 2-0 wins over El Tri in Ohio and in the 4-0 shellacking against Costa Rica that followed, a match in which the U.S. seemed to quit.

U.S. Soccer released a statement that said in part “We want to thank Juergen for his hard work and commitment during these last five years. He took pride in having the responsibility of steering the program, and there were considerable achievements along the way.”

Bruce Arena seems favorite to replace Klinsmann. .(Getty images)

Bruce Arena seems favorite to replace Klinsmann. .(Getty images)

Multiple reports have U.S. Soccer close to announcing former U.S. MNT coach Bruce Arena as Klinsmann’s replacement. Arena’s contract with the L.A. Galaxy is set to expire at the end of the year.

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U.S. Move on at U20 WWC after Tie With Ghana
U.S. Move on at U20 WWC after Tie With Ghana avatar

It wasn’t easy, is it ever anymore? but the U.S. ground out a 1-1 tie with Ghana Sunday night/Monday morning to advance to the knockout stages of the U20 Women’s World Cup in Papua New Guinea.

Casey Murphy fumbled the ball and was punished by(ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Casey Murphy fumbled the ball and was punished by Black Queens. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Ghana did not make it easy on the Americans, in fact, it was the youthful Black Queens who jumped in front in the 20th minute when the Americans 6’1” goalkeeper Casey Murphy fumbled Abambila Ernestina’s high floater from outside the 18-yard box resulting in an own goal.

Murphy was quickly bailed out by a bit of brilliance from team captain and U.S. senior teamer Mallory Pugh. Pugh needed less than two minutes to get Murphy off the hook, equalizing after beating Ghana’s offside trap and running onto a fine ball over the top from midfielder Katie Cousins.

That would be it for the scoring and it would be just enough to allow Americans to finish atop Group C, thanks to the Fair Play rule. With the U.S. and France finishing the opening round with identical stats, one win, two draws, and zero losses, it was time to turn to the tiebreakers.

The two teams tied 2-2 when they played earlier and with each team scoring four goals and conceding two, the Americans won the group by virtue of its, well, virtue. Meaning that the U.S. collected fewer yellow cards than the French.

Pugh continues to shine. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Pugh continues to shine. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Up next for the U.S. is a quarterfinal showdown with none other than Mexico on November 25th, with the scheduling gods kind enough to spare the Young Yanks a match on Thanksgiving.

France face Germany, also on the 25th, one day after Korea DPR (North Korea) vs. Spain and Japan vs. Brazil opens the knockout round. If the U.S. beat Mexico they will get the winner of Korea/Spain game on November 29th.

Both semifinals will be played that day with the Championship match and the third place game wrapping things up in Papua New Guinea on December 3rd.

The U.S. has competed in all eight editions of the U20 WWC (2016 included) and is tied with Germany, having won three titles each. North Korea claimed the remaining championship.

The Americans are hardly favorites to add a fourth crown as the KO rounds begin, having failed to catch the eye with their performances to date. Coach Michelle French has been unable to build any sense of cohesion within this group, who could very well be traveling home for Turkey Day by now if not for moments of individual brilliance from Pugh and Ashley Sanchez.

That the U.S. move on to the quarters is a good thing for the American program, the inability of the U20 side to play, dare I say, proactive soccer is not, especially when paired with the dismal showing by the U.S. at the U17 WWC Cup in October.

That team also struggled to play anything other than hit and hope and it cost the Americans who were eliminated in group play.

There would seem to be enough talent on this U20 U.S. squad to play a more attractive and more efficient style of play. But with Knockout play looming, is there enough time?

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
GHA 1 0 1

GHA – Own goal (Casey Murphy) 20th minute
USA – Mallory Pugh 22

Lineups:
USA: 1-Casey Murphy; 5-Madeline Elliston, 6-Taylor Otto, 3-Kaleigh Riehl, 14-Ellie Jean; 16-Emily Fox (11-Ally Watt, 81), 10-Emily Ogle, 20-Katie Cousins; 9-Mallory Pugh (capt.), 18-Ashley Sanchez (19-Natalie Jacobs, 89), 15-Jessie Scarpa (2-Parker Roberts, 75)
Subs Not Used: 4-Sabrina Flores, 7-Savannah DeMelo, 8-Courtney Petersen, 12-Rose Chandler, 13-Marley Canales, 17-Kelcie Hedge, 21-Brooke Heinsohn
Head Coach: Michelle French

GHA: 16-Victoria Agyei; 3-Jane Ayieyam, 4-Adu Agyemang (12-Vinoria Kuzagbe, 46 (20-Fatima Alhassan, 82)), 5-Belinda Anane, 7-Ernestina Abambila, 8-Wasila Diwura-Soale, 9-Sandra Owusu-Ansah, 10-Princella Adubea (14-Lily Niber-Lawrence, 68), 13-Samira Abdul-Rahman, 15-Faustina Ampah, 18-Rasheda Abdul-Rahman (Capt.)
Subs Not Used: 1-Azume Adams, 2-Vida Opoku, 6-Patience Adjetey, 11-Rita Darko, 17-Veronica Appiah, 19-Sandra Boakye, 21-Rose Baah
Head Coach: Mas-Ud Dramani

Stats Summary: USA / GHA
Shots: 8 / 14
Shots on Goal: 2 / 1
Saves: 0 / 1
Corner Kicks: 3 / 1
Fouls: 9 / 17
Offside: 1 / 3

Misconduct Summary:
GHA – Adu Agyemang 36th minute
GHA – Ernestina Abambila 67
GHA – Belinda Anane 89

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USA Goes Top of Group C
USA Goes Top of Group C avatar

American soccer fans searching for some good news after this week’s double dose of disappointment from the senior men’s squad had to look far and wide for that solace, all the way to Papua, New Guinea in fact, where the U.S. topped New Zealand 3-1 in its second match of the U20 Women’s World Cup.

Led by 18-year-old Olympian Mallory Pugh the young Americans were looking to improve on a poor performance in Monday’s scoreless draw versus France, a point New Zealand learned right from the opening whistle.

Ellie Jean in action. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Ellie Jean in action. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Fullback Ellie Jean set the tone with a dangerous cross off of her run to the end line to put the nascent Football Ferns on notice. With U.S. attackers swarming New Zealand’s defenders it was clear that the coach Michelle French was keen to avoid a repeat of her team’s passive effort against the French, irrespective of the quality gap between the two opponents.

17-year-old Ashley Sanchez continued her accelerated climb through the U.S. WNT ranks becoming the first U.S. woman to score in the U17 and U20 World Cup in the same year when she opened the U.S. account after just 2:30.

The tenacious forward stripped a New Zealand defender before coolly sliding her shot past Nadia Olla in the New Zealand goal. Just about five minutes later U.S. captain Pugh intercepted a sloppy New Zealand clearance, ran through the Ferns defense and fired an exquisite strike into the top corner of Olla’s net to make it a 2-0 game.

It looked as if the rout was on but New Zealand slowly crept back into the game with a missed volley from Pugh allowing New Zealand to escape to the dressing room trailing just 2-0 when it might well have been more.

The U.S. continued to have most of the play as the second half resumed and were denied a sure fire penalty when Pugh was dragged down but New Zealand, playing in front of friendly crowd as Oceania champions, never gave in and got their reward in the 76th minute when Isabella Coombes halved the U.S. advantage with a shot from distance after the U.S. failed to clear following a New Zealand corner.

Lifted by that goal and the crowd -chanting New Zealand! New Zealand! – The Ferns pressed for the equalizer. French responded by inserting Ally Watt in the 79th minute and the coach did not have to wait long to receive validation for that change.

Watt was sent in on goal by fellow sub-Jessica Scarpa who hit Watt in stride with her pass behind the New Zealand defense. Watt made no mistake with her chance blasting her shot beyond Olla to restore the two-goal advantage, essentially ending this match as a contest.

The win, coupled with Ghana’s surprise 2-2 draw with France, with France needing a late goal for the tie, puts the U.S. on top of its group with four points. New Zealand follows with three, France has two and Ghana trail with a single point.

The Young Yanks face Ghana next Monday in its last Group C match (1 a.m. ET on FS1 and NBC Universo), with New Zealand going against France at the same time.

The Americans are now in a strong position to advance to the quarterfinals, going through with a win or draw against Ghana. Even a 1-0 loss would do for the U.S. regardless of the France vs. New Zealand result.

Pugh continues to shine. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Pugh continues to shine. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Papua, New Guinea is a long way from Columbus and San Jose, Costa Rica and the drama surrounding the Men’s National Team has yet to be played out, but U.S. fans can take some hope in the performance of Mallory Pugh, Ashley Sanchez and the rest of the U20 Women’s team as they chase a World Championship in the early morning hours over the coming weeks.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 2 1 3
NZL 0 1 1

USA – Ashley Sanchez 3rd minute
USA – Mallory Pugh 8
NZL – Isabella Coombes 76
USA – Ally Watt (Jessie Scarpa) 82

Lineups:
USA: 1-Casey Murphy; 5-Madeline Elliston, 6-Taylor Otto, 3-Kaleigh Riehl, 14-Ellie Jean; 16-Emily Fox (11-Ally Watt, 79), 10-Emily Ogle, 20-Katie Cousins, 7-Savannah DeMelo (15-Jessie Scarpa, 57), 9-Mallory Pugh (capt.) (19-Natalie Jacobs, 90); 18-Ashley Sanchez
Subs Not Used: 2-Parker Roberts, 4-Sabrina Flores, 8-Courtney Petersen, 12-Rose Chandler, 13-Marley Canales, 17-Kelcie Hedge, 21-Brooke Heinsohn
Head Coach: Michelle French

NZL: 21-Nadia Olla; 2-Sarah Morton, 3-Sophie Stewart-Hobbs, 4-Elizabeth Anton, 6-Meikayla Moore (capt.); 7-Isabella Coombes, 10-Daisy Cleverley, 18-Grace Jale (16-Tayla Christensen, 69); 8-Jasmine Pereira, 9-Martine Puketapu (11-Emma Rolston, 80), 13-Paige Satchell (19-Jacqui Hand, 87)
Subs Not Used: 1-Tessa Nicol, 5-Samantha Murrell, 12-Malia Steinmetz, 14-Jade Parris, 15-Hannah Blake, 17-Eileish Hayes, 20-Emily Couchman
Head Coach: Leon Birnie

Stats Summary: USA / NZL
Shots: 13 / 5
Shots on Goal: 4 / 2
Saves: 1 / 3
Corner Kicks: 12 / 2
Fouls: 10 / 4
Offside: 2 / 0

Misconduct Summary:
None

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Is it Time for Klinsmann To Go?
Is it Time for Klinsmann To Go? avatar

If Sunil Gulati won’t dismiss Jurgen Klinsmann then U.S. Soccer must replace its President with someone who will after the Americans were humiliated 4-0 by Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying Tuesday night in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Klinsmann's performance needs to be reviewed. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann’s performance needs to be reviewed. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Coming on the heels of Friday’s 2-1 loss in Columbus to Mexico, the U.S. has now lost the first two games of the Hex, the final round of World Cup Qualifiers.

With eight games yet to be played, there is still time for the Americans to right the ship and qualify for Russia 2018, the question emerging from this performance is this; is Jurgen Klinsmann the right man for that job?

The U.S. has never won in Costa Rica, so it was always going to be a big ask for the visitors to come away with a point, never mind three, but no one could have foreseen a beatdown of this magnitude.

After last week’s inexplicable switch to a formation his team had essentially never used before, Klinsmann reverted to his team’s familiar 4-4-2 against the Ticos. But the coach’s stubborn insistence on staying with Tim Chandler and Matt Besler as his fullbacks seemed a curious one, and neither player repaid Klinsmann’s confidence.

But his fullbacks were simply one part of the larger problem. Central defenders John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez played as if they had been introduced in the locker room immediately before taking the field, with Brooks mystifyingly bad on the night.

Guzman (ISI Photos/Brad Guzan)

Guzan had a decent game despite conceding four goals.  (ISI Photos/Brad Guzan)

Despite surrendering four goals, emergency goalkeeper Brad Guzan was probably the best American at the National Stadium last night and Tim Howard’s replacement almost got his team to the half with a clean sheet. Almost.

Montreal Impact backup Johan Venegas ruined that plan when he sullied Guzan’s clean sheet in the 44th minute after he beat Brooks to the ball when Gonzalez allowed Christian Bolanos all too much time and space to play in his cross.

Klinsmann made no changes at the half and his players did nothing with that reprieve. Bolanos, another MLS man with the Vancouver Whitecaps, made it 2-0 in the 68th minute when he powered a header past an abandoned Guzan.

U.S. midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were unable to generate any semblance of an attack throughout, with Jones especially prone to turnovers. Some, GotSoccer included, had called for Sacha Kljestan to start this match for Jones, who had to be feeling the effects of two energetic performances after his recent return from injury.

(ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The U.S. struggled to take control or keep possession against Costa Rica.(ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann stayed with Jones, understandably perhaps, but with the U.S. crying out for someone, anyone, to help gain some meaningful possession and complete a pass or two, Kljestan continued to sit.

When Klinsmann did finally go to the bench he removed Christian Pulisic, who with Bobby Wood had provided the few dim rays of hope for the U.S on the night.

Lynden Gooch showed some fight when he checked in for Pulisic and the Sunderland youngster could not be implicated for what was about to transpire.

Joel Campbell, who had begun the night on the Ticos bench, entered the match in the 67th minute and within 11 minutes Campbell had doubled the U.S. deficit.

Both of Campbell’s goals were gifts from the inept American defense as the U.S. did something generally unheard of from the U.S. MNT; it quit. It was not a pretty sight and afterward, Klinsmann told the press “I take responsibility and it is no problem. It is a learning experience for us.”

The U.S. defense could not cope with Costa Rica and got totally outwitted. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The U.S. defense could not cope with Costa Rica and got totally outwitted. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

It was an unusual, perhaps unprecedented move from the U.S. manager, who has been criticized in the past for his habit of calling out his players publicly.

But it is too little and it is too late. Klinsmann took over this team in 2011 and the time for on the job training has passed. Gulati chased Klinsmann for years before he finally convinced the German legend to replace Bob Bradley, and as recently as Friday night Gulati continued to back his coach and technical director.

But Klinsmann got one thing right in Costa Rica, this is responsibility and it is time for Gulati to hold him accountable. And if Gulati won’t, then U.S. Soccer has the responsibility to find someone who will.

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U.S. and France Draw in U20 WWC Opener
U.S. and France Draw in U20 WWC Opener avatar

The U.S. WNT side settled for a 0-0 draw with France in its opening match of the U20 Women’s World Cup Monday morning in Papua, New Guinea.

Ashley Sanchez in action for the U17's In February 2016. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Ashley Sanchez in action for the U17′s In February 2016. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Perhaps settled is not the word, given that Les Bleus was the better of the two teams for long stretches of the game. France had the U.S. on the back foot in the early stages and the fact that defender Kaleigh Riehl was selected as the U.S . Player of the Game on a team featuring Olympian Mallory Pugh and rising star Ashley Sanchez tells its own story.

Although the U.S. defeated Venezuela handily in a pair of matches in its most recent action less than a month ago, more telling is the team’s struggles against better opposition in September when the Americans failed to score over three games versus Brazil, England, and the Korea Republic.

France troubled the U.S with a ball possession style, threatening through the likes of elusive attacker Delphine Cascarino while nullifying the American attack with a powerful and athletic defense led by the impressive Hawa Cissoko.

This U.S. performance bore a worrying similarity to that of the team which was eliminated in the group stages at the U17 World Cup, in that both sides struggled to possess the ball, relying on speedy counter attacks almost exclusively to create scoring chances.

Mallory Pugh (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Mallory Pugh captained her young side.(ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

This group of young Americans has time to improve and a draw against the European champions is no reason to hang your heads but it does illustrate once again that the world of women’s soccer is shrinking all the time and the U.S. will have to step it up if it is to maintain its top flight status.

The U.S. is in action again on Thursday against New Zealand. New Zealand beat Ghana 1-0 in its group play opener. The Americans close out the opening round on November 21 againsr Ghana.

Germany is the defending champion. The U.S and Germany has each win three U20 WWC titles with Korea DPR claiming one.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 0 0
FRA 0 0 0

USA: 1-Casey Murphy; 5-Madeline Elliston, 6-Taylor Otto, 3-Kaleigh Riehl, 14-Ellie Jean; 18-Ashley Sanchez, 10-Emily Ogle, 2-Parker Roberts (7-Savannah DeMelo, 65), 8-Courtney Petersen (16-Emily Fox, 76); 9-Mallory Pugh (capt.), 15-Jessie Scarpa (11-Ally Watt, 79)
Subs Not Used: 4-Sabrina Flores, 12-Rose Chandler, 13-Marley Canales, 17-Kelcie Hedge, 19-Natalie Jacobs, 20-Katie Cousins, 21-Brooke Heinsohn
Head Coach: Michelle French

FRA: 1-Mylene Chavas; 3-Sakina Karchaoui, 4-Hawa Cissoko, 12-Heloise Mansuy, 13-Thea Greboval (capt.), 14-Estelle Cascarino; 8-Onema Geyoro, 15-Maelle Garbino (9-Marie-Charlotte Leger, 69), 17-Juliane Gathrat; 7-Delphine Cascarino, 10-Clara Mateo (18-Valerie Gauvin, 83)
Subs Not Used: 2-Marion Romanelli, 5-Pauline Dhaeyer, 6-Laura Condon, 11-Louise Fleury, 16-Cindy Perrault, 19-Cathy Couturier, 20-Anna Clerac, 21-Jade Lebastard
Head Coach: Gilles Eyquem

Stats Summary: USA / FRA
Shots: 3 / 17
Shots on Goal: 1 / 4
Saves: 4 / 1
Corner Kicks: 2 / 4
Fouls: 6 / 7
Offside: 1 / 2

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The U.S. MNT Look to Bounce Back Tonight in Costa Rica
The U.S. MNT Look to Bounce Back Tonight in Costa Rica avatar

Last Friday night’s Dos a Uno loss to Mexico in Columbus did more than bring to an end a U.S. MNT streak and ruin a perfectly good chant, the defeat put the Americans in a pretty bad position heading into tonight’s match in Costa Rica.

Mexico have continually proven their quality. (ISI Photos/JORGE MARTINEZ)

Mexico have continually proven their quality. (ISI Photos/JORGE MARTINEZ)

Why? Well for one, the Ticos are good. How good? Good enough to have advanced to the quarterfinal round of the 2014 World Cup, which is, of course, farther than either the U.S. and Mexico, Costa Rica’s supposed CONCACAF betters.

And then there is Costa Rica’s home record against the U.S. The Americans have never won on Costa Rican soil, compiling a rather ugly 0-8-1 mark in WCQ over the years. (0-8-2 overall in Costa Rica).

But here is one good memory for the Yanks to hang their hats on, and even better for the Americans, it is a recent one. You see, the last time these two sides met in a game that mattered, well any game, was in the Copa America in June.

Klinsmann is not tinkering with his lineup and this seems to be working thus far. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The Americans celebrating their win against Costa Rica. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The Americans clobbered Costa Rica 4-0 in Chicago buoyed by playing the same starting 11 in consecutive matches. After the game Jurgen Klinsmann, the Mad Tinkerer himself credited that consistency.

Starting the same team is “a luxury we never really get.” Klinsmann noted. “In World Cup Qualifiers or in other times of the year, we’re always missing guys, we always kind of have to improvise.”

Klinsmann explained, “you see that they start now to actually smell each other and make runs off each other. This is a learning process, it’s a development process.”

Klinsmann was missing Geoff Cameron from his defense for the Mexico match but his new back three clearly was unable “to actually smell each other” as the coach put it back in Chicago, looking unfamiliar with one another and with their new roles in Columbus, improving dramatically after a formation change at about the half hour mark.

So, what do the Americans need to come home with from San Jose? At least one point. A draw would stabilize things for Klinsmann’s squad, while a win would be considered two bonus points at this stage.

How bad would a loss be for the US? Well, no team has qualified from CONCACAF for the World Cup after dropping the first two games, but a third place finish would still be possible and a fourth place finish and a place in an inter-confederation play-off would still be in reach for the U.S.

What, or who are the keys for the U.S. tonight?

Brad Guzan.
Guzan inherited the number one job from Tim Howard when America’s Goalkeeper took a one-year sabbatical after his 2014 World Cup heroics. Guzan backstopped the U.S. at the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Copa America Centenario. The Gold Cup was a disaster while the Copa was considered a success right up until the U.S. was outclassed by Lionel Messi and co. in a 4-0 shellacking.

Guzan. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Guzman has looked solid.. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Guzan was solid, if not overwhelming in both tourneys but a stint on the bench at Middlesbrough cost Guzan the top spot to Howard, who has been excellent since his move from Everton to Colorado.

Then Howard limped off on Friday night and Guzan was back. The former Aston Villa keeper could not be faulted for Rafa Marquez’ winner, Klinsmann would have said so if he was. (Instead, Klinsmann named John Brooks as the offending party.)

Guzan is as good a backup as a team could hope for and he has stood tall in some very big games. But he has played very little this season and the U.S. can only hope that the veteran will be sharp tonight.

Michael Bradley.
The captain has come in for some scathing criticism for his performance against Mexico with many calling for Klinsmann to drop him. That seems a bit much, Bradley wasn’t great on Friday but like the rest of the team, he improved markedly in the second half after the team adjusted to the formation change.

Bradley emphasised that (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Bradley has come under some criticism.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

More interesting is the possibility that Klinsmann could replace Jermaine Jones with Sacha Kljestan. It is a longshot, given how the coach relies on the Germerican vet but the 2016 MLS assist leader seems a better fit with Bradley.

It seems unlikely but by now we know better than to try and predict Klinsmann’s moves.

Defense
We also will be watching to see if Klinsmann keeps faith with Tim Chandler at fullback. Chandler has been playing well enough for Frankfurt in the Bundesliga that Klinsmann overlooked Chandler’s routinely desultory performances for the U.S. MNT to pick Chandler over DeAndre Yedlin.

Klinsmann has been critical of Yedlin.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann has been critical of Yedlin. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The coach has been curiously critical of Yedlin of late, even pointing out that Yedlin’s club, Newcastle, plays in the English Championship, which is not as good as the Bundesliga. This was Friday after Chandler was poor again for the U.S. Yedlin replaced Chandler and was fine in a short run out tonight but as to who starts tonight? Who knows?

Can the U.S. do it? Yes. Costa Rica is a bit limited with injuries and suspension. Central defender Francisco Calvo will miss out through injury, captain and thorn in the U.S. side Bryan Ruiz picked up a late knock versus Trinidad and Tobago, a 2-0 Ticos win and his status is uncertain. And wingback Christian Gamboa, Costa Rica plays at the back as its base formation, is suspended.

Then there is that June Copa match that has to give the Americans confidence. Costa Rica is coming in hot from that win over T&T but remember that the U.S. cruised to a 4-0 win over the Soca Warriors in WCQ play back in September, so this evidently is not a great Trinidad and Tobago side.

Will the U.S. grab at least one point tonight? Yes. In fact, I think the Americans will end another streak tonight and claim a 2-1 win over the Ticos at the National Stadium in San Jose.

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So Long Frank, We Hardly Knew Ya
So Long Frank, We Hardly Knew Ya avatar

Frank Lampard came to New York City FC on a wave of hype appropriate for a player with his reputation in the game but a delayed arrival, injuries, and deceit over his contract status brought into question just how interested the former Chelsea great really was in playing for his new club.

Lampard (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

Lampard in action for NYC FC (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

Much, if not all, was forgiven once Lampard finally found his way onto the narrow Yankee Stadium pitch and started banging in goals but not enough to cause any great sense of loss among NYCFC fans in reaction to Monday’s announcement that the midfielder would not be re-upping for a third season in the Bronx.

In a move that most observers expected Lampard has elected to move on after playing just 29 of the 68 regular season matches that NYCFC has played since his “signing” was announced in July 2014.

Signing is placed in quotes here because of the murky details surrounding Lampard’s contract, which eventually was revealed to be a nonbinding agreement, rather than what we generally consider to be a contract.

Lampard wound up staying with NYCFC parent club Manchester City through the first months of the 2015 MLS season, denying the first year club of his leadership attributes in its formative days.

When Lampard did make his way to the Bronx in August of 2015 the injury bug soon hit, limiting the 37-year-old to just 10 appearances as New York City missed out on the playoffs costing head coach Jason Kreis his job.

Vieira (ISI Photos/Mark Lawrence)

Vieira finally got Lampard to play.(ISI Photos/Mark Lawrence)

Lampard’s balky calf kept him sidelined until May 22 this season as New York adjusted to new manager Patrick Vieira. Once in the lineup, Lampard won over the fans who had once booed him, also silencing the “worst DP in league history” talk that had begun to attach itself to him.

So, Lampard moves on now, telling NYCFC.com,
“I have very much enjoyed my time, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to play for such a great club and in such an incredible city.”

Patrick Vieira had this to say. “Everybody talks about Frank’s goal-scoring record from midfield but I can tell you after a year of working with him, he brings so much more to a team than just goals.”

“What Frank has brought to the locker room is something just as important – his experience, his elite mentality and his mentorship for the younger members of our squad have helped us greatly this year.”

Lampard hasn’t confirmed his future plans but he has been rumored to be up for a role with Chelsea. What is certain is that NYCFC has to get it right when it comes to replacing Lampard.

Despite the pairs undoubted quality, Lampard was never the best fit alongside fellow veteran Andrea Pirlo in the New York midfield, and with NYC expected to target another Designated Player to replace Lampard it now becomes imperative that the club gets younger and more athletic with its next big money signing.

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Dos a Cero Magic Fails U.S. MNT in Loss to Mexico
Dos a Cero Magic Fails U.S. MNT in Loss to Mexico avatar

Any good drama needs a villain and Friday night in Columbus, Ohio Mexico’s Rafa Marquez, who has worn the black hat with relish for El Tri against the the U.S. for a decade and a half now, scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute to beat the USA 2-1 and end the Americans streak of Dos a Cero victories at four.

Marquez scores (ISI Photos/JORGE MARTINEZ)

Marquez scores the match winner. (ISI Photos/JORGE MARTINEZ)

At 37-years-old Marquez has antagonized American players and enraged U.S. supporters going all the way back to the original Dos a Cero in Columbus in 2001 but this time, for the first time in Ohio, Rafa and Mexico came out on top.

Marquez’ goal reclaimed the lead for Mexico after the U.S. had dominated play in the second half, having pulled level in the 49th minute on a fine goal from Bobby Wood. As the half progressed the home side seemed far more likely to produce a winner than Mexico, then up stepped the ageless Rafa.

Mexico led early when Miguel Layun capitalized on El Tri’s near total dominance in the early stages of the match. Layun out battled U.S. captain Michael Bradley to win possession and fire a deflected shot past newly reinstalled U.S. number one goalkeeper Tim Howard in the 20th minute.

Mexico had hit the post twice, once thanks to an acrobatit tip from Howard, before Layun broke the deadlock and with the U.S. struggling to adjust to an unfamiliar 3-5-2 formation, the home team appeared lost.

Klinsmann's tactics seemed strange for such a big game. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann’s tactics seemed strange for such a big game. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The first match of the World Cup Qualifiers against your biggest rivals might seem an unusual time and place to send your team out in an unfamiliar system but that is what U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann did Friday night in Columbus against Mexico.

Klinsmann lined his side out in a 3-5-2 with John Brooks, Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler as his back three, with Fabian Johnson and Tim Chandler operating as wing backs.

18-year-old sensation Christian Pulisic began the night as a central attacking midfielder, and the responsibility of directing the U.S. attack, as opposed to manning his accustomed wing role seemed a bit much too soon, even for the Borussia Dortmund prodigy.

The Americans were on their heels from the start, never seeming comfortable in this new formation. At some point around the half hour mark Klinsmann shape shifted the Americans back to their old reliable 4-4-2, and the team improved, although Besler looked out of his depth at fullback, committing too many fouls in dangerous areas against Mexico’s quick and elusive wide men.

Howard tried to play on but unfortunately he was forced to leave the field. (ISI Photo/Tony Quinn)

Howard tried to play on but unfortunately he was forced to leave the field. (ISI Photo/Tony Quinn)

Klinsmann’s plans also suffered a blow not of his own making when Howard had to leave the match in the 40th minute after injuring himself on a goal kick. Former number one Brad Guzan stepped in without a hitch but no coach likes to burn up one of his three subs in the first half, a predicament also faced by Mexico supremo Juan Carlos Osorio who lost influential midfielder Andres Guardado in the 28th minute.

The Americans flew out of the traps on the restart and soon enough had their reward when Bobby Wood used his strength, speed, and control to leave his marker in his wake before slotting his shot past Alfredo Talavera in the Mexico goal.

Operating now out of its preferred formation the U.S. received better performances all over the field. Chandler, in particular, improved but he was hardly alone. As Bradley and Jones came into the match they brought forwards Altidore and Wood in while Pulisic began to terrorize Guardado’s replacement Carlos Salcedo from his accustomed spot on the wing.

A second goal and a comeback victory appeared to be in the cards for the U.S. but it never quite happened and then came Rafa. On a rare second stanza foray into the American final third Mexico earned a corner kick. Marquez has always been dangerous on set pieces, a skill he retains as he pushes 40.

His deft header came after Marquez had evaded Altidore and Brooks and with so little time remaining there was no way back for the home team.

Klinsmann will have to look his selection and see what went wrong. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Klinsmann will have to look his selection and see what went wrong. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The loss is a tough one for the U.S. who now head to Costa Rica where they will face the Ticos on Tuesday. The Americans have never come away with all three points in Costa Rica but then Mexico had never defeated the U.S. MNT in Columbus before Friday night and with its 10 game schedule, it is good to keep in mind that the Hex is a marathon, not a sprint.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
MEX 1 1 2

MEX – Miguel Layún 20th minute
USA – Bobby Wood (Jozy Altidore) 49
MEX – Rafael Márquez (Miguel Layún) 89

Lineups:
USA: 1-Tim Howard (12-Brad Guzan, 40); 21-Timmy Chandler (2-DeAndre Yedlin 74), 3-Omar Gonzalez, 6-John Brooks, 5-Matt Besler (14-Michael Orozco, 81); 23-Fabian Johnson, 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 13-Jermaine Jones; 10-Christian Pulisic, 17-Jozy Altidore, 7-Bobby Wood
Subs: 22-William Yarbrough, 8-Alan Gordon, 9-Aron Johannsson, 11-Alejandro Bedoya, 15-Steve Birnbaum, 16-Sacha Kljestan, 18-Julian Green, 19-Graham Zusi, 20-Lynden Gooch
Head coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

MEX: 12-Alfredo Talavera; 4-Rafael Márquez (capt.), 5-Diego Reyes (2-Hugo Ayala, 46), 7-Miguel Layún, 10-Giovani dos Santos, 11-Carlos Vela, 14-Javier Hernández, 15-Héctor Moreno, 16-Héctor Herrera, 17-Jesús Manuel Corona, 18-Andrés Guardado (3-Carlos Salcedo, 28)
Subs: 1-Jesús Corona, 13-Guillermo Ochoa, 20-Jesús Dueñas, 22-Orbelín Pineda, 8-Marco Fabián, 9-Raúl Jiménez, 19-Oribe Peralta, 6-Jonathan dos Santos, 23-Hirving Lozano, 21-Oswaldo Alanís
Head coach: Juan Carlos Osorio

Stats Summary: USA / MEX
Shots: 9 / 11
Shots on Goal: 5 / 5
Saves: 3 / 4
Corner Kicks: 5 / 1
Fouls: 18 / 13
Offside: 1 / 4

Misconduct Summary:
MEX – Diego Reyes (caution) 10th minute
USA – John Brooks (caution) 15
USA – Timmy Chandler (caution) 44
MEX – Héctor Herrera (caution) 58
MEX – Carlos Vela (caution) 64
USA – Matt Besler (caution) 68
MEX – Miguel Layún (caution) 70
MEX – Carlos Salcedo (caution) 76
MEX – Carlos Salcedo (caution) 90+3
MEX – Carlos Salcedo (ejection) 90+3

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USA Takes on Fierce Rival Mexico in Columbus
USA Takes on Fierce Rival Mexico in Columbus avatar

Three days after the United States elected a President based at least in part on his plans to deport millions of Mexicans and to build a wall to keep them out the U.S. MNT plays Mexico Friday night in what is sure to be a charged atmosphere in Columbus, Ohio.

Mexico has quality in their side and so it should be a good test for the U.S.  (ISI Phtos/JORGE MARTINEZ)

Mexico has quality in their side and so it should be a good test for the U.S. (ISI Phtos/JORGE MARTINEZ)

Hopefully, good will prevails and in fairness it usually does when these fierce rivals play here in the United States. Good natured banter and chants of Dos a Cero are to be expected and will be welcome at a packed and raucous Mapfre Stadium, formerly Columbus Crew Stadium, aka Home of Dos a Cero.

Four times the U.S. has vanquished El Tri by that famous 2-0 scoreline in Columbus going back to the Ice Bowl in February 2001, the Grandaddy of them all.

2005, 2009, and 2014 followed but can the U.S. do it again on Friday night? In truth, the U.S. would be happy with any winning scoreline as it kicks off the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, a six-team competition known as the Hex.

With a trip to Costa Rica, where the U.S. has never won, up next on Tuesday the importance of this match is heightened for the U.S. and it should be a good one. Mexico coach Jonathan Osorio has selected a very strong team to face the U.S led by Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and filled it out with a host of players starring in top leagues around the world.

Osorio has been criticized by Mexico’s passionate press and fan base for what they see as too much squad rotation and being Mexico, Osorio lives with the knowledge that he could be fired at any moment. Many were surprised that the one time New York Red Bulls coach survived El Tri’s 7-0 drubbing by Chile at this summer’s Copa America Centenario but if he can end the Curse of Columbus Osorio should be on solid ground, if only for a while.

Klinsmann during yesterday's training in prep for Costa Rico. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann’s appointment always was for a long term plan. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The Mexican supremo must envy the job security afforded Jurgen Klinsmann, who will be manning the sideline opposite Osorio in Columbus, and who has enjoyed unblinking loyalty from his superiors at U.S. Soccer.

For his part, Klinsmann comes into Columbus with his team playing well, although it would be foolish to underestimate the absence of Clint Dempsey, who continues to sit as he deals with a heart problem.

The veteran Dempsey his the ability to score goals when they matter most but Jozy Altidore is in fine form for club (Toronto FC) and country, so Klinsmann will look for Altidore, the USMNT’s third all-time leader with 37 goals to pick up the slack for Dempsey whose 52 goals trail only Landon Donovan’s 57.

So, Klinsmann knows who will lead his attack and the coach cleared up any remaining mystery at the other end of the pitch by naming Tim Howard as his keeper. With former number one Brad Guzan sitting behind Victor Valdes at Premier league club Middlesbrough the move was expected but Klinsmann does have some decisions to make.

Pulisic definitely has the making of being a superstar for the U.S.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Pulisic definitely has the making of being a superstar for the U.S. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

At the top of that list is whether to take the training wheels off for rising star Christian Pulisic and the answer should be a resounding yes. With the 18-year-old starring week in and week out with Borussia Dortmund, it is clear that the kid can handle it and I believe that Klinsmann will hand Pulisic the start versus Mexico.

Klinsmann must also determine how much he can get from 35-year-old midfield dynamo, Jermaine Jones. After a long injury stint, Jones returned to Colorado ‘s lineup in time for the playoffs giving the Rapids 83 minutes of his typical all-action style when the Raps eliminated the L.A. Galaxy from the MLS Cup chase on pk’s just last Saturday.

Klinsmann reveres the veteran for his passion and big-game swagger and it is hard to conceive of the coach leaving Jones out if he is anywhere close to 100%.

Jones’ inclusion most likely sees Sacha Kljestan reduced to a subs role after having established what seemed like the beginnings of a fruitful midfield partnership with captain Michael Bradley.

An injury to Geoff Cameron leaves Klinsmann searching for a partner for John Brooks at the heart of the U.S defense and Omar Gonzalez and Steve Birnbaum look like the lead candidates for the job. Klinsmann also has Matt Besler, and Michael Orozco available but the coach prefers Besler at left center back and Orozco seems more likely to be used off of the bench.

Gonzalez training in preparation for the match against Mexico. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Gonzalez training in preparation for the match against Mexico. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

I tip Gonzalez to get the nod from Klinsmann, mostly because the big defender plies his trade in Mexico’s Liga MX and has more big game experience with the U.S. MNT.

De Andre Yedlin was on the receiving end of some Klinsmann criticism after the most recent U.S friendlies but the former Seattle Sounder has since started several times for Newcastle and shown well on both sides of the ball. Message received?

Klinsmann could also go for the enigmatic Tim Chandler at fullback over Yedlin. Chandler has never shown much in a USA jersey but he has found his form for Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt and gives Klinsmann an option.

Fabian Johnson might be best used further up field for the Americans but Klinsmann sees the versatile wide man as something of a security blanket in the fullback role for the big teams and Mexico in the Hex is big.

Here is my Klinsmann 11. 4-4-2
Tim Howard
DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson.
Alejandro Bedoya, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic
Bobby Wood, Jozy Altidore.

Goalkeepers (4): Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough; 11/0), Ethan Horvath (Molde; 0/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 32/0), William Yarbrough (Club Leon; 0/0)

Defenders (9): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 8/1), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United; 2/0), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin; 0/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; 0/0), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt; 1/0), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca; 10/0), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach; 13/1), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana; 5/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United; 4/0)

Midfielders (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 6/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC; 29/5), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland; 0/0), Julian Green (Bayern Munich; 0/0), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids; 14/0), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls; 17/2), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund; 3/2), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz; 1/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 14/3)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC; 31/16), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen; 3/1), Jordan Morris* (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg; 6/2)
*Morris is out injured -replaced by Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy)

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MLS Conference Finals Set
MLS Conference Finals Set avatar

After a Sunday full of playoff soccer Toronto FC emerged as the latest favorites to take the 2016 MLS Cup, crushing New York City FC 5-0 at Yankee Stadium one week after a 2-0 decision north of the border.

Sebastian Giovinco (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Sebastian Giovinco got himself a hat trick on the night. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Toronto’s Atomic Ant fueled at least in part by a snub delivered by MLS MVP voters led the way with his hat trick but Sebastian Giovinco had plenty of help from his DP cohorts Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore as well as a more than capable supporting cast.

As expected, Giovinco, the 2015 MVP, shrugged off the affront following the TFC win. Smiling as he stood in front of his locker in the visitors dressing room at Yankee Stadium, Seba said through his interpreter, “no, this is not a question to be asked of me. My job is scoring goals and providing assists and that is what I want to keep doing for the team.”

TFC coach Greg Vanney had a different take when asked how much his star striker was motivated by being overlooked. “A lot” was Vanney’s reply. “His priority is winning a trophy, I think last year he took a lot of pride in the fact that he was the MVP and he was every bit the same player through the course of the season and was unfortunate to have a little bit of injury down the tail stretch there.”

Vanney noted that “tonight was obviously a chance for him and the group to make a statement.”

It was a day for Canadian teams making statements in the New York area with Montreal defeating the New York Red Bulls 2-1 across the Hudson River in Harrison, New Jersey behind a pair of goals from Ignacio Piatti to set up a Canadian showdown with TFC for a chance to earn a trip to the MLS Cup Championship.

Drogue saw playing time and got an assist to his name.(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Drogue saw playing time and got an assist to his name.(ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Piatti’s second goal was set up by presumably chastened superstar Didier Drogba, making the most of his 10 minutes after he was sprung from the bench by coach Mario Biello.

Montreal won the two-game total goals set by a 3-1 margin following last Sunday’s 1-0 home win.

The Colorado Rapids will battle the Seattle Sounders for the Western Conference crown after veteran U.S. MNT stars Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones inspired the Rapids to a pk win over the L.A. Galaxy at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce, Colorado and Seattle protected its 3-0 lead in Texas.

The Galaxy was unable to protect or add to a 1-0 lead earned in game one over Colorado and faced extra time thanks to an astounding strike from nearly 40 yards by Shkelzen Gashi in the 36th minute.

With Landon Donovan subbed out with a muscle injury at the half L.A. looked old, as opposed to looking like the “old” Championship winning Galaxy.

Howard came up with two big saves. (ISI PhotosMichael Janosz)

Howard came up with two big saves. (ISI PhotosMichael Janosz)

Donovan’s old U.S. running mate Tim Howard came up with two big saves in the pk round and heads to Columbus along with Jones for Friday’s face off with old rivals Mexico while Donovan heads into the off-season for what seems likely the final time.

Seattle came into Frisco, Texas with that three-goal lead over FCD and despite a 2-1 victory on the night, it was simply too much for the Supporters Shield winners to overturn.

Dallas opened the scoring in the 25th minute through Tesho Akindele as the home team fought to keep the Triple alive, having previously claimed the U.S. Open Cup along with the Shield.

But a Walker Zimmerman miscue allowed Tyrone Mears to set up Nicolas Lodeiro for an away goal in the 54th minute to all but kill the FCD dream. Dallas immediately responded through Max Urruti but that would be all the scoring as Seattle advanced to face Colorado.

The Sounders will have to sweat out the availability of rookie sensation Jordan Morris after the local boy made good was pulled from the match at the half with a “strained hamstring.”

Morris’ injury puts his participation in the upcoming U.S MNT twinbill versus CONCACAF rivals Mexico and Costa Rica.

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Klinsmann Calls in 26 for Crucial WCQ vs Mexico and Costa Rica
Klinsmann Calls in 26 for Crucial WCQ vs Mexico and Costa Rica avatar

U.S. MNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann has announced a 26 man roster for the upcoming CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier matches this Friday, November 11 versus Mexico and November 15, in San Jose, Costa Rica against the Ticos.

Friday’s game against Mexico will be played at MAPFRE Stadium, formerly Columbus Crew Stadium, the home of four consecutive 2-0 results in favor of the home team.

Klinsmann's team did not shine but what did he learn? (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann seems to want to give the maximum players the opportunity to impress. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Klinsmann has called up three players over the maximum for this series, not because the U.S. MNT Coach and Technical Director is unfamiliar with the roster size rules but so he can take a look at some young players in a national team camp while also evaluating players recovering from injury.

Included in the first group is Tottenham Hotspurs 18-year-old center back Cameron Carter-Vickers, who has yet to receive a full national team cap and who has so far only seen action for the Spurs senior side in Cup play.

CCV has impressed for U.S. Youth sides but the imposing prospect could still elect to play for his native country, England. Carter-Vickers is eligible for the U.S. MNT through his father, former NBA player Howard “Hi-C” Carter, and while Carter-Vickers has stated his preference to stay in the U.S. MNT set up, nothing is assured until he plays in a sanctioned match for the full U.S. national side.

. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Jermaine Jones is back and will be looking to impress.. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

On the injury front, Jermaine Jones impressed in an 83-minute stint in Colorado’s Conference final securing win over the L.A. Galaxy and Klinsmann will want to confirm the that the veteran is fully recovered before winnowing his roster.

Sacha Kljestan figures to be battling Jones for playing time in the U.S. midfield if he is recovered from a possible broken nose sustained as his Red Bulls were eliminated by the Montreal Impact in Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinals.

And one final bit of injury news presented itself in Sunday’s late game when Seattle striker Jordan Morris was forced out at halftime of the Sounders game versus FC Dallas, a 2-1 loss, that saw the Cascadians advance to the Western Conference Final on a 4-2 aggregate score.

(ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Morris has had a standout year for Seattle. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Morris has been in fine form of late as he finished up a Rookie Of the Year nominated season but coach Brian Schmetzer was forced to remove the former Stanford University star with a hamstring strain.

Goalkeepers (4): Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough; 11/0), Ethan Horvath (Molde; 0/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 32/0), William Yarbrough (Club Leon; 0/0)

Defenders (9): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 8/1), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United; 2/0), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin; 0/0), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur; 0/0), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt; 1/0), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca; 10/0), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Moenchengladbach; 13/1), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana; 5/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United; 4/0)

Midfielders (9): Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 6/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC; 29/5), Lynden Gooch (Sunderland; 0/0), Julian Green (Bayern Munich; 0/0), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids; 14/0), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls; 17/2), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund; 3/2), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz; 1/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 14/3)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC; 31/16), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen; 3/1), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 3/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg; 6/2)

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Montreal’s Drogba Problem – Will They? Won’t They? Should They?
Montreal’s Drogba Problem – Will They? Won’t They? Should They? avatar

“If he can play, he can help.” That is what Montreal coach Mauro Biello told ESPN regarding Didier Drogba’s status for Sunday’s Eastern Conference semi final second leg to be played at Red Bull Arena.

Drogba (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Drogue may come off the bench. (ISI Photos/Mike Lawrence)

Apparently, Drogba has agreed to come off of the bench for Biello after sitting out the Impact’s play-in match one and half weeks ago at DC United after the coach informed him that Matteo Mancuso would be starting in his stead.

Mancuso ratified his coach’s decision with two goals and an assist in Montreal’s 4-2 win over DC and with Drogba sitting out last Sunday’s Eastern Conference semifinal match against the New York Red Bulls with back trouble, Mancuso furthered both Biello’s case and his own, scoring the game’s only goal.

Montreal’s results so far this postseason confirm the rationale behind Biello’s thinking, even with a pretty good return rate of 10 goals from 22 games in 2016, Montreal has simply been better this year when Drogba has not started or has not played at all.

So, what about the opposition? Is New York worried about a possible Drogba return? When I visited the Red Bulls training facility in Whippany, New Jersey on Friday morning the answer seemed to be, a respectful, not really.

Jesse Marsch (ISI Photos/Howard C Smith)

Jesse Marsch (ISI Photos/Howard C Smith)

I asked New York coach Jesse Marsch if he expected to see Drogba on the field on Sunday. “Drogba’s been in training,” Marsch said. “I spoke to him when I was in DC. He said his back had been bothering him for a while. How much he’ll be available? how much he’ll play? He hasn’t trained that much in the past month. So, you know there’s a lot of variables there but we’ll be prepared if he starts or he comes in off the bench, we’ll be prepared. We’ve played against him enough and we know him enough.”

Did the Drogba question affect the Red Bulls preparation this week? “Well,” Marsch considered, “we’ve talked about what the game would be like if he’s in, which is different than Mancuso. So, we’ll be ready for that.”

Few Red Bulls players figure to be more affected by Drogba’s presence, or absence than center back Aurelien Collin but the 2013 MLS Cup winner (with Sporting Kansas City) is nonplussed.

“Of course, it’s a different striker” Collin told a small group of reporters at Friday’s training session “but at the end of the day, as I say, we focus on us and what we have to achieve on this beautiful day because it’s going to be an amazing party, amazing game.”

Collin added, “we have to enjoy and make sure that we win that day and to move to the next level. Drogba is a very good player, we know his characteristics, we defend against him twice this year, so we’ll be ready.”

MLS Conference Semifinals, Sunday, November 6. Home team’s first- all times ET.

2pm. Colorado Rapids vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

The Galaxy hold a slim 1-0 margin over Colorado, a lead that could have been more. Bruce Arena continued to sit his captain Robbie Keane for Alan Gordon, a controversial move that has worked.

Gerrard seemed to be at fault for the goal. (ISI Photos/David Bernall)

Gerrard should start the game on the bench.  (ISI Photos/David Bernall)

Steven Gerrard has also been reduced to a subs role but it is hard to complain when you win, and L.A. should win and advance on Sunday. Colorado’s offensive struggles are well known and if Jermaine Jones is again the Rapids most dangerous offensive player, as he was in leg one, then Colorado will be in trouble. Galaxy 1-0: 3-0 aggregate.

4pm. New York Red Bulls vs. Montreal Impact

New York is the team best situated to overturn a game one deficit of the four home teams lining out on Sunday and I believe that the Red Bulls will do just that. The Bulls are a juggernaut at home and its pressing game may finally make the Impact’s veteran midfield look its age. Red Bulls 2-0: 2-1 aggregate

6:30pm. NYCFC vs. Toronto FC

2-0 is too big of a hole for NYC to overcome against a TFC side that is starting to look like an MLS Cup contender. An away goal would make NYC’s task nearly impossible and given the home team’s year-long defensive struggles and the explosiveness of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore combined with the midfield mastery of Michael Bradley, Toronto will be too much for Patrick Vieira’s men to overcome. TFC 3-2: 5-2 aggregate.

9:00pm. FC Dallas vs. Seattle

Dallas return home to Frisco, Texas saddled with a 3-0 deficit and still minus playmaker Mauro Diaz. Seattle is a team that is finding its way under coach Brian Schmetzer, who recently had the interim tag removed, and with Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris, and revitalized Nelson Valdez in fine form, Dallas’ task in too much. 1-1: 4-1 aggregate.

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