USA – Cuba Gold Cup preview: The Great Unknown

Last night I was writing a preview of the Gold Cup quarterfinal between the US and Cuba. For Cuba, it was mainly focused on Ariel Martinez, their forward with a solid left foot who was causing a lot of problems for Guatemala from set pieces and whose pass set up Cuba’s only goal of the tournament so far. It sounds like he defected today, so that preview isn’t really worth a whole lot any more.

Cuba is even more of an unknown now, a team who got through with a -7 goal differential and who shouldn’t pose a real challenge for the US. Their goalkeeper did look good against Guatemala, and it’s pretty clear that Cuba will likely park the bus and try and strike on the counter, as most smaller teams in CONCACAF do. Considering how bad the US has been with possession, with keeping the ball when pressured, and really with short passes in general, this might not be as easy for the US as one imagines. Check out Cuba’s last game to get an idea of what they look like.

Not exactly overwhelming with talent or organization. Thing is when a team gets a win in a game like that it builds a shit-ton of confidence real quick. So you need to go in and take the game to them early. The upside is this lineup is built to go after Cuba. I love Jozy. Man is a beast. Problem is, he is hurt, and you could tell on the field that he was not at full strength. This means it is finally time (JK willing) for Aron Jóhannsson to get his shot up top for a prolonged (hopefully three games) period of time. Jóhannsson is perfect for this type of game because he is quick, he moves well, he passes well, and he creates for himself. He and Dempsey are going to cause problems for defenses going forward because they both are unpredictable. It is time to shine ArJo, it is time.

arjokey

The biggest question for me is does Kyle Beckerman start? This likely isn’t a game that the US needs Beckerman. They do however need a consistent lineup, since at times they look 11 guys who just met who all happened to be wearing the same outfit and cleats. They are 11 very well dressed strangers for the situation, but still 11 strangers. Beckerman will likely be valuable later on in the tournament, so having him start makes sense to build some rhythm and familiarity in the midfield for the semis and final . Which means he probably won’t start.

Beasley starts at left back, Johnson at right back, which allows Ale Bedoya to pinch inside a bit and allow Fab to overlap. Beas goes back to the outside back who stays back more, leaving Zardes with less defensive responsibility. This is if Bedoya is good to go, which JK hinted that he was today. We shall see. The US needs him, it’s very clear. It is possible that Yedlin will play on the right wide and shift Bedoya to the left and no Zardes, but Fab + DeAndre attempting to overlap each other doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Yedlin seems like a great idea off the bench against a weakened tired team, which Cuba will likely be. Let Fab make the dangerous runs on the wing while Bedoya, Bradley, Dempsey, and Jóhannsson thread the needle in the middle.

The final component is Ventura Alvarado, who has not had a great Gold Cup. I think he continues to start, because he and Brooks are the best pairing against forwards who can dribble (ie Mexico) and possession-wise he is better than Omar Gonzalez . Gonzalez struggles against quick guys, and considering Cuba is likely to be countering all day, probably not a lot for him to win in the air. Large bald white man in net. He’s looked great so far, and Timmy Howard might have some work to do to reclaim his job.

usa cuba

Do the impossible? Guess a US starting 11?

US needs to be patient with the ball, move it quickly, and get after Cuba early. Get a goal or two, make them attack a little and then bury them. This should be a comfortable win for the US.

USA 1 Haiti 0: Three Important Things

After much consideration, here are three things that really stood out from the US – Haiti match on Friday.

1. Reffing is hard.

2 No really it is. Highly recommend turning on the volume for this one, especially if you watched the game at a bar. (Don’t turn the volume on at work, in public, with children around, or if swearing frightens you)

3. Someone should take Clint’s armband more often.

US wins the group unconvincingly, the lineup for tomorrow could be anything. I’m guessing Morales gets a start. Probably best off drawing the other ten out of a hat for accuracy.

USA 2, Honduras 1. Some thoughts and highlights after the first US Gold Cup 2015 match.

John Brooks was immense today, especially in the air. The number of crosses and corners he won was slightly ridiculous, especially in the last fifteen minutes. He looked comfortable on the ball and didn’t make any silly mistakes. He stepped up as his partner in the middle Ventura Alvarado struggled. Well done Johnny Futbol.

Is *NSYNC in charge of hair styles for Honduras?

honduran hair

For real though. This pic doesn’t even include the dude with the blonde Iman Shumpert look on the bench. Maybe they have a boy band side gig?

Wondo is not the answer as a sub when the US looks tired. He doesn’t create his own chances well, this is known. He didn’t hold the ball up well or really serve as an outlet either. Not sure why Jürgen Klinsmann didn’t go to Aron Jóhannsson, who is much better on the dribble and in tight spaces. This is probably the biggest tactical mistake in my mind.

Fabian Johnson is a beast. Straight up. His defense today was quite good, and he is a serious problem for teams when he gets forward. The US looks best when he has the ball running at players, because he can beat you off the dribble or with the killer pass, like he did to set up Yedlin in the second half.

Yedlin and Zardes on the field at the same time doesn’t seem to be working. The team looked disjointed in the midfield, likely because both Yedlin and Chandler were looking to get down the flank. It didn’t help that Yedlin was fouled repeatedly with no consequences for Honduras. Have to wonder if Alejandro Bedoya is not back at full strength yet, and if we will see him take the place of one of the two outside midfielders when he is. Yedlin seems best used as a super sub once teams are tired in the second half currently.

In case those Honduras highlights aren’t enough for you, here are the actual game highlights.

A parting fun fact:

 

 

The Gold Cup means it is show time for Jurgen Klinsmann and the USA

Lots to think about coming into the Gold Cup

Lots to think about coming into the Gold Cup

It is finally the moment of truth for Jurgen Klinsmann. Well, almost. Klinsmann has spent the year since the World Cup (that one where the US got out of the group of death) tinkering with the US first team constantly, much to the annoyance of some USMNT fans. Testing new players, new formations, bringing back players who hadn’t been capped in a while, making lots of substitutions, driving people on Twitter insane. All along, winning the Gold Cup this summer has been the goal, but that was lost in all the experimenting Klinsmann has done at times. US fans want results, and they want them every time the team steps on the field. A string of games in early 2015 where the US gave up late goals to either draw or lose caused a lot of hand wringing. Now the US has its final tune-up against Guatemala Friday early evening before the Gold Cup kicks off Tuesday against Honduras. Klinsmann has been very open that the Gold Cup has been the end goal all along, and that each of the matches that has been played since Salvador just over a year ago with the Gold Cup in mind.

“It would be foolish not to use this one year of time to try out a lot of things,” Klinsmann said at the conclusion of his side’s European camp in late March. “To integrate new players, to tryout different systems, to move out of your comfort zone going to Europe, going to other places and risking some results. If we wouldn’t do that, there’d be no growth. If we would just be comfortable and play all of our games in the U.S. against teams we’d most likely beat, there is no growth. It’s very important that we understand that we might do it at the expense of some results.” Winning the Gold Cup is key as it would guarantee the US a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup, the best possible prep for the 2018 World Cup. I’m glad he has tinkered and tested. Friendlies are still just that, no matter how painful it can be to lose a game in the last five minutes. They are opportunities for the team to grow, for weaknesses to be exposed and dealt with, and for new players to be tested and figure out how they fit into the team. The last run of results matter as little as the first part of 2015 did, even though it seemed like much progress had been made in those most recent US matches. The matches against Germany and the Netherlands really weren’t great prep for the Gold Cup, at least not for what the US will face at any point before the semifinal. Teams like Haiti and Panama are not likely to attack the US like Germany did, but to defend and counter. The US will have to take the game to many of the teams in the Gold Cup, until they face someone like Costa Rica or Mexico.

There are still some questions to be answered as the US takes on Guatemala, starting with the back line. Will Klinsmann stick with the promising pair of Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks at center back? Both are very talented, but are young and occasionally prone to mental lapses. These lapses might not be punished early in the tournament but would likely be later on against better teams. Alvarado in particular has come on quite quickly, getting his first cap in March of 2015, starting against Mexico in a game the US won 2-0, and establishing himself in the lineup since then. Or will Alvarado pair with Omar Gonzalez, who he started alongside in that match against Mexico? Will Alvarado’s facial hair be up to par with the beards that Brooks and Gonzalez have been known to rock? Perhaps Klinsmann has other plans at center back after calling Tim Ream in as well. My money is on Brooks and Alvarado, but we will see.

Left back is another interesting dilemma. When the roster was originally announced, Fabian Johnson was the only clear cut left back option, but when Brad Davis got hurt recently, Greg Garza was added to the mix. This gives Klinsmann a true left back to go along with Johnson, who might be the USMNT’s best option at both left back and on the left side of the midfield. It seems that against teams where the US will have to do more to unlock the opposition’s defense that Johnson is likely to start at left back, as the attacking presence he offers from the back line significantly surpasses what Garza has to offer. The combination of the two down the left is a very tantalizing option as well.

Will one of these guys be the odd man out?

Will one of these guys be the odd man out?

In front of them, the big question is how and where does everyone fit? With Beckerman, Bradley, and Bedoya likely starters and both Zardes and Johannsson coming off very impressive performances against Germany and the Netherlands, how do Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey fit into the lineup? One would think that Zardes is the odd man out, but he might be the only one who naturally provides width with this group. Do Johannsson and Dempsey fill too much of the same space on the field? Or does Altidore start on the bench and turn into a super sub, similar to the role that DeAndre Yedlin is likely to play. Johannsson tends to move off the ball better than Altidore and creates more space for other players, which is often important against teams looking to bunker down and defend. I am very interested to see if Altidore, Johannsson, and Dempsey are all utilized at the same time, and if so, how. Could this mean that Bradley is pushed deeper, away from the attacking role he has consistently been playing for the US over the last year?

The match against Guatemala should give everyone an idea of how Klinsmann plans on approaching the Gold Cup. Expect an exciting offensive approach that ties together much of what Klinsmann has been preaching and testing over the past year. After all, it’s finally show time.

Ready for more soccer this summer? Time for the Street Soccer USA Cups!

streetsoccer15

It’s a glorious time of year with so many great soccer tournaments to enjoy. With both Copa America and the Women’s World Cup wrapping up and the Gold Cup about to kick off, there will be no shortage of glorious soccer over the next few weeks. If you are in New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area, another great tournament is coming to you this summer as well, one that you can actually be a part of, the Street Soccer USA Cup. If you are in or near New York City, the Street Soccer USA Times Square NYC Cup is Sunday July 12th! For those of you on the West Coast, the Street Soccer USA Civic Center SF Cup is August 15-16 in San Francisco. Both cups are a great opportunity to either play, volunteer, or be a spectator to help support Street Soccer USA, which is the premier social enterprise in the United States using sports to make measurable social change in the lives of homeless and at-risk teens and young adults. 

Street Soccer USA Times Square NYC Cup info and RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/861318880570372/

Street Soccer USA Civic Center SF Cup info and RSVP:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1427967827524911/

Is there a better venue to play in the world then Times Square? Maybe Camp Nou, but as far as I know the only way I will ever end up playing on the field there will get me arrested with an extensive stay in Spanish jail. No thanks. Take this chance to play on the biggest stage, as you can still register a team to play in either NYC or SF in the corporate cup or the open cup. Get in on this ASAP while you still have the chance. If playing isn’t your thing, check out the opportunities to volunteer. It’s a great time with some great people and you are helping an incredible organization, so pretty much the best weekend ever. I did it last year and cannot recommend it enough.

If you are in NYC, take your shot at winning some great prizes by participating in the Street Soccer USA Instagram contest:

How to enter:
1) Follow us @StreetSoccerUSA on Instagram.
2) Re-gram the custom Times Square Cup images from @StreetSoccerUSA or @UniqloUSA
3) And, don’t forget to the hashtags: #TimesSquareCup #StreetSoccerUniqlo and #IPlayFor

Head over to http://instagram.com/streetsoccerusa now to get your entry in!

Don’t miss a chance to change lives this summer through your love of the beautiful game, make sure you hit up one of the Street Soccer USA Cups and help support those in need with your mediocre passing and slightly out of date goal celebrations. Register a team, RSVP to the Facebook event near you and be a part of one of the coolest events this summer.

streetsoccernycprizes

Do American Soccer Players Have ‘Poker Mania’?

deuce(s) wild

Deuce(s) Wild?!

Recent years have seen a growing number of international soccer stars enter the world of gambling. It may seem strange that soccer players, who specialize in a sport primarily dependent upon skill, should be attracted to a game with a much bigger luck factor. Nonetheless, the thrill of poker certainly seems to tempt the biggest names in soccer – notable examples being Ronaldo, Neymar Jr and Suarez. Teaming up with high-profile poker brands such as PokerStars and 888Poker, these soccer pros are legitimizing the nature of online poker by publicly endorsing what has historically been considered something of a taboo. Growing longer each year; the list of soccer-stars-turned-poker-pros is impossible to ignore.

As opposed to team sports, poker gives athletes the opportunity to focus on themselves, develop their intuition and compete without the need to physically exert themselves. It’s the obvious card game of choice for high-earners, and an excellent retirement hobby for ex-sports stars looking to ease back on physical exercise. All things considered, it’s in fact not at all confusing that so many soccer stars are trying their hand at poker. England has Teddy Sheringham, Denmark has Jan Vang Sorenson and Spain has Gerard Pique. But is a similar trend emerging in the US?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, ‘poker mania’ has yet to effect the big stars in American soccer. Though there are a few notable poker players who have enjoyed brief flings with professional soccer, none of them are on par with stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Tomas Brolin. So why is it that the soccer community of South America and Europe are playing poker like it’s the next big thing whilst the US, birthplace to the famous card game, sees no such trend amongst its best soccer stars?

Whilst online betting is so normalized in the UK that it’s now a common pastime even for middle-aged mothers, gambling remains a dark and unknown subject of stigma in the US. The government’s unclear laws surrounding online casino portals, along with gambling’s reputation as a back-room activity has dissuaded prominent figures from touching poker. Soccer players are an inspiration to millions of fans and must work hard to maintain their public image if they are to maximise their career. For American soccer players, joining clubs such as PokerStars is a riskier choice of endorsement than it is for European stars, for whom professional gambling is seen more as a glamorous luxury than a shameful addiction.

This guy looks like he's played cards in some sketchy places

This guy looks like he’s played cards in some sketchy places.

Is the refusal to normalize online gambling an example of the US’ triumphant moral standards, or of its backward and restraining attitude toward something which the rest of the world has come to accept?  The question is debatable, but in many ways irrelevant considering how inevitable the future of online poker now appears. As more countries ease their gambling laws, and as poker is subsequently further glamorized by prominent figures such as soccer pros, the US will feel pressured to follow along similar lines. The fact is that soccer has a history of poker-loving players, suggesting athletes get a similar thrill out of poker as they do out of soccer. Indeed, the line between ‘skill sport’ and ‘luck sport’ has been blurred more than ever before, with games such as ‘fantasy soccer’ gaining in popularity, and with most online casinos offering free advice and courses on how to improve playing technique and strategy. Before long, ‘poker mania’ will take over US soccer just like it has done to soccer across the world, or else American players are going to start feeling left out as their international counterparts are throwing poker parties they’re not invited to. A few years from now, we’ll be seeing poker logos advertised on the shirts of US players during tournaments like the Copa America. At the same time, prominent US soccer stars will eventually feel safer in admitting they enjoy the occasional gamble. For better or worse, the soccer-poker relationship will change the nature of both industries in the US, as it continues to develop through partnerships, promotional campaigns and mutual interests.

The US U-20s advance, have big challenges ahead

The US U-20 team beat Colombia 1-0 early Wednesday morning behind a great goal from Rubio Rubin, some stellar goalkeeping from Zack Steffen, and an impressive performance from the back four. The young USMNT now faces Serbia in the quarterfinals in a challenging match up early Sunday Morning EST/late Saturday night PST. Part of the reason this game appears to be so daunting is the fact that  Tab Ramos has made some puzzling lineup decisions throughout the tournament, especially when compared to what worked in qualification for the U-20 World Cup. His decision to play Kellyn Acosta as a left back throughout the tournament has left Marky Delgado to man the holding midfield role due to the absence of Russell Canouse, who got injured in training just days before the tournament. Delgado has struggled to make an impact throughout the tournament, and it is surprising that Ramos had not tried Acosta in the holding role and put John Requejo at left back, where he played throughout qualification in impressive fashion. Unfortunately he no longer has that option to slot Acosta into the midfield against Serbia as Acosta picked up two yellows against Colombia, the second conceding a penalty in the 83rd minute that Zack Steffen was able to make a big save on to preserve the 1-0 margin.

Fortunately for the US, Rubio Rubin is quite the fox in the box, seizing his one real opportunity against Colombia and burying it. His chance came about when Paul Arriola took a shot that looked to have hit a Colombian defender’s hand inside the box. The ball then fell kindly for Rubin, who gave the keeper no chance as he ripped a shot into the top of the net. It was a great finish. The question for the game against Serbia is who will start with Rubin up top, as Bradford Jamieson IV picked up an injury only five minutes into the match against Colombia. He and Maki Tall would have both been in position to start, but with the injuries to both of them it will be interesting to see if Ramos goes with Jordan Allen and leaves Rubin up top by himself in more of a 4-5-1 like he did after Bradford Jamieson’s injury or if he goes with someone like Tommy Thompson who can play as more of a second forward. The US struggled to maintain possession at times after Allen entered the game, and Rubin was stranded up top and left to chase balls against four defenders for periods versus Colombia. Whatever the change is, it will be important that it is someone who can help link up with Gedion Zelalem and Emerson Hyndman, who have both looked good in the midfield but have lacked support at times.

The US back line was very steady vs Colombia, with Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga pairing nicely at center back to block numerous shots and limit Colombia’s chances. When Colombia did get through, Zack Steffen came up huge with multiple big saves, including the save of a pretty well taken penalty kick. Carter-Vickers stock has to have skyrocketed as a result of the World Cup as he has been quite good throughout the group stages and now in the knockout rounds. Desevio Payne has been a revelation at right back, he is very composed on the ball and is a strong all around defender, so much that he replaced Shaq Moore in the starting lineup. The only weakness was Acosta, who made two surprising bad decisions that a player of his experience doesn’t normally make. It’s very likely that John Requejo will be joining these three in the back for the next game. Requejo was one of the players that impressed me the most during qualification, so I think his addition could be an improvement for the team overall.

Serbia is similar to Colombia in terms of physicality and skill from what I have seen of them and it will be a tough match for the US. The injury woes for the US are problematic, but fortunately this squad is extremely deep, which makes this less of a concern then it would have been in the past. The biggest question will be how does Tab Ramos adjust his lineup for this game, as his decisions really are the key going forward. Here’s to hoping the US can find themselves with a date in the semifinals so US fans can continue keeping the maddening hours it takes to follow the team as they try to continue their deep run in the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand.

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