2018 World Cup Betting: Klinsmann eyes Final Four

usa-czech-republic-soccerThe US Men’s National Team has officially begun their journey to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They defeated the Czech Republic in Prague last night by a score of 1-0. Alejandro Bedoya scored a goal in the 39th minute to propel the US to victory. ‘”It just shows that the States has a deeper pool,” said Bedoya. “There’s a bunch of great, young, talented players coming through.”

America had better have some young, talented players coming through if they’re to meet head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s lofty goals. As many soccer fans know, USA made it out of the “Group of Death” in this summer’s World Cup. They finished second behind Germany in pool play, while Portugal and Ghana were sent home. However, the Americans’ dreams ended in the Round of 16 with a 2-1 loss to Belgium.

“Once you get out of the most difficult group in the World Cup, you should go further than just Round of 16,’’ Klinsmann told the Boston Globe. “This is our goal going toward Russia, not to stop at the Round of 16, maybe not to stop at the quarterfinal, to say clearly, listen: We have four years to prepare for this cycle. Our goal is going into a semifinal in a World Cup. And that means a lot of work, a lot of competition, a lot of grind.”

jurgen-klinsmannWith four years before the Russian-hosted 2018 World Cup, Klinsmann has plenty of time to prepare younger players. Much has already been made about budding stars like Julian Green, the 19-year-old who scored against Belgium, and John Brooks, the 21-year-old defender who scored the go-ahead goal in a victory over Ghana. However, there were some new faces in the lineup against the Czechs.

18-year-old midfielder Emerson Hyndman made his first national appearance, as did 21-year-old forward Joe Gyau and 23-year-old defender Greg Garza. Klinsmann spoke about the youth movement by saying, “It was important to see what is coming through in our talent pool. For 65, 70 minutes, it went really well.”

One player who was noticeably absent from the starting lineup was Tim Howard. The famed goalkeeper has decided to take a well-deserved year off from international play. However, even at age 35, many expect him to be manning the net for USA when the 2018 World Cup arrives.

Mistakes or No Mistakes, Jurgen Klinsmann started a USA Soccer Revolution

jurgen-klinsmann-usa-soccer-passionThe year was 1994 and the United States was hosting the World Cup. Although USA was largely unpassionate about soccer up to this point, enthusiasm caught on as defender Alexi Lalas, goalie Tony Meola, midfeilder Claudio Renya and forward Eric Wynalda carried the Americans into the Round of 16. They’d lose 1-0 in a hard-fought match against the eventual champion Brazil, but Team USA had definitely created the first signs of life for American soccer in decades. Unfortunately, interest would wane in subsequent years and soccer remained a second-tier sport in the United States.

Fast-forward to today and it seems that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has reignited the flames that burned so brightly 20 years ago. Most didn’t expect USA to make it out of their group, which included Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Nevertheless, they played well enough to advance along with Germany and make it to the Round of 16. Here they pushed Belgium to extra time, before losing 2-1 in a commendable effort.

So here we stand again with soccer passion at an all-time high in America. But the big question is, can we expect the enthusiasm to actually have some substance past the World Cup? Moreover, will USA youth start putting more practice time into the game, and will sports fans pay more attention to Major League Soccer and other leagues around the world? In our opinion, the answer is a resounding “yes” thanks to Klinsmann.

Headline Grabber

jurgen-klinsmannTwo months ago, many Americans could’ve cared less if USA went scoreless in the 2014 World Cup. In fact, some of the biggest naysayers thought this was an entirely possible scenario. Then Klinsmann went into action, grabbing mainstream headlines at a point when many are focused on the NBA Playoffs, baseball spring training and NFL offseason team activities.

First, he cut Landon Donovan from the US Men’s National Team roster. This was significant because the 32-year-old is America’s all-time leading goal scorer, and it seemed as if he had at least one more good World Cup in him. Many coaches would’ve kept Donovan simply out of respect or because they still think he has plenty of talent. Klinsmann, however, thought that USA’s soccer hero was lacking in the motivation department and promptly cut him.

The German-born coach earned more headlines when he used Kobe Bryant to explain why he doesn’t believe in honoring past player accomplishments. “This always happens in America,” he told the New York Times. “Kobe Bryant, for example – why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?”

These comments got attention from the Black Mamba himself as Bryant responded by saying that Klinsmann’s comments were “comical.” He added that ownership groups want to look like they’re rewarding players for what they’ve done while balancing the team going forward. The idea is to make one’s team an attractive place for top free agents to consider.

One more big story that Klinsmann provided was saying that his team “cannot win” the World Cup. This brutal bit of honesty ruffled a few American feathers because it’s not part of the Red, White and Blue’s culture to ever give up or concede victory – no matter how unrealistic victory seems. It turns out Klinsmann was right, though, as his side looked overmatched in their final two games against Germany and Belgium.

Criticized but Relevant

jurgen-klinsmann-usa-soccer-passion-1Following America’s exit from the Cup, Donovan took this opportunity to deliver a thinly-veiled attack on the head man. After an LA Galaxy practice, the snubbed forward told media members the following:

I think the most disappointing is we didn’t seem like we gave it a real effort, from a tactical standpoint. I thought the guys did everything they could, they did everything that was asked of them, but I don’t think we were set up to succeed yesterday, and that was tough to watch.

If you really look at the performances, there were some good performances by guys, some not-so-good performances by guys. As a whole, I think tactically, the team was not set up to succeed. They were set up in a way that was opposite from what they’ve been the past couple years, which is opening up, passing, attacking – trying to do that. And the team’s been successful that way. Why they decided to switch that in the World Cup, none of us will know.

Michael was put in the wrong position. He was put in a position that he’s not used to playing. He does a better job, as you saw with Julian Green’s goal, being in a deeper position. And having someone in a front of him, someone to help Clint also, makes him that much better because he’s got more opportunity to pick out different passes, more attacking options ahead of him. I think that was clearly an error.

Maybe there is some truth to what Donovan said since Bradley and Dempsey did struggle a bit in their expanded roles. But then again, maybe Donovan is speaking out of bitterness and the injury to striker Jozy Altidore forced Klinsmann to make some adjustments to an already lacking-offensive team.

Even if Klinsmann did make some mistakes, though, one can’t deny the huge impact that he’s had on American soccer already. He got people to care and he’s proven to be a media-friendly presence.

Klinsmann’s contract runs on through the 2018 World Cup in Russia. He’s not obligated to remain with the team this long, but we can only hope that the German does choose to stay and keep bringing excitement to US soccer in the future.

US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann: “We cannot win” 2014 World Cup

jurgen-klinsmannHaving coached the German National Team and Bayern Munich, Jurgen Klinsmann has overseen some of the most talented soccer players in the world. So he’s pretty good at judging top talent when he sees it. This being the case, what he recently said about the US Men’s National Team may dishearten American fans. Moreover, it might make those who’ve already engaged in 2014 US World Cup betting a little sick to hear. However, the following words that he told the New York Times come across truthfully:

We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament. Realistically, it is not possible.

A Long-Term Plan

As the NY Times article points out, soccer fans are not quite like NFL enthusiasts, where they expect success immediately. Instead, national teams are content to build a program over time, rather than sacrifice the future for quick success.

team-usa-soccerThis is a big reason why Klinsmann chose to keep several younger, unknown players on his roster. He even cut Landon Donovan, the team’s all-time leader in goals and assists, to clear up some more space on the 23-man roster. For many, this proved to be an unpopular move because Donovan is not only considered a US soccer hero, but his skills were also regarded as good enough for a USMNT spot.

With a guaranteed contract on through the 2018 World Cup, Klinsmann has plenty of time to let his vision slowly unfold. The German’s aim is to get the younger players some experience while trying to win a match or too. But in Klinsmann’s eyes, the former is the ultimate goal here.

Evaluating USA’s Chances at the 2014 World Cup

Perhaps another reason why the head coach doesn’t foresee immediate success for this team is because of their group play draw. The US is lumped in with Germany, Ghana and Portugal in what some have called this year’s “Group of Death.” Germany and Portugal especially stick out because they both sit in the top 3 of FIFA’s rankings.

Most predict that these two countries will be advancing out of the pool. Even Ghana could prove to be a difficult matchup for USA since they’ve given the red, white and blue plenty of fits in the past. So Klinsmann’s admission that they can’t win the World Cup is likely accurate, because they probably won’t even advance to the knockout round.

The USMNT might take solace in getting three ties at the 2014 World Cup. Of course, this doesn’t mean they have no chance to move on to the knockout stage. But like Klinsmann, US fans should temper their expectations this time around.

DaMarcus Beasley looking to set US History at 2014 World Cup

damarcus-beasley-2014-world-cup-1DaMarcus Beasley is a name that many US soccer fans are very familiar with. As a 20-year-old, he helped propel Team USA into the Quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup – their best finish since 1930.

Since that time, though, Beasley’s World Cup career hasn’t gone quite so smoothly. He was part of the disappointing 2006 US squad that quickly flamed out in Germany, and he followed that up with just 10 minutes of playing time at the 2010 World Cup.

After his limited South African campaign, there was little reason to believe that Beasley would have any chance at making the 2014 World Cup roster. For starters, he was entering his 30s, a time where many past heroes are cut to make way for the younger crop. Another thing that Beasley had going against him was a lengthy history of injuries. 2009 was especially tumultuous for him as the injured American failed to gain much playing time with both Team USA and the Rangers of the Scottish Premier League.

Nevertheless, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann asked him to play left back in a 2013 World Cup qualifying game against Costa Rica. Trying a new position in blizzard conditions wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. But Beasley rose to the challenge and helped the Americans grab a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica.

damarcus-beasley-2014-world-cup“I’ve played a lot of different positions in the national team, from forward to left mid, right mid. Center mid, in the back,” he recalled when asked about the match. “The left back came from the snow game against Costa Rica. He (Klinsmann) asked me if I could play it. Timmy Chandler was out. Fabian Johnson was out. Parky (Michael Parkhurst) was out. Every left back you could ever imagine was out. That was my first call-up for a while. He asked me if I could play it, so I said, ‘Yeah.’ That was it. He had confidence in me since that day to play that position and here I am now.”

Following that contest, Beasley started at left back during a 0-0 tie against Mexico at Azteca Stadium. From there he served as the US team’s captain during their Gold Cup title run. Having made 17 caps since early 2013 and shown some incredible leadership skills, it didn’t come as a complete shock when Beasley was named to the 23-man final roster for Team USA.

Now, Beasley is gunning for history because he has an opportunity to become the first American to play in four World Cups. What’s more is that he’d be one of just two dozen players around the world to compete in four Cups. Of course, the first step will be making it onto the pitch during one of America’s three group-play matches against Ghana, Germany and Portugal. Just taking Beasley’s experience into account, he has a good opportunity to play in all of these games and possibly even start.

“You take the game in a different light. Now that I’m 31, I wish I would have known what I know now when I was 20,” Beasley said. “It would have made things a lot easier. But, at the same time, that’s what you do when you’re 20-20, you just want to run around and play and you don’t care what happens. Now, you look at the game in a different way. I’m still enjoying the game. For me, just being confident in your ability as well. If you’re confident in yourself, no one can teach that. Klinsmann can’t teach that, the Bruce Arenas, the Bob Bradleys, no one can teach that confidence that you instill in yourself.”

When/if Beasley does get on the field, he’ll have his work cut out. That’s because the US is stuck in the 2014 World Cup’s “Group of Death.” Germany and Portugal are ranked second and third, respectively, in the FIFA rankings while Ghana has had a good deal of World Cup success lately.

damarcus-beasley-2014-world-cup-2Nevertheless, Beasley knows that American fans have come to expect great results from Team USA. In fact, the 2002 Cup team that he was on serves as a measuring stick for what future squads do. “Now you have $6 to $8 million players on the team, so expectations have changed,” he said. “You have a lot of players at big clubs. It’s different from when I first came on the scene.

“It’s tough to say if we’re better than we were back then, because I think the 2002 team was a great team. It’s tough to compare. But the fans, the media and we expect more. We expect to get out of this group and we want to better that 2002 team and get past the quarterfinals.”

It’s certainly nice that Beasley and the US aren’t lacking in confidence. And they have every reason to believe that they’ve got a chance of making it out of their group, given that the US is ranked 14th in the world. However, they’ll definitely have a tough road to the knockout round, and Beasley and other defenders need to be on their best to slow down Germany and Portugal’s attacks.

Why was Landon Donovan left off the US World Cup Roster?

landon-donovan-off-world-cupThis week saw the shocking omission of Landon Donovan from the 23-man, US World Cup roster. Many considered Donovan to be a lock for the national team’s trip to Brazil. After all, he’s one of the few Americans with World Cup experience and he still has something left in the tank.

But for weeks, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann insisted that Donovan was not guaranteed to make the final cut. And while some saw this as merely coach speak meant to inspire everybody to work hard, it’s clear now that the German wasn’t bluffing.

Klinsmann could’ve waited until the June 2nd FIFA deadline to make the final cuts. However, he chose to cut the final seven players now, rather than wait. Donovan was joined by Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, Terrence Boyd, Joe Corona, Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst. Klinsmann spoke about his decision to trim the roster as soon as possible by saying:

It is an exciting moment when you have narrowed the roster down as a coaching staff. These 23 players you have chosen can now focus purely on Brazil. We can go into more specific things about technical approaches and about the opponents. For the players, it is very important to know that they are now part of it and they can relax and know they are going to Brazil. After 10 days [in camp], we thought the point had come to make that decision.

Okay, so this explains why he got rid of the final seven players already. However, there’s still the issue of why he decided to include Donovan among them.

landon-donovan-off-world-cup-1Some fans are outraged by the Los Angeles Galaxy forward being given a pink slip. One only has to look at the stats to realize the impact that he’s made, scoring 57 goals in 156 international appearances and delivering 58 assists – both clear-and-away American records. Beyond the stats, Donovan has provided some electrifying moments for Team USA, such as when his energy and speed helped push the US into the Quarterfinals in 2002. Just four years ago, he provided a last-minute goal against Algeria in group play, which was the boost that America needed to reach the knockout round.

Given everything we’ve just discussed, it’s no surprise that many have questioned Klinsmann’s decision. Bruce Arena, who coached the 2002 and 2006 US World Cup teams, and currently coaches Donovan on the Galaxy, said, “If there are 23 better players than Landon, then we have a chance to win the World Cup.” Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl expressed his opinion by writing, “Cutting Landon Donovan will prove to be a mistake.”

Many fans have chimed in, questioning the selection of youngsters like Julian Green (18), DeAndre Yedlin (20) and John Brooks (21). USA fanatics also questioned Brad Davis’ inclusion, noting that he’s 32 – the same age as Donovan – yet his 14 caps are nowhere near Landon’s 156 international appearances.

So what reasoning did Klinsmann offer to quiet the natives? Well, he didn’t really provide much of a reason at all behind leaving Donovan off the team. What he did say was that other players were “a tiny little bit ahead of him.” Klinsmann also made vague references to Donovan no longer having the exceptional speed or unparalleled one-on-one skills that he once possessed.

landon-donovan-off-world-cup-2More so than his diminished skills – which are still good enough to be one of America’s top 23 players – what kept Donovan off the US roster was his motivation in recent years. In 2012, he publicly questioned whether or not he wanted to be on the Cup team in Brazil. Then Donovan took a sabbatical overseas, which included a lengthy stop in Cambodia where he found himself and regained the motivation to play soccer.

Unfortunately, he also missed two months of the Major League Soccer season and some time with Team USA during this sabbatical. Klinsmann dropped him from the international squad for a while and made Donovan earn his spot back. Once this happened, it seemed like Landon was rejuvenated and focused on Brazil.

But earlier this year, there were already more rumors about whether or not Donovan was 100% into soccer. Furthermore, his conditioning and drive were publicly called into question by Klinsmann in an attempt to get the forward back on track. In the end, though, it seems as if the coach came to the conclusion that Donovan’s heart just wasn’t as into the game anymore. This, coupled with Landon’s aging skills and physical attributes, were enough to leave him off the World Cup roster.