11/12/15 US Soccer Fri Nite 7 pm, Euros this week/end, MLS Final 4 Sun on ESPN

Sorry I have been remiss in my soccer updates but we have a huge soccer week/weekend in store with the European Qualification Playoffs, the start of World Cup Qualifications the US Men’s National Team , the MLS Conference Finals (read final 4) and recaps of Champions League from last week.

Lets start with the US Soccer team as Klinsmann (read the German from here on out) has assembled a young team that includes so exciting new players we haven’t yet seen in a US jersey.  The most intriguing to me in Nagbe from the Portland Timbers- he just recently became a US Citizen and might just be an answer at forward moving forward along with the likes of Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood.  Interesting to see Dempsey off the roster – but after the absolute zero he laid against Mexico – I am not surprised to see the move here by the German.  The US kickoff is Friday night at 7:10 pm on ESPN 2 from St. Louis.

European Qualifying playoffs start Thursday and last thru the weekend as 8 teams battle for 4 spots in a home and away UCL set up.  Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be playing in his last Euro’s but they have to beat Denmark to qualify this Sat at 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 2.  Ireland is hoping to join Wales, England and Northern Ireland as representatives from the UK if they can beat Boznia/Hertz on Monday at 2:45 pm on Fox Sports 1.  Lots of good friendlies on Friday 2:45 pm Belgium vs Italy, England vs Spain.  Also South American qualifiers play this weekend on beIn Sport with Argentina facing Brazil Thursday night at 7 pm.

Finally the MLS Playoffs have been pretty spectacular with 3 of last weekend’s games going to extra time and the Seattle vs Dallas game going to a shootout.  Carmel High grad Matt Hodges was fantastic for Dallas as he thwarted Clint Dempsey on numerous occasions during the up and down action of 123 minutes played in Frisco, Texas.  I will be excited to follow Hedges and Dallas and the Timbers of Portland (my 2nd favorite US home crowd to Seattle) on Sunday at 7:30 pm on ESPN.  While our closest MLS neighbor the Columbus Crew will host the top seed NY Red Bulls on Sunday at 5 pm.

European Qualification Playoffs

Top European Qualifiers Ever


4 Big Questions Euro Qualifying Playoffs

Irelands big chance

Last time they met


US WCQ Brian Straus SI

US Youth Issues

Davis: Altidore out, Wood in | McIntyre: Klinsmann scrutiny

New Players Get a chance

Grant Wahl Mailbag 

Klinsmann accepts blame  SI

Meet Matt Miazga – new US Defender

US Mid Fabian Johnson scores wondergoal in Champions League

Report has Lazio showing interest in US Mid Perry Kitchen

Former US coach Bob Bradley works miracle leading former last place Stabaek to Europa Qual

Bob Bradley off to France after miracle in Norway as coach

US striker Eddie Johnson retiring


A Quick Look at Final Four – SI

MLS Conference Finals – SI – Luvi Bird

Champions – Matches

Quick UCL Roundup – day 2 Matchday 4

Champions League Round up Matchday 4

Champions League = Bayern Impresses

Full standingsAll groups

 3 November 2015

C Astana  0-0 Atlético
A Shakhtar Donetsk  4-0 Malmö
B Man. United  1-0 CSKA Moskva
C Benfica  2-1 Galatasaray
A Real Madrid  1-0 Paris
B PSV  2-0 Wolfsburg
D Mönchengladbach  1-1 Juventus
D Sevilla  1-3 Man. City

Thur, Nov 12

Europe – UEFA Euro Qualifying 
Live 2:45pm Norway vs Hungary Fox Sports 1 USAFox Sports GO
Live 3:00pm Bolivia vs Venezuela beIN Sports USAbeIN S…
Live 4:00pm Ecuador vs Uruguay beIN Sports USA,
Live 6:30pm Chile vs Colombia beIN Sports en Español
Live 7:00pm Argentina vs Brazil beIN Sports USA,

Fri, Nov 13

Friendlies –

Live 2:30pm Czech Republic vs Serbia ESPN3ESPN Deportes+W…
Live 2:45pm Spain vs England ESPN3ESPN Deportes+W…
Live 2:45pm Poland vs Iceland beIN SPORTS CONNECTTVP Sp…
Live 2:45pm Belgium vs Italy ESPN3ESPN Deportes+W…
Europe – UEFA Euro Qualifying 
Live 2:45pm Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Ireland Republic ESPN2ESPN Deportes TV


7:10pm USA vs St. Vin/ Grenadines ESPN2,

Sat, Nov 14 

Europe – UEFA Euro Qualifying 
Live 12:00pm Ukraine vs Slovenia ESPN Deportes TVESPN3
Live 2:45pm Sweden vs Denmark Fox Sports 2 USA,

Sun, Nov 15

Europe – UEFA Euro Qualifying 
Live 2:45pm Hungary vs Norway ESPNESPN Deportes TV
Live 5:00pm Columbus Crew SC vs New York RB

*MLS Conference Final 1

Live 7:30pm Portland Timbers vs Dallas            ESPN

*MLS Conference Final 2

Mon, Nov 16

Europe – UEFA Euro Qualifying 

Live 2:45pm Ireland vs Bos/Herzegovina Fox Sports 1 USA,
Tues,  Nov 17

Europe – UEFA Euro Qualifying 
Live 2:45pm Slovenia vs Ukraine Fox Sports 2 USAFox Sports GO
Live 2:45pm Denmark vs Sweden ESPN2

Fri, Nov 22

2:30pm Hamburger SV vs Borussia Dortmund Fox Sports 2 USA,

Sat, Nov 21

Live 12:15pm Real Madrid vs Barcelona

*El Clasico 2015

beIN Sports USA,

Sun, Nov 22

Live 12:30pm Manchester City vs Liverpool NBCTelemundo,
Live 5:00pm Dallas vs Portland Timbers

*MLS Conference Final 1

Live 7:30pm New York RB vs Columbus Crew SC

*MLS Conference Final 2

Fox Sports 1 USA

Road to Russia begins early: In-flux USA begins World Cup qualifying

Brian Straus SI – It’s been less than a year and a half since Philipp Lahm raised the trophy at the Estádio do Maracanã, yet for much of the planet, the 21st World Cup is well underway. In fact, close to a quarter of the 209 national teams eligible to qualify for the 2018 finals already have been eliminated. And nearly 200 games have taken place. The U.S. typically has been one of the last countries to enter the fray. CONCACAF, which includes 35 FIFA-affiliated nations from Canada down to Suriname, opts to weed out most of its minnows before admitting the more powerful contenders. Since embarking on its return to the world stage in July 1988, the U.S.—along with regional heavyweights like Mexico and Costa Rica—has played its first qualifier around two years before the start of the quadrennial finals. For the Americans, an Olympic/European Championship summer typically coincided with the initial step down the World Cup road. That gave coaches a solid two years between the conclusion of a World Cup and the start of the next one to find their footing, integrate new players and develop the sort of chemistry and consistency that qualification demands. This time around, however, Jurgen Klinsmann will have no such luxury. FIFA’s 2012 removal of a summer international date and the addition of the 2016 Copa América Centenario highlight an increasingly congested international calendar, which prompted CONCACAF to bring World Cup qualifying forward.More

Fourteen teams kicked off the knockout rounds in March, just eight months after Germany won it all in Rio de Janeiro. And the U.S. will launch its attempt to qualify for an eighth straight World Cup on Friday in St. Louis. There, at the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, the Americans will meet St. Vincent and The Grenadines, the world’s 129th-ranked team.It’s by far the earliest start to qualifying in U.S. history.The curious scheduling and curious site comes at a curious time for Klinsmann and the U.S. The manager’s transition from the 2014 World Cup hasn’t gone well.The U.S. is 9-6-2 this year and just 1-4-1 in its past six games, all of which were at home. Among the defeats were the Gold Cup semifinal loss to Jamaica, which helped send the U.S. to its worst continental championship finish in 15 years, and last month’s Confederations Cup playoff defeat to Mexico. LA Galaxy forward Gyasi Zardes arguably is the only “new” player to establish himself in the regular U.S. rotation, and criticisms of Klinsmann’s performance have reached an all-time high.

It isn’t an ideal time to start qualifying for the biggest competition of all. But Klinsmann, ever the optimist, said he’s excited by the start of a new cycle and eager to re-ignite the transition to a younger generation of players that was put on hold by the Gold Cup and the ensuing playoff.“We start that process now. We’re all excited because we talk World Cup. We talk Russia 2018. That’s what you want to do and that’s what inspires you, what motivates you, and the players know that,” he told reporters Monday in Miami, where the U.S. is training ahead of Friday’s game and then the Nov. 17 qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago.The 23-man team gathered in Florida includes a core of veteran names like captain Michael Bradley; midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones; goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan; defenders Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler and forward Jozy Altidore. The program’s leading active goal scorer, Clint Dempsey, is not in camp. More

But they’re joined by 10 players without World Cup qualifying experience, 11 who are 25 or younger and one, Stanford University forward Jordan Morris, who isn’t even a professional. The U.S. was an older team last year and again at this summer’s Gold Cup, where it struggled. Klinsmann said he is starting to address that issue while keeping an eye on the importance of getting good results against St. Vincent and Trinidad.“It’s part of that phase between two World Cups. You obviously want younger players to come through. You want to help younger players, and the only way you can help them is giving them minutes,” Klinsmann said. “And that’s at the expense of more experienced ones. You can’t do both. You can only have 11 on the field at the end of the day. So here and there you have to make compromises.”But not at the expense of the final score, he added.“When you go into a process like World Cup qualifying, you have to get results. This is about getting the points.. You’ve got to win your games at home and you have to get points also on the away side,” he said. “We want [younger players] to come out of their shell a bit more and more and make a point … We also have to have a longer, kind of a bigger picture towards Russia 2018. So we need the Bobby Woods, the Jordan Morrises, the Gyasi Zardeses out there to make an impression, to fight their way though and prove it also in World Cup qualifying. We cannot start that process two years from now.”This semifinal round of qualifying features lighter opposition but reduced margin for error. The Americans’ quartet, which also features Guatemala, is the easiest of the three on paper (the others are Mexico-Honduras-El Salvador-Canada and Costa Rica-Panama-Haiti-Jamaica). But with only six games to play, things can get stressful quickly. In 2012, the U.S. lost at Jamaica during the same stage and actually needed at least a draw in the finale against Guatemala to ensure advancement to the Hexagonal. In 2000, the U.S., at 3-1-2, made it through the semifinal round by a single point, thanks to a win in Barbados.“Automatically, you’re among the favorites in CONCACAF. You fight for spot No. 1 with Mexico for years. Yes, you’re the favorite in [the current] group,” Klinsmann said. “But it’s not an easy group at all. I think Trinidad and Tobago showed in the Gold Cup how capable they are to make it very, very difficult to Mexico, to other teams as well. You look at their players, where they play, a lot of them play in Europe in different leagues … and are proven players. You expect a very, very tough and difficult game. But at the end of the day, you’re expected to go through.”More

Friday’s opponent, St. Vincent, isn’t expected to go through. It’s a country of only 103,000 people whose national team has qualified for just one Gold Cup. That came in 1996, when the Vincy Heat lost its two games by a combined 8-0 tally. Its most famous player, the retired Ezra Hendrickson, won MLS championships with D.C. United, the Columbus Crew and LA Galaxy and now coaches USL side Seattle Sounders 2.A pair of his Sounders charges, 22-year-old forward Myron Samuel and 19-year-old Oalex Anderson, play for St. Vincent. The leading goal scorer in CONCACAF qualifying so far, with five in four matches, is St. Vincent striker Tevin Slater. He plays for a club called Camdonia Chelsea in the domestic NLA Premier League and makes extra money as a fisherman.WATCH: Fabian Johnson scores in Champions League  Trinidad, as Klinsmann said, has a much more professional pedigree. It gave Mexico fits at the Gold Cup, won its group and fell to Panama on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. T&T is 2-5-2 all-time against the U.S. at home in Port of Spain, with wins in 1994 and 2008.Elsewhere on Friday, Juan Carlos Osorio will make his managerial debut for Mexico as the Gold Cup champions host El Salvador. Group A could be tough. Canada entertains Honduras in the other matchup. In Group B, 2014 World Cup quarterfinalist Costa Rica hosts Haiti and Jamaica hosts Panama in a meeting between the Gold Cup silver and bronze medalists.Following next week’s Trinidad game, the U.S. will continue Group C play in Guatemala on March 25, 2016 and home to Los Chapines four days later. The semifinal stage will conclude Sept 2 and 6 at St. Vincent and home to Trinidad. The top two finishers will advance to the Hex, which is scheduled to start earlier than ever—in November 2016.

Jozy Altidore’s time should be over with USMNT, so bring on Bobby Wood

As Jurgen Klinsmann looks toward the 2018 World Cup, he’s clearly rethinking his forward line.”At this point in time, I want to give the younger strikers a chance to prove themselves and this is a good stage to do it,” the United States national team head coach said in an attempt to explain why he left Clint Dempsey off the roster for upcoming qualification matches against St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. (The manager’s words do nothing to justify the inclusion of 34-year-old Alan Gordon, but that’s a different column.)The choice to start qualifying without the former captain and Gold Cup bright spot is at once confusing and also classic Klinsmann, the decision of a coach who never wants his players to feel comfortable. It was the hallmark of a manager searching for answers, desperate to find a player or two from the so-far underwhelming next generation who can contribute at the international level. It was the latest — and most obvious — move in a series of signs that the American team will change dramatically between now and Russia.But if Klinsmann really wants to make a statement, he should look to the other forward position. When the Stars and Stripes take the field on Friday evening in St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, Jozy Altidore should not be starting at target forward. Bobby Wood should be.For the past half dozen years, Altidore has served as the primary target striker in part because of his skill but also because no one else managed to grab the role. Dempsey, who’s better running at defenders, isn’t a prototypical player in that spot. Terrence Boyd never showed more than flashes of skill with his back to goal, failing to find any consistency. A few years ago, Teal Bunbury had a couple nice moments but nothing more. Juan Agudelo hasn’t put a run together. Chris Wondolowski works hard but is always going to be limited at the highest level.We’ve seen other options come and go — Gordon, Eddie Johnson — but nothing stuck, so Altidore got the call time and time again.And he hasn’t been a bad choice, having shown he can score, especially when he’s feeling confident. He tallied 13 goals in 26 appearances for Toronto FC this season and found four goals in 11 matches for the U.S. in 2015, albeit only two since March 25. In CONCACAF competition, Altidore can overpower defenders and, on his good nights, deliver smart passes, creative options and deft first touches.But there are too many off-nights. Klinsmann also knows what he has in the 26-year-old forward. His ceiling isn’t as high as it once appeared, and he too infrequently approaches that level. Altidore has struggled with injuries and fitness, and has rarely looked as sharp as one would hope. He suffers setbacks at the most inopportune times, like a hamstring injury midway through the first match of the 2014 World Cup. (One of Klinsmann’s biggest failings as a coach was not having a second target striker on that roster and no Plan B after Altidore went down.)Wood came off the bench in the CONCACAF Cup in Oct., for Jozy Altidore and scored in extra time.In Wood, however, the American coach has a player in the ascendency. The 22-year-old finally found a stable spot with 2.Bundesliga’s Union Berlin, where he has scored five goals in 14 games, including one over the weekend. For the U.S., he has three goals in seven matches — June winners against The Netherlands and Germany, and a smart finish against the run of play in October’s CONCACAF Cup vs. Mexico, a match to which he was a late addition.These are important moments, especially the left-footed blast to beat Klinsmann’s native country, but it was Wood’s performance in the match with Costa Rica that was the most instructive. He came on for Altidore to start the second half and immediately made an impact on the proceedings. During a fixture in which most members of the U.S. vacillated between shell-shocked and disinterested, Wood cared.He went into challenges hard. He fought for balls. He yelled. He pushed. He was strong enough to hold off Jonny Acosta and quick enough to maneuver around the enormous Kendall Waston. Wood refused to back down, displaying an ability to hold up the ball with effortless chest traps and impressive first touches, and also the willingness to make something happen on his own.In short, Wood looked like a man who belonged, and one who desperately wanted to be on the field.Rocked by multiple knee injuries that required surgery earlier in his career, Wood fought hard to get back to this point. He nearly derailed his promise after playing through pain during the 2011 Under-20 CONCACAF Championship. He faced setback after setback, and struggled through a difficult 2014 where he couldn’t get on the field at 1860 Munich.The attacker credits the U.S. coach, who gave him time against Colombia and Ireland, for keeping his faith intact. “If Klinsmann didn’t support me, I think I’d be somewhere else right now,” he said earlier this fall. “He was the only one who had my back at the time, aside from my family and friends.”Wood is only now beginning to realize his promise with the help of a stable club career. Becoming a fixture on the U.S. national team is the next step. Wood’s rapid growth is nicely timed with Klinsmann’s desire to get younger before the most difficult stages of World Cup qualifying begin in earnest.The coach called in players such as Jordan Morris, Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga to the latest camp. Nearly half the roster is under 25 years-old, and the coach will throw many of them into the fire at some point as he has with others like DeAndre Yedlin.With Klinsmann, it’s always sink or swim. With his performances this year, Wood has shown he can thrive in international waters.Six years ago, a 19-year-old Altidore scored three times in a World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago. Today, the U.S. team finds itself in the middle of another youth movement. It’s time for players like Wood to lead the way, not just in terms of making the roster but by doing so on the field.Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC

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