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July 2, 2019

Gold Cup Semifinal Preview: USMNT vs Jamaica

Peter Nolan July 2, 2019

Who: USMNT vs Panama
When: Wednesday @ 9:30 pm ET
Where: Nissan Stadium, Nashville TN
Line: USA -200 | Draw +255 | Curacao +600

The elimination of the Confederation Cup has caused some to question the point of the Gold Cup.

Yes, there is the crowning of a CONCACAF champion. And sure, testing your team against your neighbors can be worthwhile. However, without the carrot of the Confederation Cup and the chance to face off against the top dogs from UEFA, CONEMBOL and the rest, the value of the Gold Cup remains an open question.

But for a USMNT seeking to rebuild its credibility within the region as well with its jaundiced fan-base under new coach Gregg Berhalter, the Gold Cup seemed like a perfect opportunity.

These are official matches, they count. No more attempting to parse meaning from the series of increasingly meaningless friendlies presided over by caretaker coach Dave Sarachan.

Then the games began. Wins of 4-0 versus Guyana and 6-0 over Trinidad and Tobago, as well as a 1-0 win with a brand new 11 against Panama claimed the group stage for the U.S. This set up a showdown with the tiny constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curacao.

The U.S. barely escaped with a 1-0 win over Curacao, with the six-time Gold Cup-winning United States apparently happy to bunker in against the 79th rated FIFA ranked nation.

Berhalter defensive of team’s performance

The US’ showing against Curacao doesn’t necessarily bode well for their chances in Wednesday night’s semifinal match-up against Jamaica. Yes, like all U.S. Gold Cup games, the semifinal will be a home game, this one in Nashville.

Berhalter had something of a thin-skinned reaction to Sunday’s narrow escape, telling the gathered press post-game, “Despite the tone in here, we’re happy with the result of this game and that should be said, I’m proud of the guys for their effort and now we move on to Nashville.”

A win is a win but one hopes Berhalter’s pride in that performance doesn’t translate to acceptance of that level of play because if it does there will be little chance of the Americas advancing to the hoped-for showdown with Mexico in Sunday’s God Cup FInal in Chicago.

Hopefully, Behalter’s pride in his team’s effort does not hamper the coach’s willingness to shake up his lineup, limited though his roster options may be.

Continuity for continuity’s sake?

Berhalter has used the same 11 in three of the team’s four matches. The early, easy wins and the struggle versus Curacao all featured the same starters. Other than Christian Pulisic, goal scorer Weston McKennie, Man of the Match Zack Steffen in goal and defender Walker Zimmerman, none of that 11 distinguished themselves versus Curacao. Of the “second 11” that beat Panama 1-0, I can only recall center back Matt Miazga and fullback Reggie Cannon showing anything.

So, what now? Every coach has a player or two that he values despite howls of protest from the peanut gallery. Bob Bradley’s Jonathan Bornstein obsession comes to mind. For Berhalter, Gyasi Zardes is developing into that player, while Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream have potential.

Jozy Altidore has been recovering from injury but by all official accounts, the TFC man has recovered. “He fits Berhalter’s system,” we hear. Altidore is better. Start him.

Ream is a center back, not a fullback and Nick Lima, who was poor against Curacao, regularly plays left-back for his club team. Play Cannon on the right and Lima on the left.

Further up the pitch, Berhalter’s options are limited. He has to stay with Michael Bradley, even if his diminishing speed is an issue because he is a far better option than Wil Trapp.

Tyler Boyd was a sensation with a brace versus Guyana but has failed to fire since. Jordan Morris provided a spark off the bench against T&T but little after. Play either, the difference appears negligible.

Paul Arriola looked to have added some final product to his otherwise well-rounded game but he was invisible versus Curacao. Berhalter is likely to start him against Jamaica because Jonathan Lewis is better suited as an off the bench option.

Jamaica drew 1-1 with Curacao in Group play and lost to the same team in the Carribean Cup. But Jamaica beat the U.S. in pre-Cup friendly and more importantly the Reggae Boyz also defeated the Americans 2-1 in the semifinal of the 2015 Gold Cup, so Jamaica will show the U.S. no fear. 

This Gold Cup is a measuring stick for the USMNT, both internally and externally. At the moment the internal group, Berhalter essentially, seems to judge this group to be a success, while outside forces, the press, the public, are less enthused.

The final report card for the U.S. at the Gold Cup will be issued when the home team’s participation concludes. At the moment looks like a C+, perhaps, but there remains time for improvement before the term concludes.

USWNT Defeat England 2-1 in a Thriller

High Press 10 July 2, 2019

What. A. Game.

England heard for days how the USWNT vs France was “the real World Cup final.”

The Lionesses heard those pundits and said, “Hold my Guinness.”

In an open, physical, controversial thriller, the USWNT defeated England 2-1. The win sends the US to the 2019 Women’s World Cup final.

Press starts for Rapinoe, makes her presence felt early

The pre-match shocker was Christen Press getting the start over Megan Rapinoe.

While early reports indicated that Rapinoe was not injured, she didn’t warm up with the team and didn’t sub in. It later came out that she was nursing a possible hamstring injury.

The pressure was on Press to deliver, and she wasted no time. In the 10th minute, Kelley O’Hara delivered a beautiful service to Press who buried home a header, giving the US a 1-0 lead.

England wasted little time to respond. Ellen White leveled the game in the 19th minute. The goal was her sixth of the tournament, giving her the Golden Boot lead over Alex Morgan.

With the game all square at 1-1 in the 31st minute, Morgan reclaimed the Golden Boot lead. Press found Lindsey Horan who delivered a laser perfect pass to Morgan’s head. Morgan became the first player to score a goal on her birthday (30th) in Women’s World Cup history.

Scrappy and controversial second half

The intensity leveled up in the second half, as both squads got scrappy.

The intense play was over-shadowed by more frustrating VAR controversy.

First, Ellen White’s second goal of the game was called back on an inexplicable VAR off-side ruling.

Then White was awarded a penalty in the box off a phantom contact call. It felt almost like a make-good by the ref.

England has struggled on penalties all tournament. Once again, the penalty opportunity was all for naught as US keeper Alyssa Naeher saved Steph Houghton’s shot from the spot. This was England’s third pk miss of the World Cup, the first time that’s happened.

The save secured the US’ victory, moving them into the World Cup finals. They await the winner of Netherlands vs Sweden on Wednesday.

Updated title odds

Having now vanquished FIFA’s #2 (France) and #3 (England) teams, the US are heavy favorites to repeat as World Cup champs. The latest odds:

  • USA -455
  • Netherlands +600
  • Sweden +900

High Press Pod Episode 12: USWNT vs England Preview; USMNT Struggles; and More European Transfers

Chops July 2, 2019

New High Press Pod is up!

Tyler Everett joins again to cover this week’s big topics:

Listen to “High Press Pod Episode 12: USWNT vs England, Is the USMNT Actually Good, and More European Transfers” on Spreaker.

Megan Rapinoe Is the Right Star at the Right Time for Women’s Soccer

Chops July 2, 2019

Ten years from now when we look back at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the lasting memory and narrative with be centered around USWNT star Megan Rapinoe.

She’s defiantly taken on President Donald Trump. She’s helped lead the US to two knockout round victories by scoring four consecutive goals. In a time when athletes are often skewered for taking a stand on anything, she’s been strong, dignified, and brash.

Most importantly, she’s helped raise the profile of the woman’s game not just to national — but to global– prominence.

Women’s soccer is ready to make “the leap”

Over the past 5-10 years, women’s soccer has steadily gained support from established European clubs and popularity with the viewing public.

This is particularly true in the US, where girls look up to the women’s team no differently than a kid idolizes Steph Curry. Case in point: the USWNT home kit is Nike’s all-time top seller.

The 2019 Women’s World Cup presents a real inflection point for the sport. All of the elements are there to catapult women’s soccer to new heights. As with most sports, a true star is often the projectile on that catapult. Think of the NBA in the early 1980’s with Magic, Bird, and then Jordan. Think of the UFC in the mid 2000’s with Chuck Liddell.

The star for the US and women’s soccer at large is Megan Rapinoe.

Rapinoe defines this World Cup and where women’s soccer is headed

My daughter has mostly played as a center forward in club soccer. She should’ve gravitated towards Alex Morgan. It would’ve made sense. I even pushed her toward Morgan. “Watch her, learn how she plays the position. She’s one of the best in the world.”

However, after watching a lot of USWNT games, she ended up gravitating towards Rapinoe. Got her hair cut the same way. Watched her YouTube videos. Started playing more on the left wing even.

Kids always know. They immediately gravitate towards the most catchy songs. They look up to who they trust and respect. I couldn’t be more proud of her for her choice for a role model.

This is absolutely no knock on anyone else on the team. They’re all badasses. Rapinoe just happens to be the alpha badass among them.

You don’t have to agree with her opinions. That’s fine. You should respect her conviction. You definitely should respect her game.

In a society that is just starting to get comfortable with equal rights and equal pay, Rapinoe is just like, “yeah f*ck going to the White House and inequality…and by the way, my opinions won’t cause a distraction here’s four goals in a row for you.”

I don’t care if you’re the most red-blooded red-stater out there, what’s more American than that?

A permanent place on the sporting landscape

At this year’s World Cup, the world is seeing the quality of women’s soccer on full display. Having a personality big enough to match the product on the field is the last little step needed to not just take the sport to the next level, but keep it there.

Whether she likes it or not, or means to or not, Rapinoe has done that.

Transformational stars seize the moment and shine brightest on the biggest stage. The iconic pose she took after scoring against France is like the new “We can do it.” That’s going to stick.

She took women’s soccer from a sports story to a national story to a global story. And the game is better for it.

Five MLS Coaches Potentially on the Hot Seat

July 2, 2019

Three MLS coaches have already been fired this season.

The New England Revolution are much better off. Bruce Arena simplified the approach and players no longer feel the pressure of playing under Brad Friedel.

The Colorado Rapids have improved dramatically.

FC Cincinnati are no better than they were when they cut Alan Koch loose, but they have yet to hire a replacement and are trusting a roster of borderline MLS players.

Other teams could follow suit if results start to falter this summer. The coaches hot seat list is less foretelling now than it was last year, when four coaches were eventually let go. But teams have shown a growing willingness to switch managers. Here’s a look at the hot seat list as it stands.

1. Adrian Heath, Minnesota United

Heath has been on the hot seat for at least two years. He has never been convincing as an MLS manager, dating to his time with the inaugural Orlando City SC, and has slipped by as Minnesota manager since 2016 on the basis of the Loons’ poor roster talent. 

Minnesota sit in a playoff place after a 7-1 annihilation of FC Cincinnati. With a solid foundation in positions where MNUFC have historically struggled, expectations are growing. Heath should face pressure to win with Darwin Quintero and the effective Jan Gregus-Ozzie Alonso midfield pairing. A losing streak that further diminishes confidence in Heath could see the Loons finally moving on.

2. Greg Vanney, Toronto FC

The clock is ticking for Vanney, whose TFC have won just once since the beginning of May. Toronto inexplicably missed the playoffs last year and are hovering at the red line this year despite a talented, star-filled squad. The outlines of the 2017 treble team are there. It might be hard for general manager Ali Curtis to keep Vanney around if TFC remain a middling team.

There are missing pieces in Toronto — they badly need a center back or two and could use another DP forward, likely a winger. But they should be better than they are.

3. Veljko Paunovic, Chicago Fire

Start with this:

Pauno’s Fire have never been great outside of a fruitful 2017 stretch when they played good-looking possession soccer with Bastian Schweinsteiger at the forefront. Since, they’ve toggled between styles and schemes and have struggled to maximize the aging Schweinsteiger, who takes up a valuable DP slot while playing out of position at center back. 

Chicago are mediocre, and Paunovic’s tinkering doesn’t help. It’s hard to see the Serbain crafting an identity out of his current squad. When the Fire move past their current core (which is aging), they shouldn’t entrust Paunovic to lead them forward.

4. Mike Petke, Real Salt Lake

It’s important to note that I do not write this with any inside information, just purely speculation. Beyond Paunovic, not too many coaches stick out as sitting on an especially warm seat. Petke might just be the perfect coach for this growing RSL team, with their heavy emphasis on Homegrown players. He may have upped his credibility with Real’s management further with last year’s surprising win over LAFC in the playoffs.

The only scenario that could see RSL losing faith in Petke as their coach of the future is if they remain below the playoff line and stagnate the development of players like Jefferson Savarino and Aaron Herrera.

5. Caleb Porter, Columbus Crew

It would be hard not include the coach of a team that has lost 10 of its last 12 games. The Crew are in a freefall and things have only worsened with injuries (Federico Higuain, Milton Valenzuela) and Gold Cup absences (Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes). They tried to keep things the way they were under Gregg Berhalter and fared well early in the season, only to plummet since.

A deep rebuild is probably coming. Columbus should make some players available for trades and transfers and start scouring the market for new signings. If Tim Bezbatchenko decides he needs a new leader to head up a rebuild, he could show Porter the door.

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