U.S. still alive after draw with Slovenia

U.S. still alive after draw with Slovenia

By Matt O'Leary
Special to CSNNE.com

Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg was the fourth stadium I was visiting after being able to see games at Soccer City, Pretoria, and Rustenburg. Considering Ellis Parks location is close to downtown Joburg and that nearby Soccer City Stadium had been so unorganized, I was expecting an impending disaster getting to and from the game.

Fortunately, we found signs for a park-and-ride and although we didnt have the necessary parking pass, we were able to bribe one of the parking attendants 100 Rand (about 15) to let us park. The South Africans were organized with commuter buses and minibuses and we got inside the stadium grounds at 1:30 local time, 2 hours before kickoff. The Germany-Serbia game which started at 1:30 was being played on a big screen just outside the stadium and there was probably five hundred fans that had converged together to watch the Germans get upset 1-0.

Inside the ground there was a great atmosphere in the build up to the game. The colorful American supporters far outnumbered their Slovenian counterparts, but the Slovenian fans had seemed to find each other and were making their presence felt. U-S-A was the most consistent chant from the U.S. fans, and there was even a rendition of God Bless America from a section next to us. Despite the Slovenians taking an early lead, the American support remained loud and optimistic. The USA team just could not get anything going in the first 25-30 minutes, but then piled the pressure on Slovenia to close out the half.

Late in the first half, completely against the run of play, the Slovenians cashed in on a midfield mistake by Michael Bradley and ran at the disjointed U.S. backline before Zlatan Ljubijankic slotted in to take a 2-0 lead. Talking to Americans in the packed bathroom at halftime, they were shocked to be behind but still optimistic that the team had created enough chances in the first half to believe the team could score two in the final 45 minutes.

Bob Bradley was spot on with his halftime substitutions. Robbie Findley had been ineffective and seemed out of his depth up front and Torres had been struggling against the Slovenian midfield. Edu and Feilhaber came in and played strong second halves, particularly Edu who acted as the link between the defense and midfield.

After Landon Donovan fired in a memorable goal in the 47th minute, the stage was set for the second half to be the most exciting I had seen in my six matches here in South Africa. The USA fans were on their feet every time the team pushed into Slovenias half. There was the feeling that if they scored the equalizer, they would be able to push on and gain the 3-2 win.

Of course, that is precisely what should have happened. The stadium erupted when Maurice Edu volleyed in what looked like the go-ahead goal in the 85th minute. The fans around me were still cheering even once the ball was back in play. There was no offside flag, no apparent foul, yet the goal was disallowed and American fans all across the stadium had their hands on their heads asking the same question - What was wrong with that goal?

Without any major chances in the final five minutes, the final score left both teams with an opportunity to advance from Group C. The USA can advance to the second round with a win over Algeria, regardless of what happens in the other group game. Also, the USA can still advance with a tie against Algeria but they would need the English to get no better than a tie against Slovenia in Cape Town. The two games will be played at the same time, and all four teams still have an opportunity to advance.

No result is a foregone conclusion considering that England made Algeria look more like Argentina than the 31st ranked team in the World. The Algerians will know that they can still advance with a win over the USA so the Americans cannot afford to take them lightly. It will be a tense afternoon next Wednesday but both group favorites England and USA can take heart in knowing that they will advance together if they win their final group games.

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

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Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.