The MLS schedule takes a break this weekend for the final qualifying rounds of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The U.S. play their final two qualifiers, although they are already through to Brazil, of course.
More on the U.S. status is in this week’s column, which was written before the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez withdrew from the U.S. roster this morning because of a strained hip sustained in Sunday’s SuperClasico. The injury could be a blessing in disguise for the Galaxy: it means the dominating defender could be available for next Wednesday’s visit by the Montreal Impact.
The game not only had five goals, but Hawthorne’s Gyasi Zardes had the kind of game he has hinted at all year, Landon Donovan reached yet another MLS milestone and Dave Sarachan went 2-0 as Galaxy coach (ahem).
Reinvigorated U.S. stars Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson grabbed the goals and the glory, with only striker Clint Dempsey faltering slightly under the spotlight’s glare, missing a second half stoppage time penalty that would have made the scoreline even more emphatic.
“We’ve always said that Landon is an important part of our team,” Klinsmann said of the Galaxy playmaker. “The things that he went through were his decision. We were totally fine with that, but he also had to understand that he wasn’t getting anything for granted. He had to work his way back, to fight his way back, and that’s what he did. In the Gold Cup to start with, and now coming here, he understands the message that nobody has a spot guaranteed.
The stricken faces of the Mexicans Tuesday said it all, out of ideas tactically and wilting mentally under the pressure and expectations of a rabid nation, while the Americans added grit and determination to bright endeavor and execution. This isn’t a team, it’s a system, with squad members fulfilling role coach Jurgen Klinsmann demands despite the absence of such regulars as Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley.
“They were understandably under a lot of pressure,” Donovan said of El Tri. “We knew that if we kept the game at zero or we were ahead, it was going to play into our favor. Once we got the goal, we could see in their eyes it was going to end in a victory for us.”
It was a magnificent evening watched by more viewers in the U.S. on ESPN than any other World Cup qualifying game in history that represented another major step forward for the sport domestically and internationally. And Carlos Bocanegra et al were happy in Upland, too.
Had Mexico staged the game, 110,000 crazed El Tri fans would have crammed into daunting Azteca. Instead the U.S. opponents got a taste of their own medicine, delirious U.S. fans standing the entire game in much modest 25,000-capacity (or so) Columbus Crew Stadium.
It was an environment that at once exemplified the game’s gulf in popularity in the two nations, but also the spirit and emerging skill of the upstart, underdog Americans who once again proved it has Mexico’s number in games that really count.
Notable: The U.S. is 12-5-4 against Mexico since 2000.
“Step-by-step, we’re getting closer to taking the game to the opponents,” Klinsmann said. “We’re not sitting back and reacting to what happens. We want to take it into their half. Every game is different. We know that, too, but I think we’ve made big progress in terms of tactical variation and in terms of commitment both ways of the game offensively and defensively.
“The players know what we expect tactically. The players know there’s another guy behind them in every position, that if he doesn’t give everything he has the next one comes in and steals his spot. Therefore, there’s more competition and I think if you look at the entire picture they can be really proud of themselves.”
Notable: It’s the first call-up for Donovan since June 2012 and he’s missed the last dozen U.S. games.
A total of 11 players were part of the Gold Cup winning squad, while eight players on the U.S. roster will receive a one-game suspension if they cautioned in the next game: Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones.
*You think Galaxy coach Bruce Arena likes known quantities around him at every level of the Organization? The Academy staff the club announced today will feature seven former MLS players, including four former Galaxy players:
LA Galaxy Academy U-18 Head Coach Ante Razov
LA Galaxy Academy U-16 Head Coach Mike Muñoz
LA Galaxy Academy U-16 (B) Head Coach Andrew Boyens
LA Galaxy Academy U-14 Head Coach Greg Vanney
LA Galaxy Academy U-14 (B) Head Coach Ted Eck
LA Galaxy Academy U-12 North Head Coach Alex Yi
LA Galaxy Academy U-12 South Head Coach Braeden Cloutier
LA Galaxy Academy Technical Coach Mauricio Cienfuegos
LA Galaxy Academy Goalkeeper Coach: Ruben Messina
LA Galaxy Academy Coordinator: Billy Bizzaro
LA Galaxy Academy Head Athletic Trainer: Pablo Chung
LA Galaxy Academy Strength and Conditioning Coach: Jonathan Brooks
*As expected, Galaxy playmaker Landon Donovan was named to the 23-player U.S. Gold Cup roster today and will link up with the squad Monday ahead of the July 5 game in San Diego against Guatemala. That means Donovan will miss at least three Galaxy games while he tries to impress with the U.S. “B” squad in an effort to win back his spot on the U.S. starting XI:
“When Landon came back in the end of March after the long break, he needed time to get back in a rhythm, get back in shape and work on his game again,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. I think now the process is on a good roll. He’s getting sharper every game and every week. We’ve watched his games and believe now is a good time to get him back into the National Team and give him the opportunity to prove his point. He knows that the group that played the World Cup Qualifiers is ahead of the curve and have a very strong position right now, and that he’s been observed by us and has to rebuild his case. We have all respect for what he has done in the past, but sports are about the present and about the future, and that’s what we are building on. We are really happy to have him back in the group, and he has the opportunity now to show where he’s at.”
Galaxy players Oscar Sorto of Los Angeles and Jose Villarreal of Inglewood are among the Southern California contingent on the U.S. U-20 World Cup roster that opens today (Photo courtesy LA Galaxy/German Alegria).
More on the opening match against World Cup favorites Spain (who have taken an early 1-0 lead) currently under way on ESPN 2 is here.
The Galaxy’s Landon Donovan reacts to my question today in the Tout video above about what he thinks of the U.S. progress in World Cup qualifying given his absence (and yeah, what do you expect him to say?).
Those of you who read my column this week know that I was musing about the ESPN World Cup qualifying doubleheader from a ratings perspective, especially with the U.S. game receiving a strong lead-in from the preceding Mexico game.
Well, the Mexico-Costa Rica contest earned an average rating of 0.3 meaning it was seen by 540,000 viewers. Plenty of them likely stuck around to watch the U.S. beat Panama, which was the second-most viewed international game ever on ESPN, beaten only by the Mexico-U.S. showdown in March (1.4 rating).
U.S.-Panama came in with a 0.8 rating and was watched by an estimated audience of 1,436,000. The San Diego market was tops in the U.S., pulling in a 2.5 rating.
The Spanish language coverage of the two games on UniMas delivered 2.8 million viewers for Mexico-Costa Rica and 1.2 million for U.S-Panama/
Next for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying: Tuesday in Salt Lake City verses Honduras (live on ESPN and UniMas)
It was a feel-good night all around for the U.S. with Sounder Eddie Johnson sealing his return to national team glory before what is now his home crowd, Jozy Altidore still clicking with yet another goal and a midfield that controlled the game from start to finish.
And if Seattle ever gets a grass field, it should immediately become the favored U.S. home field don’t you think? Who wouldn’t like to turn the daunting Azteca tables on El Tri?