Tim Howard named as US Soccer Male Athlete of the Year

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard has been named as the US Soccer Male Athlete of the Year after beating off competition from a number of fellow USMNT stars to claim the award.

Howard beat Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones to the award by picking up 64% of the votes, with MLS duo Jones and Beckerman in second and third places respectively.

The 35-year-old is currently taking a leave of absence from the National team after some incredible displays at the World Cup in Brazil this summer, but he certainly earned the award, which he also claimed in 2008.

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2014 saw Howard make eight international appearances in a year which also saw the shot-stopper earn his 100th cap for the USA.

The Everton ‘keeper picked up two Man of the Match awards during the World Cup and set a competition record for most saves in a single match with an extraordinary 16.

Howard becomes the fifth player to win Male Athlete of the Year on multiple occasions, joining defender Marcelo Balboa (1992, 1994), goalkeeper Kasey Keller (1997, 1999 and 2005), forward Landon Donovan (2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010) and forward Clint Dempsey (2007, 2011 and 2012).

Do you think Tim Howard deserves to be named as US Soccer Male Athlete of the Year for 2014?

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5 Takeaways from the USA’s disappointing 4-1 loss to Ireland

The USMNT capped off the 2014 schedule in poor fashion, losing 4-1 to a weakened Republic of Ireland side in Dublin, making it four games without a win – the worst run of form in Jurgen Klinsmann‘s tenure.

Klinsmann has come under some pressure as a result, but the performances on the pitch are what’s costing the team at the moment, and the long rest before the next international game leaves much to work on.

Defensively, USA looked as vulnerable as they have ever been against Ireland, while they failed to capitalise on some good spells of possession at the other end.

One game (or run of games) cannot take away from what has been a remarkable year for US soccer. But the manner of the defeat tonight will leave a sour taste in fans’ mouths until the next time a ball is kicked.

Here are five takeaways from the game:

1. Concentration levels are a major concern

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The deeply concerning trend of conceding late goals continued against Ireland as the USA let in two in the final ten minutes to put the game out of reach. Those two goals mean that the team have now conceded 11 goals in the final ten minutes in their last 11 games. Whether it’s fitness or focus, Klinsmann must address this issue urgently to ensure things change in 2015.

2. Defensive frailties are being exposed too frequently

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Klinsmann shuffled his defence once again for the game against Ireland – a fair move in a friendly as that’s ultimately what they are for, but it backfired greatly. Fabian Johnson looked better and his place in the side is not under threat. Timothy Chandler failed to impress at left-back and his chances must be running out. The major problem was in the heart of defence as Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron looked vulnerable throughout.

Besler has looked exhausted since the World Cup and needs an extended break to recover, whereas Cameron is making too many mistakes in the centre of defence and should be deployed elsewhere. The Jermaine Jones-John Brooks partnership used against Colombia looked solid and needs to be used again come next year. But things are far from certain in defence.

3. Mix Diskerud missed his time to shine

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Diskerud had the chance to impress the nation in the two friendlies but failed in both. He grabbed the goal against Ireland but that was a tap in from close range and his inability to influence the game from midfield is a worry. He is a free agent in January and has been linked with moves to MLS among other leagues. There were believed to be up to 15 scouts watching him tonight but he didn’t exactly take his chance to shine against an average Irish side.

4. Bobby Wood a bright spark

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Bobby Wood gave at least one positive to take from the game as he looked lively and energetic when brought on at halftime. He made a great chance for himself in the second-half but saw his one-on-one agonisingly saved by Shay Given. Wood looks like a player with a bright future if he can work on his finishing, and his ability to bring others into play make him a valuable member of the team going forward.

5. Bill Hamid needs more time before being handed a starting role

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The DC United goalkeeper cannot be blamed in any way for the loss, but he didn’t look as convincing as Brad Guzan does between the sticks and needs to be introduced more gradually now if he is to eventually take the starting job between the sticks. There was little he could do about the deflected goal and the wonderful free-kick, but he could have been off his line quicker for the first goal, and will be disappointed with how easily the second was scored. Hamid is the man for the future, but that is not now, and he needs time to work with the national team.

What did you make of the USA’s display against Ireland?

Preview and Prediction: Republic of Ireland vs USA

USA will complete their 2014 schedule on Tuesday night when they travel to the Aviva Stadium to take on the Republic of Ireland in another international friendly.

They will be looking to bounce straight back from the defeat to Colombia on Friday night and a positive result will be essential, with a strong performance to match high on the agenda.

Ireland will be without their all-time leading goalscorer in Robbie Keane, as he was released on Saturday in order to prepare for his upcoming MLS playoff matches with the LA Galaxy.

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[Ireland and LA Galaxy star Robbie Keane will not feature against USA on Tuesday as he was released from the squad]

Furthermore, Jurgen Klinsmann has released four MLS-based players from duty in order to increase game time for those not involved in the playoffs.

Lee Nguyen, Jermaine Jones, DeAndre Yedlin and DaMarcus Beasley have all been sent home following the loss to Colombia. Nguyen and Jones need to prepare for New England Revolution’s push for the Eastern Conference title, while Yedlin will be with Supporters’ Shield winners Seattle Sounders as they look ahead to their clashes with the Galaxy.

Klinsmann has not called anyone else up so he will go into the Ireland game with a 21-man squad and several players will be hoping to impress.

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[Jurgen Klinsmann looks on from the dugout at Craven Cottage during the USA vs. Colombia game]

The last time the two sides met was in April 2002, just prior to the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan. The game ended in a 2-1 win for the Republic of Ireland.

As much as this is billed as a friendly, both teams will want a result, as Ireland will be looking to regain a bit of form following their loss to Scotland, and the USA will be hoping to build towards the 2015 Gold Cup – which they are hosting.

This should be a good game, possibly open and end-to-end, but we expect that the USA will come out on top.

They played well against Colombia on Friday, and have enough quality to end 2014 on a high – something Klinsmann will be desperate to do.

Predicted USMNT lineup: Brad Guzan, Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Greg Garza, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, Kyle Beckerman, Julian Green, Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood.

Key Player: Kyle Beckerman – Was influential on Friday night and provided cover for the USMNT when they were going forward. Expect him to anchor the US midfield once again.

Key Stat: USMNT forward Rubio Rubin would have been only three months old (18 years ago), the last time the USA beat Republic of Ireland.

Score Prediction: Republic of Ireland 0 – 2 USA

USMNT gather momentum going into the World Cup

USA has now won all three of their warm up games. They were, however, less than impressive in the opening two of their ‘send-off’ series.

But they changed their performance last night as Jurgen Klinsmann ditched the diamond and flooded midfield.

The structure was simply genius as it allowed Alejandro Bedoya and Clint Dempsey freedom on counter attacks.

There are things we need to look out for at the World Cup, assuming that Klinsmann won’t change this current team too much.

1. Zonal Marking – ditch it.

Set pieces are the worst way to concede a goal, as you have plenty of time to set yourself up and zonal marking is the greatest liability.

The system allows players to get complacent because you rely on each other, whereas, in a man-marking system everyone has a job.

We hope he doesn’t use it in Brazil against the likes of Germany who will punish the team from corners otherwise.

2. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are a great insurance plan.

When you risk everything on a fast-paced counter attack you have to take precautions defensively.

Jones and Beckerman provide that cover so that the fullbacks, Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley can bomb on.

Klinsmann has found an answer to his midfield issue, and the USMNT have a realistic chance of success at the tournament.

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3. Michael Bradley is ready to shine.

Based on what we have seen in the three warm up games, Michael Bradley will have a great World Cup.

He is one of the first names on the USMNT team sheet and he provides a range of passes that can trouble any defence.

Ghana, Germany and Portugal better have done their homework because Bradley could hurt them.

4. Bedoya or Zusi?

We like Bedoya and he had another good game last night. But we have cause to believe Graham Zusi would be a better choice in terms of structure.

He is more than capable of joining in on the counter attack and he can also pick out a pass to perfection.

But unlike Bedoya, Zusi gives you a bit more defensively and we think he should start instead. It is likely that Bedoya will play though because we cannot see Klinsmann changing his team too much now.

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5. Jozy Altidore can score goals.

It’s an extreme long shot but who’s to say he can’t win the Golden Boot? Although this is extremly unlikely, he did give us cause for optimism with a well-taken brace and lead’s a side with goals in it.

Granted the first goal was a tap-in and had he missed it, he should have retired, but his second cannot be questioned.

The confidence he showed while in possession was great to see and we think the USA have a great platform to attack with him as their outlet alongside Dempsey.

The USMNT will now play Belgium in a behind closed doors match on Thursday but we expect the team will stay much the same regardless of what happens there.

USA win again but there are still major problems within the set-up

The USA beat Turkey 2-1 on Sunday night, setting the benchmark for upcoming performances, however Jurgen Klinsmann still doesn’t know his best team.

We can assume he will play the diamond formation, having used it in both warm-up games so far, but they are left open at the back and better teams like Germany and Portugal will tear them apart.

We take a look at the areas that need more attention:

1. Left back.

Klinsmann has used DaMarcus Beasley and Timothy Chandler so far and both have looked questionable at best.

Klinsmann isn’t budging on moving Fabian Johnson from right back, even though Chandler and Johnson prefer the opposite flanks.

They need to find a solution at left back and quick, or hope that Chandler or Beasley are up for the challenge come June 16.

2. Should Jozy Altidore lead the line?

Altidore looked very good but the only thing missing was a goal.

He hasn’t scored a goal since the 4th December so fans will be hoping he finds the net before the big opener against Ghana.

He used his strength throughout and was unlucky to have a goal disallowed for a push on the goalkeeper.

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3. Julian Green – too early?

The 18-year-old has only had one cap prior to his World Cup call up, and has yet to win over the USMNT fans.

Coming on against Turkey, he failed to make a valid contribution and the omission of Landon Donovan will look even worse to the USMNT faithful.

4. Portugal have Ronaldo, but the USA have Bradley.

We’re not going to begin to compare the two players, but they do mean a lot to their respective nations hopes at the World Cup.

Bradley is the pivotal player for the US and any hopes of them progressing out of the group lie solely on his ability to supply the goals, as he did last night. We expect him to have a great World Cup, although he will need a good supporting cast in front.

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5. Geoff Cameron, first choice centre-half?

Cameron has only played one game at centre back domestically this year, yet he looks set to play there at the World Cup.

Unless Klinsmann knows something we all don’t, we can’t understand the logic behind his defensive combinations. He has a right back playing left back, a left back playing right back, and another right back playing centre back!

If Cameron does start in the heart of defence, where does that leave natural defenders Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez?

Key takeaways from the USA’s 2-0 win against Azerbaijan

The US national team made hard work of a win on Tuesday night, which saw them snatch a 2-0 win late on against Azerbaijan in the first of their three games in the send-off series before the World Cup.

The USMNT dominated most of the game, enjoying 70% of possession, but they failed to convert on several occasions.

There were a few issues to be addressed and these are our key takeaways from the performance:

1. Can Chris Wondolowski lead the line?

Clint Dempsey pulled out last minute due to a precautionary injury concern with his groin. He has recently stated the minority of the issue, and has claimed that he should be fit to play Turkey on Sunday night.

The concern will still be felt across the nation, as if he were to miss out the fate of the team would lie on Wondolowski and the out-of-sorts Jozy Altidore.

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2. A new era for the No. 10 jersey.

In the absence of Landon Donovan, the unoccupied No. 10 jersey has been filled by Mix Diskerud. The 23 year-old midfielder started on the bench but made an instant impact by coming on and scoring on Tuesday night.

It is still unclear as to how much of an impact Diskerud can make at the World Cup, with Jurgen Klinsmann opting for a diamond formation on Tuesday night, but he proved against Azerbaijan what a valuable asset he is to the squad.

3. Fabian Johnson starting at right-back?

It was thoroughly documented that Fabian Johnson has been training exclusively at right-back and as expected he played there.

We struggle to see how this will fair for the Americans, as playing Johnson on the right leaves the side imbalanced. However, it does allow DaMarcus Beasley to operate at left back, as he was up and down the left flank all night, in a stellar performance from the veteran.

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4. Is Omar Gonzalez fully fit?

Omar Gonzalez came off the bench to replace Geoff Cameron last night, and with question marks over his fitness, should he have played at all?

Klinsmann will be happy to see him get through the second-half, and if he were fully fit, he would surely resume his great partnership with Matt Besler in the heart of the American defence.

Preview: USA vs. Azerbaijan

The USMNT take on Azerbaijan tonight in the first of their World Cup warm-up friendlies, and we take a look at the things we expect to see.

First of all, reports coming out of the camp are that Fabian Johnson has been almost exclusively training as a right-back. This comes as a surprise that the left-footed Johnson will assumingly be preferred to natural right-sided fullbacks in Deandre Yedlin and Timothy Chandler.

Another surprise is that Jurgen Klinsmann believes that Geoff Cameron’s (another player who can operate at full back) best position is centre-half.

Due to a recent injury to Omar Gonzalez, it’s no surprise that Klinsmann would want to see who could fill in. But Cameron has only played once there for Stoke City this term, and all his other appearances were at right-back.

In a squad that boasts the talents of both Matt Besler and John Anthony Brooks, it seems strange that Geoff Cameron is being thrust into centre back at such a late stage.

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With only 16 days until the world cup, we should assume that Klinsmann knows his team, but trying players out in obscure positions at such a late date, is something the fans will be concerned about.

They should however comfortably beat an Azerbaijan team that is ranked 85th in the world, and should use this game to gel players together.

Expect a comfortable win for the USMNT, whichever team is put out, and with the next warm-up game against Turkey on the 1st June, we can assume that Klinsmann may be saving his ‘best’ team for then.

Prediction: 4-0 – USA to win at least 3 – Expect a very aggressive approach, as well as domination of the possession stats.

One to Watch: Jozy Altidore – Following a poor season with Sunderland, the powerful striker will be looking to get on the score sheet tonight, and prove why he has made the squad.