Earthquakes look to perfect the winning formula

540388.jpg

Earthquakes look to perfect the winning formula

SAN JOSE Despite a series of injuries and suspensions, the Earthquakes finally found the winning formula last Saturday, beating the visiting Chicago Fire 2-0 to snap a franchise-record 13 game winless streak. While the team presses on, beset by absences and its playoff hopes dangling by a thread, the win provided a modicum of hope and an indication of what fans might see as the Earthquakes attempt to claw their way into a playoff berth. With Justin Morrow and Bobby Convey missing Saturdays win through injury and suspension, respectively, Sam Cronin and Simon Dawkins came in to cover, while Khari Stephenson continued to play in a forward role. Even with players returning to fitness, though, the replacements play against Chicago could be one indication that they are likely to continue seeing playing time. Dawkins was active on the left wing, passing accurately (40 out of 46 passes completed, or 87 accuracy) and demonstrating his ability to both beat a man and play an intelligent pass. Stephenson, playing forward alongside Chris Wondolowksi, was active outside the penalty area, and contributed on the buildup to Ramiro Corrales goal against Chicago. Both players were playing out of their natural positions, as they are both nominally central midfielders. Head coach frank Yallop praised the versatility of his players, highlighting that quality as one that has helped lift the team in recent weeks. I think any good player can play in any position. I wouldnt put them in a position if I didnt feel as a coach they could handle both spots, Yallop said. So I decided to put them both in those spots and its worked out great, I think both of them have played very well. Also benefiting from the shift in play is Wondolowski himself, who has now gathered two goals and an assist in his last two games to catapult himself right back into the race for the MLS Golden Boot. Wondolowski was the recipient of a cross from Rafael Baca, also recent addition to the lineup, for his first goal and indicated he was happy with the service he has been given. I think its been alright, I think the thing is we have a really deep team, Wondolowski said. I thought Kharis been playing really well up there. I think whoever steps in, Rafa Baca or Sam Cronin have been playing well up there, so its nice and its a good luxury to have and I think we need to keep building on that. Wondolowski also highlighted the role of understanding and communication among the forward line. He further highlighted that part of the teams deeper understanding simply came from playing together the length of the season. Its just one of those things, kind of all coming together, he explained. Its been seven months since weve been since preseason, so we know each other really well now and know the ins and outs, and we practice hard and work together on that front, so we feel that we can understand each other and go from there. Looking ahead to Saturdays trip to Houston, Bobby Convey, a natural left winger, will be available after serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation. However, with Dawkins playing a positive role on the win over Chicago and syncing well with the rest of the team, Yallop could be set to start the Englishman once more. I think he Dawkins has the ability to dribble guys and get shots off and crosses off, so thats a different look, said Yallop, comparing Dawkins traits to Conveys. Bobbys a good possession player, whips early crosses, does come infield a little bit. Theyre both good players, Simon at the moment is doing well. There will, however, be one forced change to the lineup as Nana Attakora will replace Jason Hernandez (quadriceps strain) in the center of defense. However, Yallop indicated he has full faith in the 22-year-old Ontario-born center back. He looks better in training, he looks more assured, so hopefully he can now put that into practice and play a good game, Yallop said of his countryman. While Houston will certainly test the Earthquakes, the teams ability to adapt to continuous absences and to remain in sync in spite of those absences will be the key to any remaining playoff hopes.For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer musings, you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

dempsey-usa.jpg
AP

Dempsey hat trick lifts US over Honduras in statement win

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE — Bruce Arena's return as U.S. coach reignited American confidence, and his players responded with an emphatic rebound in World Cup qualifying.

Clint Dempsey returned from an irregular heartbeat to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others, and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get right back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal, Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a Pulisic feed in the 49th, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th. With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

In its first competitive match since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, tied at three points with Honduras but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

The U.S. had never before won a hexagonal game by more than three goals.

And oh how the American Outlaws and others among the lively home crowd loved every second of this long-awaited showing, chanting "Michael Bradley!" and "Demp-sey! Demp-sey!" through the Bay Area rain and cool March air.

Then, it was "Bruce Arena! Bruce Arena!"

Gloom descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the hexagonal with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who lead the team from 1998-2006.

Dempsey, 34 and hoping to reach a fourth World Cup, was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and likely was starting only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris. Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, got the shutout after returning only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle and was replaced in the 18th minute, and defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

From the opening whistle, the U.S. played more aggressively than in the latter years of Klinsmann's reign. Arena revamped the midfield, giving a prominent role to Pulisic, who last week became the youngest American to score in the Champions League. He inserted Lletget and Nagbe, who were largely overlooked by Klinsmann last year, on the flanks.

The U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore picked up a loose ball and on his second try poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot that went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from 2 yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Alejando Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and while falling scored with his right foot from 8 yards.

What they’re saying: Let’s go USMNT against Honduras

pulisic-christian-us.jpg
USATSI

What they’re saying: Let’s go USMNT against Honduras

The United States Men's National Team faces a critical match against Honduras. 

With an 0-2 record, and currently in last place, the USMNT is on the brink of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

Motivation across the sports world is pouring in for the Red, White and Blue.