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  • 05:27 PM ET  11.17

Three thoughts on the U.S.’s 1-0 victory over South Africa on Wednesday in Cape Town:

Juan Agudelo’s world is changing fast. The 17-year-old New York Red Bulls forward scored on his debut in the 85th minute to lift a young U.S. team to a surprising victory over a nearly full-strength South Africa in sold-out Cape Town Stadium. Considering Agudelo had an impressive performance in New York’s final playoff game (also on national TV), the hype machine may go into overload for the young striker leading into 2011. (Within 15 minutes of the game, “Agudelo” was trending on Twitter in the U.S. and New York City.) Let’s try and dial it down a bit, though. Agudelo is a very promising young player with good physical tools who will need to keep his head straight if he wants to achieve that potential. That said, it was a well-taken goal by the U.S., not least because fellow debutante Mix Diskerud did a lot of good work on the ball before passing to Agudelo for his poised finish.

The new guys fared well. Agudelo and Diskerud weren’t the only young Americans who had solid debuts for the national team. New York’s Tim Ream won his first start in the central defense (ahead of West Ham’s Jonathan Spector and MLS Defender of the Year finalist Nat Borchers) and justified coach Bob Bradley’s confidence by positioning himself well and looking composed on the ball. Likewise, Teal Bunbury came on up top in the second half and had some nice moments, showing good speed of thought on the ball. Eric Lichaj had a solid performance at right back, defending well against Siphiwe Tshabalala while making his way upfield on occasion in the attack. It’s only one game, though, so let’s put everything in perspective. You can be sure that Bob Bradley will.

Some familiar faces struggled. Two U.S. players from the World Cup team had nights to forget. Robbie Findley got the start up top but had trouble completing passes and was outplayed by both Agudelo and Bunbury. On the back line, Spector came in at halftime and lost several balls, some of them in dangerous positions on the field. Neither player has been starting for his club team, either, which means they’ll be in danger of missing out on future call-ups if the New Kids keep showing promise. Some other familiar faces looked good, though, including goalkeeper Brad Guzan and defender Clarence Goodson.

What were your thoughts on the game?

 

 

PRINCETON, N.J. -- With the news this weekend that U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra had sports hernia surgery on May 5, the questions in the U.S.’s pre-World Cup camp have shifted from the forward position (Who will play up top?) to the U.S. back line.

Though all 30 players in the U.S. camp participated in full training on Sunday, health questions still surround three potential defensive starters. Central defender Oguchi Onyewu hasn’t played in a competitive game since last October, when he ruptured his left patella tendon. Fellow center back Jay DeMerit sat out training earlier this week due to an abdominal strain, and his right eye has around 80 percent of the vision it had before he suffered a bacterial infection last fall.

Then there’s Bocanegra, who could start in the center or at left back. On Saturday, U.S. coach Bob Bradley dropped the nugget that Bocanegra had undergone sports hernia surgery earlier this month. The procedure took place in Munich with Dr. Ulrike Muschaweck, the renowned sports hernia surgeon who pioneered a technique that cuts recovery time to as little as two weeks.

Two weeks is exactly how long it took for Bocanegra to start full training with the U.S. team on Wednesday. According to Bocanegra, he was kicked on the left knee in a game on March 28 against Le Mans.

“It was above my knee, kind of in my left quad,” said Bocanergra. “I couldn’t flex my leg properly for three days. I was walking really awkwardly and tried to run on it like that.” The hernia, Bocanegra said, came as a result of overcompensation. He felt pain for “about four weeks” and had the sports hernia procedure in Munich on May 5.

Bocanegra said the sugery lasted 15 to 20 minutes. “For me it was not a big issue," he added. "The procedure was quick. I was in and out. You’re walking right away and I was running three days later.”

He said he expects to be available for the U.S.’s friendly on Tuesday in East Hartford, Conn., against the Czech Republic.

Several MLS players have had the same sports hernia procedure with Dr. Muschaweck, including New England Revolution forward Taylor Twellman. When I asked Twellman about it on Twitter today, he DM’d me back, writing:

“If Carlos takes care of the injury now--i.e., scar-tissue massage--he'll be fine.”

Recovery, Twellman wrote, takes “anywhere from 2-3 weeks. It’s later on that he’ll have side effects that suck. She cuts a nerve, which ends up not good later.” Twellman added that a few other MLS players who’ve had the Muschaweck procedure had dealt with similar “problems” in the longer term.

How will these health concerns affect Bradley’s final decisions for his 23-man World Cup roster? I’d speculate that it might increase the chances that Bradley will take eight defenders instead of seven, though it appears likely that Bocanegra, Onyewu and DeMerit will be on the plane to Johannesburg. Still, in a camp where injury information is kept close to the vest, the best way to really tell is by watching who plays in the games themselves.

 

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  • 04:43 PM ET  05.22

Three thoughts after Inter Milan's 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final:

Two Argentines stole the show. It wasn’t just that Diego Milito scored both of Inter’s goals; it was that he did so with remarkable poise on the biggest stage in global club soccer. The relentless Argentine played a clever one-two with Wesley Sneijder before calmly finishing Goal No. 1, and then he torched Daniel van Buyten with a killer crossover on his way to Goal No. 2. How clutch is Milito? He scored the game-winner in the Coppa Italia final against Roma on May 5. Then he scored the decisive goal in Inter’s Scudetto-clinching win at Siena on May 16. And now he has provided two magnificent strikes in the Champions League final. But Milito wasn’t the only Argentine to shine. Inter midfielder Esteban Cambiasso was a constant force, covering acres of space, winning balls and immediately starting dangerous attacks. To think that Diego Maradona didn’t include Cambiasso on Argentina's 30-man World Cup preliminary roster is a disgrace.

José Mourinho deserved to be the world’s highest-paid coach. What more can you ask from the Special One? He outcoached Chelsea’s Carlo Ancelotti in the Champions League Round of 16 with a tactical tour de force. He did the same to Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola in the semifinals, refusing to let Lionel Messi destroy his defense the way he had against Arsenal. And Mourinho got it right again in the final, deputizing Christian Chivu and Javier Zanetti to slow down Arjen Robben as he tried to attack down the right flank. Chivu and Zanetti got physical with Robben early, and the Dutch star was never able to provide the danger that he had against Manchester United and Fiorentina in earlier rounds. Hand Mourinho the Treble--and, most likely, a $20 million annual salary to take over at Real Madrid.

Bayern really missed Franck Ribéry. It’s a shame that the dynamic Frenchman had to sit out the final on a (deserved) red-card suspension. Ribéry’s darting runs down the left side could have opened up space in the Inter defense that might have allowed more room for Robben (on the right) and Bastian Schweinsteiger, who had a lousy game in the middle. Still, this Bayern Munich team far exceeded any of its expectations this season under first-year coach Louis van Gaal. Yet the plaudits today should go to Inter, which deserved this trophy after taking out the champions of England (Chelsea), Spain (Barcelona) and Germany (Bayern Munich). Bravo, Nerazzurri, bravo.

What were your thoughts on the game?

 

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  • 07:09 AM ET  03.11
Cup
Sacha Kljestan is fighting for a spot in the midfield.
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

In the wake of last week's 2-1 loss at the Netherlands, the U.S. national team will play no more games before coach Bob Bradley is scheduled to announce his provisional 23-man World Cup roster in May. That means now is a good time to update SI.com's "23 Golden Tickets," the 23 players I believe Bradley will pick for the team that travels to South Africa.

Keep in mind, Bradley doesn't have to send his final roster to FIFA until June 1, so he can change his provisional roster before the deadline if any U.S. players pick up injuries in the two send-off games, against the Czech Republic on May 25 and Turkey on May 29.

Here are the latest 23 Golden Tickets (players with a "*" next to their names are those I would consider locks at this point):

GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard*, Brad Guzan*, Marcus Hahnemann*.

DEFENDERS (8): Oguchi Onyewu*, Carlos Bocanegra*, Jay DeMerit*, Jonathan Spector*, Steve Cherundolo*, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson, Heath Pearce.

MIDFIELDERS (9): Landon Donovan*, Michael Bradley*, Ricardo Clark*, Maurice Edu*, Stuart Holden, José Torres, Benny Feilhaber, DaMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan.

FORWARDS (3): Clint Dempsey*, Jozy Altidore*, Brian Ching.

New additions: Heath Pearce, Sacha Kljestan.

Fell out: Robbie Findley, Conor Casey.

New locks: Steve Cherundolo, Maurice Edu.

No longer locks: Jonathan Bornstein, Brian Ching.

GOALKEEPERS: There's not much debate at this point. Tim Howard is the clear No. 1, Brad Guzan has put in his time with the team, and Marcus Hahnemann has been playing regularly for Wolves in the Premiership. The only question is whether Hahnemann might win the backup spot from Guzan, who hasn't been playing much for Aston Villa.

Other candidates: Nick Rimando, Troy Perkins.

DEFENDERS: The only change here is the addition of Heath Pearce, who improved his cause more than anyone else during the recent friendlies against El Salvador and the Netherlands. Given Jonathan Bornstein's troubles at left back against the Dutch (causing him to lose his lock status for now), Pearce might be challenging him in the pecking order at this point, though if everyone is healthy I still expect Carlos Bocanegra to start at left back in South Africa with a central defense of Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit and Jonathan Spector on the right. Steve Cherundolo may not have played in Amsterdam, but it's clear that Bradley considers him part of the team's core group, and therefore a lock.

Other candidates: Chad Marshall, Jimmy Conrad, Edgar Castillo, Frankie Hejduk.

MIDFIELDERS: I'm moving Clint Dempsey to forward for now, at least until the feverishly rehabbing Charlie Davies is able to take the field for Sochaux. That would leave a starting midfield of Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, either Ricardo Clark or Maurice Edu and (if he can recover from his recently broken fibula) Stuart Holden on the right side. Holden's injury, which came on a horrific tackle by the Netherlands' Nigel de Jong, comes at a terrible time for Holden, who had just joined the regular rotation at Bolton Wanderers. Holden is expected to recover just in time for the World Cup, but the uncertainty will keep him from lock status for now.

José Torres and Benny Feilhaber should make the team, while the last two midfield spots are a close call. DaMarcus Beasley had a good showing in Amsterdam, increasing his chances of making his third World Cup team, while the last spot is anyone's guess. Tim Howard's comments this week suggest that if Jermaine Jones is healthy he'll have a spot on the team, but I won't include the injured German-American until he can get on the field for Schalke. If Davies can return in time, I think he would also take this spot. But for now I'll choose between the top three candidates (Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Alejandro Bedoya) by going with Kljestan. When he's in form, Kljestan brings slightly more to the table than the other two, and (all other things being relatively equal) he's a Bob Bradley guy.

Other candidates: Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Robbie Rogers, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, Freddy Adu.

FORWARDS: As we've discussed before, this is not a deep position right now. The recent games have suggested that Robbie Findley isn't quite ready yet to play at the highest level, and I have now decided (though not very strongly) that Brian Ching and Conor Casey are competing for one spot. As a result I am dropping both Findley and Casey for now, though Ching vs. Casey may well be decided by MLS form and/or health status in May.

If Davies is ready he would take one of these spots and move Dempsey back to the midfield. Davies' speed really does provide an option here, since the other fast forwards (Findley, Eddie Johnson) haven't made a great case for inclusion yet.

Other candidates: Charlie Davies, Robbie Findley, Eddie Johnson, Kenny Cooper.

What do you think of the latest 23 Golden Tickets? Do you agree? Disagree? And who do you think has the best chance of playing themselves on or off the team between now and May? Post your thoughts below and let the debate commence ...

 

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  • 04:50 PM ET  03.03

AMSTERDAM -- Three quick thoughts after the U.S.'s 2-1 loss to the Netherlands on Wednesday at Amsterdam ArenA:

* The U.S. was flattered by the scoreline. This was a game that was heavily reminiscent of the 2-0 loss the Yanks suffered at Wembley Stadium to England in 2008. Aside from some bright play by the U.S. in the final minutes (including Carlos Bocanegra's goal off a set-piece), the Dutch controlled nearly every aspect of this game, making sharp passes, playing quickly and keeping the U.S. on its heels down the wings and through the middle. It's always tough to play a Top 5 team on the road, but the U.S. was rarely able to threaten a sometimes suspect back line. José Torres was disappointing after getting the start in the central midfield, providing one good shot from outside the box but misfiring on several passes. Meanwhile, Landon Donovan and Jozy Altidore couldn't get much going on the offensive end. The Americans will have to hope for better as they get closer to the World Cup opener against England on June 12.

* Injuries hurt the U.S. more than other teams. If we've learned anything in 2010, it's that the Americans just don't have much depth. The U.S. was playing without four injured starters on Wednesday--Clint Dempsey, Oguchi Onyewu, Charlie Davies, Ricardo Clark--and it was no coincidence that the toughest games were had by players that wouldn't have started if those four had been healthy. Jonathan Bornstein struggled at left back, committing a foolish penalty on Wesley Sneijder, and had an unlucky deflection go off him for the second goal after moving to center back. As for forward Robbie Findley, he just doesn't have what it takes right now to play at this level. The U.S. missed Dempsey more than anyone. He's a player that has the cojones and the skill to play in a game like this.

* Michael Bradley was pretty solid. Of all the U.S. players, Bradley looked the most comfortable on the field, covering lots of ground, showing good instincts and displaying some effective vision in transition. Not many other U.S. players stood out in a positive way. Bocanegra was fairly solid in central defense and got free for his goal. DaMarcus Beasley had some good moments after coming on in the first half for Stuart Holden (who went off with a right shin contusion following a nasty challenge by Nigel de Jong). Maurice Edu had a useful 45 minutes after coming on at halftime for Torres. But that was about it.

What did you think of the game? Did anyone play themselves onto the World Cup roster? Did anyone play themselves off? How much is Dempsey missed?

You can follow Grant Wahl on Twitter.

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