New Post: Three Keys for the #USMNT Tonight against Colombia in #CopaAmerica

By, Kyle Gibson

The United States men’s national team gets Copa America Centenario started Friday night on home soil against Colombia, which ranks third in the latest FIFA rankings.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad is 3-10-4 all time against Colombia, with its last win coming in 2005.

While games against 23rd ranked Costa Rica and 44th ranked Paraguay won’t be as rough on paper, both sides are still very strong. This makes the first match imperative if the U.S. doesn’t want to be watching the rest of the games in the stands or on T.V.

Here are three keys that could help the Nats score three big points against the mighty Colombians.

1. Sound connection between  center-backs

We aren’t entirely sure who the center-back pairing will be for Klinsmann, but this is nothing new. He has used five so far in World Cup Qualifying. In the two tune-ups for Copa, he used John Brooks and Geoff Cameron (Bolivia) and Brooks/Steve Birnbaum (Ecuador).

I think that Brooks is a lock, but the second slot should be mystery up until the release of the line-up. Hopefully for the U.S., the central pairing performs well together and stays together throughout group play.

2. Play Michael Bradley in a defensive midfield role

This is especially important against Colombia, which sports many dynamic play-makers that can control the game in the midfield.

Klinsmann seems to like Bradley as an attacking mid, but I like him further back. I had the pleasure to watch him live once for Toronto FC and he completely controlled the game in a deeper position.

Some pundits say Bradley is near world-class when he plays this position and I agree. His trademark tireless running and organization serves the U.S. better than a Bradley that plays in an advanced role.

3. Contain James Rodriguez, Carlos Bacca and Juan Cuadrado

James Rodriguez rose to world stardom at World Cup 2014, winning the Golden Boot and best goal award. I profiled his likelihood of joining Manchester United on Thursday.

Rodriguez could give an unsteady U.S. back line fits, as could Carlos Bacca.

Bacca, a striker for A.C. Milan, scored 18 goals in 36 matches. He also has three goals in the six Colombia World Cup Qualifiers.

Juan Cuadrado had an incredible season on loan for Juventus. I could talk at length about his first touch, burst of speed and craftiness, but the video below sums it all up. I am predicting Fabian Johnson to get the start at left back tonight in order to match Cuadrado’s pace.

Follow Kyle Gibson on Twitter, @KyleisGibson

New Post: Manchester United Transfer Watch; James Rodriguez

By, Kyle Gibson

As Jose Mourinho looks to strengthen the Manchester United squad in the summer transfer window, Kicking It breaks down players whose names are caught in the Old Trafford rumor-mill. 

The Player: James Rodriguez

Rodriguez was one of the stars of the 2014 FIFA World Cup for Colombia before and made the big-money move from AS Monaco to Real Madrid. In his first season he had a huge impact in La Liga, with 13 goals and 13 assists.

That form dropped in 2015-16, largely due to injury and a change in lineup under Rafa Benitez. Rodriguez was an unused substitute in the Champions League Final last Saturday.

James has his name thrown into the hat for manager Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United transfer war-chest. So, let’s examine the pros, cons and the likelihood of the signing.

Pros:

1. He’s a dynamic midfielder who can double as a central midfielder and winger. Mourinho will more than likely ship out Juan Mata, which would open up space. United doesn’t have many other attacking midfielders (we will get to one of the others in the next section), so this could help bolster the attack.

2. He scores some amazing goals and can provide some amazing assists. Just look at these highlights from last season.

3. James could be a signing to excite fans again. After the stagnant reign of Louis van Gaal, fans are looking for excitement again at Old Trafford. Mourinho isn’t known for free-flowing soccer, but his clubs tend to score plenty of goals. This is a big name who can provide some exciting finishes and flashy moves.

Cons: 

  1. Rodriguez is not known for his defensive capabilities, which is unfortunate because Mourinho teams are known for overall team defense. This most recently led to a freezing-out of Oscar while he was at Chelsea.
  2. What will happen with Wayne Rooney? The United legend insists that he wants to play in midfield beyond this season, after making the switch in recent weeks. If Rodriguez displaces Rooney in the middle, that could hurt the team balance. Playing him on the right could slow the development of Jesse Lingard. I think that James is personally better in the center.
  3. Real Madrid players are always rumored to make the jump to United but never do. Recent cases are Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, former Red Cristiano Ronaldo and Toni Kroos. The Spanish press has even more misinformation than the English press and rumors swirl all the time in Madrid, so you never truly know what’s happening.

Likelihood of Signing: Moderate

The chances should be lower than this, because the Manchester Evening News reported that Rodriguez wanted to stay at Madrid. However, this came after winning the Champions League, which is always a high even if you don’t play in it.

Also, Rodriguez could just be batting his eyes at United and other clubs.

I’m not willing to go above moderate on this signing, but I’m not willing to go any lower.

Follow Kyle Gibson on Twitter, @KyleisGibson

 

New Post: Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid, Champions League Final Preview and Prediction

By, Kyle Gibson

The eyes of the world will turn to Milan for an event besides fashion week this Saturday, when Real Madrid takes on Atletico Madrid in the Champions League Final.

A rematch of the 2014 final is maybe not as sexy as Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich or FC Barcelona, but this intense local derby is going to crackle on the world stage.

It did two years ago, when Gareth Bale produced his greatest moment yet in Real’s white kit, winning the team’s 10th UCL crown, the fabled “La Decima.” That final also provided a manager pitch-invasion, as Diego Simeone and Raphael Varane played a very unfriendly game of kick-around.

Let’s take a quick look at how the two sides match up this time around.

Season Meetings

Atletico owned the season series, picking up a 1-0 win in February thanks to Antoine Griezmann. The two sides drew in October.

How They Got There–Real Madrid

Real smoked Roma in the Round of 16, winning 4-0 on aggregate.

However, it took leg two heroics from Cristiano Ronaldo to propel the club past pesky Wolfsburg in the quarterfinals. Ronaldo had been criticized for much of the season for what pundits saw as diminishing skills. In this match, Ronaldo blended his all-time great skill and sheer willpower to push Madrid past the finish line in front of an electric Bernabeu crowd. He also shut up his critics.

Manchester City played a strong game against Madrid in the first leg of the semis, but were terribly meek in the second. It looked as if the Citizens could not recover from the early substitution of captain Vincent Kompany.

Special mention for manager Zinedine Zidane, who stepped in after the sacking of Rafa Benitez and turned the club’s season around as manager. Zidane is one of the best players ever and is shaping up to be quite the manager too.

How They Got There–Atletico Madrid

Atletico had the much tougher road, in my opinion. Dutch champions PSV gave Simeone’s men everything they could handle, but Atleti ultimately advanced 8-7 on penalties.

Champions League holders Barcelona came next. Barca won 2-1 at Camp Nou, forcing the game of the season at the Calderon. Atletico played out of its mind collectively, with Griezmann sealing the deal in style with a brace.

In the semis, FC Bayern were held goalless in the first leg, losing 1-0. Griezmann did it again in leg two, giving his club the deciding away goal to win the series 2-2.

Prediction

Atletico Madrid 2-1 Real Madrid (After extra time)

I really hope this one doesn’t go to penalties. Frankly, Atletico deserves to win. The club has been the embodiment of team soccer this season, much like English Premier League Champs Leicester City. Gabi, Koke, Griezmann, Oblak, Saul and pretty much anyone plugged in has been superb, giving his all for the team. Simeone is one of the top three managers in the world and if you argued he was the best, not many would be mad at it.

Manchester United Transfer Watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

By, Kyle Gibson

As Jose Mourinho looks to strengthen the Manchester United squad in the summer transfer window, Kicking It breaks down players whose names are caught in the Old Trafford rumor-mill. 

The Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan is still doing his thing at 34-years young. Being a legend/demigod? Yep. Bagging the goals? Yep. Asking to have the Eiffel Tower replaced with his likeness? Yup.

Ibra’s time in Paris has come to an end though – and he’s now available on a free transfer – which has led to rampant speculation regarding his future, including many links to Manchester United.

So, would he work at United? Let’s weigh the pros, cons and likelihood of signing.

Pros:

  1. Zlatan gets along with Mourinho splendidly. Many find both the player and manager to be abrasive. But these two had a successful spell together at Inter Milan together in 2008. This could be the pairing Mourinho needs to kick start his inaugural campaign.
  2. Goals. Goals. Goals. He’s bagged them at every stop in his career and topped Ligue 1 with a whopping 38 this year. There’s probably no way he gets that in the tougher EPL, but if he gets at least 20-25 league goals, he’s well worth the signing.
  3. United needs a top striker. Wayne Rooney is now a midfielder by admission and Anthony Martial excelled on the wing. Actually, Martial became everything United fans had hoped Memphis Depay would be on the left wing. Read more about Mourinho’s need to prioritize strikers in my previous post.

Cons: 

  1. Is age just a number? Mourinho and  Ibra will be hoping so. 34 is the age most players retire or are winding down.
  2. Will his personality work in such a crazy climate? The English press is insane, circling like sharks from the moment Louis van Gaal showed any sign of weakness. If Zlatan makes a lot of noise like normal, but also doesn’t perform well, fans and the media alike could call the project a disaster before it even gets half a season of trial period.
  3. What about Marcus Rashford? The 18-year old had a breakout half-season, scoring eight times in 18 matches, including the winner in the FA Cup Quarterfinal Replay at West Ham, a goal-of-the-season contender. Mourinho almost never relies on youth and Zlatan is unlikely to play a huge role as mentor. The best case scenario is that Rashford excels as an impact sub and starts games that Zlatan needs to rest.

Likelihood: High

Unlike previous United fiascos involving huge names (think Thomas Muller, Sergio Ramos, Neymar, Cesc Fabregas and Wesley Sneijder), this one seems to have a good chance of actually happening.

United is one of the only clubs willing to pay the massive wage Zlatan will demand and the link with Mourinho seems to excite the player.

Follow Kyle Gibson on Twitter, @KyleIsGibson and make sure to read the next United transfer watch, which features James Rodriguez. 

 

Blog: 3 Things Jose Mourinho Must do at Man United

By, Kyle Gibson

It isn’t official at the time of writing, but Jose Mourinho has all but been appointed the next manager at Manchester United, replacing the much maligned Louis van Gaal just days after the Dutchman helped United lift the FA Cup.

Mourinho has been tabbed as the next United manager since his firing from Chelsea in December, so he’s had some free time to plan his strategy for a club he’s always dreamed of coaching.

Here are three things Mourinho should do right away to help ensure a steady start at Old Trafford.

1. Sign a World-Class Striker

Wayne Rooney now sees himself as a central midfielder, while Anthony Martial has looked like one of the Premier League’s best wide players, not strikers. That leaves 18-year old Marcus Rashford, who did have a great first season with eight goals. However, Mourinho isn’t a big fan of youth. James Wilson does return from loan with Brighton, but only fired-in five goals in the second division.

There plenty of chatter about United signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which might just be a great match. The fiery Zlatan is by most standards old, at 34. However, he still managed 31 goals and 13 assists in 38 games for PSG in France. Ligue 1 is not as strong as the Premier League, but if Zlatan can bring United even 20 league goals, he’s worth the signing.

2. Patch-up the back line

Items No. 1 and 2 have been tops of United’s improvement list since Sir Alex Ferguson was still giving United players the hairdryer treatment. It’s baffling that United still has not fixed its defense. Chris Smalling had a big improvement at center-half this season, but his partner, Daley Blind, struggled with defending athletic and tall players. Can Mourinho replace Blind with someone like Phil Jones, who has always struggled with injuries at United? He should probably dip into the transfer market instead to buy some insurance.

The full-back positions are just as much a toss-up, but I don’t know if transfers are necessary yet. Matteo Darmian was the defender of the year in Serie A, which is either an indictment on Serie A, or Darmian’s first season in Manchester. He was either injured, or a liability. Hopefully Mournho can provide more stability for Darmian and left back Marcos Rojo. He also has Antonio Valencia, who looked impressive in the FA Cup Final on Saturday after returning from injury.

It goes against everything Mourinho does, but he should also continue to develop young backs Luke Shaw, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.

3. Make Europa League a big priority

Some clubs and managers thumb their nose at Europa League, but United can’t afford to next season. The club demands Champions League soccer and it’s harder than ever to qualify via league play. With only four (potentially five) spots up for grabs, that means clubs like United, Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Leicester City, Southampton and West Ham are all fighting for those spots. Winning the Europa League secures automatic Champions League qualification. If Jose and United treat the Europa League like small potatoes, the club’s arrogance could cost it Champions League for a second consecutive season.

Follow Kyle Gibson on Twitter, @KyleIsGibson

 

 

New Post: Matt Miazga’s Chelsea signing shows one thing – the big clubs are watching.

By, Kyle Gibson

U.S. international defender Matt Miazga’s signing by Chelsea signifies one important factor that MLS fans should pay attention to: big clubs around the world are watching.

The 20-year old burst onto the scene this year for the New York Red Bulls, but was nowhere near a household name until he was linked to Chelsea. After all, despite earning rave reviews, Miazga did not earn any MLS postseason honors and has just one cap with the USMNT, which came against legendary 80’s band  CONCACAF weakling Saint Vincent and the Grenadines back on Nov. 15.

However, apparently Miazga did more than enough to be on Chelsea’s radar. This should be an exciting signing for young players starting out in MLS, because it demonstrates that if you have a successful season and show promise you can catch a big break.

It also might be important the next time the league and players union enter collective bargaining. The union might definitely try to argue that American players would consider staying in MLS…if the price is right. Extra opportunity presents more selling power.

With Jordan Morris recently snubbing Werder Bremen for Seattle, it’s important to remember that no situation is similar and that players are entitled to do whatever they want.

Good luck to Matt on Chelsea. I just hope he doesn’t end up like their other 50 players that are perennially loaned out.

New Post: Juan Mata’s Best Ever Manchester United XI is star studded…to say the least 

By, Kyle Gibson

Manchester United midfielder Juan Mata is having a good start to 2015. The Spanish international has 4 goals and 3 assists in the EPL and is firmly in place in United’s first team at the moment. 

But who does Mata think the best United XI of all time is? Juan took the international break to name that team. 

You can read the full story here from Manchester United’s page. It’s a good read that also includes his reasoning for the selection. 

The team Mata named is listed below. You may note the absence of current teammate Wayne Rooney, but that’s because Mata did the lineup by only choosing former players. 

Goalkeeper: Peter Schmeichel

Defenders: Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic

Midfielders: David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs

Forwards: Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best, Eric Cantona