Quakes shift focus to 2012, Ecuadorian striker Zura

Quakes shift focus to 2012, Ecuadorian striker Zura

Nicholas Rosano
SAN JOSE With the Earthquakes playoff hopes quickly fading, it is natural to imaginethat much of the teams focus will shift towards building for 2012 and puttingthe team back in playoff contention. While the team hasnt been mathematicallyeliminated from playoff contention, the weekends 2-0 loss at the Los AngelesGalaxy, combined with other results around the league, left the Earthquakesfarther adrift than ever.
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As such, in addition to fighting until the end for a playoffspot, many players will be looking to keep their spot on the team for nextseason. Making that competition just a bit fiercer is the fact that the team islikely to bring in a number of trialists in the coming weeks and months, alongwith the addition of the latest player to grace the Earthquakes roster,Edmundo Zura.
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Zura, an Ecuadorian forward who arrived last week on loanfrom El Nacional in his native country, is on the roster and can play for theEarthquakes during the rest of the season, unlike any trialist the team mightbring in. The nature of his deal, though, means he will also be playing for aspot on the team in 2012. Should he impress during the final two months of the season,the Earthquakes could look to exercise their option make his move permanent.Otherwise, he would return to El Nacional. Part of the rationale for Zuras move is simply necessity.With both Steven Lenhart and Alan Gordon out for a considerable amount of time,the Earthquakes were in the market for an attacking player, and Zurasperceived capabilities as a target forward made him a suitable choice to fillthe role Gordon and Lenhart played for the Earthquakes a key part of Yallopstactical set up.
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Those two Gordon and Lenhart are very active and Edmundo,once he gets fit, he should be that type, head coach Frank Yallop explained.Pretty strong target, good in the air and can finish, but youve got to beable to move and be in condition to do that, a lot of runs, its a lot of runsin our game. The players condition could indeed be the biggest stickingpoint in getting Zura to the point where he can make an impact for theEarthquakes. Despite being in season in his native Ecuador,Zura ended up arriving to meet the squad for the game in Los Angeles without much match fitness, andit showed in his 20 minutes on the field.We thought he would be a lot closer being match fit, buthes not, head coach Frank Yallop said. He really needs to get working andget fit, and then we can really assess him, for sure.Zura himself also acknowledged that he had hard work aheadof him, saying through a translator, Im not perfect, but Im working hard toget better and get in good shape. I felt very good, like I could give those 20minutes against LA, but there is some work to do.
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Coming from Ecuador,a league where technical skills often take precedence over the physical,hard-running style found in a league like MLS, Zura also acknowledged thatplaying in the U.S.would take some adaptation on his part. However, he also believed his timeplaying in Australia,with a league similar in style to MLS, could help prepare him for the rigors ofphysical play here. Here its always different, there is a lot more running, alot more running with the ball, he said. More touches, the speed is just alittle bit quicker. I expected that a little bit because I played in Australia,which is a league with a lot of fast running. Once Zura does make it to full match fitness, though, histeammates will be ready to welcome him into the fold. I think hes a good player. I definitely hope that he canhelp out some, said Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski, who also expressedhope that Zura could fill the role once filled by Lenhart and Gordon. Hesdefinitely a target forward hes a big boy, so yeah, its hopefully somethingthat he can do. It is up in the air as to whether Zura will be able totravel to Canadafor the Earthquakes upcoming match against Toronto FC on Aug. 27 generalmanager John Doyle said he was working on obtaining a visa to allow Zura totravel north of the border. If Zura should not make the trip, though, he will haveplenty of time to get fit and ready to make the impact the Earthquakes areseeking from him, with a two-week break in action before Chicago comes to townon Sept. 10.For more Earthquakes, MLS and world soccer musings,you can follow Nick Rosano on Twitter: @nicholasrosano

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention


Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama


USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

ORLANDO, Fla. — Teenage star Christian Pulisic scored with a brilliant touch to complete a field-length attack just eight minutes in, then split the defense with a pass that set up Jozy Altidore for the first of the forward's two goals and put the United States back on track for next year's World Cup with a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night.

Pulisic fed Altidore for a 2-0 lead in the 19th. Altidore converted a penalty kick with a chip in the 43rd after Bobby Wood was fouled, and Wood added a goal in the 63rd.

The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points and moved two points ahead of Panama into third place — the last automatic berth — in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Honduras has nine points going into its match Saturday at Costa Rica, which is second with 15.

Goal difference means the Americans put themselves in great shape to reach an eighth straight World Cup, almost certainly with a win Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago and likely with a draw if Honduras fails to win Saturday. The U.S. is plus-five to minus-two for Panama and minus-seven for Honduras.

The region's fourth-place team advances to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria.

"We could have finished better on the day and scored more goals," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Playing his first international match since he turned 19 last month, Pulisic was moved to central midfield from the flanks by coach Bruce Arena and sparked the attack from the opening whistle with pace and ball control seldom seen from Americans.

After Gabriel Gomez broke free from Omar Gonzalez and shot over the crossbar, Tim Howard's goal kick was headed forward by Bobby Wood about 10 yards past midfield.

Altidore one-timed the ball ahead to on a sprinting Pulisic, and the midfielder reached back with his left leg to flick the ball ahead. Pulisic jumped to avoid Roman Torres' challenge and used the outside of his right foot to play the ball forward. As goalkeeper Jaime Penedo came off his line, Pulisic used the outside of his right foot again to play the ball wide and jumped over Pinedo's outstretched arm. At the edge of the 6-yard box and just 2 yards from the endline, Pulisic reached with his right foot to slot the ball in, completing a 112-yard U.S. move. Pulisic tumbled over as the ball rolled in for his eighth goal in 19 international appearances, his fourth in the hex.

Pulisic created the second goal when he played the ball between his feet and faked Michael Murillo on the left flank Pulisic broke ahead and fed Altidore, who split the center backs and redirected the ball in from 5 yards for his first goal of the hexagonal. At that point, Pulisic had played a part in 11 of the Americans' 14 goals in the hex.

After Wood and Altidore failed to convert good chances, Wood drew the penalty kick when he exchanged passes with Paul Arriola along a flank, broke past Felipe Baloy, spurted diagonally into the penalty area and was pushed down by Armando Cooper. As Pinedo dived to his left, Altidore chipped the ball down the center for his 41st international game.

Hacked down several times by Panamanians, Pulisic was removed in the 57th minute and walked out to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 25,303 at Orlando City Stadium, which opened in February,

Wood added his 10th international goal off a pass from Arriola.

Panama was trying to move into position to qualify for its first World Cup. The Panamanians were 90 seconds from advancing to a playoff against New Zealand four years ago, when Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored late goals at Honduras, which dropped Panama behind Mexico and into fifth place.