Soccer

US soccer's issues go way beyond finding the right coach

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USATSI

US soccer's issues go way beyond finding the right coach

Jurgen Klinsmann’s long national nightmare is finally over. The United States Men’s National Soccer Team’s, on the other hand, remains.
 
Nothing, and I mean nothing, feels better to a soccer fan than to have his or her team win a championship, but firing the coach is always a photo-finish second. Since the USMNT has never really won enough to be an arm-waving factor on the international stage, firing the coach is really the optimal outcome any fan can envision.
 
And Klinsmann, the German who was going to revolutionize the development and cultivation of the sport in America (a job that frankly has already been done by all the ready access to the best soccer in the world on a daily basis) won too infrequently to be as dismissive of the established order as he was. So, he served the soccer establishment by becoming the new severed head.
 
Yay decapitation!
 
But here’s where the firing (for which we have no opinion one way or another, since it is like arguing against evolution to an anthropologist, or opposing yeast to a baker) misses the point: The name most often linked to the job is Bruce Arena, a guy who already had it and was fired for the same reason that Klinsmann got whacked – because he couldn’t jump the United States ahead of the line in the established national order of football powers, that’s why.
 
The U.S. isn’t in the place it’s in internationally because the players aren’t sufficiently “coached up,” but because the structural issues with U.S. soccer (as well as U.S. Soccer, the suit-and-snoot component of the sport) are well beyond anyone’s ability to fix comprehensively, and especially not quickly. The game is more profitable than ever, but butts in seats doesn’t mean the same as goals in nets.
 
There is this ongoing and very fanciful notion that the United States should be far higher on the list of global soccer powers, which is fine except for the fact that nobody can ever explain where they should be ranked. First? Fourth? Sixth? Thirteenth? Ahead of Germany? Ahead of France? Ahead of Scotland? Ahead of Narnia?
 
Nobody knows, which is why the answer that is most often expressed by the most passionate U.S. soccer fans when asked “Where should they be?” is “better than they are,” a properly amorphous standard for always firing whoever the coach is at any given time.
 
If there is a problem with the product on the field, it is largely that the available American talent is in a fallow period right now, a phenomenon that happens to all but the most elite soccer-playing countries. The U.S. is not deep with impact players right now (though Christian Pulisic might be the realest deal in recent history), and it has never been deep with inventive ones.
 
But Klinsmann allowed people to think he could fix that while he got up to speed with in-game tactical developments – in layman’s terms, the X’s and O’s. He did neither, in the one case because the U.S. still hasn’t figured out how to identify, harness, grow and inspire its supply of potential players (it is still too heavily dependent on children of affluent parents and a coaching structure that has not found, taught or nurtured genius), and in the other because he has never been a tactical wizard – or even a tactical pixie, as far as that goes.
 
In any event, Klinsmann’s firing changes little of real substance, but as a temporary feel-good measure, it works wonders, as all firings do. Unless the U.S. is suddenly going to hire Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti or Diego Simeone at the height of their transformative powers, it is hard to see how Klinsmann’s absence will make the product look any different than his presence did. This is just new coasters on old deck chairs.
 
Now if they want to find a way to clone Pulisic and send the formula down the food chain to find more like him, now that would be worth your enthusiastic response. But we don’t want to ruin your fun, so go with “Jurgen Klinsmann is out, so drink up everyone” if you must.  
 
The hangover will come later, like it always does.

Manchester City-Chelsea live stream: Watch Premier League game online

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AP

Manchester City-Chelsea live stream: Watch Premier League game online

Saturday's match between Chelsea and Manchester City features two of the English Premier League's heavyweights. Get your popcorn ready. 

With 26 and 25 points, respectively, the Blues and the Cityzens currently sit in third and fourth place in the Premier League standings with a significant cushion over fifth. City lost to Liverpool 3-1 in their last match before the international break, and the back-to-back reigning league champions could find themselves as many as 12 points back of the first-place Reds at Saturday's conclusion, depending on the results of Liverpool's match against Crystal Palace. City's 35 goals and plus-22 goal-differential lead the league.

As the hottest team in the Prem, Chelsea have won six straight matches, the longest active streak in the league. American star Christian Pulisic has been in top form, having scored five goals over the last three games, but he is expected to miss Saturday's match against City with a hip injury. If Pulisic can't go, that will be a big blow to Chelsea's chances.

Here's how to watch Manchester City-Chelsea live on TV and online:

When: Saturday, Nov. 23, at 12:30 p.m. ET/9:30 a.m. PT
TV Channel: NBC
Live Stream: NBC Sports

Why Tottenham Hotspur hiring José Mourinho is no match made in heaven

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AP

Why Tottenham Hotspur hiring José Mourinho is no match made in heaven

Tottenham Hotspur sacked manager Mauricio Pochettino on Tuesday, and didn’t wait long to find his replacement.

The club announced the hiring of José Mourinho as head coach early Wednesday, less than 24 hours later. Mourinho, who has won everywhere he has managed, replaces a man who didn’t win a single trophy with Tottenham.

But the circumstances of Mourinho’s career, and those of his predecessor’s time at Tottenham, make the 56-year-old’s appointment a puzzling one.

Pochettino oversaw the club’s greatest run in decades, leading Tottenham to four straight top-four finishes and winning more games than any manager since the legendary Bill Nicholson. Tottenham also struggled throughout 2019, miracle run to the UEFA Champions League Final in Madrid aside.

Ultimately, Pochettino fell victim to his own success. Perennial Champions League contention is Tottenham’s new reality, and Spurs right now are closer to the drop than they are the top four.

Pochettino was on record saying he wanted to refresh his squad, desiring a “painful” rebuild as the Lilywhites brought in fresh blood. But clubs around the country and the continent failed to meet stingy chairman Daniel Levy’s demands, leaving the likes of Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen to run out the last year of their contracts this season.

Tottenham’s failure to purchase a single player for two consecutive windows ultimately cost Pochettino his job. Lacking subsequent reinforcements behind splash summer signings Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon, Spurs have looked stale since the 2019-20 season kicked off, with the players reportedly tiring of Pochettino’s demeanor and demanding training sessions.

If anything, Tottenham’s troubles have highlighted just how difficult Pochettino’s job was last season in guiding a patchwork squad -- playing most of it away from its long-delayed new home, no less -- to the cusp of a European title in June.

Spurs are, unquestionably, in a better position now than when Pochettino took over in May 2014. But that position is still a step down from what Mourinho is used to, as the difficult circumstances Pochettino had to navigate through parts of six seasons illustrate.

Mourinho has managed established long-time domestic giants (FC Porto, Inter Milan), mega-clubs with massive financial might (twice at Roman Abrahamovich-owned Chelsea and most recently at Manchester United) and Real Madrid, which fits both bills. Tottenham wants to keep company with those clubs, but they aren’t there yet.

Spurs’ new stadium is Levy’s boldest step into building a sustainable contender, yet their net-spend during Pochettino’s entire tenure is much smaller than what Mourinho’s was during parts of four seasons in Manchester. Levy reportedly has long admired Mourinho from afar, but the Spurs chairman a notorious penny-pincher and Mourinho’s previous clubs have spent enough for him to dive into a pool of pennies, a la Scrooge McDuck.

There also is the matter of squad construction and tactics. Tottenham under Pochettino were associated with aggressive pressing and attacking football, living up to Spurs’ “To Dare is To Do.” The ultra-defensive Mourinho’s managerial credo might as well be “To Dare is To Don’t.”

Their fundamentally different nature makes Mourinho and Spurs the oddest of odd couples, and begs one question: Who is going to change?

Will Levy open up the purse strings in January, backing his new manager? If not, why hire Mourinho in the first place?

Will Mourinho -- who once complained of Manchester United’s lack of financial support -- accept Tottenham’s financial reality? If not, why take the job in the first place?

Mourinho, tellingly, pointed to Tottenham’s “quality in both the squad and the academy” in his hiring announcement. Given Spurs’ real inability to refresh their squad until the January transfer window at the earliest, Mourinho’s appointment feels like a decision made with their current core in mind.

There are the aforementioned veterans in the last year of their contracts, while attacking staples Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min are in their late 20s. Dele Alli is in the midst of a down, injury-riddled campaign, but the 23-year-old is approaching his peak years. Mourinho has not managed a club for four full seasons, but this Spurs squad as currently constructed surely doesn’t have four seasons left together, anyway.

“If you’re looking long-term, Mourinho doesn’t work,” a source “with links to Spurs” told The Athletic. “If you’re looking for two years, he does.”

[RELATED: Pochettino leaves proud Spurs legacy]

A short tenure would be par for the course for Levy’s leadership, as Pochettino was the longest-serving manager he hired. Mourinho’s contract lasts until 2023, and seeing it out could mark his longest managerial stint, depending upon how many matches Tottenham plays with him at the helm.

Levy is betting on Mourinho to squeeze some last-ditch glory out of an aging squad, while Mourinho is betting on Tottenham to reclaim his place as one of Europe’s elite coaches. They’ve each, essentially, wagered their reputations on this being a match made in heaven.

Yet there are plenty of signs pointing to it being anything but.