Mailbag: USMNT vs. Mexico, Jurgen Klinsmann, Iceland, Gedion Zelalem

Grant Wahl answers your questions on the U.S. men's national team, Jurgen Klinsmann, Euro 2016 qualifiers and much more.
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The FIFA international window has ended, and players are busy rejoining their clubs for a busy weekend ahead. So it’s a good time for the new ‘Bag.

Let’s dive in:

Your [U.S.] back line of choice for October 10th?


The revolving door on the U.S. back line has kept anyone from establishing a guaranteed foursome in the past year. But with victory paramount against Mexico in a difficult setting next month, my choices would be: Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and DaMarcus Beasley. You want players who know what it takes in the biggest games, and these four fit that bill. Omar Gonzalez would be another solid choice in the center next to Besler.

Johnson and Beasley should be healthy enough by then, but that remains a bit up in the air. Other options for Jurgen Klinsmann include John Brooks, Ventura Alvarado, Tim Ream and Michael Orozco.

Why are two of the country’s most skilled/best passers/best offensive vision (Benny Feilhaber & Lee Nguyen) not on USMNT?


Great question, Judah.

Regardless of Peru, Brazil results, USA has foundation to take on Mexico

I would have liked to see either one of them playing in the attacking central midfield position on Tuesday against Brazil, with Michael Bradley playing in the holding midfielder role. Feilhaber is having a terrific MLS season with Kansas City and has experience against the world’s best teams, while Nguyen would be a solid guy to have on the U.S. bench. Yet Klinsmann has said other players are ahead of them. I don’t think there’s much either player can do at this point.

Is Klinsmann’s job realistically in jeopardy with a loss to Mexico in October? If not, should it be?


U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said at the Gold Cup that even if the U.S. loses to Mexico, Klinsmann will keep his job. And Gulati doesn’t tend to go against what he says publicly. But you’d better believe there will be calls in the public sphere for Klinsmann’s removal if the U.S. doesn’t win next month.

Klinsmann is a long-term hire, not one to be fired for a short-term failure

The reality is that a coach by just about any other name would be in danger were that to happen. But Klinsmann does have a long-term contract, World Cup qualifying does start in November, and Klinsmann has a pretty good record against Mexico, having never lost to El Tri in three games as a player and six as a manager. Based on current form you’d probably pick Mexico to win, but based on recent results—the U.S. hasn’t lost to Mexico in four years—you’d go with the Stars & Stripes.

Is Didier Drogba scoring a hat trick in his first start good or bad for MLS?


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I understand the question, not least because Chicago’s defending was brutal against Drogba, but I think it’s a good thing overall when a legendary player scores a hat trick in his first MLS start.

There’s always a concern that big-name mid-season transfers will take a while to settle in, and Drogba got off to a remarkable start that made headlines across the Atlantic as well.

Montreal, which just fired coach Frank Klopas, couldn’t have asked for better timing from Drogba, both on the field and off the field, where his presence has spiked home attendance already.

Most overrated/underrated stats in soccer?


As playoffs near, can NWSL take steps forward with World Cup momentum?

Pass completion percentage doesn’t tell me anything about what kind of passes they were. Were they forward, sideways or backward? Did they set up scoring chances? Distance run also seems overrated. I’d rather know how efficient you are. As for underrated, how about games played? As my old friend Alexi Lalas says, not getting injured is a skill, one that clubs will pay a lot of money for if you’re a good player as well.

What’s my next football read? Looking for a good recommendation!


I’d recommend The Ugly Game: The Corruption of FIFA and the Qatari Plot to Buy the World Cup by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert (Scribner). It’s by two top-notch investigative reporters and just came out in the United States. And while I haven’t read it yet, I’m looking forward to checking out Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World by Raphael Honigstein.

Do you have a favorite football bar in NYC?


I do: Smithfield Hall at 138 W 25th Street. It’s the home bar for the Bayern Munich and Barcelona fan clubs in the city, among other things. Just a great place to watch games.

Will Bob Bradley get the shot in a bigger league that he so clearly deserves?


You’d have to think it’s coming soon, right? Despite having the lowest budget of any team in the Norwegian top flight, Bradley’s Stabaek is in second place in the league (which has a calendar like MLS’s) and is in the semifinals of the domestic cup competition. Every year, Bradley finds a way to get the most out of his team, and this year is no different. I’m stunned that no American owner in any of the European leagues has gone after him yet.

First problem NYCFC has to fix?


Defending. Team defense as a whole has been abysmal, and the back line has been non-existent at times. There were times during the recent home loss to Columbus when I couldn’t believe the amount of space that had opened up at the back for Jason Kreis’s group.

Loving the Iceland story. How far do you think they can go at Euro 2016?


Which European upstart you do think is more likely to make a big run in Euro 2016?


Around Europe: Expanded Euro field making for spirited qualifying

Iceland is one of the best stories in world soccer right now after qualifying for Euro 2016, its first major tournament. And I think they can do pretty well there. After all, Iceland has emerged from a tough group that includes the Netherlands, Turkey and the Czech Republic, teams that have performed well at the World Cup and at the Euro. And it’s not like Iceland has had a couple decent performances in qualifying. They’ve been something close to a force.

On Friday I told Aron Johannsson, the U.S.’s Icelandic-raised striker, that my wife and I are going to Iceland in December on vacation to see the Northern Lights. But after giving me the obligatory question (“Why would you go to Iceland in December?”), he and I agreed that I should stick around and do a story up there.

Is new ownership necessary to turn the Chicago Fire around as a franchise?


MLS Power Rankings Week 27: Drogba's impact, Seattle's rebound

Not necessarily. I think smarter ownership might work better. Based on what I hear, Andrew Hauptman cares about his team, though it would be good to see him be more public about it in the way of Portland’s Merritt Paulson or Kansas City’s Robb Heineman. So consider this an interview request, Andrew Hauptman. We’d love to hear how passionate you are about the Fire—and what you’d like to tell your fans about your plans to turn the team around.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions like this from Fire fans recently.

What did you major in in college to get where you are today?


I was a political science major, and they let me do a senior thesis on politics and soccer in Argentina. So I lived in Buenos Aires for three months and did research and interviews and went to a lot of games. That kind of confirmed for me that I wanted to do this sports journalism thing for a living, preferably in soccer.

If you were a betting man, who would you wager on winning MLS Cup?


Simple answer: LA Galaxy. Too much talent, too many good role players and the best coach the league has ever seen.

Your thoughts on FC Dallas starting homegrown talent.


Love it. For Dallas to start so many kids away at Columbus the other night and win 3-0 (against an admittedly not full-strength Crew team) was impressive. Óscar Pareja has no fear when it comes to starting his youngsters, which should have fans excited about what investing in your youth can bring in MLS.

When will MLS recognize the FIFA calendar? IMO fans deserve a team’s best 11 each game.


MLS does recognize the FIFA calendar a bit more than it used to, but we still had games last weekend and this Wednesday night. If you’re a soccer purist, you never want to see any games played during the international window. But then you see that Columbus drew a rare full-house (or close to one) on Sunday when there were more than a dozen players missing, and you understand why owners sometimes choose to play on weekends over weeknights, even if it means playing at less than full strength.

Do you think that soccer will one day be a major sport in America?


I think it already is. The U.S. is the best country in the world when it comes to watching soccer on television. The U.S. pays more in TV rights fees for the World Cup than any other country. More people from the U.S. bought tickets for the men’s World Cup than from any other country outside the host nation. You get the picture.

Dom Dwyer has scored a lot of goals for SKC, why is he never mentioned as a potential candidate for the USMNT?


He’s told me he’s interested once he gets his U.S. passport. I think Dwyer and Portland’s Darlington Nagbe (who’s about to get his U.S. passport) would both draw some interest once their paperwork is complete.

When do you expect Gedion Zelalem to make a USMNT senior team appearance?


Hard to say, especially since he’s just getting his first regular first-team minutes on loan at Rangers. I could see Klinsmann calling him up for a World Cup qualifier—the U.S.’s semifinal round group is Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala and St. Vincent & Grenadines—and cap-tying him for good. Also curious to see if Zelalem is involved in the Olympic effort (the 18-year-old just made his U-23 debut Tuesday in a friendly vs. Qatar).

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