It wasn't a pretty picture. The U.S. had lost 2--1 at Honduras on Feb. 6 in the final-round opener of qualifying for World Cup 2014, and as the team bus awaited an armed police escort to the hotel, the looks on the faces of the U.S. players said it all: Get me outta here. Equally undesirable was the U.S.'s position in the qualifying table: alone in last place after the first of 10 games. So what do the Americans need to improve before next month's qualifiers against Costa Rica (in Denver) and at Mexico? Let's start with these three things.
• Quit hemorrhaging road points. In each of the four away qualifiers played under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. has taken a lead, only to cede an equalizer. (Average time between those goals in the last three games: just 10 minutes.) Over that stretch the U.S. lost eight points from winning positions out of a possible 12. That is unacceptable. Against Honduras the U.S. committed a series of defensive errors that led to the home side's equalizer just four minutes after Clint Dempsey had created a 1--0 advantage.
"We need more energy on the road," says U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, and he's right. The team must close out games in which it takes the lead—the way it did in friendly wins at Italy and Mexico last year.
• Take better care of the ball. The pattern in Honduras was alarming: The U.S. worked hard defensively to win possession, then turned it back over almost immediately, courtesy of poor passes and balls that were booted downfield for a lack of better options. Among midfielders, only Michael Bradley displayed confidence in his passing; Danny Williams and Jermaine Jones (his exquisite assist to Dempsey notwithstanding) consistently gave up possession.
February 18, 2013
"We need to find a better rhythm," says Howard, "sometimes just those ticky-tacky four- or five-yard passes that make [an opponent] get behind the ball and defend."
• Find a plan and stick to it. Klinsmann's choices can appear arbitrary from game to game. After not even calling up defender Omar Gonàlez for most of his first year and a half in charge, the German manager started the untested 24-year-old ahead of captain Carlos Bocanegra in a hostile Honduran environment. Gonàlez had never played with center back partner Geoff Cameron before the difficult road qualifier, and the pair's unfamiliarity was clear on multiple occasions, including both Honduran goals. Gonàlez and Cameron should be the best pairing in the long term, but why didn't Klinsmann set them up to succeed by waiting to debut them in next month's home game in Denver, before which they would have had five days to coalesce in practice (as opposed to the one day they had together pre-Honduras)? The experienced Bocanegra could have helped last week in the late nervy moments when the U.S. was trying to preserve a draw.
Thankfully for the U.S. the 10-game qualifying schedule provides some margin for error. But with three of its first four games on the road, Klinsmann's team needs to win on March 22 at home against Costa Rica. The pressure is already on.
Three-pointers made by the Rockets (on 40 attempts) in a 140--109 win over the Warriors, tying the NBA record set by the Magic in 2009.
Seats in O.co Coliseum that the Raiders—last in the NFL in attendance in 2012—will remove before next season (reducing capacity to a league-low 53,250) in an effort to avoid TV blackouts.
Team Garmin-Sharp bikes stolen from a hotel parking lot in southern France, forcing the team to withdraw from the Tour of the Mediterranean before the fourth stage.
Consecutive games with at least 30 points—a Heat record—for LeBron James, after he scored 32 in a 107--97 win over the Lakers on Sunday.
Seasons in which Manchester United's Ryan Giggs, 39, has scored in England's top flight, after his goal in a 2--0 win over Everton on Sunday. He is the only player to score in every season of the Premier League, which was established in 1992--93.