The battle for "America's Team": Jurgen Klinsmann has alienated some players from his United States national team set up so they've gone ahead and made their own team. They're the Rejects and they're taking on Klinsmann's first team, who we'll call the Yanks, here at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City. The winner gets to represent the U.S. going forward. Klinsmann has his pick of all the guys he's made a part of his squad for his first seven matches, while the Rejects' have brought on Marcello Lippi as manager and he's picked his 18-man squad for today's match.
It's a 2006 World Cup rematch in the coaches' boxes: Klinsmann and Lippi have once before coached national teams with each manager leading his home country. The two even met in the 2006 World Cup semifinals, where Lippi got the better of Klinsmann in extra time thanks to goals by Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero. Lippi's Italy side got the better of the stat sheet too, dominating possession, putting almost double the number of shots on target and tripling the number of corner kicks that Klinsmann's Germany side had.
That 2006 semifinal was a painful loss for Germany, whose fans had their hearts set on winning the World Cup on home soil. Instead, it was Italy who won the World Cup. Unlike in 2006, Klinsmann won't have the advantage of a raucous home crowd. In fact, it will be interesting to see which American team these American fans side with. Lippi will be dealing with his own problems though as he has gotten second choice of all players.
The teams for today are in: For the Yanks, it is largely the same team that Klinsmann has show he's comfortable with. The much-maligned Michael Orozco Fiscal is in the team, as is Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu is back in an advance midfield role just as he was for the last two matches. The Rejects' have some issues at fullback, but Mikkel Diskerud, Sacha Kljestan and Benny Feilhaber give them some passing that the first team could definitely use. Interesting, they're in matching 4-1-3-1-1 formations
This is a scene out of Little Giants: Remember the movie? The little misfits that couldn't make the good town football team put together their own team and play the good team because "this town is only big enough for one team." Same thing here, except "this country is only big enough for one team." I wonder is the Rejects will use alternative methods of INTIMIDATION.
One player stands above the rest: You can argue back and forth about whether the Yanks or Rejects have a better team. As expected, the edge goes to the Yanks considering they have the first choice of players, but Klinsmann has left the Reject their fair share of really good players in Kljestan, Gomez, Diskerud, Feilhaber and their center backs. It's actually a pretty close battle between the two teams with the exception of one player.
Dempsey is far and away the best player on this pitch. It's not even a debate. He can drop back and help keep the ball, be the creator in the center or the finisher. He will probably the best player on the pitch today at all three of those things and the Yanks will have a huge advantage just by having him. Klinsmann has been criticized for tactical ability, or lack thereof, though and Lippi is a sharp mind. Can the difference in managers give the Rejects a chance even when the Yanks have Dempsey?
The two teams are coming out onto the field: It's tough to tell who the crowd is favoring here. The Yanks have their share of adoration on account of the star power, but the Rejects have the underdog card working in their favor.
1 min: There's kickoff and the two teams are off. The Yanks are in their red jerseys that it took the USSF 13 years to make despite the fans asking for them year after year. The Rejects weren't given new jerseys so they had to scrounge some up and found the denim looking starred jerseys that the U.S. wore at the 1994 World Cup in a closet. Is it the ugliest, worst jersey ever or is it so ugly it's awesome?
3 min: The Yanks have taken the ball early and haven't given it up. There's not much of a surprise there. Equally unsurprising is the lack of creativity they have shown in the early going.
4 min: Shea gets free down the left and creates the first real opportunity for either team. Gatt is a defensive liability at right back and Shea took advantage, getting in behind him and forcing Cameron to come over and put out the fire. The ball goes out for a corner kick, which Gonzalez heads away.
6 min: Ever since the Yanks' corner kick the Rejects have settled down some. Kljestan has helped calm things in the middle and Feilhaber has tucked in to help out. He had a good idea in trying to play a good switch all the way over to the right where Gatt showed off his blazing speed in making a long run towards the end line, but it skipped out for a goal kick. It's clear that the passing skill in the Rejects' midfield will threaten the Yanks though.
8 min: Another corner kick for the Yanks goes for not. With Cameron and Gonzalez in the center they are going to be tough to beat in the air, but the corner kick came from Shea getting behind Gatt again. This is going to be happening a lot tonight.
10 min: More from the Yanks, again from Shea. This time he catches Gatt and the bulk of the Rejects' midfield caught up the field so he's running at Cameron in space, but Cameron gets the best of him. He keeps Shea from being able to cut into the center before tackling the ball away and clearing. Everyone has always wondered how good Cameron could be if he ever got the chance to play one position and stick there. It looks like he's going to do that at center back now and the answer is that Cameron can be really, really good. 6'3'' with good pace, positional sense and a mean streak? Yeah, that'll do.
11 min: As quickly as the Yanks got Shea free on one end, the Rejects came back on the other end. Diskerud got his first meaningful touches on the ball as he drifted left and got a good pass from Kljestan. He made Cherundolo look slow as he cut in and hit a good, hard shot, but it was right at Howard. That was good from Diskerud as he showed how quick he is on the ball, but Cherundolo needs to close that space down.
12 min: Diskerud finds space drifting left again and while Cherundolo does well to close the space down better this time, Diskerud was clever in flicking the ball into the path of the overlapping Dunivant. The cross comes into the back post, but Chandler gets it away before Bedoya can get to it.
15 min: This match has gone back to playing out the same way it did at the beginning. The Yanks knock it around harmlessly keeping possession, but haven't generated anything in the way of chances. They just look out of ideas. Kljestan is doing well to pressure Beckerman so he has to get rid of the ball early and that has put a lot of the playmaking duty in Edu's hands. The Rejects love the way this one is going.
17 min: Credit here has to go to Clark. He's done a marvelous job thus far closing down Dempsey and not giving him time to create. With the Yanks looking static and just watching Dempsey, he's basically working on an island. Take away Dempsey and what does this incarnation of the Yanks have?
20 min: I wouldn't blame you if you fell asleep. There's nothing going on here. Yanks have possession, they have no chances.
22 min: Down in the supporters' end they have begun chanting "I believe that we will win." Who the "we" is and which team they're rooting for remains unclear, but they are sufficiently lubricated so as long as they're yelling they're happy.
23 min: Best chance of the match! Diskerud finally breaks the monotony as he and Kljestan combine to unwind the midfield before Diskerud slips a brilliant pass in behind the Yanks' back line. Orozco Fiscal fell asleep and allowed Gomez to get in behind him, but Howard saves the Yanks when he's able to just barely tip the ball past the post.
25 min: We have a Donovan sighting! He makes a great run down the right and Cherundolo finds him, but Altidore is making his favorite back post run when there needs to be someone at the near post. Donovan's forced to try and loft it across, but Gonzalez knocks it away.
26 min: PENALTY! Dempsey finally makes his impact, dribbling through the midfield before getting into the box. As Cameron closes him down he looks around for a teammate, but they're just standing and watching him. Luckily for him, Clark bails him out with a rash sliding challenge and the referee correctly points to the spot while also showing Clark a card for his tackle.
27 min: GOAL YANKS! Rimando has had success against Donovan on penalties before, saving two, but Donovan bests him just as he did in this year's MLS Western Conference final. He sends Rimando the wrong way and it's 1-0 to Klinsmann's side.
28 min: Good response from the Rejects as Gatt overlaps and slides the ball across to Gomez, who got in behind Orozco Fiscal again. Gomez slid in to try and get the ball, but it's just inches past his foot. Close there.
31 min: A bad giveaway by Edu and the Rejects are on the attack again. A good pass from Clark finds Diskerud on the break, but he puts his shot over the bar.
33 min: That Yanks back line is vulnerable. Gomez keeps getting in behind them. Bocanegra can't run with with the guys and Orozco Fiscal is positionally inadequate. This time Diskerud hits a gorgeous chip over the back line, but Howards comes off his line to gather the ball just before Gomez can get to it.
35 min: Finally, the Yanks are getting things back under control. They still aren't dangerous, but they're back to knocking the ball around and that's a relief for their defense. Beckerman is doing well to keep the ball moving to help them keep the ball, but the way Kljestan is closing him down he can't turn it into anything dangerous.
38 min: Gatt's just a sieve at the back. That's not much of a surprise considering he's really a winger and has spent little time playing as a defender, but Shea is getting the best of him. This time Shea cuts in and when Cameron has to come over and help, Shea lays the ball back for Edu, who skies the shot.
40 min: Another Kljestan pass opens up the play for the Rejects. This time he finds Bedoya on the right and while it leads to nothing, you have to wonder what Klinsmann didn't like about Kljestan's passing and improved defensive work rate that he wouldn't give him a call up.
41 min: Right back come the Yanks as Altidore beats Gonzalez with pace. Dempsey feeds him, but Rimando tips Altidore's shot over the bar.
44 min: Altidore with another golden opportunity, this time off of a Donovan cross. He's got free with a good move down the right and hit a perfect ball for Altidore, but the striker's header from eight yards is five feet wide of the frame. That's poor from Altidore.
Halftime: It's Yanks 1, Rejects 0, but this has been a fairly close match. The Rejects' passing ability is clearly giving the Yanks a problem, while Dempsey and Shea remain the only real creators for the Yanks. In the end, Clark's poor and very characteristic tackle gave the penalty that is the difference right now.
46 min: The second half looks really familiar to the first after just a minute. Feilhaber crosses for Gomez, who's beaten Orozco Fiscal again, but Bocanegra saves him with a great sliding block.
50 min: More of the same from the Yanks as they have possession and no plan of attack. They just can't push the ball forward with Clark closing down Dempsey quickly and Kljestan not giving Beckerman any time on the ball. Gomez and Diskerud are doing well to cut down on Orozco Fiscal's time and Bocanegra has been the primary distributor from the back.
52 min: It's incredible how static the Yanks are. Do they have any idea how they want to go forward and attack? Klinsmann's brought a more possession-oriented style to this team, but where are the tactics and where is the game plan? They have nothing here. It's all short passes that are never a danger to the opponent and a lot of standing around and watching. Lippi's taken away the individual creators and we're still waiting on an answer from Klinsmann.
53 min: Hey, look at that! It's Donovan with a long run as this time he cuts in. Gonzalez has no choice, but to foul him. The Galaxy player takes the kick from a little over 20 yards, but it clips the wall and goes out for a corner kick, which nothing comes of.
55 min: Substitution for the Yanks. They make the first move of the match, bringing Danny Williams on for Edu as everyone in the stadium says together, "it's about damn time."
56 min: It looks like Lippi is getting ready to make a move of his own. Everyone on the bench is up and getting warm, but he's passing along instructions to Brad Davis. He should be on before long.
58 min: A great switch by Feilhaber and the Rejects are free down the right. Bedoya cuts in and looks like he's got a free look at goal, but Beckerman comes across with a great last second tackle. Well done by Beckerman, but you have to love the passing ability from this Rejects midfield.
60 min: That gorgeous pass by Feilhaber will be his last contribution as Davis comes in for him. Let's see if he can use that golden left foot of his to create something as the Rejects try to mount a comeback.
61 min: So close for the Yanks as Donovan crosses for Dempsey, who looks like he's going to get to the ball and nod home the second goal of the match, but Cameron just barely nudges Dempsey enough to make him put it over the bar. Dempsey is lurking.
62 min: GOAL REJECTS! That didn't take long! Davis makes his impact after just two minutes when he gets a bit of space on the left and whips a gorgeous cross in for Gomez. The striker did well to get away from his mark and got a good head to the ball. The header beat Howard, but it hit the post. No worries though because Diskerud was there to tap the ball into the open goal to level this one.
64 min: That goal has turned this into a pro-Rejects crowd. They've gotten behind the underdog, comeback kids. A chant of "Jurgen doesn't like you, but we do" is coming from the supporters' end.
66 min: Beckerman is off as he makes way for Michael Bradley.
69 min: Dempsey is just on a whole other level. This time he slides a beautiful pass in for Altidore, who takes one touch too many, allowing Gonzalez to just barely poke it away. Dempsey almost hops into the loose ball, but Clark boots it away.
70 min: Another move by Lippi, this time Bedoya makes way for Teal Bunbury. He'll partner Gomez up top and Diskerud will go out to the right.
71 min: The Rejects show good patience as they knock it around a bit. Kljestan, Diskerud and Gatt work well to relieve pressure before Gatt races in down the right and crosses, but to no one in particular so Howard gathers it with ease.
73 min: GOAL YANKS! It was only a matter of time for Dempsey to get a goal and he gets it. More possession without any sort of creativity by the Yanks appears to bother Dempsey, who finally takes the ball, slips by Clark and lets a screamer go from 25 yards. It leaves Rimando no chance and Dempsey runs to the corner thumping his chest. He can thump his chest all he wants with the way he's played. Plus, his team is up 2-1.
75 min: Kljestan tries to do his own Dempsey imitation, creating some space for himself before letting a shot go, but instead of the net, his shot finds row Q.
76 min: The final substitution for the Yanks is up top where Edson Buddle comes on for Alitdore. Altidore was wasteful today with his couple chances and started to fade.
80 min: More brilliance from Dempsey, this time as he plays creator. He comes back to get the ball near the midfield circle, but he spots Donovan making a run in behind the Rejects' defense. Dunivant loses track of him and Dempsey drops the ball right on Donovan's foot, as sweet as can be. Donovan hits the ball a foot wide of the post though, wasting Dempsey's pass.
82 min: We won't see another substitution in this match. Joe Corona comes on for Gatt, who began to tire after running up and down the right flank all mark. The Rejects will go with three at the back now as they push for an equalizer with Corona slotting in on the right side of the midfield and Diskerud going back centrally.
83 min: Penalty appeal for the Rejects! They are incensed that the referee did not give a penalty as Chandler goes in to challenge Diskerud, who blew past Bradley to get just inside the box. Diskerud tumbled to the turf as Chandler put a foot in and it sure looked like a penalty at first, but replays showed Chandler got almost entirely ball and made very little contact with Diskerud. The referee was right on the spot there.
84 min: With the Rejects committing numbers forward, the Yanks catch them out as Williams hits a great through ball to Shea, who is free and then finds buddle Buddle. The striker is chased down by Cameron though, who puts just enough pressure on him just before the shot to force Buddle into knocking it weakly at Rimando.
86 min: It seems as if no one in the Yanks midfield can get a handle on Diskerud. He draws a foul from 35 yards, which Davis puts right on Bunbury's head, but Howard is there to make the save.
88 min: One more chance for the Rejects as they take advantage of the high Yanks line again. This time it's Corona who plays it towards Gomez, who is in behind the Yanks defense, but again Howard just barely gets to it in time. So close.
89 min: With the Rejects on top of them, the Yanks boot it out and they find Dempsey, who relieves the pressure by keeping the ball for a bit. Whatever the Yanks have needed, Dempsey has given them today.
90 min+2: For most of the match the Yanks' inability to create chances out of all of their possession didn't mean much because they had so many problems creating chances from them. Right now though, it's working to their advantage. They still can't create chances, even against a three-man back line, but they've kept the ball for three minutes without letting the Rejects get a touch on it. That's seeing out the match.
90 min+3: Last chance for the Rejects as Bunbury does well to muscle off a challenge, but his speculative shot from 30 yards is easily saved by Howard.
Final whistle! That's it from Livestrong Sporting Park. The crowd was rooting for an equalizer late on, but they couldn't get it. Klinsmann's team gets the win and is "America's Team," but not by much. The two teams were pretty even the whole way. The Rejects looked dangerous with Gomez making several good runs and the passing they got from their midfield was miles better than what the Yanks got from theirs. Cameron was fantastic as well and Gonzalez was good, but the Yanks had so much more on the outside to counter the good things that the the Rejects did centrally.
As has been the case for much of Klinsmann's tenure, the Yanks showed no sense of tactical savvy and they were completely devoid of any idea of what they wanted to do when they went forward. It was shocking just how static the Yanks were and they weren't helped by Edu's inability to create anything of note. Williams was an improvement and Shea and Donovan outside were menacing, but that wasn't enough to fix a lot of standing and watching and standing and watching, while the Bocanegra/Orozco Fiscal pairing wasn't exactly impenetrable.
In the end though, there was one big difference in the two teams and that was Dempsey. Whether creating, finishing or anything else he was asked to do, he was the best player on the pitch by a mile once he got over his slow start. In fact, that slow start showed Dempsey's value as the team was completely inept in the attacking third without Dempsey clicking. Take him off of the Yanks and these are two pretty even teams. Lippi did his best to close the Dempsey gap with some good ideas tactically, but there's only so much he could do. Dempsey was the star tonight and delivered the win for the first team.