Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman: Semifinals or bust for U.S. men’s national soccer team

Jurgen Klinsmann, never shy about making bold statements, set a rather lofty goal for the 2018 World Cup in Russia: the semifinals.

Considering the United States hasn’t gotten that far since 1930, when the field wasn’t nearly as deep, it seems a far-fetched objective. But Klinsmann has four years to dream, prepare and win over skeptics.

The next World Cup seems a lifetime away, but the 2018 cycle of preparation began in earnest last Wednesday with a 1-0 U.S. victory over Czech Republic. Weston’s Alejandro Bedoya, a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High, scored the lone goal in the 39th minute after Mix Diskerud intercepted a ball that triggered Bedoya’s left-footed shot.

Klinsmann said in a pregame interview with NBC Sports that he will aim high in Russia. The United States lost to Belgium in the Round of 16 in recent World Cup in Brazil.

“Once you get out of the most difficult group in the World Cup, you should go further than just [the] Round of 16,” he said. “This is our goal going toward Russia, not to stop at the Round of 16, maybe not to stop at the quarterfinal, to say clearly, listen: We have four years to prepare this cycle. Our goal is going into a semifinal in a World Cup. And that means a lot of work, a lot of competition, a lot of grind.”

Bedoya and Fabian Johnson were the only two starters back from the starting roster of the World Cup Belgium match. Wednesday’s game featured many young players, including 21-year-old forward Joe Gyau, 18-year-old midfielder Emerson Hyndmann, 23-year-old defender Greg Garza, and Julian Green, 19, who scored for the United States at the World Cup.

Green is on loan from Bayern Munich to Hamburg, where he is expected to get more playing time. Gyau plays for Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team. Hyndmann is the grandson of former FC Dallas manager Schellas Hyndmann, and his grandpa clearly taught him well.

He plays for Fulham, where he has impressed coaches, and showed promise for the United States when he came off the bench.

The oldest player on the squad was 35-year-old goalkeeper Nick Rimando, the former Miami Fusion keeper, who had a very strong showing and remains very much in the mix during Tim Howard’s sabbatical.

Klinsmann would like the U.S. team to be more proactive from the opening whistle, to pressure up higher, and it showed signs of that against the Czech Republic. The midfield of Bedoya, Diskerud and Joe Corona were active and aggressive.

Next up for the Americans is a friendly against Ecuador on Oct. 10 in East Hartford, Conn. The game has added significance because Landon Donovan, who recently announced his retirement and was not selected for the 2014 World Cup team, was invited to play in the U.S. jersey a final time. Donovan is considered the best U.S. player of all time, and his career will be celebrated by the fans and his teammates.

Four days later, the U.S. team heads to Boca Raton to play Honduras at FAU Stadium. The Americans rarely play in South Florida, so this will be a rare treat.


U.S. women draw Haiti:

The U.S. Women’s National Team, aiming to win the 2015 World Cup next summer in Canada, must first get through CONCACAF qualifying. The draw was held Friday in Miami, and the United States will face Trinidad and Tobago Oct. 15 in Kansas City, Guatemala Oct. 17 in Chicago and Haiti on Oct. 20 in Washington.

The other group is Costa Rica, Mexico, Jamaica and Martinique.

“An opponent at this point is an opponent standing between us and the World Cup,” said U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who lives in Palmetto Bay. “We will prepare for every team with the same respect, resolve and planning while making sure our focus is on our performance. We will approach every game with the intent of maximizing our points and getting to the semifinal.”


Man U Overloaded?

Manchester United fans are celebrating after a $250 million summer shopping spree that landed Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw. The team had its worst finish in 20 years last season and got off to a slow start this season, going winless in three matches.

Former United player and coach Paul Scholes said the new lineup is capable of making a push toward the top, but he doesn’t think there’s enough room in the offense for Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Falcao, who played for Colombia against Brazil on Friday night at Sun Life Stadium.

“When I watched Radamel Falcao play for Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, I saw a striker with excellent movement and a goal-scoring record that is simply out of this world,” Scholes wrote in The Independent.

“Falcao creates competition in United’s forward line. There is no way that Louis van Gaal can play Rooney, Robin van Persie and Falcao together. It will have to be two from three, and which two it is hard to say as yet.”

Who’s leading

MLS: East — D.C. United (47), Kansas City (42), New England (39). West — Seattle (51), LA (49), Salt Lake (46).

NASL: San Antonio (22), Minnesota (18), Tampa Bay (16), Edmonton (14), NY Cosmos (13), Fort Lauderdale (12).

English Premier League: Chelsea, Swansea City (9), Aston Villa (7), Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham (6)

French Ligue 1: Bordeaux (10), PSG and Lille (8), Marseille, Rennes, Lorient, Nantes, ASSE (7)

On the tube

Tuesday: Czech Republic vs. Netherlands UEFA Euro Qualifying (2:45 p.m., ESPN2)