If Jozy Altidore’s not on, the U.S. has options

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As people look for ways the United States can improve before Tuesday, Jozy Altidore’s name is bound to come up. Like fellow attackers Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez, Altidore didn’t see much of the ball on Friday, but whereas Dempsey and Gomez still found ways to impact the game, Altidore was irrelevant and eventually pulled off.

The outing only highlights questions surrounding Altidore’s role under Klinsmann. In his three U.S. matches preceding Jamaica, Altidore had found himself coming off the bench, with Gomez getting the starting spot in front of Dempsey and Landon Donovan. If Donovan were healthy for Friday’s game, Altidore would have been relegated to a similar role.

For some, Altidore seems like a clear first choice, his strong start to the Dutch season a testament to his talent. Coming off a 15-goal debut campaign for AZ in the Eredivisie, Altidore’s scored four times in as many matches this season. That output combined with his regular role in Bob Bradley’s starting XI leads many to assume that, when healthy, Altidore will be part of Klinsmann’s first choice team. That’s clearly not the case.

On Friday, we saw why. For whatever reason, Altidore is just not firing on cylinders in Klinsmann’s system. With the U.S. committed to a style of play that prefers building through short passing and off-the-ball movement, the national team is playing away from Altidore’s strengths. Even as an emergency outlet when all else fails, the U.S. seems unwilling to target Jozy on anything but restarts. Even then, Dempsey is often the man going up for a shorter ball, trying to flick on for the forwards. The result is a game like Friday’s, where Altidore is kept quiet.

That kind of performance seems to be at odds with somebody who is so influential at club level. The Eredivisie, however, is a very distinct competition. Most players moving out of the league and up the European ladder see their goal totals drop drastically. If you’re a player going to the Netherlands from a big league (as Altidore did when he moved from Spain), you’re going to get a boost, a surge fueled by a style of play that’s more open, less intense that many other leagues. Where Altidore struggled to score in Spain, England, and Turkey, the Netherlands appears to be a good fit, one that doesn’t seem to translate onto what Klinsmann is trying to do.

Whether caused by the league, how Altidore’s progressed as a player, or a mesh between coach and striker that’s still under development, what we saw on Friday was discouraging. The ball didn’t find Altidore, and he didn’t have a way to get himself involved. If Klinsmann’s looking for ways to build on Kingston, he might opt for a player who can contribute when not directly involved.

Within the current team, there are five options, assuming Klinsmann wants to stay with some version of a three-attacker setup:

Terrence Boyd – This would be the like-for-like option. If Klinsmann feels his set up was right, the execution was off, and he only wants to make a few tweaks, Boyd-for-Altidore is the most likely change. Boyd doesn’t have Altidore’s experience and he’s yet to score in six senior-level appearances, but he can make a positive contribution without being the attack’s focal point.

Brek Shea – If Klinsmann wants to change the shape and go back to more of a 4-3-3, Shea could come in and start on the left, leaving Gomez alone up top. The Dallas attacker, who would be matched up against Lovel Palmer, would provide a wide option the U.S. lacked in Kingston. If Klinsmann thinks Friday’s issues transcend performance and require a formation tweak, Shea’s the most likely option.

Graham ZusiThough the numbers are inconclusive, there’s a feeling the U.S. lacked some potency in midfield. When you go 89 minutes without scoring, it’s hard to argue the point. Until the U.S. brought on Boyd and Shea and started sending everything through Dempsey, the team lacked drive through middle. Bringing in Zusi would help that problem, giving the States a second player who can transition the team into attack, somebody who can play wide as well as help through the middle. If Klinsmann came out of Jamaica thinking the team really missed what Landon Donovan provides, Zusi’s the logical choice.

Jose Torres – This one would be a bit weird as a swap for Altidore, but if Klinsmann wants to exert greater control on the game, Torres might be his man. As Steve pointed out, Torres rarely seems to get the U.S. closer to scoring goals, but he is capable of making sure they keep the ball. The logic here would be to get somebody on the pitch who can work with Kyle Beckerman, allow Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones to get forward, and give the U.S. a chance to set up (rather than jump into) attack.

Joe Corona – The Xolos midfielder has only made two appearances with the senior team, so it’s difficult to envision how Klinsmann would use him, particularly when thrown in with the rest of the first choice XI. He does, however, add another attacker who’s good on the ball and can promote a quicker passing game. If Klinsmann (for whatever reason) decides to put Dempsey into a more advanced, attacking role, Corona’s one of the few options that can fill that space.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.