Jamaica USA World Cup Soccer

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


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.

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.