Altidore left in Alkmaar: Progress has a weird way of rearing its head

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It used to be enough to be playing regularly in a big league. And when people said big league, they always meant Europe, though it didn’t necessarily have to be England or Italy. The Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland – these were big leagues in the days when the U.S. men’s national team boss had fewer options. If one of Bruce Arena or Bob Bradley’s biggest names hit a rough patch in Europe, what were the alternatives? In the days when Major League Soccer’s quality had taken a step back – when the league put only five players on rosters for South Africa – there weren’t a lot of opinions.

Two years ago, it would have been inconceivable to leave someone of Jozy Altidore’s stature off a national team roster that took Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley to World Cup 2010. Bob Bradley also selected Herculez Gomez to that team, a man who had to be pulled back from the thickest part of the international wilderness. His Mexican Primera scoring title with Puebla helped punched his ticket to South Africa.

That’s how much things have changed under Jurgen Klinsmann. Two years ago, that scoring title demanded Gomez get a look in the weeks before the World Cup. Now, Altidore leading the Netherlands in scoring actually obscures the picture. If you look at Altidore as a collection of attributes that have to fit into a system, you see his year-plus under Klinsmann and wonder what he brings to the team. If you look at his club form, you end up going to your forum of choice and posting some version of “This. Is. Crazy.”

It’s no longer enough for fans just to look at the scoresheet every weekend to get insight into the roster. Style matters. The component parts of a player’s performance are important. Fit with the team’s approach, philosophy, and attitude matter more than ever, and Altidore is not the only U.S. talent to struggle with Klinsmann’s new world order:

  • Eric Lichaj has made three starts this season for Aston Villa, enough to win the attention of national team fans asking for a recall. Klinsmann’s demurred.
  • Sacha Kljestan was called in this time, but despite seeing regular time at Anderlecht, the former Chivas USA midfielder has not cemented a spot in Klinsmann’s setup.
  • Benny Feilhaber was often Bob Bradley’s first substitute. In Klinsmann’s setup, there’s no clear place he would play.

This idea that fit can transcend pure talent isn’t unique to Klinsmann. One of the more curious omissions for the last World Cup was Esteban Cambiasso, left off the Argentina team despite being the best defensive midfielder in Italy. He just didn’t fit with what Diego Maradona wanted to do. Likewise, Miroslav Klose has remained an option to start as Germany’s No. 9 because his skillset is a better fit for what Joachim Löw wants. Mario Gomez, despite Gomez’s vastly superior club production, can’t push an aging Klose out of the picture. Diego never got a look for Brazil under Dunga, Darren Bent’s been neglected by England, while Fernando Llorente’s never been able to turn Vicente del Bosque’s head with Spain. Among nations with deep talent pools, an Alitore-esque situation is not uncommon.

In that sense, Altidore’s omission is a mark of progress for U.S. Soccer. The program is no longer reliant on the handful of players who were getting regular playing time in Europe. They don’t have to build around them. The head coach can afford to voluntarily omit one of his best club-level performers knowing the team’s unlikely to miss a beat. True, it’s not like Altidore is as important as a Clint Dempsey, but in the past, the omission of an Altidore would have caused a severe change in the U.S.’s fortunes.

The move also shows how much Major League Soccer has progressed. If it weren’t for Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon, Klinsmann may have had to make a go of it with a player he knows doesn’t work. Few people will argue that Johnson or Gordon are better players, in the abstract, than Altidore, but as it concerns fit with what Klinsmann wants to do, they’re the right call.

And would that quality of player have been there three years ago? Would Eddie Johnson have come back and been able to reach such a high level against the competition that was present in 2009? It’s unlikely. Back then, the league was offering Conor Casey and Brian Ching – strong players, but not options that would have left Altidore in Alkmaar.

Valverde dismisses deal to coach Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Departing Athletic Bilbao coach Ernesto Valverde has been avoiding talk about a possible move to Barcelona, saying he has not entered into negotiations with any club.

Valverde did not confirm reports that he has already reached a deal to coach Barcelona next season, and did not dismiss taking a year off after four seasons at Athletic.

“I haven’t committed to any club, I haven’t talked to anybody,” Valverde said. “I have an agent and there are teams that have shown interest in me. Now I have to decide whether I will take on a new adventure, and it would have to be a challenging one.”

The 53-year-old Valverde has been widely touted to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he was tired and would not continue as Barcelona’s coach.

The Catalan club ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported this week that Valverde has already reached a two-year deal with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The newspaper said the announcement would be made next week.

“I don’t know what’s been published,” Valverde said. “I never talk about negotiations with clubs and that won’t change. This wouldn’t be the first time that I have offers from important clubs.”

He said there was still the possibility of taking some time off and not immediately taking over another club.

“Why not?” he said. “In the end I can do whatever I want, no?”

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s. He spent six years with Athletic from 1990-96.

Valverde didn’t hide that he will be hoping Barcelona wins the Copa del Rey title this weekend, which would guarantee Athletic a spot in the Europa League next season. Athletic finished seventh in the Spanish league, but will play in the second-tier European competition with a Barcelona victory because the Catalan club will play in the Champions League. Only the teams in fifth and sixth places automatically qualify for the Europa League.

Valverde led Athletic to victory over Barcelona in the final of the Spanish Super Cup in 2015, which marked the team’s first title in more than three decades. He also coached the club from 2003-05.

Valverde has also coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

LIVE: Man United face Ajax in Europa League final

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Manchester United and Ajax square off in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday for the UEFA Europa League trophy and a place in the Champions League next season.

[ LIVE: Europa League final ] 

This a huge game for Jose Mourinho and United bad coming less than 48 hours after a suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester, this game has taken an entirely different complexion.

The mood around the Friends Arena is a somber one as Manchester United’s fans mourn those lost in the terror attack and people around the world send their love and prayers to Manchester.

Black armbands will be worn by both teams and there will be a minute’s silence before the game to honor the victims.

United have never won this trophy and they will have their work cut out against a young, talented Ajax side.

Click no the link above to follow the action live from Stockholm, while here at ProSoccerTalk we will have all the analysis, reaction and more from the final.

How will Man United line-up vs. Ajax in Europa League final?

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How will Jose Mourinho set up Manchester United for their crucial Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday?

[ MORE: Europa League final preview ]

With an automatic UEFA Champions League spot on the line, United must win to get back to Europe’s top club competition next season. If they don’t it is back to the Europa League for Mourinho’s men.

This won’t be easy, though, as United’s defense has been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and they’re without Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Local lad Marcus Rashford has to come up with the goods.

[ MORE: Manchester clubs react to bombing

Ajax’s young, attack-minded side will be led by Kasper Dolberg and Bertrand Traore, while Davy Klaassen will pull the strings in midfield.

Back to United, and with Mourinho confirming Sergio Romero would start in goal ahead of David De Gea, just like he has done for most of the Europa League campaign, we know one starter. In defense it is likely to be Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the center with Eric Bailly suspended, Marcos Rojo out injured and the duo of Ashley Young and Luke Shaw also missing. Valencia and Blind should get the nod out wide with Darmian in reserve.

Midfield is where things get tricky. Michael Carrick‘s experience may be invaluable but Mourinho is likely to go with Fellaini’s grit (if he’s fit) in the engine room alongside Ander Herrera.

Ahead of them in the three attacking positions, Mkhitaryan and Pogba seem certainties to start and then it’s a straight battle between Lingard, Mata and Martial for the other spot. Lingard may just win that battle due to his superior defensive abilities, but it will be close.

Up top it will be Rashford to start with Wayne Rooney waiting in the wings in what could be his final game for United.

Take a look at our suggested lineup below. Do you agree?


Manchester United starting lineup vs. Ajax, Europa League final

—– Romero —–

— Valencia — Jones — Smalling — Blind —

—- Herrera —- Fellaini —-

— Mkhitaryan — Pogba — Lingard —

—– Rashford —–

Premier League awards: Player, Coach, Best XI & more

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It is time for ProSoccerTalk’s end of season awards for the 2016-17 Premier League campaign.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Our writers were asked to select their Player of the Year, Young player of the Year (has to be under the age of 21), Coach of the Year and also select their Best XI, plus a little bonus segment at the bottom of this page…

Take a look at our answers below and we are intrigued to your selections in the comments section below.


Coach of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Antonio Conte – The way he galvanized this Chelsea team was remarkable. The tactical switch after the Arsenal defeat was the defining moment of the season and won him the PL in his first-ever campaign in England. Plus, his passion on the sidelines excites fans and he’s a gentleman in press conferences. Chelsea’s players seem to know where they stand with Conte and this seems like the start of an era of dominance. Mauricio Pochettino from Tottenham was a close second.

Nick Mendola selects… Antonio Conte – Really don’t think it needs an explanation. Back on top.

Kyle Bonn selects… Antonio Conte – Easy choice here. In his first season, he righted the ship and steered Chelsea to a Premier League title. He guided the players through a new system and still managed to get the best out of them. Stellar.

Matt Reed selects… Antonio Conte – The Italian didn’t go big in the transfer market but the additions of David Luiz, N'Golo Kante and Marcos Alonso were everything Chelsea could have hoped for and then some.

Dan Karell selects… Antonio Conte – It’s the easy choice, but his ability to get the team to believe in him and change the system following the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal lead to a dominant season for the Blues. Also, he made David Luiz great again!


Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Dele Alli – I have to buck the trend and not go with a Chelsea player. Yes, they won the title and Kante, Hazard and Azpilicueta were immense, but Alli was out of this world. This is a youngster who is in just his second season in the PL and he scored 17 goals from midfield. His class on the ball and driving runs remind me of Frank Lampard and he can finish like him too. The sky is the limit for Dele.

Nick Mendola selects… N’Golo Kante – Maybe it’s a little boring to go with the guy that the league named, but Kante was the best player in the league for the second successive season, on two different title winning teams. No biggie.

Kyle Bonn selects… Eden Hazard – I know N’Golo Kante was incredible, and I don’t want to take away from the midfielder who was an absolute rock, but Hazard was outstanding. He won the most take-ons of anyone in the league at a higher percentage than anyone, and was among the most creative players as well. A true superstar.

Matt Reed selects… N’Golo Kante – You could pick a handful of players from Chelsea’s squad to be in this discussion but for the bargain price in which the Blues acquired him, Kante was worth every penny.

Dan Karell selects… N’Golo Kante – Even with Conte, Chelsea may not have been miles ahead of everyone without the tireless effort of Kante. Kante finished 2nd in the PL with 127 tackles and had 82 interceptions. He also finished 2nd on Chelsea with 2,122 passes. Kante’s work defensively allowed Eden Hazard and Nemanja Matic the space to operate forward, leading to 85 goals and a record 30 wins.


Young Player of the Year

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Leroy Sane – This is a player who got better and better as the season went on. Sane’s pace was always there but Guardiola has made him more patient on the ball and he appears to be timing his runs better. He will be a star for the next decade.

Nick Mendola selects… Dele Alli – 21 and under? Does it have to be 21? You know Dele Alli is 21, right? Haha… Dele Alli, guys. Dele. Alli.

Kyle Bonn selects… Dele Alli – Tottenham’s midfielder scored an insane amount of goals this year, but he displayed an all-around game that is the envy of the league.

Matt Reed selects… Leroy Sane – The German has all the makings of becoming one of the PL’s best wingers over the next several seasons as he refines his game. He’ll surely be pleased with nine goals (all comps) in his first season at the Etihad Stadium.

Dan Karell selects… Dele Alli – The midfielder still has to prove he can be consistent at the highest level but he showed this year why he’s constantly linked with the likes of Real Madrid.


Best XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Hazard, Kante, Alli, Alonso; Mane, Kane, Sanchez – Somehow I had to get Eden Hazard in this team, but don’t expect him to do much defending on the right flan of this 3-4-3 setup. Spurs’ goalkeeper Lloris and their two Belgian center backs were superb, while it is tough to look past Alli and Kante in midfield. Kante is a given up top and Sadio Mane gets the nod alongside Alexis Sanchez to support him. All-out attack.

Nick Mendola selects… Lloris; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Alderweireld; Coutinho, Kante, Pogba, Hazard, Sanchez, Ibrahimovic, Kane

Kyle Bonn selects… De Gea; Walker, Luiz, Alderweireld, Azpilicueta; Kante, Eriksen, De Bruyne, Hazard; Sanchez, Kane – Zlatan had a shot had he not been injured. Costa was a great team player and was hugely important to Chelsea, but didn’t have the individual seasons that Sanchez and Kane had. Eriksen, De Bruyne, and Hazard were the 3 most creative players in the league this season. De Gea is still, in my opinion, the best sheer goalkeeper in the league, and the flashiest; that choice is tough on Hugo Lloris, who had a great season for sure.

Matt Reed selects… Courtois; Walker, Alderweireld, Luiz, Danny Rose; Kante, Alli, Hazard, Mane; Lukaku, Kane

Dan Karell selects… Heaton; Azpilicueta, Alderweireld, Cahill; Coutinho, Alli, Kante, Silva; Lukaku, Kane, Sanchez


BONUS! We also asked the guys for their underrated XI of the season. You know, those guys who ball every week but always seem to fall under the radar…

Underrated XI

Joe Prince-Wright selects… Foster; Maguire, Kompany, Bailly; Silva, Wanyama, Romeu, Herrera; Pedro, King, Sigurdsson – I went for a few big names in here who have had been so important to their teams but seem to never get huge amounts of love. Pedro, Kompany and Silva fall into that category. Elsewhere the midfield destroyers of Wanyama, Romeu and Herrera all had fine seasons, while the only reason Swansea stayed up was Sigurdsson and Josh King was superb at Bournemouth. Foster and Maguire had a great seasons for teams often not talked about.

Nick Mendola selects… Heaton; Valencia, Gibson, Reid, Martins Indi; Antonio, Gueye, Herrera, Son; Silva, King

Kyle Bonn selects… Lloris; Vertonghen, Bailly, Milner, Valencia; Herrera, Pogba, Sigurdsson, Silva, Coutinho; Pedro – None of these guys I feel got looks for PL Best XI, but they maybe should have. Pogba was far better than he got credit for given his price tag, while Herrera got publicity late in the year but was a rock all season long. With all due respect to Steve Cook, who had a very good year statistically at CB, I couldn’t include him here given Bournemouth’s abysmal defensive record, so I went with Squawka’s #1 ranked defender this season, Jan Vertonghen. Eric Bailly was a machine for Manchester United. Pedro was maybe Chelsea’s most underrated player this season in their title run.

Matt Reed selects… Pickford; Azpilicueta, Gibson, McAuley, Bertrand; Herrera, Romeu, Tadic, Sigurdsson; Albrighton, Defoe

Dan Karell selects… Foster; Bailly, Keane, Mee; Romeu, Arter, Gueye, Drinkwater, Lanzini; Zaha, King