Reactions and overreactions to l’affair Altidore; why Jurgen Klinsmann’s choice isn’t that shocking

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The shock registered throughout our domestic soccer community over l’affair Altidore is, well, almost a little shocking.

Jozy Altidore’s omission from Monday’s national team announcement was certainly a surprise. Paired with Eddie Johnson’s restoration of national team grace, all this is certainly a curveball that deserves discussion, if only because it smacks of sending mixed messages. But it’s not that exactly staggering, now is it?

First, I’ve said on more than one occasion (having “borrowed” the line from friend and fellow soccer journo Brian Straus), “I am done trying to predict Jurgen Klinsmann.”

And I mean it. Klinsmann has always marched to his own quirky drumbeat, going back to his playing days. We always knew this about the guy; his penchant for less conventional thinking is among the reasons everyone wanted him in this position all along, and it played no small part in U.S. Soccer’s enduring pursuit. It’s part of the Klinsi charm, right?

So, using that as a starting point, shouldn’t any thunderbolts coming out of his Home Depot Center office strike with just a little less bang?

I certainly expected to see Altidore’s name on the roster. He’s Dutch league’s leading scorer, after all. The Eredivisie isn’t exactly La Liga, but top tier Dutch soccer would land solidly in the middle of any European league ordering.

So, yes, Monday’s news registered as an “eye-opener.”

But all this? Reading comments across the answer web, some fans seemed utterly incredulous. A few media outlets used the words like “shocker” and wondered about Klinsmann’s motives.

And the word “snub” popped up with frequency, which seems to imply something personal. Frankly, I don’t get that at all. Coaches select squads and lineups based on a sliding scale of ability, experience, locker room chemistry, roster balance and positional cover. That’s about it. If they get it wrong, they get fired – so they work hard to get it right.

This is no more a “snub” in the conventional vernacular than Sacha Kljestan’s lack of call-ups in 2012 (before Monday, of course.) Klinsmann just reckons he’s got better people for a particular job.

There were little hints along the way; Klinsmann always sounded less than impressed last summer with Altidore’s fitness and commitment. He may not have said so overtly, but listening to Klinsmann talk up guys like Herculez Gomez and Terrance Boyd did serve to raise some antennae.

The boys from ESPN Press Pass weren’t shocked over Monday’s big talker; Steve Nicol and Shaka Hislop called it a little surprising and hoped that it would spur something more from Altidore.

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If we removed the name and just examined the numbers, this wouldn’t even register much above “mildly surprising.”  Altidore has no goals and one assist in six appearances this year. We would all look at that, mutter something about “he has to do better,” and then go make a sandwich.

It’s that form in the Netherlands and the lack of selection criteria consistency that does make this one harder to swallow; that much is clear. On the other hand, coaches do this occasionally, hoping a kick up the old backside will unlock better focus, more effort in training, closer attention to game-day details or whatever. (Not saying Altidore is necessarily deficient in any of those areas, just speaking generally here.)

After all, this could quickly blow over. Altidore could get back into the squad, and the guy could be scoring goals regularly in final round World Cup qualifying – assuming things don’t go horribly sideways over the next eight days.

“The decision is just for these two games,” Klinsmann said. “The door is always open.”

 

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

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