Altidore head shot

Was Friday a good or bad night for Jozy Altidore?

2 Comments

When Eddie Johnson let slip he was going to be called into the U.S. Men’s National Team, Jozy Altidore was one of the first people to congratulate him publicly. For a young man just given his first major setback with the national team, it was a very mature move. By that time, the AZ Alkmaar striker probably knew he was going to be left out of Klinsmann’s team. To reach out to somebody who had become direct competition showed an admirable ability to detach and look at the world from his friend’s point of view. As much as we like to remind ourselves that Altidore’s only 22, in at least one way he’s shown himself mature beyond his years.

That’s why it’s not too difficult to imagine Altidore, from wherever he took in tonight’s match, sharing his teammates’ excitement at seeing Johnson reclaim his past prestige, scoring both goals in the States’ victory in Antigua. Perhaps (like many in the US) he wasn’t able to watch and was placated with iPhone updates, eft to smile when “20′ Johnson” was eventually joined by “90′ Johnson” on his site of choice. As we heard mid-week, Altidore isn’t one to sit around and stew.

Instead, the former first choice striker might see Friday’s game as an example of what Jurgen Klinsmann wants. Johnson, every bit as No. 9-esque as Altidore, was used as a left-sided player, a position that demanded the 6’0″ target man to occasionally track back to within a few yards of his own penalty area. Lacking a true midfielder’s motor, Johnson often looked ill-cast, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. If you didn’t know better, you’d think Klinsmann was picking the most-extreme way to show Altidore what’s expected from his forwards. After Johnson scored twice (one more goal than Altidore’s scored in 14 months under Klinsmann), the subtext was obvious: Being a striker and doing the work are not mutually exclusive ideas.

Altidore seems to get it that. He needs to change. How to change is the problem. As he told Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl mid-week, “I have to get on the same page as the boss and all the senior players, not the other way around.”

If he had any doubt as to how to do that, all he has to do is study Johnson’s performance. While it’s unlikely Altidore would ever be asked to play the same position, he can still emulate the effort. He can attack crosses with the same vigor. He can still see the importance of the end product.

Judging by Altidore’s career arc, it’s a matter of when, not if he’ll adjust. Though his early days as a professional saw him lean on his physicality, setbacks in Europe are forcing him to develop an all-around game. It may have took him some time to learn that lesson, but as the joint-top scorer in the Netherlands, he’s applying what he’s learned. His resilience has been as important as his aptitude.

He won’t be out of the team for long. If Altidore did not “understand” what was being asked of him before, now he has a road map. If he takes that map and tackles his national team problem with the same effort (and humility) he used to reestablish his professional career, Altidore’s exclusion will be short.

That’s why, despite seeing his competition’s big night, Friday may have been a good one for Altidore. If he follows the road map that Johnson’s defined, the question shifts from if he’ll return to how he’ll fit once he’s back. Based on what we saw tonight, there’s no reason to think Johnson and Altidore can’t work together, giving the U.S. a more potent attack than most thought possible a month ago.

After all, under Klinsmann, when a center forward can become a left midfielder, it’s not hard to get willing pieces to play together.

Bremen beats Wolfsburg to leave Bundesliga relegation zone

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10:  Serge Gnabry of Germany reacts during the Men's First Round Football Group C match between Germany and Fiji at Mineirao Stadium on August 10, 2016 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Pedro Vilela/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

WOLFSBURG, Germany (AP) — Midfielder Serge Gnabry scored twice as Werder Bremen moved away from the Bundesliga’s relegation zone with a 2-1 win at fellow struggler Wolfsburg on Friday.

Bremen and Wolfsburg are level on points and two above Hamburger SV, which is in 18th place and in the relegation zone.

It was a fifth defeat in six games for Wolfsburg coach Valerien Ismael, who won the league and cup double as a player with Bremen in 2004.

Gnabry fired the visitors ahead with a deflected shot in the 10th minute and made it 2-0 eight minutes later, controlling the ball with his chest before prodding home on the volley.

Striker Borja Mayoral, who is on loan from Real Madrid, scored with his chest following a Wolfsburg corner as Wolfsburg hit back moments later.

Midfielder Daniel Didavi struck the post with a free kick as Wolfsburg kept pushing for an equalizer.

Mancini reportedly not interested in Leicester City, De Boer says no

GENOA, ITALY - APRIL 20:  Head Coach of FC Internazionale Roberto Mancini looks during the Serie A match between Genoa CFC and FC Internazionale Milano at Stadio Luigi Ferraris on April 20, 2016 in Genoa, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Two top candidates to replace Claudio Ranieri at Leicester City have reportedly turned down any interest in the job.

Roberto Mancini, the heavy favorite out of the gates after Ranieri’s dismissal, tweeted his support for Ranieri after the news broke. “I am sorry for my friend Ranieri,” Mancini said. “He will be in the history of LCFC, in the hearts of Leicester fans and all football lovers.”

However, the fellow Italian has rebuffed Leicester’s informal advances towards his services. According to Sky Sports, Leicester sent “intermediaries” to “sound out” Mancini’s feelings towards the position, but came back empty-handed. The report states Mancini was turned off to the club after a short and unsuccessful spell there as a player in 2001.

That leaves a host of other names who have been linked to the job, with no clear favorite. One person mentioned was Dutch legend Frank de Boer, who is unemployed after an unusually short stint in charge of Inter Milan. However, De Boer’s agent went public to say he was not ever in the running.

“There is zero possibility that Frank could go to Leicester,” agent Guido Albers told Italian publication Tuttomercatoweb. “I too heard these rumors, but that’s all they are – rumors. I can affirm without doubt that Frank will not become the Leicester City manager. This will 100 per cent not happen.”

Albers explained that De Boer is only interested in joining a club in the offseason, preferring to enter a project with a blank slate rather than joining midseason with particular goals already clearly laid out. With Leicester, it seems De Boer is turned off by the notion of a relegation battle.

Win over Las Palmas again has La Real on edge of CL spot

GETAFE, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11:  Xavi Prieto of Real Sociedad in action during the La Liga match between Getafe CF and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Coliseum Alfonso Perez stadium on December 11, 2015 in Getafe, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

All it took was one mistake. Real Sociedad’s Xabi Prieto capitalized, and has La Real once again on the verge of next year’s Champions League.

La Real finished 7th in 2013/14, and 9th in 2015/16, and this year, they’re closer than ever. Preito’s goal on the mistake by Las Palmas goalkeeper Javi Varas gave Real Sociedad the 1-0 road win and has them just a point off a Champions League place.

[ MORE: Antonio Conte pulling from experience to keep Chelsea on top ]

That could be even closer next week, as fourth-placed Atletico Madrid has to welcome Barcelona to the Calderon tomorrow, leaving the door open for La Real to make another move next weekend.

The goal down the stretch is not just to win the games they should, but make the teams above them work. La Real has won seven of their last ten matches, but the three losses came to Real Madrid, Villareal, and Sevilla, all teams fighting at the top of the table. They still have chances down the stretch, with matches against Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla, and Eibar coming up, with the latter on the docket next weekend.

Conte pulling from prior experience as title race pushes on

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea looks on during The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round match between Wolverhampton Wanderers and Chelsea at Molineux on February 18, 2017 in Wolverhampton, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte has recalled some painful memories to push himself and his players forward despite their commanding lead at the top of the Premier League table.

Chelsea sits eight points clear of Manchester City, and has the chance to go even further in front with many of the top teams off this weekend, but that won’t give the Italian any better sleep at night.

In the 1999/2000 season, Conte was nearing the end of his 13-year Juventus tenure. He’d won three league titles already, plus two league cup trophies and a Champions League title with the Serie A giants. With a comfortable nine point lead after 26 matches, the club became complacent. They would lose four of their final eight matches, collapsing on the final day in the pouring rain, allowing Lazio to come roaring back to win the title.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks for Week 26 ]

“I was captain of the team,” Conte said. “I remember after this game I must go to the European Championships with the national team. I didn’t sleep for six days because it was a shock for me to lose the title.”

Clearly, that still haunts him. “I have experienced this,” Conte continued. “When I continue to repeat that there are 13 games, there are 39 points… there is a long time before we can say we won the title. We must be focused, we must go step by step.”

The Blues host Swansea City at Stamford Bridge on Saturday before a trip to West Ham next weekend. If anyone believes the Chelsea players are complacent holding such a significant lead with 13 matches to go, it’s clear that’s not nearly the case. Anything can happen in three months.