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Harsh but right, Jurgen Klinsmann sends a message to his stars


You’re going to read a lot about Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent thoughts on Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, thoughts published today. The U.S. Men’s National Team boss touched on a myriad of topics in a lengthy interview with the Wall Street Journal, but two missives are going to be picked out, dissected, and used as fuel by national team fans trying to get inside the mind of their team’s head coach.

The most talked-about passage will be Klinsmann’s thoughts on Dempsey, a blunt assessment juxtaposing the attacker’s accomplishments against the U.S.’s aspirations:

My whole talk to Clint Dempsey for 18 months was [about how] he hasn’t made s—. You play for Fulham? Yeah, so? Show me you play for a Champions League team, and then you start on a Champions League team and that you may end up winning the Champions League. There is always another level. If you one day reach the highest level then you’ve got to confirm it, every year. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi. Confirm it to me. Show me that every year you deserve to play for Real Madrid, for Bayern Munich, for Manchester United. Show it to me.

I’m not comfortable completely dismissing Dempsey’s accomplishments as a Cottager, but as we’ve seen during Dempsey’s initial struggles (and recent, relative successes) at White Hart Lane, Tottenham is a different world. And that big move is only a few steps up the English table.

MORE: Better weekend? Dempsey? Or Altidore?

If the U.S. wants to meet Klinsmann’s goals, it’s worth noting that the Spains and Germanys of the world have rosters almost entirely full of players playing at the very top level. Places like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are not only more prestigious, they’re far a more competitive environments than Spurs’. While Klinsmann’s views may be excessively dismissive of somebody who has worked his way up from Furman University, the remarks are still a good reminder: There’s much more left to accomplish.

“Just because you won a game in the World Cup in the knockout stage, you haven’t won anything,” Klinsmann said, views on the States’ World Cup 2002 run that could easily be applied to 1994 and 2010. In each of those years, the U.S. advanced to the second round, but by the time they were shown out of the tournament, they’d still failed to win more games than they’d lost. Winning a second game at the World Cup has been a problem.

It’s a glass half-empty view, one that makes you wonder Why now? Why has Klinsmann picked now — as opposed to a year ago (or months into the future) — to send this message? He seems to want his players humbled before their trip to Honduras. Ahead of a tough trip to open qualifying, he doesn’t want any of his players thinking they’ve accomplished anything, yet.

One person that won’t be joining them in Honduras is Landon Donovan. The LA Galaxy star is still evaluating when to resume his career, but as Klinsmann tells it, that state left to an early decision Donovan would not take part in January camp or the U.S.’s first final round qualifier:

He made certain decisions throughout the last couple of years that are his decisions. I watch that. I evaluate that. I could have evaluated him a few times when he was with us, not that many times, but a few times. I will make the call at the end of the day if he fits into my plans or not. I told him in December he’s not part of the January camp, and I told him in December he’s not part of the Honduras game.

Klinsmann’s not closing any doors, and everything points to the coach wanting Donovan back. But he also doesn’t want to perpetuate an atmosphere defined by Donovan. For somebody for whom attitude and focus are paramount concerns, Donovan’s sojourn has to be confusing. At the same time, if you’re Jurgen Klinsmann, you see that, you make a decision, and (ultimately) you move on. You have no choice but to move on.

MORE: Donovan IS returning in 2013, just not yet

Contrast that with Bruce Arena’s attitude. It really illuminates the difference between the two coaches. While Klinsmann has elected to control what he can, momentarily crossing Donovan off the list for the sake of moving forward, Arena has let the game develop in front of him. He’s reacting to the world he’s given, and he will make the best of whatever he’s presented.

It’s the juxtaposition of an idealist and a pragmatist. Klinsmann’s been brought in to enact a vision. At this point, pragmatism leads to the type of short-term decisions that undermine that goal. Arena, be it now or in his time with the national team, has always reacted to his parts. He’s had favorites and preferences, but nothing was predetermined.

As today’s interviews show, Klinsmann’s predefined concepts demand much more of his players. The Clint Dempseys of the world still have work to do. And the team will not wait for its Landon Donovans.

MORE: Klinsmann talks Zusi, Bruin

More from the interview:

  • On the schedule: “In order to catch up with the rest of the world you need to have an 11-month calendar …”
  • On the region: “… when you go through CONCACAF … I see that as a huge learning opportunity. Inhale it, whatever the opportunity gives to you … If the conditions are bad, it’s the conditions for both teams. As a really good player you always find ways to solve it.”
  • On development: “… it would be great if our 18- or 19- or 20-year-olds would have an environment where they get pushed every day …”
  • On attitude: “There is a difference between arrogance and confidence.”
  • On style: “I can’t come with my German approach and say this is how I want to do it in the U.S., because in the U.S., it would fail.”
  • On what’s missing in U.S. soccer: “This is the problem we have because we are not socially so connected so deeply to soccer in the daily life.”
  • On the down points: “The inconsistency.”

Definitely go read more, both the long form interview and the accompanying piece.

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).