Klinsmann’s late announcement: You are not entitled to anything (but controversy)

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Earlier this week, Honduras named their team that will face the U.S. Wednesday in the opening match of CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup Qualifying. In contrast, Jurgen Klinsmann will wait until Monday to name his, taking the weekend to see if any injuries force changes to the team he’s likely to recall.

That’s important to note. People have expressed concerns about Klinsmann failing to make his team public, but he’s already been in touch with the players and their teams. He’s had to. National teams have to notify clubs well in advance in order to obtain a player’s release for an international break. Those players have to be “reserved.” You may not know who Klinsmann’s taking to Honduras, and I may not know, but everybody who needs the information has been kept in the loop. If there’s a possibility you’re getting called in, you probably already know.

This morning the Washington Post’s Steven Goff gave his feelings on the controversy. Under a headline calling Klinsmann’s decision puzzling, Goff notes U.S. coaches have a history of similar shenanigans while claiming a more open policy “fuels healthy debate about who should play and what combinations would be most effective” while quelling undo speculation:

Waiting to go public also feeds the rumor machine (aka Twitter):

“My cousin’s ex says Boyd boarding flight in Frankfurt!”

“Just saw Beasley on SoBe. Well, looked like him”

“Deuce tweetin about eatin fish n chips. Shouldn’t he be in Honduras by now??? WTF”

There’s no competitive disadvantage in “a roster announcement, revealing between 22 and 25 players,” Goff says, while Honduras already “have a pretty good idea who is traveling.” Withholding the roster until the last-minute creates uncertainty where there’s no need for doubt. It also “puts the players in a difficult position” of having to hold their tongues.

I have trouble buying any of these arguments.

  • In the past, roster announcements have usually led to one day of debate (interest-building) before people settle into interest stories and preview analysis. That will happen on Monday.
  • The speculation that Goff sites in his piece are all Twitter hypotheticals that would happen regardless of when the roster was announced. If U.S. Soccer said it’d release a list on Friday, Thursday would see people speculating whether Sacha Kljestan’s getting called in.
  • And players always have to withhold information. Klinsmann’s decision to delay just extends that period for a few meaningless days.

And as Goff says, Honduras basically knows who’s most likely to travel. So do we. If withholding the names of the players does little to keep the information from the Catrachos, why are we in the dark? If anything, our proximity to the situation should allow us greater knowledge of the probable roster. Why are we complaining about the secrecy of a list when most of the names are no secret at all?

The only drawback to holding the roster back is risking the scorn of writers and fans, yet it’s unclear why media and supporters feel entitled to this information. As Goff notes, this is not a new situation. Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley were also slow to make their selections public. Isn’t this something we should be used to?

There are, however, a couple of possible benefits. Klinsmann gets more time to decide which of the players he’s “reserved” for possible travel will actually go to Honduras. He avoids the potential scrutiny of selecting a player only not to take him, thereby causing a small amount of public embarrassment to the player. And there’s the original reasoning: Wanting to wait to see how people come through the weekend before naming his traveling squad.

There’s nothing wrong with the way Honduras has done it — name your team early — but is there anything wrong with how Klinsmann’s gone about his business? Only if you feel entitled to information you were never guaranteed in the first place. At what point did we, as a soccer culture, feel we deserved this information? Because as Goff notes, it hadn’t always been available in the past.

I can’t help but think we’re becoming caricatures of ourselves. We’re always finding new things to fuss about. Our anguish must always be palpable. The difference between getting and not getting a preliminary roster has no effect on the game, how we perceive it, or the debate that precedes the match, but if there is an alternate universe in which we could have this information, then why aren’t we on that timeline? Why can’t we deal with the realities of that world instead of the possibilities of our own?

Klinsmann isn’t making life easier for journalists easier, but that isn’t his job. Nor is it his job to subvert what he thinks is best in order to appease hardcore fans. While some may see this as Klinsmann coming “across, fairly or unfairly, as paranoid, dark — and maybe a little nervous,” as Goff puts it, it’s more likely this is just a guy doing what he thinks is best.

If Klinsmann is paranoid or nervous, that’d be a first. We might want to consider other possibilities. We may want to see consider whether any of this really matters.

We’ll get the names soon enough, and we’ll have plenty of time to drive every debate into the ground. No dead horse will be left unbeaten. If we have to put off the ceremonial hand-wringing and second-guessing for a day, so be it. It doesn’t hurt anything but our sense of entitlement.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.