Altidore 5

Is Jozy Altidore’s Dutch club about to make some trouble for the U.S. national team striker?

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If we trace the roots of where things flew temporarily askew for Jozy Altidore last year, it started with his Dutch club’s uncooperative ways.

AZ Alkmaar insisted that Altidore rest upon completion of the Dutch season one year back, not permitting the U.S. striker to join up with Jurgen Klinsmann’s late May camp. No one around the U.S. staff was happy about it, especially not as it became apparent that Altidore’s fitness had suffered during the two-week break.

It became slightly more involved from there, but a message was sent and heard, Altidore worked his way back into good graces … and all was good for player and country once again.

But is it all about to happen again?

Altidore says AZ will not release him until days before the United States meets Jamaica on June 7. That’s about two weeks after Klinsmann gathers his team in California (on May 21 or 22) to prepare for two big friendlies and then a threesome of critical World Cup qualifiers in June.

Speaking on the Soccer Today radio show/podcast (a show that I co-host along with Marc Stein), Altidore said that if he was called in for U.S. duty (which would have been highly likely, of course), that he could report no earlier than around June 3:

Hopefully I will get called in, but I won’t be part in any of the [two friendlies] … I would be released three or four days before the first [qualifier] game against Jamaica, away. That would be the earliest AZ would release me. …

Last year, Altidore said, the club had sponsor-related post-season activities. This year, he’s not sure what the club has planned after its final Dutch Eredivisie match on May 12.

This year I have no idea what’s planned. But as of now, I was told that I am going to be here that I will not be released until the 28th or 29th of May, and will not be able to join [the U.S. camp], if I am invited, until the 3rd, or sometime around that date.

A U.S. Soccer spokesman told me today that the national team has had no communication with AZ on this issue as yet.

AZ is technically within its rights to hold its player until five days before the World Cup qualifier, same as any club. Since the May 29 match in Cleveland (against Belgium) and the June 2 high-profile date in D.C. (against Germany) are not on official FIFA fixture dates, clubs are under no obligation to release players early.

On the other hand, this rarely creates problems.  So, what’s the deal?

Asset protection, for one. Altidore will certainly be a transfer target this summer as AZ, a small club that could certainly use the cash, looks to maximize value on his exceptional 30-goal season. (Well, 30 and counting, that is.)

Mostly, tough, this sounds like AZ being difficult. There is some history of AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek being difficult on this stuff. Michael Bradley had similar issues in his days with Heerenveen, when Verbeek was manager there.

As for Altidore, what matters most is what he does in the three weeks before he eventually gets into the U.S. camp. If AZ is training (unlikely over that entire period), he’ll be OK. But if he’s not working out with a team … then it starts looking like 2012 over all again.

Either way, we’ll be hearing more about this one.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.