Clint Dempsey 2

Late arrivals into US camp, but they aren’t all the same

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Jozy Altidore will be a late arrival into the U.S. camp. So will Michael Bradley, and possibly Clint Dempsey, too. Maybe others still, depending on playoff possibilities.

Is that a problem?

For that matter, are the late-May, early-June friendlies a problem? As in, should the United States even be playing these contests, which fall on non-FIFA dates and therefore do not obligate teams to release them?

The answers are “no” and “yes.”

Altidore is a special case because the striker’s Dutch club is being difficult, as we talked about before.  Others who may miss the early part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s next camp will be playing or, at very least, training with their clubs.

Bradley, for instance, will stay sharp while training with Roma ahead of the May 26 Italian Cup final in Rome. So, check the box under “Not an issue.”

Same for Dempsey (pictured) if he is late to report into the U.S. camp that begins May 21 at the Home Depot Center outside Los Angeles; presumably, in that case, he would continue training with Spurs ahead of their May 23 friendly against Jamaica’s national team in the Caribbean. (We’ll see if Dempsey can wiggle out of that one, or if the match contract calls for certain men to be availiable.)

Either way, it’s not a critical issue. Same for the others who could tangled up in German or Mexican league playoffs.

Altidore not being available could be a much bigger deal if he isn’t training – which is exactly the point to the friendlies; The United States meets Belgium in Cleveland on May 29, then Germany three nights later in Washington, D.C.

The Bundesliga season ends on May 18; the season in England’s Premier League ends a day later. That means a good chunk of the most important U.S. men could have been away from high-level training for two weeks or more. If the United States waited until days before the June 7 World Cup qualifier against Jamaica to start a shorter camp, most of those players – think Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones – would be risking match fitness.

Can a case be made that they could benefit from some rest? Probably. But most countries don’t see it that way. Germany, Ireland, England and Ecuador all play friendlies on May 29, same day the United States meets Belgium.

Japan plays a day later, while Italy, Mexico and Nigeria are in action one day past that.

It’s all tricky math, for sure, which is why Klinsmann will summon 23-25 guys for the upcoming camp, even though he will probably lean on just 15 or 16 of them for those critical June qualifiers. Here’s what he said about it all.

It’s a tricky picture because the players are all on different schedules. You have players going possibly going to relegation playoffs games in Germany with Hoffenheim and Augsburg. The Mexican league is still going on with playoffs where Herculez Gomez is, Tijuana [with Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo] is in Copa Libertadores, and Michael Bradley playing in an Italian Cup final on May 26, so all the different time tables play a role in how we build our camp starting on May 21. Ideally we’d like to have them all in camp from the beginning, but practically it’s not going to happen. You adjust to that. You respect their club schedule. They want to finish their season the right way on the right foot. The European guys have had a very long season and the Mexican guys have as well, so this all plays a role in it. It’s just part of a National Team process. We just have to make the best out of it and go from there.”

Klinsmann praises Nagbe: “He knows he has to push the envelope”

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Pedro Larrea #15 of Ecuador reacts as Nagbe Darlington #10 of the United States celebrates with Christian Pulisic #17 of the United States after scoring against Ecuador during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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Breaking into a Jurgen Klinsmann side isn’t easy, especially for an attacker.

With the United States men’s national team boss quite happy to trot out Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and — when healthy — Jozy Altidore, becoming a regular isn’t easy.

So making the most of your opportunity is key, and Darlington Nagbe has done that most times he’s hit the pitch for the USMNT.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

And scoring a 90th minute winner against Ecuador, even in a 1-0 friendly win, is going to help his odds of sticking in the coach’s mind. Klinsmann said Nagbe “knows he has to push the envelope”, and lauded him for doing so while cautioning that he’s never questioned the offensive acumen of Portland Timbers’ man.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Now you also want to tell him ‘Listen, you’ve got to make an impression. You’ve got to learn to play both ways and grind it out defensively, go into 1v1s and win balls as well,’” Klinsmann said.

“And that’s just going forward. He has tremendous talent with the ball at his feet going forward. That’s what we enjoy in MLS every weekend. But the international side is both ways, and that’s what we’re working on. And he’s getting better and better at doing that.”

Nagbe was among a handful of U.S. players to shine during a dominant second half that saw the Timbers midfielder snare the decisive goal, and it’s not a stretch to say he was the brightest. Let’s hope to see him get a chance to start on Saturday against Bolivia.

Lukaku will listen to Everton but “I have my own ideas in mind

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Romelu Lukaku of Everton arrives for the Barclays Premier League match between Sunderland and Everton at the Stadium of Light on May 11, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Romelu Lukaku‘s future looks to be away from Goodison Park.

The big Belgian striker authored 25 goals across all competitions this season, including 18 in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Zlatan has “taken a decision” ]

But as he prepares for the Euro 2016 tournament, Lukaku’s comments make it seem likely that even new investments from up high aren’t going to keep him on Merseyside.

From Sky Sports:

“We have a new investor at Everton and out of courtesy I will listen to what he has to say. But I have my own ideas in mind. I want to win titles.

“I have had a very good season, but it is time for me to write myself a CV. That is why I play football. I got that trophy-winning mindset from Chelsea.”

Lukaku would be a big ticket item on the transfer market, and should go for more than the $41 million price tag Everton paid to get him from Chelsea.

Ibrahimovic says he has received offers from England, Italy

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 11:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Paris Saint-Germain walks out for a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Second Leg match against Manchester City at Etihad Stadium on April 11, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Still looking for a team for next season, Zlatan Ibrahimovic says he has “concrete offers” from England, Italy and other countries.

The 34-year-old Sweden striker, who has said he is leaving Paris Saint-Germain, has yet to announce where he is headed after the European Championship.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Ibrahimovic says “I have taken my decision,” but he didn’t elaborate.

At Euro 2016, Sweden will play in Group E with Belgium, Italy and Ireland.

Benitez stay is huge, but Newcastle cannot be content with players

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 30:  Rafael Benitez (R) manager of Newcastle United congratulates Andros Townsend (L) after their 1-0 win in the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James' Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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As posted yesterday, Rafa Benitez met with the media after Newcastle United confirmed that the trophy-winning manager has decided to stay with the club despite relegation, and said this is his ship now.

This is huge news for the Magpies.

The 56-year-old Spaniard couldn’t rescue the sinking ship he inherited from Steve McClaren, and is tasked with lifting Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

For years, Newcastle’s managers have been subject to the approval of chief scouts, managing directors and owner Mike Ashley. What Benitez has now is assurances that no player is being sold without his permission, and none being bought without his approval. Which means no midseason sales of Yohan Cabaye because the iron is hot, or unrequested purchases like Xisco.

Of course that could mean we’re headed for a huge August or January bust-up when Ashley or Lee Charnley pulls the rug out from some big acquisition that could firm up Newcastle’s standing in the top flight, but we’ll stay on the sunny side for now and assume Benitez’s people made that part of his contact air tight.

It means Newcastle could line up, basically, the same as last season. There are plusses and minuses to that, of course, as the club was relegated thanks to woeful form and players who were perhaps rightfully accused of only showing up for primetime matches.

Consider:

— Newcastle took as many points from Manchester United (2) as Aston Villa.

— The Magpies went 2-0 against Tottenham Hotspur, grabbed four points from Liverpool, beat West Ham and drew both Manchester City and Chelsea.

— They also lost to relegation rivals Norwich, drew Sunderland twice and were swept by Watford.

So while Benitez holds sway to keep Moussa Sissoko, Georginio Wijnaldum and Daryl Janmaat despite the big money they could command on the open market, he has to be 100 percent sure they won’t mail it in.

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Kevin Nolan of Newcastle United celebrates scoring the opening goal with team mate Andy Carroll (L) during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Liverpool at St James' Park on December 11, 2010 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Carroll and Nolan (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

There’s no certainty there, and one of the main things that helped Newcastle bounce right back up to the PL in 2009-10 was a crew that got its footing in the Championship by Week 13 and never looked back: the Magpies lost just once in the league from Oct. 24 onward thanks in large part to heart-and-soul players who stuck around after the drop (Kevin Nolan, Jonas Gutierrez, Fabricio Coloccini, Andy Carroll and others).

Among those who fit the bill for understanding the task at hand are Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey, Jack Colback, Chancel Mbemba and Coloccini. Others, like Sissoko and Siem De Jong, risk poisoning the well. That’s not to say they shouldn’t be kept around, but Benitez will need to know transfer rumor and agent hijinks aren’t in the offing.

Make no mistake about it, Benitez in control is better than anything the Magpies have had in ages and Newcastle is far more likely to replicate the instant promotions of West Ham and itself than the divisional drops of Leeds United and Portsmouth.