Revisiting Jozy Altidore’s turbulent 2012 … and giving Jurgen Klinsmann credit

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Let’s have an exercise in honesty today. Two simple questions … and be honest!

Were you upset with U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann for leaving Jozy Altidore off the roster late last year?

And, are you willing to admit that Klinsmann was 100 percent right to do so?

How can anyone see it any other way now? You watched Altidore in Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Panama, right? If the 23-year-old Alkmaar striker has played a better match in the U.S. shirt, someone will need to point that out for me.

Back to last October, when Klinsmann delivered a clear message by leaving Altidore off the U.S. roster ahead of two World Cup qualifiers. What I said all along: it was a calculated risk by a coach who had the bigger goal in mind. Klinsmann, after all, was not brought to qualify for a World Cup. He was hired nudge the United States off a plateau.

A huge part of his plan is finding ways to get the most from individuals – squeezing every last little drop of juice from the fruit. Klinsmann adjudged that Altidore had more to offer, and he correctly calculated that his team could manage the job last October without the Alkmaar high-scorer.

He wanted more from Altidore in the big picture. Klinsmann didn’t desire 90 percent of Altidore’s abilities last October, he wanted 100 percent of Altidore in Brazil next summer. That was the bigger picture.

(MORE: Klinsmann takes time last year to explain the Altidore decision)

If you saw Tuesday’s match, you saw a complete game from a young striker, one still trending up on the career performance curve. His technical work, positioning, awareness, astute use of the ball and general tenacity were exactly where they needed to be.

Here’s what Klinsmann said afterward about Altidore, who has scored in the last three U.S. matches:

He knows he has our full support in his development. Again, we have talked often about Jozy and often we forget how young he still is. You got to give him a bad game or a bad performance as well. But you also got to kick him in his backside when you think he needs it. It’s just normal.

“He’s playing a position I played my whole career for 18 years for big clubs so I know what’s going through his mind, I know when he struggles and what we demand from him is when you struggle just fight for your way back into the game and do your job for the team. How he is doing that in the last couple of games is absolutely outstanding.”

(MORE: Player ratings from U.S. win over Panama)

Injuries, suspensions still an issue for busy Man United

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Manchester United have been struggling with suspensions and injuries and the international break hasn’t provided any respite.

[ MORE: United announce US tour dates ]

Both Zlatan Ibrahmovic and Ander Herrera are suspended for Saturday’s clash with West Bromwich Albion (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) at Old Trafford, plus Wayne Rooney, Paul Pogba, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Maroune Fellaini are all doubtful.

Jones injured his toe while on international duty as his United teammate Smalling tackled him in training, while Smalling has been spotted in a knee brace after picking up a knock in England’s win against Lithuania on Sunday. Fellaini also suffered a toe injury in Belgium’s draw with Greece on Saturday and has been released from international duty.

Rooney hasn’t played since the 1-1 draw with Bournemouth on Mar. 4 after suffering a training ground injury with Jones and Pogba limped off with a hamstring injury in United’s UEFA Europa League win against Rostov on Mar. 16.

Oh, Jose. When it rains it pours…

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All of this injury news has been made more concerning given United’s busy month coming up as Mourinho’s men have nine games in April as they push hard to finish in the top four in the PL and reach the UEFA Champions League.

After the game against West Brom they face Everton at home and Sunderland away in a seven day stretch before heading to Anderlecht on Apr. 13 for the first leg of their Europa League quarterfinal. Sandwiched in-between their two games with Anderlecht they host Premier League leaders Chelsea and then finish off April with trips to Burnley and Manchester City before hosting Swansea City.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

Mourinho will be hoping the vast majority of these players will be available for the busy stretch ahead as his large squad cope with a season-long struggle of juggling PL, domestic cup and European action.

Defensively he still has Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly to slot in but he could be forced to draft in youngster Timothy Fosu-Mensah into midfield with so many games coming up in a short space of time.

United will be stretched to the limit as they aim to finish the season strong.

Lionel Messi suspended after abusing linesman

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Argentina will be without five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi for their next four games.

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On Tuesday FIFA announced that Messi, 29, has been suspended for four international game as the Barcelona forward was found guilty of verbally abusing an assistant referee in the second half of Argentina’s crucial 1-0 win against Chile last Thursday.

Messi, of course, scored the winning penalty kick in that game.

Messi — the captain of Argentina and their leading all-time goalscorer with 58 goals — will miss the game against Bolivia on Tuesday, plus Argentina’s friendly with Brazil this summer in Australia and also two key World Cup qualifiers against Uruguay and Venezuela in August and September.

Argentina currently sit in third-place in CONMEBOL qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, but are far from locks in their quest to qualify for the World Cup. That task has just got a lot harder after losing their talisman for sending verbal abuse at a linesman.

Look, it would be great to see abuse from players towards officials stamped out but how many times have we all seen players across the game screaming obscenities at officials in an aggressive manner? It seems like Messi may be a little hard done by and that FIFA has used the biggest name on the planet and made an example of him.

Below is the statement in full from FIFA on Messi’s suspension.

The FIFA Disciplinary Committee – in application of articles 77 a) and 108 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC) – has reached a decision in relation to the case of Lionel Messi following an incident that occurred during the match between Argentina and Chile on 23 March 2017 as part of the qualifying competition for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™:

Footballer Lionel Messi has been found guilty of violating art. 57 of the FDC for having directed insulting words at an assistant referee.

As a result, Lionel Messi will be suspended for four official matches and sanctioned with a fine of CHF 10,000. The first match for which the sanction will apply is the next fixture in the preliminary competition of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ between Bolivia and Argentina, which will be played today, 28 March. The remainder of the sanction will be served over Argentina’s subsequent FIFA World Cup qualifying matches.

This decision is in line with the FIFA Disciplinary Committee’s previous rulings in similar cases.

Both the player and the Argentinian Football Association have been informed of the decision today.

After late goals broke Panama’s hearts in 2013, US returns

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PANAMA CITY (AP) With Panama about 90 seconds from reaching a playoff against New Zealand for a World Cup berth, Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored in second-half stoppage time four years ago to give the already qualified United States a 3-2 win and eliminate the hosts.

“You felt this place dip,” Jozy Altidore recalled Monday. “You heard people crying.”

The U.S. will be back Tuesday night in a match that matters for both teams. The Americans routed Honduras 6-0 Friday at home and are looking for a second straight win in World Cup qualifying under coach Bruce Arena, who replaced Jurgen Klinsmann after an 0-2 start in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Before a light workout at Estadio Rommel Fernandez, American players thought the Panamanians might still have that 2013 match on their minds. Panama needed a win, but the late U.S. goals kept Mexico alive and El Tri went on to reach the 2014 tournament in Brazil. Panama has never advanced to the World Cup.

“If we were smart enough, we wouldn’t have broken their hearts. Pretty stupid, if you ask me,” Arena said humorously. “You think Mexico would have scored a goal at the end of that game?”

Panama opened the hexagonal, as the final round is called, with a 1-0 win at Honduras and a 0-0 tie at home against Mexico, and then lost 1-0 at Trinidad and Tobago. Five players from that 2013 loss to the U.S. were in the starting lineup for Friday’s defeat.

“It was obviously probably pretty devastating for the players,” said American midfielder Sacha Kljestan, also among those on the field that night. “I’m sure it still means a lot to them.”

Mexico leads the hexagonal with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six, Panama with four and the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, and Honduras with three each. The top three nations qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place team again goes to a playoff, this time against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“The reality of the situation that we’re in and the reality of the start that we had is we’re not playing with house money,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley said. “We’re not in a situation where we can just say, great, we took our three points at home, whatever we get on the road is extra. No, we have to come here and take points. We want three. We’re going to play in a way that gives us a chance, a big chance to get three.”

LINEUP CHANGES

Arena predicted as many as four or five changes to his starting lineup. There will be at least two.

John Brooks will miss the match because of a sinus infection and Sebastian Lletget is out with a foot injury. The players who replaced them against Honduras could start, Tim Ream for Brooks in central defense and Alejandro Bedoya in place of Lletget in right midfield.

Jermaine Jones, back from a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation, could enter in a central midfield role, which would push Christian Pulisic to the left flank in place of Darlington Nagbe.

APPROACHING A RECORD

After scoring his second international hat trick Friday, Clint Dempsey has 55 goals, two shy of Landon Donovan’s American record.

“Yeah, it’s on your mind,” the 34-year-old Dempsey said. “But if it comes, it comes. If it don’t, it don’t.”

OLD FRIENDS

Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, a holdover from the 2013 game, played for Arena on the LA Galaxy from 2013-15.

“Jaime Pinedo is one of the finest people I’ve ever met in the game,” Arena said. “We enjoyed him very much. Our fans loved him.”

WEATHER-WISE

After playing on a cool, damp night in the San Francisco Bay Area last weekend, the U.S. will deal with far different conditions. The game-time temperature is forecast to be 80 degrees with high humidity.

Panama’s players also may not be used to the heat, given some play in New York, Seattle, Toronto, Switzerland, Romania and other cool climates.

Report: Man United ready to pay $217 million for Neymar

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The thought of Neymar leaving Barcelona seems outlandish and so are these figures, but stranger things have happened…

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Spanish outlet Sport claims that Manchester United are willing to pay Neymar’s eye-watering $217 million release clause and also offer him over $27 million per season net.

Per the report, Mourinho and United have reached out directly to Neymar’s representatives on multiple occasions to let them know a move will be lined up this summer if the Brazil superstar wants to make the switch from La Liga to the Premier League. Neymar has scored 235 goals in 401 appearances for Barca since arriving from Santos in 2013, winning two La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey’s, a UEFA Champions League and Club World Cup.

That reported wage offer would mean United are willing to pay Neymar almost double what he currently earns at the Nou Camp and the Brazilian national team captain may see it as an offer too good to turn down.

That said, he is now 25 years old and will soon be handed the key to Barca’s offense with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez perhaps having a maximum of four to five years each left at the top. Can Neymar wait for another few seasons before he becomes the main man at Barca? Or should he move to United this summer and become the king of Old Trafford?

With Wayne Rooney‘s power waning and veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic clinical but yet to agree a new deal for next season, Mourinho’s options up front for next season are primarily youngsters Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. With talk of Antoine Griezmann joining United this summer dying down, a massive move for Neymar would certainly give their forward line a new star.

The world-record transfer fee of $217 million is quite outrageous but they paid over $106 million for Paul Pogba last summer and United aren’t scared to spend.

Securing Neymar, or any other elite forward, will hinge on qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season by either finishing in the Premier League’s top four or winning the UEFA Europa League this season.

The latter seems the most likely option right now and if United do squeak through then huge riches will follow as the third richest club on the planet (according to Forbes’ latest rich list anyway) will get richer through clauses in commercial deals being triggered, money from UEFA and beyond.

Neymar’s shirt sales would surely cover his transfer fee in a few seasons but the thought of Barcelona letting him go seems outlandish, even if they Brazilian star has been under investigation for alleged tax fraud and is yet to be the main man at Barca.