Stock Rising: United States men whose values are rising out of Salt Lake

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After nine points in three qualifiers, there’s no shortage of praise to hand out to the U.S. Men’s National Team. Whereas three or four standouts usually force their way onto our Stock Rising report, a larger flock of MNT’ers deserve some acknowledgement after Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Honduras, three points that leave the U.S. on 13 after six Hex rounds.

We spare no expense handing our this week’s plaudits, the positives from the U.S.’s current run proving much larger than the Stock Falling report we’ll have later tonight.

Jozy Altidore – I don’t know what’s more impressive: (a) Altidore’s calm, reassured finished on yesterday’s 71st minute winner; (b) the celebration that portrayed more relief than jubilance; or, (c) the fact that throughout the night Altidore always seemed to be in the right place, whether it was the first half’s targeting from wide or the second half’s attempts to tick and tack through the Honduran block. In the last eight months, we’ve gone from asking ‘where’s Jozy’ to always expecting him to be where his teammates are looking.

Just over a week ago, after the U.S. had dispatched Panama, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked why Altidore’s finally broken through. In Klinsmann’s mind, though, he hadn’t. Altidore’s being doing the same things in June that he done since he winter recall, the U.S. boss explained. Now, those things are leading to goals, but that doesn’t mean Altidore wasn’t contributing before.

It’s tempting to look at four goals in as many games as a turning point, but Altidore’s breakthrough probably came before this goal-scoring rush. His rising stock is build on a foundation  laid throughout 2013.

source: APGraham Zusi (right) – The control the U.S. maintained against Panama meant Zusi was rarely missed, especially while Omar Gonzalez made sure any access the Canaleros had through Brad Evans was quickly closed off. On Tuesday, however, we were reminded about the little things the Sporting Kansas City star is doing to cement his role on the U.S.’s right. In the second half, we got a glimpse of some potential versatility, with Klinsmann shifting him in from the right, using him as a focal point in front of the line as the U.S. touched their way past the Honduran defense. Moving on from his 13th cap, it’s tempting to consider what other parts of Zusi’s game will we see assert themselves in the international game.

Geoff Cameron – There was little argument for Cameron keeping his place in the starting XI over the returning Jermaine Jones, but after 90 minutes in Sandy that gave us a better means of comparison, Cameron’s starting to make his case. Coming off a stellar performance against Panama, the Stoke City man provided some needed quality off the bench, hinting his game in Seattle wasn’t a fluke. We’re still a long way from being able to say Cameron deserves the nod over the more-accomplished Jones, but this is how competition starts. One man starts asserting himself. The other has to respond.

Matt Besler – While the center back to his right has been prone to mistakes, the reigning MLS Defender of the Year has been Mr. Reliable, providing a couple of new moments of reassured protection in Utah. It wasn’t so long ago (like, a matter of weeks) that Besler wasn’t a sure bet to start next to Omar Gonzalez. Now, he seems like an obligatory choice.

source: Getty ImagesFabian Johnson (right) – Two matches in a row, Johnson’s provided the game-winning assist to Jozy Altidore, each time getting deep along the left before playing across for his team’s best finisher. All of a sudden, the Hoffenheim wide man leads The Hex in assists. Be it in midfield or in defense, Johnson’s providing a quality fans have been begging for since Klinsmann took over: width. While some moments in defense hinted he may not be a better choice at left back than DaMarcus Beasley, Johnson continues to make the U.S. better for his presence.

Brad Davis – The main arguments against Brad Davis’s inclusion are his lack of speed and athleticism, yet while drawing a foul in a dangerous spot late in the match, the Houston talisman showed more promise than many have seen before. The arguments against his potential at international level remain, but with that flash of danger, Davis may be providing a new counterpoint.

Eddie Johnson – When E.J. was brought in at the end of the last round, everybody expected him to provide Klinsmann an alternative to Altidore. But Johnson’s yet to be meaningfully used as a true No. 9. Instead, he’s played on the left. He’s played on the right. He’s provided a needed injection of athleticism, strength, and even experience. And his presence at the back post gives the team a persistent threat. Players like Johnson and Cameron may not have starting spots, but they’re proving valuable parts of Klinsmann’s restructured team.

Jurgen Klinsmann – It’s not only that the U.S. is on 13 points through six rounds. It’s how they’ve done it. To this point, the story’s unfolding just like Klinsmann predicted. And now, the furor ahead of the Costa Rica match seems ridiculous now.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.