Jurgen Klinsmann says “high probability” Donovan part of September’s World Cup Qualifying

4 Comments

The lasting influence of this year’s Gold Cup may be at an individual level While winning a confederation title will always be an honor to the players who made up the United States’ CONCACAF champions, the tournament came in the middle of a World Cup cycle. Not only did that mean many key players were rested, but it also placed the past two weeks’ results in the context of the States’ path to Brazil. Which players were improving their stocks was more discussed than the matches’ results.

That perspective wasn’t lost on the media post-match, a group who were quick to ask about Landon Donovan. After a tournament where the returning attacker was clearly the competition’s best player, there was a natural curiosity as to his status with the national team. Is he back in the fold, fully re-established after this winter’s sabbatical? Or will the U.S. continue to forge through qualifying without him.

You don’t have to be the U.S.’s most ardent fan to know the answer. If you’re playing well and fit what Klinsmann’s trying to accomplish, you’re going to be called in. And after raising his Most Valuable Players’ trophy after today’s victory, there’s no doubt Donovan’s both playing well and fits.

Klinsmann:

It’s absolutely normal that there’s a high probability that he joins us for the September games. It’s absolutely a non-discussion. But he also knows that it’s always the present. It’s always about today and tomorrow. He took that very well. He accepted that role. He swallowed a couple pills, which is normal.

Donovan’s biggest backers won’t want to see references to “pills,” taking things well, or anything short of a guarantee of a qualifying role. But beyond that loyalty-fueled perspective, this is as positive an outcome as Donovan could have hoped for from this tournament.

There are very few players Klinsmann would give a rosier prognosis than “high probability.” Maybe the Dempseys, Bradleys,and Howards of the world get some rope, but we saw what happened to Jozy Altidore last November. He international play waned, he ceased fitting what Klinsmann was trying to do, and he missed a call up. Nine months later Altidore seems like an obligatory call up, but his arc also shows how quickly things can change.

What if a player’s form dips? Or they get injured? Or other players step up, or there a specific tactical considerations that influence a callup? Along with this absence from previous qualifying teams, that’s where a player like Donovan goes from lock to high probability, and while other coaches may be more willing to give assurances, this is how Jurgen Klinsmann goes about his business. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Besides, any lingering conspiracies about Donovan being held out because of some personality conflict or internal rift were addressed by the player himself, reflecting on the process that led to his Gold Cup triumph:

I wasn’t in a place to contribute then … I wanted to come back and contribute, so it feels good to help.

Provided Donovan carries his Gold Cup form into the MLS’s second half, he’ll be called in come September. There doesn’t need to be a big sit down. There are no hatchets to bury. He’s a player in the pool, and when he warrants a spot, he gets it.

The more interesting consideration is what, exactly, that entails. The U.S. is at the top of their qualifying group, seemingly cruising to a spot in Brazil. While that doesn’t preclude Donovan claiming a spot in Klinsmann’s starting XI, it does hint there’s some competition. Something is working right now. There may be nothing to fix. In that picture, where would the Galaxy star fit in? And at what expense?

Some feel he’s best suited for an impact sub’s role. At least initially. Others obviously feel a player of his talent should go right into the team. If he does, does that mean Graham Zusi loses his spot? That was the dynamic that seemed to be in place last month, but now it’s worth wondering if Donovan would move Fabian Johnson to left back and take the left midfielder’s spot.

But also consider: Donovan was used exclusively as a supporting striker in the Gold Cup. While that may have been a function of the squad’s make up, did it also hint at what Klinsmann sees as Donovan’s best role? Be it as Clint Dempsey’s understudy or moving the team’s captain to another position?

As the cliché goes, these are all problems a coach would love to have. And as a credit to how far Donovan’s come in the last few months, they’re also the most pertinent questions surrounding his national team future. Though there’s still a chance he won’t be called into September’s qualifiers, all indications are he will be. Now the discussion shifts to how (and where) he fits.

 

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

Serena Morones/The Oregonian via AP
Leave a comment

Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

CONCACAF
1 Comment

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.