Jurgen Klinsmann has the likes of Altidore, Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley to choose from.

United States roster falling to pieces ahead of remaining 2014 World Cup qualifiers


It’s a little early to wonder if Jurgen Klinsmann has recently built a home on ancient burial ground and has been cursed for it – but you have to admit, the national team’s run of misfortune lately is a bit strange, eh?

Klinsmann was quite clear, and immediately so upon qualifying officially for the 2014 World Cup: he wanted his best players for those last two qualifiers. He seemed downright confused by any suggestion of doing anything else.

You may see them as meaningless, and it’s true that next week’s match against Jamaica in Kansas City and the final round closer four nights later in Panama won’t mean a thing for the United States in the official picture. (The U.S. schedule is here.) They are going to Brazil, and finishing atop the six-team group probably will not impact the United States’ ability to get a more favorable tournament draw in December.

But Klinsmann (pictured along with Clint Dempsey) will tell you that opportunities to fine tune and tweak between now and next summer are precious and few, and squandering these chances to reinforce all good tenets and to further fuse the combinations is wasteful.

Either way, he’s not going to have that chance over the next couple of weeks; his plan to use these upcoming qualifiers for further World Cup prep is unraveling, and quickly so.

Let’s look at the first-choice players who will not be available, or who will be limited in their fitness and abilities due to recent injuries:

Michael Bradley could return to the training field for Roma this week, but his ongoing ankle injury makes a trip to the United States seem less and less likely. Everybody should know by now that Bradley is the one absolutely indispensable piece to this U.S. puzzle, so any efforts at a top performance begins with their midfield glue.

Clint Dempsey’s hamstring issue (Where did he get this thing? No one seems to know.) has kept the U.S. attacker out of Seattle’s last two matches. Even if Dempsey’s condition improves, Seattle is likely to lobby for keeping him, for playoff positioning and Supporters Shield pursuits next week. Considering Dempsey is Major League Soccer’s top wage earner, it seems like a reasonable request.

(MORE: U.S. Soccer and Jones refute reports of injury)

Jermaine Jones’ status may be up in the air; reports out of Germany say surgery will have Jones on the shelf for a few weeks. But Jones and U.S. Soccer are refuting those reports, so stay tuned on this one. Either way, if Jones has a knee issue, it’s fair to wonder if Schalke will be excited about extra travel and matches that are, officially speaking, meaningless.

U.S. center back Clarence Goodson was a scratch from Sunday’s match at Chivas USA after suffering a bone bruise on the knee in the Earthquakes’ previous contest. Goodson, recall, was the starter alongside Omar Gonzalez as the United States clinched its spot earlier this month with the win over Mexico. Goodson may have slipped lately on the depth chart (blame young up-and-comer Anthony Brooks for that), but his steady night against El Tri reminded everyone that a tested, reliable veteran is great to have around.

Word came Monday that Fabian Johnson has an ankle injury and may not be available for Hoffenheim’s match Saturday at Mainz 05. If Johnson does not play there, expect some reluctance from Hoffenheim to release their left-sided defender-midfielder for international duty.

source: Getty ImagesLandon Donovan (pictured below) was back on the field for the Galaxy on Sunday in Seattle, so he is likely to be on Klinsmann’s list when the team gathers next week in Kansas City. But whether the Galaxy man will be at full-fitness (and therefor full effectiveness) is another matter.

There is one other element potentially destructive to Klinsmann’s plan: how will MLS teams feel about losing players for “meaningless” contests with significant implications in their one, league contests on the line? Think about Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, all locks to make the final 23-man roster for Brazil. If there isn’t some push back from Sporting Kansas City, the LA Galaxy and Seattle, I’ll be surprised.

(Goodson, too, for that matter, as San Jose’s playoff chances remain in the balance, and the Earthquakes are sure to want their best bunch whenever possible.)

There will still be plenty to work with in the U.S. camp. Jozy Altidore will likely relish some time away from the pit of despair that Sunderland has become. There will be mutual benefit of having Aron Johannsson, so fabulously in form at Alkmaar, in another U.S. camp, especially as the Icelandic American has been in so few sessions under Klinsmann so far. That’s just to name a couple.

And, of course, every absence is an opportunity for someone else to climb the food chain. For instance, if Johnson cannot play at right back, Geoff Cameron may get another look there – and wouldn’t it be nice to see what the Stoke City man can do at the position when the opposition isn’t high-flying Belgium?

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.