Jozy Altidore to captain the U.S. in Panama: Oh, what a difference a year makes

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October 2012:

Jozy Altidore is a surprise omission from the U.S. Men’s National Team ahead of crucial third round qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.

After months of speculation as to why the AK Alkmaar star can’t replicate his club proclivity for his national team, the then 21-year-old is deemed surplus to Jurgen Klinsmann’s requirements. The omission sparks debate amongst U.S. fans and media, both regarding Altidore’s performance and as to whether the U.S. boss has gone too far.

Although the U.S. is not guaranteed to go through, Klinsmann has decided to tackle the round’s final qualifiers without his most talented number nine. It’s a gamble few would take.

October 2013:

[tweet https://twitter.com/ussoccer/status/390171528236507136]

Oh, what a difference a year makes.

Last fall’s debates are dead. The U.S. not only finished first in third round qualifying but replicated the feet in The Hex, winning CONCACAF’s final ground for the third cycle running. With a victory tonight in Panama City, the U.S. equal a Hex record for points (22, set by the U.S. and Mexico in 2006).  The team’s FIFA ranking is at its highest point since 2009.

On an individual level, Altidore’s undergone a similar rise. For Alkmaar, he’d finish the season with 31 all-competition goals (41 games), leading his club to the Dutch Cup. That performance earned him a move to the Premier League, where he’s won early praise with Sunderland despite going goalless for a struggling club.

At the international level, Alitdore’s scored six goals this year, bringing his career total to 21 (63 games). His hat trick in a 4-3 win at Bosnia capped a five-game scoring streak, a U.S. record. If armbands were based on performance alone, Altidore would have earned this honor.

But they’re not based on performance, though for Jurgen Klinsmann, that surely plays a part. It makes Altidore on for his squad’s key players. In addition, though, a captain has to exemplify what a coach wants from his squad. If anything can be read into today’s decision, it’s that Altidore, one year after failing to be called up for qualifying, has become one of Klinsmann’s standouts.

That’s a long journey to make in 12 months’ time, and both sides deserve a lot of credit. Few doubted Altidore’s ability or willingness to respond, and he has. The soon-to-be 24-year-old has reached new heights, more consistent.

Klinsmann also deserves a nod. He knew what needed to be done and, in the face of an unpopular decision, wasn’t afraid to do it. Perhaps that wasn’t the only way to get the most out of Altidore, but it’s difficult to argue with the results. By challenging him, Klinsmann’s made Altidore into CONCACAF’s most productive striker.

One step back has sent Jozy sprinting forward, progress Klinsmann acknowledges with tonight’s reward. For the first time at senior level, he’ll lead his team onto the field.

Top Storylines for Premier League Week 6

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After a week of League Cup action domestically, the Premier League returns this weekend with a myriad of interesting matchups and storylines.

Let’s take a look at some of this week’s top story’s to follow:


Can Manchester City continue its torrid form?

Manchester City has finally found its groove under manager Pep Guardiola.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The club has won five successive games, the last three coming on the road while scoring a combined 19 goals. Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus are a terrific 1-2 punch while David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne have been stars in midfield, with De Bruyne pulling the strings for Man City all season.

There’s every likelihood that Man City will continue its impressive run on Saturday. The club hosts floundering Crystal Palace, which is still adjusting to new manager Roy Hodgson.

(more…)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

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Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.