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.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.

Report: USMNT likely to face Brazil, Mexico in September friendlies

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The U.S. Men’s National Team won’t have a busy schedule throughout the summer, but Dave Sarachan and his side will get a tiny taste of the World Cup in September.

[ MORE: Chivas’ Almeyda exhales after CCL title win ]

ESPN FC is reporting that the USMNT will likely face Brazil and Mexico — both of whom will travel to Russia in June — later this year, as the U.S. Soccer Federation is in the process of finalizing both friendlies.

The matches are set to be played during the September international window, which runs from Sept. 3 through Sept. 11.

Both fixtures will reportedly be played in the United States, although venues haven’t been determined yet.

The U.S. has already begun booking a slate of difficult matches to round out 2018, with England and Italy already confirmed opponents for the Yanks in November.

The Yanks are 1-17-0 all-time against Brazil in all competitions, while the U.S. hasn’t faced Mexico since its 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca in June 2017 during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

Men in Blazers: Jurgen Klopp talks loss of Coutinho and more

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Roger Bennett talks with manager Jurgen Klopp about revolutionizing Liverpool, his Greatest Show on Turf-esque offense, the loss of Philippe Coutinho and how he keeps football in perspective.

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