Why Nicolas Anelka was wrong before and continues to be wrong now

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So this is Nicolas Anelka’s defense? His lame, ongoing efforts to defend those controversial actions from last month essentially boil down to this:

He is neither anti-semitic nor racist – he just publicly honors those who might be.

Seriously? That’s what he wants to go with?

Let’s take the West Brom man at his word. Let’s assume for a moment that Anelka truly harbors no anti-Semitic views whatsoever. Let’s take Anelka’s word that his recent, highly controversial celebratory gesture really was, as he continues to suggest, an effort at a benign tribute to his friend, French comedian Dieudonné.

He really wants to “honor” this guy?

Even that is a remarkably silly and thoughtless thing to do, utterly tone deaf at the very least. I suppose we can debate whether players should face sanction for silly, thoughtless acts. Either way, Anelka is currently staring at five-game ban or more if the English FA finds him guilty of making an “abusive” gesture.

A little humble admission of having done something wrong or, at very least brainless, might go a long way here.

(MORE: Anelka defends ‘quenelle’ gesture after FA charge)

We pay tribute to fallen soldiers, to fallen figures, to victims or to the truly oppressed. Sometimes athletes’ celebrations may recognize family members or – and who could ever get upset at this one? – the birth of a child. “Right on,” most of us say to any of that.

But let’s take a quick look at Dieudonné … and then ask, “why pay tribute to such an individual?”

This New York Times story from last year says the spotlight has dimmed significantly on the once-famous French comic.

Dieudonné’s career has gone off the rails. After lashing out at Jews, playing down the importance of the Holocaust in shows and interviews, and becoming politically active in the name of what he calls anti-Zionism, he has become a pariah in France.

And there was this recent piece from Esquire, one that leaves us to wonder if something even more brainless is at work here? “It may have started out as a gesture of defiance but lately it’s turned into a game,” the Esquire article says, where provocateurs look for the most public places to make the gesture.

All of this came out before Anelka’s dim and grim goal celebration on Dec. 28. The point is, everyone paying attention in France knows what this guy Dieudonné is all about. Anelka certainly does.

Anelka and other pro athletes get lots of money; they take plenty out of society. Whether they like it or not, some degree of responsibility comes with that paycheck. They don’t have to use their position for advocacy or public service (although plenty do), but the very least we can expect is that they understand exactly what they are saying or doing with highly public gestures.

Even without warming up all those old debates over “role models,” can’t we agree at very least that there is some responsibility to act in socially responsible ways?

Really, it’s worth asking if the guy thought this thing through one little bit?

Anelka may not be directly promoting or advocating anti-semitism, but how much better is it to honor a guy with a notorious association with it?

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

[ MORE: Saul scores stunner for Spain U-21s ]

So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.