Reactions and overreactions to l’affair Altidore; why Jurgen Klinsmann’s choice isn’t that shocking

13 Comments

The shock registered throughout our domestic soccer community over l’affair Altidore is, well, almost a little shocking.

Jozy Altidore’s omission from Monday’s national team announcement was certainly a surprise. Paired with Eddie Johnson’s restoration of national team grace, all this is certainly a curveball that deserves discussion, if only because it smacks of sending mixed messages. But it’s not that exactly staggering, now is it?

First, I’ve said on more than one occasion (having “borrowed” the line from friend and fellow soccer journo Brian Straus), “I am done trying to predict Jurgen Klinsmann.”

And I mean it. Klinsmann has always marched to his own quirky drumbeat, going back to his playing days. We always knew this about the guy; his penchant for less conventional thinking is among the reasons everyone wanted him in this position all along, and it played no small part in U.S. Soccer’s enduring pursuit. It’s part of the Klinsi charm, right?

So, using that as a starting point, shouldn’t any thunderbolts coming out of his Home Depot Center office strike with just a little less bang?

I certainly expected to see Altidore’s name on the roster. He’s Dutch league’s leading scorer, after all. The Eredivisie isn’t exactly La Liga, but top tier Dutch soccer would land solidly in the middle of any European league ordering.

So, yes, Monday’s news registered as an “eye-opener.”

But all this? Reading comments across the answer web, some fans seemed utterly incredulous. A few media outlets used the words like “shocker” and wondered about Klinsmann’s motives.

And the word “snub” popped up with frequency, which seems to imply something personal. Frankly, I don’t get that at all. Coaches select squads and lineups based on a sliding scale of ability, experience, locker room chemistry, roster balance and positional cover. That’s about it. If they get it wrong, they get fired – so they work hard to get it right.

This is no more a “snub” in the conventional vernacular than Sacha Kljestan’s lack of call-ups in 2012 (before Monday, of course.) Klinsmann just reckons he’s got better people for a particular job.

There were little hints along the way; Klinsmann always sounded less than impressed last summer with Altidore’s fitness and commitment. He may not have said so overtly, but listening to Klinsmann talk up guys like Herculez Gomez and Terrance Boyd did serve to raise some antennae.

The boys from ESPN Press Pass weren’t shocked over Monday’s big talker; Steve Nicol and Shaka Hislop called it a little surprising and hoped that it would spur something more from Altidore.

source:

If we removed the name and just examined the numbers, this wouldn’t even register much above “mildly surprising.”  Altidore has no goals and one assist in six appearances this year. We would all look at that, mutter something about “he has to do better,” and then go make a sandwich.

It’s that form in the Netherlands and the lack of selection criteria consistency that does make this one harder to swallow; that much is clear. On the other hand, coaches do this occasionally, hoping a kick up the old backside will unlock better focus, more effort in training, closer attention to game-day details or whatever. (Not saying Altidore is necessarily deficient in any of those areas, just speaking generally here.)

After all, this could quickly blow over. Altidore could get back into the squad, and the guy could be scoring goals regularly in final round World Cup qualifying – assuming things don’t go horribly sideways over the next eight days.

“The decision is just for these two games,” Klinsmann said. “The door is always open.”

 

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
Leave a comment

A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
Leave a comment

There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”