Breakfast with United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann: Today’s topic – Jozy Altidore’s roster exclusion

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I was among a small group of journalists who had breakfast recently with Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. national team coach whose methods and player selection tendencies can sometimes lean to the less conventional. The results so far have been mostly favorable, even if the aesthetic hasn’t always risen to expectation.

Over the next week or so, we will extract one element each day of the extremely informative conversation, where Klinsmann expanded candidly on subjects ranging from Jozy Altidore to evolving player roles to Jermaine Jones to future matches and all points in between.

Today’s topic: Jozy Altidore’s roster exclusion

The domestic soccer world nearly fell over backwards when Jozy Altidore was left off the U.S. roster for a pair of critical World Cup qualifiers.

“The World Cup is on the line, and this coach is leaving behind a man who cannot stop scoring goals in the Dutch league! Is he off his German meds or something?”

For Klinsmann, it wasn’t about Altidore per se. It was about all the things we talked about in yesterday’s post, about embracing discontent. It was about demanding accountability and a drive for improvement. It was about a bigger message.

And Jozy Altidore wasn’t getting it.

“This is what we look at. We want to see consistently in what they are doing.  But we also want to see them improve. If they are settled with a level, where they say, ‘This level is OK with me,’ we want the next younger guy to come in and bite his ear off. … No matter who they are, what their name is, that’s what we want to see. And they are getting that message more and more.”

Only, Altidore didn’t seem to be getting the message last summer. And it wasn’t sinking in by September’s World Cup qualifiers. So came the conversation.

“I told Jozy, what happened [before] is not OK. It’s simply not OK.”

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Klinsmann says he always kept the situation in context.  Altidore may already have a career full of national team caps, but he is still a young player, just 23.  The U.S. striker and current Alkmaar man was even younger when he was sold to Spain’s Villarreal for $10 million. Who wouldn’t have a little “I’ve arrived” about them at that point? Still …

“So I told him, ‘I always try to put myself into your situation. But right now, because of what we went through together, it is the right thing is to leave you out, and to make you understand that it is not working this way. And let’s get together next time, and there will be [a next time], and we’ll talk through it again.

Klinsmann said he subsequently saw the reaction he wanted – which was always the point, to spur improvement.

“And he [later] said, ‘Yes, I totally get it now.’  So it’s a learning curve. That’s why I say, the door is always open. But sometimes you just have to shut it for a second …”

Klinsmann likened it to his time in AS Monaco, under Arsene Wenger, when the current coach of Arsenal sat a talent young striker named Youri Djorkaeff on the bench. That team also had Lilian Thuram and Emmanuel Petit, fellow Frenchmen would all go on to win a World Cup in 1998. But in the early 90s, they weren’t “getting it.”

So Klinsmann started hanging out with Djorkaeff and the others. He said they all got along famously, so it was easy.

“I told them … you guys, you have a huge future ahead of you. But you have to get it. And slowly and slowly it was coming, and then he broke through.”  That relatively unknown team went on to play AC Milan in the Champions League semifinal.

What Klinsmann tried to do all those years ago with Djorkaeff, he’s doing now with Altidore.

What about those Altidore Tweets that dropped after his roster exclusion in October, social media messages which seemed to express a certain discord? Does that stuff bother Klinsmann, these potentially incendiary public reactions?

“No. Not as long as they are not going completely overboard. If somebody says something out of emotion, if they are upset or expresses something out of emotion, that’s fine.”

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: explaining Jermaine Jones)

(MORE of the Klinsmann conversation: Landon Donvan’s career crisis)

MONDAY: The friendlies ahead

Japan upsets ten-man Colombia in Group H opener

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On paper, the 61st-ranked team in the world beating the 16th-ranked team in the world is a massive upset. But considering the circumstances within the game, perhaps this wasn’t an upset after all.

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Two set pieces were the difference as Japan defeated ten-man Colombia, 2-1 on Tuesday morning in Saransk. Colombia played with ten men for nearly the entire match, after Carlos Sanchez was sent off for a handball in the box and a denial of a goal scoring opportunity.

The game took a massive turn in the third minute, as Colombia centerback Davinson Sanchez failed to control a pass and Yuya Osako found himself free on goal. His shot was parried away by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina but Kagawa’s rebound shot was clearly blocked by Sanchez’s right arm. The referee, Damir Skomina immediately pointed to the penalty spot and went to the back pocket, sending Sanchez to the showers.

Kagawa stepped up and cooly sent Ospina the wrong way to put Japan on top.

Late in the first half, after both teams had chances on target, Colombia came back and evened the scoreline.

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Juan Fernando Quintero, starting in place of the recovering James Rodriguez, smartly took a free kick and fired it low, under the wall as it jumped. Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima reacted late and although he arrived as the ball was crossing the line, he couldn’t keep it from going over, tying the game in the 39th minute.

Ultimately, despite its efforts, Colombia began to tire and on a corner kick, the Blue Samurai took back the lead and control of their destiny in Group H. A corner kick from Keisuke Honda was re-directed past Ospina by Osako, who jumped well over Santiago Arias, to give Japan a 2-1 lead in the 75th minute.

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Rodriguez was introduced in the 57th minute but try as he did, Colombia was unable to find the final pass in the box, and Japan held on for the unexpected victory.

With the win, Japan top Group H ahead of a meeting with Senegal, while Colombia will have to regroup to face Poland.

In a World Cup full of unexpected results, Tuesday brought yet another memorable win for an underdog.

New Zealand women footballers rebel against national coach

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Only weeks after New Zealand Football made headlines by signing a revolutionary equal pay deal with its female players, the organization is facing a mutiny by members of its women’s team against the national coach.

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New Zealand Football confirmed on Tuesday it had received a letter signed by a number of New Zealand players complaining about the methods and tactics employed by Austria-born coach Andreas Heraf.

The complaints follow the New Zealand team’s recent 3-1 loss at home to Japan. Heraf angered his players, and fans of the Football Ferns national team, by taking an entirely defensive game plan into the rare home international.

Heraf then further angered his players with comments defending his approach.

He said there was “a big difference in quality” between the New Zealand and Japanese players and that New Zealand “will never have that quality” to compete with top teams like Japan. He said the scoreline might have been 8-0 if New Zealand had not adopted a defensive approach.

One of New Zealand’s leading players, United States-based Abby Erceg, retired after playing 132 matches for New Zealand, citing Heraf’s approach in previous international matches.

She later told New Zealand media: “I couldn’t stand to wear that (national symbol) on my chest any more when his vision was to cower in a corner and not get beat by too much.”

New Zealand Football defended Heraf against the media and public criticism but admitted his comments were “strange” and “wrong” and did not accurately reflect his views. Heraf later apologized and said he had not expressed himself clearly.

But efforts to dampen the controversy have failed. New Zealand Football said in a statement it had “received a letter from the NZ Professional Footballers Association (NZPFA) last night with a number of complaints from the players of the Football Ferns.”

The mutiny comes only weeks after New Zealand gained international headlines for a deal which gives female pay parity with their male counterparts.

New Zealand Football signed the deal which provided female players with equal match payments, travel arrangements and prize money.

At the time, New Zealand women’s captain Ali Riley said the deal meant New Zealand would “be able to compete against the top teams, to be able to do well at a World Cup and the Olympics – this is what we needed.”

VIDEO: Colombia sees red, Japan takes early lead

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The first red card of the World Cup came just moments after fans took their seats in Saransk.

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After David Ospina blocked a breakaway opportunity from Yuya Osako in the third minute of the match, Japan star and former Manchester United midfielder Shinji Kagawa fired the rebound on goal. But his shot was blocked by the arm of Colombia midfielder Carlos Sanchez, which earned him a straight red card from referee Damir Skomina and an early trip to the locker room.

Kagawa then stepped up to the spot and calmly sent Ospina the wrong way to give Japan the shock early lead.

Colombia will play the rest of the match with ten men and no James Rodriguez, who was named to the bench for this match as he recovers from a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez out of Colombia starting XI

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Taking a page out of Egypt’s book, Colombia will be without its talismanic playmaker for its first match, Tuesday morning against Japan.

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Juan Fernando Quintero replaced James Rodriguez in Colombia’s starting Xi to take on Japan in Saransk as Colombia coach Jose Pekerman clearly hopes a few extra days of recovery for the injured Rodriguez will help him return to 100 percent fitness. Rodriguez is battling a reported calf injury.

Rodriguez scored six goals and had two assists in five games at the last World Cup in Brazil, helping guide Los Cafeteros to their first World Cup quarterfinals appearance.