Considering Robbie Rogers and the lesser attractive side of the Yanks abroad equation

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As we all wonder what’s next for Robbie Rogers, now officially estranged from Leeds United, perhaps this is a great time to re-open a discussion that most U.S. soccer supporters would prefer not to have.

First, quickly, the news: U.S. winger Robbie Rogers, who was always this close to “something special” status but plateaued too soon and never quite got there, is apparently done at Leeds United. The English club has terminated his contract by mutual consent. That’s clearly not something to highlight on the resume.

The next link in this story chain will be Rogers’ possible return to MLS. Back to Columbus? Reunion with his former coach, Sigi Schmid? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, there’s an important issue to examine here. This is the other side to the habitual push for U.S. players going abroad. This is the less attractive cousin to the domestic player drive for something better, something more lucrative, something sexier …  a pro soccer life less ordinary.

Fans propel the effort; we all crave the next Dempsey, the next Bradley, the next Big Timmy Howard.

We all want our Yanks to go “over there,” as they once said. We long for for these fine fellows to reach the beaches of European soccer, to make us proud as walking, talking, passing, trapping and backstopping demonstrations of our growth and development as a soccer land.

Plus, it gives us another team or two to cheer on TV-friendly Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The trouble is, not everyone can be Dempsey or Bradley or Big Timmy Howard. Those are special athletes; by definition “special” translates roughly to “not everyone can do it.”

Just this morning, we wrote at PST about Robbie Findley, apparently en route back to the States after things went decidedly less than spectacular at Nottingham Forest.

source: Getty Images

Tim Ream at Bolton? OK, maybe the jury remains out on that one. But not for Ricardo Clark and his lost years at Frankfurt. How about Luis Robles for those years at Kaiserslautern? Edson Buddle for his lost time at F.C. Ingolstadt?

How much has Maurice Edu (pictured, left) progressed during his time in Scotland and England?

Brek Shea had a terribly disappointing follow-up to his 2011 breakout campaign. At FC Dallas he’s in position, at least, to rebound nicely. How much would those chances of a smooth bounce-back decline if the 22-year-old winger were starting from the bottom of the depth chart at Arsenal, where he trained a year ago?

This isn’t to say that talented Americans should conquer their quest to play abroad, that they should shrink at the chance to stretch and test themselves.  It’s just a cautionary reminder: wisely identifying the right situation is the critical “where it’s at” here. Absent of a certain level of confidence in that regard, staying put might be the best option.

There’s been so much growth in professional soccer here over the last 10-15 years that it’s hard to keep track sometimes. But one thing has been constant, something the wise guys of our domestic game (Bruce Arena, for instance) have been saying for years, something I have written for years: playing regularly in MLS beats languishing on a bench in England, Scotland, Germany, Spain or wherever.

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina squad

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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
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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.”

Croatia smashes disheveled Argentina

AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
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Ante Rebic, Luka Modric, and Ivan Rakitic have Croatia in the knockout rounds and Argentina on the verge of World Cup disaster.

Croatia scored a trio of second half goals, one aided by a Willy Caballero howler, in a 3-0 win in Nizhny Novgorod on Thursday.

Argentina will enter its final match against Nigeria on the outskirts of the knockout rounds regardless of how Nigeria-Iceland ends on Friday.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Ivan Perisic forced a big save out of Wily Caballero for an early Croatia corner kick that came to nothing.

Messi had a chance stopped inside of 10 minutes, then started a play that Dejan Lovren blocked for a corner in the 13th.

Enzo Perez missed an open goal off a poor Croatia giveaway in the 30th minute.

There were a pair of fouls not out of place on a red card lowlight reel, one for each team, but neither resulting in a sending off.

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Croatia took the lead through Caballero’s gaffe and Rebic’s smash in the 54th.

Argentina nearly answered moments later. After a mazy Messi dribble, Argentina regained possession in the 64th minute, spearheaded by a Gonzalo Higuain run that led to a corner.

Croatia came close to making it 2-0, as Mario Mandzukic couldn’t turn a flick on frame and instead saw it glide into the outside of the goal.

Then Modric put the match to bed as the clock hit 80, an absolute beauty. Another huge defensive mistake allowed Mateo Kovacic to cue up Rakitic for the third.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

WATCH: Caballero blunder punished as Rebic rip puts Argentina on ropes

AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin
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Willy Caballero has made one of the bigger blunders in recent World Cup history.

His Argentina side needs at least a point from Thursday’s match-up with Croatia, and the match remained scoreless into halftime.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But 10 minutes after the break, Caballero flubbed a clearance in a big way.

The Argentina goalkeeper then could only watch as Ante Rebic kept his composure to blast a side volley into the goal.

It was a fine finish, to be sure, but not possible without such a terrible gaffe.