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.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’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 C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE