Let’s get this straight, the ESPY’s is just ESPN’s award show designed for their own self-gratification. Despite this fact, the show does provide some good moments, one of which was Stuart Scott’s speech last night. It is important to note that the USMNT winning this award shows that the USMNT is gradually gaining traction in our popular culture. A lot of these guys, especially Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, have become household names and hopefully this is a sign of things to come. If US soccer players can become household names then more and more kids will begin to idolize them, and the more kids who grow up idolizing soccer players, then the more kids that will become soccer players.
The question that has been on many people’s minds is whether Jozy Altidore deserves to start during the World Cup. It is a question every US soccer fan could not even dream of asking a year ago. During the 2012/2013 season Jozy was on a roll, amassing a staggering amount of goals for both club (AZ Alkmaar) and country. His brilliant play led to a big transfer to Sunderland on the off-season which was met with skepticism by many. Last time Altidore was in England he failed. In fact he has failed in several leagues and in his past two season in England he has scored two goals over 58 games (ESPN). Many hoped that the Eredivisie had finally awoken the skillful player that many knew existed. It was this exceptional raw talent that had led to his departure from MLS and while he has showed glimpses of it at times since he left, he has never consistently performed to the level many have believed he should.
Unfortunately, America does not have a surfeit of talented strikers. The best “American” striker currently plays for Italy. There is no American Robbie Keane or Samuel Eto’o, and since they do not exist American fans have shifted their hopes to Jozy Altidore. He is built like the perfect target striker with his frame, speed, and athleticism but his technical ability and mental strength has been disappointing thus far. Every year fans have been hoping for everything to “click” for Jozy Altidore and last year it finally seemed to be happening. As his inaugural season at Sunderland dragged on, the dream that Jozy had finally become the player he was destined to be began to crack, and right now it’s on the precipice of being shattered. However, his failures do not fall solely on him. Sunderland has been a mess this year. The coach who wanted Jozy got fired and the new coach wanted to play a different style, one which Jozy was not accustomed to. Strikers are also dependent on service from their supporting staff and the midfield on Sunderland this season was severely lacking when it came to providing quality chances. They failed to provide chances to every Sunderland striker, not just Jozy, and therefore it was no surprise that Sunderland was so impotent in front of goal. That being said, Fabio Borini and Conor Wickham put the ball in the back of the net more than Jozy Altidore so there were some chances to be had and all the blame cannot be pointed at the Sunderland midfield. A lot of the blame has to fall on Jozy’s shoulders.
Goals are essential for strikers. Their main sustenance is goals and without those goals, strikers wither away. Of course every striker goes through dry spells, but the longer these spells last the harder it is to get out of them. Jozy Altidore entered a dry spell when he was at Sunderland and it is only getting worse. The dry spell wasn’t helped by being shifted in and out of the lineup during his season at Sunderland but the damage has now been done. Jozy Altidore looks tentative on the ball and lacks sharpness. Last night against Azerbaijan he had his moments where he held up play well but when it came to threatening the goal he fell short. Is it worth mortgaging the success of the USMNT on whether Jozy Altidore can get out of his dry spell and regain his form? Or is it time for Jurgen Klinsmann to move on to his other striking options?
The only target striker the USMNT has is Jozy Altidore and because of this many fans and analysts believe he needs to start for solely this reason. Those who believe the USMNT need a target striker base this off of the belief that the USMNT defense will be constantly under-fire from Ghana, Germany, and Portugal and will need a target striker as an outlet to hold up play. This is not a wrong point-of-view but it does severely limit the tactical and formational options available to Jurgen. If Jurgen deems this strategy is necessary, then Altidore must play, since Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski cannot play as a target striker. However, if Jurgen were to get creative then there is no reason Johannsson and/or Wondolowski cannot start instead of Jozy Altidore and someone else. There are club and international teams around the world who play with two strikers who are not traditional target strikers so it can and has worked. There are no guarantees it will work for the USMNT during the World Cup but is it not smart to use a formation that utilize the team’s two in-form strikers?
Chris Wondolowski is in great form for for the San Jose Earthquakes and has scored several goals for the USMNT in his last few call ups while Aron Johannsson also put up gaudy stats in the Eredivisie. The knock on these stats though is that Wondolowski scored his club goals in MLS against lesser competition and his USMNT goals have come against some of the worst teams USMNT has played in the last year. Johannsson has a similar lack of appreciation for his goals because they have come in the Eredivisie which is known for its high scoring and lesser defenses. This can inflate his stats and his ability, much like it did with Jozy Altidore who put up similar stats during the 2012/2013 season when he played in the Eredivisie. When push comes to shove, goals are goals and these two strikers are proving they can score them in real live games and Jozy Altidore is not.
Jurgen is now faced with quite the conundrum. He has two forwards who are firing on all cylinders but against relatively subpar competition, and he has a forward with a high ceiling who is lacking confidence and sharpness. The motto of Jurgen Klinsmann has been that no player can rest on his laurels and he must constantly prove himself. Jozy Altidore cannot be completely knocked for challenging himself in the BPL but his inability to score also cannot be ignored. As we have seen, even great players can fail to perform in the World Cup. Lionel Messi who is one of the best players in the world only managed to score one goal in the 2010 World Cup. Jozy Altidore is no Lionel Messi, but that example shows how a team can be affected when their main goal-scoring threat is misfiring. There is no guarantee Jozy Altidore gets out of his dry spell and thus Jurgen should at least toy with the idea of using Wondowlowski and/or Johannsson upfront for the World Cup warm-up games. As much as it hurts to say, at the current moment Jozy Altidore starting the game on the bench could give the US the best chance to score goals. Jozy Altidore is a talented player but if Gus Poyet does not think he is worthy of starting the Capital One final then how can Jurgen believe he is capable of starting in the World Cup? Just like Jurgen did with Donovan, sometimes you have to make tough decisions and drop popular, talented players in order to give the team a better chance to win.
Came across this promo for the World Cup today and it reminded me of the atmosphere at the Gold Cup of Summer 2013.
Let’s set the scene. It was an overcast Baltimore day, hot and humid in late July. On the docket was a Gold Cup quarterfinal doubleheader with the US of A to play second. There was a sea of red, white and blue adorning the streets leading to the stadium, but mostly because the other teams playing that day were Honduras (blue and white), Costa Rica (red, white, and you guessed it…blue), and El Salvador (blue and white). The CONCACAF region clearly does not recognize other colors.
The gates of the stadium were opened and a sea of people rushed to find their seats for the 4-5 hours of soccer to come. The American Outlaws had reserved three sections right behind the West goal. Aside from a few other US fans scattered throughout the stadium, that was the entire cheering section for the Yanks. It took until about halfway through the first game for all three sections to be filled with US fans, it took quite a few police officers to explain (in Spanish I assume) that if your ticket says nosebleed section you need to leave. Most of them didn’t leave, as if they could hide amongst a bevy of Uncle Sam hats.
The first game was boring and muted. Honduras won 1-0 over Costa Rica, and the Honduran fans celebrated like they both won the World Cup that day, and had somehow defeated the United States. Neither was true, but kudos to their enthusiasm, albeit a little misguided.
The second game was magnificent. The US took a 2-1 lead into halftime and it felt as though the game was being held in El Salvador. Roughly 10-15% of the fans were cheering for the US, and 5% of those fans were Honduran good guys. If you want to experience being a USMNT fan, I suggest you experience the Gold Cup in 2015. The Gold Cup is the best competitive international soccer tournament that the USMNT plays on U.S. soil with the exception of World Cup qualifiers.
The second half: a unique experience.The lead held in the second half thanks to some fantastic work from a rejuvenated Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson. It started to rain, and the USA rumbling got louder and louder. The Central American fans, unhappy that capitalism (#MURICA) was raining on their parade, tossed every drink and bit of food/garbage down from the cheap seats. The chants got louder. The rain fell harder. The goals kept coming. 5-1 America.
Eventually the disgruntled El Salvador fans ran out of 8 dollar beers to throw, and the final whistle blew. Everyone was soaked and began to exit the stadium, but the American Outlaws kept chanting. They sang songs, shouted chants, and eventually they did a roll call as the USMNT players thanked them for their support. They stayed until the stadium was uncomfortably empty, and then proceeded to sing as they exited the stadium.
If you are an American soccer fan that wants soccer to succeed in America, then you should find your local AO chapter and join. Every member helps, and it’s the first step to enjoying a truly American soccer experience at the next USMNT game. Well worth it the next time you see the USMNT play and get to lose your voice with fellow soccer lovers.
Here is a great article posted by ESPN FC written by Jozy Altidore about his recent move to Sunderland. It’s a very interesting behind the scenes look at a professional football player told in his own voice. It’s a quick, fun read.
Since my last transfer rumors post back in June, we’ve seen some players take the plunge and actually join new clubs and others have rumors swirling with different clubs:
- Cavani is confirmed to be off to PSG instead of the rumored Chelsea
- Fabio Contrao is now being linked with Tottenham
- Gonzalo Higuain has been transferred to Arsenal then Napoli, yet nothing is confirmed to this point despite the latest reports saying a 37m bid from Napoli has been accepted
- Fellaini remains at Everton and it seems talk of his “release clause” being activated was complete BS
- Manchester United have made a 3rd bid for Cesc Fabregas after we reported they were interested in the beginning of June
So, with those 5 rumors, only one has officially come to fruition.
Recently, I posted about Arsenal possibly splashing some big cash this transfer window. So far, none of those have happened for Arsene Wenger, much to the dismay of the Gunner’s fans.
- Higuain (mentioned above)
- Rooney now looks like Chelsea will be his most likely destination should he leave Old Trafford (IMO, I think he stays)
- Felliani (mentioned above)
- Lars Bender looks like he will be staying at Leverkusen, at least for this year
- Stevan Jovetic is a confirmed Chelsea signing and a good potential Tevez replacement, who is confirmed to be off to Juventus
- Micah Richards is still at Man City and his transfer rumors have cooled down some
- Fernando Torres looks to be staying with Chelsea at least for the time being
- Julio Cesar is still available
- David Villa has been confirmed to stay in Spain and move to Atletico Madrid
The latest confirmed transfers and rumors involve some players not previously mentioned:
- The 20 year old Brazilian Bernard has been the talk of the Brazilian media recently with a reported 21m move to Arsenal set to be confirmed after the copa libertores final on Thursday. He has also been linked with Tottenham and Liverpool. (Not many outside of Brazil know much about him but he does have some impressive highlights)
- Soldado is being linked with a 25m move to Tottenham from his current club Valencia, although the latest reports suggest talks have broken down
- Benfica winger Eduardo Salvio is linked with a 30m move to Chelsea
- The puzzling rumors regarding Juan Mata continue as a potential Arsenal target (I would put this at about a -3% chance of actually happening)
- Liverpool have reportedly made an 18m offer for Ajax midfielder Christian Eriksen
- Aston Villa forward Chistian Benteke received a wage boost to remain at Villa next season
- Tiago Alcantara is off to Bayern Munich as they add yet another midfielder that is already world class
- Fellow American Jozy Altidore has officially signed with Sunderland
- Isco turned down the chance to join Manchester City and went with Real Madrid instead
- The latest reports on Gareth Bale see a 6 year deal reached with a move to Real Madrid
- Luis Suarez’s suitors are still reported to be either Arsenal or Real Madrid should Liverpool decide to sell
Next week I will be posting Part 2 (of 3) of my Barclay’s Premier League Predictions. They will be based on the above confirmed transfers and rumors. As some squads have had some notable changes, expect the predictions to change from Part 1 posted 6 weeks ago.