Let’s count the reasons to monitor Graham Zusi this year

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Are there reasons to closely watch Graham Zusi this year? Absolutely.

They are just falling off the reason tree, in fact, starting with this: it’s a follow-up year to 2012, when the Sporting Kansas City man took his game to another level, internationally and domestically.

Zusi just completed a short training spell with West Ham; he’s now back in the States, joining up with Jurgen Klinsmann’s ongoing U.S. national team January camp outside Los Angeles.

SKC’s playmaker has an interesting role as the presumptive, kinda-sorta replacement for Landon Donovan. No, Zusi is no Donovan – and that’s no knock on the Sporting KC attacker. Donovan is Donovan, and the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer will be irreplaceable in some ways.

But Donovan’s national team absence, however long that turns out to be, definitely helps open the door for Zusi, who slides up the chart of Klinsmann’s top options for right-sided attacking.

(MORE: Donovan’s January camp absence and what it means)

Zusi also becomes an interesting figure for 2012 based on how Klinsmann might use his technically gifted 26-year-old midfielder.

Yes, the pride of #SKC seems like a top “go-to” for the United States’ World Cup qualifiers and marquee friendlies, like the one apparently being arranged against Germany in June. But is that the wisest use of his time away from Sporting KC in the summer?

Because it is possible that Zusi doesn’t see much time in those. By contrast, he could be front-and-center in the United States’ Gold Cup efforts this summer, when Klinsmann will summon something that looks more like a “B” side.

I’m not so sure at this point; I could go either way. All of that is to be hashed out in the coming weeks, I suppose.

(And we’re not even getting into what Zusi might do in MLS this year, not just now, at least.)

Meanwhile, Zusi had some things to say to Yanks Abroad about 2012, about the national team, about “replacing” Donovan and about his recent time in London. What Zusi said about his training days with West Ham:

It was a great experience overall. It was good to experience the culture over there and see what their training is like. It’s tough with MLS not following the international schedule to stay sharp especially when these World Cup qualifiers are approaching. Obviously there’s a little bit of rust because I haven’t played a game since November. But that wore off and I felt a lot more comfortable as the sessions went on. I thought I did fine.”

LAFC selects Urena, 4 others in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC selected five players in the MLS Expansion Draft, including Costa Rican national team star Marco Urena.

Whether they’ll make their way to the City of Angels is another story.

The first pick from general manager John Thorrington was goalkeeper Tyler Miller from Seattle Sounders.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Going next was Latif Blessing from Sporting KC, an electric attacker who netted thrice with an assist last season.

Next was Urena from San Jose and the Costa Rican national team, a huge addition, and then Columbus left back Jukka Raitala before closing up the draft with Raheem Edwards from Toronto FC.

LAFC has already announced the signings or acquisitions of Carlos Vela, Walker Zimmerman, Carlos Alvarez, Monday Etim, and Guillermo Vizcarra.

The club will also loan Omar Gaber from Basel and Rodrigo Pacheco from Lanus.

WATCH LIVE: Three Premier League matches

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Chelsea visits the John Smith’s Stadium to face Huddersfield Town in one of three Premier League fixtures this chilly Tuesday in December (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues are now 14 points back of Manchester City, and three points clear of fifth place.

Meanwhile there are a pair of matches on NBC Sports Gold: Burnley looks to keep pace with its Top Four ambitions when it hosts struggling Stoke City, while in-form Crystal Palace seeks a home win that would move it out of the drop zone. In its way? Dangerous, attack-minded Watford.

Burnley vs. Stoke City — 2:45 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Huddersfield Town vs. Chelsea — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — 3 p.m. ET [ STREAM ]

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.