Hamburg show Borussia Dortmund have work to do before Champions League

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Borussia Dortmund’s 4-1 loss Saturday to Hamburg was the defending German champions’ worst home defeat since 2008, a shocking outcome for a team that was supposed to be gearing up for Champions League. If their mid-week opponents (Shakhtar Donetsk) happened to be watching, they’d take nothing but encouragement from a poor defensive performance from team that never recovered from a controversial sending off.

That incident happened in the 31st minute with Hamburg already up 2-1. Robert Lewandowski showed up Hamburg defender Hieko Westermann for a 17th minute opener only to see beautiful goals from Artjoms Rudnevs (a team effort) and Son Heung-Min (his own work) give the visitors the lead. Five minutes later, a late challenge that saw Lewandowski go foot-to-foot with on Hamburg midfielder Per Skjelbred earned the Polish international straight red, a punishment that arrived after Hamburg captain Rafael van der Vaart appeared to escalate the situation by hastily confronting Lewandowski before appealing for red after Sebastian Kehl shoved him to the ground.

Hamburg never took advantage of Dortmund’s shock, though. By the 59th minute, they were also reduced to 10 after defender Jeffrey Bruma saw straight red. The dismissal seemed to awaken Hamburg, who took advantage of uncharacteristically bad Dortmund defending to craft Rudnevs and Son’s second goals.

The doubles completed a banner day for Hamburg, one that moves them into fifth place in the Bundesliga. For team that started the season near the drop (after a 2011-12 campaign spent battling relegation), completing a double over the defending champions could prove a solidifying event. If there was any doubt  Hamburg would slip back into mediocrity, today’s result should placate it.

And the way they won should bring some deserved attention to one of the league’s best attacking tandems. In a time where the 4-2-3-1 formation has become a default, you don’t often see two forwards leading an attack. Yet thanks to the re-acquisition of van der Vaart, Rudnevs and Son having established themselves as a rare duel threat, Son’s ability to play wide complementing his Latvian partner. After today’s haul, the duo’s combined for 19 league goals.

Dortmund must now answer the question teams face whenever they’re handed an aberrational result: How much do you chalk up to a bad day, and how much hints at something that’s breaking down? Given defender Neven Subotic and midfielder Ilkay Gundogan were handed days off (Gundogan did come in late), head coach Jurgen Kloppp has reason to believe this is a one-off.

The disturbing part will be how Hamburg scored their goals: Long passes down the flanks and behind the fullbacks extending a defense that couldn’t adjust. Given how Shakhtar plays, it’s not difficult to see the Ukrainian champions using the same approach. With Brazilians Alex Teixeira and Ilsinho wide, Shakhtar can get behind Lukasz Pizszcek and Sven Bender. Fullbacks Darijo Srna and Razvan Rat have the experience and ability to find them, while striker Luiz Adriano and attacking midfielder Henrikh Wkhitaryan can mimic HSV’s goal scorers.

One-off or not, Hamburg exposed something in Dortmund that can taken advantage of. Klopp will have to solve the problem before re-starting BVB’s Champions League campaign.

Highlights:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdZPWGSg6Ec]

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

AP Photo/Felipe Dana
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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.