Will Landon Donovan be welcomed back into national team?

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When we talk about Landon Donovan’s return, LA Galaxy fans want to know how it shapes the club and its pursuit of an unprecedented third consecutive MLS Cup crown.

Meanwhile, the majority of domestic soccer supporters are more interested in how the one of the country’s best set of soccer feet (ever, that is) can fizz up a national team attack that looks mighty flat at the moment.

Will the national team deciders welcome Donovan? The simple answer here is: Why not?

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann has generally shown a balance between idealism and pragmatism. He certainly has bold ideas about how the United States should play, higher up the field, more controlled out of the back, looking to apply pressure offensively and without the ball.

The reality has been harder to come by, which is why the actual game-day execution under Klinsmann has frequently looked similar to the less-dynamic ways of predecessor Bob Bradley. Personally, that doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but critics abound. They are impatient and eager to see the new ways and implementations at work. Now!

The balance may have gone slightly askew in Honduras, where some of the manager’s personnel choice seemed slightly ambitious; perhaps just a little more experience within the team’s “back five” – four defenders plus defensive midfielder Danny Williams – would have rescued the point. That just goes to prove that this is a moving target.

Idealism is wonderful, and it may serve the United States well at Brazil 2014 – but it won’t amount to a hill of practice cones if Klinsmann and Co. lose their way en route and fail (egad!) to qualify.

Which brings us back to Donovan.

Assuming the 30-year-old attacker has resupplied his depleted stores of “want to,” he will provide a boost to the attack, not to mention some missing diversity and ideas. Donovan’s critics are legion, but any reasonable person will conclude that his talents could be put to use at the moment.

Klinsmann cannot like that Donovan has come up missing so often from camps and matches. He has said as much.

FoxSports.com’s Leander Schaerlaeckens asked a good question in this piece:

Will Donovan commit firmly to remaining available to the team at least through the 2014 World Cup? If he won’t, there’s little sense in once again building around a player who openly admits that he’s had “motivational issues” throughout his career. Donovan’s return might be brief. If it turns out the prolonged off-season didn’t bring him the inner peace he has often spoken about seeking, there’s no telling when he’ll walk away again.

That article doesn’t address what may even be a more important point: will the players accept Donovan? In the less likely even that Donovan’s presence becomes a polarizing element, his return could do more damage than good. That’s a whole other jar of pickles.

As for Klinsmann, his pragmatic side will surely kick in. Donovan’s speed (of thought and feet) makes the United States dangerous on the counter. In the regular run of play Donovan is usefully versatile, more than credible as a set-up man or as a finisher near goal.

He’s also a good delivery man on set pieces; Omar Gonzalez (now front and center in the qualifying push) can be a real bother on attacking restarts, but only if the service is precise.

Plus, don’t underestimate the man’s psychological impact on match day; opponents’ awareness of Donovan’s ability creates pressure and alters strategic and tactical approaches. One for instance:  with the program’s all-time leading scorer on the field, Clint Dempsey gets a little less attention.

Again, this is all about where Donovan’s motivation lands, about the ability to rediscover the requisite fire and desire. Talented as he is, even Donovan cannot perform at international level if he cannot light the fuses of ambition rediscovered.

(MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann addressed Donovan’s career crisis back in December)

On This Day: The Battle of Old Trafford

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Fourteen years ago today, Arsenal headed north to Manchester for a famous matchup with Manchester United.

Taking the field at Old Trafford, Arsenal were unbeaten to start the season, having won its first four Premier League matches before drawing a week prior at home against Portsmouth. Manchester United meanwhile had four wins and one loss in that span.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

By way of Arsenal’s FA Cup title and Man United’s Premier League title the year before, the two teams met for the annual Community Shield a month earlier, and the game descended into a physical battle. Five yellow cards were shown, Arsenal substitute Francis Jeffers was shown a red card and defender Sol Campbell was later banned for kicking at an opponent, and Man United – backed by a young Tim Howard in goal – won 4-3 on penalty kicks after the score was tied at 1-1 after extra time.

With numerous physical encounters over the years, the September 21 encounter was shaping up to be another monumental showdown, and in terms of physicality, it didn’t disappoint.

Each team were shown four yellow cards and there was a combined 31 fouls. The match took a turn when Patrick Vieira was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red card for kicking out at Man United’s Ruud Van Nistelrooy after Van Nistelrooy had fouled Vieira going for a header. The decision set off a scrum in the middle of the field.

Despite being down to ten men, Arsenal held on until the final minutes, when Martin Keown was whistled for a foul in the box on Diego Forlan, giving Man United a penalty kick. But whether it was karma or lady luck, Van Nistelrooy’s penalty clanged off the crossbar and away to safety. Arsenal held on for a goalless draw, which helped boost the team’s belief in itself.

The Gunners went on to finish the 2013-2014 season undefeated, the only team to finish a Premier League season without a defeat. Man United wound up taking the FA Cup crown, settling for third place in the Premier League.

Watch some highlights from the match below.

Former Sunderland forward Scocco scores five goals for River Plate

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Veteran forward Ignacio “Nacho” Scocco is quickly endearing himself to the River Plate faithful.

Nearly three months since joining River, Scocco scored an incredible five goals in the second leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores quarterfinal matchup with Bolivian side Jorge Wilstermann. Scocco scored a first half hat-trick and added two more in the second half as River turned around a 3-0 deficit heading into the second leg.

Scocco had a mostly frustrating spell in 2014 ahead of the World Cup with Sunderland, joining the club as they staved off relegation by one point. Scocco failed to score for Sunderland in eight appearances, all off the bench.

However, since then, he returned to his native Argentina and starred for his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys before moving this summer to River as a replacement for Sebastián Driussi, who completed a transfer to Zenit St. Petersburg.

Here’s a look at all of Scocco’s goals Thursday evening.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

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Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.

Paulinho has silenced his critics at Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Brazil midfielder Paulinho wasn’t greeted with the warmest of welcomes when he arrived in Barcelona.

Fans made it clear they were not too thrilled to see the club spend 40 million euros ($48 million) on a defensive midfielder who was playing in the Chinese league.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

They were expecting a blockbuster signing after Neymar’s departure and ended up getting a player they knew very little about.

Paulinho didn’t have any links to the club’s youth academy and his style apparently didn’t suit the team’s traditional ball-possession game.

A video of Paulinho struggling to juggle the ball during his presentation at Camp Nou Stadium didn’t help, going viral and igniting even more criticism against the player and the club.

But things have changed quickly in favor of the low-key, hard-working Brazilian.

After five Spanish league games, Paulinho has done enough to mollify the critics.

He has two goals, including a late winner against Getafe last weekend, and showed some of the prowess that led him to success in Brazil and made him an indisputable starter for his national team.

He thrived after coming off the bench in his first four matches, and eventually earned a start on Tuesday against Eibar.

“I’m happy with how things have gone for me,” Paulinho said. “I’m glad that I’m playing well, it helps me get adapted to the club. I’m playing alongside some great players and they have all been supporting me a lot.”

The 29-year-old Paulinho has added versatility to the midfield. He is solid as a defensive midfielder but also excels with attacking runs that often surprise defenders.

That’s how he scored the decisive goal in the 2-1 win against Getafe, making a run between defenders and entering the area to fire a firm shot into the far corner. His second goal was a header in a 6-1 rout of Eibar.

“He will end up being a cheap signing,” Brazil teammate and former Barcelona player Dani Alves said.

Paulinho has a lot more presence in the area than some of the team’s other midfielders, including Ivan Rakitic and even Andres Iniesta.

It was this that made Paulinho a key player in the Corinthians team that won Club World Cup in 2012. His success with the Brazilian club prompted a move in 2013 to Tottenham, where he disappointed in his two seasons before moving to Guangzhou Evergrande.

Paulinho, who signed a four-year contract with Barcelona, said he had regained his confidence while playing in China. And his good performances with Brazil also helped.

“He gives us a lot of versatility. He can help us in many different ways,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Barcelona’s next game is on Saturday at Girona. The Catalan club has won its first five Spanish league games and has a two-point lead over second-place Sevilla.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

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