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Mexico vs. United States Man of the Match: Omar Gonzalez

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The conversation usually centers around Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and when he’s available, Landon Donovan. Tim Howard also gets his due, but when discussion shifts the U.S. Men’s National Team’s best player, Omar Gonzalez’s name has never come up.

And that makes sense. Before tonight, he would have been seen as too inexperienced (five caps), too young (24), or just lacking the kind of international resume to sustain a place in the debate. He’s just recently become a first choice player in Jurgen Klinsmann’s XI. How can he be compared to Dempsey and Bradley?

But after Tuesday night’s performance against Mexico, you can you see a future where Omar Gonzalez is the U.S.’s best player. Because if he’s not the best player in the pool right now, he’s quickly becoming the most important.

(MORE: United States get big draw in Mexico)

Leading his team to a clean sheet at Azteca, Gonzalez gave a performance reminiscent of last December’s MLS Cup final. In Carson, Gonzalez dominated at the back and headed home the opening goal while leading the LA Galaxy to Major League Soccer’s crown.

He didn’t quite replicate that impact on Tuesday, but against a much higher level of competition, his contributions were just as notable.

As his fellow defenders Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, and DeMarcus Beasley struggled through the first half hour, Gonzalez was there to bail them out, sweeping up as his teammates left space for Mexico to exploit. As the U.S. adjusted, Gonzalez was able to be even more decisive, providing decisive clearances both on the ground and in the air. With Mexico able to put in 20 crosses (to the U.S.’s eight), Gonzalez’s aerial prowess and role as the defense’s anchor was constantly tested.

Seven clearances, five recoveries, four interceptions, and a blocked shots – these are the stats that describe the individual performance. The main contribution, however, was seen on the scoreboard.

(MORE: Big result took a little luck)

To keep a clean sheet at Azteca, it was going to take some a great performance. As a team, the U.S.’s defense met that standard. As an individual? Gonzalez stood out.

Going forward, it remains to be seen how much this changes our perception of Gonzalez. Same with Brad Guzan. Same with Matt Besler, who looked strong over the last hour. Standout performances with the highest stakes tend to stick out in people’s minds.

For Gonzalez, he is already recognized as the best defender in Major League Soccer. He’s already become the only defender to win MVP at an MLS Cup final. His value to the star-laden Galaxy was proven during last season’s absence, and during his most recent time with the national team, he’s shown how much he’s progressed from the young, limited player who was exploited in his first international minutes.

(MORE: Time for Mexico to deal with their own crisis)

Omar Gonzalez is clearly no longer the player he once was. He may be the best defender Major League Soccer’s ever produced, and after Tuesday’s performance, we know he’s the most important defender in the pool.

The lingering question, after a dominant performance in the biggest match of his career: How good is he? It’s too early to say for sure, but if he’s capable of replicating tonight’s performance, then he’s the best the U.S. has got. Not best defender – best player.

Messi returns ahead of schedule, sporting golden hair (photo)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JUNE 26: Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina looks on against Chile during the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Lionel Messi is back with Barcelona a week earlier than expected, as the Camp Nou set prepares to defend another La Liga title.

That means Messi will be on the roster for the International Champions Cup, as Barcelona is slated to play Celtic, Leicester City, and Liverpool.

[ MORE: Manchester Derby in China on Monday ]

That’s not the only surprise from the 29-year-old, who has pulled an Aaron Ramsey and dramatically altered his ‘do.

Glad to have him back on our screens a bit earlier than planned, and — although I’m far from a style icon — I’ll be just as glad when the blonde grows/washes out of his head.

Ronaldo seeking new contract, says he’ll miss UEFA Super Cup

FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL - JULY 22: Dionisio Pestana, Cristiano Ronaldo and Miguel Albuquerque (President of the Regional Government of Madeira) during the opening of the new 'Pestana CR7 Funchal' Hotel owned by Cristiano Ronaldo on July 22, 2016 in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images
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Cristiano Ronaldo’s long summer has earned him an extended vacation, but the knee injury he suffered in the EURO 2016 Final would’ve kept him from this season’s first big club match anyway.

The 31-year-old star will not be available for the Aug. 9 UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla, saying he’ll be back in the mix just one day later.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

Ronaldo also said he’s going to speak with the club about extending his contract, which runs through the 2017-18 season. He’s very been vocal about his desire to finish his career at the Bernabeu, and will put pen to paper in order to prove it.

From Sky Sports:

“I spoke to the president on the phone and when I get to Madrid, we will talk about it.

“Obviously it’s something I want, I have mentioned it many times, and the club also wants it. But we only spoke briefly, and there will be more concrete things to come.”

No surprises here, though it would’ve been nice to have Ronaldo on our screens for the match-up between his Champions League winners and the Europa League champions.

Guardiola, Mourinho prepare for derby in China, shake off personal rivalry

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 16: Barcelona manager (L) Josep Guardiola shakes hands with head coach Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid before the start of the La Liga match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 16, 2011 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Preseason matches rarely have legitimate hype, let alone live up to it.

Yet Monday will see Manchester United and Manchester City tangle outside of England for the first time in history, and there are a lot of fans looking forward to the early morning match in China.

[ MORE: Discussing Yedlin’s future ]

A lot of that has to do with it being the first match-up between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho as bosses of City and United, to the extent where journalists asked whether the longtime rivals would shake hands (admittedly a weird question, as if to say, “Are you a grown-up?”).

They essentially issued the same answer, and here are Mourinho’s comments, from ManUtd.com:

“Of course I will shake his hand – why wouldn’t I? I don’t understand the question to him or to me. We were opponents for three years [in Spain] but we are professionals. I don’t see why I wouldn’t shake his hand.”

Both managers also talked, understandably, about fitness and health being their No. 1 goal of the match, and there are concerns about the pitch in China due to heavy rains.

Guardiola also gave insight into Vincent Kompany‘s continued struggles with recovery from the injury that hampered him for much of last season, refusing to give a timetable for the captain’s return.

MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 1-1 FC Dallas (video)

COMMERCE CITY, CO - JULY 23: Marlon Hairston #94 of Colorado Rapids celebrates after scoring a first half goal past Chris Seitz #18 of FC Dallas during a game at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on July 23, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
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The game in 100 words (or less): In keeping with the the theme of “we never really learn anything in MLS, it just kind of happens,” both the Colorado Rapids or FC Dallas had the chance to make a massive statement in the two sides’ ongoing race for the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield (FCD entered Saturday’s clash at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park with a three-point lead), but they ultimately settled for a 1-1 draw, and we settle for “wait until next week, maybe we’ll actually learn something then.” At least the goals were great, though — Marlon Hairston opened the scoring by rounding the goalkeeper with traffic in all directions, and Victor Ulloa unleashed a rocket from well outside the penalty area to equalize late on. In that sense, the 90 minutes were befitting a first-versus-second matchup. The draw means the Rapids are unbeaten in their last 15 league games, but the LA Galaxy, who won away to the Portland Timbers and inched two points closer to the league’s elites, are ultimately the day’s biggest winners.

[ MORE: Previewing the rest of the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

26′ — Akindele goes inches wide of the far post — Quick, decisive movement around the penalty area is the only way to create that half-yard of space needed to fire a shot off.

33′ — Hairston breaks out, Zimmerman makes the dramatic block — Hairston was thisclose to having a one-on-one chance on goal, but Walker Zimmerman made a spectacular recovery run and an even better last-second sliding tackle to deflect Hairston’s shot narrowly wide of the post.

44′ — Hairston rounds Seitz to make it 1-0 — Composure, quickness, finesse. Hairston displayed it all on this goal, his second in as many games.

82′ — Ulloa unleashes a blast from 25 yards out f0r 1-1 — If not for the net on the goal, Ulloa’s strike might still be traveling at an ever-so-slightly upward trajectory for the rest of time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Sam Cronin

Goalscorers: Hairston (44′), Ulloa (82′)