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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.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Leicester face Sevilla; Juve head to Porto

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City applauds the crowd in defeat after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first legs take place on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City of the Premier League head to Spain to face Sevilla in the UCL last 16 despite Claudio Ranieri‘s men battling for survival in the Premier League. The Foxes, as always, are the big underdogs in Spain as Sevilla have won the UEFA Europa League in each of the past three seasons and Jorge Sampaoli’s side are battling for the title in La Liga.

As for Leicester, they’re just two points off the bottom of the PL as they haven’t scored in their last six outings and have lost five on the spin as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup by third-tier Millwall at the weekend. So yeah, Sevilla head into this game as the heavy favorites and will hope to take a healthy lead to the King Power Stadium with them in two weeks time.

In the other UCL clash on Wednesday FC Porto host Juventus as the Portuguese and Italian giants collide at the Estadio do Dragao. Porto finished behind Leicester in the group stage, while Juv battled it out with Sevilla and clinched top spot. Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain top of Serie A and will look to Gonzalo Higuain to deliver the goals away from home. It promises to be an intriguing tactical battle in northern Portugal.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Wednesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Sevilla vs. Leicester City – 2:45 p.m. ET
FC Porto vs. Juventus – 2:45 p.m. ET

Man United’s stroll at Saint-Etienne comes at a cost

SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 22:  Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United looks on before the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between AS Saint-Etienne and Manchester United at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on February 22, 2017 in Saint-Etienne, France.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Manchester United beat Saint-Etienne 1-0 in their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg clash on Wednesday, but Jose Mourinho will be more concerned by injuries picked up ahead of the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

[ MORE: Mkhitaryan, Carrick injury updates ] 

The Red Devils advanced to the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier club competition after a resounding 4-0 win on aggregate against the Ligue 1 side but with goalscorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan hobbling off in the first half and Michael Carrick removed in the second half, Mourinho will have some injury problems to sort out ahead of this weekends final against Southampton at Wembley.

Eric Bailly was sent off for two quick yellow cards in the second half but that didn’t impact the outcome as United cruised into the Round of 16 which will be drawn on Friday.

United have now lost just one of their last 25 games in all competitions. They are well and truly on a roll.

[ MORE: Europa League scoreboard ] 

United controlled the early stages and went ahead after 15 minutes when Juan Mata picked the ball up on the left flank, drifted inside and picked out Mkhitaryan’s run as the Armenian playmaker flicked home. 1-0 to United on the night as the Red Devils led 4-0 on aggregate.

Mata again got free down the left in the first half and his cross hit two Saint-Etienne defenders and almost went in, while Mkhitaryan hobbled off soon after clutching his hamstring.

With Marcus Rashford coming on for Mkhitaryan, he almost made it 2-0 as Ashley Young‘s cross just evaded him. At the other end Saint-Etienne barely threatened as Loic Perrin sent a tame header in on goal which Sergio Romero saved easily.

In the second half United spurned good chances as Marouane Fellaini fired into the side-netting with teammates wide-open and then Paul Pogba went down in the box easily under a challenge. Zlatan Ibrahimovic then fired a shot just wide after another good break from Rashford as United dominated proceedings with link-up play between Pogba and Ibrahimovic imperious.

Carrick was then taken off with Bastian Schweinsteiger coming on in his place as it appeared that United’s veteran midfielder had a calf issue.

Bailly was then shown two quick yellow cards around the hour mark (he will miss their next European game) which saw United play out the game with 10-men and that buoyed the home side slightly.

However, United coasted through to the last 16 with Rashford and Ibrahimovic going close to doubling their lead late on in front of a raucous home crowd.

Vietnamese players banned for two years after penalty protest

INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Flag bearer, Hoang Quy Phuoc of Vietnam arrives during the Opening Ceremony ahead of the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon Asiad Main Stadium on September 19, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
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The Vietnamese Football Federation has imposed two-year bans on two players and suspended a coach for three years after their team was involved in a bizarre penalty protest during a league match on the weekend.

[ MORE: China or MLS for Rooney? ]

Long An players were furious at a late penalty awarded by referee Nguyen Tr?ng Thu to Ho Chi Minh City when the score was locked 2-2 late Sunday.

After initially walking off the pitch, the players returned to the field but goalkeeper Nguyen Minh Nhut turned his back as the penalty was taken, conceding a goal.

The whole team then stood motionless and allowed Ho Chi Minh City to score two more goals as the margin blew out to 5-2.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

In a statement, the VFF said that Mimh Nhut and captain Huynh Quang Thanh would banned for 24 months, “Due to disrupting the match, not respecting the decision of the referee and causing damage to the reputation and honor of the Vietnam Football Federation.”

Coach Ngo Quang Sang has been banned for three years, as has club chairman Vo Thanh Nhiem, who quit following the game.

Zaza scores stunning goal for Valencia vs. Real Madrid

TURIN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 23:  Simone Zaza (C) of Juventus FC celebrates after scring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Frosinone Calcio at Juventus Arena on September 23, 2015 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Simone Zaza scored a stunner for Valencia against Real Madrid in La Liga.

Yes, that Simone Zaza.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The Italian international striker, 25, spent the best part of six months on loan at West Ham United this season and just didn’t look interested as he failed to score in 11 appearances in all competitions. That prompted Slaven Bilic and the Hammers to cancel his loan deal from Juventus and the forward then joined Valencia in La Liga in January.

Fans of West Ham will be scratching their heads when watching the video below as Zaza swiveled and smashed home a perfect volley to put Valencia 1-0 up against Real at the Mestalla on Wednesday.

Simply sublime.