The odometer-spinning year of Chelsea’s Juan Mata

Leave a comment

Until The Guardian’s Dominic Fifield published the total this morning, I hadn’t realized just how busy Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata has been since July. That’s when he began appearing for Spain at least year’s European Championships – the beginning of a road that’s taken him through the London Olympics, England’s various competitions, Champions and Europa League duties as well as World Cup qualifying. All told, the 24-year-old has already made 60 appearances for club and country since July.

With three more months left in that July-to-June cycle, how big could Mata’s game total get? NBA big. Here are the potential appearances he could make through the end of June:

  • Premier League: Starting with tomorrow’s visit from Sunderland, Chelsea have 8 games left in their league campaign.
  • FA Cup: Next weekend, Chelsea takes on Manchester City in the semifinals. That leaves the Blues with the potential for 2 games at Wembley.
  • Europa League: They’re at Rubin Kazan next Thursday and on track for the semifinals. That’s another two-legger before a potential one-off final. That’s 4 games, if all goes well.
  • International: Spain has June friendlies against Northern Ireland and Haiti before heading to the Confederations Cup. If the reigning world champions make that competition’s final, they’ll play 5 games in Brazil.

Juan Mata is probably not going to play 81 games this year, but it’s still amazing that he could, particularly given his prodigious statistical output. Granted, those aren’t independent variables. Mata’s strong performance makes his more likely to rack-up high appearance numbers. That his performance hasn’t suffered with continued use is what’s so remarkable.

In 52 matches for Chelsea, Mata has an astounding 30 assists and 18 goals, and with Mata yet to buckle under the effects of his odometer-spinning year, those numbers are going to climb. From Fifield’s piece:

“How many?” he asks, as if confirmation might suddenly have offered a revelatory explanation for all those aches and pains that had been mystifying him for weeks. “But am I knackered? No, no, not at all. Sure, it’s been a busy season, but I feel the desire to play more and more. I’m still fresh.”

Though Mata’s situation is extreme, high appearance totals go hand-in-hand with Spanish national team success. Players like Sergio Ramos and Xavi Hernández have also been pushed by club achievement and international demands.

With Mata likely to become even more important for Spain going forward, those demands are unlikely to ebb. Not every year will lead to 81-game possibilities, but Mata’s odometer won’t get a real rest anytime soon.

AT HALF: Lletget, Bradley, Dempsey spur USMNT to 3-0 lead

Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes is off to a flying start.

As it stands, the 3-0 halftime lead provided by Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey has the Yanks up from sixth to fourth in the Hex table.

Sebastian Lletget scored a fifth minute goal to ease the tensions of the Avaya Stadium crowd in San Jose, though he’d leave the match with injury before the match was 20 minutes old.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal.

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks, Cameron; Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′)

LIVE – USMNT looks to right ship vs. Honduras

Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The United States starts to make amends for its 0-2 start to the final round of World Cup qualifying with a match against Honduras on Friday in San Jose.

Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job and Bruce Arena will try things differently

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Most importantly for Arena, Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard are available this time around.

Cameron starts at right back, with John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez in the center of the back four. Jorge Villafana slots into the mix at left back.

Captain Michael Bradley will sit atop the midfield, with Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Lletget, and Christian Pulisic in the midfield.

Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are the forwards. Kickoff is set for 10:55 p.m. EDT from Avaya Stadium.

Minnesota’s Molino lifts Trinidad and Tobago to big win (video)

Leave a comment

Minnesota United attacker Kevin Molino has given Trinidad and Tobago life in the race to win a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

Molino’s 37th minute goal gave hosts T&T a 1-0 lead against visiting Panama at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on Friday, and the Soca Warriors held on to win its first points of qualifying.

Panama had a Luis Tejada goal controversially ruled offside as Los Canaleros nearly pulled their fifth point of the Hex. Panama faces the USMNT on Tuesday in Panama City.

[ WATCH: Zaha scores wonder vs. Russia ]

Molino fooled long time LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo with a low shot across the body. The Panama backstop couldn’t get low enough or far enough with his dive to stop the shot.

The win has T&T in fifth place on the Hex table, behind Honduras on goal differential and three points ahead of the last place USMNT.

The U.S. needs a two-goal win to pass T&T, and a three-goal win to climb above Honduras.

WATCH: Zaha drives Russia nuts with mazy dribble goal

Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
1 Comment

Wilfried Zaha combined balance, deft touch, and breakneck speed to score his first international goal for the Ivory Coast.

With his side leading Russia 1-0 on Friday, the Crystal Palace winger worked his way through four defenders before burying his shot.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Zaha especially fooled with Ilya Kutepov, a harsh cut nearly tipping both to the field.

He’s just 24, and it seems much longer ago that he made his failed move to Manchester United in 2013.

Failed may be a rough verb considering it all contributed to making him the player he is for Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast today.