Jozy Altidore the hero as the U.S. beats Honduras 1-0

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Jozy Altidore was the hero for the United States, calmly slotting home a left-footed shot to hand the Stars & Stripes a 1-0 victory over Honduras on Tuesday night. With the victory the U.S. made it three wins in three World Cup Qualifying matches this June, ensuring the Americans top spot in the CONCACAF Hexagonal heading into the summer break.

Things kicked off in steamy Salt Lake City with the U.S. taking a calculating approach. Michael Bradley immediately took the reigns, dropping deep into the back four and dictating the play. The Roma midfielder poked and proded at the Honduran defense early on with a wide array of long balls to Jozy Altidore and Eddie Johnson that were just off target.

In the 7th minute the U.S. had their first scoring chance when Fabian Johnson found Eddie Johnson, who returned the favor with a defense splitting pass that Fabian Johnson corralled to play a tasty cross that the Honduran defense headed out for a corner. Graham Zusi’s resulting corner kick curled right into the sight-line of Clint Dempsey who snapped his header just wide.

In the 16th minute Fabian Johnson was back at it, this time receiving a pass from Dempsey and curling a 40 yard cross directly onto the foot of Eddie Johnson. The Seattle Sounders forward struck his shot hard and low but Honduran goal-keeper Noel Valladares was quick to ground to make the save.

(MORE: What we learned from Tuesday’s U.S. win)

Two minutes later Zusi’s quick throw-in found an unmarked Bradley, who lofted a perfect service into the box for Dempsey. The Spurs man needed only to re-direct the pass but couldn’t get his head on it and another chance went begging.

Honduras were content absorbing the early pressure and looking for the lively Roger Espinoza and former MLS rookie of the year, Andy Najar, in transition. Time after time Los Catrachos hoofed long balls up the pitch to Najar but Fabian Johnson and Eddie Johnson did well to close down the dangerous winger.

(MORE: U.S. player ratings from the match)

In the 29th minute Najar switched himself from left to right wing and the 20 year old nearly took advantage of the opportunity, coasting by Brad Evans and Omar Gonzalez on the dribble but his touch let himself down as the ball crossed the by-line for a goal kick.

Reconnaissance on Honduras must have revealed a weakness in the air because the U.S. continued to look for the deep ball over the top as Bradley served up Jozy Altidore, Dempsey and Brad Evans to no avail. It was an odd strategy given the success the U.S. was having down the left side through Fabian Johnson and Eddie Johnson.

Things remained quiet until just before the half-time whistle when Matt Besler’s horrid giveaway sent Najar flying in on goal but his rip was confidently parried away by goal-keeper Tim Howard.

The second half began with both sides trading possesion before Evans found Zusi in the middle of the pitch and Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios took him down. Zusi popped up for the free-kick and put in a peach of a pass that stuck on Evans’ head but Valladares was well positioned for the save.

In the 59th minute the U.S. appeared to have their breakthrough when Howard’s outlet throw to Eddie Johnson was played on to Dempsey, who slipped a cheeky pass to Altidore for a beautiful finish. But the linesman’s flag was up and replays showed it was the correct call as Altidore was off-sides by a few inches.

Four minutes later the insatiable Zusi scrambled to the by-line and stabbed a tricky cross that nicked the post, deflecting into the path of Altidore and Valladares. The Honduran goal-keeper went down, Dempsey’s ensuing header glanced off Palacio’s hand and Valladares popped up to make the save.

In the 70th minute the U.S. came close yet again as Eddie Johnson found Zusi in the box and his delicate cross was met by the head of Dempsey but Valladares was once again up to the task.

Two minutes later, Valladares’ luck would run out. A quick free kick resulted in a flurry of one touch passes that saw Dempsey find Zusi in the box and the Sporting KC man brilliantly flicked on to Fabian Johnson, who crossed to Altidore for the one-time finish. It was a sensational, eight pass, up-tempo vignette that Barcelona themselves would have been proud of.

(MORE: Jozy Altidore to the rescue once again)

Geoff Cameron came on for Jones and Brad Davis for Zusi, with both men working hard to preserve the victory. Cameron dominated the midfield utilizing his under-appreciated vision to find Altidore at the top of the box. The AZ man cut in, leaving his defender in the dust, and hooked a tempting left footed shot on goal that nearly gave him the brace.

As time wore down Honduras grew feisty but was unable to produce any true trouble for the U.S. With the victory the Americans sit on top of the Hexagonal table with 13 points in 6 matches, 5 points clear of second place Costa Rica (who faces Panama later tonight) and third place Mexico.

The U.S. are now on break until the World Cup Qualifiers resume next September.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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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

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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.