Stock Falling: Which U.S. players’ statures are slipping …

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For as many positives as there were after the U.S.’s recent run of qualifiers, there were a couple of negatives: Microscopic points of concern that may prove inconsequential; may be the fist-sized snowballs that start building once cast down the hill. With Jurgen Klinsmann’s side unbeaten in five in World Cup qualifiers, it’s hard to find major areas of concern in his 4-1-1 side. But if we were looking for falling stoacks in the USMNT portfolio, there’d be two experiencing slight downturns:

Jermaine Jones (pictured) – The conventional dialog around Jones has become so distorted, it’s near impossible to discuss the polarizing midfielder in any kind of fair context. This is a man whose been a regular starter for a Champions League caliber side for years, and although he has helped turn a U.S. midfield previously reliant on resiliency and opportunism into one which can regularly dictate a game’s flow, Jones may be the least popular starter among Klinsmann’s regular XI.

There’s a huge disconnect between fan perception and playing reality when it comes to the German-born American, a dissonance that won’t get any better after the past week. Against Panama, a game for which the Schalke man was injured, the U.S. gave their best performance of CONCACAF’s final round – a controlling affair fueled by a midfield tandem of Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron. On Tuesday, the team was as controlling but less convincing. And they only improved once Jones came off.

To many’s disappointment, Jones won’t be anywhere close to losing his starting spot, nor does he deserved to be relieved. Lucky for U.S. soccer fans, Klinsmann has a drastically different view of Jones’s value. But Cameron made up some ground this week, with the former Dynamo man who struggled at center and right back proving a candidate in the middle. For Jones, that’s not a big deal, but if the incumbent midfielder were a stock, he’d be down a couple of points on the news.

source: Getty ImagesOmar Gonzalez (right) – MLS’s best defender said it himself after the Panama game: He’d like to make it through one game without a mistake. That didn’t happen on Tuesday, with a bad early giveaway creating a chance for Honduras. No matter the positives he brings to the field (which, when you see the protection he’s giving Brad Evans, are immense), a defender just can’t make those kind of mistakes – errors likely to prove decisive against better teams.

Though they’re entirely different types of defenders, Gonzalez is becoming the U.S.’s Mats Hummels, He’s undoubtedly the most capable defender in the pool, but he’s also a player whose aberrational mistakes are too prominent a part of his game. Still inexperienced at international level, there’s every reason to hope the Galaxy defender will work this out of his system, but with each game that expires without giving Gonzalez those 90 clean minutes, there’s more reason to think the U.S. will have to live with this type of inconsistency.

Two other U.S. players didn’t see their stocks fall, per se, but their circumstances bear mentioning:

Brad Evans – The start against Germany served as a proof of concept. If the U.S. could survive with Brad Evans at right back against that caliber of attack, surely the Sounders midfielder can handle CONCACAF qualifying. After 270 minutes and one goal allowed in three qualifying wins, it bore out. Evans at full back was good enough.

But with the exception of the support out wide that he provides for Bradley and Jones, there was little about Evans’ game that goes beyond good enough. His game-winning goal against Jamaica bears mentioning, but it was also something that’s not part of the core responsibilities for a right back (nor is it an anticipated bonus). As the likes of Jamaica and Panama sought to exploit the out-of-position player, you couldn’t help but think how much more secure things will be when Steve Cheurndolo or Timmy Chandler returns.

No evaluation of Evans would be fair without mentioning he’s answered the call. Does he consider himself a right back? No. Does he think he’s been without fault? Of course not. But if Jurgen Klinsmann thinks he can play the position, is he supposed to argue?

Evans made great strides toward winning a spot for 2014, so his stock is probably up, in the bigger picture. But for all the good he’s done during three qualifiers at right back, it’s pretty scary to imagine him starting there in Brazil.

Landon Donovan – It’s another unfair conversation, with Donovan having done all the right things to make sure he eventually gets another look with the full national team, yet if the argument for fast tracking his integration was his indispensability, that’s since been dispelled. Klinsmann’s U.S. doesn’t need Landon Donovan.

If Donovan works his way back into the team via the Gold Cup, it will be interesting to see what role he assumes. In the wake of South Africa, there’d been growing concern about Donovan’s form at international level, and with the type of all-around performances we’re seeing for Graham Zusi, the question becomes more difficult to answer: If and when he fully returns, is Landon Donovan still a starter?

Increasingly, that answer is no, and although it’s unfair to look down on Donovan merely because Zusi and the team are improving, the former focal point’s stock undoubtedly drops as the team proves they can win without him.

West Ham sign Arnautovic from Stoke for club-record fee

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LONDON (AP) West Ham signed attacking midfielder Marko Arnautovic from Stoke for a club-record fee on Saturday.

The fee wasn’t disclosed, but British media said West Ham paid an initial 20 million pounds ($26 million) that could rise to 25 million pounds ($32.5 million) for the 28-year-old Austria international.

Arnautovic is West Ham’s third signing of the summer, after right back Pablo Zabaleta on a free transfer and goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan.

“We have brought in three players with vast Premier League experience this summer,” West Ham co-chairman David Sullivan said, “and that was one of our key targets.”

Arnautovic, who has 62 caps for his country, joined Stoke from Werder Bremen in 2013. He scored 26 goals in 145 appearances for Stoke.

MLS Snapshot: 10-man NYCFC too much for McCarty-less Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less): New York City FC spent 78 minutes at a man disadvantage, fewer than 72 hours after drawing MLS-leading Toronto FC midweek, against the second-place Chicago Fire on Saturday. It the end, this week shall go down as the back-to-back which put to bed any lingering questions regarding NYCFC’s MLS Cup-contending credentials. Four points from two games against the league’s top-two teams — Patrick Vieira’s side (37 points) now sits a single point back of Chicago, two back of Toronto. As is typically the case, David Villa’s fingerprints were all over Saturday’s win at Yankee Stadium, as the reigning MVP scored the opening goal (in typically stunning fashion) before so nearly setting up one or two more as the back-and-forth, frantic second half wore on. Frederic Brilliant scored what turned out to be the winner just three minutes later, as David Accam canceled out Villa’s opener to make it three goals scored in seven minutes.

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Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Kappelhof slides through Herrera, no penalty given — Maybe VAR will be good?

12′ — Herrera sees yellow again, and he’s gone — Herrera’s first yellow was questionable, but there’s no doubt about the second, just four minutes later.

47′ — Villa smashes on the full volley for 1-0 — This is approximately the 197th time I’ve written the phrase, “David Villa, take a bow,” since Spain’s all-time leading scorer came to MLS.

50′ — Brilliant heads home in traffic for 2-0 — It takes guts to put your head into a sea of flying feet the Brilliant does here. Fortunately, his face is intact and the Frenchman was duly rewarded.

54′ — Accam hits and prays, makes it 2-1 — Don’t think; just hit it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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Man of the match: David Villa

Goalscorers: Villa (47′), Brilliant (50′), Accam (54′)

Pele’s son’s in jail on drug trafficking charges in Brazil

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SAO PAULO (AP) A son of Brazilian soccer legend Pele has returned to jail to serve a sentence of more than 12 years on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

A Brazilian court Friday ordered Edson Cholbi do Nascimento returned to jail after turning down his appeal.

He is a former goalkeeper with Pele’s old club Santos and was first arrested in 2005, though he remained free pending the outcome of his appeals.

In 2014 a court convicted him to 33 years in prison. That sentence was later reduced to 12 years, 10 months.

In late February he turned himself in to complete his sentence and in early March a court ordered his release and allowed him to remain free while fighting the sentence.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

Texas-born Dempsey at home 1 goal from record, 1 win from Final

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ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Clint Dempsey is back in his home state of Texas, one goal away from a national scoring record for the United States team that is one win from playing in another CONCACAF Gold Cup final.

The Americans play a semifinal game Saturday night against Costa Rica in a stadium synonymous with American football – the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the Cotton Bowl and where the first College Football Playoff championship game was played three seasons ago.

That is only about 180 miles from Dempsey’s hometown of Nacogdoches.

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“It’s always great to be home and play in front of family and friends, especially for a big game,” Dempsey said Friday. “I have a lot of great memories of playing in Dallas as a kid, and I’m proud to represent Nacogdoches. Being from there made me who I am today.”

Dempsey, one goal from matching Landon Donovan’s American record of 57 national team goals, wasn’t part of soccer’s only Gold Cup games at the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.

In a 2013 semifinal game there when the Americans were on the way to their fifth Gold Cup championship, they beat Honduras 3-1. Donovan scored twice in that game – his 55th and 56th goals for the national team – and assisted on the other goal. About two months later, Donovan scored his final goal in a World Cup qualifier win over Mexico.

Within a week after Costa Rica beat the U.S. team 4-0 in World Cup qualifying last November, Jurgen Klinsmann was out as the U.S. coach and Bruce Arena was rehired to the position he had been fired from a decade earlier.

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Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez said Friday that Arena has seemingly had a positive impact on the U.S. team.

“They look more relaxed in terms of what they’re doing on the field,” Ramirez said through an interpreter.

This U.S. roster for the Gold Cup knockout rounds also is much different than the one that played in Costa Rica eight months ago – not just the change at coach. Only five players from that game that are set for this semifinal game – Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi.

“That’s in the past,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think about that game. … This is just another game. It’s another opportunity for us to see what we’re made out of.”

Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and goalkeeper Tim Howard were all added to the lineup before a 2-0 win over El Salvador in the quarterfinal on Wednesday night in Philadelphia.

Dempsey set up Eric Lichaj‘s goal in extra time before halftime to make it 2-0 against El Salvador. Dempsey also fed Gyasi Zardes for a breakaway, though that apparent goal didn’t count after he was ruled offside.

That game was Dempsey’s 135th appearance for the national team, trailing only Cobi Jones (164) and Landon Donovan (157) on the U.S. list.

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Dempsey isn’t the only player with Texas ties with the U.S. team. Three players from FC Dallas, the MLS team that plays its home games about 40 miles away from the big stadium in Frisco, are on the roster: Kellyn Acosta, Matt Hedges and Jesse Gonzalez.

Acosta, the homegrown midfielder who turns 22 next week, was recently named to the MLS All-Star team. He was born in nearby Plano, Texas, and signed by FC Dallas five years ago.

“It’s definitely a proud moment, to get to represent my community, play before my friends and family,” Acosta said. “To be back in my hometown, I’m definitely excited about it.”

Notes: Costa Rica is trying to get to its first Gold Cup final since 2002, when it lost 2-0 to the Americans. “Obviously, we want to look for that reward, that happiness, and go after that,” Ramirez said. “We have a difficult team in front of us.” … The United States’ nine goals are the most in this Gold Cup, while Costa Rica has allowed only one in its four games.