Wondolowski of the U.S. reacts to goal against Belize during their CONCACAF Gold Cup soccer match in Portland, Oregon

Getting realistic about the “Chris Wondolowski to Brazil” talk

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Chris Wondolowski’s sizzling summer of international scoring has mercifully provided fans and media something to argue about during two Gold Cup clobberings, group stage mismatches that were remarkable only for the personnel-related subplots.  

And by scoring six times in three matches (including one pre-tourney friendly), Wondolowski has ginned up the ol’ resume while beginning to adjust a narrative that previously read in part, “great league player although ineffective at international level.”

So … check, check and check-arooney on all that.

What he hasn’t done is punch that magical ticket to Brazil – no matter what some of the overly excited among fans and media seem to think.

Most of the breathless, Brazil-related hyperbole is simply a product of time, place and fallible human psychology, this tendency we all have to overvalue events in the moment, simultaneously devaluing achievement that has drifted just a little further from memory.

Aside from the memory gap, the obvious point of disconnect is the relative weakness of opposition lately. Guatemala, Belize and Cuba might make for reasonable practice opposition, but they hardly represent the kind of quality competition that can test and stretch ability. Not being cruel here; these are smaller countries doing the very best they can – and even rebuilding around younger types in Guatemala’s case. Still, we cannot ignore that element of the Wondolowski conversation.

(MORE: Cheering for Wondo in the World Cup? Great! So … who do you leave out?)

What the San Jose Earthquakes high-scoring striker and current MLS Golden Boot holder has done is this: He has improved his position in the big jostle for 23 World Cup roster spots to be decided in 10 months. He has kept his name squarely in the roster conversation. And good on him.

Remember the Golden Rule about international friendlies and these tournament matches against regional small fries: No U.S. performer can truly play his way onto a World Cup roster, but he can certainly clunk his way out of the conversation. The hard reality is this: the man who cannot handle business in a highly effective way against nominal competition, especially when there is no real pressure afoot, cannot possibly be trusted when the stakes and the quality of opposition rise.

This is no knock on Wondolowski; so far it’s a clear “mission accomplished” for the likeable striker. He still has more to do, but “Wondo” has positioned himself for further chances in the tougher matches ahead, starting with Tuesday’s against Costa Rica. (Mad as hornets, those Ticos are, after the Snow Clasico in late March, where Costa Rican officials felt hard done by the decision to play through that snow storm.)

(MORE: What the U.S. striker depth chart looked like coming into the Gold Cup)

Wondolowski has demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that he can pounce on defensive blunder with a brutal effectiveness, and there is certainly value to that. (Plenty of strikers cannot reliably do the same.) That has long been his forte, combining smart runs with a clinical finishing acumen to exploit even the thinnest of defensive inattention or the smallest mistake in positioning.

Trouble is, those back line boo-boos may happen once or twice a match against better defenders, not several times a half as we’ve seen lately in these U.S. matches.

There is one more element to this conversation and ongoing debate – “Wondo: Take him to Brazil or not?” – that we will take up in a subsequent post in about an half and hour. So check back.

‘Gabigol’ finally starts to pay off transfer in Inter win

BOLOGNA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 19:  Gabriel Barbosa # 96 of FC Internazionale celebrates after scoring a goal during the Serie A match between Bologna FC and FC Internazionale at Stadio Renato Dall'Ara on February 19, 2017 in Bologna, Italy.  (Photo by Mario Carlini / Iguana Press/Getty Images)
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ROME (AP) Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa began repaying his 30 million euro ($32 million) transfer fee by scoring his first goal for Inter Milan in a 1-0 win at Bologna on Sunday.

Seven minutes after coming on, Barbosa tapped in a cross from Danilo D’Ambrosio in the 81st minute to secure fourth-placed Inter its ninth win in 10 Serie A matches.

Barbosa had been hailed as the next great Brazil striker when he signed a five-year deal after transferring from Santos in August. But he struggled in his first five months at Inter.

“I’m happy for him. He had a bit of a tough time at the start. But now he’s starting to click,” Inter coach Stefano Pioli said.

Garbosa was preparing to offer his teammates and coaches a Brazilian dinner to celebrate his goal.

“The dinner is more than welcome,” Pioli said.

With captain Mauro Icardi serving the second game of a two-match ban for dissent, Inter labored for long stretches.

Inter forward Rodrigo Palacio wasted a great chance directly in front of the goal 12 minutes in following a cross from Ivan Perisic.

But substitutions proved decisive and Inter has now scored 13 goals in the last 15 minutes of play this season – the most in Serie A.

“It’s always a good sign for a coach when you have a squad that believes until the end,” Pioli said. “We struggled between the lines and were slow maneuvering but we still worked hard. The team believed until the end and that perseverance paid off.”

CHIEVO VERONA 1, NAPOLI 3

Napoli bounced back from its Champions League loss at Real Madrid with a comfortable away win that extended its unbeaten streak in Serie A to 14 matches.

Lorenzo Insigne opened the scoring with an effort that improved on his goal in Madrid. After collecting the ball at the left side of the area, Insigne dribbled in and launched an angled shot around two defenders that flew inside the far post.

Napoli captain Marek Hamsik slotted another into an empty net and Piotr Zielinski made it 3-0 before the hour mark.

Riccardo Meggiorini pulled one back for Chievo midway through the second half.

Napoli moved into second place, one point ahead of Roma, which was facing Torino later.

OTHER MATCHES:

Attack-minded Zdenek Zeman made an immediate impact on last-placed Pescara, which routed Genoa 5-0 in the Czech coach’s first match back in charge since leading the club to the Serie B title five years ago.

Substitute Gregoire Defrel scored twice as Sassuolo came back from a goal down to beat Udinese 2-1 after Seko Fofana’s spectacular volley had put the hosts ahead.

Also, Mauricio Isla gave Cagliari an early lead before Fabio Quagliarella equalized for Sampdoria midway through the first half in a 1-1 draw.

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/asdampf

Harkes speaks for first time since FC Cincinnati sacking

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 6:  John Harkes (Former captain, US men's national team) joined Budweiser, the global official beer of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil, to celebrate the Final Draw on December 6, 2013 at the Brazilian Ambassador's home in Washington DC.  In partnership with Budweiser, the global official beer of the FIFA World Cup?, Garibaldi created a commemorative work of art representing the 32 countries competing in the tournament next summer and their quest to be crowned the best in the world  (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for Budweiser)
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As far as non-MLS news goes in the U.S., Friday’s announcement that John Harkes would no longer be managing FC Cincinnati came as a great shock to the American soccer community.

[ MORE: David Villa shown red card via MLS’ video replay ]

The former U.S. Men’s National Team player was sacked on Friday without any true warning, however, reports have suggested that a power struggle between Harkes and president/general manager Jeff Berding could have spurred the decision.

Assistant coach Alan Koch has been tabbed as the replacement for Harkes at FC Cincinnati after joining the club from the Vancouver Whitecaps II side.

Harkes had this to say following Friday’s shocking development:

“Although my time here was cut short prematurely, I am extremely proud of this team, the work I put in and all the accomplishments of the players and coaching staff of the inaugural season in the USL. To build something from scratch was special. From the time I signed my contract, a full eight months prior to the first match, the process of building a team, creating a relationship with the fans and the city, drawing on the passion of the city and its soccer community, and creating a major league soccer environment in a major league city was completely gratifying.

I thank God for the life he has given me and all the blessings in it, especially my family and friends. Their unconditional sacrifice, love and support has been incredible. I would like to thank  Carl Lindner III and the entire Lindner family and the owners for believing in me and giving me this opportunity.  I want to recognize the inaugural group of players for taking a leap of faith and congratulate each one of you for creating a special atmosphere for the fans. To the players we worked so hard to bring in this year, I’m disappointed that I didn’t have a chance to work with you but perhaps our paths will cross again. To the soldiers in the front office who worked tirelessly, thank you. And finally, to the incredible fans and supporter groups of FC Cincinnati – you are some of the most passionate and educated supporters that I have been around as a player and coach! Keep supporting and growing the game we all love.

In the words of the great coach John Wooden,
“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

In Cincinnati’s inaugural season in USL, Harkes helped lead the Eastern Conference side to the playoffs after boasting a 16-6-8 record during the regular season.

Bielsa returning to Ligue 1 to take charge of Lille

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - AUGUST 01:  Olympique de Marseille head coach Marcelo Bielsa watches the action during the preseason friendly match between Olympique de Marseille and Juventus FC at Stade Velodrome on August 1, 2015 in Marseille, France.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Controversial coach Marcelo Bielsa will take charge of ambitious Lille for next season, signaling his return to French football after a chaotic end to his spell with Marseille.

Lille said in a statement on Sunday that Bielsa will replace interim coach Franck Passi on July 1 and has been given a two-year deal.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

“Marcelo Bielsa is without a doubt one of the most respected and influential coaches in the world and it’s a huge satisfaction for Lille,” said Marc Ingla, a club director. “It also proves the ambition of our club.”

A former Argentina manager, Bielsa is highly rated as an innovative, attack-minded leader who brings the best out of his players.

With Lille hiring Bielsa, Lyon already settled into a new stadium, Marseille recruiting aggressively under new American ownership and Monaco challenging Paris Saint-Germain strongly, next season promises to be an even more competitive one in France.

A more entertaining one, too, now that Bielsa is back and likely to give the French media plenty of headlines.

Bielsa stunned fans and the club’s directors when he quit Marseille last season, after just one game of the new campaign. The 61-year-old Argentine was taking charge of his second season and was a fan favorite when he suddenly quit.

He was out of contract but had struck a verbal agreement with the president to extend his tenure.

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

Then, just before putting pen to paper on his new deal, he changed his mind, alleging that Marseille officials amended the terms of the agreement at the last minute. He had previously publicly criticized Marseille’s president in a vitriolic outburst during a news conference because he was angry at the club’s transfer policy, saying it had signed players over his head.

Controversy seems to follow Bielsa, who in football circles earned the nickname “El Loco Bielsa” (Crazy Bielsa), due to his driven personality, single-mindedness, tough talking and relentless determination to do things only on his terms.

In the summer of last year, he quit as coach of Italian side Lazio – just two days after the Italian club announced it had signed him.

In football terms, Bielsa made much of his reputation more than a decade ago.

At club level, he won three Argentinian titles with Newell’s Old Boys and Velez Sarsfield – reaching the South American Copa Libertadores final with Newell’s in 2002. Later on, he also guided Athletic Bilbao to the Europa League and Spanish Cup finals in 2012.

With Argentina, he won gold at the 2004 Olympic Games and led Argentina to the Copa America final the same year.

Lille’s new owner Gerard Lopez, the president of the finance group Genii Capital and former president of the Lotus Formula One team, previously spoke about Bielsa in glowing terms.

Lopez recently took over from Michel Seydoux – a French businessman and film producer who was club president since 2002 – and Lopez is keen on rebuilding Lille with talented young players in the same way Monaco has done.

On the final day of the transfer window last month, Lille signed six players aged 23 or under. Dutch forward Anwar El Ghazi, who joined from Ajax, scored his first goal for the club on Saturday.

[ MORE: Kane’s hat trick sees Spurs sail past Fulham, into FA Cup QF ]

The club’s scouting network is also likely to be very strong in South America, with Bielsa working closely alongside Luis Campos – who is an advisor to Lopez.

Campos previously worked with Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid and then for three years as a technical director with Monaco.

The well-connected Campos oversaw the arrival of several promising young players at Monaco – including highly rated attacking midfielder Bernardo Silva – and they have blossomed so much that Monaco is top of the league and has scored more than 100 goals overall this season.

Lille is playing catch up.

Although Lille qualified six times for the Champions League during Seydoux’s tenure and clinched the league and cup double in 2011, results have dropped and the northern French club is currently in 14th place.

The club’s youth system – which produced players such as Chelsea star Eden Hazard – has not been so successful in recent years and this will also be an area for Bielsa to improve.

FA Cup draw: Chelsea to host Man Utd in QF; Arsenal vs. Lincoln?

FA Cup draw
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Chelsea and Manchester United were drawn together on Sunday in one of two potentially all-Premier League ties in the 2016-17 FA Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: FA Cup roundup — Premier League sides underwhelm in 5th round ]

Middlesbrough will host Manchester City should the Citizens get past Championship side Huddersfield Town in the two sides’ fifth-round replay (0-0 draw on Saturday). Tottenham Hotspur will host Millwall in a volatile London derby, while fifth-division Lincoln City will visit either a fellow non-Football League side in Sutton United, or PL giants Arsenal.

Full FA Cup quarterfinals draw

Chelsea vs. Manchester United
Middlesbrough vs. Manchester City/Huddersfield Town
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Millwall
Sutton United/Arsenal vs. Lincoln City

[ MORE: Fifth-division Lincoln City shock PL side Burnley in FA Cup ]

The weekend’s FA Cup results

Burnley 0-1 Lincoln City — RECAP | REACTION
Huddersfield Town 0-0 Manchester City
Middlesbrough 3-2 Oxford United
Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Chelsea
Fulham 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur
Blackburn Rovers 1-2 Manchester United

Monday’s FA Cup schedule

Sutton United vs. Arsenal — 2:55 p.m. ET