Landon Donovan, Kenny Cunningham

What Landon Donovan did last night … THAT is why he will be in Brazil next summer

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Costa Rica packed the back, and knew how to make a strategically cynical approach work.

With five defenders and four midfielders organized tightly in front of them, there was precious little operating space for U.S. attackers Tuesday in Hartford. The occasional cross got through, but generally arrived with negligible threat.

As I said last night, U.S. problem solvers were in short supply. Jose Torres seemed to have something crafty in him before the break, but then ran out of energy or lost initiative or something. Stuart Holden didn’t appear to have the legs or the confidence to launch the late runs that tend to sew confusion and leave someone open somewhere.

The U.S. right side (Michael Parkhurst and Alejandro Bedoya) was a big bundle of “Meh.”

But the breakthrough did arrive … and it came off Landon Donovan’s alert mind and his smooth right foot. Credit Brek Shea for a lung-busting run of faith, one that so many players might not have seen or might not have attempted in a match that never meant much to the ongoing tournament. (Although, as we know, these moments certainly could mean something in the ongoing, bigger picture player evaluations.)

But the goal was really about Donovan – and that is why the national team’s all-time leading scorer and assist man will be in Brazil next year. Book it. (All this with the usual caveat of injury, obviously.)

(MORE: U.S. beats Costa Rica on late Donovan-Shea hookup)

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

Donovan is a game-changer. Period. Even when he’s not at his best, that is the kind of moment he, and precious few others in the U.S. pool, can manufacture.

Do not underestimate the savvy elements of that one pass:

  • The vision to know that Shea was there.
  • The confidence to try a 40-yard pass on a first-time hit; so many lesser players would have taken a controlling touch, a less aggressive and safer course of action – and one that would have likely seen the United States forfeit the initiative.
  • The instant understanding that to allow Costa Rica, which had sent men forward on a set piece attempt, to retreat once again into that defensive crouch would have been throwing away one of the best chances his team had left of finally breaking through.
  • The skill to pull off such a thing. That’s not a terribly difficult ball to hit – but it’s hardly a piece of cake to put it in the right spot. Donovan situated that ball between defenders, out of reach of Costa Rican goalkeeper Patrick Pemberton and into a spot where Shea never had to break stride.

If you watch the video closely, you see U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann point toward Donovan as Joe Corona gets the ball. The manager knows where it needs to go at that point; he understands that Donovan can do something highly productive with it, even if so many others could not.

For Donovan, this Gold Cup was all about proving he can fit in, about proving he has the will and the dedication and that he isn’t just along for the ride.

The ability, the experience and the high-level acumen are still there. Klinsmann knows it; the guy is no dummy.

Moments like that one reiterate it, and reminds us all why getting Donovan’s mind right will mean a lot in Brazil next summer.

Watch the goal one more time:

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Albert Ruiz scores fastest hat trick to start game in NCAA history

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After being named the NCAA Soccer Men’s Player of the Week, Spanish junior Albert Ruiz went out and set the base for a repeat.

The Florida Gulf Coast striker scored three goals in three minutes and 19 seconds on Tuesday, and the Eagles are battering visiting Rutgers.

[ MORE: Pochettino happy with “must win” defeat of CSKA ]

Not only that, but three goals all came before the game was 10 minutes old (9:02 to be exact). The team’s Twitter account says that’s a record to start a game, besting the record was set by Indiana’s Steve Burks on Oct. 6, 1973. Burks scored his three goals by the 11:41 mark of the first half.

If you look at the clock, too, we think it’s more like nine minutes on the dot.

Ruiz scored seven times in 11 games as a sophomore, and is battering that impressive mark this year. It’s not even halftime at FGCU, and he’s up to 11 goals in his ninth game of the season. That puts him into a tie with Buffalo’s Russell Cicerone for the most goals in men’s D1 soccer (and Ruiz has more than 45 minutes to play).

The 6-foot-2 forward is going to be attracting a lot of attention, especially considering this is his second hat trick in 10 days.

PST Extra: Breaking down the 1v2 clash between Spurs, Man City

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Manchester City visits White Hart Lane for a match-up of this early season’s first and second place Premier League clubs.

City will have one less day of rest than its Premier League rivals, though both are coming off road matches in Europe.

Spurs beat CSKA Moscow 1-0 on Tuesday, while Man City is battling Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany a day later.

[ MORE: Pochettino happy with “must win” defeat of CSKA ]

A win would pull Spurs to within a point of the leaders, while a City victory would guarantee, at-worst, a five-point table advantage for Pep Guardiola‘s bunch.

Kickoff is at 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, and our own Joe Prince-Wright has the preview for you with the latest PST Extra (above).

Spurs: Pochettino pleased with “must win”, Son admits “a lucky time”

Tottenham's Son Heung-min is hugged by Tottenham's manager Mauricio Pochettino after he scored 1-0 during the Champions League Group E soccer match between CSKA Moscow and Tottenham Hotspur, in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
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While it’s easy to call any match “must win” after you’ve won, there’s little doubt how badly Spurs needed their 1-0 win at CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Champions League roundup ]

After making the long hike to Russia, Spurs controlled the match. Both Erik Lamela and Son Heung-min were lively but couldn’t break down the CSKA back line until Son finished a late chance.

From the BBC:

“That was a very important victory. Important to be in the race for the next round of the Champions League. This was a must win game, we are second in the group now but it is still all open.”

And Son admits it was a bit fortunate, as his shot was slowed by Akinfeev before inching across the line.

“This is a good time but also a lucky time. I try every game to score. We are very happy to win this game.”

Spurs are a point behind Monaco, who won at White Hart Lane in both teams’ Group E openers. Next up is a tricky visit from Bayer Leverkusen.

Ranieri laughs off England speculation with quip about bookmakers

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26:  Claudio Ranieri, Manager of Leicester City speaks during a Leicester City press conference ahead of their Champions League match against FC Porto at The King Power Stadium on September 26, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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When it comes to quotes, Claudio Ranieri is one of the best.

The Leicester City manager was put on the spot after Tuesday’s 1-0 UEFA Champions League win over Porto, and handled it well.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Pulisic, BVB best Madrid ]

Asked about his name appearing on betting sites as a favorite to replace disgraced England boss Sam Allardycewho left the job Tuesday — Ranieri responded with a nod to Leicester’s long odds-defying Premier League title run.