Now into the Gold Cup elimination stage, the United States meets El Salvador on Sunday

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Having reached the business end of this year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, a United States side with a freshly fortified back line and an upgraded attack will be under real pressure for the first time in the tournament Sunday afternoon.

The United States blew through the group stage with the anticipated ease (outscoring the three opponents 11-2). So Jurgen Klinsmann’s team get its first elimination-match test Sunday, facing El Salvador at an M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore that will be packed and steamy.

It will also almost certainly be sharply divided in fan support; the United States will heavily favored, but El Salvador is likely to be heavy with fan support.

Kickoff on Fox and Univision is 3:30 p.m.

“It doesn’t matter if we have now eight in a row or five or two or whatever,” Klinsmann said Saturday. “In order to win this tournament we have to win the next three games. So we are not looking at any statistics. We know we have a difficult match here tomorrow and we are ready for it. For us, the Gold Cup is only successful if we win it.”

If the 11 U.S. goals in three matches look impressive, consider that 10 came against decidedly overmatched Belize and Cuba. While it was surely “mission accomplished,” the United States had a significantly tougher time operating against Costa Rica.

Besides, it was the “2” in that 11-2 goal difference that seemed more important as Klinsmann made four allowable changes between the highly forgiving group stage at the quarterfinals.

(MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t appear pleased with U.S. center back depth)

Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, the top two center backs in Klinsmann current player pool were added to the Gold Cup roster (although Gonzalez will not join the team until Wednesday’s semifinals in Dallas, assuming safe U.S. arrival.)

Klinsmann also added forwards Alan Gordon and Eddie Johnson. Neither will be the “featured” attacker, however. The bulk of attention will fall on Landon Donovan, who is having a swell time of things in getting back with the national team – never mind that it’s a “B” team version, set so intentionally to get some of the front-line men some rest ahead of their European seasons.

Donovan has two goals and two assists in the tournament, including a picture perfect pass across the field to Brek Shea to create Tuesday’s late breakthrough against Costa Rica. Getting the country’s all-time leading scorer and set-up man folded back into the program and regaining the coach’s trust in him was probably the second most important objective in this semi-annual tournament (after winning it, naturally). To hear Klinsmann talk, it sounds like everything is moving in a great direction.

“His leadership in that moment [late Tuesday] is very important to the team, and he understands that moment,” Klinsmann said. “He’s a player that understands the importance of certain games.”

History suggests the odds are with the United States, which has lost just once in the Gold Cup quarters, that all the way back in 2000.

Other numbers suggest good fortune, too. For instance, the United States is 15-1-5 against El Salvador all-time. The hosts Sunday have faced the small Central American nation four times in the Gold Cup and won all four (1996, 2002, 2003, 2007) by shutout.

What’s more, Tuesday’s 1-0 victory against Costa Rica ran the program’s all-time best winning streak to eight consecutive wins.

None of that will matter, however, if the United States can’t find a way past El Salvador, which sneaked into the quarters after a win, a loss and a draw in group play. It took a Sacha Kljestan stoppage time goal for the United States to find a win last time the teams met, in Tampa in early 2010.

“Our expectation is that they’ll do what every other team has [in the tournament],” Donovan said. “They will defend with everything they have and then try to catch us on perhaps a counter or a set piece or something like that.”

Expect to see Besler and probably Johnson. Assuming all goes well, Besler and Gonzalez would probably see out the tournament as the country’s top central defensive pairing.

“For us it’s a chance to bring in some more experienced guys, so guys that are a little bit fresher, and I think it will help us,” Donovan said.

Report: Mesut Ozil to return to Schalke

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Is Mesut Ozil heading home?

The German playmaker from Gelsenkirchen is said to be contemplating a return to his hometown club Schalke 04 next summer.

[ MORE: 3 things from Arsenal, Spurs ]

Ozil, 29, has just over six months left to run on his current Arsenal contract and is a free to talk to non-English clubs on January 1 about a free transfer on July 1, 2018.

After coming through Schalke’s youth system, Ozil helped the Bundesliga side challenge for the title in 2006-07 and reach the UEFA Champions League before moving on to first Werder Bremen after a contract dispute with Schalke, then Real Madrid following his star displays at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Perhaps Ozil feels like there is unfinished business at Schalke? Their president Clemens Tonnies wants Ozil to return home but admits it may be difficult financially.

“I still have a great relationship with Mesut,” Tonnies told German outlet Kicker. “We would definitely consider it [a return]. If it fits for both sides, it would be nice. The player could say that he returns to his roots, and that he plays football in this stadium and for those fans and the region once again. But it will certainly not happen next season.”

Schalke are enjoying somewhat of a resurgence this season with the club currently in second-place in the German top-flight and a young, talented squad impressing (shoutout to USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie!) ahead of their Revierderby clash with bitter rivals Borussia Dortmund this weekend.

Would this be a good move for Ozil?

Several of Europe’s biggest clubs have been linked with a move for the mercurial midfielder, while the likes of Arsenal’s Premier League rivals Manchester United are also said to be monitoring his situation closely, but it would seem he is closer than Alexis Sanchez to remaining at Arsenal beyond this season.

At the weekend Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger sung the praises of Ozil and fellow Arsenal contract rebel Alexis Sanchez, with Ozil having an assist on Arsenal’s opening goal and putting in a superb display in their 2-0 North London derby win against Tottenham Hotspur.

“The quality of the contract of the contract has to be good and enough for them as well, you know. I am convinced they love the club, they love the team but all the rest will be decided, when? I don’t really know,” Wenger said. “I’m not alone to master that. [Quality of the contract] is part of it. The whole thing has to be right, they have to be happy. I believe they love the club and they want to stay but there are other top clubs out there who offer good contracts as well.”

It is clear that Ozil and Sanchez have enjoyed being at Arsenal, for the most part, but perhaps Ozil’s love for another club, his boyhood team Schalke, will see him head back to the Veltins-Arena to finish up his playing days?

So often lambasted for not caring enough or working hard enough, you can’t argue with Ozil’s stats in the attacking third since he arrived at Arsenal in the summer of 2013. He has earned the right to decide where he goes next as he prepares to sign the biggest, and perhaps last, contract of his career.

That could be the sticking point for Schalke (especially with their president saying a move for Ozil is unlikely this summer) but if they don’t have to pay a transfer fee to bring home a local hero, surely it would be smart business to do it now rather than wait few years after he joins another club.

The myth that Schalke is some small Bundesliga club remains out there, even though they have one of the largest fanbases in Europe and are able to compete financially with the Bundesliga’s best.

Ozil heading home makes sense on many levels but we all know the deciding factor: $$$.

Louis van Gaal to take over at Everton?

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Bookmakers have slashed the odds of Louis Van Gaal becoming Everton’s new manager.

Van Gaal, 66, is now the second favorite to be the next permanent Toffees boss with Watford manager Marco Silva still the favorite to take charge at Goodison Park despite Everton having two bids for the Portuguese manager knocked back.

David Unsworth continues to lead Everton on an interim basis but with unimpressive results and performances, the jury is out on him being handed the job on a permanent basis.

LVG has been out of work since being fired by Manchester United in the summer of 2016, a few days after he won the FA Cup. The Dutchman and his unconventional methods led United to fourth and fifth place Premier League finishes in his two season at Old Trafford but he was often criticized by fans for their slow, predictable style of play.

Would van Gaal be a good fit for Everton?

His “name” would perhaps suit owner Farhad Moshiri who is looking to push Everton onto the next level and LVG’s penchant for developing young talent throughout his managerial career certainly aligns with Everton’s philosophy. Given the large number of talented youngsters they currently have (Ademola Lookman, Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate to name a few) this may not be the worst appointment in the world.

Is van Gaal a bit odd? Yes, he’s pretty nuts. Would he be hungry to prove everyone in England wrong? Yes, he would be. Are Everton a team which has hit rock bottom and can easily improve in the coming months? Yes, that’s true. The lack of current candidates for the job do suggest that Everton’s expectations are perhaps a lot higher than their currently playing squad (assembled by LVG’s nemesis Ronald Koeman) can achieve.

Given his experience at Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man United, plus leading AZ Alkmaar, who had similar expectations to Everton, to a Dutch league title, perhaps the Toffees could do a lot worse than appointing LVG. That may be an unpopular opinion but if Everton can’t get Silva, can they really keep caretaker boss Unsworth in charge for much longer?

Plus, he’s always good value in press conferences and there would be plenty of added intrigue at Everton.

Niasse first-ever PL player to be charged with “deception”

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Oumar Niasse will go down in the history books. Not for a good reason.

[ RECAP: Palace 2-2 Everton

On Tuesday the English Football Association announced that Everton’s striker had succeeded in “successful deception of a match official” when winning a penalty kick for the Toffees at Crystal Palace on Saturday during their 2-2 draw.

In charging Niasse with simulation, he becomes the first-ever Premier League player to be sanctioned under new rules introduced in May.

Players in the lower-tiers of English soccer have already been banned for two games during this season for simulation and Niasse can either accept his automatic two-match ban or appeal the decision.

Niasse went down under minimal contact from Palace’s Scott Dann in the box and won a sixth-minute penalty kick which Leighton Baines scored. Niasse, who came close to joining Palace in the transfer deadline day in the summer, later scored an equalizer to make it 2-2.

The FA had the following to say about the decision to charge Niasse.

 “Incidents which suggest a match official has been deceived by an act of simulation are referred to a panel consisting of one ex-match official, one ex-manager and one ex-player. Each panel member will be asked to review all available video footage independently of one another to determine whether they consider it was an offence of ‘Successful Deception of a Match Official.’ Only in circumstances where the panel are unanimous would the FA issue a charge.”

Niasse did go down very easily and was looking straight towards referee Anthony Taylor for a penalty kick, which he received. If he appeals, it’s unlikely he will win it.

There is no place in the game for simulation and although it won’t get two points back for Crystal Palace, hopefully these bans will stamp it out of the game.

I’m all for more of these bans being dished out to stamp out the problem of simulation.

Premier League vet Kenwyne Jones retires at age 33

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It wasn’t the season that Kenwyne Jones had expected in his first Major League Soccer season, but the veteran Trinidad & Tobago striker had himself quite the career.

[ MORE: Miguel Almiron wins MLS Newcomer of the Year ]

Jones, 33, announced his retirement on Monday after boasting an extensive career in England prior to finishing up his playing with Atlanta United.

Atlanta opted not to renew Jones’ contract with the club after scoring twice in 17 appearances this season for the expansion side.

The Trinidadian posted the following message to supporters on Twitter this afternoon.

Jones spent nine seasons in the Premier League, including stints with Southampton, Stoke City and Sunderland.

Additionally, the forward played for Al Jazira from UAE in 2016 before moving on loan to Central in his native Trinidad prior to his arrival in Atlanta’s debut MLS season.