Jurgen Klinsmann says “high probability” Donovan part of September’s World Cup Qualifying

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The lasting influence of this year’s Gold Cup may be at an individual level While winning a confederation title will always be an honor to the players who made up the United States’ CONCACAF champions, the tournament came in the middle of a World Cup cycle. Not only did that mean many key players were rested, but it also placed the past two weeks’ results in the context of the States’ path to Brazil. Which players were improving their stocks was more discussed than the matches’ results.

That perspective wasn’t lost on the media post-match, a group who were quick to ask about Landon Donovan. After a tournament where the returning attacker was clearly the competition’s best player, there was a natural curiosity as to his status with the national team. Is he back in the fold, fully re-established after this winter’s sabbatical? Or will the U.S. continue to forge through qualifying without him.

You don’t have to be the U.S.’s most ardent fan to know the answer. If you’re playing well and fit what Klinsmann’s trying to accomplish, you’re going to be called in. And after raising his Most Valuable Players’ trophy after today’s victory, there’s no doubt Donovan’s both playing well and fits.

Klinsmann:

It’s absolutely normal that there’s a high probability that he joins us for the September games. It’s absolutely a non-discussion. But he also knows that it’s always the present. It’s always about today and tomorrow. He took that very well. He accepted that role. He swallowed a couple pills, which is normal.

Donovan’s biggest backers won’t want to see references to “pills,” taking things well, or anything short of a guarantee of a qualifying role. But beyond that loyalty-fueled perspective, this is as positive an outcome as Donovan could have hoped for from this tournament.

There are very few players Klinsmann would give a rosier prognosis than “high probability.” Maybe the Dempseys, Bradleys,and Howards of the world get some rope, but we saw what happened to Jozy Altidore last November. He international play waned, he ceased fitting what Klinsmann was trying to do, and he missed a call up. Nine months later Altidore seems like an obligatory call up, but his arc also shows how quickly things can change.

What if a player’s form dips? Or they get injured? Or other players step up, or there a specific tactical considerations that influence a callup? Along with this absence from previous qualifying teams, that’s where a player like Donovan goes from lock to high probability, and while other coaches may be more willing to give assurances, this is how Jurgen Klinsmann goes about his business. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Besides, any lingering conspiracies about Donovan being held out because of some personality conflict or internal rift were addressed by the player himself, reflecting on the process that led to his Gold Cup triumph:

I wasn’t in a place to contribute then … I wanted to come back and contribute, so it feels good to help.

Provided Donovan carries his Gold Cup form into the MLS’s second half, he’ll be called in come September. There doesn’t need to be a big sit down. There are no hatchets to bury. He’s a player in the pool, and when he warrants a spot, he gets it.

The more interesting consideration is what, exactly, that entails. The U.S. is at the top of their qualifying group, seemingly cruising to a spot in Brazil. While that doesn’t preclude Donovan claiming a spot in Klinsmann’s starting XI, it does hint there’s some competition. Something is working right now. There may be nothing to fix. In that picture, where would the Galaxy star fit in? And at what expense?

Some feel he’s best suited for an impact sub’s role. At least initially. Others obviously feel a player of his talent should go right into the team. If he does, does that mean Graham Zusi loses his spot? That was the dynamic that seemed to be in place last month, but now it’s worth wondering if Donovan would move Fabian Johnson to left back and take the left midfielder’s spot.

But also consider: Donovan was used exclusively as a supporting striker in the Gold Cup. While that may have been a function of the squad’s make up, did it also hint at what Klinsmann sees as Donovan’s best role? Be it as Clint Dempsey’s understudy or moving the team’s captain to another position?

As the cliché goes, these are all problems a coach would love to have. And as a credit to how far Donovan’s come in the last few months, they’re also the most pertinent questions surrounding his national team future. Though there’s still a chance he won’t be called into September’s qualifiers, all indications are he will be. Now the discussion shifts to how (and where) he fits.

 

Sydney FC clinches first place in A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) After clinching first place in Australia’s A-League without taking the field, Sydney FC enhanced its record achievement with a 3-0 win over the Perth Glory on Sunday.

Sydney FC won the Premiers Plate as regular-season champions after the second-place Melbourne Victory lost 1-0 to Brisbane on Saturday, when Sydney had a night off.

The Brisbane win left Sydney with an unassailable 11-point lead in first place with three rounds to play.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Sydney side also created some history: it became the only team to have remained in outright first position in the standings for an entire season.

In the other match Sunday, the Wellington Phoenix beat Newcastle 5-0 to remain within five points of sixth-place Western Sydney for the final playoff spot.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?

An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.