Top five takeaways as USA clinch Gold Cup in style

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The morning after the night before.

As the dust settles on the US national teams swashbuckling Gold Cup success, there were certainly plenty of top moments to treasure for Jurgen Klinsmann, his players and fans of the USA.

Clinching a fifth Gold Cup title against Panama in Chicago on Sunday amid jubilant scenes, it was clear for everyone to see how much this one meant.

With six straight wins in the tournament, the US proved they can conquer CONCACAF. Now they have to take this form into the final few rounds of World Cup qualifying, and hopefully onto Brazil.

But without further delay, let’s reminisce about the good times times the Gold Cup has given the Yanks this July.

Here we go…

1. The return of Landon

Perhaps the best memory US fans will take from this tournament is seeing Landon Donovan back to his domineering best. The LA Galaxy forward had been out of the US national team picture for almost a year, but seven goals and seven assists and a Gold Cup MVP award later, it’s like he was never gone. And now, the 31-year-old is even better. Klinsmann has already stated that LD is likely to be involved in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, and when all’s said and done, people will look back to Donovan’s superb displays at the tournament as a turning point for the final few years of his career. Next stop: the starting lineup in Brazil.

2. Don’t rule out the ‘oldsters’… they’ve still got it

Kyle Beckerman, Clarence Goodson, Nick Rimando and Donovan are all over the age of 30, but they showed they’ve still got plenty left in the tank as Brazil 2014 edges ever closer. The performances of these veterans is hugely important to Klinsmann and his staff. Not only were they putting in terrific displays, but their value around the locker room and on the training ground will help keep the standards high in the USMNT, as the youngsters look to follow the exemplary showing from their elder statesmen. Leaders in every sense of the word.

3. Fans embrace the tournament, as sellout crowds and stunning tifo’s seal the show

Remember way back on July 9 when the USA’s Gold Cup quest began? Me neither. But below is a timely reminder of the awesome job the US fans in Portland did, as US soccer returned to the Rose City for the first-time since ’97. But that spirit was matched across the country as fans of all countries descended in huge numbers to give the Gold Cup a real party atmosphere. 907,208 fans watched the 25 games, at an average of 36,288 per match. Stunning. So kudos to the fans who made the Gold Cup just as exciting and entertaining off the field, as the play on the field. Big crowds and plenty of passion are a huge factor in making a tournament successful. And Gold Cup 2013 certainly was.

4. Wait up Jozy, finally, we are here to help

This tournament has seen the emergence of Eddie Johnson and Chris Wondolowski as strikers who can help take the considerable goalscoring burden off Jozy Altidore shoulders. Okay, the opposition hasn’t been that strong during the Gold Cup, we can all acknowledge that. But you still need someone to put the ball in the back of the ‘old onion bag’ and that’s exactly what “Wondow” and EJ did, with seven goals between them. Even if they’re just influential subs who can change a game late on, they’ll be valuable in tournament playing going forward.

5. Klinsmann is getting pretty darn good at making subs

Not only at making subs, but the German’s overall team selections have been spot on throughout the Gold Cup. Klinsmann has shown that he’s learned from his early mistakes as US manager, and now he has a extremely strong squad of 30-40 players to choose from. Players like Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud are now firmly in his plans as he rotated the squad superbly. How Klinsmann’s going to pick a roster for the World Cup next summer, (I know, I know, if they qualify…) is beyond me. But with substitutes Wondolowski scoring crucial goals and Johnson and Brek Shea scoring with their first touches off the bench, Klinsi’s tactical nous and instinctive touch to transform the outcome of a game are coming to the fore. He’s done it in the Gold Cup, can Klinsmann now translate it to the next level?

More: Jurgen Klinsmann says high-probability Donovan will be involved in September’s World Cup qualifiers

More: Landon Donovan claims Gold Cup MVP honors

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.