Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry set to lead MLS All-Stars against Italy’s AS Roma

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KANSAS CITY – Goals generally pour forth at MLS All-Star games like thick red sauce over that famous Kansas City barbecue around here.

Then again, Major League Soccer teams aren’t usually staring at Italian opposition. Any student of the game will tell you Italians have always treated defense with a certain reverence. You can be sure that as AS Roma conducts two-a-days practices in the American heartland this week, part of its preparation for the rugged Italian Serie A season to come, a significant element is the constant tweaking and polishing of defensive shape.

Sporting Park on the city’s outskirts is sold out (as usual) for the 9 p.m. ET kickoff. There has even been a little scalping action on tickets around the city this week (which is not usual for MLS All-Star contests).

The MLS All-Star format has long been thus: foreign opposition against the league’s very best. It’s a departure in that way from traditional all-star games here and it tends to coalesce the league’s tip-top talent in a way other formats might not.

Roma does not carry the weight of some past visitors to the event, a smidge less heralded than Manchester United or Chelsea from England’s venerable Premier League, for instance. But credit the league for diversifying the opposition for 2013. Besides, the Italians are certainly a talented bunch, sixth place finishers in Serie A last year.

Historically, Roma sits just a shade under the Italian heavyweights, but does have three Serie A crowns (the last in 2001) and nine Coppa Italia titles. And it also has a strong American attachment in U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, who has become perhaps the most indispensable man in for United States national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

Any media-related event for Roma this week in Kansas City has come with a strong dose of Bradley.

Major League Soccer’s side has plenty of star value, too, starting with Frenchman Thierry Henry, who still has ample skill and just enough showmanship to create the perfect blend for such an event.

There is also a heavy contingent of U.S. players coming off a successful CONCACAF Gold Cup run. Seven members of the United States team that won Sunday’s final in Chicago made their way down to Kansas City a day later. That group included Landon Donovan, the star of the United States’ surprisingly easy dash through the Gold Cup field, who is participating in his 13th MLS All-Star contest. (He was the All-Star game MVP back in 2001. Yes, the man has been around that long now.)

So Donovan was part of the roster that took a 4-0 thumping from mighty Manchester United back in 2011. And he was on the MLS side in Philadelphia last year that posted a spirited 3-2 win over Chelsea. U.S. striker Eddie Johnson supplied the stoppage time game winner for that one.

Donovan said the added element of this U.S. group coming directly in from Chicago add something, since a part of the larger group has already invested so much shared time and energy over the past month.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but to me it means something,” Donovan said at Tuesday’s practice at Livestrong. “We have an opportunity to show ourselves well. This whole trip has been fantastic, since the minute we got in [Monday]. Everybody is taking it the right way, and we want to put on a good show.”

Like most everyone else, Donovan will play only a half. Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes, in charge of the All-Star team, recognizes that everyone on the field at Sporting Park tonight has a league match this weekend. He has already said that his own players, center back Aurelien Collin, will be one of two men asked to play all 90 minutes. He’ll have to pick one more, which is sure to leave some fellow MLS manager something less than giddy.

Collin is one of three players from the host team, along with U.S. internationals Matt Besler and Graham Zusi.

Projected MLS starting lineup:

Raul Fernandez; Tony Beltran, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Corey Ashe; Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi, Will Johnson, Brad Davis; Thierry Henry, Marco Di Viao.

Gabriel Jesus confident he’ll return for Man City this season

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Gabriel Jesus bursted onto the Manchester City scene upon arrival, but an injury back in February has left the talented Brazilian sidelined ever since.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty ]

The lively attacker suffered a broken metatarsal last month against Bournemouth, which required surgery, but the 19-year-old remains confident that he’ll be able to feature again this season for the Citizens.

“I don’t know, I have no return prediction,” Jesus told SporTV. “But I hope I can still play some games this season.”

Initial thoughts were that Jesus would miss around three months, all but ending his first Premier League season. Now, Jesus is hoping that he’ll be able to pick up where he left off prior to the devastating injury.

“It’s good,” Jesus said on his road to recovery. “Thank God, the effort, not just mine, but from all the physiotherapists in Manchester, doctors and everyone. It was not easy for me.

“It’s my first injury. Not muscle injury, but it’s the first time something happens that leaves me out of games. So it was not easy.

“But I saw that, of course, no one wants this to happen, but it could be worse. So we operated soon, I decided to operate and give it time.”

In just his first four matches with Pep Guardiola‘s side, the young Brazilian netted three goals and even dethroned Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup.

CONCACAF chief Montagliani seeks World Cup entry for all co-hosts

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A joint-bid for the 2026 FIFA World Cup is looking more and more possible, and CONCACAF chief Victor Montagliani believes that if that does happen then all co-hosts should be granted a spot in the tournament.

[ MORE: Making sense of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras ]

With FIFA president Gianni Infantino looking to finalize World Cup expansion plans from 32 to 48 teams over the coming weeks, it seems as though Montagliani’s hopes could become a reality for CONCACAF and other regions planning on creating multi-nation bids.

“I don’t think we should be dictating how a confederation allocates their slots from a hosting standpoint. That’s up to them,” Montagliani said.

FIFA will conduct its next meeting on Thursday when Infantino and all six confederation presidents meet in Zurich, Switzerland to decide on World Cup expansion, which Infantino has been adamant about since taking the reigns of soccer’s governing body.

2026 could play an important role for the United States, as it is seen as a critical piece in a joint-bid with Mexico and Canada to host the World Cup.

Additionally, Montagliani has hopes of making a combined Copa America with North and South America a permanent fixture after recently holding discussions with South America’s FIFA vice president Alejandro Dominguez.

[ MORE: Player ratings from Friday night’s massive USMNT victory ]

However, one area that would be left uncertain is the future of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which is currently held every two years.

“If that is the case and we get that done, then we have to have a serious look — is it really tenable to have a Gold Cup?” said Montagliani, whose FIFA stakeholders panel faces tough talks on adding and subtracting dates when clubs must release players on international dates.

“Do we really need it [the Gold Cup]?” he suggested. “Is it just clogging the calendar for the players?”

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

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Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

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In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.