Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore

Clint Dempsey could become second-tier U.S. player with move back to MLS

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SEATTLE — United States national team head coach Jürgen Klinsmann was not shy in his assessment back in January that captain Clint Dempsey “hasn’t made s—.” And that was before the Texan spurned a chance at the UEFA Champions League to return to Major League Soccer.

Klinsmann’s main message at the start of the calendar year was that another level always exists for Dempsey to reach toward. In his introductory press conference Monday, Dempsey said the coach is entitled to his opinion, but the two had not spoken in the process of him signing for Seattle Sounders FC:

I haven’t had the opportunity to really sit down and talk to him about everything that’s gone on. I’ve been busy with my family and really thinking about the decision and trying to make the best decision possible for us.

It’s something that we will talk about, but like I spoke with Sigi [Schmid, Sounders FC head coach], I’m coming here, (and) I’m still going to have that pressure to succeed, pushing me every day to make sure that I can be the best player that I can be and help the team be the best that they can be.

I’m not going to let up or slow down or slack — I’m going to keep pushing myself, keep working hard and make the most of where I’m at. I’m happy to be here in Seattle.

We’ll have those discussions, but from my standpoint, I don’t see there being a difference there because there are players still in MLS that get called into camp, and they still perform at a high level. I expect to continue doing the same.

MLS-based players Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Omar González, Brad Evans and Eddie Johnson all played major roles in the U.S.’s June matches of World Cup qualifying. However, their levels of sharpness and contribution were markedly different from those of the European-based players, such as Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Jozy Altidore.

The center back tandem of Besler and González has had its costly lapses. Evans was, at best, a temporary stopgap at right back this summer. Zusi’s play has dropped since the adrenaline of getting his first real chance with the national team has worn off. After scoring in front of his home crowd in Seattle, Eddie Johnson was nearly invisible in Salt Lake.

Meanwhile, Bradley continues to run the midfield, Howard (and his back-up, Brad Guzan) looks sharp as ever, Fabian Johnson provided multiple key runs and balls down the left flank and Altidore exploded for three goals in three June qualifiers.

Perhaps MLS players can perform at a “high level,” as Dempsey put it on Monday, but it’s definitely a level below the highest.

Then there’s the Landon Donovan conundrum.

The former U.S. star who has not featured in World Cup qualifiers under Klinsmann was the best player in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Granted, it was against primarily “B”-level players (and with “B”-level players), but that performance seemed the most likely to translate to success on the highest international stage.

Perhaps Dempsey can be another exception to the general trend of European superiority. Like Donovan has, Dempsey will probably go on loan to a European club this winter, allowing him to stay up on the competition before next summer’s World Cup.

At least for now, nobody seems prepared to step into Dempsey’s second-striker starting role on the U.S. team. When qualifiers start up again in September, after he has played in a small handful of games for the Sounders, observers should get a better idea of how playing in MLS will affect his general level of play.

But while Zusi, Besler and González have not yet reached the peak of their careers, Dempsey and Donovan both have. It’s not a question of getting better for them — it’s a question of maintaining good form against many players who simply are not on their level.

“I just feel that it was the right time,” Dempsey said on Monday. “I wanted to come back when I was in my prime. I had a good time in Europe. … I look back with no regrets. I thought in my time over there, if you want to crunch numbers, I was successful, and I want to continue doing the same here.”

For his part, Klinsmann has not yet spoken to the media about Dempsey’s decision. Based on his past comments, it’s difficult to see him saying too many positive things about Dempsey playing for the Sounders.

“There is always another level,” Klinsmann said in January. “If you one day reach the highest level, then you’ve got to confirm it every year.”

Report: Agent in China, Rooney could leave Man Utd this month

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United poses with the Premier League trophy at the start of the Premier League trophy winners parade on May 13, 2013 in Manchester, England  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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Could Wayne Rooney‘s days at Manchester United be over as soon as the end of the month?

The BBC reports that Rooney’s agent is in China in the hopes of negotiating a contract with a Chinese Super League team.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

The 31-year-old is said to be wanted by Jiangsu Suning and Tianjin Quanjian. The former club has ex-Chelsea standout Ramires, while the latter is coached by Fabio Cannavaro and boasts Axel Witsel and Alexandre Pato.

From the BBC:

There are no guarantees of success and it is thought a deal remains highly unlikely before the Chinese transfer window closes on 28 February.

And if he does not leave this month it seems certain he will go in the summer.

Rooney is the all-time leading scorer for both Manchester United and England. While his legacy is secure at the former and the latter, will a move to the CSL end his time under Gareth Southgate at England before another World Cup?

So many questions to unpack as one of the Premier League’s all-timers looks set to leave the country in the next six months.

Real Madrid adds intrigue to La Liga race with rare loss (video)

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, and Real Madrid's Lucas Vazquez, left, react after failing to score against Valencia during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Valencia and Real Madrid at the Mestalla stadium in Valencia, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Alberto Saiz)
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The lone Wednesday match on La Liga’s docket injected some drama back into the chase for Spain’s crown.

Real Madrid fell 2-1 at Valencia, unable to overcome conceding twice in the first 10 minutes.

The match was one of two matches-in-hand Real held on its rivals for La Liga’s title. Now Real’s one-point lead over Barcelona and three-point advantage over Sevilla seem a bit more manageable.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Simone Zaza and Fabian Orellana netted for Los Che, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s 44th minute goal was the only answer the leaders could muster before full time.

Zaza’s goal was a stunner:

Real could rebuild its lead over the weekend, with Barcelona off to Atletico Madrid on Sunday and Sevilla traveling to Betis on the heels of its UCL win over Leicester City.

But for now, life’s a bit more exciting in Spain. Real hosts Barcelona on April 23, and hosts Sevilla on the penultimate weekend of the season.

Standings

 

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Real Madrid 22 16 4 2 57 20 37 10-2-0 6-2-2 52
 Barcelona 23 15 6 2 63 19 44 7-3-1 8-3-1 51
 Sevilla 23 15 4 4 46 28 18 9-1-1 6-3-3 49
 Atlético Madrid 23 13 6 4 43 19 24 8-2-1 5-4-3 45
 Real Sociedad 23 13 2 8 36 32 4 7-2-3 6-0-5 41
 Villarreal 23 10 9 4 30 15 15 7-3-2 3-6-2 39

WATCH: Giovinco nets rain-soaked preseason beauty

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Sebastian Giovinco #10 of Toronto FC is presented with the MLS Audi Golden Boot Award as leading scorer for the 2015 season prior to an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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We still can’t get over Sebastian Giovinco’s omission from the list of finalists for the 2016 MLS MVP Award, and the Toronto FC magician gave us another reminder of his greatness on Wednesday.

Playing a preseason match against Minnesota United on a rain-soaked pitch, Giovinco scored a brace. One of those goals came off an ankle-breaking dribble and finished with rain splashing off the net.

[ MORE: Man Utd onto Europa Rd of 16 ]

Yeah, he’s still good.

Giovinco turned 30 last month but still looks good money to dance up the statistical leaderboard this season. The Reds open at Real Salt Lake on March 4.

Leicester after one leg vs. Sevilla: “We knew they are better than us”

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri catches the ball during the Champions League round of 16 soccer match between Sevilla and Leicester City at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium in Seville, Spain, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Miguel Morenatti)
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Sevilla probably should’ve put Leicester City to bed.

Thanks to Kasper Schmeichel, the Spanish powers couldn’t do that. Now stubborn Leicester is a 1-0 win away from progressing to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals.

[ MORE: UCL wrap-up ]

Credit to Jamie Vardy, too, who put away a rare Leicester chance to give the Foxes a road goal from its trip West, but Schmeichel was magnificent.

And Leicester certainly knows how to defend and hit teams on the break.

“We knew they are better than us, they have high quality in possession. We suffered. They showed their quality but we showed our heart. We showed belief and never game up. That makes me satisfied.

“At the end, if we are a little more calm on the counter-attack, we could have done more. It was very important to match them and every result is still open.”

It certainly wasn’t easy to get to the final whistle. Here’s Vardy.

“Everyone has given 110 percent and everyone has come off absolutely blowing. We knew we had to be patient and take our chances but we knew we could hurt them on the press and that’s what Danny (Drinkwater) did. He got it over to me and I slipped it in.”

Again, we wouldn’t sleep on Leicester despite Sevilla’s dominance at home. King Power Stadium will be riled up come March 14, and one moment of magic could be enough for another miraculous moment for Leicester lore.