Two elements missing in Omar Gonzalez contract talk

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The obvious talking points on Omar Gonzalez’s new Designated Player deal last week were, well, obvious.

It’s always right to stamp “Big News” on top of the print when a U.S. man is made a DP. There have been just three previously.

And it does my heart good to see MLS arrive at a place where defenders are valued thusly; it says good things about how long-term results are gaining ground on short-term marketing maneuvers when these important DP decisions are made.

But there are two elements that perhaps have not generated sufficient talk, both revolving around player choices and how staying in / returning to MLS could impact their ongoing development or performance.

Yes, Omar Gonzalez needs to be in Europe at some point to be the best possible Omar Gonzalez he can be. So there was some disappointment when the big center back signed on for another three-year Galaxy hitch. But before judging the U.S. center back too harshly, consider two things.

(Well, actually consider that we really need to stop pretending like these guys owe us something; they all have a right to play wherever they want … it’s not their problem if we are disappointed that they aren’t representing the Red, White and Blue of soccer in England or Italy or wherever. But that’s beside the point here …)

First, this does not necessarily mean Gonzalez (pictured, in the center of the bunch) is staying in Los Angeles for three years. What the Galaxy has done by offering a salary commensurate with the wages he would earn abroad is to secure his rights for three years. Los Angeles stood to forfeit somewhere north of $5 million by not signing Gonzalez, leaving him available on a free transfer at season’s end.

How silly would that have been? AEG brass may as well drive up and down the 405 flipping $100 bills out the window if they just want to throw money away.

Assuming good health, Gonzalez will surely fetch what Geoff Cameron did a year ago and then some; Cameron moved from Houston to Stoke 13 months ago for just under $3 million.

Second, nothing is more important to a soccer player than a World Cup. Right now, Gonzalez is well positioned for a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster next summer in Brazil. He may be slipping a wee bit in the order, as Matt Besler keeps up his good work and John Brooks crowds the field of central defensive competitors. Still, Gonzalez would be a roster lock if Klinsmann had to choose today.

The deal killers would be an injury, obviously, or if Gonzalez gets himself into a bad club situation. Say he went to Stoke City (a lot of that going around for Americans, you know) but could not break up the Ryan Shawcross / Robert Huth stranglehold on the two center back spots?

(MORE: Has Omar Gonzalez slipped a bit lately?)

If he sits on the bench all spring, the best possible likely outcome would be losing the U.S. starting spot while still making the roster. Again, that’s probably the best possible outcome.

If he stays in MLS he has a great chance of holding that starting spot. Then, if the man has a good World Cup, he’ll be 25 years old and in an outlandishly great position to make a move into Europe.

When you think about it that way, another go-round in MLS starts to look and feel like the right choice. Maybe not forever, but quite possibly for the time being.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.