Expect Joe Hart to get more scrutiny after today’s performance against Cardiff

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At the beginning of last season, Joe Hart was being touted as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but meaningful discussion of that faded throughout last season. Manchester City’s number one struggled through a decent but inconsistent 2012-13; certainly not the dominant campaign you’d expect from such a lofty reputation. Coming into this year, though, there was very little talk of Hart persisting in with his troubles, the inherent assumption being the 26-year-old would recover.

Against Newcastle last week, he was rarely tested. And for the most part against Cardiff, Hart had an easy day. A easy day, that is, until the final 30 minutes, with the Bluebirds scoring three times to take a 3-2, upset win over Manchester City.

Particularly given how the second, go-ahead goal went down, you can expect to see a good deal of debate about Hart’s performance. The first goal may also draw some ire, though really, when the other team’s striker’s allow to blast a shot off you come close range, sometimes it’s all a keeper can do to keep the ball out. Hart may have left Fraizer Campbell’s shot for an easy Aron Gunnarsson goal, but it’s a bit greedy to want him to do more.

And in fairness, few will feel that way (I’ll stop stuffing this shirt with straw). The third goal, however — Campbell’s header from a 87th minute corner — falls squarely on Hart’s shoulders, the type of beguiling mistake that had drawn criticism over the last year-plus. On an in-swinging ball from the right corner, Hart chose a poor angle, getting caught up with Gunnarsson in the six such that he ended up under (not meeting) the ball. Campbell beat Pablo Zabaleta in front of goal head into an open goal from three or four yards out, a distance at which Hart should be catching the ball.

Though the final score won’t show it (with both teams adding another goal), this was a crucial tally. With 11 minutes left, Cardiff City had gone up one in a game Manchester City had controlled. It’s not just that Hart should never concede that goal. The timing plays into it as well.

To be fair, the central pairing in front of Hart had never played together, but this wasn’t on Javi Garcia and Joleon Lescott. Hart was making mistakes last year behind Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic. At some point, both Manchester City and England have to decide whether these tendencies are endemic or aberrational.

There’s something about Joe Hart, though; something that makes you think he’ll come around. Maybe it’s the confidence he still mostly portrays. Maybe it’s the memories of his first seasons as City’s number one that linger in our mind. Maybe it’s he technique or raw athleticism. Or maybe it’s his reputation, inflated as it was.

Maybe, though, all those things are biasing a real evaluation, one that rarely happens once goalkeepers reach a certain status. Once they’re at the top level, certain goalkeepers are just good, no matter what they do. It’s so inconceivable that Iker Casillas could ever be benched or Gianluigi Buffon may actually be fading, even if their performances say otherwise. Perception is what keeps a Thibaut Courtois from generally being considered an elite keeper, and why Liverpool’s move from Pepe Reina to Simon Mignolet even gets debated. Reputation, whether you’ve established one or not, is a powerful thing in how we discuss goalkeepers.

Hart is established. He’s not going to lose his job. But who is the real Joe Hart? The player that inspired best in show evaluations? Or the player we’ve seen for the last 13 months? It’s something that will be discussed in the wake of Sunday’s performance.

Jesse Gonzalez completes one-time switch from Mexico to USA

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The U.S. national team has a new goalkeeper: Jesse Gonzalez.

U.S. Soccer confirmed Gonzalez, 22, has had his change of association approved by FIFA as the FC Dallas stopper has switched his international allegiance from Mexico to the U.S.

Born in North Carolina, Gonzalez grew up in Dallas but played for Mexico’s U-20 side in an official competition, meaning he needed a one-time switch from Mexico to the U.S. which was granted. Now, he cannot switch back and he will only be able to represent the U.S. at international level moving forward.

Other players to do this include Jermaine Jones who played for the German national team but switched to the U.S. in 2010, while just last week Gent midfielder Kenny Saief had his one-time switch from Israel to the U.S. approved by FIFA and he will feature in the upcoming Gold Cup tournament.

Gonzalez was on the preliminary U.S. roster for the 2017 Gold Cup which kicks off on July 7 but wasn’t included on the final roster, but he’s still seen as a leading contender to mind the net for the USMNT in the future. Bruce Arena wants added competition for veteran goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, with Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid and Ethan Horvath the main contenders as things stand.

Given Gonzalez’s rapid rise from the FCD academy to starting goalkeeper in 2017, he could well be the USA’s future star with Howard likely to retire after the USMNT’s potential World Cup bid in Russia next summer and Guzan 32 years old.

Cincinnati boost MLS hopes with incredible crowd, victory

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32,287 fans packed into Nippert Stadium on Wednesday to see USL side FC Cincinnati beat the Chicago Fire of Major League Soccer in U.S. Open Cup Round of 16.

It was the second-largest crowd in U.S. Open Cup history.

Second-tier FC Cincinnati is the hottest story in American soccer right now.

[ MORE: Full US Open Cup roundup ]

On Wednesday Cincinnati won on penalty kicks to embarrass Bastian Schweinsteiger and Co. as the red-hot MLS side came unstuck in front of Cincy’s incredible supporters, with Mitch Hildebrandt saving three penalties to send Cincinnati’s fans wild.

Since their USL debut in 2016 (that’s right, just over 12 months ago) the progress FC Cincinnati has made is startling, first under USMNT legend John Harkes as coach and now under Alan Koch.

With an average crowd of 17,296 for league games in 2016, Cincinnati had crowds of 35,061 for a preseason visit of Crystal Palace last July, 24,376 to watch them play Orlando City B in the USL in September and then 30,187 for a USL playoff defeat to Charleston Battery in October. Palace were blown away by Cincinnati’s support and ProSoccerTalk understands plenty of other Premier League clubs have been interested in including the Ohio city as a stop-off on U.S. tours of their own.

The old saying “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t ring true in Cincinnati. They’re already there.

These attendance numbers are unprecedented at this level, with Sacramento Republic and Orlando City the only two he can come close to the USL records Cincinnati has set over the past 22 months as a club.

With the Ohio city on a shortlist of 12 for the next round of MLS expansion for a $150 million fee, Don Garber and his expansion committee have to sit up and take notice of the incredible progress Cincinnati has made in such a short space of time.

Yes, other cities like Sacramento and San Antonio have now had a strong franchise for many years and the steady attendance figures suggest so, but Cincinnati is blowing all of their expansion competitors out of the water with the scenes witnessed at Nippert time and time again over the past 12 months.

Adding Cincy to MLS makes sense geographically too, as it will help link up Columbus Crew, Sporting KC and Chicago Fire in a mid-west square. Everything about having FC Cincinnati in MLS adds up.

However, the new stadium deal is a must and FC Cincinnati released those plans for a soccer-specific venue earlier this month. However, just like we’ve seen in Atlanta and in Seattle in the past, having an MLS team based at a larger stadium sometimes works. Why couldn’t FC Cincinnati stay at Nippert if they’re packing it out?

All of that remains to be seen but what we do know is that Cincinnati is backing soccer and FCC in a big way. With NASL and USL expanding, lower-league soccer in the U.S. has never been stronger than it is right now.

Goal-machine Jermain Defoe signs for Bournemouth

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Jermain Defoe is back where it all began.

[ MORE: Sanchez to Man City? ]

Bournemouth announced the 34-year-old striker has signed for them on a three-year contract after a release clause in his Sunderland deal was triggered, meaning he could leave for free following the Black Cats’ relegation from the Premier League last season.

Defoe spent a season on loan at Bournemouth as a teenager back in 2000-01 when he was coming through the ranks at West Ham and during his first season as a pro he played with current Cherries manager Eddie Howe, scoring 19 goals in 31 appearances (including a run of 12 goals in 10-straight games) for the then third-tier club.

The England international, who scored 15 times for Sunderland last season, returns with both himself and Bournemouth in a very different situation.

“It’s great to be back and I’m really looking forward to this challenge.” Defoe said. “When the opportunity came about to return to AFC Bournemouth I just knew it was the right one. It was an easy decision, joining a top team with a top manager. It’s a great place to be. The Bournemouth fans know that every time I pull the shirt on I will give 100 per cent, and the one thing I can guarantee is goals.”

Howe added that he was “delighted” that Defoe has returned and said it was a “huge moment” for the club as they continue their progression following a ninth-place finish in the PL last season.

During his distinguished career Defoe has scored goals by the bucket-load wherever he has played. He has 269 goals in 649 total career appearances and he has proven that he still has plenty left in the tank.

Playing for West Ham, Portsmouth, Tottenham, Toronto FC and Sunderland, he is a predator in the box and has kept himself in fine fettle over the years with a vegan diet just one of the ways he has elongated his career. Defoe’s form for Sunderland over the past two-and-a-half seasons has seen him recalled to the English national team in his mid-30s after scoring 37 goals in 93 goals.

He will not only add goals but will also help the development of young strikers Josh King, Benik Afobe and Lys Mousset at the Vitality Stadium.

This move was a no-brainer for both Bournemouth and Defoe as the Cherries continue to strengthen and add PL experience. Asmir Begovic has already arrived as their new starting goalkeeper and Chelsea’s promising defender Nathan Ake, who spent time on loan at Bournemouth last season, is expected to arrive later this week.

Heading into their third season as a PL club, Howe is addressing his needs early and impressively.

Alexis Sanchez to Man City reports gathering steam

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Alexis Sanchez’s future has still not been sorted out but Manchester City are increasingly optimistic he will be playing for them next season.

[ MORE: Ronaldo’s twin sons born

Sanchez, 28, is still on international duty with Chile who have reached the 2017 Confederations Cup final and his Arsenal future is no closer to being sorted with just one year remaining on his current contract with the Gunners.

The Guardian reports that Man City are expecting to seal the $64.7 million deal for Sanchez due to the Chilean’s desire to be reunited with his former boss at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola.

Sanchez and his agent had talks scheduled with Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger at the end of the season but with the Gunners not qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season it appears increasingly likely the oft-frustrated forward will move on this summer with a new contract offer of $324,000 per week reportedly turned down.

Each and every day new stories and snippets emerge on Sanchez’s future but the Chilean star (who scored 24 goals and added 10 assists in the PL last season) rarely gives interviews, leading to increased hype around his situation at Arsenal at every turn.

Previous reports in Chile quoted Sanchez as saying he wanted “to stay in London, but for a club that wins” so Chelsea was his next destination. When Danny Welbeck‘s name was above the No.7 shirt on Arsenal’s website for a brief moment during their new kit launch there was hysteria. Bayern Munich are now said to be out of a deal for Sanchez due to the high transfer price Arsenal is demanding. The list goes on and on and everyone wants to know one thing: will he stay or will he go?

Arsenal’s reluctance to sell to a direct PL rival — especially to City, once again, after they bought Sami Nasri, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna from the Gunners in the past — remains the main sticking point in this deal with the north London club preferring to sell Sanchez overseas to Bayern or PSG rather than see him inspire the attack of a rival in England.

From a pure playing standpoint, a move to City seems perfect for Sanchez.

He gets to play in a fluid front three system and can roam alongside Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and potentially Sergio Aguero. City, and Guardiola, also match his intense hunger to win trophies at any costs and challenge for titles in the PL and Europe, something he hasn’t been able to do at Arsenal. Yes, he has won the FA Cup twice during his three-season stint at the Emirates, but he wants more. He always wants more.

That’s why seeing Sanchez remain at Arsenal after scoring 72 goals in 145 games in all competitions seems highly unlikely.