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Where Landon Donovan might play for the United States in coming World Cup qualifiers

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A few things we know about Landon Donovan as we ponder what might be ricocheting around in Jurgen Klinsmann’s brain ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica and Tuesday’s bitter border battle against Mexico:

Donovan can play pretty much any attacking position. The Galaxy and U.S. all-time leading scorer is clearly not at his best when manning the most advanced position; Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson and perhaps even Aron Johannsson are better options on the current 23-man roster.

Donovan lately has played most frequently in the second forward position, manning this role for the Galaxy, alongside Robbie Keane, and for the national team, where he sat slightly deeper in the midfield during that Gold Cup burst of statement matches. But that’s Clint Dempsey’s position in a U.S. shirt, and not even Donovan is taking that spot from Dempsey.

But where Donovan has aligned himself tactically lately does not mean much. Why is that? Because we also know that Klinsmann never fears placing his men into positions with which they are lesser familiar (although positions they have, perhaps, occupied previously).

Geoff Cameron as a hold midfielder? Sure!

DaMarcus Beasley or Jose Torres as a left back? Let’s give that a go! Eddie Johnson out wide? Sounds good!

Yes, Klinsmann will gladly roll the dice – and it’s a low risk gambit with someone like Donovan, who has a great soccer brain.

What that means, in a word, is “options.”

Look at the diagram above for where the 31-year-old attacker has been most often positioned in recent years.

source: Getty Images
Donovan is the United States’ all-time scoring leader with 56 goals.

He played frequently on the right last year for L.A., tending  to lean heavily inside and take on some of the advanced playmaking chores. That was mostly about providing balance for David Beckham’s tendency to create from deeper spots, and the Englishman’s tendency to drift right, the best place for whipping in those signature crosses.

But Donovan has also played along the left, both for the Galaxy and for his country. That’s where Bob Bradley used Donovan frequently in the run-up to the 2010 World Cup (and then slightly less once Dempsey begin playing out wide for the United States, as he did so much for Fulham back then.)

Again, Donovan leaned significantly inside, just as Dempsey did from that left-sided spot, clearing room for overlapping outside backs and adding pressure to defenses through wisely timed, diagonal runs.

Back in earlier days Donovan sometimes lined up a bit further back in the formation for the Galaxy as a central, attacking midfielder. The opposing defense that could not track his driving runs from that spot was a defense about to get shredded.

So, back to where Donovan lines up Friday? Some could depend on Altidore’s health. Either way, the best guess is that Donovan will come off the bench, a useful replacement for Graham Zusi on the right, or for Dempsey in the middle or for Fabian Johnson (or whomever lines up left). Whichever man looks gassed or just isn’t getting the job done … in comes Donovan.

(MORE: Donovan talks about his latest role with the national team)

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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