Landon Donovan

Dos a Cero again! … United States qualifies for World Cup 2014 after another 2-0 win over Mexico


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sure, it seemed like a foregone conclusion, but official passage into a World Cup is still a moment to celebrate for U.S. Soccer, whose players, coaches and legion of supporters can now bask – officially so – in the high achievement of advancing into a seventh consecutive World Cup.

The United States will indeed be going to Brazil in 2014, having now reached every World Cup since last failing to qualify in 1986.

The United States did its part Tuesday against thanks to a huge Eddie Johnson second half goal and a late insurance strike from noted and longtime Mexico killer Landon Donovan. When Honduras tied with Panama down in Central America (finishing about an hour later, and therefore preventing more immediate player celebrations), Jurgen Klinsmann’s team was officially “in” with two games to spare.

So, 2-0 once again for the United States national team against Mexico. Of course. (“Dos a cero” is Spanish for 2-0, just so you know.) Just like in 2001, 2005 and 2009, all in Columbus, all against Mexico in those past World Cup qualifiers. Just like the 2-0 score from El Tri’s painful loss to the United States in a 2002 World Cup elimination match.

“Dos a cero! … Dos a cero!” as the packed crowd at Crew Stadium taunted Mexico mercilessly. Along with “You’re not going to Brazil … You’re not going to Brazil!” – a chant that was one thing against little Panama … but this was mighty Mexico! And with the border rival thrown tossed further into turmoil, the crowd just might be right.

“This is a huge, huge evening for all of us,” Klinsmann said “The team gave everything tonight, from the first second on, the effort, how they were dedicated to each other. The crowd, unbelievable. Amazing, amazing crowd here in Columbus, and it pushed these guys. … Obviously, they are enjoying the moment now.”

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match, Eddie Johnson)

Mexico remains in fourth place in the six-team final round qualifying group. That would get beleaguered El Tri into a play-in series against New Zealand.

The crowd at Crew Stadium, brilliantly red and so alive in song through most of the night, had gone just a little quiet as the game, a bit frenetic early, slowed due to the heat. But the smoke bombs went flying as Johnson rose high and muscled his way out of a late challenge from Diego Reyes to slam in the Landon Donovan’s well-aimed 49th minute corner kick.

Johnson has four goals in his last six matches for the national team. He has 12 career goals in World Cup qualifying, tied for second best all-time.

Second half sub Mix Diskerud did much of the work on Donovan’s late goal, but Dempsey had just enough of a touch to get the official assist. Donovan, barring injury, will be going to his fourth World Cup.

Mexico had time and space early against a U.S. midfield having some trouble sorting itself out. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard needed to be alert throughout the first 45, with big saves and plenty of traffic to work through on Mexican corner kicks.

Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman eventually located their bearings in the middle. And while neither will remember Tuesday as their best passing night, they effectively clogged the middle against a Mexican team that prefers to attack right down the middle channel.

U.S. center backs Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson were big in the middle, too, getting caught a little too high a couple of times in the first half but managing out outstanding nights otherwise. Right back Fabian Johnson was solid in defense as well before his halftime removal due to a hamstring strain.

source:  Klinsmann, as he has done so often, had some lineup surprises for everyone. Fabian Johnson became the latest stop-gap at right back, replacing Michael Orozco, who had struggled to make the adjustment from his usual center back position against Costa Rica.

Fabian Johnson, who has mostly been a left back and a left-sided attacker for the national team, had not played at right back for Klinsmann since the 1-0 win over Mexico last August at Azteca Stadium – back when seeing El Tri struggle at Azteca was a bigger deal.

Also out of favor was Graham Zusi, whose impact Friday was minimal. Alejandro Bedoya replaced Zusi along the right. And as expected, the veteran Goodson, among the foursome of reinforcements summoned over the weekend to replace the injured and suspended U.S. men, was the choice to partner Gonzalez at center back.

Finally, to fill the midfield gap Klinsmann rewarded Beckerman for all that steady Gold Cup work with his biggest start in any match since the 2009 MLS Cup final.

While Mexico managed to find some gaps and make things uncomfortable for the hosts right away, the United States needed about 15 minutes for its first real scoring opportunity. After Clint Dempsey was fouled, Donovan found Gonzalez at the far post on a free kick. The big center back arranged a dandy shot for Jones, who swung big but went high with his left foot.

(MORE: What we learned from Tuesday’s World Cup clincher)

Mostly, though, without Michael Bradley’s abilities as a midfield conduit, early versions of the United States attack were all about long balls over the midfield, which was having trouble putting any passes together. There was way too much room, meanwhile, for Mexican midfielders, who had time to pick out passes.

Given the Mexican’s possession and ability to look dangerous in spots, Beckerman and Johnson were lucky to escape early bookings after late fouls.

The hosts slowly began finding their way forward. Dempsey, Donovan and Jones all came close, going wide or seeing big shots softened by deflections. Eddie Johnson rose well to head a corner kick at goal, but right at goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona.

Once the United States got its goal, Howard was never tested as the United States kept Mexican scoring star Javier Hernandez and the rest of El Tri mostly bottled up.

(MORE: Even Tim Howard wanted the score to read “2-0”)


‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).