Honduras v United States - 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup

Will it be “Landon Donovan time” vs. Mexico once again?

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s just a hunch, a little premonition that Landon Donovan just might remind everyone tonight how important he remains to the United States national team, that while other U.S. men have cultivated their value and outright necessity to Jurgen Klinsmann’s current bunch, the program’s all-time leading scorer still has that “something special” in his game.

Donovan, now 31,  can still change a match in a white-hot flash, and I have a feeling he might just rise anew as that same Mexican national team killer he’s been for more than 10 years, since that blistering run and technically perfect header put that a Round of 16 match against Mexico at World Cup 2002 beyond reach.

Yes, after all these years of haunting Mexico, summoning a grudging respect from El Tri faithful along the way, the LA Galaxy man could once again play the border battle villain, further battering a badly listing Mexican World Cup effort, one that just cannot bale water fast enough right now.

The conditions just feel right for it. Donovan has been on such a roll lately, for the United States in the Gold Cup – where he dominated a tournament, start to finish, like so few U.S. men ever have – and then for the Galaxy in MLS contests. Or maybe you didn’t hear about that showy hat trick for Los Angeles less than a month ago.

There is also Donovan’s history of showing up in big games to consider. Not all of them, to be sure; even he frowns at reflective images of that deflated 2006 World Cup performance. But time and again, going back 10 years, Donovan has found a way to deliver the goods in World Cup qualifiers that matter most.

And this is Mexico! His fleet feet scored brilliantly against Mexico in one of Bob Bradley’s first games in charge. Donovan once set up Eddie Lewis for a goal in Mexico City in a World Cup qualifying (back when Mexico actually won in Mexico City). A couple of years later he set up Charlie Davies in Mexico City, giving the United States its first ever lead at fabled Azteca Stadium.

Heck, going all the way back to Donovan’s bright national team debut in October of 2000, he scored a goal in that one. Against Mexico. In a 2-0 win. There is it again, “Dos a cero.”

(MORE: The history of “Dos a cero,” and the history of U.S.-Mexico in Columbus)

I’m not the only one who feels something like this might be coming on. As one member of the U.S. Soccer staff here in Columbus put it (and I am paraphrasing): With Donovan, they feel like there is a “tornado watch,” so to speak, on some figurative big weather breaking out from Donovan right now, and they are hoping this turns into a full-on tornado warning in time for kickoff tonight.

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In addition to being the national team’s all-time leading scorer (56 goals), Donovan is the program’s all-time leader in World Cup qualifying appearances (38).

(FYI, they also say Donovan’s re-integration into the team could not have possibly have gone any smoother, and that Klinsmann could not happier about the versatile attacker’s attitude.)

Frankly, the United States needs the “Big Donovan” tonight at Crew Stadium, where a Mexican team in crisis may be vulnerable, but may also be motivated by the coaching change and by its increasing desperation to stave off World Cup catastrophe.

(MORE: PST’s U.S.-Mexico preview)

The United States is missing Jozy Altidore. It is stripped of Michael Bradley’s ability to open up the defense with a killer pass or one of his wisely timed runs forward. And it is saddled with a version of Clint Dempsey that just isn’t as fit as he needs to be (especially as temperatures reach into the 90s today around Crew Stadium). In other words, the United States is running short on game-breakers. They need Donovan to be game-breaking Donovan.

His influence grew Friday against Costa Rica as Jurgen Klinsmann inserted Altidore and Eddie Johnson into the match, shifting Donovan out wide. He may be out there again tonight at Crew Stadium; Graham Zusi sometimes struggles to influence matches that get just a little faster and edgier, as tonight’s against Mexico surely will be.

Or Donovan could be back in the hole behind Clint Dempsey, more like what we saw Friday in Costa Rica. Either way, the Mexicans will know about Donovan, willing and able to pay extra attention, safe in the knowledge that Bradley is reduced to walking wounded on the sidelines.

And yet, Donovan and his savvy soccer brain can still find a way to tear open El Tri’s back line. He may or may not have a big game or a couple of massive moments in him – but I’m betting that he will.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.