About any lingering doubt that Landon Donovan is the best U.S. Soccer player ever? Removed!

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I have never understood the animosity that Landon Donovan can stimulate by doing nothing more than, you know, being Landon Donovan. His unreasonable detractors are legion.

So I know the push-back is coming, some of it the nuclear-tipped Angry Man variety, all screamy and scrunched-up face and all that. Grrrrr! But here goes:

If there was any remaining doubt that Landon Donovan is the best soccer player this land has every produced, is he erasing the last, lingering, stubborn vestiges of it now. I am well aware of Exhibit A that Donovan haters love to bang on about, that Donovan can never be the best U.S. man because he didn’t go to Europe and be all Euro massive.

Well, those people are just wrong.

First, Donovan did go to Europe and prove his worth in one of the globe’s top leagues. His loan spells at Everton were memorably productive, and the supporters of Goodison Park fell instantly in love with the fast, skillful and quick-thinking Californian.

But never mind. That’s not even a fight worth fighting anymore. If you want to debate about whether Kasey Keller or Claudio Reyna or Clint Dempsey even Tab Ramos or whoever is the best U.S. man ever, fair enough. Just don’t trot out the Donovan as lesser lament because he enjoys living in the United States. Please retire that one.

Meanwhile, just look at the mounting stacks of statistical evidence. The man passes the eye test, and has for a long, long time. But for those who only run their engines on the fuel of hard data, here goes:

  • Donovan just matched Major League Soccer’s all-time goal scoring mark, with 134. He is just 31, so the man’s final total could easily land north of the 150-goal milepost. Perhaps even well north. That is to say, he is not only claiming the league’s most glorious individual record, he is obliterating it.
  • Don’t forget that Donovan could also become the league’s all-time assist leader. And he could well be the only athlete ever to hold both titles. Ever!
  • Donovan is Major League Soccer’s all-time playoff scoring leader.
  • He is an MLS Best XI selection six times.
  • For the Euro snobs and the Latin soccer snob who doesn’t highly rate MLS: Donovan is the U.S. national team’s all-time leading scorer.
  • And the men’s national team’s all-time assist leader.
  • And (going back to MLS momentarily) he is the Galaxy’s all-time leading scorer.
  • Barring injury, Donovan will participate next summer in his fourth World Cup finals. Even for U.S. Soccer talent – where getting to World Cups is much easier than, say, arriving out of Europe or South American – notching a four spot on your World Cup holster means doing a whole lot of things right.
  • He has been U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year four times and Honda Player of the Year (for U.S. men) seven times.
  • He is the U.S. leader in World Cup games (12) and goals scored (5).
  • Any attempts to identify the biggest U.S. Soccer accomplishments of the last 11 years will include a heavy dose of Donovan.
  • Donovan provided one of the most famous goals in U.S. men’s national team history, the iconic, late strike against Algeria that propelled his country into the 2010 World Cup elimination phase. (“Oh, can you believe this? Goal, goal, USA! … Oh, it’s incredible.”)
  • He has four MLS Cups, four CONCACAF Gold Cups (if you’re into those) and a FIFA Confederations Cup runner-up medal.

UEFA says Europa League trophy not damaged after being stolen

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says the Europa League trophy was not damaged after being stolen in Mexico.

The silverware was at a promotional event in the central city of Leon when it was reported by authorities to have been taken from a vehicle.

The theft came ahead of the semifinals of Europe’s second-tier club competition.

UEFA says the “Europa League trophy was in Mexico for a partner event and got briefly stolen. It was quickly recovered and has suffered no damages.”

In the semifinal first legs next week, Arsenal plays Atletico Madrid and Marseille takes on Salzburg.

Serie A: Roma prep for Liverpool by beating SPAL; Benevento win at Milan

Elisabetta Baracchi/ANSA via AP
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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Premier League preview ]

SPAL 2013 0-3 Roma

A few hours after a reserves-heavy Liverpool side played last-place West Bromwich Albion to a 2-2 draw in the Premier League, Roma, the Reds’ UEFA Champions League semifinal foes beginning Tuesday, hammered 17th-place SPAL on the back of goals scored by Radja Nainggolan and Patrik Schick.

Roma shocked the world — and Barcelona — to reach the semifinals, but still have a battle on their hands to finish inside Serie A’s top-four and qualify for next season’s Champions League. Following Saturday’s victory, Eusebio Di Francesco’s side is three and four points clear of fourth- and fifth-place Lazio and Inter Milan, respectively, though both of the chasing sides play on Sunday.

AC Milan 0-1 Benevento

The 2017-18 season has treated AC Milan, who spent massively last summer, far worse than Roma. Following Sunday’s home defeat to first-year top-flight (and last-place) side Benevento, Gennaro Gattuso’s side sits sixth (final automatic Europa League place) and lead seventh-place Atalanta, who play on Sunday, by just two points.

Pietro Iemmello scored the game’s only goal in the 29th minute.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sassuolo 1-0 Fiorentina

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Cagliari vs. Bologna — 6:30 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
Chievo vs. Inter Milan — 9 a.m. ET
Atalanta vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese vs. Crotone — 9 a.m. ET
Juventus vs. Napoli — 2:45 p.m. ET

Barcelona cruise past Sevilla, lift historic 4th straight Copa del Rey

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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MADRID (AP) Barcelona became the first team in 85 years to win four straight Copa del Rey titles after blowing away Sevilla 5-0 in the final on Saturday.

Luis Suarez scored twice, and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Philippe Coutinho also made the scoresheet for Barcelona’s record-extending 30th Copa triumph, and sixth in the last decade.

Sevilla was trying to win a sixth Copa and save a season which will end without any trophies and maybe not even a place in the Europa League next season.

The final took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the capital amid the ongoing political turmoil involving Catalonia’s bid for independence.

There were jeers by part of the Barcelona crowd when the national anthem was played, but the boos were largely subdued by the reaction of the numerous Sevilla fans in the crowd. Spain’s King Felipe VI smiled and saluted the fans after the anthem.

No other team had won four Copa titles in a row since Athletic Bilbao from 1930-33. The only other team to do it was Real Madrid from 1905-08.

Barcelona lost a chance to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but it is three points away from winning the Spanish league.

PL Sunday preview: Man City’s title trot; Wenger’s farewell tour

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Manchester City will play as the confirmed champions of the Premier League, though they won’t celebrate as such for a couple more weeks, on Sunday. Meanwhile, the only manager Arsenal have known for more than two decades begins saying goodbye

[ MORE: Man United come back to beat Spurs, reach FA Cup final ]

Arsenal vs. West Ham United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

So begins the Arsene Wenger farewell tour, and with a London derby at that. Wenger announced on Friday that he’ll leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, which has little to no chance of seeing the Gunners finish in the PL’s top-five, let alone the top-four. Sunday’s clash with West Ham will be the first of Wenger’s three remaining games at the Emirates Stadium, including the Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. Unfortunately for Wenger, three of his final five PL games (four of seven in all competitions) will be played away from home, where his side has lost five straight in league play.

Speaking of lost and wayward seasons, 14th-place West Ham are almost mathematically clear of relegation (there’s currently three places and six points between themselves and 18th-place Southampton). It’s hardly the future they imagined upon moving to the London Stadium at the start of last season. Andy Carroll scored the late equalizer in the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Monday, which rescued perhaps a perfectly timed point with all five remaining games to be played against sides currently in the top-nine (Arsenal, Man City, Leicester, Man United and Everton).

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Jack Wilshere (ankle) | West Ham — OUT: James Collins (hamstring), Sam Byram (ankle), Winston Reid (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring), Pedro Obiang (knee)


Stoke City vs. Burnley — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Here’s what’s at stake at the bet365 Stadium on Sunday:

Stoke sit two places and five points adrift of safety from relegation, with four games left to play (17th-place Swansea City have a game in hand, to boot). After 10 seasons in the PL, it’s looking more and more likely that Paul Lambert (with a tip of the cap to Mark Hughes earlier in the season) will take the Potters back to the Championship for the first time since they won promotion in 2008.

Burnley trail Arsenal by just two points (though the Clarets have played one more game than the Gunners) in the race for sixth place. A sixth-place finish would be the club’s highest top-flight finish since 1966 (3rd).

INJURIES: Stoke — QUESTIONABLE: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (groin) | Burnley — OUT: Steven Defour (knee), Scott Arfield (calf), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Ben Mee (knock), Georges-Kevin Nkoudou (hamstring)


Manchester City vs. Swansea City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

While Man City won’t lift the PL trophy until their May 6 clash with Huddersfield Town, Sunday’s visit from Swansea will be Pep Guardiola‘s side’s first outing since clinching the title courtesy of Man United’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend. Guardiola’s focus has turned to breaking the all-time PL points record (95 — they currently have 87 with five games still to play).

“In the past, I won the league at Bayern and at Barca with five, six or seven games (left) but the next games were not good,” he said this week. “We have to think about how many points we can get, it can be a good argument. What we need to do is already done, the points record is not the most important thing, but maybe it can help us to be focused. It would be uncomfortable to finish in a bad way, there always has to be a target and maybe scoring the most goals and winning the most points will be a good focus.”

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Sergio Aguero (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee); QUESTIONABLE: John Stones (thigh) | Swansea — OUT: Wilfried Bony (knee), Leroy Fer (achilles), Renato Sanches (hamstring)