Sporting Kansas City Man of the Match: Graham Zusi

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The crazy part about Wednesday’s game — especially after Dmitry Imbongo’s goal — is how much better, player-for-player, Sporting had been. New England got good games from Jose Goncalves and, until the 113rd minute, Matt Reis, but a lot of their players were struggling. Their fullbacks looked like out-of-place central defenders. Andy Dorman was pulled at half time. Diego Fagundez was having trouble tracking Chance Myers. And Chad Barrett? That was a sub.

Contrast that with Sporting. Both Seth Sinovic and Chance Myers were strong at fullback, while central defender Aurélien Collin made huge contributions are both ends. Oriel Rosell had a particularly influential second half, Benny Feilhaber’s inclusion proved inspired, and the only thing wrong about C.J. Sapong was an inability to finish all the headers he won.

And in case you hadn’t heard, Claudio Bieler made an impact, too.

[MORE: Claudio Bieler’s 113th minute goal puts Sporting Kansas City into the Eastern Conference final]

Feilhaber and Collin each have a solid claim as Man of the Match, but as Sporting pushed on after Imbongo’s goal — in need of an equalizer to salvage their season — it was Graham Zusi was took center stage. He won the header that was flicked on for Seth Sinovic’s goal, and as the game rolled  into extra time, he continued to seek space in midfield, allowing Sporting to maintain control while funneling the ball through their best player. He may not have contributed on the final goal, but his play helped Sporting maintain pressure on New England, part of the reason Feilhaber was in position to make that big 113rd minute interception.

Perhaps the justification sounds a little thin compared to Feilhaber’s (great numbers, created the winning goal) and Collin’s (opened the scoring, was the team’s best defender), but it’s always difficult to describe how much how important the maestro is to the production. Feilhaber’s shorter, quicker, and more accurate passes may have been just as valuable as Zusi’s contribution, but serving as the man the team sought coming out of the back, Zusi orchestrated the game Feilhaber took advantage of.

There’s little question Zusi’s Kansas City’s most important player, and on Wednesday, we saw why. His only contribution to scoresheet with an assist on the tying goal, but while creating as many chances as anybody (six), he maintained the pressure that caused New England to wilt.

Other players have a great claim to the honor, but Graham Zusi’s is the one that rings true. His persistence wins our Man of the Match nod.

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.

Report: Rimando to return to RSL

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USMNT veteran and current MLS free agent Nick Rimando will reportedly return to Real Salt Lake for a 12th season with the club, according to a report by Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep.

The report states he received interest on the free agent market from both Los Angeles clubs, but the 38-year-old will return to the club he has made 350 appearances for.

Rimando came to Real Salt Lake from D.C. United in 2006, and has made at least 24 league appearances in every single season since. He has also made 22 playoff appearances for the club across eight playoff campaigns.

He last received a USMNT cap in January of 2017 in a friendly against Serbia, but was part of the 2018 World Cup qualification squad throughout 2017 backing up Tim Howard. Overall, Rimando has played 22 times for the US national team, with 14 goals conceded and nine clean sheets.

The report also states that Kyle Beckerman will return to Rio Tinto Stadium, with the veteran also testing the free agent waters but deciding to re-sign. The pair will be two of just four players left on the roster from the 2009 MLS Cup winning team.

Report: Aubameyang hands in transfer request at Dortmund

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According to German publication Bild, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has handed a transfer request to the Borussia Dortmund hierarchy.

Arsenal is the latest club linked with the Gabonese striker, with reports earlier this month of a deal to send Aubameyang to China. He has reportedly asked to leave Dortmund multiple times this January, and has been turned down thus far, and it’s causing problems. Aubameyang was suspended by the club for one match for missing a meeting last week, a match that ended in a goalless draw with Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Man United, Chelsea battle for Alexis Sanchez ]

“We had a very heated discussion,” said Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc after the suspension was announced. “He hasn’t behaved like this for years, he’s always been very professional. What has happened is very tolerable, there will be some fines, too. It’s not necessary to talk about a transfer, but it’s clear that things can’t continue like this because some important things are in jeopardy, and that there is tension inside the squad.”

The price tag, according to recent reports, would be around $76 million, and he would be purchased with money from the likely outgoing transfer of Alexis Sanchez.

Arsenal transfer guru Sven Mislintat is reportedly driving the deal, having signed Aubameyang at Dortmund during his days as a scout from Westfalinstadion. However, there is buzz among the British media that Arsene Wenger is unimpressed by Aubameyang’s recent insubordination and has expressed his concerns.

Emre Can says new Liverpool contract still a possibility

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Liverpool midfielder Emre Can is out of contract this summer, but says he could still sign back on at Anfield despite heavy rumors of his departure.

Still just 24 years old, the German came over from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2014 and has improved in each of his four years at Liverpool, flourishing under Jurgen Klopp as a strong passer and versatile player who can be used in midfield or defense. With that, he has reportedly turned down a number of new contract offers, and Juventus is reportedly in the lead to sign him to a free transfer.

[ MORE: Arsenal should follow Liverpool’s rebuilding example ]

Can is eligible to sign a pre-contract agreement with anyone from now until the end of the season, but he says that doesn’t mean he will leave.

“My agent is looking after everything but I am here until the summer,” Can said. “I haven’t signed anything with anyone. I am talking with everyone. Of course I am talking with Liverpool. Why not? I still have a contract here. It is an amazing club. What can I say? My agent does the rest. I just concentrate on the scene, on my performance and the football. I will give everything for this team.”

The loss of Philippe Coutinho this winter is an obvious blow to the Reds, but an argument could be made that the loss of Can would hurt just as much if not more, as stout defensive midfielders are hard to come by. However, the arrival of Naby Kieta this summer could ease the blow of the German’s potential departure. Should Can stay, partnering with Keita in midfield could prove masterful as Liverpool looks to continue building towards a title challenge. Currently, Can has paired with Giorgino Wijnaldum in Liverpool’s midfield in recent weeks, and the club is on a five-match win streak that has seen them shoot into third place in the Premier League table.