Reus, Blaszczykowski, Aubamenyang goals see Borussia Dortmund down Napoli, move second in UEFA Champions League group

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At the beginning of the day, Borussia Dortmund were staring down scenarios that would send them to Europa League, but after goals from Marco Reus, Jakub Blaszczykowski, and Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang, last year’s UEFA Champions League finalists are back in second place in their group. With their 3-1 win over Napoli at the Westfalenstadion, Dortmund pass the Italian club in a hotly contested Group E,  giving the Germans the inside track on the group’s second knockout round spot.

The result leaves both teams on nine points, three behind group-leading Arsenal, who defeated Marseille Tuesday night in North London, 2-0. Having lost 2-1 at Napoli in the team’s first meeting in September, Dortmund holds the tiebreaker edge over the partenopei thanks to a superior goal difference in games between the side.

[ELSEWHERE: Arsenal cruises past Marseille, draws closer to Champions League knockout rounds]

At the onset, Napoli appeared set to replicate their approach from the teams’ meeting in Naples, playing off of Dortmund while letting a team more comfortable playing in transition dominate control the ball. But whereas BVB seemed uncertain how to attack Napoli in September, the hosts showed some early patience in the face of Rafa Benítez’s approach, willing to hold the ball and establish themselves in their opponents’ half rather than impetuously push forward.

In the ninth minute, however, the referee’s whistle sent both teams’ plans flying out the window. Whistling Napoli defender Federico Fernández for fouling BVB’s Robert Lewandowski on a corner kick, Carlos Velasco paved the hosts’ path to an early lead, Marco Reus opening his right foot onto the 10th minute conversion.

Reus nearly doubled Dortmund’s lead in the 17th minute, a free kick from the edge of the area forcing a diving save from Pepe Reina at the left post. From there forward, however, Napoli started controlling more of the game, the one-goal margin allowing Dortmund to recede into their more comfortable counter attacking posture. The visitors would go on to hold 54 percent of the half’s possession, nearly equalizing through José Callejon in the 29th minute only to see the former Real Madrid midfielder’s try go off the post. Come halftime, Reus’s conversion was all that separated the sides.

Dortmund came out of halftime on the front foot, able to sustain pressure once they established a presence in Napoli’s defensive third. As the hour mark approached, chances for Reus, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Nuri Sahin drew saves from Reina, with the home team looking evermore likely to find a decisive second goal.

In the 59th minute, however, Napoli were given a brief moment of hope when a pass from Callejon found Gonzalo Higuaín open 16 yards from goal. Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller, however, had read the play brilliantly and charged off his line to give the Argentine little chance of scoring.

source: AP
An early first half confrontation between teams saw Sebastian Kehl, Goran Pandev carded after Raúl Albiol foul on Henrikh Mkhitaryan. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Moments later, Dortmund had their decisive goal. A break down the left flank saw Reus played into space, BVB launching into one of their vaunted counters. As the German international approached the penalty area, he played a long pass across the box to Jakub Blaszczykowski, who was cutting in from the right. With Reina working to get back across to contest the shot, Blaszczykowski one-timed the cross low and between the Spaniard’s legs, giving Dortmund a two-goal lead after an hour of play.

Eleven minutes later, however, Napoli were back in the match, taking advantage of a Dortmund turnover in their own half to get on the scoresheet. After forcing the giveaway near the center circle, Napoli quickly played to Higuaín toward the left, whose one-touch pass into Dortmund’s right channel put substitute Lorenzo Insigne in on goal. The Neapolitan’s first touch arced over the oncoming Weidenfeller and into the far corner, making it 2-1.

Insigne’s spark persisted after his breakthrough, but a Napoli team chasing the goal that would keep them ahead of Dortmund in the standings was forced to expose themselves to counterattacks. It nearly left them down two when Aubamenyang went wide right on a 76th minute breakaway, but two minutes later, the Gabon international finished the scoring. Put in on Reina by Lewandowski, the BVB attacker lifted his shot over the charging keeper and into goal, restoring Dortmund’s two-goal edge.

That margin gives BVB a crucial edge in goal difference over Napoli, not only earning them an advantage in their head-to-head tiebreaker but leaving them likely to go through if there’s a three-way tie atop the group after the next round. If both Dortmund and Napoli win on December 11, three teams will finish with 12 points, with almost every tiebreaker scenario seeing last year’s finalists ahead of at least one of Arsenal or Napoli.

Goals

Borussia Dortmund: 10′ Marco Reus (p.k.), 60′ Jakub Blaszczykowski, 78′ Pierre-Emerick Aubamenyang

Napoli: 71′ Lorenzo Insigne

Lineups

Borussia Dortmund: Roman Weidenfeller; Kevin Großkreutz, Sven Bender, Sokratis Papastatopoulos, Erik Drum; Nuri Sahin, Sebastian Kehl; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marco Reus; Robert Lewandowski

Unused subs: Jonas Hofmann, Mitchell Langerak, Oliver Kirch, Koray Günter

Napoli: Pepe Reina; Christian Maggio, Federico Fernández, Raul Albiol, Pablo Armero; Blerim Dzemali (62′ Gohkan Inler), Valon Behrami; José Callejon (66′ Lorenzo Insigne), Goran Pandev (76′ Duvan Zapata), Dries Mertens; Gonzalo Higuaín

Unused subs: Paolo Cannavaro, Miguel Britos, Burno Uvini, Rafael Cabral

Reports: LA Galaxy trades Gyasi Zardes to Columbus for Ola Kamara

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According to a reports by the LA Times and by ESPN, the LA Galaxy have traded US international Gyasi Zardes along with allocation money to the Columbus Crew for striker Ola Kamara.

Both reports state that Columbus will receive $400,000 in guaranteed allocation money in the deal, plus another $100,000 should Kamara score 12 goals next season to trigger the incentive.

Zardes was once a force along the wing for Bruce Arena and the Galaxy, but the 26-year-old has declined heavily in the last two seasons as injuries and poor form have held him to just eight goals over the last two seasons, including just two last campaign. Meanwhile, Kamara has been a star for Columbus in his first two years in Major League Soccer, scoring 16 goals in 2016 before netting another 18 last season, leaving him third in the league in goals scored over those two seasons.

The LA Times report states that Kamara will earn a new contract after the trade, giving him a raise over his current $482,500 yearly salary.

Zardes is an interesting case who shouldn’t be given up on just yet. A homegrown player for the Galaxy, he scored 17 goals in the 2014 season, including on in the MLS Cup Finals as the Galaxy won it all. He earned a seemingly permanent place on the USMNT as a result, and has 37 caps to this date. However, his goalscoring form has since evaporated, leaving him with no more than six goals in an MLS season since, and has just six goals in those 37 caps for the national team.

The Galaxy will need to acquire an additional international roster spot in order to activate Kamara for the season opener on March 4th against Portland, as they have filled up their seven spots as of now.

Bruce Arena opens up about USMNT World Cup failure

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Former US Men’s National Team manager Bruce Arena has opened up about the failure of the team to reach the 2018 World Cup, culminating in an embarrassing and humbling 2-1 defeat at Trinidad & Tobago that left the USA on the outside looking in.

During a Q&A session in Philadelphia, Arena takes some blame but also dishes out a lot more, throwing everything from team chemistry, a weak player pool, weak mentality on the field, and even the national team’s communications department for the nightmare scenario that came to fruition in Couva.

“There are a lot of excuses, but at the end of the day you find a way to get off that field with a point,” Arena said to Straus, before laying out all those excuses he referred to. First up? The team chemistry, which was laid bare after injuries to John Brooks, Jordan Morris, and Sebastian Lletget.

“It wasn’t the same team with the right chemistry. It just didn’t seem like everyone was on the same page with the right mentality and the same understanding of what everything was about,” Arena said Friday. “The chemistry of the group wasn’t right. It wasn’t the character you see out of a U.S. team. And the second part, realistically, was that we didn’t have the most talented players and when we had injuries, it hurt us.”

Arena said there were signs of life in June after a win over Trinidad followed by a quality point against Mexico. However, it all came crashing down during a brutal week in early September that ultimately doomed the United States. After a stunning 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, Arena made a whopping seven changes to the starting lineup, none of which worked as a listless USMNT had to scrap and claw for a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Honduras. While Arena said the leaders on the team like Michael Bradley and Tim Howard were there when they were needed, “there were a couple of bad eggs like you have on every team. We were well aware of it.”

The 66-year-old blamed the pre-match buildup to the Trinidad & Tobago team as part of the issue, throwing the communications department under the bus for energizing the home side. “Behind the scenes there were mistakes on our part, probably,” Arena said in what began sounding like an admission of guilt. “Our social media, our communications department, sent out everything humiliating the Trinidad federation on the training facility, which was the game field for that day. It got them all fired up and when we kicked off on that day, it was a battle.”

Arena then railed against those who questioned his tactics or player choices after the disaster, saying, “You got some answers for me the day before the game? During the game? I’m listening. Everyone the day after, you’re a bunch of phonies. I don’t want to hear about it the day after. We’re all the best coaches the day after.”

It took everything Arena had to admit he may have played a part in the failure to qualify, and even then, he did so with plenty of restraint. “I accept that responsibility,” Arena said. “That’s why I resigned so quickly. I accepted my responsibility. That’s the way it goes. I don’t feel good about it, but that’s life.”

Michael Carrick to retire after the season, join Man United coaching staff

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Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho announced Friday night that 36-year-old midfielder Michael Carrick will retire after this season and join the Red Devils’ coaching staff.

Carrick has made just one appearance for Manchester United this season, back on September 20th in an EFL Cup match against Burton Albion. He has been on the sidelines recovering since an irregular heartbeat was discovered after he felt “strange” in the second half of that game. However, Carrick has been training with the team since November and Mourinho confirmed he could finish out his career on the pitch.

“[He had] a few months without even training so now he is in his second week of training with the team,” Mourinho said to the media ahead of Manchester United’s match against Burnley on Saturday morning. “He is a very important player for us. I think it is a good decision for the team and a good decision for him to finish playing football and not injured or with some problem.”

Mourinho confirmed that the club has offered him a position on the team’s coaching staff, and that he expects Carrick to accept.

“We are all happy and in the end of the season I expect him to join,” Mourinho said, “unless he changes his mind, but the club would be very happy for him to do that. I would be very happy also for him to do that.”

Carrick has spent his entire career in the city of London. He began his career in the West Ham youth system, making his professional debut in 2005 and spending five years with the Hammers before moving to Tottenham in 2004. He spent two seasons at White Hart Lane before joining Manchester United in the summer of 2006, where he would go on to 460 appearances across all competitions, scoring 23 goals and assisting 36 others. He has won five Premier League titles with Manchester United, as well as a Champions League, an FA Cup, and three League Cups.

Brighton nabs club record signing Jurgen Locadia

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Brighton & Hove Albion have secured a new striker for the stretch run of the Premier League season, signing Jurgen Locadia from PSV Eindhoven for a club record fee.

Locadia cost Brighton $19.3 million, breaking their old transfer record, set just last August when they brought Jose Izqueirdo from Club Brugge, by about $500,000.

The 24-year-old Dutchman has nine goals and six assists this season in 15 Eredivisie appearances for PSV, although he’s missed their last three games reportedly with a hamstring injury. He scored four goals in one game against FC Utretcht back in late September.

“We are delighted to have signed Jurgen, and pleased to welcome him to the club,” said Brighton manager Chris Hughton in the official club release. “He is a player we have been aware of for sometime, and it’s been no secret we have wanted to add a striker of his type. He is a strong, powerful and quick center-forward, with a real eye for goal and will increase our attacking options in the second half of the season.”

Locadia made his Eredivisie debut with PSV in style back in 2012, scoring a hat-trick against VVV Venlo in a 6-0 win. He would go on to score a career-high 13 goals in his first full season in 2013/14, eventually racking up 62 goals for PSV across all competitions in 176 appearances.

A PSV youth product, Locadia has been in the national team picture, riding the bench for a pair of World Cup qualifiers in October, but has not received a cap for the Netherlands. He was in the national youth setup as well, making appearances for the U-17 and U-21 sides.