Americans Abroad Weekend Preview: Dempsey to make Premier League return against Altidore

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Clint Dempsey is back in the Premier League and will likely start for Fulham as they welcome him back to Craven Cottage against Jozy Altidore‘s Sunderland.

The two clubs are looking to stave off relegation, and Dempsey’s arrival on a two-month loan is just in time to see the Cottagers rise out of the relegation zone for the first time in months.

The USMNT captain returned with Fulham in the FA Cup last week, and will be seeking his first Premier League appearance with Fulham since May 6 of 2012, ironically in a 2-1 home Fulham win over the Black Cats.  A win this weekend plus a bit of help elsewhere around the league could see Fulham climb as high as 13th in the league, a shocking ascent given the dire situation just a month ago.

For Jozy, it’s been a real struggle in the first half of the season at Sunderland.  He was one of Paolo Di Canio’s major summer signings, and played in 581 of the team’s first eight matches (a possible 720 minutes). With just one goal on the year, and a new manager in place, Steven Fletcher has snatched many of Altidore’s minutes up front.  He’s logged just 502 minutes since that aforementioned mark, a span of 11 matches and 990 possible minutes.

This match will be available online at NBC Sports Live Extra, kicking off at 10am ET.

Let’s go around the world to see what else a number of USMNT stalwarts and hopefuls are up to:

England:

Brad Guzan has a tough task as Aston Villa welcome Arsenal Saturday.  The 29-year-old shot-stopper has played every league minute for Villa thus far, and has led them to a stellar defensive record so far, despite their woes up front.  He has six clean sheets this year and commanded a defense which has allowed just 25 goals through their first 18 matches.

source: Getty Images
Tim Howard has his manager’s blessing as one of the Premier League’s best between the sticks.

Another American in goal, Tim Howard, welcomes Norwich City to Goodison Park.  Last time these two teams faced, Howard allowed a pair of goals as Norwich worked a draw with visiting Everton.  Howard’s manager Roberto Martinez said of his performances this year, “I would certainly find it difficult to see a better keeper in the Premier League this season.”

Those previous two matches are available tomorrow on NBC Sports Live Extra.

On Sunday on NBCSN, you can watch Geoff Cameron look to stave off a slumping Liverpool squad at 11am ET.  Cameron has impressed lately, getting much more freedom than in the beginning of the season to make runs forward and have a pop at goal.

Before we head away from England, a bunch of Americans are playing in the lower leagues that we should keep an eye on.  Brek Shea made his debut with Barnsley following a move there on loan, and got a start and 72 minutes of game time at left midfield in a 1-1 draw.  Barnsley travel to Charlton on Saturday.

Eric Lichaj continues to see success this year with Nottingham Forest, who travel to Bolton in the Championship.  The right-back has been a workhorse for Forest this season, logging 1,750 league minutes out of a possible 2,160.  As a reward, the Midlands club sit in fifth place in the Championship table, seven points out of automatic promotion and good enough for a spot in the playoffs were the season to end today.

Germany:

The winter break is taking place in Germany now, but there is still some news to keep an eye on as Jermaine Jones may be on his way out of Schalke.  It was reported a few days ago that he could be looking for a move elsewhere, so keep a look out for news regarding that. He is not currently with the club training in Qatar during the winter layoff.

Mexico:

A pair of fixtures come to us tonight, as Edgar Castillo, Hercules Gomez, Joe Corona, and the rest of the gang at Tijuana take on Club America.  It’s only the second fixture of the Clausura, but both sides have seen different starts.  Club America toasted Tigres 3-0, while Tijuana grinded to a 0-0 draw at Atlas.  Gomez and Corona started in that, while Castillo came off the bench.

DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco join forces at Puebla on Sunday as they host Monterrey.  Puebla started their Clausura season last weekend with a 2-2 draw at Pumas that saw an incredible comeback, with the good guys snatching a stoppage-time brace.  Beasley played the whole match, while Orozco watched the match from the bench.

France:

FC Nantes are shocking the Ligue 1 world as the newly promoted side have found themselves all the way in seventh position.  They’ve stumbled of late, but Alejandro Bedoya and the rest of the squad look to get back on track Sunday as they host Lorient. Bedoya has featured much of the year in a number of different positions, but he was an unused substitute in 2-0 home loss to Nice last time out.

A number of players are on winter breaks around Europe, so the load is lighter this weekend.  We will have a full recap on Monday of all the American action around the globe!

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.