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Two goals make Wondolowski’s case in U.S.’s 2-0 win over South Korea

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CARSON, Calif. — Among those on the fringe of the United States Men’s National Team picture, nobody’s candidacy has been more debate than Chris Wondolowski’s. On Saturday, Major League Soccer’s single-season scoring champion and former Most Valuable Player made another plea to be included in June’s trip to World Cup 2014, scoring both goals in the U.S.’s 2-0 win over South Korea at StubHub Center.

The victory marked a successful end to the U.S.’s winter training camp – one of two times Jurgen Klinsmann’s team will assemble before preparations begin for this summer’s tournament. With only a brief international break in March allowing players to make a final impression before camp is called in May, players like Michael Parkhurst and Brad Davis were making final pitches to make the U.S.’s 23-man World Cup squad.

Nobody did more to help their candidacy than Wondolowski. In the fourth minute, the San Jose Earthquakes captain headed home from close range to give his team an early lead. In the 43rd minute, his work in the right side of the penalty area produced a near-goal for Landon Donovan, while his finish of a Graham Zusi pass into the area in the 60th minute gave him his third multi-goal game of his international career.

(MORE: What went right Saturday for the United States)

For Korea, the loss finished a one-week, three-match trip through North America that saw them face three World Cup qualifiers. After defeating Costa Rica 1-0 in Los Angeles last Saturday, however, Hong Myung-Bo’s team closed their tour with multi-goal losses to Mexico (4-0 on Wednesday in San Antonio) and the U.S.

The opening kickoff saw the United States take a page from their 2013 Gold Cup playbook, where Landon Donovan was name the tournament’s best player while spending much of the competition playing along the defense, above partner Chris Wondolowski. Six months after helping the U.S. blow through that competition’s group stage, the same setup produced an early goal against South Korea.

In the fourth minute, Donovan played wide from just outside the South Korea penalty area, finding Graham Zusi open five yards from touch. The right midfielder’s quick cross far post for Brad Davis forced Jung Sung-Ryong into a reflect stop on diving shot, though the resulting ball allowed Wondolowski to run through a header for the game’s opening goal.

(MORE: What went wrong Saturdays for the United States)

The rest of the half produced more mixed results. In the eighth minute, Lee Ho’s flick from a near-post corner seemed nearly beat Nick Rimando at the near post only to the U.S. keeper extend his arms from inside his own goal to prevent the equalizer. Over the next 20 minutes, South Korea’s willingness to sit deep until the U.S. approached the center line forced the Americans to seize the initiative. Repeated trying to work down their left flank, the U.S. failed to take advantage of Korea’s passive play.

By the 30-minute mark, it was Korea generating opportunities, albeit thin ones. A 31st minute free kick forced a clearance from Omar Gonzalez. A Kim Min-Woo cross from the byline in the 35th minute from saw Matt Besler slide keep the ball from crossing the goal mouth. Another free kick led to an open chance for Kim Ju-Young in the 42nd, but the defender whiffed on his shot. Though Wondolowski and Donovan nearly doubled the U.S.’s lead in the 43rd, Korea had the better of play over the half’s final quarter-hour.

A more even opening to the second half gave way to Wondolowski’s second at the hour mark, a goal created after Zusi got behind the Korean defense on a throw in. Brad Evans’ toss toward the right of the penalty saw Zusi let go of a cross moments before being closed down, with Wondolowski beating the Korean defense to beat Jung at the near post.

The brace ran Wondolowski’s international goals mark to eight, all of which have come since July 2013. After going scoreless in his first nine international appearances, Wondolowski has quickly shed a reputation for being unable to find goal at international level. Having built on the totals he amassed at last summer’s Gold Cup, questions now shift to whether the 2012 MLS MVP can score against high-level international competition. With two goals against a World Cup qualifier, “Wondo” made his best argument yet.

Over the match’s final half hour, neither Rimando nor Jung were meaningfully tested, with a late cross into the U.S.’s six-yard box the closest either team came to changing the 2-0 score. Instead, the biggest news of the match’s final moments was the debut of two U.S. hopes for the future. In the 75th minute, Seattle DeAndre Yedlin collected his first cap, replacing teammate Brad Evans. He was accompanied onto the field by Luis Gil, also making his first senior level appearance for the United States.

Lineups

United States: Nick Rimando; Brad Evans (DeAndre Yedlin 75′), Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler (Clarence Goodson 62′), Michael Parkhurst; Kyle Beckerman Mix Diskerud (Benny Feilhaber 62′); Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Brad Davis (Luis Gil 75′); Chris Wondolowski (Eddie Johnson 62′)

Goals: Wondolowski (4′, 60′)

South Korea: Jung Syung-Ryong; Kim Jin-Su (Tae-Hwan Kim 78′), Kim Yo-Young, Kim Kee-Hee, Lee Ho (Lee Seung-Ki 69′); Park Jong-Woo, Kim Min-Woo, Ko Yo-Han; Lee Keun-Ho (Seung-Ki Lee 69′), Kim Shin-Wook

LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?

VIDEO: Bobby Wood splits defenders, scores beautiful solo goal for Union Berlin

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 18:  Bobby Wood of USA during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium on November 18, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Bobby Wood may not be in January camp, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to catch the eye of USMNT supporters, and more importantly head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

All he has to do is channel his inner Lionel Messi, split a couple of hapless “defenders” with a stunning display of ball control, and bag an 86th-minute equalizer by beating a goalkeeper at his near post.

Funny, because that’s exactly what he did today as Union Berlin drew 2-2 with Kaiserslautern in 2.Bundesliga league play.

Should you set this defensive display to Yakety Sax? It would fit. Is the goalkeeper’s positioning laughable? Absolutely. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Hawaii native shows he is building his skill set in Germany and is becoming a useful piece of the puzzle for Klinsmann’s talent pool.

The goal is the eighth of Wood’s 2.Bundesliga season in 20 appearances. The club has lost just one match in its last eight, pulling away from the drop zone into a virtual 3-way tie for 11th position. They sit seven points above the relegation zone and nine off a promotion slot.

African confederation backs Shiekh Salman, not Sexwale, for FIFA presidency

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MAY 02:  Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain poses after he was elected as the 11th President of the Asian Football Confederation during the 2013 AFC Congress at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on May 2, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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The African confederation (CAF) announced today in a statement following a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda that they would be unanimously backing Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa for the FIFA presidency.

The AFC has unrivaled power in the vote for the FIFA presidency, and with 54 votes, decided to push all their support into one bloc. The choice to back Salman comes at somewhat of a surprise, given that Tokyo Sexwale was a favorite in the region as he is a South African native, and the CAF has long campaigned for one of its own to be put into office.

Sheikh Salman is the current head of the Asian confederation (AFC), serving in that position since he was voted into office in May of 2013. The AFC signed a cooperative agreement with the CAF just last month

“I am humbled by the support of CAF’s Executive Committee and tremendously encouraged by the unanimous decision to support my bid for the office of FIFA president,” Sheikh Salman said in a statement following the announcement. “I am deeply honored to have earned the trust of many of our African friends at this crucial stage of the campaigning effort.  The two endorsements only mean that there is a strong groundswell in favor of my candidacy. What they don’t mean, is that I can sit back and relax. This campaign will be decided on the day of the vote, not before. Naturally, I am confident that I now have a reasonably strong position to work from with such support.”

In a twist, just hours after the announcement by the CAF, fellow presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein revealed on Twitter that he had the backing of the Egyptian Football Federation, which is a member of the CAF. The original tweet came from an account created to support his presidential bid, but it was retweeted by Prince Ali’s personal verified account.

No word has been announced on whether the CAF had accepted Egypt’s apparent rogue nature. The initial statement by the CAF announcing support for Sheikh Salman read, “While respecting the principle of democracy, the sovereignty, and latitude of each member association to vote for the candidate of its choice, the Executive Committee urges all the 54 member associations of the Confédération Africaine de Football to reserve their votes for Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa during the 26 February 2016 elections for the presidency of FIFA in Zurich.”

The CAF is headquartered just outside Cairo, Egypt.