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

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.

Lippi leads China over SKorea 1-0 in World Cup qualifier

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Marcello Lippi earned his biggest victory since taking over as coach of China’s national soccer team, leading his squad to a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier.

[ MORE: Shorthanded USMNT hosts Honduras as WCQ resumes ]

The coach, who led his native Italy to the World Cup title in 2006, was hired by China in October.

Yu Dabao scored the lone goal at Helong Stadium in Changsha with a header in the 34th minute, giving China only its second victory over South Korea in 32 matches.

China spent much of the second half defending with the visitors piling on the pressure. Ki Seung-yeung and Ji Dong-won both went close for South Korea but could not find a way past China goalkeeper Zeng Cheng.

South Korea has 10 points from six matches in Group A and is still on course to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. China, which last qualified for the World Cup in 2002, has five points.

Only the top two teams from the six-nation group qualify automatically. The third-place team will head to the playoffs.