What went right in Saturday’s U.S. win over South Korea

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  • Graham Zusi rises anew

Remember how Alejandro Bedoya seemed to move up in the national team order last fall, perhaps sliding ahead of Graham Zusi for starting dibs on the right-sided attacking spot?

Well, let’s not hand that World Cup starting spot to Bedoya just yet; Zusi (pictured) still has a lot to say about it. (Well, so does Landon Donovan, who could end up holding the position by the time it’s all said and done and they are lining up in Brazil, but let’s just stick to the competition between Zusi and Bedoya for now.)

Zusi’s comprehensive performance Saturday will go a long way to re-establishing his place in the U.S. order. He was in on both American goals, with a good cross to start the early strike Saturday at the StubHub Center and then a nice controlling touch to help set up the second half tally.

(MORE: United States opens year with 2-0 win over South Korea)

Over the last two years, Zusi has demonstrated a smart ability to get into good, attacking spot – and then to make good things happen with all that smooth technical ability.  And he always does the defensive work, too, providing plenty of assistance to right back Brad Evans in Saturday’s win.

  • Chris Wondolowski keeps himself in the conversation

It will still be tough for Chris Wondolowski to make the plane to Brazil. That said, his two-fer Saturday sure doesn’t hurt. In fact, it keeps him squarely in the conversation.

Wondolowski did exactly what he needed, clinically finishing two chances. The early goal set the Earthquakes striker’s confidence alight; “Wonder Wondo” was active and accurate with the ball over the first half, keeping the attack moving forward several times.

More later at PST on Wondolowski – who still has that extra “W” sewn into his jersey for good luck – and what he faces in getting into the team this summer. (Because we’ll all be talking about that now. Again.)

  • Landon Donovan starts a big year well enough

Handed the captain’s armband, Donovan did his part to jazz up an attack here and there, despite a match where the United States’ back line and midfield wasn’t always sharp in moving the ball into good spots for the forwards.

Donovan has always had a big motor, and we saw it once again Saturday. Players are never at their best for these January camp enders; it’s just hard to “be there” physically before a few matches to really prep the legs and lungs.

But Donovan was active in looking for the ball on offense and in tracking back on defense – a bit of a “bonus,” since that is something not necessarily high in the job requirements in the position he played, the second forward in a 4-4-2.

Great example: Donovan tracked all the way back to win a ball just outside the U.S. penalty area from the quickly advancing Koreans in the 67th minute.  From there, he was quickly into the attack, eventually playing a clever little ball in front of striker Eddie Johnson. (If Johnson had finished his run, the ball would have curled neatly in stride for him 20 yards from opposition goal.)

  • Parkhurst and Rimando held serve

Michael Parkhurst won’t excite anyone if he’s among the final 23 headed to Brazil, but he certainly has value as a reliable defender who can play right back, left back or even center back in a pinch. (Parkhurst played center back in MLS before moving overseas; he’ll play in the middle this year for Columbus.)

Parkhurst made a third U.S. start at left back and did little wrong defensively. He doesn’t provide much on the attack, but there is surely a value for a utility man along the back line for situations that demand ample defending.

Behind him, Nick Rimando reminded us once again that he’s a real steady-eddy as a third ‘keeper. There was one little wobble with the ball, and he played with a bit of fire with some passes through the middle. Still, he’s a calming presence who has the big-save ability.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.