Graham Zusi

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.

How important is Philippe Coutinho to Liverpool?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores their fourth goal during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Hull City at Anfield on September 24, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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With reports circulating that Philippe Coutinho‘s agent is in talks with Liverpool over a new deal, it is easy to see why the Reds want to reward the Brazilian playmaker.

[ MORE: Klopp on title chances

Coutinho, 24, is undoubtedly the key cog in Jurgen Klopp‘s offensive machine and since he went down with an ankle injury in November against Sunderland they’ve missed him being back to his best.

In the nine games since Coutinho was injured Liverpool have dropped 12 points in the Premier League. In the 13 PL games before his injury they dropped just nine.

Now, this isn’t down to one man but there’s no coincidence here. He makes Liverpool tick and as good as Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino have been, Coutinho is the main man. Even when you look at Liverpool’s defensive record, their much-maligned backline is slightly better with Coutinho in the team. They conceded 14 goals in 13 games before he was injured and they’ve conceded 13 in their last nine games.

Maybe that’s because Coutinho takes the pressure off his teammates by getting on the ball, dipping between the lines of defense and attack and easing pressure to allow Liverpool to dominant play rather than seeing them susceptible to counter attacks like we did against Swansea.

Klopp’s main man started at Plymouth last week and against Swansea City at the weekend, playing over an hour in each game and showing flashes of his ability. Slowly but surely he is getting back to his best and Liverpool need him to be fully fit for a pivotal stretch of games.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

On Wednesday they host Southampton in the EFL Cup semifinal second leg as the Reds trail 1-0 from the first leg. They then play an FA Cup game against second-tier Wolves and host Premier League leaders Chelsea next Wednesday in a game which they simply must win to have any hope of overhauling Chelsea to win the Premier League title.

Top four is the priority for Klopp’s men but keeping Coutinho fit and in-form is a close second.

This season he has scored five goals and added five assists in just 13 starts in the Premier League and Coutinho’s ability to thread balls in-behind to onrushing attackers, always seem to have time on the ball and ability to change the direction of play has been much missed by Liverpool over the past two months. It is inevitable that in recent displays Coutinho hasn’t looked as sharp as he did before he got injured but Klopp will be hoping the rust has been shaken off and he’s back to his best in the next week.

Along with Sadio Mane‘s absence at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal (which will likely be until the first week of February at least as he led them to the knockout stages) Liverpool’s attack looks less dangerous and that extra bit of quality and pace is missing.

That’s because Mane and Coutinho have been missing.

With Mane away, more pressure is now on Coutinho’s shoulders.

Last season was Coutinho’s most productive of his career with 10 goals and seven assists in all competitions. He is well on the way to breaking that record this season based on goals and assists in the Premier League alone.

If Liverpool is going to at least finish in the top four this season and make at least one Wembley final, they have to keep calm and pass it to Coutinho.

He’ll do the rest.

Yaya Toure slams big money moves to China

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21:  Yaya Toure of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Group D match between Manchester City and Sevilla at Etihad Stadium on October 21, 2015 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Yaya Toure is sick of hearing about players moving to the Chinese Super League for big money.

[ PLAYBACK: Ref calls cost Man City ]

Toure, 33, is out of contract at the Etihad Stadium this summer but after coming back into the fold at Manchester City in recent weeks (thanks to an apology from his agent to manager Pep Guardiola) he has been a key cog in central midfield and wants to stay at City.

The towering Ivorian midfielder has been instrumental since joining City in 2010 from Barcelona. Toure has won the FA Cup, two League Cups and two Premier League titles with City and has questioned what means more to players.

Money or enjoyment?

“I always say that if I went to China I would end up feeling angry there. Do you play football because you love football, or do you play because you want to make money? What’s the purpose?” Toure said. “Me, I just want to play football because I enjoy it, I love playing. I enjoy helping my team-mates, I enjoy playing against the big players and teams. I want to carry on in that way. Some people have the mentality that they want to do that, to try something different but, for me, my feeling is that I want to play more football.”

Toure also said that he hopes to remain at City beyond the end of his current deal which expires in the summer.

“I’ve said before that I’ve been involved with a lot of clubs but, especially at City, I want to give something back to the fans,” Toure said. “I’d like to continue to work hard for them, keep giving them entertainment, keep them happy – that’s what I want. If I was tired, I’d say ‘no more, move on’, but I don’t feel like that. I feel very, very good. I feel young.”

Over to you Pep and Man City. Toure clearly wants to say.

Toure certainly has a lot more to give and now that Pep is on board, a two-year extension would surely be signed if it was offered.

The song below becomes more and more poignant. All together now…

Hull give latest update on Ryan Mason after skull fracture

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Ryan Mason of Hull City is examined by a medical staff after the collision with Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Hull City at Stamford Bridge on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ryan Mason is making “excellent progress” after fracturing his skull in Hull City’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Mason, 25, collided with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill when challenging for a header in the first half.

The English midfielder has since been diagnosed with a fracture in his skull and has undergone surgery at a central London hospital

On Tuesday the Premier League club gave the latest update on Mason’s condition.

The Club can confirm that Ryan Mason continues to make excellent progress after sustaining a skull fracture in Sunday’s game against Chelsea. He will continue to be closely monitored by staff at St Mary’s Hospital over the next few days, whilst also remaining in contact with our medical team to assess his progress. There will be no further updates from the club until there are any changes in Ryan’s condition. We also ask that people respect Ryan and his family’s privacy whilst he remains in hospital.

Mason has been visited in hospital by Chelsea’s John Terry, Gary Cahill and assistant manager Steve Holland, plus Hull captain Michael Dawson and members of their staff have also been by his side.

This is very promising news.

Sunderland sign Lescott on short-term deal

WATFORD, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Aston Villa at Vicarage Road on April 30, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Sunderland have signed defender Joleon Lescott on a short-term contract until the end of the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Lescott, 34, will add plenty of experience to Sunderland’s defense and will link up with former manager David Moyes who helped him become an England international during their time together at Everton from 2006-09.

The two-time Premier League winner with Manchester City in 2011-12 and 2013-14 has bounced around in the past two years since leaving the Manchester club, playing for West Bromwich Albion, Aston Villa and AEK Athens after spending five years at City.

Lescott has also made 26 appearances for England, playing and scoring at EURO 2012 as his header put England ahead against France in their group opener.

Speaking about the deal, see the video below, Lescott is ready to help out the Black Cats in whatever way he can.

With Lamine Kone, John O'Shea and Papy Djilobodji around, Moyes now has options at the back and could play a three-man central defense to help bolster Sunderland’s chances of survival.

The Black Cats currently sit bottom of the table, three points from safety.