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.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

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