United States' Gonzalez celebrates their victory over Mexico in their FIFA World Cup qualifying soccer match in Columbus

The Omar Conundrum: Why Gonzalez is making life hard on Klinsmann and the U.S.

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For all the quality Matt Besler has, it’s hard to find an area of his tool set that’s truly excellent. He may be one of the smartest defenders in the U.S. Men’s National Team pool, but unless you work with a guy day-in, day-out, that’s a bit of an unknown. In the skills we see while watching with the Sporting Kansas City defender, the guy is steadily above-average, across the board. Even on throw-ins, he’s very good.

He’s the exact type of guy you want defending your goal, but he does have his limitations. He’s not slow, but some can still run by him. He’s strong enough, but on occasion, can be pushed around. He’s decent on set pieces but not the man you want marking the opposing team’s greatest threat. Even that suspected high game intelligence doesn’t lead to mistake-free soccer. Solid in all areas, the Sporting captain isn’t the ideal matchup against somebody with an elite skill.

Hence, Aurélien Collin. When he’s on his game, the Frenchman is better than Besler, but he’s not always on his game. In fact, that happens so infrequently that the U.S. international is generally considered the superior player. As last year’s playoffs showed, Collin is capable of being the best player on the field, but over the course of a season — when individual games reveal and occasionally slow, foul-prone, and ill-tempered Collin — you’d probably take the more well-rounded, steady presence.

The Omar Gonzalez Conundrum

All of which brings us to Besler’s national team partner. After last night’s game against Mexico, Omar Gonzalez’s play is again under the microscope. The LA Galaxy Designated Player lost Rafa Marquez on Mexico’s first goal and was left hoping the assistant referee would bail him out of his part in El Tri’s second. At other times, when he was losing aerial duels and otherwise looking amiss in his positioning and reactions, Gonzalez looked every bit the player some want dropped in favor of Clarence Goodson.

source: Getty ImagesIt creates a conundrum for Jurgen Klinsmann. As he showed in the 2012 MLS Cup final, Omar Gonzalez has the ability to define games, and while this summer’s challenges will far exceed those the Houston Dynamo posed the Galaxy back then, Gonzalez represents the U.S.’s best chance to stand up to the likes of Germany and Portugal. When he is on his game, the former MLS Defender of the Year is by far the best center back at Klinsmann’s disposal. To choose him along side Besler’s steadying safeguard is to embrace the U.S.’s best-case scenario.

The other side of that coin defines Klinsmann’s dilemma. Like Collin, more games than not, Gonzalez isn’t a world beater, and his mistakes with the United States have become so frequent, people are starting to reassess the risk versus reward. How many Gonzalez errors become too much to justify his place in the starting XI? And is this just a lottery where, in the end, any winning proposition will likely be offset by the mistakes we’ve invested?

It’s been too long since we’ve seen a dominant Gonzalez performance in red, white and blue. It’s been a long time since we saw one for the Galaxy, too. Ever since his MLS Cup MVP-winnig performance in Carson, Calif., Gonzalez hasn’t played like an elite defender. Wavering between very good and too mistake-prone, his reputation is treading on potential more than performance. Though he’s only 25, Gonzalez’s renown is based on his past more than his present or future.

That’s not to say Gonzalez can’t again be great, but Jurgen Klinsmann needs to get some indication that it will happen. Else, he’s betting on memories. He’s betting the Omar Gonzalez we haven’t seen in over a year will emerge some time between now and June 16. And unfortunately for Goodson, that may create an unrealistic standard. Goodson not only has to out-play the current Gonzalez, he has to outplay the best Gonzalez possible – the one for whom Klinsmann seems to be holding out.

It’s the type of player I often hate writing about, one that feeds into whatever bias viewers want to carry. If you’re inclined to focus on the best parts of a defender’s game — evaluating players on their highlight reels and not their 90-minute contributions — Gonzalez can still look great. Thunderous clearances. Decisive reads. The commanding way he can take a man off the ball. When he’s Best Defender in the League Omar, it’s all there, painting a tantalizing picture of his potential.

But for defenders, mistakes matter. They really, incredibly matter. It’s part of the reason Germany’s Mats Hummels may be one of the most overrated players in the world. Like goalkeepers, defenders can’t just cancel out a key mistake with 89 minutes of good work. You can be great on the ball, spectacular on set pieces, have the strength to sack toss Hulk and the speed to chase down Ronaldo, but in the high leverage situations where defenders must perform, you can’t screw up. Defenders can’t consistently give up good chances.

source: Getty ImagesBetween now and Brazil

Consistency is Gonzalez’s main problem. Not game-to-game consistency, because he has been fairly predictable over the last season-plus. It’s minute-to-minute consistency that’s the issue, the type of varying performance that leads to a couple of nervy moments each match. As has been the case throughout his time under Klinsmann (with the possible exception of a small span last year), Gonzalez hasn’t been able to string together 90 mistake-free minutes with the national team.

Wednesday only reinforced that notion, but there’s still time. Between now and kickoff against Ghana, Gonzalez will have his opportunities to prove he’s more reliable. Perhaps he won’t start every game of the U.S.’s sendoff series, but he’s sure to start at least one. And given the faith Klinsmann’s shown in one of his first choice center backs, one good game may be enough. Gonzalez only needs to show that his past is still possible.

That’s why it’s too early to say Gonzalez played himself out of the lineup. Although the performance fit a larger pattern, Wednesday’s game will be insignificant once the team gets together in May. And there’s no question: Gonzalez will definitely be in Palo Alto, where he’ll have every chance to prove his hiccups are behind him.

Yes, the performance was worrisome, but it’s not going to redefine Gonzalez’s prospects for Brazil. May, however, will.

Burnley sign Hendrick in club-record deal; Adama to Middlesbrough

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 13:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic (C) of Sweden competes for the ball against Wes Hoolahan (L) and Jeff Hendrick of Republic (R) of Ireland during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group E match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Stade de France on June 13, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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Burnley have signed Republic of Ireland international Jeff Hendrick on a three-year deal.

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Hendrick, 24, shone for Ireland at EURO 2016 this summer and that persuaded Burnley to pay over $13.7 million to Derby County for the energetic central midfielder.

That means the Clarets have now spent nearly $30 million on new players this summer and have smashed their transfer record twice in the last two weeks after Belgian international Steven Defour arrived from Anderlecht.

Speaking to the club website, Hendrick revealed Burnley’s summer-long interest in him was a big factor in him signing.

“The Premier League was a big draw for me and it’s where I aspire to be after the summer I’ve had,” Hendrick said. “Burnley did so well last year going unbeaten for five months and how much they wanted me this summer was a real positive for me. I know there have been a number of bids and I was sitting there waiting for one to be accepted. I would have preferred it to happen earlier to and get to know your team mates and coaching staff a bit more, but I am just thankful it’s done now and I can go away with Ireland known my future is settled.”

Hendrick will add plenty of power to Burnley’s midfield as the Clarets aim to do something they’ve never done in their previous two seasons in the PL: stay up.


There was another Deadline Day deal for a newly-promoted team in the PL as Middlsebrough signed 20-year-old winger Adama Traore from Aston Villa.

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Traore was signed by Tim Sherwood from Barcelona for $9.1 million but failed to break through in Villa’s woeful campaign last season which ended in their relegation from the Premier League.

Now the pacey winger has another chance in the top-flight as he becomes Boro’s 11th signing of the summer and Albert Adomah heads in the opposite direction.

Aitor Karanka isn’t messing around and Middlesbrough’s unbeaten start to life back in the PL is testament to that.

Sunderland sign Didier Ndong for club-record fee

Didier Ndong
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Sunderland have made their first signing of what is expected to be a busy Transfer Deadline Day at the Stadium of Light.

[ STREAM: Deadline Day show ]

Gabon international midfielder Didier Ndong has signed for a club-record fee of $17.8 million and has a five-year contract at Sunderland.

The 22-year-old defensive midfielder joins the Black Cats from Ligue 1 side Lorient and David Moyes could add as many as five new players on Deadline Day.

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Speaking to Sunderland’s website Ndong revealed his delighted at moving to the Premier League.

“It will be an honor to wear the Sunderland shirt and I will wear it with a true understanding of what it means,” Ndong said. “I am excited to meet everyone at the club, to see the stadium and of course the fans. Today is the most beautiful day of my life.”

Ndong will add to an injury-hit Sunderland midfield and it could free up U.S. U-20 international Lynden Gooch to play in a more attacking central role.

Moyes will be hoping he can add some more defenders between now and the summer transfer window shutting at 6 p.m. ET today, with rumors persisting that Lamine Kone could be on his way out.

Report: Roma lead chase for Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere

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Early on Transfer Deadline Day it seemed like Premier League duo Crystal Palace and Bournemouth were the two options for Jack Wilshere.

Not so fast.

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According to multiple reports Arsenal’s 24-year-old central midfielder is reportedly being chased hard by AS Roma with regards to a season-long loan deal.

Wilshere has expressed his desire to leave Arsenal for regular action this season and over 22 clubs have reportedly expressed interest in taking him on loan.

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That list had been whittle down to three main contenders and it is believed the England international met with Palace boss Alan Pardew and Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe on Tuesday as he decided where he should go.

Now, though, it appears a Serie A giant is pushing hard to get Wilshere.

His good friend Wojciech Szczesny is already on loan from Arsenal to Roma and with the Italian side able to offer UEFA Europa League action, plus challenge for the top four in Italy’s top-flight, Wilshere may see it as more worthwhile than going on loan to Palace or Bournemouth who will both be challenging to finish in the upper reaches of midtable in the PL.

The transfer window in Italy shuts at 5 p.m. ET, an hour earlier than in England, so Wilshere will have to get a move on if he fancies spending the next year in the Italian capital.

Report: David Luiz to Chelsea edging closer; Fabregas staying

Luiz scored on his return to the Bridge and celebrated like a mad man.
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A deal between Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea for “the geezer” David Luiz appears to be back on.

[ LIVE: Every Deadline Day deal ] 

On Tuesday reports emerged that Antonio Conte‘s side had offered $39 million for 29-year-old Luiz. Bearing in mind he signed for PSG in 2014 from Chelsea for $65 million, that would be decent business for Chelsea.

PSG were said to want close to $50 million for Luiz and the deal seemed dead.

However, the Daily Mail is now reporting that the deal for Luiz is edging ever closer with the player said to be keen on a return to Stamford Bridge and the clubs are working towards and agreement.

A flashy central defender, Luiz has many question marks against his name when it comes to his defensive capabilities but he is a fans favorite at Chelsea after winning the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Europa League with the Blues. He can also take a wicked free kick and his impressive range of passing sees him take risks out of the back.

Chelsea do need cover in central defense with Gary Cahill and John Terry their only options, plus Branislav Ivanovic able to slot over from right back to center back. Conte does have Kurt Zouma at the club but the French international defender is likely to go out on loan to Bundesliga side Schalke to step up his recovery following a horrendous injury last February against Manchester United.

Is Luiz heading back to west London?


In other Chelsea-related news Sky Sports is reporting that Spanish international playmaker Cesc Fabregas is staying at the Bridge.

Fabregas, 29, has been linked with a move away from Chelsea this summer after starting the first three Premier League games of the season on the bench. Conte has preferred N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic in central midfielder and it was reported that Fabregas had fallen out with Chelsea’s new Italian manager.

The former Arsenal and Barcelona rejected speculation that he and Conte had a bust up but on Deadline Day rumors have arrived that AC Milan want to sign Fabregas.

However it appears Fabregas will be staying at Chelsea at least until January to fight for his place in the team.