ProSoccerTalk MLS Team of the Week – Week 6

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Forwards

Clint Dempsey, Seattle Sounders – One jaw-dropping blast, a game-winner, with a forced own goal in between. Dempsey’s Saturday was better than his hat trick in Portland. That he somehow managed to top a three-goal performance against Seattle’s arch rivals with a better performance in Dallas has to rank as one of the best eight-day runs in MLS history. He was our Player of the Week.

Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy – It was a typical day for Robbie Keane; and by typical, I mean he was probably the best player on the field. His second half run to put home Stefan Ishizaki’s cross is the type of movement we’re starting to take for granted, though his first half blast at David Ousted’s net nearly left the Ireland international with his first multi-goal game of the season.

We could be wrong about: Obafemi Martins, Seattle Sounders, Chris Wondolowski, San Jose Earthquakes

Midfielders

Federico Higuaín, Columbus Crew – San Jose’s two-man shield forced Higuaín to drop deep to pick up the ball, a roll the Argentine is accustomed to assuming in Columbus’s set up. Just before half time, however, neither of those midfielders could prevent Waylon Francis from finding Higuaín just in front of the defense, with the No. 10’s quick finish giving Pipa his fourth goal of the season.

Lloyd Sam, New York Red Bulls – Saturday was another in a strong of strong performances from Sam, whose consistently strong service from the right has only highlighted New York’s shortcomings up top. If Red Bulls had even average finishing on Saturday, the chances Sam created would have given New York its first win of the season. That Mike Petke’s team became the second straight victim at RFK can’t cost Sam a spot in this team.

Maurice Edu, Philadelphia Union – Another strong performance from the Union’s midfield anchor allowed Jack Hackworth’s trio to go toe-to-toe with RSL’s diamond, with Edu’s presence in the middle serving as the team’s greatest asset. His late header inside Jeff Attinella’s left post allowed Philly to take a deserved point, earning the U.S. international a place in this week’s squad.

Kyle Beckerman, Real Salt Lake – It’s tempting to make an Edu versus Beckerman comparison, given the increasing (but misguided) notion the midfielders are competing for a spot in Brazil. In reality, the two are very different players who went about their Saturday excellence in different ways. Beckerman’s anchored, disruptive presence helped RSL take a point in Chester, with his late second half goal nearly delivering full points.

We could be wrong about: Kyle Bekker, Toronto FC; Will Johnson, Portland Timbers; Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake; Vincent Nogueira, Philadelphia Union

Defenders

Kevin Alston, New England Revolution – Alston’s first Major League Soccer goal was a memorable one, with the fill-in left back bursting in from the flank to fire home Saturday’s winning goal. Part of a defense that held Houston without a shot on target, the former Hoosier this week’s the easy choice at left back.

Giancarlo Gonzalez, Columbus Crew – It wasn’t a perfect day for the Costa Rican, but it was close, with quick reads and decisive clearances allowing him to keep the space in front of Steve Clark as clear as possible. His 13 clearances were more than the rest of Columbus’s defense combined, making Sunday his most convincing performance since moving to Major League Soccer.

Clarence Goodson, San Jose Earthquakes – If you think Goodson could have done more on Columbus’s goal (he was the closest man to Higuaín), then the U.S. international doesn’t deserve this spot. Give it to Gonzalez, and consider this my tacit concession. You may be right.

If you’re inclined to think Goodson was right to keep dropping back with the rest of the San Jose line, Sunday becomes one of his best this season. A number of strong first half reads allowed the Earthquakes to thwart most of Columbus’s early incursions, keeping his team close enough to claim a point with its early second half breakthrough.

Dan Gargan, LA Galaxy – A strong run at the end of Saturday’s first half nearly saw Gargan assist on Landon Donovan’s record-setting goal, though the Galaxy attacker ended up pushing his header wide. Still, the ball was an example of the consistently strong crosses the journeyman defender has provided since assuming a spot in the starting lineup. Along with Baggio Husidic, Gargan’s become one of the latest examples of Bruce Arena salvaging veteran talent.

We could be wrong about: Waylon Francis, Columbus;  Jámison Olave, New York Red Bulls; Omar Gonzalez, LA Galaxy; Andrew Farrell, New England Revolution

Goalkeeper

Jaime Penedo, LA Galaxy – Of the four big saves the Panamanian international made on Saturday, his 32nd minute stop on Kekuta Manneh was our favorite. On a ball moving from left-to-right across his goal, Peneda quickly got off his line to cut down Manneh’s angles, charging toward the Vancouver attacker before he even turned toward goal. The Whitecaps eventually lost 1-0, with Penedo keeping a clean sheet in his return to Arena’s starting XI.

We could be wrong about: Andrew Dykstra, D.C. United

With no World Cup for USMNT, Altidore shifts focus

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP, File
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For Jozy Altidore, this was supposed to be the time when the United States was preparing for this summer’s World Cup. That changed early in October when the Americans got bounced from the tournament.

[ MORE: Kamara to La Liga? ]

The stunning failure shifted Altidore’s focus.

He spent the beginning of 2018 in Grand Cayman, where his foundation is bringing soccer to kids in a region hit by hurricanes last fall. Soon, he’ll start the new season with defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.

As for this summer? Altidore will watch a few of the matches in Russia on television. The 28-year-old forward isn’t stewing in the loss, he’s looking with hope to the future.

“Of course I’ll obviously be disappointed not to be there, but at the end of the day, man, we’re blessed to do what we do,” he said.

Apart from the national team loss, Altidore is coming off one of the better years of his career. He scored 18 goals with the Reds and another four with the U.S. national team. Toronto FC won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record before sweeping through the playoffs and defeating Seattle 2-0 for the league title. Altidore scored in the final and earned MLS Cup MVP honors.

The victory was a bit of revenge for a loss to the Sounders for the MLS Cup the previous season, but Altidore said Toronto’s motivation was part of a season-long journey he took with his teammates and coach Greg Vanney.

“I think more than anything we understood how close we were and how it hurt that we had come up short that season,” he said. “The focus for us was to do what we did that last year and if we got to the last game, obviously make sure we got the W and make the most of our chances.”

Altidore celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders during the MLS Cup Final (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto teammate and fellow national team player, Michael Bradley, echoed the sentiment after the title match.

“When push comes to shove, you want to step into the biggest moments with people that you would do anything for, that you love, that you believe in, that you trust, that you know have your back,” Bradley said.

But it wasn’t all smooth. Altidore got into a confrontation with New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in a tunnel at BMO Field during the conference semifinals. Altidore and Kljestan were handed red cards in the aftermath.

Altidore sat out Toronto’s next game, while Kljestan was suspended an additional game and won’t be able to play the first two games of the upcoming season. Kljestan, who was also fined, was traded in the offseason from the Red Bulls to Orlando.

Altidore and Bradley were also jeered – sometimes with profane and personal attacks – by opposing fans over the U.S. team’s qualifying performance.

“Look, all that stuff I think would have been magnified had we not achieved our objective,” Altidore said. “But we did, and we did it in such a convincing manner.”

Following the 2-1 U.S. loss in Couva, Trinidad, that cost the national team a spot in the World Cup, coach Bruce Arena stepped down and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he would not run for another term.

Interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan called 30 players into January training camp in advance of an exhibition game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 in Carson, California. Altidore and many of the team’s veterans were not invited.

The camp roster includes 15 players who have never played in a match for the senior national team. The most experienced was LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who is 26. Twenty-one of the players are 24 and younger.

Altidore, who has 41 goals in 110 appearances with the national team, understands that developing young talent is important heading into the next World Cup quadrennial. “We have to do a better job of identifying new talent, for sure,” he said, suggesting that missing out on the past two Olympics – where under-23 teams compete – has hurt development efforts.

For now, Altidore is pouring his energy into charitable endeavors.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, launched his foundation in 2011 following the devastating earthquake that hit the country the year before. The foundation built a well to provide water to a town of more than 400 in Haiti, along with other rebuilding efforts. In 2016, he paid to bring the Copa America matches to television in the country.

The latest effort in the Cayman Islands focuses on getting youth involved in soccer.

“I think the whole region, the Caribbean has a lot of talent and has a lot of kids who want to become players. And I think it helps to see and identify with players who have played in different leagues from around the world,” he said. “If I’m able to be one of those guys that can start that whole thing, it’s a great opportunity and honor for me.”

Report: Ola Kamara wanted by mid-table La Liga outfit

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Columbus Crew star Ola Kamara is ready to leave the side, but he may not be moving inside of Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Metro.Us reporter Kristian Dyer says the Norwegian star is subject to a bid from a mid-table La Liga club. He’d been linked with a trade to Colorado as well.

Kamara, 28, came to MLS from Austria Wien and has since scored 34 goals in two seasons, a year after bagging 21 goals on loan for Molde in Norway.

Seventh place and 15th are separated by just four points in Spain’s top flight. Leganes and Espanyol are having the hardest time scoring goals, in terms of mildly educated speculation.

Transfer rumor roundup: Fred to Man City; Aubameyang wanted

Photo by Christian Hofer/Getty Images
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Could this January transfer window rival last season’s in terms of activity?

[ MORE: FA Cup replay roundup ]

Last season saw Crystal Palace save its season and Hull City nearly do the same, Morgan Schneiderlin head to Everton, Leicester find a decent N'Golo Kante replacement, and much, much more.

This season has been less active, though Ross Barkley has headed to Chelsea while former club Everton nabbed Cenk Tosun and Liverpool added Virgil Van Dijk.

The BBC has news involving Napoli which could affect two Premier League clubs. The Neapolitans apparently want Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, who wants to be an every week starter, to be a prime part of their push to end Juventus’ Serie A stranglehold.

That would unseat Pepe Reina, who’s been long linked with a reunion with former boss Pepe Reina at Newcastle United. Napoli currently has Luigi Sepe as a No. 2 to Reina, though UEFA Europa League fixtures mean it’s no guarantee Mignolet’s arrival would allow Reina to leave town.

Sky Sports says Manchester City would like to see Fred as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho. Fred went 90 minutes for Shakhtar Donetsk in a pair of UEFA Champions League contests against City, including the 2-1 home win over the Premier League leaders’ B-squad on Dec. 6. The 24-year-old has two goals and two assists in league play, and could cost more than $25 million.

Don Balon proffers news that could unsettle Arsenal fans, as Real Madrid is apparently entering the bidding for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Florentino Perez would like an upgrade to Karim Benzema for his struggling La Liga super powers, and goodness knows Real will tempt Borussia Dortmund’s bank account.

One liners:

— The BBC also says Besiktas want Islam Slimani to join the club from Leicester City.

— Ola Kamara’s move from Columbus to another MLS team may be hijacked by La Liga.

Mourinho reportedly close to Man Utd contract extension

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Jose Mourinho is scheduling an extended stay at Manchester United.

[ MORE: Donovan unveiled by Leon ]

The 54-year-old has a contract through the end of next season, the dreaded third at a club for Mourinho, but reports say United is keen to keep him around through 2021.

Mourinho has not tasted a fourth season with a club despite winning league titles at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Real Madrid.

The 2019-20 season at Old Trafford would be Mourinho’s fourth. According to the BBC:

Talks have progressed well and it is now just a matter of time before Mourinho commits to remain at Old Trafford beyond the expiry of his present deal in 2019.

Somehow, this feels it should be deemed another loss for Antonio Conte.