Americans Abroad Preview: Howard looks for bounceback vs Manchester United

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After their massively disappointing loss midweek that left Everton once again chasing Arsenal for the final Champions League spot, Tim Howard and the Toffees are hoping to turn things around.

They’ll have to do so against a resurgent Manchester United team that’s won three of its last four Premier League matches.  A point behind the Gunners without their game in hand, they’ll need Arsenal to drop points if Howard wishes to play in Europe’s top competition next season.

Elsewhere across England’s top flight, Jozy Altidore‘s struggles are starting to make Jurgen Klinsmann nervous, as Sunderland has to go to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea.

(MORE: Premier League Preview – Chelsea vs Sunderland)

Brad Guzan‘s Aston Villa still hasn’t secured Premier League status for next season, although their poor form recently still has a long way to go to be in any serious trouble. Villa hosts Southampton who is coming off a bad loss to Cardiff City.

Stoke City, meanwhile, are flying high and Geoff Cameron continues to be at the forefront of their success. The Potters take on Cardiff tomorrow featured on NBCSN.

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Americans in the Championship are dwindiling in numbers as injuries continue to pick people off one by one.  Those still standing include Danny Williams who’s Reading sits just a point outside the final playoff spot.  They have three matches left to make up that deficit, but must wait until Tuesday for their first crack 12th-placed Middlesbrough.

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Oguchi Onyewu (right) has been getting good minutes with Sheffield Wednesday, despite their relatively leaky defense.

Sheffield Wednesday are safe, and that leaves Oguchi Onyewu with little to play for – at least as far as the club is concerned. But he will continue his search for a very outside shot at this year’s World Cup, playing the full 90 in eight of the club’s last 10 games.

However, Oguchi’s defense has given up nine goals in the last three games he’s started. They take on Tim Ream‘s Bolton Saturday, who has little to play for, mired in the middle of the Championship table.

Huddersfield are not yet mathematically safe, but with three matches to go their seven-point cushion appears fine.  They get Yeovil Town on Monday, and Duane Holmes will look for playing time, as he was an unused sub in their loss to Derby last week.

The Eredivisie is off this weekend, and as such so are Aron Johannsson and Juan Agudelo.

Sacha Kljestan waits until Monday for Anderlecht to take the pitch, on the road at Racing Genk where a win could see them pull within three of second-place Club Brugge, if they were to fall to leaders Standard Liege.  After playing nearly all Anderlecht’s minutes through 2013, Kljestan’s had trouble finding the pitch in 2014, playing just 225 minutes in their last 12 matches.

Nantes are not mathematically guaranteed Ligue 1 safety, but with five matches left they would need an epic collapse to find themselves relegated, especially if Ale Bedoya continues his good form. He’s getting lots of minutes and scored his fourth goal of the season two matches ago. They take on relegation candidates Valenciennes on Sunday.

Down south, Puebla are desperately hoping to avoid Liga MX relegation as they take on Pachuca on Saturday with DaMarcus Beasley one of their few bright spots. They remain bottom of the Clausura table, but sit above Atlante by five points on the relegation average table.  Hercules Gomez, Edgar Castillo,and Joe Corona lead Tijuana on the road at Atlante on Sunday looking to do their Puebla buddies a favor.

Fabian Johnson travels with Hoffenheim to Werder Bremen Saturday hoping to secure their top-ten status in the Bundesliga. Johnson’s played the full 90 minutes in five straight matches, in which Hoffenheim have lost exactly none of.

John Anthony Brooks made a stupid and got a massive back tattoo, keeping him out of this weekend’s Hertha BSC fixture with Augsburg.  Things like that are becoming a problem, after German media told Brooks back in December he needs to “become an adult” aka grow up.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.