Americans Abroad Preview: Howard guns for Champions League, Jozy in six-pointer

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Tim Howard, fresh off announcing his retirement plans, is in the hunt for a return to the Champions League when Everton travels to Southampton with its sights on Arsenal’s 4th-placed slot.

Arsenal doesn’t play until Monday when they host Newcastle, but Howard can put the heat on the Gunners with a win at St. Mary’s Park. The Saints have little to play for, as do many in the mid-table, so this could be a chance for Everton to pounce, at 7:45am ET tomorrow on NBCSN or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

There isn’t much riding on the match, but Brad Guzan and Aston Villa are solidify their Premier League status with certainty as they travel to Liberty Stadium to take on Swansea in a similar position.

Both teams are five and six points from the drop zone respectively, and although relegation is a distant possibility at best, the two have yet to reach the magical 40 point mark.  They meet up at 10am ET live online at NBC Sports Live Extra. Guzan did yeoman’s work last week in a 0-0 draw against Southampton, but he’ll need his attack to help a little more to get Villa out of their rut.

Meanwhile, Jozy Altidore stated his intentions to get back in the Sunderland starting lineup with a key moment in their win over Chelsea. Now, the Black Cats look to build on that statement win and continue their march out out of the relegation zone.

Sunderland are in 20th, but their win over the Blues has them within three of safety, and they host 18th-placed Cardiff City at 7am ET on Sunday, live on NBCSN.

Stoke City are looking to stake their claim at their first-ever top-10 finish, and Geoff Cameron figures to be right in the thick of things as they host Tottenham Hotspur. The London club are essentially in the Europa League by table position, and don’t have much riding on the last few matches.

WATCH ALL PREMIER LEAGUE GAMES THIS WEEKEND LIVE ONLINE AT NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA

Lower in the English ranks, Jonathan Spector and Will Packwood are in a serious battle with relegation.  Just off the drop on goal difference, they’ll need a win over 16th-placed Leeds to ensure they remain above the line.

Danny Williams comes off a poor showing for Reading, and he’ll hope the manager sees past it for selection against Doncaster.

Bolton travels to Sheffield Wednesday as Tim Ream faces Oguchi Onyewu on Saturday. The two sides are adjacent in the middle of the Championship table but safely afloat.

Huddersfield Town gets a tough draw with promoted Leicester City. Duane Holmes has been on and off the bench, but will hope to get a run-out against the likely champions.

Leaving England, Sacha Kljestan has a massive match in front of him in the Jupiler Pro League.  With Anderlecht in third by a large margin, they have four matches to catch Club Brugge for second place and take on first-placed Standard Liege.

AZ Alkmaar was off last week in the Netherlands but are back on for the final two fixtures as Aron Johannsson looks to add to his 17-goal tally.  They take on ADO Den Haag on Sunday. Juan Augdelo was also off, but his FC Utrecht is on the pitch again at Heerenveen.

Terrence Boyd comes off his brace for Rapid Wien against SV Scholz Grodig to take on SV Salsburg.

In France, Ale Bedoya is on a roll with two goals in his last three matches.  His Nantes has already played, drawing 1-1 with Marseille to move back into the Top 10. Bedoya started and played the full 90 minutes.

John Anthony Brooks has played a decent amount the last few weeks, and Hertha gets Bundesliga opponents BTSV Saturday. Across the league, Fabian Johnson and Hoffenheim host Eintracht Frankfurt.

Puebla pulled out a big road win 2-1 over Pachucha last week in their bid against relegation, and now host Morelia as DaMarcus Beasley looks to play more minutes. Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo are currently on the pitch for Tijuana as they trail Leon 1-0 at halftime.  Herculez Gomez is not in the squad.

Mkhitaryan holds key in United’s deal for Sanchez

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This is getting very, very interesting. The late bid from Chelsea and Man City’s exit from the deal aside, there’s been another twist in this saga.

Manchester United’s move for Alexis Sanchez appeared to be getting closer to completion but the agent of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the suggested makeweight in the $48 million deal between United and Arsenal, has thrown a spanner in the works.

Mino Raiola has told The Times that United’s deal for Sanchez won’t go through unless his client agrees to join Arsenal.

“Manchester United is not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal.”Raiola said. “Sanchez is part of the Mkhi deal, not the other way around.”

Wow. Okay. He’s really doing this. Now, Mkhitaryan is a good player. You aren’t named the best player in the Bundesliga and signed by Man United if you’re not. But we all know the Armenian playmaker has struggled this season and for the opening half of the 2016-17 campaign after arriving from Borussia Dortmund.

His agent suggesting that Mkhitaryan is the main prize in this deal is obvious from his point of view as he protects the interest of his client, but the rest of the world knows Alexis is the man everyone wants in January.

It is said that Mkhitaryan (who was left out of United’s squad for the 3-0 win against Stoke on Monday due to the uncertainty around his future) would prefer a return to Dortmund but the Bundesliga giants aren’t said to be willing to pay his wages.

Arsenal were interested in Mkhitaryan in the summer of 2016 but he decided to join United instead, but it would appear that getting $48 million and Mkhitaryan for Sanchez, a player who has less than six months to run on his current contract, is a good deal for the Gunners.

Mkhitaryan holds the key to United’s Sanchez deal and it doesn’t seem like he’s in any rush to sort out his future. Could his delay hand Chelsea some time to try and sew up their own deal for Sanchez?

The transfer window shuts in just over two weeks. Tick-tock indeed.

Donovan joins Leon, ready to “win championships” in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Landon Donovan, the most accomplished player in American soccer history, is talking about winning championships with his new team in Mexico.

Donovan is returning from retirement for the second time in three years, this time with Club Leon. He was cheered loudly by hundreds of fans during a brief ceremony Monday, an unusual site not seen for Leon since Mexican great Rafael Marquez signed with Leon in 2014.

“I’m very excited, I did not expect that, it was amazing, now I just want to play and be on the field,” Donovan said in Spanish at a news conference. “It is Monday and very late and people are here. Now I need to talk to the coach to set a plan because it’s been over a year since my last professional game and I will need time, but I’m motivated, I want to win championships.”

The 35-year-old Donovan arrived in Mexico last week while rumors swirled about a possible comeback. He announced Friday night he was coming out of retirement to play in Mexico for the first time in his career.

“I don’t believe in walls, I always wanted to play in Mexico because I grew up in California playing with Mexicans since I was like 8 or 9 years old,” said Donovan, who’s the career scoring leader for the U.S. team and in the MLS.

Former U.S. players Marcelo Balboa and Eric Wynalda have played for Leon. Currently, William Yarbrough is the starting goalkeeper for a Leon team that has won seven league titles.

“I spoke with Marcelo Balboa about the city and also with Omar Gonzales (who plays for Pachuca) to know more about the country,” Donovan said. “I also spoke a lot with (former Puebla player) DaMarcus Beasley because I wanted to know as much as possible. I know that the league is different to the U.S. and to England, I think the style of play suits me, I used to play with Mexicans so my style is more Latino and I think I can be successful. That’s important for me”.

Leon reached the quarterfinals last season and will be a stronger side for the Clausura tournament after signing Giles Barnes (Orlando City), Emanuel Cecchini (Malaga) and now Donovan.

Despite not playing for nearly two years, Donovan has created a lot of expectation. The main sports networks in Mexico devoted plenty of air time to the move, and Donovan’s jersey sold out at the stadium before a game against Toluca on Saturday.

“I think it’s a good move, he’s a very skilled player, just remember how he used to made life difficult for us when he played for the U.S. team against Mexico,” said Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti, who briefly managed the Mexican team before the arrival of Juan Carlos Osorio.

Donovan returned to the LA Galaxy of MLS in September of 2016 following a 21-month retirement and appeared in nine games. He hasn’t played professionally since Nov. 6, 2016.

Donovan played in three World Cups: South Korea and Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. He also played in six Gold Cups and won four titles. He scored 57 goals playing for the U.S. team and 145 in the MLS.

Donovan has done broadcast work since retiring and was rumored to be considering a run for U.S. Soccer Federation president. Donovan announced in November that he would not seek the position.

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.

Report: Rimando to return to RSL

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USMNT veteran and current MLS free agent Nick Rimando will reportedly return to Real Salt Lake for a 12th season with the club, according to a report by Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep.

The report states he received interest on the free agent market from both Los Angeles clubs, but the 38-year-old will return to the club he has made 350 appearances for.

Rimando came to Real Salt Lake from D.C. United in 2006, and has made at least 24 league appearances in every single season since. He has also made 22 playoff appearances for the club across eight playoff campaigns.

He last received a USMNT cap in January of 2017 in a friendly against Serbia, but was part of the 2018 World Cup qualification squad throughout 2017 backing up Tim Howard. Overall, Rimando has played 22 times for the US national team, with 14 goals conceded and nine clean sheets.

The report also states that Kyle Beckerman will return to Rio Tinto Stadium, with the veteran also testing the free agent waters but deciding to re-sign. The pair will be two of just four players left on the roster from the 2009 MLS Cup winning team.