The USMNT and the Changing of the Guard

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The face of the USMNT is changing. With a focus on younger players and development, and with one eye focused beyond the 2014 World Cup, Jürgen Klinsmann has already significantly altered the squad that so ignited crowds in South Africa four years ago.

Veterans Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit and Steve Cherundolo are already gone, ushering in a new era at the back. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are two of the new generation that will hope to find themselves on a plane to Brazil, with other young players hoping to slot in up top and in midfield.

MORE: The latest World Cup news, analysis

Of course, the defense won’t be what sticks in people’s minds when they remember the 2010 World Cup. Those clustered around television sets and straggling into bars for early morning viewings back then will mostly remember these faces of the USMNT: Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey. Most of all they will remember Landon Donovan, whose game winning goal against Algeria in the 91st minute ensured the U.S. would finish top of its group.

But, come 2018, the core that has shaped the recent face of U.S. soccer – and helped attract a generation of fans committed to the sport’s development – will no longer be present in the World Cup squad. Their legacy, however, will remain firmly in place.

Tim Howard (goalkeeper)

Howard got his start way back in 1998 with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, before moving to England in 2003 to join Manchester United. United loaned him out to Everton in 2006, and he’s been a Toffee ever since. Howard’s USMNT career began twelve years ago, although playing backup to Kasey Keller kept his number of caps low. Howard won the starting ‘keeper position back in 2007, a role he kept through to South Africa, where he put in a few impressive performances, including setting up the winning goal against Algeria.

It seemed as though Howard might face competition for the starting role from Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, but his form has dropped of late, and Howard is almost certain to start in Brazil.source: Getty Images

At 35, Howard’s career is coming to a close. Some might argue that goalkeepers only get better with age, and that at age 37, Keller started all three matches of the 2006 World Cup. But it’s mighty hard to believe that Howard will be starting come 2018, so it’s best for fans to enjoy him while they can.

Clint Dempsey (attacker)

Is he a “forward”? Is he an “attacking midfielder”? Does it matter? Dempsey comes into the 2014 World Cup in fantastic form, having scored eight goals in nine games for the Seattle Sounders. The USMNT captain has been impressing in training camp, prompting his teammates to speak of his play as being “on a different level.”

Dempsey, now 31, may feel he has something to prove after failing to impress in his first season with the Sounders. But for most fans of the USMNT, the upcoming World Cup is almost certain to just be icing on the cake of an extremely successful career. Dempsey’s professional days began at the New England Revolution, where his impressive performances prompted Fulham to come calling. After five and a half years with the Cottagers, Dempsey, hopeful of reaching the Champions League, moved on to Tottenham, where he spent a year before heading to Seattle.

Dempsey earned his first senior cap for the USMNT in 2004, and by 2006 he was part of the World Cup squad. In fact, Dempsey scored the only goal for the United States in that campaign, putting one past Ghana. His fantastic performances in the 2009 Confederations Cup meant that he was a lock for South Africa. There he became a hero when he equalized against England, making their goalkeeper Robert Green a laughingstock in the process.

Now, Dempsey’s hoping to build on his performances to lead his team on a deeper campaign in Brazil. He’s already scored 36 goals for the USMNT, making him the second-highest goalscorer, but should his astonishing form in MLS continue in Brazil, Dempsey may be singing one amazing swan song in his final World Cup.

Landon Donovan (forward)

Donovan was only 20 years old when he went to his first World Cup in 2002, but it feels as though that tournament launched him into stardom, making him the face of U.S. soccer. It certainly helped that the young forward scored the clincher against Mexico, giving the USMNT another “dos a zero” and ensuring they’d get through to the quarterfinals.source: AP

He was named the tournament’s top young player, going on to start for the USMNT in 2006, while in between, followers of the national team will remember him for impressive performances in the 2007 Gold Cup and the 2009 Confederations Cup. It was in 2010, however, that he really made casual fans sit up and take notice. Down 2-0 to Slovenia, Donovan scored the first for the US shortly after the break, paving the way for Bradley’s equalizer and setting up a crucial final group game against Algeria.

And, of course, that game is what endears Donovan to most USMNT fans. A win would put the U.S. top of the group, beating out England, but a loss could put them out of the tournament. The U.S. dominated much of the match, and Dempsey had a first-half goal harshly ruled as offside. Then, in stoppages, Dempsey raced through to fire point-blank at the Algeria keeper. Donovan pounced on the rebound, tucking it into the back of the net…and giving new meaning to the phrase, “The Crowd Goes Wild!

It’s hard to believe that Donovan won’t be around for the 2018 World Cup, but it’s even more difficult to fathom (especially for a casual fan) that he might not make it on the plane to Brazil. There’ve been questions about his commitment, particularly after he sat out 2013. There are rumors of a rift with Klinsmann. He’s carrying a lingering knock.

But for most fans, Donovan simply has to be part of the 2014 World Cup squad – if only to say goodbye to the man that’s done so much to bring attention to the sport in the country. If he goes to Brazil, Donovan’s presence won’t be a mere symbol, but it will certainly serve to highlight the changing of the guard, to showcase the way U.S. soccer continues to grow and develop.

MLS roundup: FCD win battle of unbeatens; POR rebound vs. VAN

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With seven MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 27 more to go…

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FC Dallas 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

The only two remaining unbeaten teams faced off in Frisco on Saturday, and only one came out still unblemished. FCD dominated in the two most important facets of the game — chances created, and goals.

Maynor Figueroa scored the game’s only goal, a 77th-minute header to put home Michael Barrios’ floated cross toward the back post. If not for the (increasingly typical) heroics of Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia (five saves), FCD would have already been 3-0 or 4-0 in front by that point. Sporting’s only shot on target didn’t arrive until the 47th minute, and it was far from a clear-cut chance, as Jimmy Medranda fired from the corner of the 18-yard box and hardly tested Jesse Gonzalez with the effort.

The win sees FCD move to six games unbeaten to start the season (three wins, three draws), while Sporting suffer their first defeat in seven games.


Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks bagged goals for Portland, who wasted little time in bouncing back from last weekend’s home defeat to Sporting. Nagbe’s goal, a stunner from outside the penalty area (WATCH HERE) opened the scoring in the 18th minute, and Mattocks made it 2-0 five minutes before halftime.

Fredy Montero scored his third goal in two games to bring Vancouver back to 2-1 just before the hour mark, but that’s as close as the visitors would get.

Diego Valeri was carried off the field in the 80th minute, which is the worst scare that Timbers fans could have possibly imagined, though the Argentine superstar told reporters after the game that he was feeling much better.


Real Salt Lake 1-3 Atlanta United

The honeymoon period is over for Mike Petke who, after back-to-back wins to open his tenure as RSL head coach, suffered his first defeat since taking over for Jeff Cassar five games into the season.

A series of comedic errors doomed RSL just about from the start, as Hector Villalba (9th minute) and Yamil Asad (46th), two of Atlanta’s South American starlets, put the visitors 2-0 ahead a minute into the first half — the latter was set up by Miguel Almiron, another of the young, South American attackers at Gerardo Martino’s disposal. Albert Rusnak pulled RSL back to 2-1 in the 69th minute, but it would remain that way until second-half stoppage time, when Brandon Vazquez beat Nick Rimando for a 3-1 clincher.


New York Red Bulls 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

Columbus’s defeat away to New York went from bad, to worse, to worst, in 39 minutes’ time on Saturday. Midfield revelation Artur went off with a nasty arm injury in the 6th minute, Alex Muyl put the home side 1-0 up in the 11th minute Daniel Royer made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 38th minute, and defensive revelation (and rookie) Alex Crognale went off injured immediately thereafter.


Houston Dynamo 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes

Wilmer Cabrera’s side will live and die by the form of his young attacking quartet this season. On Saturday, Erick Torres and Alberth Elis delivered the goals (read: goals) as Houston picked up a rather comfortable him win over San Jose.

Torres opened the scoring in the 9th minute, and though Elis didn’t double the advantage for another 63 minutes, the result was rarely, if ever, in doubt. San Jose managed just two shots on target (Houston had just three, for what it’s worth), as Adolfo Machado, Tyler Deric and Co. kept their first clean sheet of the season.


New England Revolution 2-2 D.C. United

In a battle of bottom-half Eastern Conference sides, New England and D.C. drew 2-2 after Lee Nguyen and a Sean Franklin own goal stalemated tallies from Jared Jeffrey and Sebastien Le Toux.

Ligue 1: Cavani, Di Maria score as PSG win to leapfrog Monaco

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PARIS (AP) Striker Edinson Cavani scored his 44th goal of the season and created the second goal as Paris Saint-Germain beat Montpellier 2-0 to go top of the French league on Saturday.

Cavani thumped home a cross from midfielder Blaise Matuidi in the first half, with winger Angel Di Maria involved in the buildup. It took Cavani’s career-best tally to 31 league goals and he thought he had another later in the half, but his powerful header was ruled out for offside.

Three minutes after the break, Cavani back-heeled to Di Maria, who curled in from just outside the penalty area for his fifth goal in five games.

Defending champion PSG is three points ahead of Monaco, which has led for most of the season.

Monaco has played two games less and can return to the top on goal difference by winning at Lyon on Sunday.

Both sides are doing well in Europe.

Monaco reached the Champions League semifinals and Lyon got through to the last four of the Europa League this week.

PSG has won eight straight games in all competitions to keep the pressure on Monaco. They meet each other on Wednesday in the French Cup semifinals. PSG then faces a tough away trip at third-place Nice next weekend as the hard-fought title race heats up.

“Monaco’s had a great season and you have to congratulate them,” PSG left back Maxwell said. “But we’re still in it.”

Bordeaux beat last-place Bastia 2-0 at home to move up to fourth spot, with striker Malcom getting the first goal.

But Lyon needs only a draw at home to Monaco to regain fourth spot.

After struggling for most of the season, Lorient is suddenly playing like a team near the top.

The Brittany-based side moved out of the relegation zone and up to 16th place after thrashing Metz 5-1 at home for a fourth win in five games. Midfielder Jimmy Cabot scored two and striker Benjamin Moukandjo grabbed his 13th goal of the season.

Elsewhere, striker Yacine Bammou scored both as Nantes beat struggling Caen 2-0.

Two goals from center forward Lois Diony helped Dijon beat Angers 3-2 at home; while Nicolas De Preville scored a brace as Lille beat Guingamp 3-0.

In Sunday’s other matches, Nice is away to Toulouse and Saint-Etienne hosts Rennes.

La Liga: Griezmann scores no. 25 in Atleti’s win to stay 3rd

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann kept Atletico Madrid focused on a strong finish to the Spanish league on Saturday despite its looming Champions League semifinal with Real Madrid.

Griezmann struck late in the second half at Espanyol to earn a 1-0 victory that kept Atletico in third place, three points ahead of Sevilla, and on course for a return to Europe’s top competition next season.

Atletico moved within four points of second-place Barcelona, which visits leader Real on Sunday trailing the pace-setter by three points. Real also has a game in hand as it tries to win the domestic title for the first time since 2012.

On Friday, Atletico and Real were drawn to face each other for a third time in four seasons in the Champions League. Real won the other two meetings in the finals of 2014 and 2016.

While Atletico has two league matches against Villarreal and at Las Palmas over the next week, its hopes for silverware rest squarely on their European clash with Madrid beginning on May 2 at the Santiago Bernabeu.

“2017 is shaping up better than 2016,” Atletico manager Diego Simeone said. “We are defending well and finding the moments to win games. I am sure we could perhaps play better, but the team is winning. There is still a ways to go before the semifinals.”

At Espanyol, Simeone made only one change in his starting 11 from the team that drew at Leicester on Tuesday to advance in the Champions League on a 2-1 aggregate score.

His side, however, showed little signs of weariness against an Espanyol that won four straight at home.

Griezmann decided the contest in Barcelona dominated by both defenses in the 73rd minute when he used one touch of his left boot to volley home a rebound of a strike by Saul Niguez that came off a defender.

The goal was his team-leading 16th in the league and 25th overall.

“We knew we would have a difficult time against a team that is so good at home,” Griezmann said. “But we tried until the end and then held on.”

Cedric Bakambu scored twice, including the stoppage-time winner apparently with his hand, to ensure Villarreal strengthened its hold on fifth place and a Europa League berth.

Villarreal created several scoring opporunities but needed Bakambu to slot home the opener in the 68th.

Leganes was close to grabbing a late draw when Miguel Guerrero struck in the 90th, but Bakambu appeared to use his hand to redirect Jonathan Dos Santos’ cross into the net two minutes later.

The result left Leganes winless in seven matches and clinging to the final spot above the relegation zone.

“He scored with his hand,” Leganes goalkeeper Iago Herrerin said. “We are fighting for our lives. It was impossible not to see it.”

Villarreal coach Fran Escriba acknowledged Bakambu “touched the ball with his hand” after watching replays, but “I didn’t see it live.”

Sandro Ramirez continued his good scoring form, ensuring a third win in four rounds to dispel any relegation fears for Malaga. The former Barcelona forward has scored in all three of those victories.

Ramirez blasted in his own rebound from a free kick just minutes after Jose “Recio” Garcia headed the hosts in front in the 36th.

Before he scored, Ramirez’s powerful free kick struck Valencia’s Ezequiel Garay in the head, leaving him visibly groggy as he remained on the turf. The defender underwent tests at a hospital that indicated mild head trauma. He was released from the hospital soon after the tests.

Last-place Osasuna couldn’t have done much more to crush its fans’ spirits than go up by two goals only to concede twice in the final 11 minutes.

The draw left Sporting also in the drop zone at four points from Leganes and safety with five rounds left.

Serie A: Fiorentina, Inter Milan thrill in 9-goal instant classic

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan lost at Fiorentina 5-4 in one of the most incredible Serie A matches of the season on Saturday and left its European hopes hanging by a thread.

Inter led 2-1 at halftime, Fiorentina led 5-2 after 79 minutes, Inter scored its fourth in stoppage time and watched its equalizer attempt cleared off the goal-line.

Just over a month ago, Inter was hoping to sneak into the Champions League after a 7-1 victory over Atalanta but two points from five matches has seen it slip to seventh, two points behind AC Milan, which occupies the last qualifying position for the Europa League.

Milan hosts Empoli on Sunday.

“We have to understand why what happened happened,” Inter coach Stefano Pioli said. “What we saw in the second half can’t be my team … we played for only 45 minutes. Then there was an inexplicable blackout.

“Since the Atalanta match we haven’t had the right mental attitude. We are Inter and we can’t play like this. We’ve reached the bottom. … We can’t throw away matches like we did in the second half today. Unfortunately this month we’ve thrown away everything we built.”

Fiorentina, which also missed a penalty, moved to within one point of Inter, which hosts third-placed Napoli next weekend.

Matias Vecino broke the deadlock for Fiorentina early but Inter appeared to swiftly turn the match around with two goals in five minutes.

First, Ivan Perisic slotted home Antonio Candreva’s low cross, then Mauro Icardi fired Joao Mario’s through ball across into the bottom left corner.

Fiorentina should have equalized after halftime when it was awarded a soft penalty after Danilo D’Ambrosio was adjudged to have pulled back Khouma Babacar, but Federico Bernardeschi’s weak spot kick saved by Samir Handanovic.

Davide Astori headed in the equalizer shortly after the hour mark, and Vecino again gave Fiorentina the lead two minutes later with his second of the match.

Babacar appeared to seal matters for Fiorentina with two strikes into the bottom right corner in the 70th and 79th minutes to make it 5-2.

But Inter wasn’t finished.

Icardi controlled Perisic’s pass in the area and fired in off the post two minutes from time, and headed in a corner in stoppage time to complete a hat trick.

Inter threw everyone forward and almost leveled from another corner which came out to Marcelo Brozovic, whose effort was cleared off the line by Astori.