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Distorted reality: Donovan’s comments understate problems with his candidacy

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Eddie Johnson played his way out of Brazil. Brad Evans’ injuries and play certainly didn’t help his standing in the U.S.’s battle at right back. Their candidacies for Brazil 2014 may have been doomed by other factors, but after playing regular roles in World Cup qualifying, neither U.S. international did themselves any favors through the first two months of the Major League Soccer season.

Landon Donovan is in that group, too, but unlike Evans and Johnson, the U.S. icon didn’t have a litany of qualifying contributions to fall back on. Last month’s camp in Arizona as well as his play throughout the MLS season were even more important. While Donovan hasn’t been terrible for the Galaxy this season, he has played well below his standards, creating a World Cup candidacy that was more about legacy and potential than the form he carried into Palo Alto, Calif.

Tellingly, Donovan doesn’t see it that way. Speaking to the media for the first time since Thursday’s surprise announcement, the 32-year-old pointed to his “performances’ before the U.S.’s May camp as part of the reason he deserved a place in Brazil:

“Based on my performances leading up to camp, based on my preparation for the camp, based on my fitness, based on my workload, based on the way I trained and played in camp, I not only thought I was a part of the 23, I thought I was in contention to be starting. That’s why this has all been pretty disappointing.”

Donovan has every right to be disappointed. There’s a strong case to be made that, even amid a slow start to the season, he is one of the 23 best U.S. soccer players available. To act like his current play reflects that, however, trivializes the complexities of his candidacy.

If one of Donovan’s arguments to be included is “performances leading into camp,” what is he looking at? A season with the Galaxy that’s seen Stefan Ishizaki and Baggio Husidic play as well as one of the team’s Designated Players? Based on that alone, Klinsmann is more than justified in doubting whether Donovan would have an impact in Brazil.

If Donovan’s “preparation for the camp” was so strong, why didn’t we see that on the field in the weeks leading up to his arrival in Palo Alto? Perhaps that was just the fluke of a small sample, but the returns from the sample were no different from what we’ve seen from Donovan throughout the season. While he hasn’t been as bad as his more ardent detractors claim, Donovan never made the case for his indispensability in Brazil.

While talking to the press on Saturday, Donovan noted he’s traditionally very level-headed when evaluating his own performance, but his descriptions of his recent performances don’t reflect reality. Going into Palo Alto, he’d done nothing to move off the bubble that’d formed post-Mexico. If Donovan had a case for Brazil, it wasn’t on the strength of his MLS performances.

source: AP
Through seven games this MLS season, Landon Donovan has no goals and two assists. His next goal will leave him alone on top of MLS’s all-time scoring list. (Photo: AP)

That he can’t recognize his own struggles hints at a huge dissonance – a difference between his perception of his candidacy and what we’ve seen over the last two months. Did the same view that saw his pre-camp performances as World Cup-caliber also overvalue his fitness? Donovan needed to show up to Northern California in better shape than he did in Arizona. How much really changed in the month between the April friendly and the May camp?

Potentially a lot, but Donovan may be suffering from the same biases that undermine every person’s ability to assess their own strengths. He’s created a standard that’s put a premium on something he’s capable of attaining: competitiveness in the May camp.

From Klinsmann’s point of view, that standard may have never existed. Talking about how well he performed in Palo Alto, Donovan implies outplaying teammates in one week’s worth of workouts should overshadow the information Klinsmann collected over the last three years. Clearly, it did not.

It’s reasonable for Klinsmann to side with all that information instead of one week’s worth. It’s also reasonable for Donovan to expect being named to the 30-man roster meant he time to improve his case. That, unfortunately, is the saddest part of this saga. There is no right or wrong, here. There’s only what could have been.

Klinsmann and Donovan are both intelligent men, particularly as it concerns soccer. Unfortunately, they could never get on the same page. After three years with Klinsmann as his coach, Donovan still didn’t know what it took to make the World Cup.

Report: Stoke City bids massive $23 million for Christian Pulisic

ALTACH, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 05: Christian Pulisic of Dortmund (c) challenges Patrick Van Aanmolt of Sunderland (l) and Lee Cattermole of Sunderland (r) during the friendly match between AFC Sunderland v Borussia Dortmund at Cashpoint Arena on August 5, 2016 in Altach, Austria.  (Photo by Deniz Calagan/Getty Images)
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Christian Pulisic’s meteoric rise to the Borussia Dortmund first team has attracted interest. Big money interest.

The first real transfer noise of the 17-year-old’s career is a bang, with German publication Bild reporting that Stoke City has bid a whopping $22.5 million for the American.

There isn’t much more information at this point, but clearly the influx of cash to the Premier League has even the mid-table sides spending huge amounts of money for young talent. Stoke apparently isn’t the only team interested in Pulisic, with Red Bull Leipzig and CSKA Moscow also interested according to Bild. Leipzig would likely have more interest in the young attacker on loan, seeing as they have just been promoted to the Bundesliga and likely wouldn’t be able to compete with the likes of a Premier League team.

It’s hard to imagine Pulisic could be lured away from Dortmund at this early stage in his career with things going so well, but if the club wishes to cash in on him with value high, he might have little choice. A loan to another Bundesliga side like Leipzig would likely see him get more playing time at the same level while still being able to return to a big club, but other than a small loan fee, it’s unlikely the club would make any money in that sort of a deal.

Expect this one to go down to the wire, as both team and player weigh their options. Either way, this is a good sign for the USMNT’er with so much interest in his services and more possibly to enter the fray.

League Cup roundup: Middlesbrough and Burnley fall to lower league foes

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24: Adam Forshaw of Middlesbrough is challenged by Tim Ream of Fulham during the EFL Cup second round match between Fulham and Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage on August 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Sunderland and Bournemouth advanced to the League Cup third round, while Middlesbrough and Burnley dropped out after both finding themselves bested in extra-time.

A strong Boro lineup still saw its goal pummeled all evening by Fulham’s young squad, and Lasse Vigen Christensen won it in extra time with an assist from American youngster Luca de la Torre to complete the 2-1 scoreline. Middlesbrough went ahead early on an 8th minute header by David Nugent, but they were on the back foot the rest of the match. Scott Malone forced a Boro own-goal for the equalizer shortly after halftime, and Christensen won it seven minutes before penalties.

The win for Fulham means they are unbeaten through five matches this season across Championship and League Cup play. The Whites then drew a home meeting with Bristol City for the third round of the Cup.

Burnley also went to extra-time after a scoreless full 90 minutes, and they were stunned by a goal from Accrington Stanley’s Matt Pearson in the 122nd minute, just ticks before penalties to down the Clarets 1-0. It was a dull match up to that point, and the League Two side earned its first-ever victory over a Premier League side in cup play with the late winner. The winners will have another shot at a Premier League side in the next round, drawing West Ham.

Bournemouth nudged past League Two side Morecambe 2-1 thanks to goals from Max Gradel and Marc Wilson, although Morecambe had leveled things for a bit between the two Cherries’ goals. Bournemouth saw themselves drawn against Preston North End in the upcoming round.

Sunderland also saw themselves through thanks to Adnan Januzaj‘s first goal for the Black Cats, an 83rd minute strike to down League One side Shrewsbury Town 1-0 at the Stadium of Light. The match was a relatively even affair until Januzaj’s late goal, but Sunderland likely deserved to win on number of chances, with Patrick van Anholt having the best prior opportunity just before halftime with a rocket saved by Jason Leutwiler. The Black Cats will travel to QPR following the third round draw.

Champions League playoff roundup: Man City eases through, Ajax bounced

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 24:  Joe Hart of Manchester City looks on prior to the UEFA Champions League Play-off Second Leg match between Manchester City and Steaua Bucharest at Etihad Stadium on August 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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The result was never in doubt for Manchester City after a 6-0 demolition of Steaua Bucharest in the first leg, but the Premier League side made it official as they eased into the group stage with a 0-0 second leg result at the Etihad.

Joe Hart started and played what could be his final match in a City shirt, with Pep Guardiola handing him potentially one last showing in front of the home fans. The fan favorite received a thunderous welcome from the home fans who understood the situation.

Guardiola rested Sergio Aguero, Raheem Sterling, and David Silva but still put forth a strong side, and Fabian Delph‘s 58th minute goal sent Man City home with an easy victory and clean sheet. There was a scary moment when Kelechi Iheanacho appeared to pull up lame with a hamstring injury, and then suddenly passed out on the field, but he came to just before a Bucharest player was about to attempt to resuscitate him. The young striker was brought off in favor of Fernandinho in the 75th minute.

Also through easily is Borussia Monchengladbach, with a 6-1 home win over Young Boys to complete a 9-2 aggregate victory. Thorgan Hazard opened the scoring just nine minutes in with a solid bit of skill, and Raffael continued his solid run of form with a hat-trick to easy the Germans through. Hazard would eventually cap off a hat-trick in the 84th minute as well.

In the surprise of the round, Dutch giants Ajax saw themselves bow out of the Champions League following a 4-1 aggregate defeat to last year’s Russian Premier League runners up FC Rostov. The spot in the group stage was there for the taking after a 1-1 first leg in the Netherlands, but Ajax was hammered on Wednesday 4-1 in Russia. Rostov managed four goals with four different goalscorers, including Ecudorian international Christian Noboa. The visitors, meanwhile, didn’t even manage a shot on target until the 73rd minute.

FC Koln needed a late equalizer to send them through over APOEL Nicosia, as Paraguayan international Federico Santander scored in the 86th minute to level the match at 1-1 and give the visitors a 2-1 aggregate win. Finally, Dinamo Zagreb completed a stunning comeback, scoring twice after the 87th minute to beat Red Bull Salzburg 2-1 on the day in Austria and 3-2 on aggregate. Junior Fernandes scored in the 87th to level things at 1-1 and requiring extra time. Then Algerian international El Arabi Hilal Soudani bagged the winner in the 97th minute, sending the Croatians through to the group stage.

Coleman explains why he stayed as Wales coach, rejected Hull

ZENICA, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - OCTOBER 10: Head coach Chris Coleman of Wales celebrates after the Euro 2016 qualifying football match between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Wales at the Stadium Bilino Polje in Elbasan on October 10, 2015. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)
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CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Chris Coleman says he chose to remain as Wales manager despite interest from Premier League side Hull because he’s in a job that is “close to his heart.”

The Football Association of Wales rejected an approach for Coleman from Hull this month, with the Welshman deciding to stay on rather than resigning.

Coleman, who guided Wales to the European Championship semifinals against the odds, said on Wednesday that “if someone comes and it’s the Premier League, anybody, you kind of look at it sideways. Of course.”

But, Coleman added, managing your country “comes around once, if you’re lucky.”

Coleman has made no secret of his desire to manage in club football in the future, but says “what I’ve got here is something very special and close to my heart.”