Did Landon Donovan’s World Cup omission force him into early retirement?

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Was Landon Donovan always planning to retire at the end of the 2014 Major League Soccer season, or was his hand forced?

The real reasons behind his decision will likely come out in the coming days and weeks, but it has certainly been one heck of a summer for the all-time leading scorer in MLS and the U.S. national team.

[RELATED: Donovan to retire]

At the end of May, Donovan was shockingly left off the USA’s final 23-man World Cup roster for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as his chance to play in a fourth-straight World Cup for the Stars and Stripes was taken away from him.

Donovan’s fall from grace with the national team could have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

After taking a self imposed sabbatical during the 2013 offseason, then coming back stronger than ever to lead the U.S. to Gold Cup success in 2013 and prove himself to Klinsmann once again, the damage done to Donovan’s pride at being left off the World Cup roster this summer seems to have been lasting.

[RELATED: LD hails U.S. fans as “lifeblood”]

Just days after his omission was confirmed, Donovan, in true fashion, showed the USA what they would be missing as he scored twice vs. Philadelphia to become Major League Soccer’s all-time leading scorer. Time and time again Donovan proved the doubters wrong and now he has achieved pretty much everything you can as a professional soccer player.

source: Getty Images
One of Donovan;s finest moments came at the 2010 World Cup. His last-gasp goal sent the USMNT through to the last 16.

He has scored at two different World Cups for the USA. He has played in, scored more goals, and played in more MLS All-Star Game games than any other player. He has played in the Bundesliga and the Premier League for historic clubs. He is the all-time leading scorer for the USA with 57 goals in 156 games. He is the all-time leading scorer in MLS with 138 goals in 320 appearances.

Donovan has been the face of the league and soccer in North America for well over a decade and has stuck to his task or constantly promoting the game, rallying behind the U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS to do whatever he can to help raise soccer’s profile. Then, as Klinsmann deemed his play to not be good enough for the USA’s efforts in Brazil this summer, Donovan was cast aside and humiliated.

Donovan’s swansong for the USA was taken away from him.

Justified or not. That must have accelerated his decision to retire at the age of 32. With the 2015 Gold Cup, 2016 Copa America and perhaps even the 2018 World Cup coming up for the USA and Donovan, had Klinsmann selected the LA forward this summer, maybe Donovan’s career would have lasted for another three or four years. Players like David Beckham, Thierry Henry and many others have continued into their late 30’s before calling it quits.

Instead for Donovan, it’s almost over. His U.S. omission has a lot to do with it.

Yes, Donovan thrived and enjoyed being the face of MLS. However, his time leading the U.S. national team was seemingly over, and that may have been enough to make him reconsider his future as a pro. With no more U.S. duty for Donovan, playing solely in MLS week-in, week-out, for the next few years may not have been enough.

He has tasted success as the face of the USA’s soccer hopes. Now, a man who has spent most of his time in the spotlight was reduced to league play. Nothing less, nothing more. That’s okay for some players but not Donovan.

On the face of it, perhaps this was the right time for Donovan to step down. On Wednesday he jumped off the bench in Portland, arguably the center of soccer’s uprising in North America, in front of a packed house and scored the game-winning goal against German giants Bayern Munich (a team he once played for, but got a rough deal with) in the All-Star Game. He then left the pitch to a standing ovation. Since he made his debut for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001, the league has grown exponentially and the state of soccer in North America has never been healthier. Donovan is a big part of that. Ask any casual soccer fan, or just any sports fans, to name the first U.S. soccer player that comes in to their head. Now, and for the foreseeable future, I bet they say: Landon Donovan.

Now, we know when Donovan’s fairytale career will come to a close. Whether he gets one last chance to suit up for the U.S. or finishes everything off in style by winning MLS Cup 2014 with the LA Galaxy remains to be seen.

The way Donovan’s storybook career has played out over the years, you’d be a fool to bet against it. The king of soccer in the USA has almost left the building. The first truly great American soccer player will be sorely missed.

Was this the right time for Donovan to hang up his boots?

“Amazing Game” – Pep’s Man City reinforces UCL, PL bid with Napoli win

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If it hasn’t already, Manchester City is one win away from making a Premier League-UEFA Champions League double a very real goal.

The hosts had to scrap to hold onto all three points against visiting and Serie A leading Napoli on Tuesday, giving away two penalty kicks after building a 2-0 lead at the Etihad Stadium.

[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Napoli ]

But Ederson stopped Dries Mertens effort, and opened the door to further dreaming for supporters of Pep Guardiola‘s dreamy deep squad.

It wasn’t 7-2, or even 4-0, but Guardiola was gushing after a mutually adventurous football match between two electric squads.

“It was an amazing game. Outstanding. Both wanted to play against high pressing. Napoli are one of the best teams I have faced in my career. If you are not aggressive without the ball you have no chance to survive.”

There’s still a very tricky match week in the fourth round at Napoli, and we wonder whether Guardiola will prioritize the Premier League visit from Arsenal later that week. And, even better, it may not be a necessity to prefer either: The Gunners will have one less day’s rest thanks to Europa League play, aren’t exactly inspiring this season, and playing stars twice in four days isn’t the end of the world with an international break following the Arsenal tilt.

City’s status on the precipice of the UCL knockout rounds means it can focus on the Premier League, as well as a kind draw that should put them within three rounds of a League Cup title. While Burnley has been quite good this season, no one’s debating that City could pile up points for their table lead as 2017 nears its conclusion with an away Manchester Derby on Dec. 9:

Sunday – vs. Burnley (PL)
Oct. 24 – vs. Wolves (League Cup)
Oct. 28 – at West Brom (PL)
Nov. 1 – at Napoli (UCL)
Nov. 5 – vs. Arsenal (PL)
Nov. 18 – at Leicester City (PL)
Nov. 21 – vs. Feyenoord (UCL)
Nov. 26 – at Huddersfield Town (PL)
Nov. 29 – vs. Southampton (PL)
Dec. 2 – vs. West Ham (PL)
Dec. 6 – at Shakhtar Donetsk (UCL)
Dec. 9 – at Manchester United (PL)

Consider that United will be finishing an 8-day stretch which includes Dec. 2 at Arsenal, Dec. 5 vs. CSKA Moscow, and the derby. That makes Wednesday’s United trip to Benfica an even bigger affair. If both sides have already sewn up the knockout rounds, the derby will be especially better.

That’s neither to say City’s two-point lead atop the table and win at Chelsea weren’t impressive enough, nor that it couldn’t have overcome a slower start to both the PL and UCL campaigns. And City did start last season red-hot, too.

But it’s already foolhardy to bet against Pep’s men given the path ahead. Given Real Madrid’s relative struggles, and Barcelona’s uncertain status, it feels like City has as good a claim to UCL favorite status as anyone outside of Paris Saint-Germain.

Agree? Disagree? Comment below.

Spurs’ Kane: Draw at Real “shows how far we’ve come”

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After pressuring Raphael Varane into an own goal, Spurs striker Harry Kane saw Keylor Navas make an outstanding late stop to ensure a 1-1 draw between Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

“I thought I did everything right, I opened my body, I put the ball where I wanted to and he made a very good save,” Kane said.

[ RECAP: Real 1-1 Spurs ]

While the red-hot Kane sure would’ve liked to find the match-winner, he knows what Spurs just achieved in Spain against the back-to-back UEFA Champions League winners.

And that, he says, is pleasing. From the BBC:

“We are happy. Of course they are going to have chances but we played well and made it tough for them. A point at Bernabeu, you would take that every day of the week. It shows how far we have come as a team.”

Kane is right, this Spurs side looks far more self-assured than its predecessor. It shows the process of learning to compete in the UCL.

The return date at Wembley Stadium is Nov. 1, where a point would all but seal Spurs’ spot in the knockout rounds thanks to Borussia Dortmund’s stunning 1-1 draw at APOEL Nicosia.

Real Madrid 1-1 Spurs: Lovely Lloris!

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An error from each time in its own box and outstanding goalkeeping gave Tottenham Hotspur and Real Madrid a 1-1 draw in UEFA Champions League play on Tuesday at the Bernabeu. (video)

Raphael Varane recorded a 28th minute own goal, but Serge Aurier gave away a penalty as Cristiano Ronaldo equalized for Real Madrid at home in the 43rd minute.

Hugo Lloris and Keylor Navas were the stars of the show, with Lloris making the lion’s share of saves.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Both teams are well-positioned to advance, with seven points. Spurs have the tiebreaker advantage, but both Tottenham and Real are six points clear of Borussia Dortmund and APOEL Nicosia after a surprising draw in Cyprus.

Early nerves were apparent for Mauricio Pochettino‘s men, but Tottenham grew into the game and took an early lead.

Concerned with the presence of Harry Kane, Real defender Raphael Varane saw a cross move off his pegs and behind Keylor Navas to put Spurs ahead.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

The lead was short-lived, however, as Spurs back Serge Aurier cut short Toni Kroos’ rare foray into the 18, and Ronaldo buried the ensuing penalty kick.

Lloris made an outstanding save on a point-blank Karim Benzema header in the 54th minute.

A moment later, offside Ronaldo flashed a sitter over the goal before the whistle alerted viewers to his offense.

Ronaldo had another chance stymied by Lloris as Real really began to pile on pressure past the hour mark.

Kane had a 71st minute chance against the run of play off a gorgeous pass from Fernando Llorente, but Navas got low quickly to redirect Kane’s point-blank shot wide of the far post.

Navas made another save when Llorente cued up Christian Eriksen for a chance, and the Dane then sent in a corner that led to a Davinson Sanchez’s header wide of goal.

Llorente was quite good in the second half in this surprise two-striker move from Mauricio Pochettino, and the Spurs boss also deployed Danny Rose for a season debut off the bench.

Man City 2-1 Napoli: Early goals stand up

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Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored early, and Ederson stopped one of two penalty kicks as Manchester City held off Napoli 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday.

Amadou Diawara converted Napoli’s second PK after Dries Mertens saw his effort saved.

Napoli is six points back of Group F leading City, and three behind Shakhtar Donetsk.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Raheem Sterling was near the spot to blast an open rebound past Pepe Reina in the ninth minute.

Then Kevin De Bruyne swept an incisive pass into the six for Gabriel Jesus to slot home, giving Man City a 2-0 lead in the 13th minute.

Kyle Walker saw yellow after giving a penalty kick in the 37th minute, and Napoli star Dries Mertens had his chance to pull one back denied by Ederson.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

John Stones‘ impressive growth at City continued when he slid to stop Marek Hamsik from testing Ederson in the second half.

Fernando took down Faouzi Ghoulam to give Napoli a second penalty kick, and this time it was converted thanks not to Mertens, but Diawara.