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.

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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?

PL Sunday preview: Can Man United, Liverpool keep pace?

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Highly unlikely to overcome 14- and 21-point deficits in the title race, respectively, Manchester United and Liverpool — along with the rest of the Premier League’s top-six — are merely in a race for second. West Bromwich Albion and Bournemouth — their opponents on Sunday, respectively — fear relegation.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City untouchable; Chelsea, Arsenal win narrowly ]

West Brom vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Try telling Jose Mourinho, the only man in the PL still refusing to concede the title to Manchester City, that the title race is over. The performances have often been ugly and ground out until the final whistle — especially in the absence of Paul Pogba, who’ll once again be unavailable through suspension — but Mourinho’s men have won five of their last six (the only defeat coming last weekend, to Man City) as they head into Sunday’s annual trip to the Hawthorns, where they’ll face 19th-place West Brom. The Baggies haven’t won in their last 15 PL outings (eight draws), a woeful run which dates back to the second week of the 2017-18 season.

While United have been nearly impenetrable defensively (11 goals conceded in 17 games), a pair of costly errors — each committed by star striker Romelu Lukaku — cost the Red Devils dearly against City, as did their recurring inability (against the PL’s top teams) to control the game through possession and create scoring chances with consistency. The same struggles reared their ugly heads in a 1-0 victory over Bournemouth on Wednesday.

As poor as the results have been over the course of four months, West Brom can hang their hat on a decent defensive record — just 22 goals conceded in 17 games, which puts them squarely in the middle of the table. If Alan Pardew‘s side sets out to defend for 90 minutes, the Baggies might just get something out of Sunday’s clash. Pardew was quite pleased by the improvements he saw during Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Liverpool, and he’s hoping for a repeat performance against United.

“We kept them very quiet and created on transition better moments, in the limited number that we had, than we did at Swansea,” he said. “That’s an improvement, but still an area to work on. We had some really strong performances — and if you get four or five ‘eights’ in your team that normally constitutes points.”

INJURIES: West Brom — OUT: Nacer Chadli (hip), Matt Phillips (hamstring), Craig Dawson (knee), James Morrison (achilles); RETURNING: Gareth Barry (thigh)| Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (suspension), Eric Bailly (ankle), Marouane Fellaini (knee), Michael Carrick (heart)


Bournemouth vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Every time Liverpool take a step or two forward, they take a step or two right back to where they began. Case in point: back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Bright & Hove Albion, by a combined score of 8-1, which briefly vaulted them ahead of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur in the race for the top-four; followed by back-to-back draws against bottom-half sides Everton and West Brom.

With that side, Jurgen Klopp‘s side is unbeaten in its last eight league games and boasts one of the league’s most potent attacking records (34 goals conceded in 17 games — third-most behind the two Manchester clubs).

Cherries boss Eddie Howe was encouraged by his side’s performances in that narrow loss to United, and the 40-year-old can sense that better days are on the near horizon.

“We’re disappointed because we’ve been beaten, but I’m really pleased with the performance,” he said. “I thought we were very good today and were very disciplined out of possession. We were also very good with the ball and created numerous chances. We really did establish ourselves in the game very early and there were some really good individual performances today. The team functioned very well.”

INJURIES: Bournemouth — OUT: Tyrone Mings (back), Brad Smith (hip), Adam Federici (knee) | Liverpool — OUT: Alberto Moreno (ankle), Adam Lallana (fitness), Joel Matip (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (back), Emre Can (suspensions); QUESTIONABLE: Daniel Sturridge (hamstring)

PL roundup: Chalk at the top, blowouts at the bottom

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Get caught up on all of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Manchester City 4-1 Tottenham HotspurFULL RECAP

What’s left to say about Man City at this point? Christmas is still nine days away, and their lead in the title race has already ballooned to 14 points. Pep Guardiola‘s side will have such an advantage that they’ll be able to choose between chasing the elusive unbeaten PL season, or resting key players with an eye toward winning the UEFA Champions League. Or, you know, he might just choose to do both, because he can.

Anyway, Ilkay Gudogan, Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling (twice) scored the goals as City blew the doors off Tottenham. Christian Eriksen‘s consolation goal was little more than a 92nd-minute pity present.

Chelsea 1-0 SouthamptonFULL RECAP

Marcos Alonso scored a stunning free kick — what else? (WATCH HERE) — to give Chelsea a 1-0 victory over Southampton at Stamford Bridge. The Blues had ample opportunity to put the game to bed, but much like fellow top-four chasers Arsenal, couldn’t do so and were made to sweat all the way through the game’s final moments. The victory pulls Antonio Conte‘s side level with Manchester United for second in the PL table, though United don’t play until Sunday.

Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle UnitedFULL RECAP

Mesut Ozil scored one of the goals of the season (WATCH HERE), and it was all Arsenal needed to edge past Newcastle and leave Rafa Benitez‘s side sitting in the relegation zone another few days, at least. Thanks to points dropped by Tottenham and Burnley (yes, Burnley), Arsenal now sit fourth in the league table with only Liverpool capable of leapfrogging them this weekend.

Leicester City 0-3 Crystal PalaceFULL RECAP

The good times were really rolling for Leicester, who entered Saturday’s clash with Palace riding a five-game unbeaten streak (four straight wins) under new manager Claude Puel. Oh, how quickly fortunes can change in the PL. Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha had the visitors 2-0 up by halftime, and Bakary Sako added another goal during second-half stoppage time, just for good measure. Speaking of fortunes changing quickly, Palace now sit 14th in the league table, four places and two points clear of the relegation zone.

Roy Hodgson, miracle worker.

Watford 1-4 Huddersfield TownFULL RECAP

Huddersfield will stave off relegation quite comfortably if they can continue picking up lopsided wins every second or third game for the rest of the season, even if they’re sandwiched by blowout defeats. Saturday’s romp past Watford will surely go down as the most straightforward all season, as the Terriers went 2-0 up in 23 minutes, then went a man up after Troy Deeney was sent off in the 33rd. It was 3-0 after five second-half minutes, and 4-0 with more than 20 minutes still to play. Back up to 11th, David Wagner‘s side is six points clear of relegation just one game shy of the halfway mark.

Stoke City 0-3 West Ham UnitedFULL RECAP

Marko Arnautovic haunted his former club, Stoke City, as he scored a goal and was a constant threat throughout West Ham’s 3-0 victory at the bet365 Stadium. That makes three games without a loss, including two wins, for the Hammers under new manager David Moyes. Like Palace, they are also now two points clear of the relegation zone.

Brighton & Hove Albion 0-0 BurnleyFULL RECAP

Burnely, who began the weekend level with Tottenham and Liverpool (and ahead of Arsenal) for fourth place, dropped points for the first time in three games. Brighton, meanwhile, haven’t won in their last seven PL games and have slowly but surely slid back to the relegation-fighting pack.

Sunday’s PL schedule

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester United — 9:15 a.m. ET
Bournemouth vs. Liverpool — 11:30 a.m. ET

World champs! Ronaldo goal gives Madrid a 3rd CWC title

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo scored from a free-kick to help Real Madrid claim its third Club World Cup title after beating Brazilian team Gremio 1-0 Saturday.

The Ballon d’Or winner fired his right-footed shot between two players in Gremio’s defensive wall, leaving goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe no hope of reaching the ball before it bounced inside the post in the 53rd minute.

Madrid defended the title it won last season as it collected its fifth trophy of 2017, along with the Champions League, Spanish league, European Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup.

Ronaldo celebrated the goal by rushing to Madrid’s dugout where he was embraced by his teammates. The goal increased Ronaldo’s record to seven goals in the competition. He also scored in Madrid’s 2-1 comeback win over Al Jazira in the semifinals.

“What am I going to say? The numbers speak for themselves. I am very happy. The team played fantastically well and it has won another title,” Ronaldo said. “We played a very good game and deserved the victory.”

Madrid equaled Barcelona’s record of three titles for the short knockout tournament between the champions of FIFA’s six continental confederations and the host nation’s league winner.

European clubs have won 10 of the last 11 Club World Cups, with only Brazil’s Corinthians interrupting that streak in 2012 when it defeated Chelsea.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane played the same starting 11 from last season’s Champions League final in June, when Madrid crushed Juventus 4-1 – led by Ronaldo’s double.

The European champions outclassed Gremio throughout the match, but the closest it got to scoring in the first half was Dani Carvajal’s goal-bound volley in the 20th that was cleared by Pedro Geromel.

While Gremio had to scramble on several occasions to stop Madrid inside its own area, the closest the South American champions came at the other end was a free-kick by Edilson that swerved onto the top netting near the half-hour mark.

Geromel had tried to set the tone early on with a hard tackle that left Ronaldo writhing in pain, and hoping for a booking that never came.

Ronaldo had a poor first half. He twice erred in short passes with his back heel that failed to reach his teammates, and he squandered a good opportunity when he took too long to shoot when a loose ball fell to him close to the net.

All that changed after the interval. Ronaldo baited Jailson into fouling him outside the area with some fancy dribbling, setting up his winner.

Ronaldo thought he had another goal moments later, but Karim Benzema was ruled offside before he passed the ball back to Ronaldo.

Marcelo Grohe kept his side in the game by pushing Luka Modric’s shot onto his post and denied Ronaldo a second goal, but Gremio never mounted a serious response to get the equalizer.

Bundesliga wrap: Pulisic’s late winner sends BVB 3rd (video)

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While Bayern Munich continue to run away with their sixth straight Bundesliga title, the royal rumble over who’ll finish second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth — seven sides are currently separated by four points from second to eighth — rages on.

[ MORE: Man City make it 16 straight wins | Three studs, three duds ]

Stuttgart 0-1 Bayern Munich

You’ll quickly notice an emerging theme from Saturday’s games: late, result-altering goals.

Bayern dominated every phase of play the way they usually do, but were made to wait 79 minutes for a breakthrough. It was beginning to look as if their lead might shrink to seven points this weekend, but Thomas Mueller was more than happy to play the part of hero.

There was further heartbreak for Stuttgart, who then had a penalty kick saved by Lars Ulreich in the 93rd minute.

Borussia Dortmund 2-1 Hoffenheim

Dortmund have won back-to-back league games, for the first time since September, since firing manager Peter Bosz last week, and this one came courtesy of a certain, well-known American teenager.

Mark Uth put Hoffenheim ahead in the 21st minute, and Dortmund appeared to be headed for their first loss under new boss Peter Stoger. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brought the home side back to level terms in the 63rd minute, but again, it seemed for the longest time that it wouldn’t be enough.

Then came the 89th minute, time for Christian Pulisic to shine. The presence of mind to flick the ball over the goalkeeper with his first touch, the control to drop the ball exactly where he wanted it on the other side, the quick feet to maneuver his way around the ‘keeper. The euphoric feeling as he slams the ball into an empty net.

Eintracht Frankfurt 2-2 Schalke

Schalke are making something of a routine out of falling behind by multiple goals, only to roar back to life and rescue a point in the game’s dying moments. First, there was the comeback from 4-0 against Dortmund. Today, the hill to climb was halved in size, but the point won is no less significant.

After falling 1-0 behind in the 1st minute and 2-0 behind in the 64th, Domenico Tedesco’s side got goals from Breel Embolo in the 81st minute and Naldo — scorer of the final goal in that 4-4 thriller — in the 94th.

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away Pts
 Bayern Munich 17 13 2 2 37 11 26 7-1-0 6-1-2 41
 FC Schalke 04 17 8 6 3 28 21 7 5-3-1 3-3-2 30
 Borussia Dortmund 17 8 4 5 39 24 15 4-1-3 4-3-2 28
 RB Leipzig 16 8 4 4 25 22 3 5-2-0 3-2-4 28
 Moenchengladbach 17 8 4 5 27 28 -1 5-2-2 3-2-3 28
 Bayer Leverkusen 16 7 6 3 30 19 11 4-4-0 3-2-3 27
 1899 Hoffenheim 17 7 5 5 27 22 5 5-3-1 2-2-4 26
 Eintracht Frankfurt 17 7 5 5 20 18 2 2-2-4 5-3-1 26

Elsewhere in the Bundesliga

Augsburg 3-3 Freiburg
Werder Bremen 2-2 Mainz
Cologne 1-0 Wolfsburg

Sunday’s Bundesliga schedule

Hannover vs. Bayern Leverkusen — 9:30 a.m. ET
RB Leipzig vs. Hertha Berlin — 12 p.m. ET