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After donning Darth Vader outfit, Gonzalez becomes force

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Omar Gonzalez had just left the LA Galaxy to join Mexico’s Pachuca when his new club’s chairman had a request: Would the 6-foot-5 defender walk into his introductory news conference dressed as Darth Vader?

Of course, he obliged. Ever since, he has become a defensive force.

“I had signed a contract 15 minutes prior to that, so I was like, `Yeah, sure.’ It was a bit small,” Gonzalez recalled of the costume Tuesday. “I don’t know if they met any other Mexican my size.”

Now 28 years old, Gonzalez is among the U.S. players trying to impress returning coach Bruce Arena in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Americans play El Salvador on Wednesday night in a quarterfinal match.

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He made his national team debut in August 2010 during an exhibition against Brazil, which gave a teenage forward named Neymar his first international appearance that night in New Jersey.

Gonzalez went on to become among Major League Soccer’s highest-paid players, but his career stalled: first a torn knee ligament during his initial training session following a January 2012 loan to the German club Nuremberg, then a knee injury that kept him from starting the first two games of the 2014 World Cup.

But worst of all was malaise during his final seasons with the Galaxy.

“I was just doing enough to get by and things were OK,” he said.

Gonzalez decided to change his attitude and alter his rest regimen. He signed with Pachuca in December 2015, helped that team win last year’s Clausura title – and now he is flourishing on a team that will be in this year’s Club World Cup.

“Everyone said this is the next so-and-so. And that’s all well and good, but until you get out there and prove it,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard explained.

“He’s matured. When you have ability and other people think you have ability, it’s great. When you actually realize your own ability and potential, I think the game slows down for you a little bit and you get very comfortable with your own movements and your own communication.”

[ USMNT: Ranking quarterfinalists | Stock up/down ]

Born in Dallas to Mexican-American parents, Gonzalez could have played for either country. An All-American at Maryland, he was the third pick overall in the 2009 MLS draft and then that season was voted MLS Rookie of the Year with the Galaxy, all while being coached by Arena.

During the defender’s time in LA., Gonzalez met Erica, the woman he would marry, at the 30th birthday party of Kenny Arena, now as assistant coach for his dad.

Gonzalez lived in Manhattan Beach but decided to shake up his life with the move to Pachuca, a city of about 265,000, where he now lives with Erica and their two daughters, 2+-year-old Isla and 1-year-old Colette.

“It’s just a totally different lifestyle,” he said. “In LA, you’re done with training and you sit around and you think, what should I do today? There’s always something, to do, and Pachuca there’s not really much to do.”

The family makes the hour-long drive to Costco outside Mexico City to fill the SUV with groceries and supplies. He is careful to check the calendar to avoid shopping on the middle and final days of each month.

“You don’t go to the mall when it’s pay day. When people get paid, it’s packed,” he said.

He is convinced he would not have revived his career had he not decided to leave Los Angeles.

“It’s definitely made me a better player and also made me a better person, living in a different culture, living in a different country, living in an environment you’re not used to,” Gonzalez said.

[ MORE: USMNT – El Salvador preview ]

“I spent my whole career in LA before I made this move, under the same coach, and so things were very comfortable for me, I would say. And what Mexico did was put me in an uncomfortable position, and I went to a place where I was unsure of myself playing every single game, and Mexico I believe is still ahead of MLS in terms of the quality and the players’ technical ability.”

Back with the national team, Gonzalez is competing for what likely will be four center back spots on the U.S. World Cup roster, assuming the Americans qualify.

John Brooks and Geoff Cameron top the depth chart at the moment, with Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Matt Miazga and Matt Hedges the four splitting time at the Gold Cup. Gonzalez put the U.S. ahead in last week’s 2-0 win over Martinique with his second goal in 42 international appearances.

“Moving to Pachuca has allowed him to focus a little bit more on his craft. I don’t think he has the distractions he might have had in Los Angeles,” Arena said,

Gonzalez’s teammates have noticed his strides.

“Your way of dealing with quick, skillful attacking players is put to the test every week,” captain Michael Bradley said. “It’s a guy who continues to show that he has to play a role for us moving forward.”

NUMBERS GAME

Additions to Gold Cup rosters for the knockout rounds must wear numbers 24-29, resulting in some unusual assignments. Forward Clint Dempsey is 28, a combination of his club No. 2 and his national team No. 8. Bradley is 26, because 6 minus 2 equals his usual number 4. Instead of No. 1, Howard is wearing No. 24, his old digits at Everton. Forward Jozy Altidore is 27 instead of 17.

UCL AT HALF: Spurs level at Real; Liverpool, Man City lead (video)

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Premier League sides are mostly enjoying their football this Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Liverpool is clobbering hosts Maribor, Man City needed little time to take lead against critical darlings Napoli, and Spurs have forced Real Madrid into an own goal at the Bernabeu.

Real Madrid 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Raphael Varane’s plans to mark Harry Kane were subverted by the French defender’s unwitting legs, but Serge Aurier chopped down Toni Kroos in the 42nd minute for a yellow card and penalty that Cristiano Ronaldo sent beyond the reach of Spurs backstop Hugo Lloris.

Manchester City 2-0 Napoli

Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus scored in the ninth and 13th minutes as City has been an unwelcoming host for the Neapolitan side. Ederson stopped a Dries Mertens penalty, adding insult to Napoli’s twin concessions.

Monaco 1-1 Besiktas

Radamel Falcao with the lone goal of the contest, but reported Newcastle target Cenk Tosun has answered for the Turkish powers.

Feyenoord 1-1 Shakhtar Donetsk

Ex-Watford man Steven Berghuis and Bernard have traded goals at De Kuip.

Maribor 0-4 Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp‘s Reds are sending their finishing demons off a cliff, with goals from Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Mohamed Salah finding the scoreboard before the match was 20 minutes old. Salah added another before the break.

Elsewhere
APOEL Nicosia 0-0 Borussia Dortmund
Spartak Moscow 1-1 Sevilla
RB Leipzig 3-2 Porto

Columbus Crew owner may move soccer team to Austin, Texas

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The owner of the Crew SC says the team is no longer sustainable and will move to Austin, Texas, unless a new, privately-financed stadium is built in downtown Columbus.

Anthony Precourt, whose Precourt Sports Ventures has owned the Major League Soccer club since 2013, said Tuesday the Crew need more fan and financial support to compete in the growing league, and a new stadium in the urban center is the only way to make it work. The Crew currently play in 17-year-old Mapfre Stadium, about 4 miles north of downtown Columbus.

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The team will be back in Ohio’s capital city for 2018, Precourt said, but its future beyond that depends on which city steps up first.

“Despite all the efforts to move the needle beyond on-the-field success, our business is struggling to keep pace with the rising standards of major league soccer,” Precourt said in a conference call with reporters. “The club historically and presently has challenges with match-day attendance, with growing our season-ticket base, with demand for corporate sponsorship and with relevance. The stadium and site are challenges in Columbus.”

The Crew is 20th in attendance this season out of 22 MLS teams with an average of 15,439, despite making the playoffs. The capacity is 19,968.

Austin is the largest market in North America without a major league sports franchise, and the city is receptive. Precourt declined to comment about any talks that could result in a new downtown soccer-specific stadium there. He dispelled rumors that the team has an agreement to play temporarily at the University of Texas stadium in 2019 while a new stadium is built.

Precourt called Austin “the most attractive untapped market in the United States for MLS soccer.” The city already has submitted a bid for an MLS expansion team.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said he had met with team ownership about solutions to keep the team in the city but complained that he didn’t get “full engagement.” City officials didn’t know about a potential move until the public announcement Tuesday, he said.

“We were surprised to learn of their decision in this way,” Ginther said in a statement. “Losing the Crew to another city would be a huge disappointment to their loyal and growing fan base in Columbus.”

Alex Fischer of the Columbus Partnership, a consortium of CEOs and business leaders, told The Columbus Dispatch that a group of business leaders approached Precourt with offers to buy Crew SC outright and to go into a 50-50 partnership, both of which were rejected. But Precourt said Tuesday that his discussions with potential investors in the team were all attached to a plan for a new stadium.

Precourt said he approached Columbus business leaders last year and was clear about the problems.

“We have engaged the community privately since the beginning of 2016 about our business issues, and made it clear that we would potentially start to explore strategic alternatives if the business didn’t improve,” he said.

He said three potential stadium sites have been identified in Columbus, but he declined to comment on them.

“We are not asking for public tax dollars, and we are not asking either city to build a stadium for us,” he said.

UCL, LIVE: Tottenham vs. Real Madrid; Man City, Liverpool in action

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Three Premier League teams are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday and they are involved in some huge matches across Europe.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Tottenham Hotspur head to reigning European champions Real Madrid in Group H with both teams winning their opening two group games. Can Harry Kane and Co. stun the Santiago Bernabeu?

Manchester City host Napoli in Group F in what looks like a very tasty game in Group F and Liverpool head to Maribr in a must-win game in Group E after they drew their opening two matches.

Elsewhere, FC Porto’s trip to RB Leipzig looks set to be an intriguing clash in Group G.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which all kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET and you can follow all the action live by clicking on the link above.

[ MORE: Champions League standings


Tuesday’s UCL games

Group E
Spartak Moscow vs. Sevilla
Maribor vs. Liverpool

Group F
Man City vs. Napoli
Feyenoord vs. Shakthar Donetsk

Group G
RB Leipzig vs. FC Porto
Monaco vs. Besiktas

Group H
APOEL vs. Borussia Dortmund
Real Madrid vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 6-4

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 6-4 as we enter the top five moments in PL history.


6 – Wayne Rooney‘s score a stunning first PL goal for Everton vs. Arsenal in 2002

5 – Man United fight back from 3-0 down v Tottenham in 2001

4 – Liverpool vs. Newcastle United battles in the mid 1990s