PST USMNT Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson (2.0)

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The unveiling of Eddie Johnson 2.0 already received some of our love, but when one man is the difference between crisis and reprieve, he deserves some spotlight all to himself. Consider this his curtain call – for the one man on the team that deserves to take a bow.

That he earned that bow playing out of position makes Johnson’s contributions even more remarkable. When U.S. Soccer tweeted the starting lineups, it seemed unlikely Johnson would start on the left (as their formation implied). But there he was, starting the match in front of Carlos Bocanegra, with the opening moments casting Johnson in a role more suited for Sounder teammate Steve Zakuani than a center forward.

In time, it became apparent Johnson’s role was a unique one. He played high on the left, was often targeted as an outlet or on crosses. Still, asked to comeback and help in midfield (and spend some time on the right, when he switched with Graham Zusi), Johnson was playing a role few would have thought him suited to pull off.

Perhaps it’s only right that Johnson’s return to the national team would require him to reinvent himself, if only for one night. Johnson’s spent the MLS season rebuilding a career that was on the brink of ending after he failed to land a job with Puebla this offseason. The Sounders pulled him back from that brink, gave him a starting spot on one of Major League Soccer’s most talented team, and provided him with a platform to reclaim the prestige he’d lost during four years languishing at Fulham.

They also gave him a chance to ease into the player he’s become – a player that’s better than the one that left Kansas City after the 2007 season. First it was just a matter of getting him healthy, Johnson having been injured against Santos Laguna before the season even started. Then it was finding his niche in the team. After that, the goals came. That’s also when Seattle started to round out his game. The hold up play improved. So did the work rate. So did the awareness of what he needed to be within the context of the team. Now, Johnson is as good an all-around striker as you’ll find in Major League Soccer.

Tonight, in what must be the most fulfilling night of his career, Johnson regained the one thing that was missing: Prestige. He’d lost is somewhere on the bench at Craven Cottage but found it in an unlikely play: On a cricket ground in St. John’s, Antigua. He proved himself willing, adaptable, and able to provide the goals the U.S. has so desperately lacked, and for one night, all of the people who had slotted EJ in as Brain McBride’s successor were proven right. Scoring in the 20th and 91st minutes, Johnson all of a sudden looks like the best scoring option in the pool.

Is it too much to suggest that, over the course of 90 minutes, with two bullets into the lower right hand corner of Molvin James’ goal, Eddie Johnson has changed the fate of the national team? Yes, but only slightly. It’s more accurate to say he prevented the program from careening off course, veering from this winding, uncertain trail they’ve starting climbing in wake of Bob Bradley. With his double, Johnson’s kept Klinsmann’s on course, even if the path gets rockier with every step.

No other forward at Klinsmann’s disposal is as likely to score those goals. Without them, the U.S. would have been plunged off their trail straight into an identify crisis, whether they qualified for The Hex or not.

Is the U.S. the type of team that gets drawn by Antigua and Barbuda? Thanks to Eddie Johnson, the answer is still now.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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