Donovan, Johnson lead U.S. past Honduras, into fifth-straight Gold Cup final

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It was their most convincing performance of the tournament, one that looked was destined to go the United States’ way before Eddie Johnson put his team up in the 11th minute. Dictating play though midfield and sending the Honduras defense reeling with each movement forward, the U.S. claimed a place in their fifth straight Gold Cup final, using two goals and an assist from the resurgent Landon Donovan to claim a 3-1 win Wednesday at Cowboys Stadium.

Donovan’s goals came on each side of halftime, his second responding one minute after a Honduras goal had briefly made a game of it in the 52nd minute. With their two-goal lead restored, the U.S. comfortably saw the Hondurans out of the tournament, the Catrachos exiting at the semifinal stage for the third straight tournament.

[MORE: U.S. rolling through Gold Cup like never before]

The result means the U.S. will going into Sunday’s Solider Field final with a perfect record, having outscored their opponents 19-4 in the tournament’s five games. In Chicago, they’ll hope to improve that make and re-claim the CONCACAF title, with the only the winner of the Panama-Mexico nightcap standing in the way of the U.S.’s fifth Gold Cup.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s team opened the scoring in the 11th minute, with Johnson running off a ball he’d fed to Donovan, onto a pass through an accommodating Honduran central defense. With the Catrachos’ back line trying to catch up, Johnson finished past Donis Escobar from 15 yards out, giving the States a surprisingly easy early lead.

[MORE: Circling back on Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup changes.]

After controlling play over the next 16 minutes, the U.S. completed the inevitable, doubling their lead. A ball for Johnson saw both Honduran central defenders collapse on the U.S. number nine. When Sounders’ striker was able to touch a ball to Donovan in the middle of the area, the U.S.’s all-time leading scorer just needed to get the ball on goal before the rest of the Honduran defense could recover. Trapping with his chest before pushing his shot past Escobar with the outside of his right foot, Donovan’s 55th international goal put the U.S. up 2-0.

The U.S. carried that lead through half time, starting the second half with the same control they’re exhibited through the first 45 minutes. But when a 52nd minute foul by DaMarcus Beasley along the Honduran right gave the Catrachos a dangerous restart, the scene was set for the U.S.’s per game defensive lapse. This time, it was Clarence Goodson losing his mark on the restart, with Nery Medina’s header from eight yards out making it 2-1.

[MORE: The streak nobody’s noticed – Landon Donovan’s]

Yet as if they were using the Honduran goal as an excuse to exhibit their dominance, the U.S. responded less than a minute later. A long ball played over the Honduran defense allowed surprise starter Alejandro Bedoya to beat his man to the byline, his one-touch pass across the six-yard box finding Donovan running onto his second goal of the match, making it 3-1.

Like their two previous goals, the third was all too easy for the U.S., their execution making a mockery of a willing but disorganized Honduran defense. Just like the U.S., Honduras choose a weakened team to compete at this tournament, but in a battle of second choice sides, the U.S.’s depth effectively lapped their competition. Direct play, sound if basic execution, and hard work were all the U.S. needed to produce their goals, making Wednesday’s and unexpectedly easy semifinal.

Next up will be the winner of the nightcap’s match between Panama and Mexico, a rematch of a group stage game that saw the Canaleros claim their first ever competitive victory over Mexico. Panama, however, is in danger of replicating their 2011 performance, where an upset of the United States in group play went for naught after they failed to duplicate the feat in the competition’s semifinals. If that happens, the U.S. and Mexico will face off in a fourth consecutive final.

The only question mark for the United States will be the status of Jurgen Klinsmann. The team’s head coach was sent from the field by Enrico Wijngaarde in the 88th minute, apparently in response to his protests over late Honduran fouls. The true nature of Klinsmann’s offense could determine whether he or assistant Martin Vazquez will be leading the team from the sidelines in Chicago.

[MORE: Decision on Jurgen Klinsmann to come – will he miss Sunday’s final?]

Regardless, Sunday’s match will prove much tougher than Wednesday’s in Dallas. Between the U.S.’s quality and Honduras’s worst performance of the competition, Klinsmann’s team were allowed to cruise into the tournament’s final round.

Pogba, De Gea ruled out for Man United v. Liverpool

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According to our partners at Sky Sports, Manchester United’s David De Gea and Paul Pogba will not play against Liverpool this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

This is far from ideal for a United side already low in confidence after a dreadful start to the season.

De Gea injured his groin while on international duty with Spain on Tuesday as he injured an abductor while kicking a ball against Sweden in a EURO 2020 qualifier. He is expected to have a full assessment in Manchester on Thursday but isn’t expected to be available to play against Liverpool.

As for Pogba, he suffered a reoccurrence of his foot injury before the international break and has been training in Dubai on his own during the past week to try and speed up his recovery.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already been without Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for large chunks of the season so far, as Man United sit in 12th place in the Premier League table.

“No chance,” Solskjaer said of Pogba’s availability for the weekend. “Paul had an injury, then came back, worked really hard, played a couple of games. Maybe played through the pain barrier. We had a scan after the Arsenal game and he needed a few weeks rest in the boot. Hopefully he won’t be too long but he won’t make this game, no.”

Not having their star goalkeeper and central midfielder available for this clash with bitter rivals Liverpool is another huge setback for Solskjaer, as Sergio Romero and Fred will likely start in their place.

Martial, Shaw and Wan-Bissaka are all expected to miss the game against Liverpool too as Solskjaer will at least have a valid excuse if the Premier League leaders give United a hiding on Sunday.

Bulgaria’s coach apologizes to England; Popov slams racists

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Bulgaria’s coach Krasimir Balakov has apologized to the England national team after they were subjected to racist chants during their EURO 2020 qualifier in Sofia on Monday.

Balakov was previously bullish about racism in Bulgaria, stating before the game that England had a bigger problem with racism than Bulgaria.

Initially after the game he said he didn’t hear any racist abuse and during the match he got into a heated debate with Jordan Henderson about why the game was halted for a second time.

In a post on Facebook, Balakov apaolgized to the England players and offered his views on the racist incidents plaguing Bulgarian soccer as three of their EURO 2020 home qualifiers have now seen racist abuse from their home fans.

“I condemn unconditionally all forms of racism as unacceptable behavior that contradicts normal human relationships. I think that this form of prejudice should be buried deep in our past, and nobody should ever be subjected, Balakov said. “I trained many Bulgarian teams with players of different backgrounds and never judged anyone about the color of their skin. In addition, I have always actively participated in all initiatives involving unprivileged people or the needy.”

“My comments before the game against England that Bulgaria had no problems with racism are based on the fact that the local championship has not seen such a problem on a large scale. There may have been isolated cases, but it’s definitely not something you see in the stadium. The majority of football fans do not take part in such chants, and I believe that was also the case in the game against England. One thing I would like to say very clearly is that as the stadium in Sofia has reported cases of racial discrimination, I sincerely apologize to the English footballers and those who feel offended.”

That is what Balakov should have said right after the game.

The cynics out there may also say he is only issuing this apology now after Bulgaria’s prime minister, Boyko Borissov, asked for the president of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign.

Mihaylov, who had previously complained to UEFA England boss Gareth Southgate sharing his concerns over previous racist incidents in Bulgaria, resigned on Tuesday.

After Bulgaria’s goalkeeper said England’s players “overreacted” in regards to the racist abuse hurled their way, their captain, Ivelin Popov, handled himself remarkably well throughout this sorry situation for Bulgaria.

Popov was seen remonstrating with home fans at half time in order to get them to stop the abuse, and he was praised by Marcus Rashford and others for his reaction.

“Of course I feel embarrassed. We are 11 v 11, it doesn’t matter your color, it’s no problem, we are all the same, we are one very big family in football, everybody and only we, if we are together, can we stop these bad things,” Popov said. “It was important that I spoke like this because it’s a very big problem for everybody, for our federation, for England and if they said more bad words, even one more time, then maybe they would finish the game.

“We would have such a big punishment and this is no good for Bulgarian football because if some other players want to come here, they hear what is said and how they speak bad, then this is no good for everybody. But when you start to speak to them, afterwards they understand. I think in the second half was better.”

Sergio Aguero unhurt after car crash

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Manchester City and Argentina star Sergio Aguero has escaped a car crash unscathed.

Aguero, 31, was involved in the incident on Wednesday morning but didn’t need to go to hospital and instead reported for training as usual with Man City.

Photos showed Aguero’s Range Rover badly damaged, as he posted photos of his car on his own Instagram page later on Wednesday.

The reigning Premier League champions head to Crystal Palace on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) as they aim to momentarily reduce Liverpool’s eight-point lead atop the table.

Aguero will likely be leading City’s line at Palace, as the Argentine striker has been in sensational form this season (even if City’s defensive line hasn’t) with eight goals in the opening eight games of the PL campaign.

Man City’s all-time leading goalscorer was previously involved in a car crash in Amsterdam in 2017, something which Pep Guardiola didn’t seem too pleased about at the time as Aguero had travelled to the Netherlands to attend a music concert.

This incident was a minor one and City will be thankful that Aguero is fine and able to lead what they hope is a very successful few months to put themselves back in contention for a third-straight Premier League title.

Why USMNT’s Christian Pulisic was subbed off v. Canada

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Christian Pulisic was not a happy man when he was subbed off in the second half of the USMNT’s damaging defeat to Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League.

[ MORE: What now for Berhalter, USMNT?

He didn’t look injured and after walking off the pitch he was visibly upset as Gregg Berhalter spoke to him on the bench.

But there’s a perfectly simple explanation for this: Pulisic was sick.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

USMNT head coach Berhalter revealed why he subbed out Pulisic in the 60th minute of their 2-0 defeat to Canada in Toronto on Tuesday, as Pulisic was suffering from “cold and flu-like” symptoms.

“He wanted to continue. You could see the disappointment in his face, and we had to make that decision,” Berhalter said. “We made the decision based on being not sure how much he had left. We wanted to inject some energy into the team.”

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Now, Berhalter is obviously telling the truth here, but perhaps it was a convenient excuse as Pulisic wasn’t playing his best.

Pulisic, 21, struggled against Canada and missed the USMNT’s best opportunity, as he was played in by Jordan Morris and hit his shot from 10 yards out straight at Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

In truth, it was a tough chance with the way the ball was played to him, but Pulisic knew he should have done better and moments later he was on the bench and then the USMNT were 1-0 down.

Things aren’t going Pulisic’s way right now and Tuesday night summed that up.

There is a ridiculous amount of pressure on his shoulders to single-handedly lift the USMNT out of a two-year long slump, and given the fact he has only played a handful of minutes for Chelsea over the past two months, getting a cold as he heads back to England is far from ideal.

Berhalter’s reasoning for taking off Pulisic makes sense, as he is the one U.S. player who is talented enough to make something out of nothing. But right now we aren’t seeing the best of Pulisic, and that’s probably down to his lack of playing time at Chelsea.

It’s too early to say whether or not that will impact his form for the USMNT in the months ahead, but there’s no doubting the Stars and Stripes need their best player to stand tall for the game against Canada in Orlando next month.