United States reaches for Gold Cup perfection in Sunday’s final against Panama

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  • U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann is suspended
  • The United States is perfect through five matches, with a splashy 19-4 goal difference
  • The United States has won 10 consecutive matches
  • Landon Donovan has been dominant, with 5 goals and 7 assists in the tournament
  • 4 p.m. ET on Fox and Univision

Most of the top nations in this year’s Gold Cup brought lesser versions for the regional competition, electing to give their front-line men some much deserved time off.

Panama treated the even differently, sending a primarily first-choice team to the United States, hopeful of success that might kick start a stalled drive for World Cup 2014. As such, the Central Americans strivers, also making a push to generally elevate their place in the region, pose a genuine threat to the U.S. reach for tournament perfection during Sunday’s final inside Chicago’s historic Soldier Field.

U.S. players and coaches keep telling everyone in pre-game media sessions that a tough test is ahead. In reality, that just hasn’t happened yet, as a team of mostly second choice men from the U.S. player pool have been more than enough, utterly shredding the field of competitors to this point. So much of that dominance is about Landon Donovan, who has cast off his previous estrangement from the national team spectacularly.

As evidenced by Donovan’s sizzling return, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann keeps pushing all the right personnel buttons. His team has navigated five matches perfectly, winners in five out of five with a splashy 19-4 goal difference. The 19 goals scored is easily a tournament high among the 12 teams.

So much of that Donovan (pictured), who is dominating the tournament like few ever have. Five goals and seven assists in five Gold Cup matches represent totals just this side of stunning, and he has immediately established an on-field rapport with U.S. striker Eddie Johnson, one that will keep the Panamanian back line busy Sunday.

(MORE: Donovan is streaking in the Gold Cup)

Donovan has played in more Gold Cup matches than anyone in history, so he surely knows the terrain and the historical context. Even he has been surprised by how the United States has flattened the field, not really stretched a bit, not even in the quarterfinals or semifinals.

“I guess I would have expected it to be a little more diff up to this point,” he said.
“But we know Sunday is going to look different than any of these [previous Gold Cup] games have, we are aware of that. But I think it’s a testament to this group and how we’ve done. We haven’t played the same lineup at all. One guy goes out, the next guy comes in and does a great job. It’s just been like that. We’re circulating [personnel], guys are confident, they are eager and excited. Everybody is playing really well and it’s been fun to be a part of it.”

Clobbering the field thusly is new, but success in the tournament isn’t. The United States won the semi-annual tournament in 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007 and had four runner-up finishes around those titles.

There are a couple of potential hitches in all these Gold Cup good tidings. One is the suspension of manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who was dismissed from Wednesday’s semifinal win over Honduras for slamming the ball to the field. He was frustrated over a perceived lack of protection for U.S. players.

Top assistants Martin Vasquez and Andi Hertzog will pull sideline duty, presumably while in some kind of communication from Klinsmann.

There is also the Blas Perez factor. Perez isn’t just the top man for the small Central American nation, he has also established himself as one of the region’s premier goal-scorers. Physical, skillful and full of great instinct near goal, he also scores regularly at club level for FC Dallas.

Perez, scorer of Panama’s opener in Wednesday’s semifinal 2-1 win over Mexico – a surprise only to those who had not watched this determined bunch previously in the tournament – wasn’t around in June when the United States had a relatively easy time with Panama in a final stage World Cup qualifying match in Seattle. Perez was out with a stomach illness.

Along with young striker Gabriel Torres (who was just signed by Colorado of MLS), they will provide the toughest test yet for a U.S. back line without too much to do so far. There have been occasional vulnerable spots revealed: last week, Salvadoran forward Rodolfo Zelaya reminded us that DaMarcus Beasley isn’t a natural defender, and generally gave the United States something to worry about. Also add to the “worry list” defending on set pieces, which has been dodgy.

(MORE: Klinsmann has important center back choice to make)

Another potential obstacle is all the Gold Cup miles Donovan has already logged. Until the program’s all-time goals and assists leader was subbed off 22 minutes before the end on Wednesday, having already supplied two goals and an assist in the comfortable 3-1 win over Honduras, he had played every minute in the tournament. Getting just that little break near the end Wednesday will help, Donovan said, also complimenting the job U.S. Soccer’s training and fitness staff have done while managing the competition’s brutal pacing. This will be the United States’ sixth match in 20 days, with travel between each stop.

“Generally, at this point in my career, after about 60 minutes, you really start to break down, your body starts breaking down physically,” Donovan said. “So, even having a rest for about 20 minutes [Wednesday] will help a lot for Sunday.”

Reports: Arsenal nearing deal for Lichtsteiner on free transfer

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According to multiple reports in England, including the BBC, Arsenal is looking to sign Juventus right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner on a free transfer this summer, potentially becoming the first signing under new manager Unai Emery.

Lichtsteiner is out of contract at Juventus this summer, having been with the club since 2011. Lichtsteiner has played in Italy since joining Lazio in 2008.

The Swiss international will captain his country at the World Cup this summer in Russia and will earn his 100th cap in his second match at the event.

[ MORE: Tottenham target trio ]

Lichtsteiner has been a mainstay in a Juventus squad that has won seven consecutive Serie A titles, but at 34 years old has been slowly phased out. He has made less than 30 Serie A appearances each of the last seasons, despite a nearly spotless bill of health since undergoing heart surgery in October of 2015. Last season, Lichtsteiner completed just nine full 90 minute performances, including just three after November. Lichtsteiner may have had an even smaller role this most recent campaign had Mattia de Sciglio not struggled with injuries for much of the season.

The Gunners have Hector Bellerin as the club’s main right-back, with the Spaniard leading the squad in total minutes played this past season. However, Bellerin’s level of performance has regressed considerably since proving one of the best young Premier League players in his first full season in 2015/16.

Lichtsteiner has also been linked with a move to Borussia Dortmund, where Lukasz Piszczek mans the right-back spot, but talks between the clubs reportedly broke down.

Report: Lampard leading candidate to succeed Rowett as Derby County boss

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According to John Cross of the Daily Mirror, former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard is in the pole position to win the Derby County managerial position left vacant after Gary Rowett left to take charge of Stoke City.

Lampard has been linked to a host of lower-league managerial jobs over the past six months, but has either resisted those offers or been passed over for other candidates. In January, Lampard confirmed he had interest from League One side Oxford United, but said he did not feel ready to begin his managerial career.

“I don’t know what the route will be – there are plenty of different routes to become a top manager and I am working there [at Chelsea with the U18s] now to get towards that,” Lampard said in January. “You can’t just step out of something and think you can become a manager, you have to practice a lot. Thankfully Chelsea and the academy are helping me get my hours in and I am watching training at certain Premier League clubs and studying as much as I can so down the line, I hope so [to become a manager one day].”

Just four days ago, Lampard was also mentioned in connection with the open Ipswich Town position, interviewing with the club twice according to Sky Sports.

Now, The Mirror says that Derby County is in the mix for Lampard, and that he is at the top of the club’s shortlist. Lampard, who sits as Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer, has been working as a TV analyst since retiring in 2016 following a short move to Manchester City and a stint with MLS club NYCFC.

Derby has been competitive in the Championship for a number of seasons now, but the Rams have just missed out on Premier League promotion on numerous occasions. They finished sixth this past season but blew a 1-0 semifinal lead to Fulham after the first leg. They also lost in the playoff semifinals to Hull City back in 2016, and lost in the playoff final to QPR back in 2014 after a third-place finish in the table.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Fulham vs. Aston Villa

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Imagine playing in a single game where your performance over 90 minutes means the difference between over $300 million for your club or at least another year in the lower leagues.

That’s what is estimated to be on the line as Fulham and Aston Villa meet at Wembley on Saturday in the Championship playoff final at 12 p.m. ET hoping to earn the final spot in next year’s Premier League campaign.

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce will be searching for an unprecedented fifth Championship promotion after previously guiding Birmingham City and Hull City to the top flight on multiple occasions. He is 2-0 in the playoff final, having won it previously once with each former club, taking Birmingham City to the Premier League in 2002 after defeating Norwich City in a penalty shootout, and earning the victory with Hull City in 2016 via a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday. Players Sam Johnstone and Robert Snodgrass have both won playoff finals before as well.

Fulham, meanwhile, has experience of its own on the touchline, as boss Slavisa Jokanovic has taken Watford to the top flight previously, finishing second in the Championship in 2015, but he has never experienced a playoff final before.

The Whites appear to be in the better form, having nearly ended the season in historic form with 24 straight unbeaten, but lost on the final day of the campaign, missing out on automatic promotion by just two points. They play a possession-based style under Jokanovic, and while it’s taken a while for the team to grasp the tactics, they look as deadly as ever. However, the last few games have exposed the team yet again, with the loss to lowly Birmingham on the final day before a 1-0 loss to Derby County in the first leg of their playoff semifinal, a scoreline which they turned around in the second leg at home.

The Fulham midfield duo of Kevin McDonald and Stefan Johansen has a claim to be the best pairing in the Championship over the past two seasons, and they anchor Jokanovic’s setup behind playmaker Tom Cairney. The club brought embattled Newcastle striker Aleksandr Mitrovic to London in January, and he’s brought a cutting edge to an attack that was just missing a target man up front. Young winger Ryan Sessegnon, who just turned 18 years old on Friday, has been the club’s most heralded player, and could move to a top Premier League side this summer, especially if the Whites fall at Wembley this weekend. Finally, USMNT defender Tim Ream has led the defensive improvement of a club that conceded 83 goals three seasons ago to halve that this campaign.

They’ll take that attacking prowess up against one of the league’s most pragmatic opponents, as Villa finished the regular season with the third-fewest goals allowed and shut out Middlesbrough across both legs in the semifinals. They feature former Chelsea defender John Terry anchoring the back line, and he partners with experienced 29-year-old James Chester who has played under Bruce before at Hull. Terry himself has won five separate trophies at Wembley Stadium, experience he will surely share with the squad.

Villa’s most dangerous player this season has been Albert Adomah whose blistering pace down the right has been something for opponents to deal with. However, he’s hit a cold streak, without a goal since scoring in a 4-1 win over champions Wolves back on March 10th.

Villa is looking to go back to the Premier League after relegation two years ago, while Fulham has spent four years in the second tier after being sent down back in 2014.

Transfer rumors: Fred to Man United; Icardi to Chelsea

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Brazilian midfielder Fred seems to be edging closer to a move to Manchester United after being chased by Manchester City for much of the last 12 months.

[ MORE: UCL final projected XI’s

The Shakhtar Donetsk star, 25, is a central midfielder who was supposed to be a long-term replacement for Fernandinho at City, but it appears Jose Mourinho has now swooped in to snap up the combative midfielder after Pep Guardiola‘s interest went cold.

Speaking in a press conference while away with the Brazilian national team, Fred believes that United have a bid in place for him with the midfielder previously valued at around $55 million.

“The talks had been in progress since January with City. Soon after, City and United talked to Shakhtar and my agents,” Fred said, via Globo Esporte. “And now, if I’m not mistaken, there was news of a very strong bid from United.”

Do United need Fred?

With Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay all at the club, the Brazilian’s arrival may well see Herrera, and maybe even Pogba, surplus to requirements.

Following Michael Carrick‘s retirement at the end of the 2017/18 season and Marouane Fellaini‘s contract soon to run out, Mourinho needs reinforcements in central midfield and Fred fits the bill as a two-way midfielder not scared to dig in and do his work defensively.


Chelsea have been linked with a move for Inter Milan’s star striker Mauro Icardi.

According to reports from Cadena Ser in Spain and Italian outlet Il Messaggero, Morata could head to Inter if Icardi ends up at Stamford Bridge.

Icardi, 25, was the joint-top goalscorer in Serie A in 2017/18 with 29 goals but the Argentine forward failed to make the final World Cup squad for La Albiceleste.

As for Morata, the Spanish forward also didn’t make the World Cup squad for his native Spain after a stop-start season at Chelsea under Antonio Conte. Morata, 25, was spotted meeting with the Juventus hierarchy earlier this week as the Real Madrid product spent two seasons at Juve from 2014-16 before heading back to Real en-route to Chelsea.

Would this be a good move for Chelsea?

Such has been Morata’s poor form in his debut season in the Premier League (yes, 15 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions is a decent return, but it’s not remarkable), they would no doubt have to send Morata and plenty of cash to Inter in exchange for their captain. Chelsea paid Real Madrid $80 million for Morata last summer and the reports claim they would have to send Morata plus $40 million to Inter to bring Icardi to the Bridge.

The latter has had plenty of temperament issues over the years but his status as a poacher is undoubted as his goals fired Inter back into the UEFA Champions League this season following their dramatic final day win at Lazio. Yet it’s tough to see Inter letting their skipper leave the San Siro this summer as he’s the key reason why they’re back in the Champions League.