U.S. vs. Mexico Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson

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After a memorable match like tonight where a number of players put in such tremendous shifts, selecting a Man of the Match can be a bit troublesome.

For example, how can someone argue that Tim Howard doesn’t deserve the recognition?

The U.S. goalkeeper proved his worth tonight in a big way. Entering the pitch with his typical chrome-dome and a beard that would make James Harden proud, Howard exuded confidence.

From the early corner-kicks, to Giovani Dos Santos’ menacing runs, to the long-range efforts of Christian ‘El Chaco’ Giménez, Howard had every angle covered. The Everton netminder’s save of the night came in the 43rd minute when Dos Santos slipped behind Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones and stabbed a vicious shot towards the top corner. With a cat-like leap, Howard sprung left and sucked in the shot with both gloves, preventing the rebound.

But as good as Howard was, who could deny Omar Gonzalez the MOTM award?

Tonight we witnessed the coming-of-age story that was Gonzalez morphing from a boy with talent into a center-back worthy of international recognition. From the opening whistle he bossed the U.S. defense with thoughtful organization and intelligent positioning.

Dos Santos may have been active but Gonzo had him in his back pocket. Utilizing his robust 6’5″ frame, the center-back forced Gio off the ball on numerous occasions leaving the diminutive playmaker with nothing to do but foul. Gonzo’s best sequence of the night came in the 18th minute where his sliding interception ruined Dos Santos’ through-ball to Javier Hernandez. The play continued, however, with Omar then popping up and blocking Gio’s shot before Giménez forced a fine save by Howard.

And yet, incredibly, other guys were equally as impressive as Howard and Gonzo.

Alejandro Bedoya was a nightmare for El Tri, especially Andres Guardado. Landon Donovan overcame what had to be one of the gnarliest forms of pink-eye ever seen to put in a shift that screamed one word: desire. Heck, one could even argue that Jurgen Klinsmann, for all the depth and belief he has provided the Stars & Stripes, deserved the recognition.

But for me, tonight was all about Eddie Johnson.

One of the biggest narratives going into the match was whether the U.S. had the depth to defeat Mexico, and more specifically, whether the U.S. attack could inflict danger without Jozy Altidore.

Eddie Johnson more than answered that question in the affirmative. He caused problems for Mexico’s defense right away, working his way into channels where the U.S. midfield could work off him. In the 22nd minute he found one of these pockets on top of Mexico’s box and provided a cheeky back heel that sprung Clint Dempsey free only for his shot to be blocked.

Nine minutes later, it was Johnson’s trump card – his athleticism – that frustrated El Tri as he skied over the defense and unleashed a thunderous header that was right at Jose de Jesus Corona. The effort was a sign of things to come, however, as Johnson sensed Mexico’s timidity in the air and latched on to Donovan’s 49th minute corner to pound home the opening goal.

Johnson’s goal celebration at the corner flag was emphatic and justifiably so – he was a man on a mission. And tonight, he arrived in a very big way.

Brazil, baby! Brazil!

Wenger: I’ll decide my future in September

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Arsene Wenger, former manager of Arsenal for more than 20 years, is famous for many things. One is either his indicative nature, or ability to show prudence when making decisions, depending on how you see it.

Wenger has been without a job for the first time in more than two decades, and he’s been taking his time deciding on what his future will be. There no doubt have been plenty of offers for him, whether to be a club coach, national team coach or a media pundit on any number of television networks across the globe.

[READ: Salah named to UEFA POY shortlist]

“I decided not to decide,” Wenger said in an interview with Corse Matin while on vacation in Corsica  “I was intoxicated (with soccer) so long that I made a promise to make no decision until September.”

In a follow-up question about whether he would go into another field, such as politics, Wenger rejected that, so it appears he still sees his future in soccer. But in the meantime, he’s been busy playing sports and relaxing by the ocean.

“Yes, (it’s been) very good,” Wenger said of his time off, “even better than I thought. When you have been as busy as I have been, you always fear a little emptiness.

“But I quickly organized myself in this new stage of my life, I do a lot of sport, here I eat with my friends, copiously, I talk a lot too, I can stay for hours watching the horizon, I read all day, at the moment a book by Philip Roth, I Married a Communist.”

In the question and answer, Wenger also backed former Arsenal star Thierry Henry to take over at Bordeaux, as has been rumored, though he warned he wasn’t sure if Henry was truly ready to sacrifice everything to be a manager.

“Yes, he wants to do it, he is intelligent and he has the qualities,” Wenger said. “The existential question that we always ask ourselves is whether we are ready to sacrifice our life for the coaching profession.”

Salah, Ronaldo and Modric on UEFA Player of Year shortlist

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Mohamed Salah‘s magical season for Liverpool could help him usurp what had been a hegemony at the top of UEFA’s yearly awards.

[READ: Morata admits to struggles in Conte’s system]

Salah, along with former teammates Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric were all nominated for UEFA’s Player of the Year award. Salah led Liverpool to an improbable run to the Champions League final, scoring 10 goals and dishing out five assists in 13 Champions League matches.

Ronaldo of course won his third-straight Champions League title last season and fifth overall while leading all goalscorers in the competition for the sixth-straight season. And Modric, starring for Real Madrid along with Ronaldo before the latter left for Juventus, won his third-straight title and led Croatia to the World Cup final in Russia.

Here’s the rest of the top 10. The Men’s Player of the Year, along with Women’s Player of the Year and Champions League Best XI will be announced on August 30. Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have combined to win the last four awards.

4. Antoine Griezmann (Atlético & France) – 72 points
5. Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina) – 55 points
6. Kylian Mbappé (Paris & France) – 43 points
7. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City & Belgium) – 28 points
8. Raphaël Varane (Real Madrid & France) – 23 points
9. Eden Hazard (Chelsea & Belgium) – 15 points
10. Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid & Spain) – 12 points

Morata admits difficult adapting to Conte’s system last season

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Alvaro Morata, coming off one of the worst 12 months of his career, is off to a fast start.

If you ask the Spanish striker, it’s thanks to the manager.

Speaking to Chelsea TV, Morata described how he struggled during the 2017-2018 season thanks to former manager Antonio Conte‘s more direct style of play, which forced Morata to play more with his back to goal and control long balls in the air.

[READ: Bale powers Real Madrid to win]

“I think for me the most important thing is the mode we play,” Morata said, praising the 4-3-3 formation the Blues play now under Maurizio Sarri. “Last year it was direct, I had to protect the ball in the air and that’s not my best quality. Now I can attack the spaces, play one-touch and go into the area for the crosses which is better for me.

“The last year was very hard for me, not just with confidence. The injury [last season] was very bad for me and my head, but when the ball goes into the net everything changes. Your mind isn’t blocked anymore and I hope now I can score a lot of goals.”

Morata provided a cool turn and finish for Chelsea in its 3-2 win over Arsenal on Saturday, a classic touch after a season in which Morata didn’t look like himself. It kept Morata home for the summer, having missed out on Spain’s World Cup campaign, which ended in defeat on penalties in the Round of 16 to Russia. Perhaps a Morata high on confidence could have helped them.

With Olivier Giroud more suited to play a game in the air or a hold-up game, it appears that Morata is in position to take advantage of the change of playing style, and we could see his best this season for Chelsea.

Tottenham to host first Champions League fixture at Wembley

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What seemed like a given was finally made official on Monday. Tottenham will host its first UEFA Champions League match at Wembley Stadium.

[READ: D.C. United wins fourth in a row]

The club announced that its first Champions League match, set to be held on either September 18/19 or October 2/3, will be held at England’s national stadium, as safety concerns have kept the new White Hart Lane from opening on time. The draw for the Champions League group stage will be held on August 30, following the conclusion of the Playoff Round, which is set to get underway this week.

Tottenham has already moved upcoming fixtures against Liverpool and Cardiff City to Wembley Stadium, but the venue for Tottenham’s highly-anticipated home match against Manchester City on October 28 has yet to be determined.

Due to the stadium delays, Tottenham can also apply to the FA to play their League Cup match in September on the road, regardless of the draw.