Two goals make Wondolowski’s case in U.S.’s 2-0 win over South Korea

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CARSON, Calif. — Among those on the fringe of the United States Men’s National Team picture, nobody’s candidacy has been more debate than Chris Wondolowski’s. On Saturday, Major League Soccer’s single-season scoring champion and former Most Valuable Player made another plea to be included in June’s trip to World Cup 2014, scoring both goals in the U.S.’s 2-0 win over South Korea at StubHub Center.

The victory marked a successful end to the U.S.’s winter training camp – one of two times Jurgen Klinsmann’s team will assemble before preparations begin for this summer’s tournament. With only a brief international break in March allowing players to make a final impression before camp is called in May, players like Michael Parkhurst and Brad Davis were making final pitches to make the U.S.’s 23-man World Cup squad.

Nobody did more to help their candidacy than Wondolowski. In the fourth minute, the San Jose Earthquakes captain headed home from close range to give his team an early lead. In the 43rd minute, his work in the right side of the penalty area produced a near-goal for Landon Donovan, while his finish of a Graham Zusi pass into the area in the 60th minute gave him his third multi-goal game of his international career.

(MORE: What went right Saturday for the United States)

For Korea, the loss finished a one-week, three-match trip through North America that saw them face three World Cup qualifiers. After defeating Costa Rica 1-0 in Los Angeles last Saturday, however, Hong Myung-Bo’s team closed their tour with multi-goal losses to Mexico (4-0 on Wednesday in San Antonio) and the U.S.

The opening kickoff saw the United States take a page from their 2013 Gold Cup playbook, where Landon Donovan was name the tournament’s best player while spending much of the competition playing along the defense, above partner Chris Wondolowski. Six months after helping the U.S. blow through that competition’s group stage, the same setup produced an early goal against South Korea.

In the fourth minute, Donovan played wide from just outside the South Korea penalty area, finding Graham Zusi open five yards from touch. The right midfielder’s quick cross far post for Brad Davis forced Jung Sung-Ryong into a reflect stop on diving shot, though the resulting ball allowed Wondolowski to run through a header for the game’s opening goal.

(MORE: What went wrong Saturdays for the United States)

The rest of the half produced more mixed results. In the eighth minute, Lee Ho’s flick from a near-post corner seemed nearly beat Nick Rimando at the near post only to the U.S. keeper extend his arms from inside his own goal to prevent the equalizer. Over the next 20 minutes, South Korea’s willingness to sit deep until the U.S. approached the center line forced the Americans to seize the initiative. Repeated trying to work down their left flank, the U.S. failed to take advantage of Korea’s passive play.

By the 30-minute mark, it was Korea generating opportunities, albeit thin ones. A 31st minute free kick forced a clearance from Omar Gonzalez. A Kim Min-Woo cross from the byline in the 35th minute from saw Matt Besler slide keep the ball from crossing the goal mouth. Another free kick led to an open chance for Kim Ju-Young in the 42nd, but the defender whiffed on his shot. Though Wondolowski and Donovan nearly doubled the U.S.’s lead in the 43rd, Korea had the better of play over the half’s final quarter-hour.

A more even opening to the second half gave way to Wondolowski’s second at the hour mark, a goal created after Zusi got behind the Korean defense on a throw in. Brad Evans’ toss toward the right of the penalty saw Zusi let go of a cross moments before being closed down, with Wondolowski beating the Korean defense to beat Jung at the near post.

The brace ran Wondolowski’s international goals mark to eight, all of which have come since July 2013. After going scoreless in his first nine international appearances, Wondolowski has quickly shed a reputation for being unable to find goal at international level. Having built on the totals he amassed at last summer’s Gold Cup, questions now shift to whether the 2012 MLS MVP can score against high-level international competition. With two goals against a World Cup qualifier, “Wondo” made his best argument yet.

Over the match’s final half hour, neither Rimando nor Jung were meaningfully tested, with a late cross into the U.S.’s six-yard box the closest either team came to changing the 2-0 score. Instead, the biggest news of the match’s final moments was the debut of two U.S. hopes for the future. In the 75th minute, Seattle DeAndre Yedlin collected his first cap, replacing teammate Brad Evans. He was accompanied onto the field by Luis Gil, also making his first senior level appearance for the United States.

Lineups

United States: Nick Rimando; Brad Evans (DeAndre Yedlin 75′), Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler (Clarence Goodson 62′), Michael Parkhurst; Kyle Beckerman Mix Diskerud (Benny Feilhaber 62′); Graham Zusi, Landon Donovan, Brad Davis (Luis Gil 75′); Chris Wondolowski (Eddie Johnson 62′)

Goals: Wondolowski (4′, 60′)

South Korea: Jung Syung-Ryong; Kim Jin-Su (Tae-Hwan Kim 78′), Kim Yo-Young, Kim Kee-Hee, Lee Ho (Lee Seung-Ki 69′); Park Jong-Woo, Kim Min-Woo, Ko Yo-Han; Lee Keun-Ho (Seung-Ki Lee 69′), Kim Shin-Wook

USMNT looks toward Olympic qualifying

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NEW YORK (AP) USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter will be looking toward Olympic soccer qualifying when the senior national team plays Costa Rica on Saturday in an exhibition at Carson, California.

Thirteen of the 22 players on the American roster are eligible for Olympic qualifying, which is limited to players under 23. The U.S. men failed to reach the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and they are in a difficult qualifying group that includes Mexico and Costa Rica.

“It’ll be nice to give them an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd in a real international game,” Berhalter said during a telephone conference call on Monday.

Twelve players have no previous international experience. The U.S. has used 74 players in 30 matches since the 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances, and 36 players have made debuts: 24 under interim coach Dave Sarachan and 12 under Berhalter, who was hired in December 2018.

“We think this age group is talented for the Olympic age group and we’re excited to see how they navigate through the qualification process and then eventually build the group for the Olympics” Berhalter said.

Olympic qualifying runs from March 20-30 and the U.S. will be coached by Jason Kreis. Since clubs are not required to release players to under-23 teams, top Americans Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Sergino Dest are not likely to be available. Major League Soccer starts Feb. 29, and its coaches may be reluctant to provide players.

“We’re going to need a lot of cooperation from Major League Soccer, and I know that’s difficult given the early stage of their season,” Berhalter said.

If the U.S. does qualify for the Olympics, it would be able to add three players over the age limit. But clubs could decline to release players.

“It would be nice to field our strongest team in the Olympics. We’re just not sure that’s going to happen,” Berhalter said.

Veterans on the roster this weekend include forwards Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola, defender Aaron Long and midfielder Sebastian Lletget. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid could make his first appearance since a June 2018 exhibition at Ireland.

On other topics:

-Berhalter did not sound overly concerned about Pulisic’s adductor injury. The Chelsea midfielder has not played since Jan. 1 and is not likely to return until Feb. 17 at the earliest. “He played a lot of games in a short period of time over Christmas,” Berhalter said. “He’s a young player playing at an extremely competitive level and it takes a physical toll on your body. And him coming to terms with that is something that’s normal for the process of adapting.”

-On the best position for Adams, who has appeared at right back and right wing for RB Leipzig: “We see him primarily as a central midfielder. We always have seen him as a central midfielder. But we know that when we when we need to be flexible, he can play that position, as well. We think right now the right back position is filled with depth, and he’ll be most suited in our system in central midfield.”

-On the possibility of Long transferring from the New York Red Bulls to West Ham: “It obviously could be a potential big change in where he’s competing and what level he’s playing at. … That would be a step up for him.”

-Jesus Ferreira, a Colombian-born forward who received U.S. citizenship last month, may not be eligible to play this weekend pending the completion of paperwork.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tottenham sign Lo Celso, close in on Bergwijn

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Tottenham Hotspur have signed Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis, triggering a clause which turns his loan into a permanent transfer.

Lo Celso, 23, arrived on loan this summer and after injuries disrupted his first few months in England he has settled in very nicely in recent weeks.

The Argentine playmaker has signed a contact through 2025 and is the direct replacement for Christian Eriksen who is Inter Milan bound.

Spurs are also closing in on a deal for Steven Bergwijn as PSV Eindhoven left the winger out of training and he has flown to London for a medical.

Bergwijn, 22, is a rising star in the Dutch Eredivisie and according to our partners at Sky Sports he will join Tottenham for $32.5 million, rising to $35 million with add-ons.

With Christian Eriksen’s move to Inter Milan set to be completed on Tuesday, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has brought in a younger, promising attacking player to help freshen up the attack alongside Lo Celso.

Tottenham have got their dominoes in order and now they are ready to fall.

Bergwijn is highly-rated and scored 16 goals in a struggling PSV side last season and has six goals to his name in 29 appearances in all competitions so far in 2019-20. He has recently broken into the Dutch national team and is regarded as one of the top young wing talents in Europe.

This is exactly the kind of transfer Spurs need to be making. Mourinho loves to have tricky and direct wingers in his teams to feed off a central striker and Bergwijn is on the up and is hungry to prove himself in England. It makes total sense with Eriksen on his way out for about $22 million, so it could be yet another shrewd bit of business from Levy and Co.

Aside from Bergwijn there is a push for a striker to arrive on a short-term deal with Harry Kane out injured until April, but given the form of Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura and Dele Alli in attack, perhaps Mourinho and Levy will resist the urge to bring in a short-term solution up top.

Krzysztof Piatek, Willian Jose, Edinson Cavani and many others have been mentioned as potential stop gaps for Kane but the fluid movement of Son, Moura and Alli could be the way to go in attack. With Bergwijn added to the mix alongside the January loan addition of midfielder Gedson Fernandes, Spurs are getting younger and things have been freshened up quite nicely by Mourinho.

All things considered, not a bad window for Spurs, as they sit six points off the top four with 14 games to go and are still in the FA Cup and now have a plan without Kane for the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds and the final months of the season.

Solskjaer coy on Man United transfers; Alexis to return

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was coy when asked about possible transfer for Manchester United in the final days of the January window and revealed that Alexis Sanchez will return this summer.

Speaking ahead of their League Cup semifinal second leg against rivals Man City on Wednesday (City lead 3-1 from the first leg), Solskjaer was asked about a possible deal for Bruno Fernandes and if United will do any other business before the window shuts on Friday.

“I haven’t got any updates for you on transfers, I think it was a wasted question,” Solskjaer told a reporter. “I haven’t got anything to say now.”

Pushed further about what type of players United could sign, Solskjaer was asked if the club are now ‘thinking outside of the box’ amid reports they could sign strikers Odion Ighalo and Islam Slimani.

Solskjaer bemoaned the January window and how difficult it is to do business and shocked everyone as he revealed that Sanchez will be welcomed back with open arms in the summer when his loan with Inter Milan ends.

“Well, we’ve got players here we are working hard to get back and if there is something out there then the club are pursuing that and looking at it. Of course, it is the difficult window, it has always been,” Solskjaer said. “I can’t remember how many good ‘uns or deals we’ve brought in January. Henrik [Larsson] was good, Nemanja [Vidic] and Patrice [Evra] were two good ones. Henrik as a loan. Alexis… It is hard because some of the clubs don’t want to lose their players. Alexis will come back in the summer and prove you all wrong.”

“At the moment it doesn’t look like it, no,” Solskjaer added when asked about outgoings, while he added that Nemanja Matic may not be fit for the League Cup semifinal at Man City and Marcos Rojo is very unlikely to be sold.

It seems likely that United will not do any business in the final days of the window as Solskjaer looked frustrated but put on a brave face.

United are said to be $26 million short of matching Sporting Lisbon’s valuation of Fernandes and even though the Portuguese playmaker would make a big difference for them in the final months of the Premier League season, it seems unlikely the player they’ve chased since last summer will arrive at Old Trafford.

This news will no doubt be frustrating for United but given Mason Greenwood‘s recent displays, perhaps Solskjaer will place extra faith in the 18-year-old to fill the void left by Marcus Rashford over the next six weeks or so. It is either that or bring in a more experienced striker on loan for the rest of the season and that doesn’t seem to slot in with United’s new philosophy of developing young British talent.

Chelsea issue positive Pulisic injury update

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Chelsea have issued a positive injury update on Christian Pulisic as the USMNT star could be back quicker than expected from an adductor injury.

Blues boss Frank Lampard told Pro Soccer Talk last week that Pulisic would likely be back in mid-February during the latter part of the winter break.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

However, via the club website Lampard has now suggested that Pulisic could have an outside chance of playing some part in their huge top four battle against Leicester City this Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

“Aiding that push in the not-too-distant future will be Christian Pulisic, who Lampard thinks will be back in training in the middle of the week although the Leicester City game on Saturday might come too soon,” Chelsea revealed.

This is really good news for Pulisic and Chelsea as the west London club have missed his creativity in the final third in recent games against Newcastle United (a defeat) and Arsenal (a home draw when playing against 10 men for over an hour).

Chelsea admitted they’ve missed Pulisic as the likes of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Willian were shut down rather easily out wide in their disappointing recent results.

“Yeah, a game like today (against Arsenal) could have been a good one where he would have been helpful for us because he was playing well for a patch. But other people have to stand up in those situations,” Lampard said.

Pulisic has been out since Jan. 3 with what Lampard described as a “nasty” injury to his adductor in training and that injury blow came after Pulisic had a slight hamstring issue over the festive period.

In his first season in the Premier League Pulisic has scored five goals and added two assists, with the Pennsylvanian native taking time to settle but he’s now become an integral part of the Chelsea squad.

He has something different compared to Lampard’s other attackers and his time out injured has actually reinforced just how important he is to this Chelsea team.