MLS news roundup: Returning U.S. internationals, Clint Mathis, Columbus logo changes and more

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Players coming off the U.S. national team’s January camp are filtering back into their clubs;  remember, this camp was almost exclusively made up of MLS men.

For instance, Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez, two starters in Saturday’s 2-0 win over South Korea, will get a few days off before joining their MLS club’s practices on Thursday.

Speaking of American internationals and World Cups and U.S. dudes who scored in them… the Chicago Fire has a new assistant. No word on whether Clint Mathis will be rocking the Mohawk on the sidelines, a la World Cup 2002.

Mathis, whose goal in 2002 helped launch the country’s breakthrough, quarterfinal run, leaves his post with the Galaxy, where he served as the club’s director of camps and clinics.

FC Dallas announced it would meet San Antonio in a March 1 friendly. That’s one week away from the Major League Soccer first kick. Of course, an MLS team meeting a North American Soccer League team in a preseason friendly is nothing unusual. The real reason that match is important enough for us to mention: we get to run a picture of San Antonio’s very cool little stadium, a recently completed, privately funded 8,000-seat ground, which you see above.

(MORE: MLS set to announce Miami expansion Wednesday)

New Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt is throwing down some big hints – not check that … he’s more or less just saying it – that there are branding changes coming for the league’s Ohio club. He said so in an interview with Kyle McCarthy. “We will be introducing some changes to our brand in 2015. We love the name Columbus Crew. We love the colors. We love black and gold. That never changes,” he told McCarthy. “We’re looking at ways we can evolve and change our logo. We want it to represent the Columbus we’ve come to know.”

The preseason matches are starting to happen regularly now; the champs just drew with Portland, 1-1. Kansas City was without three of its U.S. national teamers, who will soon be joining the club’s workouts in Arizona.

Chivas USA has loaned Michael Farfan to Liga MX club Chiapas. Honestly, there’s not much to like about this. A guy who made 15 appearances for the club, who could have provided some good depth, will not be around to help new coach Wilmer Cabrera. More than that, the player is now  gone for which Chivas traded away its first round pick in the last draft. That ended up being the No. 2 overall pick … a place where  a club would be expected to get something considerably better than Gabriel Farfan, no offense to the lesser half of the Farfan brother tandem.

Kane scores early and late, England narrowly top Tunisia

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England’s 2018 World Cup debut began brilliantly, then appeared headed for a disappointingly familiar outcome, but was ultimately saved by Harry Kane who scored both goals in the Three Lions’ 2-1 victory over Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

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England came sprinting out of the starting blocks — so quickly they nearly took flight — and taking an early lead through Harry Kane in the 11th minute (WATCH HERE). John Stones‘ header was spectacularly saved by Mouez Hassen, but Kane was in the right place at the right time and swept home the rebound for his first World Cup goal (on his World Cup debut).

The opening half-hour was all England, with the likes of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Raheem Sterling cutting through the Tunisian midfield and defense with very little resistance and creating a half-dozen golden scoring chances. Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate‘s side, they couldn’t capitalize, and they were made to pay for it.

Kyle Walker caught Fakhreddine Ben Youssef with a raised arm as an innocuous cross came into the box, prompting referee Wilmar Roldan to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot immediately. Ferjani Sassi stepped up and converted, just out of reach of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps got a fingertip on the ball (WATCH HERE), to make it 1-1 and negate an otherwise dominant first-half performance by England. It would be Tunisia’s only shot on goal for the game.

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England’s best chance to re-establish a lead came during a six-yard-box scramble just seconds before halftime. Alli’s header hit the crossbar and Stones badly scuffed — nearly whiffed — on the follow-up. Kane was dragged to the ground during the rest of the commotion, to no interest of Roldan.

It took far longer than anyone back home in England would have liked, but Kane grabbed the winner in the 91st minute, heading home from acres of space at the back post. Jordan Henderson got the first crack at heading the corner kick, but it was blocked and bound high into the air. Somehow, some way, Kane was unmarked and snuck his redirect just inside the post.

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Up next for England is a meeting with Panama on Sunday, a day after Tunisia take on Belgium, who thrashed the Panamanians, 3-0, on Monday.

VIDEO: Tunisia equalizes on controversial penalty kick

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England centerback Kyle Walker put his arm up to halt the forward progress of Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. Unfortunately for Walker, Ben Youssef was in the box and Walker’s elbow caught Ben Youssef’s face.

Referee Wilmar Roldan quickly whistled for a penalty kick and despite the protests from a half-dozen of England players and a check from the VAR, the called stood. Ferjani Sassi’stepped up to the spot and found the lower-left corner, just barely beating Jordan Pickford to tie the game in the 35th minute.

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How will England respond?

VIDEO: Captain Kane puts England on the board early

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It may be the easiest goal-scoring opportunity Harry Kane‘s ever had in an international competition, and he finished it as easy as you’d like.

Kane side-footed home after Tunisia goalkeeper Mouez Hassen made a terrific save on John Stone’s header off a corner, but the save was directed right into a wide-open Kane who was standing ready inside the six yard box. The 11th minute goal will surely settle some of the Three Lions’ nerves as they open their World Cup bid in Russia.

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After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

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But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.