Landon Donovan steps into shadows for US Soccer

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There is an image of Landon Donovan that comes to mind. He was talking a bit about the dark times. You might know that the soccer career of Landon Donovan has been a particularly stark blend of shadow and light, brilliantly bright moments like his earth-shattering goal against Algeria in the World Cup four years ago and gray days when he was not even sure he wanted to keep playing.

The image comes from one of one of those colorless and bleak days when Donovan could not make sense of why he was even playing soccer. He has always been the most introspective of athletes, more artist than jock, and at various times in his life has wondered if this was what he was meant to do. He only started playing soccer because he was such a hyper child that his mother thought running around might tire him out. He scored seven goals in his first game, and the future was laid out.

Well, he was a natural. Donovan was faster than just about anybody — with or without the ball — had a special talent for finding open spaces and he would score more goals on the world stage than any American player ever. He would be a key player — maybe even the key player — in changing the way America viewed the world’s game.

Sometimes, though, he felt this lifelessness on the pitch, as if he had chosen the wrong path in life.

“I used to be on the field,” he said, “and think, ‘Maybe I’ll hear a song that will remind me of my family or where I came from or my wife. Maybe the crowd will get really loud … and that will lift me up.”

Thursday, the U.S. World Cup coach Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off his 23-man roster for the Rio. It was one of those singular sports moves that made absolutely perfect sense to some fans and absolutely no sense at all to others.  There was no middle ground.

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On the one hand, Donovan is 32 years old, has been off form lately and a year ago he took a soccer sabbatical that clearly left Klinsmann and others wondering about his motivation and commitment to the sport.

On the other, Donovan is the greatest goal-scorer in American history, was pretty fantastic on the U.S. Gold Cup team just one year ago and, in the words of the London Daily Mail “has more World Cup goals than Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney combined.” Also the sabbatical clearly energized him.

On one hand, the U.S. is stuck in what people are calling the World Cup group of death — with Ghana, Portugal and Germany — and so are unlikely to advance anyway. Klinsmann seems to believe this is the right time, the perfect time, to break from America’s wobbly soccer past — a past Donovan represents. Klinsmann also might very be looking to make the statement that this is HIS team (with several German countrymen to prove it), and Donovan simply wasn’t his kind of player. He has not hidden his distaste for how the American media still celebrates him.*

*It would be tough to not see some personal animosity involved here after Klinsmann’s son Jonathan — a goalkeeper on the U.S. development team — wrote a mocking tweet to celebrate Donovan’s exit finished off with a blunt, “HAHA.” Jonathan deleted the Tweet and gave one of those pseudo “my sincerest apologies to anyone who was offended” apologies. But the point was not lost.

source: Getty ImagesOn the other hand, Donovan was in position to play in his fourth World Cup — putting him in that stratosphere with Pele and Diego Maradona — and he’s the most famous soccer player in the United States, and several of his teammates have been very vocal in their opinion that he belonged on the team. Bruce Arena, the 2006 national team coach and Dovovan’s coach now for the LA Galaxy, was blunt to the San Jose paper one day before the decision: “If there are 23 players better than Landon,” he said, “then we have a chance to win the World Cup.”

When Klinsmann cut Donovan, he made one of those rare decisions that people RABIDLY agree or disagree with — to the point of not even understanding the other side — which made it a perfect Twitter moment. And Twitter, predictably, exploded with soccer fans alternately hammering Klinsmann, defending him and yelling, “You just don’t know anything about soccer” at each other (as soccer fans are inclined to do).

The most fascinating part of this whole story, to me at least, is Donovan himself. He saw this coming, or at least the possibility of it coming, even when others did not. Just two days before the decision he talked about how making the team was no sure thing; he could sense Klinsmann’s wariness. Still, thinking you might get cut and actually getting cut are two different things. There is no doubt that Donovan was crushed by the choice; he did briefly mention his disappointment in a classy thank you note he wrote to fans on his Facebook page.

But, knowing Donovan a little bit, I know his feelings go much deeper than simple disappointment or anger or sadness. Frank Sinatra used to say that a big reason that his singing so deeply touched people was that he had “an acute capacity for sadness and elation.” That’s Donovan too.

At his athletic best, he was a little bit faster, a little bit bolder, a little bit more driven. If you look at his U.S. National team 57 goals, by far a record, what you often see is a young man blazing on the counterattack, sprinting past defenders who look as stationary as trees on the highway, pulling away and putting away the goal and then taking off his shirt and going to his knees to soak in the cheers. That’s Donovan at his boldest and, perhaps, his happiest.

The other times, when he was listening for music or searching for a memory to inspire him, the game was more than just challenging. He developed a reputation among some as soft, but that was never the right word. He was more like a great novelist with writer’s block. His breathtaking sprints would not yield chances. His uncanny sense of anticipation would feel blocked. He would start to think too much. Donovan admits that there are always a million thoughts buzzing around in his head, many of them about what he should be doing with his life. It’s no more surprising that he took a sabbatical from soccer than it is that he came back afterward. Unlike so many great athletes who know one destiny, Donovan was often conflicted.

And I imagine he’s conflicted now — hurt, no doubt, angry perhaps, but also contemplative. He has spent a lot of time considering his talent, his career, his life and what comes after. He has played such a big role in the how our country now consumes soccer, such a big role in making the world sport just a little bit more American. He says he wants to continue doing that; it will be interesting to see what’s next for him.

As for the team, it’s all speculation and the opinions are all over the map, but I’m guessing this would have been a better team with Landon Donovan on it. His form may be off, he may be a step slower, and he might not fit Klinsmann’s vision for this team. But he’s still the most accomplished player in the country, the best-known player in the country, he’s still capable of raising his level, and he has developed as a leader and a teammate.

Klinsmann has a plan, and as coach he should follow that plan, sentimentality aside. Still, when playing in the group of death, Klinsmann might just find that he is short a player who can score goals when he hears the music.

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La Liga: Real Madrid steal late win against 10-man Betis

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s results in La Liga, where Real Madrid were quite fortunate to come out with three points…

[ MORE: Transfer news: Rice in, Jorginho out at Chelsea; Skriniar to Spurs ]

Real Betis 2-3 Real Madrid

Opposition own goal? Check. Opposition red card? Check. Late-game penalty kick? Also check. The defending La Liga champions needed all of that in a span of 35 minutes, and a bit more, to escape their trip to Betis with three points.

Things started off well for Zinedine Zidane’s side Federico Valverde put Los Blancos ahead after 14 minutes, with a little help from Karim Benzema. The 1-0 scoreline didn’t survive until halftime, though, and neither did the 1-1. Aissa Mandi and William Carvalho each scored two minutes apart for Betis just before the break.

Real Madrid got back to level terms three minutes after the restart, thanks to an own goal from Emerson. 20 minutes later, Emerson was shown a straight red card for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. Things went from bad to worse for Betis in the 82nd minute, when Marc Bartra was deemed to have handled the ball inside the box following video review. Sergio Ramos stepped up and sealed the win with a delicate chip down the middle.

Full-blown crisis averted, for now, after drawing with Real Sociedad on the opening day of the season.

Valencia 1-1 Huesca

This season looks set to be a hugely difficult one for Valencia as the club endures untold financial hardship and looks to sell off as much of the first-team squad as possible in an attempt to balance the books.

Saturday’s draw with newly promoted Huesca was simply the latest chapter, of which there will be many, of struggle for Javi Gracia’s side.

Other La Liga results

Alaves 0-0 Getafe
Elche 0-3 Real Sociedad

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna v Levante — 6 am ET
Eibar v Athletic Bilbao — 8 am ET
Atletico Madrid v Granada – 10 am ET
Cadiz v Sevilla — 12:30 pm ET
Real Valladolid v Celta Vigo — 12:30 pm ET
Barcelona v Villarreal — 3 pm ET

Fulham – Aston Villa: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Fulham – Aston Villa: How early is too early to call a game “must-win” in the Premier League? Perhaps we will find out on Monday (Watch live at 12:45 pm ET, online via Peacock), when bottom-of-the-table Fulham host Aston Villa at Craven Cottage.

FULHAM – ASTON VILLA STREAM LIVE

Scott Parker’s side has had a torrid start to life back in the PL — not at all dissimilar to the way their last stint ended — and find themselves with zero points and seven goals conceded after their first two games. Losing 3-0 to Arsenal on the opening day of the season wasn’t altogether surprising, but following that defeat with four more goals conceded to Leeds United last weekend will undoubtedly have done a number on the Cottagers’ confidence.

Villa, on the other hand, have played just once and secured a 1-0 victory over Sheffield United earlier this week. A win on Monday would see Dean Smith’s side start the season with back-to-back PL victories for the first time since the 1999-2000 season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Fulham – Aston Villa this Monday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Fulham – Aston Villa (INJURY REPORT)

Fulham – No injuries or suspensions

Aston Villa – OUT: Bjorn Engels (thigh), Tom Heaton (knee), Wesley (knee), Ahmed Elmohamady (thigh)


What they’re saying: Fulham – Aston Villa

Scott Parker, on a “must-win” game: “I don’t see it as drastic as a must-win. We want to win. I know it’s either high or low in a drastic world, but we need to stay level and take realism of where we are in the campaign and where we are as a team. We will try everything we can to take some points and be up to the challenge. I don’t think we’re the only team at this present moment in time who have let in some goals in the first two games. It’s not ideal, of course not. Villa at home on Monday is a game we’re going to try to get three points.”

Dean Smith, on needing another signing: “We’re always looking in the market, we’re probably one short in the squad at the moment so we’ll keep looking at that. I think there’s seven days left until the window shuts internationally, another seven days domestically. Our sporting director at the moment has got his finger on the pulse, hopefully we might get one more in and maybe a couple more out.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This one is just about a coin flip with Fulham (+185) ever so slight underdogs to Villa (+150). In a game that could go either way like this one, the draw (+225) might just be the safe middle ground.

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Prediction: Fulham – Aston Villa

There’s not much to separate these two sides right now, and there likely won’t be much ground between them come the season’s final table. There should be a few goals, but that’ll be more down to poor defending than excellent attacking quality from either side. Fulham 2-2 Villa.


How to watch Fulham – Aston Villa stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:45 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Ings secures Saints’ first points in win at Burnley

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Burnley – Southampton saw an early Danny Ings goal lift Saints to their first three points of the 2020-21 Premier League season and a 1-0 victory at Turf Moor on Saturday.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]

Burnley had their chances to get back in the game, but a painfully close offside call and a stellar save in the span of 90 second-half seconds left the Clarets with a familiar empty feeling once again.


3 things we learned: Burnley – Southampton

1. Ings a one-season wonder? Yeah, no: For years, the narrative surrounding Ings was “when healthy, the man scores goals.” Now, it’s just “the man scores goals.” Last season: 22 goals in 38 appearances. This season, through three games: three goals. It’s also no coincidence that Ings has proven more and more productive since Che Adams claimed his regular starting spot alongside the talisman. Their partnership has unlocked the best of one another and should continue to do so for some time to come.

2. However, when Ings doesn’t score…: On the other hand, Saints managed all of zero shots on target after Ings’ fifth-minute goal, which was also their first of the game. The free-flowing attacking move that resulted in Ings’ goal was very much the exception, not the rule, as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side did very little with their nearly 50-50 share of possession. If the wingers in Hassenhuttl’s fairly rigid 4-4-2 aren’t torching defenders one-on-one in space, there’s not much doing in the way of chance creation.

3. Burnley crying out for reinforcements (re-post from Sunday): Sean Dyche had some rather critical thoughts about Burnley’s ongoing inability — or, perhaps, refusal — to move in a more timely manner to sign new players and improve the squad. Until such a change occurs, Dyche’s words are probably worth revisiting regularly.


Saints were quick off the mark and went ahead after just five minutes. Ings got on the end of Adams’ cut-back ball toward the penalty spot with his first touch, and lifted the ball over the last defender. Kyle-Walker Peters’ clever through ball for Adams was worthy of a secondary assist, as the right back played a crucial role in Saints’ incisive build-up.

Burnley had the ball in the back of the net and thought they had drawn level in the 56th minute, but Chris Wood was denied his goal by the assistant referee’s flag. Wood was indeed inches offside as he made his run in behind before lifting the ball over goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and putting it into an empty net.

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McCarthy was called into emergency action moments later as Burnley ramped up their pressure on Saints’ goal. Charlie Taylor unleashed a swerving strike from the edge oft he box and it appeared headed for McCarthy’s lower right-hand corner, but the Saints ‘keeper made a spectacular save at full-stretch and pushed the ball around the post.

Ings had a second goal ruled out for offside — this one much more so than Woods’ earlier transgression — in second-half stoppage time.

The victory sees Saints move off the bottom of the table with their first points now in hand, while Burnley sink into 17th with zero points from two games played.

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Transfer news: Rice in, Jorginho out at Chelsea; Skriniar to Spurs

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Today’s Premier League transfer news includes Chelsea chasing Declan Rice and sending Jorginho to Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur in talks for Milan Skriniar, and Houssem Aouar to Arsenal…

[ MORE: “Not the bad guy”: Koeman hits back on Luis Suarez exit at Barcelona ]

Jorginho to Arsenal, making way for Rice to Chelsea

Chelsea have not yet given up in their pursuit of West Ham United midfielder Declan Rice, but manager Frank Lampard is reportedly hoping the deal can be done ahead of the Oct. 5 transfer deadline. He does, however, recognize he currently presides of a slightly bloated squad and will likely have to move a player on to bring someone else in. The obviously solution to make way for Declan Rice? Jorginho, who features in a similar position and role, remains a high priority for Arsenal.

Spurs to solidify defense with Skriniar

Tottenham undeniably strengthened their attacking corps both in the January transfer (Steven Bergwijn) window as well as this summer (Gareth Bale), but there remains plenty of rebuilding to be done along the backline, even following the arrival of Sergio Reguilon. Above all else, Jose Mourinho’s side desperately requires a no. 1 center back to organize and command the defense. Milan Skriniar is 25 years old, hugely experienced for a club the size of Inter Milan, widely regarded as one of the best defenders available in the transfer market, and he’s reportedly the apple of someone’s eye at Spurs. The issue, as always with chairman Daniel Levy, is money. Inter want $70 million, which Spurs highly unlikely to fork over.

[ MORE: Instant classic: Man United beat unlucky Brighton amid late drama ]

Arsenal want Aourar, but Lyon want (a lot) more money

Aouar to Arsenal feels almost inevitable at this point, with the Gunners seemingly set to benefit from Manchester City and Juventus’ inaction toward signing the 22-year-old French midfielder. Their initial bid was rejected by Lyon, but their does appear to be some room to negotiate between the sides’ initial positions. Lyon began with a $69-million valuation, while Arsenal’s bid was reportedly just shy of $45 million. Aouar has reportedly already agreed contract terms with Arsenal, and the move hinges upon the two clubs agreeing a fee.

Brewster to Sheffield United; Villa, Brighton also interested

Rhian Brewster remains a highly rated future prospect for Liverpool, but the 20-year-old has reached the point in his development where he requires first-team PL action in order to become a first-team PL player. He won’t get such an opportunity at Liverpool — not this season, at least — thus he is prepared to leave the club, with the likes of Sheffield United, Aston Villa and Brighton & Hove Albion all reportedly interested. Whether or not he will go out on loan or leave permanently remains up in the air.