Matt Besler reflects on Sporting KC’s MLS exit; enjoying USA’s trip to London

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LONDON — 10 days after his 2014 Major League Soccer season ended with Sporting Kansas City, Matt Besler is in England training at Fulham’s Motspur Park with the U.S. national team.

When speaking to ProSoccerTalk on Monday, Besler was understandably disappointed that the reigning MLS Cup champions got knocked out of the playoffs in the knockout round to the New York Red Bulls and were unable to defend their crown.

[ RELATED: USA to play Colombia ]

Under the floodlights on a chilly evening in south west London, Besler summed up his emotions after Sporting’s exit from the playoffs.

“We are all disappointed that we are not still playing,” Besler said. “It is certainly the expectation that we have as a team now. So any time we don’t win a championship we are disappointed. I think there’s a lot to be proud of, I know that the guys left everything they had on the field. We had a lot of obstacles this year that we weren’t quite able to overcome. That’s how it goes. You have to learn, move on and come back stronger for next season.”

After a stuttering second half to the MLS season for Peter Vermes’ men (losing seven of their final 10 matches) they stumbled into the postseason and looked jaded as many pointed to both Besler and Graham Zusi — two of Sporting’s most influential players — having no rest after the USA’s World Cup campaign in Brazil.

Besler admitted that he wasn’t in his best physical condition after a grueling World Cup campaign then returning to play out the rest of the season in MLS, but insisted that he didn’t want to use it as an excuse for failing to advance past the first round of the playoffs.

“Physically it was tough… it was tough. I’ve been asked that question [of his fitness] a lot,” Besler said. “I feel like when I say that I’m being truthful but it comes out as an excuse. I don’t want it to come out that way. It is every players dream to be playing in World Cups and then coming back to your club team. I will say that the pre-World Cup camp was the toughest camp of my entire life. We were doing three-a-days for a month up until the World Cup.”

It is well known that following his stellar performances in the World Cup for the USA, Besler had plenty of options to move to England but chose to remain at Sporting and sign a new long-term deal for his hometown club alongside his good friend and teammate Zusi. Just because he didn’t sign for Fulham, or a number of other English teams, that doesn’t mean the KC native is not enjoying his time in England’s capital.

“Today was great, being on the training ground. It’s a first-class facility,” Besler said. “I’m just excited to be over here and experience the culture of all the football matches going on. The second you walk around town you can feel the energy they have and their passion for football.”

ProSoccerTalk will be with the USA in London all week ahead of their game against Colombia at Craven Cottage on Friday. Stay in touch with the latest news, here.

CCL wrap: Atlanta United, Cruz Azul advance

CONCACAF Champions League
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The underdogs did not have their days on Tuesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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MLS side Atlanta United and Liga MX mainstays Cruz Azul cruised to second legs win at home to clinch places in the quarterfinals.

Cruz Azul 4-0 (6-1 agg.) Portmore United

Bringing a pair of away goals from Jamaica, the Liga MX hosts just needed to put this one on ice early.

Orbelin Pineda did that in the 22nd minute, and Cruz Azul struck thrice in the second half to win in a landslide.

Atlanta United 3-0 (4-1 agg.) Montagua

It was all about the Martinezes in Georgia, as Pity sandwiched a pair of goals around Josef’s 61st minute tally to send the Five Stripes into the next stage.

All the goals showed calm under pressure, but Pity’s first was gorgeous football. He also assisted Josef’s goal in Honduras during the first leg.

Remaining Round of 16 second legs

NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Coronavirus: Italy may lift ban on sporting events by Monday

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MILAN (AP) The Italian government could lift its ban on sporting events by Monday in areas affected by the coronavirus if the number of cases stabilizes.

The outbreak forced a number of sporting events to be called off throughout the country this past weekend, including four Serie A matches in the north of Italy.

This week, the ban on sporting events was extended from Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont – the areas hardest hit by the outbreak – to also include the regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Emilia Romagna and Liguria, until March 1.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

“If, as I hope, the statistics don’t give us different signs then maybe already by Monday these measures won’t be continued,” Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora said. “But it’s only Tuesday today and we have to wait and see what happens over the next few days. The health of the Italian citizens is the most important thing.”

Italy reported a 45% increase in the number of coronavirus cases Tuesday, from 222 to 300. Ten people have died, all of them elderly or suffering from other ailments.

“Obviously, I can’t say I’m not worried because I don’t want anyone to think we’re underestimating this emergency,” Premier Giuseppe Conte said before meeting with visiting World Health Organization representatives. “But we trust that with the measures we have implemented, there will be a containing effect in the coming days.”

Italy has closed schools, museums and theaters in the two regions where clusters have formed and troops are enforcing quarantines around 10 towns in Lombardy and the epicenter of the Veneto cluster, Vo’Euganeo.

Serie A matches this weekend are set to be played behind closed doors, including Juventus’ key match against Inter Milan. That game is not only potentially crucial to the title race but also sees the return of former Juventus coach Antonio Conte.

Inter’s Europa League match at home to Ludogorets on Thursday will also take place without any fans allowed in.

Serie C canceled all games in two leagues which have teams in the north. Volleyball and rugby games were also suspended nationwide through next weekend.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation suspended all of its events throughout the country for an entire week, although it said that “for now” next weekend’s World Cup ski races in La Thuile in the Valle d’Aosta region were still set to go ahead. Those races are operated by the International Ski Federation, which has already canceled races this season in China that were slated to test the course for the 2022 Beijing Games.

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

El Tri winger Jurgen Damm headed for MLS this summer

Jurgen Damm
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This season’s Liga MX invasion of MLS continues with Jurgen Damm announcing that he’ll leave UANL Tigres this summer after five years with the club.

TUDN has the destination as Atlanta, though previous reports have linked Damm to the LA Galaxy is the spot.

And MLSSoccer.com scribe Tom Bogert says the Houston Dynamo have his “discovery rights” (which remains the worst concept in the entire league).

Reports emerged over the past 48 hours that the El Tri man was headed for an MLS club.

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The 12-times capped winger has one goal for Mexico, but has not been capped since Oct. 2018. He has spent his entire career in Liga MX.

Damm spent the early part of his career with Tecos and Pachuca, but has been with UANL Tigres since 2015.

He won four league titles with UANL, as well as the 2018 Campeones Cup.

Ex-Arsenal man Gnabry: “London’s still red” after Bayern beats Chelsea

Serge Gnabry
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Ex-Arsenal man Serge Gnabry still has love for the club.

Gnabry tweeted that “London is still red” after he scored twice for Bayern Munich in a 3-0 beating of Chelsea on Tuesday in the first leg of a UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie.

This after scoring four times against Spurs in a previous Champions League group stage match and Tweeting that “North London is Red.”

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So what’s with the London form?

“I’ve got a lot of friends here,” Gnabry said after the game. “A lot of them were in the stands tonight, and it seems they give me a lot of good power.”

Gnabry only scored once during his time in England with Arsenal and West Brom but is a bona fide star in the Bundesliga.

With a three-goal advantage over Chelsea heading to Munich for a second leg, however, he’s not got his head in the clouds.

“Three goals ahead gives us a little bit of confidence, but we need to be prepared for the second leg. We can’t take it not seriously enough. … We’ve seen it last year with Liverpool beating Barcelona, so we have to be careful. We have to go into the second leg with all of our focus.”

Gnabry now has 51 goals and 29 assists in four seasons since returning to Germany from Arsenal. Not terrible production for a player the Gunners offloaded to Werder Bremen for under $6 million in 2016.

What color will London be when Chelsea buys him next year? We kid, we kid…