2014 Review: Top Moments in US Soccer, #5-1

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Looking back on 2014, it has been a pretty incredible year for soccer in the USA. With the USMNT’s run to the last 16 in Brazil during the World Cup madness, MLS’s upsurge and Landon Donovan going out a winner with LA, we’ve been spoiled for top moments. Over the next few days at PST, we will be counting down our top 10 from the USMNT and MLS in the last 12 months. Here’s numbers 5-1…

No. 5 — Landon Donovan breaks all-time MLS goalscoring record

144 goals is a lot of goals, especially for a player who rarely played as a “true striker,” but there stands his record goals tally, 10 ahead of former record-holder Jeff Cunningham, whose tally of 134 goals Donovan broke just three days after the No. 2 U.S. Soccer moment of 2014.

At age 32, Donovan’s 14th MLS season hardly showed any signs of aging as it was one of his very best — 10 goals and 19 assists — matching his greatest output of goals scored and created of his entire career (2008, 20 and 9). He threw in the all-time assists record, a mark no one thought he could possibly reach this year, for good measure with a handful of regular-season games still to play.

No. 4 — Thierry Henry retires, ending a brilliant career

I wrote this about Henry last month:

There’s just not much to say when your gameplan works perfectly for 99 percent of the game, and a player whose ability transcends our ability to understand greatness still finds a way to beat you.

That was the 2014 version of Thierry Henry, in a nutshell. Thought he’d lost a step or two of the frightening pace that made him unstoppable in his younger days, Henry still got it done time and time and time again for the New York Red Bulls over the last four and a half years. He was always the best player on the field, even in his final days at age 37.

Beyond his on-field accomplishments during his MLS days, Henry brought a level of respectability to the league, on the worldwide level. His stated intent from day one wasn’t to “relax on a beach.” He wanted to play, he wanted to win. He set the bar extremely high for the next world superstar to come to MLS.

source: APNo. 3 — Donovan retires, as a champion

Not only did Donovan go out on top, but he lifted his record sixth MLS Cup right in his back yard, less than an hour from where he grew up and began his legendary soccer career. It’s more about how Donovan chose to retire — 100 percent on his own terms, arguably well before he needed to — that stands out most, though.

Donovan put his need to live a happy life ahead of a begging and pleading soccer nation that would have had him hang around until his 40th birthday, still expecting the same dominant performances of his 20s. He’ll not only go down as the greatest American soccer player of all-time (thus far), but speaking candidly on issues like mental health guarantees Donovan’s impact and legacy will continue to be felt a number years down the road. We salute you, No. 10 with the receding hairline.

No. 2 — Klinsmann leaves Donovan off World Cup roster

Name a story from 2014 that was more widely discussed, scrutinized and celebrated than Donovan being unceremoniously cut from the World Cup roster on May 22. Don’t worry, I’ll wait, but I fear we’ll be here for quite some time.

This is the year that the greatest USMNT career of all-time came to an abrupt end, and as thrilling as the World Cup itself was, when so many think back on the summer of 2014, it’ll be Donovan’s omission and the controversy it sparked that will come to mind and reignite heated debates between the closest of friends five, 10, even 15 years from now.

Was Klinsmann right or wrong to do it? Based on how the USMNT struggle to create chances in Brazil, it’s tough to look back now and say he couldn’t have used the national team’s all-time leading goalscorer and assist provider, even as a game-changing substitute late in games.

No. 1 — John Brooks scores late winner in World Cup opener vs. Ghana

In 2010, soccer fans from around the world saw what a thrilling moment like stoppage-time winner in the group stage finale could do to capture the imagination and excitement of a quickly growing soccer nation. There’s no telling how many soccer fans were born that Wednesday afternoon (US time) as the USMNT won the “E.A.S.Y.” group and advanced to the knockout rounds.

Fast forward four years and the USMNT had a similar watershed moment when John Brooks, of all people, scored the game-winning goal in the 86th minute against Ghana, sending bars and living rooms across America in rapturous delirium. I, myself, was one of the millions tuned in that evening, guilty of celebrating wildly inside a jam-packed bar, pouring an entire 32-ounce beer over the head of a very dear friend. World Cups are rare enough on their own. The fact that we’ve been treated to two indescribable moments like the ones mentioned above, in two straight tournaments, makes American soccer fans very, very lucky.

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

AP Photo/John Minchillo
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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

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

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow