Omar Gonzalez hails “incredible” week for US Soccer; talks USWNT, Gold Cup glory

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U.S. national team defender Omar Gonzalez has paid tribute to an “incredible” week for all things U.S. Soccer.

The USMNT beat Germany on and Holland away from home last week in friendlies, the USWNT currently sit top of Group D at the Women’s World Cup in Canada, plus the U.S. U-23’s finished third in the Toulon Tournament and the U-20’s reached the World Cup quarterfinals.

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All in all, it’s been a very successful 10 days or so for U.S. national team’s across the board.

Speaking to ProSoccerTalk, Gonzalez also talked about Steven Gerrard’s imminent arrival in MLS (more on that here), plus LA’s slow start to the 2015 but was keen to speak about the Pass The Love campaign he has been getting behind to support the USWNT on their quest for World Cup glory in Canada this summer.

In what many lauded as a standout past week, Gonzalez reflected on all the USMNT, USWNT and U.S. youth teams have achieved in early June.

“It has been incredible for U.S. Soccer from the youth levels up to the senior teams. The U-20’s did great, the U.S. men’s team had unbelievable wins against Germany and Holland at their places was incredible,” Gonzalez said. “Watching those games, there was such a difference from the first half to the second half in both games. I just love the fact that we never quit. We kept it going and figured out how to switch our formations on the fly. I was really proud of the guys for the way they fought and managed to get stuck in and grind out results in unbelievable fashion. I was just a fan here cheering them on. I thought it was amazing.”

[ RELATED: Gonzalez says Gerrard to mirror Donovan, Beckham’s impact ]

Focusing on the USWNT’s early efforts in Canada, Gonzalez has urged the public to get behind the team just like they did during the USMNT’s run to the last 16 in Brazil last summer.

“The women’s team have always been so good and the fact that they have started this World Cup well, I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Gonzalez said. “I wish them all the best and it has been great to see the fans and the media have all rallied behind the women’s team. It is important to rally the fans to give the women’s team the same support they gave us in Brazil 2014. As a player I truly know how much seeing the support improves your play and your confidence.”

As for the men’s national team he is a part of, the 26-year-old believes Jurgen Klinsmann’s side deserves a little more credit for going into the backyard of reigning World Cup champions Germany and No. 6 ranked Holland and grabbing gritty wins.

“They accomplished something that has never been done,” Gonzalez said. “I would say ‘a win is a win not matter how you did it or who is on the field.’ I can tell you for a fact right now that those German and Dutch players they weren’t there just to play. They wanted to get a result and show their coach they belong there. They were trying just as hard as the U.S. were. It was a competitive match and we accomplished something that has never been done. It is tough to hear fans and the media trying to dumb this great accomplishment down. It was truly great to see. The players who were out there on the field worked their assess off for it.”

Gonzalez reserved special praise for 23-year-old LA teammate Zardes who scored his first international goal in the game against Holland and started both contests in Europe.

“I was really proud of my teammate Gyasi [Zardes] going there and playing in both games,” Gonzalez revealed. “I know how hard he works on a personal level because I see him every single day. He is a guy who is very driven and wants to get better every single day. To see him go there and score a goal and make a difference in both games was great to see.”

source:
USA v Australia: Group D – FIFA Women’s World Cup 2015

Heading into the summer, Gonzalez was named on Jurgen Klinsmann’s initial 35-man roster for the Gold Cup being hosted across the United States in July. After winning the tournament in 2013, Gonzalez is eager for the U.S. to become CONCACAF Champions once again and compete in the Confederations Cup in Russia in 2017.

“We are just trying to build off these two wins, continue with the confidence and continue with the great play because this Gold Cup is huge for us,” Gonzalez said. “If we win then we have a ticket to the Confederations Cup and that is a tournament we want to be a part of. We missed the last one so winning this Gold Cup will be huge for us. It is one of our main goals.”

Fulfilling that goal is going to be tough as both Mexico and Costa Rica are ranked above the U.S. in the current FIFA World rankings and all three nations reached the knockout stages of last summer’s World Cup with Costa Rica bowing out bravely at the quarterfinal stage.

“It is going to be extremely difficult,” Gonzalez conceded. “Costa Rica and Mexico, just to name a few teams, are very talented and want to win and go to the Confederations Cup just as bad as we do. We know that we have a lot of work ahead of us but if we can continue with the same mentality and the way we approach the games with that never say die attitude we can accomplish a lot. I know we will have players that can do it and we just have to go out there and perform like I know we can.”

As for the future of U.S. Soccer, Gonzalez believes it is bright after a week of success throughout the ranks.

“It is great to see the young guys always doing so well because you know the future is in good hands,” Gonzalez said. “There are so many young players who are learning the game quicker and are getting the proper coaching. It is great for the future and great for the now. As we saw in the last few games for the U.S. men’s team, a few young guys came on the field and made a big difference. It was great to see.”

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
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Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
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Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.