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After donning Darth Vader outfit, Gonzalez becomes force

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Omar Gonzalez had just left the LA Galaxy to join Mexico’s Pachuca when his new club’s chairman had a request: Would the 6-foot-5 defender walk into his introductory news conference dressed as Darth Vader?

Of course, he obliged. Ever since, he has become a defensive force.

“I had signed a contract 15 minutes prior to that, so I was like, `Yeah, sure.’ It was a bit small,” Gonzalez recalled of the costume Tuesday. “I don’t know if they met any other Mexican my size.”

Now 28 years old, Gonzalez is among the U.S. players trying to impress returning coach Bruce Arena in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Americans play El Salvador on Wednesday night in a quarterfinal match.

[ EXCLUSIVE: Daley Blind with JPW ]

He made his national team debut in August 2010 during an exhibition against Brazil, which gave a teenage forward named Neymar his first international appearance that night in New Jersey.

Gonzalez went on to become among Major League Soccer’s highest-paid players, but his career stalled: first a torn knee ligament during his initial training session following a January 2012 loan to the German club Nuremberg, then a knee injury that kept him from starting the first two games of the 2014 World Cup.

But worst of all was malaise during his final seasons with the Galaxy.

“I was just doing enough to get by and things were OK,” he said.

Gonzalez decided to change his attitude and alter his rest regimen. He signed with Pachuca in December 2015, helped that team win last year’s Clausura title – and now he is flourishing on a team that will be in this year’s Club World Cup.

“Everyone said this is the next so-and-so. And that’s all well and good, but until you get out there and prove it,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard explained.

“He’s matured. When you have ability and other people think you have ability, it’s great. When you actually realize your own ability and potential, I think the game slows down for you a little bit and you get very comfortable with your own movements and your own communication.”

[ USMNT: Ranking quarterfinalists | Stock up/down ]

Born in Dallas to Mexican-American parents, Gonzalez could have played for either country. An All-American at Maryland, he was the third pick overall in the 2009 MLS draft and then that season was voted MLS Rookie of the Year with the Galaxy, all while being coached by Arena.

During the defender’s time in LA., Gonzalez met Erica, the woman he would marry, at the 30th birthday party of Kenny Arena, now as assistant coach for his dad.

Gonzalez lived in Manhattan Beach but decided to shake up his life with the move to Pachuca, a city of about 265,000, where he now lives with Erica and their two daughters, 2+-year-old Isla and 1-year-old Colette.

“It’s just a totally different lifestyle,” he said. “In LA, you’re done with training and you sit around and you think, what should I do today? There’s always something, to do, and Pachuca there’s not really much to do.”

The family makes the hour-long drive to Costco outside Mexico City to fill the SUV with groceries and supplies. He is careful to check the calendar to avoid shopping on the middle and final days of each month.

“You don’t go to the mall when it’s pay day. When people get paid, it’s packed,” he said.

He is convinced he would not have revived his career had he not decided to leave Los Angeles.

“It’s definitely made me a better player and also made me a better person, living in a different culture, living in a different country, living in an environment you’re not used to,” Gonzalez said.

[ MORE: USMNT – El Salvador preview ]

“I spent my whole career in LA before I made this move, under the same coach, and so things were very comfortable for me, I would say. And what Mexico did was put me in an uncomfortable position, and I went to a place where I was unsure of myself playing every single game, and Mexico I believe is still ahead of MLS in terms of the quality and the players’ technical ability.”

Back with the national team, Gonzalez is competing for what likely will be four center back spots on the U.S. World Cup roster, assuming the Americans qualify.

John Brooks and Geoff Cameron top the depth chart at the moment, with Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Matt Miazga and Matt Hedges the four splitting time at the Gold Cup. Gonzalez put the U.S. ahead in last week’s 2-0 win over Martinique with his second goal in 42 international appearances.

“Moving to Pachuca has allowed him to focus a little bit more on his craft. I don’t think he has the distractions he might have had in Los Angeles,” Arena said,

Gonzalez’s teammates have noticed his strides.

“Your way of dealing with quick, skillful attacking players is put to the test every week,” captain Michael Bradley said. “It’s a guy who continues to show that he has to play a role for us moving forward.”

NUMBERS GAME

Additions to Gold Cup rosters for the knockout rounds must wear numbers 24-29, resulting in some unusual assignments. Forward Clint Dempsey is 28, a combination of his club No. 2 and his national team No. 8. Bradley is 26, because 6 minus 2 equals his usual number 4. Instead of No. 1, Howard is wearing No. 24, his old digits at Everton. Forward Jozy Altidore is 27 instead of 17.

Havertz makes history in Bayer win

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen recap and video highlights
Photo by RONALD WITTEK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
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Kai Havertz made more Bundesliga history as Bayer Leverkusen got back in the win column with a 1-0 win at scrappy Freiburg on Friday.

Havertz became the first player in history to score 35 Bundesliga goals before the age of 21 with the match’s early second-half opener, assisted by Leon Bailey. He turns 21 on June 11.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores ]

Havertz has 11 goals and five assists in Bundesliga play this season including five goals since the end of the coronavirus pause.

Bayer pulls in third place with 56 points, one ahead of RB Leipzig and one back of Borussia Dortmund. Gladbach lurks three points back.

Freiburg may have waved goodbye to its sixth-place hopes, now four points back of Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

There were hints of danger for both teams in the opening throes.

Leon Bailey missed an early chance for the visitors, and Vincenzo Grifo saw a turnover at the other end denied by a sliding challenge.

Bailey was dangerous but not clinical as Bayer controlled the first half but, like many, couldn’t find away through Freiburg’s cagey, Burnley-like compactness.

Freiburg broke the other way and had a glorious chance to steal a lead when Roland Sallai sent Lucas Holer on goal, but Lukas Hradecky cut down the angle and Holer missed wide on a chance to score in consecutive matches.

Bailey played his part well in setting up Havertz’s post-halftime opener. The Jamaican dribbled into an out of traffic before cutting a path onto Havertz’s path.

Havertz rolled the ball between the legs of Freiburg star backstop Alexander Schwolow to make it 1-0 in the 55th.

Freiburg had one more big chance to get a point, as Christian Gunter crossed for Nils Petersen but the latter couldn’t get enough on the shot to beat Hradecky.

Bundesliga preview: Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund

Paderborn v. Borussia Dortmund preview
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Last-place Paderborn is running out of time to make a run out of the drop zone, and a visit from Borussia Dortmund wouldn’t normally inspire too much.

But Sunday’s match between the two sides sees Dortmund taking the pitch for the first time since seeing its title hopes dashed in a fierce Klassiker, and Paderborn’s picked up points in all three matches since play resumed from the coronavirus pause.

Not only that, the sides drew 3-3 in November at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, BVB firing back from a 3-0 halftime deficit thanks to goals from Jadon Sancho, Marco Reus, and Axel Witsel.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

Paderborn has been playing well for a last-place side, ornery and collecting more cards than most teams in the Bundesliga.

As for Dortmund, the black and yellow side performed well enough to get a result from Bayern but lost on a Joshua Kimmich wondergoal and will likely still be lamenting what could’ve been if VAR reviewed an apparent Jerome Boateng handball in the box.

Still, there’s too much talent here, even at a desperate host. In a non-coronavirus world, the home crowd changes our opinion a little on the score line. We’re feeling a blowout, Dortmund 4-0.

Below is how to watch Borussia Dortmund v. Paderborn on TV in the USA this Saturday, while above you can follow the action live, as the three points are so valuable to both clubs but for very different reasons.

Bundesliga schedule

  • TV Channels: FS1
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • When: Saturday, May 30 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v Fortuna Dusseldorf
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)

Remaining Premier League fixtures ahead of June 17 return

Premier League schedule
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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed Thursday, as ‘Project Restart’ readies for empty stadiums around England.

So who’s left on the schedule? The slate of 92 matches features some doozies including the Merseyside Derby (Matchday 30), the North London Derby (Matchday 35), and — of course — Liverpool’s visit to Manchester City (Matchday 32)

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Check out all the stats for the season so far, as well as the state of play for all 20 clubs’ seasons in the races for the Champions League, Europa League, and safety from relegation.

Of course, you’ll be able to watch the Premier League via NBCSports.com all summer long.

Additionally, the matches will be staged in non-traditional windows. Here are the kickoff times for midweek and weekend matches.

Matchday 28 — June 17

Aston Villa v. Sheffield United
Manchester City v. Arsenal

Matchday 30

Aston Villa v. Chelsea
Bournemouth v. Crystal Palace
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Arsenal
Everton v. Liverpool
Manchester City v. Burnley
Newcastle United v. Sheffield United
Norwich City v. Southampton
Tottenham v. Manchester United
Watford v. Leicester City
West Ham v. Wolves

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Matchday 31

Burnley v. Watford
Liverpool v. Crystal Palace
Tottenham v. West Ham
Wolves v. Bournemouth

Matchday 31 to be rescheduled due to FA Cup quarters
Chelsea v. Manchester City
Leicester City v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Manchester United v. Sheffield United
Newcastle United v. Aston Villa
Norwich City v. Everton
Southampton v. Arsenal

Matchday 32

Arsenal v. Norwich City
Aston Villa v. Wolves
Bournemouth v. Newcastle United
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Manchester United
Crystal Palace v. Burnley
Everton v. Leicester City
Manchester City v. Liverpool
Sheffield United v. Tottenham
Watford v. Southampton
West Ham v. Chelsea

Matchday 33

Burnley v. Sheffield United
Chelsea v. Watford
Leicester City v. Crystal Palace
Liverpool v. Aston Villa
Manchester United v. Bournemouth
Newcastle United v. West Ham
Norwich City v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Southampton v. Manchester City
Tottenham v. Everton
Wolves v. Arsenal

(Paul Harding/PA via AP)

Matchday 34

Arsenal v. Leicester City
Aston Villa v. Manchester United
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Liverpool
Bournemouth v. Tottenham
Crystal Palace v. Chelsea
Everton v. Southampton
Manchester City v. Newcastle United
Sheffield United v. Wolves
Watford v. Norwich City
West Ham v. Burnley

Matchday 35

Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace
Bournemouth v. Leicester City
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Manchester City
Liverpool v. Burnley
Manchester United v. Southampton
Norwich City v. West Ham
Sheffield United v. Chelsea
Tottenham v. Arsenal
Watford v. Newcastle United
Wolves v. Everton

(Photo by Visionhaus)

Matchday 36

Arsenal v. Liverpool
Burnley v. Wolves
Chelsea v. Norwich City
Crystal Palace v. Manchester United
Everton v. Aston Villa
Leicester City v. Sheffield United
Manchester City v. Bournemouth
Newcastle United v. Tottenham
Southampton v. Brighton and Hove Albion
West Ham v. Watford

Matchday 37

Aston Villa v. Arsenal
Bournemouth v. Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Newcastle United
Liverpool v. Chelsea
Manchester United v. West Ham
Norwich City v. Burnley
Sheffield United v. Everton
Tottenham v. Leicester City
Watford v. Manchester City
Wolves v. Crystal Palace

Matchday 38

Arsenal v. Watford
Burnley v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Chelsea v. Wolves
Crystal Palace v. Tottenham
Everton v. Bournemouth
Leicester City v. Manchester United
Manchester City v. Norwich City
Newcastle United v. Liverpool
Southampton v. Sheffield United
West Ham v. Aston Villa

Ndidi
(Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

LIVE, Bundesliga: Week 29 begins with Freiburg-Bayer

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen live
Photo by TF-Images/Getty Imaes
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Week 29 in Germany begins with two clubs holding onto hope of berths in the Champions League and Europa League, respectively, when Bayer Leverkusen visit Freiburg at the Black Forest Stadium.

Last time out, the scrappy hosts tossed away a 2-goal lead in drawing Eintracht, while Bayer saw its red-hot form cooled off with an exclamation point in a 4-1 loss to Wolfsburg. Freiburg’s now four points out of sixth and Bayer’s outside the top four on goal difference. That said, Kai Havertz’s Bayer has weapons for days and the creativity to get through the compact, physical Freiburg formation.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

Matchweek 29 in the Bundesliga will again see games played in empty stadiums, which is the plan for the rest of the season and beyond. If you’re new to Germany’s top-flight, here’s a guide to help you pick a club to support.

How to Watch the Bundesliga

You can check out the full schedulestandings and find out how to watch the action, while we will have you covered right here on ProSoccerTalk with analysis, reaction and more.

[ MORE: Takeaways from Week 28 of the Bundesliga ]