Landon Donovan talks El Tri support, USMNT and more

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For hardcore U.S. Men’s National Team supporters, it is still difficult to comprehend the concept of their boys missing out on the World Cup, but that reality has officially set in with the start of the competition in Russia.

[ MORE: What will hosting 2026 World Cup mean for USA? ]

It is that failure though that has prompted several former USMNT greats like Alexi Lalas, and more recently, Landon Donovan, to call on Americans to support Mexico and CONCACAF nations Costa Rica and Panama as they begin their journey on the world’s biggest stage.

Again, it’s probably hard to wrap your mind around if you’re an avid USMNT supporter.

Mexico — who is and has been thought of for decades as the U.S.’ greatest foe — couldn’t possibly be uttered in a positive way by USMNT fans. Or could they?

Donovan, who currently plays for Liga MX side Club Leon, has partnered with Mexican beer company Modelo, along with former Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross, to shed some light on breaking curses.

Courtesy of Modelo

In the case of the Cubs, Ross and his teammates ended a 108-year World Series drought, while Mexico is hoping to break a rough streak of its own in Russia as El Tri aims to advance past the Round of 16.

El Tri has failed to reach the quarterfinals in each of the last six World Cups appearances, with their last final eight appearance coming in 1986 — when Mexico hosted the World Cup.

Pro Soccer Talk recently spoke with Donovan in an exclusive interview about a wide array of subjects, including his newfound affection for Mexico, the future of the USMNT, World Cup 2018 and much more.


Matt Reed: Was there anything in particular that changed your perception of Mexico? Because I’d have to imagine you’ve gotten a decent amount of backlash given your ties to the USMNT and what you’ve meant not just to them but how heavily you were involved in the USA-Mexico rivalry.

Landon Donovan: Any time you have the opportunity to actually see things firsthand, and meet people face to face and immerse yourself in their culture, I think you’re going to become more sympathetic. You’re going to have more respect. The only Mexico I had known was being in a stadium of 100,000 people booing me. I didn’t know any other Mexico. Having the chance to be around these people and make friends there has really given me a new appreciation for everyone.

MRThe intentions are obviously good. But simply put, why should Americans root for Mexico at the World Cup given the massive rivalry between the two countries? 

LD: I see the world a little bit different. We’ve got enough hatred and divisiveness and nastiness in the world right now. I don’t believe that’s sustainable or frankly enjoyable to be around. In the big picture, forget that I just spent four months of my life in Mexico, if Mexico and Costa Rica and Panama do well at the World Cup that bodes well for us. That helps CONCACAF in the end. And conversely, iff they go out and bomb out in the first round and don’t advance, what does that say about us? What does that say about the fact that we couldn’t even qualify? I think if you take a little bit of that emotion out of it and look at it objectively, you can at least have a bit of an appreciation for wanting to see Mexico and these other teams do well.

MR: What do you see from this current Mexican side, and ultimately how far can they advance in Russia? Again, this is a classic situation of a talented squad underperforming in the lead up to the World Cup.

LD: I think from a talent standpoint they are a quarterfinal(-ish) type team. It’s interesting because when I talked to David Ross about this he had an interesting comment about the Cubs and how their 2016 season played out. He said, “On paper we’re as talented as any team in the league, but talent only gets you so far. We had a fighting spirit and belief in our group that we were going to be the team to break the curse.” They were being hounded every day about the fact that they weren’t going to do it, so when I think about this Mexico team they have to get in a room together and say maybe we’re not the best of friends. Maybe we don’t see everything eye to eye, but if we want to be a special team we’ve got to be something different. Because getting to the quarterfinals would immortalize this group. They’ve got to be willing to lay it all on the line to get there. It has nothing to do with their talent. They have plenty of that.

MR: We’ve all had a lot of time to dissect and mourn the USMNT failing to qualify for Russia. You can probably name one of a million reasons why that’s the case, but can you pinpoint an area that proved to be their downfall?

LD: I think what happened was that on the surface everything seemed fine and dandy. We got out of our group in 2014 and took Belgium to extra time. Everything seemed fine, but under the surface there were a lot of red flags. People, including myself, overlooked that. We didn’t see that there were real systemic issues going on. We paid the ultimate price of not going to the World Cup because of it, which has haunted all of us. The question as to what went wrong. There are a number of things, but I just think eventually not doing things the right way caught up with us.

MR: Do you believe not qualifying was a blessing and a curse for the U.S.? This, of course, is assuming that the program learns from its mistake and addresses the issues that set them back.

LD: No question. The only saving grace in a situation like this is if you learn from your mistakes and get better. Otherwise it’s only going to get worse. I think of the things that have happened in my life, some of the bad ones, which have fortunately not been many. If I was able to look back on it and better myself then I can say I’m glad that happened. Until I get to that place though, there’s really no benefit. That said, it doesn’t mean the USMNT needs to throw everything out. We absolutely needed to peel back the layers though, and address where we went wrong. I’m happy with the progress we’ve made so far.

MR: Just speaking about unity, and the relationship you’re aiming to help build between the U.S. and Mexico. The United Bid received the rights to host the 2026 World Cup, which will be the first time three nations have co-hosted a tournament of this magnitude. What’s the overall importance of hosting again, and even more so doing it with our neighbors to the north and south?

LD: Let’s just put aside the soccer aspect for a second. From a political and global perspective this shows the rest of the world that we have three massive countries coming together to do something really great. Especially amidst our political climate and some of our leaders and their feelings towards our southern neighbors, I just think it’s a massive message of positivity and unity when we desperately need it. I’m really proud of the efforts that everyone involved put in to achieve this and I think it’s big for society as a whole.

MR: June 23, 2010. Does that date ring a bell? In all seriousness though, how often do you still think about the Algeria game and that last-minute goal? 

LD: It honestly does because like you said it’s what people remember. It’s the strongest emotional moment on the biggest stage. It’s one thing if intellectually something like that happens. You don’t always relate to it. But when something emotional like that happens to you I think it sticks with you forever. It’s just this profound moment in a lot of fans’ soccer lives. For many, it’s when they became soccer fans or really connected with soccer for the first time. It’s just a moment etched in everyone’s memory, and I love talking to people about it because it’s so much bigger than just what I did.

MR: I’d be remiss if I didn’t get your final thoughts on the World Cup. Who wins it all and why?

LD: I think in the end Germany is the logical choice. I do think from a talent standpoint France and Belgium are super talented if they can find a way to become a team. And then oddly every World Cup in my lifetime has had people talking about Brazil. I really don’t hear many people talking about them, which I think is crazy. In some weird way, maybe that will be good for them to fly under the radar a little. There’s no drama. They can just go about their business.

Transfer rumor roundup: Mari to Arsenal; Defoe makes permanent Rangers move

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors, including those involving Premier League outfits.

[ MORE: Premier League January transfer needs ]

Arsenal are reportedly hours from adding a defender to Mikel Arteta‘s squad.

Flamengo’s Pablo Mari has reportedly arrived in London and set for a medical at Arsenal, Sky Sports reports. The 26-year-old Spaniard will join the North London side for the remainder of the season with an option to buy.

It won’t be Mari’s first time signing for a Premier League side, however.

In 2016, the center-back signed with Manchester City, but never featured for the defending champions, instead making appearances for Girona, NAC and Deportivo La Coruna on loan.


Jermaine Defoe is not returning to Bournemouth.

On Saturday, Rangers announced that Defoe signed a pre-contract to join Rangers on permanent basis in the summer.

The storied 37-year-old English striker has 20 goals in 57 appearances since joining the Scottish giants last January on a 18-month loan. Defoe’s new contract runs through the 2020-21 season, a one-year deal.

“It’s fantastic news,” Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told the club’s website. “It’s something we have been working on over the weeks and it is great to finally get that done and dusted.”

“He is an incredible professional with the way he goes about his work on and off the pitch – he is a credit to himself and his family. And also on the pitch, which is the main thing. He is still contributing heavily – he is a major part of this group, this team and this squad and hopefully together we can go and share some success as I think he deserves that.”

This season, Defoe has scored 16 goals in 28 games.


Crystal Palace are in talks to sign Belgium international Yannick Carrasco, according to Sky Sports.

Carrasco, 26, wants to leave Chinese Super League side Dalian Yifang and is currently training in Belgium, ahead of a return to European play.

Carrasco has scored 24 goals in 52 appearances since making a move to China from Atletico Madrid in February 2018.


Norwich City are actively pursuing Danel Sinani, according to the Daily Mail.

The 22-year-old Luxembourg winger is out of contract with Luxembourg side FC Dudelange this summer. If the parties involved can’t reach a deal this week,  the Canaries are reportedly ready to propose a pre-contract agreement.

Mourinho hints Spurs to sign Lo Celso permanently: ‘I think the boy is earning the decision’

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Tottenham Hotspur loanee Giovani Lo Celso is closer to permanently stay in North London than he is to return back to Sevilla.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints draw and force 4-th round FA Cup replay ]

The 23-year-old Argentine, who arrived at Spurs from Real Betis last summer on a season-long loan, experienced a rocky start in the Premier League. Lo Celso – with only 44 minutes of English top-flight playing time under his belt – suffered a hip injury with Argentina, ruling him out two months in the fall.

Since, the attacking midfielder has worked his way up Jose Mourinho’s pecking order, featuring heavily in the Portuguese’s scheme over the past few months. Most recently, on Saturday, Lo Celso displayed his well-balanced virtues in Tottenham’s 1-1 draw with Southampton in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Following the match, Mourinho addressed questions on whether or not his club is going to sign the midfielder on a permanent contract. Praiseworthy of Lo Celso’s learning abilities, Mourinho hopes the midfielder will be a part of the club’s long-term plans.

“It’s not an obligation, it’s an option,” Mourinho said of Lo Celso, who is reportedly available at reduced price of $35 million. “I think the boy is earning the decision. He’s making an easy decision for the club to execute the option.”

“Incredible evolution since I arrived,” he added. “Barely played a game, I think he played against Red Star Belgrade, with me a little bit difficult to come in the first few weeks. But he understood what we wanted. Good learner, good kid and I think by himself he made the decision that the club is going to execute the option. That’s normal, he earned it.”

With Christian Eriksen on the verge of departing the London side, Mourinho and company will have additional funds to land Lo Celso this winter before his price spikes in the summer.

Everything points to the creative midfielder having a future in London, but will Spurs brass follow suit and make it official soon?

Netherlands forward Rob Rensenbrink dies at age 72

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Rob Rensenbrink, the forward who was centimeters away from delivering the Netherlands a World Cup title in 1978, has died at age 72, the Dutch football association said Saturday.

“We have heard with sadness of the death of football legend Rob Rensenbrink,” the association said in a tweet.

Rensenbrink played most of his club football in Belgium with Club Brugge and Anderlecht, where his weaving runs earned him the nickname “Snake Man.” He also played briefly for the Portland Timbers in the United States in 1980.

He was a regular for the Netherlands national team in its period of dominance in the 1970s.

He played 46 times and scored 14 goals for the Dutch team known for its slick, position-swapping “total football.”

But he will always be best remembered for the goal he didn’t quite score in the 1978 World Cup final.

With the scores tied at 1-1 between the Netherlands and host Argentina and the seconds ticking away in injury time of the final in Buenos Aires, Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post. The match went to extra time and Argentina scored twice to win 3-1.

It was the second straight World Cup final defeat for the Netherlands, which has appeared in three finals and lost them all.

Rensenbrink was diagnosed with a muscle disease in 2012 and died as a result of the illness, according to Dutch national broadcaster NOS.

Anderlecht said he died Friday night.

“Thanks for everything Robbie!” the Belgian club wrote on its website. “We will never forget you.”

Serie A roundup: Ilicic powers Atalanta in historic win over Torino (video)

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Atalanta’s historic and overpowering win over Torino highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Torino 0-7 Atalanta

Josip Ilicic scored a hat-trick, including a center-line strike, as Atalanta humiliated Torino 7-0 on Saturday, handing the hosts their worst home loss ever in Serie A play.

With only nine men on the field towards the end of the match for Turin-based side, Atalanta were able to capitalize, elevating their goal count to 57 goals in 21 games this season. Gian Piero Gasperini’s men, who are back in Champions League contention, lead the league in goals.

Robin Gosens and Duvan Zapata, who scored a minute before the break, added to Ilicic’s first of three. A three-goal advantage after the first 45 minutes foreshadowed what Torino was going to encounter in the second half: more goals.

Eight minutes into the final 45 minutes of Saturday’s bout at the Olimpico di Torino, Ilicic quick-fired two more past an exposed Salvatore Sirigu.

With less than 10 minutes to go, Luis Muriel took the field for the visitors. And just six minutes after his first foot on the natural surface, the Colombian striker had a brace to his name.

“All we can do is apologize,” Torino coach Walter Mazzarri said. “In so many years of my career I had never had such a game.”

In fourth place with 38 points, Atalanta look to increase their seven-goal performances this season to three as they host struggling Genoa in a weeks time. Torino, on the other hand, meet AC Milan on Tuesday in the quarterfinal’s of the Coppa Italia.

Elsewhere

SPAL 1-3 Bologna

Fiorentina 0-0 Genoa