Clint Dempsey

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On This Day: Dempsey chip leads Fulham over Juventus in Europa League

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10 years ago today, one of the most incredible and memorable European upsets too place.

Clint Dempsey‘s absurd (and quite frankly, disrespectful) chip capped off one Fulham’s improbable comeback against Juventus in the Europa League Round of 16. Fulham would reach the final of the competition that season, falling to Atletico Madrid in extra-time on a Diego Forlan goal that would break the hearts of Whites fans everywhere.

It’s been all downhill since then for Fulham, but they remember the Juventus comeback fondly.

With the Whites falling 3-1 in the first let in Turin, legendary striker David Trezeguet pounced on a loose ball in the box just two minutes into the second leg at Craven Cottage, meaning Fulham was well on its way out of the competition. That’s when the improbable began.

Bobby Zamora chested a ball down and struck a few minutes later to bring Fulham within a shout, and then Zoltan Gera bracketed halftime with a pair, including the second three minutes after the break from the penalty spot that brought Fulham back level in the match. Then with the match deadlocked on aggregate at 4-4, each with one away goal, Dempsey’s audacious effort lit Craven Cottage alight with eight minutes to go. The goal was the perfect encapsulation of Dempsey’s career, outrageous for anyone to even consider in the circumstances let alone actually pull off.

Making the comeback even more improbable, Fulham’s stalwort captain Danny Murphy was suspended for the match after his late red card in the dying minutes of the second-leg draw against Shakhtar Donetsk the round earlier.

Fulham’s twitter account has been reliving the build-up to the match throughout the day, bringing fans quotes from the players on the day before the game.

Fulham would go on to eliminate German sides Wolfsburg and Hamburg before reaching the final, and while Simon Davies leveled the scoreline at 1-1 to cancel out Forlan’s opener, the Uruguayan bagged the winner in the 112th minute to end the improbable run. Still, Dempsey’s chip will go down as one of the great European moments, especially for an American on one of the biggest stages.

USMNT, MLS midfielder Benny Feilhaber retires

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Former USMNT and MLS midfielder Benny Feilhaber has retired at the age of 35.

Feilhaber posted a statement across his social media accounts on Wednesday as he brings an end to his 15-year professional career. Feilhaber played 44 times for the U.S. men’s national team, scoring twice, and was part of the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup squads.

After playing for UCLA the central midfielder began his pro career with Hamburg in Germany before moving to play for Derby County in the Premier League and Aarhus in Denmark, then heading back to MLS to play for the New England Revolution, Sporting Kansas City, LAFC the Colorado Rapids and then Kansas City again last season.

“It has been an incredible journey and one I leave with no regrets,” Feilhaber said. “I love this sport and I will always be around it. I hope I can give the sport back what it gave me and also find opportunities for others as my coaches did for me throughout my playing career.”

USMNT fans will remember Feilhaber best for the game-winner he scored in the 2007 Gold Cup final against Mexico and the part he played in their run to the 2009 Confederations Cup final, as he helped set up Clint Dempsey‘s goal in their upset win over Spain in the USA’s semifinal win.

Feilhaber has never been afraid to speak his mind and bring humor to the party and his criticism of former USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for not calling up plenty of MLS players he felt were worthy of being in the U.S. squad sums up his fighting spirit and standing up for what he believes in.

Liga MX imports can provide MLS litmus test

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Let’s conduct a fun little brain exercise on a slow Premier League winter break week.

One of my favorite American soccer focuses, one that can border on obsession, is finding proper ways to measure Major League Soccer’s incredible growth while getting a bit of context.

To be clear, it’s incredibly difficult; The league’s evolution over barely more than two decades has taken place at an almost impossible pace, to my eyes a reflection of the incredible wealth in this country and the desire to matter in a sport which is generations ahead of us in a hefty percentage of nations.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

One of the biggest challenges for MLS has been that it’s not even the best league on its continent, though the metrics all say that is coming. Look no further than the Soccerex Top 100 finance report released Thursday, where MLS is second only to Premier League in terms of teams on the list, and the new CBA which will help MLS sides to compete with Liga MX for comparably-paid depth players.

Again, a huge part of that is riches and the closed system that won’t be changing any time soon now that FIFA has said its statutes apply to pretty much everyone but the U.S.A. (Yes, really).

Measuring how Liga MX’s stars and would-be European exports fare in MLS will be a far better comparison for the status of the league right now than whether imports like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney can show up and crush it. The same is true for Mexican stars like Carlos Vela and Chicharito).

So as Rodolfo Pizarro arrives in Miami, Lucas Zelarayan mixes in with Columbus, Edison Flores moves to DC, and Alan Pulido pulls on the blue of Sporting KC, watch closely: Do they slide in and dominate? That’s great for entertainment, but probably not the status of the league.

Pulido was the third-best player in the Apertura, according to Sofascore, so we can expect a lot of magic from him once he adjusts to KC. Zelarayan was 19th and Flores 28th, so close to the same idea. Pizarro was 278th, but shoulder shrug emoji.

In the other direction, and of note, Yoshimar Yotun’s production barely dipped in his first Mexican season, and Sebastian Saucedo is showing how much his MLS tenure has evolved his game from a 2016 run at Veracruz.

All should play well, but the hope in terms of league measurement is that we don’t see gaudy numbers out of any of them. No one’s rooting against them — again, we want entertainment! — but we’re hoping that days of players whose best work came in England’s League One can’t come here and set scoring records (No disrespect to BWP, but even 2014 is ages ago on the MLS scale).

I caught a Twitter thread somewhere this evening about the lack of players moving on from MLS to make big impacts in significant European leagues. There’s Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig, Alphonso Davies at Bayern, and Miguel Almiron at Newcastle (though the traditional numbers don’t show it) as quality examples.

Matt Miazga, Zack Steffen, and Jack Harrison are interesting ones to continue monitoring, and there’s a long history that includes Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, and others.

Including Rooney and Zlatan would be the stuff of trolls, given their exceptional careers before MLS and the fact that their fine form post-MLS hasn’t been met by the gaudy and dominant offensive numbers seen in their American-based years.

So Liga MX transitions either way lend us a nice litmus test. It’s not the end-all, be-all, nor do you even have to agree with the entire thesis. But as MLS continues to chase Liga MX in competitions like the CONCACAF Champions League it does sure feel like a chance to stack some surface-level impressions into something closer to fact.

MLS Cup: Five key questions on Seattle Sounders vs Toronto FC

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Despite the emergence and rise of the Atlanta United’s and LAFC’s of the world, MLS is going to complete its first MLS Cup trilogy in front of a sold-out CenturyLink Field on Sunday, as the Seattle Sounders take on Toronto FC for the third time in four years.

Make no mistakes, however, the stakes remain high – perhaps higher than ever before – as both sides look to add a second star above their crest. With the financial and quality bar consistently being raised across the board, this may be the first and last MLS Cup trilogy for a pair of decades.

So, who will win it? Will Jozy Altidore even make the visitor’s 18? Pro Soccer Talk answers some of the most pressing questions ahead of the highly-anticipated final.

Will Jozy Altidore take the field for Toronto? 

Let it be clear: Even if Altidore was ready to go, Toronto are still in Yakima, Washington looking in. Now, without the striker in the equation entirely, things start going from bitter to sour instantaneously for the Reds.

Which begs the question: where does Altidore’s health stand less than 24 hours away from the final?

“I got on the field yesterday, it felt good going through the motions and set-ups,” Altidore told reporters on Saturday. “It felt good. Today is another day to push it more and try to make myself available. This is it, the last day before the game. See how it reacts, put it under a little more stress.”

And according to coach Greg Vanney, Toronto are preparing for an MLS Cup with the 30-year-old healthy and ready to go – not 100 percent, just healthy enough to see some minutes on the field.

“We were able to get him through training yesterday, he was okay coming out of it,” Vanney said. “This morning we did as much as we felt we could do. If he comes out of it okay tonight, we’ll see what kind of role — if any — he can play tomorrow. He’s battled through this injury, I’m still hopeful that tomorrow when he gets up and feels great. If there’s nothing really wrong with him, we’ll try and make use of him as much as possible. I’m encouraged with the steps he’s been able to take so far.”

So, it sounds like it won’t take a miracle after all for Altidore to feature in the biggest game of the season. Or maybe the miracle already occurred.

Now is there enough pixie dust on the striker for him to step up and make a difference like the one he did against Seattle on a blistering cold night in Toronto back in 2017?

Is CenturyLink Field’s atmosphere going to outshine last year’s venue?  

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium was loud in last year’s final, and the record-breaking 73,019 spectators in attendance had everything to do with it.

On Sunday, the attendance won’t be up to par to last year’s, but if CenturyLink Field has been known for something over the past 17 years, it’s the decibels and seismic activity it can generate. 69,000 are expected for the final, with the strong majority boasting Sounders blue, rave green, and cascade shale.

The Sounders already put on a spectacle at home throughout the regular season. With anxiety, thrill and excitement that finals bring to them by association, expect a couple of tremors in Seattle, if the Sounders deliver in emphatic fashion.

Raul Ruidiaz or Alejandro Pozuelo: Who needs to step up more? 

With Toronto being the unapologetic underdog, instinctually, one would immediately turn and point at Pozuelo.

After all, the least one can ask for in that position is for your best player to live up to the billing in the most meaningful game of the season. Espcially with Altidore’s participation still in doubt, there are more reasons to pile the pressure on Pozuelo, who has scored two goals in Toronto’s playoff run.

After taking the league and Seattle by storm, doesn’t Ruidiaz have a world of business to finish, though?

“It would be very special,” Ruidiaz said of winning MLS Cup against Toronto. “It would be my second title overseas. I won a championship in Chile. I think when you arrive at a club you always have the desire to give the team the biggest joy, which is a star (above the crest) for the team.

“I’m a small step away from that and from achieving what we we all want, which is to give a moment of joy to a city and club that deserve it.”

Long story short, he does.

Like Pozuelo for Toronto, Ruidiaz is one of Seattle’s most lucrative investments ever. His impact on and off the field has been invaluable for a team that was desperately trying to fill the shoes of Clint Dempsey. He’s elevated teammates Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris. They’ve gotten everything from it besides the cup, the star above the crest.

Ultimately, it’s a world of choice. But keep in mind that one player is encouraged to be at his best, while the other is expected to deliver for a city ready to see its team lift the cup at home.

What will another MLS Cup mean for either team? 

Only five teams have two or more MLS Cups, but that will change by the time Allen Chapman blows the final whistle.

Another piece of silverware for Seattle would expand their total count to seven, while Toronto can add a ninth to their trophy case. There are no doubts that both teams are embodiment of historical success in their respective countries.

As the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., how do you pump the brakes on being MLS’ highest payroll spenders with a fresh, second star above the crest in a market that has showcased true, organic hunger for not only the sport in general, but for the Toronto FC?

You don’t, and it’s unlikely that Ali Curtis comes back to the office with a tighter financial proposal. If anything, a win would encourage higher investment all across the board and especially on the first-team, regardless if Michael Bradley’s $6.5 million option is triggered. After all, they can get creative, hence Pozuelo’s sitcom episode-esque arrival.

The same goes for the Sounders.

A second star would generate a soccer buzz unlike any other for the proper and great community of Seattle, while it would also invites majority owner Adrian Hanauer to keep the Sounders within the top six spenders of the league. With Xavier Arreaga likely to be demoted from his Designated Player role in the offseason, there will be room for the Sounders to make an additional splash.

In the end, as it is anywhere in the world of sports, titles bring bragging rights and an influx of cash. Seattle and Toronto will not be the exceptions.

When all is said and done, who will hoist the cup?

Arguably better on all sectors of the field, the 2019 MLS Cup is Seattle’s to lose, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

However, when the ball starts rolling on the artificial turf, determination and hunger will quickly weave out the side that holds lower levels of the aforementioned. With over 60,000 chanting to the tune of their crest and colors, it’s unlikely that Toronto will gain the cognitive advantage.

That said, the visitors are outweighed in both departments, and will need to lean on heroic moments like the ones showcased by Nicolas Benezet and Nick DeLeon against Atlanta United. An MLS Cup seems fitting for pure, sacred MLS soccer, no?

Sure, but there have been times in which MLS doesn’t MLS for the sake of just MLSing. The feeling in the air is that Sunday is one of those, which in practice, looks like a physical, choppy and segmented battle in which Seattle will come out on top.

How social media reacted to Pulisic’s hat trick

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“Captain America” is trending on Twitter worldwide.

And, no, it’s not Chris Evans playing as Steve Rogers this time. It’s Pennsylvania’s own Christian Pulisic, the second player from the U.S. to score a hat trick in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Match recap | Pulisic Watch ]

The 21-year-old’s perfect hat trick in 60 minutes against Burnley is the first by an American in England’s top-flight since 2012, when Clint Dempsey scored three of his own for Fulham in a match against Newcastle.

With hundreds of thousands glued on Pulisic’s every move, it’s no surprise that their heroes magical night has caused a frenzy on social media.

Leading up to Saturday’s game, Pulisic’s time at Chelsea was far from ideal – the frustration that came with the lack of playing time, the objective, yet harsh comments from manager Frank Lampard regarding his role within the team, the list goes on.

Three goals – right foot, left foot, header – later, however, it’s safe to say that the eagle has landed.

Captain America is officially patrolling all of England – and Europe. If he continues fighting off opponents like he did on Saturday, one thing is for sure: a hero’s welcome will be the first thing he sees when he opens any form of social media.