MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

A week ago, just after making his return to MLS with a brief and uneventful shift Landon Donovan said this: “I need to get myself ready to compete in a real way. Bruce and the coaching staff need to know that when they put me in, it can mean something. So tonight worked out well, but I need to be able to contribute.”

So, how did that go?

1) Donovan Salvages Point for Galaxy with 1st Goal since Return

Pretty well. Just two minutes after checking into Sunday’s match at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas Donovan was as good as his word, competing in a very “real way” with a tasty left footed finish from a fine set up by Robbie Rogers.

Donovan (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

Donovan didn’t take long to get on the scoreboard. (ISI Photos/Bill Barrett)

Donovan has played just 23 of a possible 90 minutes so far but if the Galaxy can beat Seattle this Sunday at home L.A. will clinch a playoff berth, giving Bruce Arena more latitude on when to use his comebacking legend.

But win, lose, or draw, versus the Sounders the Donovan Experiment is already paying dividends.

2) Lampard: from Pariah to Essential at NYCFC

The Frank Lampard saga has been well documented; from his signing with New York City FC to his decision to delay his arrival while extending his stay at Manchester City, to his injury woes that further delayed his start with NYC, to revelations of contract shenanigans, to his eventual introduction into the New York City FC team.

Lampard had been called the worst DP signing in MLS history but goals and wins followed before the same calf that had cost Lampard so much time on the sideline already, reared its ugly head once more, sending Super Frank to the trainer’s room 42’ minutes into NYC’s 2-2 home draw with DC United on Saturday night.

Lampard (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

Lampard  once again suffered what looks like could be a season ending injury. (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

The calf looks like costing NYC the services of the 38-year-old for the final four games of the MLS regular season, games NYCFC need results from as they scramble to finish in a top two position in the Eastern Conference and avoid the always tricky first playoff round.

Lampard’s 12 goals will be very difficult for NYC to replace and needless to say coach Patrick Vieira does not have a player of Lampard’s quality stashed on the bench. Steven Mendoza replaced Lampard versus DC but here is a more of a forward than a midfielder. Lampard’s central advanced midfield role could go to Tommy Mc Namara or Jack Harrison with Mendoza or the revived Khiry Shelton manning the wing.

NYCFC supporters will see who Vieira turns to when Chicago comes to town on Friday night. Meanwhile, New York will be keeping fingers crossed that Lampard’s recovery goes better, this time, around , but then these are the risks a team takes when building around a 38-year-old.

3) 20/20 for Bradley Wright-Phillips

In an achievement that is both impressive and surprising, New York Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips has become the first player in MLS history to record multiple 20 goal seasons.

Impressive, because scoring a lot of goals always catches the eye and surprising because one would think that it had been done before. And let’s be honest, it is a bit of a surprise that Bradley Wright-Phillips is the one to have finally done it.

Wright-Phillips has continually proven he is a scoring machine. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Wright-Phillips has continually proven he is a scoring machine. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Wright-Phillips was something of a curiosity when he joined the league in 2013, known mostly for his family ties. His father Ian Wright was a star Crystal Palace, Arsenal, and England while his big brother Shaun, now a rarely used sub with the Red Bulls, had made his mark with Manchester City and England.

Bradley showed early promise, representing England at the U20 level but having most of his success at the lower levels of the English soccer pyramid. But BWP has certainly made his mark in MLS.

When Wright-Phillips equaled an MLS record with 27 goals in 2014 a lot of the credit went to Arsenal legend Thierry Henry for setting up BWP. With Henry retired Wright-Phillips still managed 17 goals while improving his assist tally from two to seven.

With 20 goals and five assists so far this season Wright-Phillips, Bradley Wright-Phillips that is, has not only made a name for himself, he has put that name firmly into the conversation for the 2016 MLS MVP.

4) MLS Loses Zach Scott and Jack Jewsbury

Our previous three items on this Big – 5 have featured bold name players. Players that have set goal scoring records and represented their nations at the World Cup and while the players here have not had that type of career, teams and leagues can’t survive without players like Zach Scott and Jack Jewsbury, both of whom recently announced their retirements.

Jack Jewsbury (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

Jack Jewsbury in action for Portland in 2016. (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

Jewsbury has played 14 years in MLS with just two clubs, signing with the Kansas City Wizards out of St Louis University in 2003 where he played until moving on to captain expansion Portland in MLS year one, 2011.

Scott went Jewsbury one better, graduating from the USL Seattle Sounders to the MLS version of the club making the Scott a one-club man, a rarity in modern sports and earning him the sobriquet Mr. Sounder.

Zach Scott (L) in action for Seattle Sounders in 2016 (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Zach Scott (L) in action for Seattle Sounders in 2016 (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Neither man ever scored much or racked up a ton of silverware but both Jewsbury, 35 and Scott, 36 played their part in making MLS a viable league, a league that will be poorer without them.

5) Captain Kitchen!

Perry Kitchen (Getty Images)

Perry Kitchen has been handed the captain’s armband for Hearts.  (Getty Images)

Well, that didn’t take long. After playing in just 16 games for the Jam Tarts- great name by the way- since signing with Hearts of Midlothian in March, former DC United midfielder Perry Kitchen has been handed the captain’s armband for the Scottish Premiership side.

Hearts are second in the Scottish top flight behind Celtic and a good season could help Kitchen in his case to move up the U.S. MNT defensive midfield pecking order. A former U.S. Youth international stalwart, Kitchen has four full national team caps and if he can impress Jurgen Klinsmann as much as he clearly has impressed Hearts management then good things are ahead for the for MLS man.

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U.S. WNT Top Netherlands as Anthem Controversy Continues
U.S. WNT Top Netherlands as Anthem Controversy Continues avatar

As the U.S. Women’s National Team continued its Olympic Recovery Tour with a 3-1 win over an up and coming Netherlands side, Megan Rapinoe continued with her protest, kneeling during the national anthem Sunday night in Atlanta.

Rapinoe continued with her protest. (Getty Images)

Rapinoe continued with her protest. (Getty Images)

Rapinoe had previously chosen not to stand during The Star Spangled Banner during matches with her NWSL club the Seattle Reign, and more controversially, prior to Thursday night’s blowout win by the U.S. WNT over Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.

U.S. Soccer responded to Rapinoe’s initial protest with a statement delivered during the Thailand match that read as a rebuke to her actions, saying in part, “Representing your country is a privilege and honor” and “we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played.”

With that statement from U.S. Soccer on the record, the question then became, would Rapinoe be fined or suspended for her actions, with the answer coming back in the negative.

As was the case versus Thailand Rapinoe began the match on the sideline and that is where her protest of racial inequities in the United States played out.

Rapinoe's inclusion angered many. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Rapinoe’s inclusion angered many. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The 15,652 fans in attendance at the Georgia Dome had a chance to make their feelings known when coach Jill Ellis sent Rapinoe into the match to replace Lindsey Horan at the 64-minute mark, and the reception was certainly mixed. The boos seemed to outstrip the cheers but the dynamic U.S. winger also had her supporters.

As to the match itself, the home team found out very early that the Netherlands had come to play and that unlike in the Thailand match, the Americans were facing a worthy opponent.

It took less than two minutes for Shanice van de Sanden to make that very clear when she outran the American defense to claim a long clearance which she neatly put beyond U.S keeper Alyssa Naeher.

Nearer could not be faulted for the goal. (Getty Images)

Nearer could not be faulted for the goal. (Getty Images)

The goal was well taken and Naeher, a leading contender to replace Hope Solo as the U.S. number one, could not be faulted.

With the NWSL playoffs fast approaching Ellis was somewhat hamstrung as she selected her team but it was also clear that the World Cup winning manager was feeling a little experimental.

Naeher took her turn in goal after Ashlyn Harris faced Thailand but the bigger change was at right fullback where Whitney Engen received the nod over Ali Krieger, with usual first choice Kelley O’Hara unavailable.

The Netherlands opener came down the middle, so it is hard to pin the blame on Engen although the Boston Breakers defender generally plays centrally, so perhaps the more experienced Krieger or the much faster O’Hara (if available) could have snuffed out van de Sanden’s chance.

Ellis also lined up Lindsey Horan as a wide midfielder, not the ideal spot for the former PSG striker who scored 46 goals in 58 Division 1 Féminine matches. Ellis had been playing Horan in a central midfield role and seems to be searching for a way to get the talented 22-year-old onto the pitch.

The Yanks struggled for much of the first half, having difficulty with the speed of the Lionesses, a possible reason for Krieger’s 37th-minute introduction in place of Engen.

lloyd (Getty Images)

lloyd scored a goal and got an assist against the Netherlands. (Getty Images)

Carli Lloyd had just put the Americans on level turns moments before Ellis made that switch and Engen provided the entry pass that Tobin Heath moved on to set up Lloyd, so Ellis may have had something else in mind.

The second half was better for the Americans who took the lead in the 50th minute after pressuring Mandy van den Berg into an own goal. The Dutch stayed in the match through some fine goalkeeping from Sari van Veenendaal, who received help from the goalposts on more than one occasion.

Allie Long scored the winner finishing from Lloyd who headed on a cross from Rapinoe in the 77th minute.

Up next for the defending World Champions is a two-game friendly series next month against Switzerland. There are no other national team matches scheduled for 2016 but the Collective Bargaining Agreement does expire on December 31a s action off the field continues to dominate on-field proceedings for the U.S Women’s National Team.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F

USA 1 2 3
NED 1 0 1

NED – Shanice van de Sanden 2nd minute
USA – Carli Lloyd (Tobin Heath) 35
USA – Own Goal (Mandy van den Berg) 50
USA – Allie Long (Carli Lloyd) 77

Lineups:
USA: 18-Alyssa Naeher; 6-Whitney Engen (11-Ali Krieger, 37), 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 8-Julie Johnston (21-Emily Sonnett, 46), 7-Meghan Klingenberg (16-Crystal Dunn, 64); 19-Lindsey Horan (15-Megan Rapinoe, 64), 3-Allie Long, 14-Morgan Brian (20-Samantha Mewis, 85), 17-Tobin Heath; 10-Carli Lloyd (capt.), 13-Alex Morgan (12-Christen Press, 46)
Subs: 22-Ashlyn Harris
Head Coach: Jill Ellis

NED: 1-Sari van Veenendaal; 2-Desiree van Lunteren, 3-Stefanie van der Gragt, 4-Mandy van den Berg (capt.), 20-Dominique Janssen; 6-Anouk Dekker (12-Tessel Middag, 85), 10-Danielle van de Donk, 8-Sherida Spitse; 7-Shanice van de Sanden (21-Lineth Beerensteyn, 82), 9-Vivianne Miedema, 11-Lieke Martens
Subs: 16-Angela Christ, 23-Loes Geurts, 5-Merel van Dongen, 14-Renée Slegers, 15-Kika van Es, 17-Kelly Zeeman, 18-Jackie Groenen, 22-Eshly Bakker, 26-Ellen Jansen, 29-Siri Worm
Head Coach: Arjan van der Laan

Stats Summary: USA / NED
Shots: 15 / 10
Shots on Goal: 7 / 6
Saves: 5 / 5
Corner Kicks: 4 / 1
Fouls: 6 / 15
Offside: 5 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
NED – Vivianne Miedema (caution) 62nd minute
NED – Dominique Janssen (caution) 90+2

 

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Amid Controversy O’Reilly and USWNT Shine
Amid Controversy O’Reilly and USWNT Shine avatar

On a night when the game was more or less beside the point, Rapinoe knelt, Hope stayed away, Heather O’Reilly said goodbye, and oh, by the way, the U.S.A. clobbered Thailand 9-0 in Columbus.

Rapinoe's protest cause controversy. (Getty Images)

Rapinoe’s protest caused controversy. (Getty Images)

The most dramatic action of the evening took place before the kickoff when Megan Rapinoe knelt on the sideline as the Star Spangled Banner played at MAPFRE Stadium.

Rapinoe took a knee in support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose refusal to stand for the U.S. national anthem has sparked controversy as well as a discussion on race relations in this country.

Following the game, U.S. Soccer released this statement: “Representing your country is a privilege and honor for any player or coach that is associated with U.S. Soccer’s National Teams. Therefore, our national anthem has particular significance for U.S. Soccer,” the statement read. “In front of national and often global audiences, the playing of our national anthem is an opportunity for our Men’s and Women’s National Team players and coaches to reflect upon the liberties and freedom we all appreciate in this country. As part of the privilege to represent your country, we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the national anthem is played.”

O'Reilly captained her team on the evening. (Getty Images)

O’Reilly captained her team on the evening. (Getty Images)

With that backdrop, Heather O’Reilly faced an uphill battle to get her due as she played the last match of her glorious international career. But it was just over one minute into the match that O’Reilly reminded the MAPFRE Stadium crowd that there was drama to be found on the field too when she delivered one her patented crosses for Carli Lloyd to head home.

Three minutes after O’Reilly teed up Lloyd, Lloyd turned provider setting up Christen Press for the second U.S. goal before O’Reilly got her final international goal on an assist from Lloyd.

It was part of a remarkable stat line for Carli Lloyd that saw the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year finish with a personal tally of three goals and four assists on the night.

Heather O'Reilly (Getty Images)

In her final international match Heather O’Reilly scored her 47th senior international goal.  (Getty Images)

O’Reilly steps away from the U.S. WNT having totaled 47 goals in 231 games but the winger has let it be known that she will continue to play on next season in the NWSL with her Kansas City FC club.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 4 5 9
THA 0 0 0

USA – Carli Lloyd (Heather O’Reilly) 1st minute
USA – Christen Press (Carli Lloyd) 4
USA – Heather O’Reilly (Carli Lloyd) 5
USA – Tobin Heath (Carli Lloyd) 36
USA – Carli Lloyd 60
USA – Crystal Dunn (Becky Sauerbrunn) 70
USA – Carli Lloyd (Lindsey Horan) 81
USA – Alex Morgan (Carli Lloyd) 86
USA – Alex Morgan 90+2

Lineups:
USA: 22-Ashlyn Harris; 5-Kelley O’Hara, 4-Becky Sauerbrunn, 8-Julie Johnston (16-Crystal Dunn, 64), 11-Ali Krieger (7-Meghan Klingenberg, 46); 3-Allie Long (21-Emily Sonnett, 46), 20-Samantha Mewis (19-Lindsey Horan, 46), 10-Carli Lloyd; 9-Heather O’Reilly (capt.), 12-Christen Press (13-Alex Morgan, 46), 17-Tobin Heath (15-Megan Rapinoe, 46)
Subs not used: 18-Alyssa Naeher
Head Coach: Jill Ellis

THA: 18-Yada Sengyong, 2-Kanjanaporn Saenkhun, 4-Duangnapa Sritala (capt.), 6-Pikul Khueanpet, 7-Silawan Intamee (20-Wilaiporn Boothduang, 82), 9-Warunee Phetwiset, 10-Sunisa Srangthaisong, 11-Alisa Rukpinij (17-Anootsara Maijarern, 65), 12-Rattikan Thongsombut (21-Kanjana Sung-ngoen, 46), 13-Orathai Srimanee (8-Naphat Seesraum, 65), 19-Pitsamai Sornsai (23-Nisa Romyen, 82)
Subs not used: 1-Waraporn Boonsing, 3-Natthakarn Chinwong, 5-Ainon Phancha, 14-Thanatta Chawong, 16-Khwanruedee Saengchan
Head Coach: Spencer Prior

Stats Summary: USA / THA
Shots: 32 / 7
Shots on Goal: 16 / 4
Saves: 2 / 7
Corner Kicks: 6 / 0
Fouls: 6 / 3
Offside: 4 / 0

Misconduct Summary:
USA – Lindsey Horan (caution) 90th minute

 

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U.S. WNT Set to Face Thailand
U.S. WNT Set to Face Thailand avatar

The United States Women’s National Team return to action tomorrow night in Columbus against Thailand for the first time since bowing out of the Olympics this summer with the worst finish in a major competition in the history of U.S. Women’s Soccer.

The Americans had never before failed to advance to the Olympic Finals, winning Gold at every Olympiad since the introduction of the women’s game at the 1996 Atlanta Games, with the exception of a second place finish to Norway in 2000.

Ellis and her team (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Ellis and her team’s early exit from the Olympics shocked many.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Coach Jill Ellis and her team traveled to Rio intent on becoming the first team to win gold the year after annexing the Women’s World Cup but with former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage at the helm Sweden eliminated the favored Americans on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. The Americans have never been knocked out of the World Cup before the semifinal round.

And while U.S. Soccer would like the focus to be on Heather O’Reilly on Wednesday night as she plays the final match of her international career, the always classy veteran figures to be upstaged by a player who isn’t in Columbus, goalkeeper Hope Solo.

As we all are well aware by now the ex U.S. goalkeeper was suspended for six months and had her contract with U.S. Soccer terminated after calling Sweden “a bunch of cowards” in the aftermath of that loss to Sweden.

Rapinoe (ISI Photos/Jane Gershovich)

Rapinoe will be under the spotlight.  (ISI Photos/Jane Gershovich)

Another possible controversy looms over the national anthem and the question of whether U.S. star Megan Rapinoe will stand or kneel once again in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Rapinoe stood with and locked arms with her teammates during the anthem prior to Seattle’s home game out of respect for the 9/11 anniversary and it would not be too much of a surprise to see Rapinoe similarly abstain in Columbus rather than steal the spotlight from her popular and well-respected teammate.

As for the match, the Americans have never faced Thailand before but with the disappointment of the Olympics still fresh it would be a surprise if the U.S. did not look to put on a show against the 32nd ranked FIFA nation tomorrow night at MAPFRE Stadium.

Solo will probably not be recalled to the national team after her suspension.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Solo will probably not be recalled to the national team after her suspension.(ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Other than Solo, who has very like played the final game of her U.S. soccer career, Ellis will also be without Mallory Pugh and Morgan Brian. Recently turned 18, Pugh is with the U20 team as it prepares for the age group World Cup which runs from November13 – December 3 in Papua new Guinea.

Brian is unavailable after taking an elbow to the head while playing for the Houston Dash on Sunday against the Boston Breakers. Brian exhibited concussion-like symptoms and is being held out as a precaution.

After Thursday’s match the U.S. WNT travel to Atlanta where it will play the Netherlands Sunday night (September 18) at the Georgia Dome.

Pugh (L) and Morgan (R) have build up a good partnership.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Pugh (L) and Morgan (R) have build up a good partnership. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

These friendlies take the place of the expected and lucrative Victory Tour that fans of the U.S. Women’s team have come to expect as the team, and the women’s game enters a fallow period with no major tournament to prepare for until the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

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FC Dallas Win US Open Cup to continue MLS treble bid
FC Dallas Win US Open Cup to continue MLS treble bid avatar

FC Dallas claimed the 103rd Lamar Hunt US Open Cup title with an impressive 4-2 win in front of a rare sellout crowd Tuesday night in Frisco, Texas.

Mauro Diaz put in a star performance. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Mauro Diaz put in a star performance. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Playmaker Mauro Diaz’ footprints were all over this victory and indeed, all over the stat sheet in an incredible performance that saw the 25-year-old Argentine score one goal and assist on the other three as Dallas won its first silverware since 1997 when the club was still known as the Dallas Burn.

Tuesday night’s victory is the first tangible result for the Dallas club under the leadership of Technical Director Fernando Clavijo and coach Oscar Pareja and it has to be especially sweet for the club’s owners, the Hunt family, to finally win the U.S. Open Cup, which is of course named for family patriarch, and MLS architect/savior Lamar Hunt.

At a time when the survival of Major League Soccer was very much an open question the Hunt family owned three MLS clubs and Anschutz Entertainment owned six, so this must be an especially sweet reward for the family of Lamar Hunt.

Under Clavijo and Pareja FCD has often been held up as an example of how to build a team without going the big money/Designated Player route favored by big spenders such as the L.A. Galaxy and New York City FC.

Raising the Open Cup is vindication for the pair who have built this club by developing and playing Homegrown players like rising U.S. international Kellyn Acosta. And Clavijo and Pareja are hoping that winning the oldest competition in American sports is just the first step in what would be a triple for FCD, with the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup still there to play for.

Pareja was seen holding up three fingers during Tuesday’s celebrations but the first leg of that triple looked somewhat unlikely when New England jumped out to a sixth minute lead at Toyota Stadium on a gem of a goal from striker Juan Agudelo.

The resurgent attacker displayed the combination of skill, strength and finishing ability that marked the Colombia-born, New Jersey raised Agudelo down as U.S. Soccer’s Next Big Thing all the way back in 2010 when the then 17-year-old scored his first goal for the U.S. MNT versus South Africa.

Agudelo was once again on the scoresheet for (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Agudelo was once again on the scoresheet for the Revs (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

Agudelo scored the second Revs goal in the 73rd minute but as with Agudelo’s career between 2010 and 2016, a lot had happened in the interim. We won’t rehash Agudelo’s subsequent career tribulations here but turning back to last night, injuries to fullback Je-Vaughan Watson and in particular midfielder Gershon Koffie, played a part in scuttling New England’s challenge in between Agudelo’s two strikes.

With an injured Koffie struggling and unable to plug the gaps before taking his leave in the 42nd minute Diaz was rampant, picking apart the Revs defense and setting up Matt Hedges and Maximiliano Urruti for a pair of Dallas goals before converting a penalty kick deep into injury time after center back Hedges was held in the box.

Therefore by the time Agudelo struck for a second Revs goal in the 73rd minute, Urruti had linked up with Diaz for a second goal, meaning that the second of Agudelo’s brace only halved the New England deficit at 4-2.

That late goal sparked comeback hopes among the Revs faithful and the visitors raised their play as they pushed for more, but Dallas held firm to reverse the outcome of the 2007 U.S. Open Cup Final when New England took home the Cup with a 3-2 win at last night’s venue.

FC Dallas celebrating their cup victory. (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

FC Dallas celebrating their cup victory. (ISI Photos/David Bernal)

This being MLS Dallas will have little time to savor this result, in fact, the 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Champions travel to New York City to face NYCFC Saturday evening with the U.S. Soccer triple very much in play.

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NWSL Roundup
NWSL Roundup avatar

On a weekend rife with playoff implications NWSL play kicked off on Saturday with a rare match devoid of such concerns.

Home teams listed first.

Orlando Pride 1-2 vs. Sky Blue FC

With NWSL year four winding down neither of these teams will be heading to the playoffs but that didn’t stop either side from putting on a solid display in front of close to 7,000 fans at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

The first year Pride have drawn good support all season, with Orlando’s average of 8,933 ranking second in the league behind only the Portland Thorns, who average nearly 17,000 fans per.

Edmonds free kick (ISI Photos/Roy K. Miller)

Edmonds gave Orland the lead with her free kick. (ISI Photos/Roy K. Miller)

Those Orlando Pride fans saw their side jump out to 1-0 lead on a well struck free kick from Kristen Edmonds shortly before the halftime intermission. Unfortunately for the home fans, the first year squad was unable to make that lead stand up conceding to Sam Kerr and Maya Hayes in the second half.

The ninth place Pride wraps up its inaugural campaign with a final home game versus FC Kansas City on September 24 while Sky Blue finish out the 2016 season the following afternoon when the Portland Thorns come to Yurcak Field in Piscataway, New Jersey.

FC Kansas City 0-0 vs. Chicago Red Stars

Needing only a point to claim a 2016 playoff berth the Chicago Red Stars traveled to Swope Park in Kansas City, Missouri to face the 2014-2015 league champion FC Kansas City and did what had to be done to extend its season.

Lauren Holiday has been very much missed by FC Kansas.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lauren Holiday has been very much missed by Kansas City. (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

KCFC is winding down a disappointing season that began with the retirement of Lauren Holiday and continued as the club lost Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux to pregnancies.

The fans that came out to Swope Park on Sunday saw a quiet match, although Red Stars keeper Alyssa Naeher was called into action on a couple of occasions and the U.S. WNT netminder kept the clean sheet to send Chicago into the postseason for a second consecutive season.

Seattle Reign 2-0 vs. Washington Spirit

In the final regular season home match of Seattle captain Keelin Winters’ career, the Seattle Reign kept its playoff hopes alive with a shutout win over the league-leading Washington Spirit. Seattle and U.S. WNT star Megan Rapinoe avoided further controversy by standing for the national anthem, rather than kneeling as she had previously in support of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Rapinoe played a big role in Seattle’s opening goal, delivering one of her patented crosses to Beverly Yanez, who finished to the Spirit net for a 28th minute Reign lead.

Keelin Winters celebrating her goal and team's victory. (ISI Photos/Jane Gershovich)

Keelin Winters celebrating her goal and team’s victory. (ISI Photos/Jane Gershovich)

Winters gave the home fans a treat scoring in the 78th minute securing the points and keeping Seattle’s playoff hopes alive.

Portland Thorns 3-2 vs. Western New York Flash

In front of a sold-out crowd of 21,144 and a national television audience on Fox Sports 1 the Portland Thorns held on to beat the Western New York Flash 3-2, a victory that earned the Thorns its first ever home playoff match. Having compiled an 8-1-1 mark at Providence Park this season, that is no small consideration.

Sinclair was once again on the scoresheet. (ISI Photos/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Sinclair was once again on the scoresheet. (ISI Photos/Craig Mitchelldyer)

The Timbers rolled to a 3-0 lead in front of its third full house of the year behind goals from Nadia Nadeem, Christine Sinclair, and Dagny Brynjarsdottir.

Trailing 3-0 the Flash fought back and made a game of it on when Jess McDonald scored from a Liz Eddy cross in the 77th minute before turning provider just three minutes later for Lynn Williams.

Showing impressive resilience Western New York pressed for the equalizer and very nearly got it, only to see Timbers keeper Michelle Betos get just enough of a long range shot from Williams to send the big Portland crowd home happy.

Houston Dash 4-1 vs. Boston Breakers

In a matchup of two teams firmly out of the playoff picture, the Houston Dash piled more misery on the last-place Boston Breakers, beating the visitors 4-1, sparked by a pair of goals from Carli Lloyd and a goal and an assist from Canadian international Janine Beckie.

The loss is just the latest in this awful season for the Breakers who head into the final week of the campaign with a minus 29 goal difference to its name, 20 worse than the Orlando Pride, who sport the league’s next worst mark.

Carli Lloyd scored a brace for Houston. (ISI Photos/Wilf Thorne)

Carli Lloyd scored a brace for Houston. (ISI Photos/Wilf Thorne)

Playoff scenarios: With the NWSL shut down next weekend the Western New York Flash and the Seattle Reign will head into the final games of the season fighting for the league’s final playoff spot.

Unlike the bloated MLS postseason that sees 12 out of league’s 20 clubs qualify for the playoffs, just four teams last into the NWSL “second season.” WNY controls its fate heading into Sunday’s season finale against dreadful Boston needing just a draw or of course a win.

The Flash can take all of the drama out the weekend by getting a result Saturday night when they travel to play Boston. If the Breakers manage to pull off an upset win at Jordan Field the final playoff berth would be Seattle’s for the taking, if they can defeat the Dash in Houston.

A Seattle loss would also see WNY advance, regardless of Saturday’s outcome.

The playoff dates and locations are:

Semifinals: Friday, September 30 – 8pm @ Maryland SoccerPlex, Boyds, Maryland.
Sunday, October 2 – 5pm @Providence Park, Portland, Oregon.

NWSL Championship: Sunday, October 9 – 5pm @BBVA Compass Stadium.

All times ET

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

It was another exciting MLS weekend full of lost leads and playoff permutations but mostly it was about…

1) Donovan’s Return

So, how did he do in his allotted seven minutes of playing time? Here is Donovan’s own take: “I have to get myself going again so I can really contribute because every week is not going to be a charity, five or 10 minutes,” Donovan said. “I came into a game where both teams were exhausted and I was the slowest player on the field.”

Landon Donovan (Getty Images)

Landon Donovan (Getty Images)

So, work to do then for LD. Is this too big a hill to climb, has Donovan left it too late in the season to attempt this comeback? And where does he fit in?

L.A. beat Orlando 4-2 in Donovan’s return and showed plenty of depth and ability in the midfield and the attack. Gio Dos Santos had two goals, one a pk, Robbie Keane, recently retired from international play with Ireland, scored his eighth, and Alan Gordon scored his first of the year on an assist from adventurous center back Jelle Van Damme.

Bruce Arena can also look for offense to Mike Magee off of the bench, Sebastian Lletget, Emmanuel Boateng, youngster Raul Mendiola and Steven Gerrard, joint club assists leader with Dos Santos with 11.

Donovan s under no illusions. “I need to get myself ready to compete in a real way. Bruce and the coaching staff need to know what when they put me in, it can mean something. So tonight worked out well, but I need to be able to contribute.”

2) Rapids End FC Dallas Home Streak

FC Dallas supporters can be forgiven if they marked this one down as a victory in pre-match calculations. After all, their heroes hadn’t dropped all three points in Frisco since last August when L.A. escaped from the Dallas suburb with a 2-1 victory. But Colorado broke that Dallas dominance with Saturday’s 1-0 win, a win that came about thanks to a brilliant strike from Dominique Badji and seven saves from Tim Howard.

Colorado's Howard making a save against FC Dallas. (Getty Images)

Colorado’s Howard making a save against FC Dallas. (Getty Images)

FCD still tops the West and the Supporters Shield races, thanks in part to its best in the west road record of 5-7-2. Not overly impressive but then no MLS team has a winning away mark, NYCFC and Toronto FC top the league with 6-6-3 and 6-6-2 records, respectively.

The Rapids win leaves three Western Conference sides without a home loss in 2016; Colorado at 9-0-4, L.A. at 8-0-7 and Real Salt Lake with a 8-0-6 stat line. No Eastern Conference teams have avoided a home L.

3) Agudelo Rising?

Before there was Christian Pulisic there was Juan Agudelo, scoring a goal for the United States in South Africa at 17 years of age, before he had scored one at the club level.

Then came injuries and transfers from the New York Red Bulls to MLS clubs Chivas USA and the New England Revolution. A move to Stoke in 2014 went awry when Agudelo couldn’t land a work permit when even Brek Shea managed it. A short and decent stint in the Netherlands didn’t lead to a hoped-for European contract and Agudelo was back with the Revolution.

Agudelo (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

Agudelo is still only 23. (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

Blessed with all the obvious physical attributes (minus consistent health) a soccer player should need, plus a neat bag of tricks to draw the oohs and ahhs, Agudelo has surprisingly never scored more than seven goals in a season. He hit that mark in 2013 and ‘15 with the Revs but more was expected after Agudelo bagged six for NYRB back in 2011.

All of which is simply preamble to Agudelo’s excellent performance against New York City FC on Saturday night. Agudelo opened the scoring with his fifth goal of the year, assisted on the Revs third goal and showed the combination of flash, physicality, and hustle that has long excited so many. Though his prospect days are behind him, Agudelo is still just 23, 24 in November, and five goals and three assists is not a bad haul from just nine starts and 19 appearances.

What does it all mean? Maybe it just means that even if Agudelo has long been supplanted as U.S. Soccer’s Next Big Thing, it is far too soon to give up on a player with so much ability.

4) New York, New York – Potential Playoff Holes Exposed

Let’s attack this chronologically, beginning with NYCFC’s fall from the Eastern pinnacle following Saturday’s 3-1 blowout loss to the New England Patriots. Uh, sorry the NFL yard markers, hash marks etc, confused me there for a moment.

New York FC struggled against the Revolution. (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

New York FC struggled against the Revolution. (ISI Photos/Tim Bouwer)

And yes, I said a 3-1 blowout. The playoff-chasing Revolution dominated NYCFC for all but a few minutes after the halftime break and maybe a minute or two at the very beginning of the match.

New England hit the post, they hit NYC keeper Josh Saunders, and even though they hit the target three times the Revs could have quite easily rattled the twines on several more occasions. Which brings us to a problem that Patrick Vieira will have to address before the upcoming playoffs.

The problem? As we say in New York sports circles DEE – FENSE! The chant was invented in NYCFC’s home stadium, well the original version, anyway, Yankee Stadium 1, the House that Ruth Built. This was back in the 1950’s when television broadcast in black and white (!) and the New York Football Giants were so-called so as to distinguish them from the New York Baseball Giants.

In two years time, the baseball Giants will celebrate its 60th year in San Francisco while the football team is on its second stadium in New Jersey, which is to say that this was all a very long time ago.

But I digress. The thing is NYCFC don’t inspire crowds to celebrate its defense, lower case, no exclamation point. And that’s ok. Patrick Vieira has maintained from the start that he would prefer to outscore his opponents. No bus parker, he.

And Vieira well knows that the defensive effort his side put forth at Gillette Stadium wasn’t good enough and he doesn’t have all that much time to fix it.

So what about the Red Bulls, then. The Red Bulls problem is a season-long inability to close out games. With first place theirs for the taking on Sunday afternoon, the Red Bulls coughed up a two-goal lead to DC, which had coach Jesse Marsch denying that surrendering leads were a problem for his club.

It’s just that the same thing happened when these two rivals played in August at the old tear down, RFK. The Bulls led 2-0 in that one before allowing United to come back and grab a share of the spoils. That was the repetition of a bad road habit, this one at home has to hurt even more.

NYRB carried a 2-0 lead into the 89th minute on Sunday only to concede twice and give two valuable points away. That pair of points is all that separates the Red Bulls from Eastern table toppers Toronto.

Sounds like cause for concern to me.

5) BWP for MVP?

A positive for New York’s original MLS club has been the play of Bradley Wright-Phillips, who came over from England in the middle of the 2013 MLS campaign, as the brother of Shaun Wright-Phillips and the son of Ian Wright who was known mostly for bouncing around a variety of English clubs and for not living up to the family name.

Wright-Phillips has continually proven he is a scoring machine. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Wright-Phillips has continually proven he is a scoring machine. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

After scoring one goal in seven games in 2013, BWP has gone on to become a goal scoring machine, tying the single-season MLS record with 27 in 2014 and adding 17 in ‘15 and 19 so far this year.

That tally sees Wright-Phillips atop the league goal scoring race but he has competition for that title and for the league MVP. Defending Most Valuable Sebastian Giovinco and his 16 goals and 13 assists is out injured but cross-river rival David Villa is a strong candidate for individual honors.

With the playoff races and then the playoffs themselves the bigger story, the MVP race is more of a subplot to the MLS season, but then who doesn’t love a good subplot?

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Landon Donovan is Back!
Landon Donovan is Back! avatar

His beloved Los Angeles Galaxy sent up a distress signal and after a bit of thought and a serious sit down with coach Bruce Arena, Landon Donovan answered that call; announcing on Thursday that he is ending his near two year retirement.

Donovan (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Donovan as a spectator in March 2016. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

A recent injury glut along with the departure of Nigel De Jong to Turkey left the Galaxy in a bit of lurch and the comeback became a possibility when, as Donovan described it, a Galaxy staffer “jokingly asked if I was ready to make a return to the field to help fill some of the void left by the injuries and departures.”

Donovan last lined out in a competitive match in L.A’s 2-1 2014 MLS Cup Championship Match win over New England, ending his career, or so we all thought, with his sixth league championship; a personal record Donovan is now hoping to add to.

Donovan’s final season was a controversial one, highlighted of course by Jurgen Klinsmann’s still controversial decision to exclude him from the World Cup side that represented the U.S. in Brazil, but that MLS Cup and his impressive contributions to it allowed Donovan to bow out with a smile on his face.

Donovan will be missed by many and deserves to have a sending off with the national team. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Donovan is still the all time leading U.S. MNT scorer. . (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Now that the comeback is official the question remaining to be answered is: What does the all-time U.S. MNT and MLS leader in goals and assists have left and can the Galaxy use him?

We can’t know until Donovan steps between the white lines in his new number 26 Galaxy jersey- 26 in honor of his son Talon’s birthday. Donovan is expected to be available to Bruce Arena for the Galaxy’s home game versus Orlando on Sunday, September 11, so we won’t have too long to wait for answers.

Donovan most directly figures as a replacement for Gyasi Zardes and if he hasn’t lost too much while sitting up in the broadcast booth he figures to slot into the Galaxy attack on Gio Dos Santos’ opposite wing and should combine with Dos Santos and Robbie Keane to ignite the Galaxy offense.

Donovan's return would be welcomed by many. .(ISI Photos)

Donovan’s return would be welcomed by many. .(ISI Photos)

Donovan says in his statement: “I know this won’t be received well by everyone.” While the savvy Donovan is likely correct in his assessment, the majority of the American soccer community will welcome Donovan back with open arms and given what the 34-year-old has meant to both the U.S. MNT and to Major League Soccer, that is entirely as it should be.

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4 Thoughts as U.S. Cruise Past Trinidad & Tobago
4 Thoughts as U.S. Cruise Past Trinidad & Tobago avatar

Led by a brace from Jozy Altidore and a breakout performance by 17 year old Christian Pulisic the U.S. MNT dispatched Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday night in Jacksonville, Florida by a 4-0 score to advance to the final round of World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex).

(ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The U.S. will now face Mexico in November. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Winning the group means that the Americans will host Mexico on November 11 at a cold weather site to be determined. But before we look ahead let’s look at 4 Things from this impressive win.

1) The Pulisic Hype Train has left the station.

Jurgen Klinsmann has been saying for some time now that he would have to bring the young Pennsylvanian along at the correct pace, and even if many of us wanted more Pulisic during June’s Copa America, it was understandable that the U.S. coach and Technical Director was reluctant to rush the youngster.

Pulisic (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Pulisic has shown he is the real deal. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

But Tuesday’s mature, dominant performance makes it clear that the kid has to play, and he has to start. After the match Klinsmann called Pulisic’s game “wonderful.”

Former U.S. MNT striker Brian McBride said on television that Pulisic “changes games,” adding that he is “very, very excited,” about the soon to be 18 year old.

It must all be very heady stuff for such a young player but Pulisic has come so far, so fast, and all without betraying any nerves or exhibiting any ego.

Next up is Mexico in a match that really means something and the pressure seems to be on Klinsmann to start Pulisic, rather than on Pulisic, who looks more than ready to step into what would be the biggest international match of his young career.

2) Jozy is Back – and Better than Ever?

When Altidore injured his hamstring for the umpteenth time forcing him to miss the Copa America this summer, Bobby Wood stepped in very nicely and plenty of U.S. Soccer watchers began to turn the page on the Jozy era.

Altidore is looking sharper than ever. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Altidore is looking sharper than ever. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Remember that a hamstring injury had ended Altidore’s 2014 World Cup minutes into the first U.S. match and it was beginning to look as if the Toronto striker would fade into the national team sunset.

But with Altidore healthy now and banging home goals in MLS and adding three goals from these just completed pair of U.S. matches, it looks like Jozy is back.

Always a lightning rod for criticism, mostly about his goalscoring record, Altidore’s brace versus T&T nevertheless moved him past Clint Dempsey, and everyone else, to the top of the U.S. MNT World Cup Qualifier goals list.

Altidore is also third on the all time American men’s goal chart behind Landon Donovan (57) and Clint Dempsey (52). At just 26 years of age it is not out of the question that Altidore could one day top that list, if he can stay healthy.

3) Is Sascha The Answer?

The question being – how to fix the U.S. midfield. After being exiled from the national team for years the New York Red Bulls midfielder was only added to the U.S. roster when Jermaine Jones was unable to recover in time from a preexisting injury.

Kljestan (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Kljestan was able to make a positive impact from his #10 role.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The MLS leader in assists with 15 impressed off of the bench on Friday against an admittedly weak St. Vincent and the Grenadines side, still a goal and two assists is nothing to sneeze at.

Kljestan added another goal versus a much tougher opponent when he opened the U.S. account Tuesday night versus Trinidad and Tobago and perhaps more importantly Kljestan seems to have developed an instant rapport with rising star Christian Pulisic.

Kljestan set up both of Pulisic’s goals against St. V&G also scoring via an assist from Pulisic. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones have often seemed to be an uncomfortable fit in the U.S midfield and while it still seems a stretch to suggest that Klinsmann would bench Jones in favor of Kljestan with Mexico on deck, the U.S supremo did say this Tuesday night:

“I think the way Sacha now plays at the New York Red Bulls, this is a role that he really is good at and he brought himself back into this roster.”

“So (I need to) make sure we give him the opportunity to play the No. 10 role. Automatically, that means Michael (Bradley) is more of the No. 6 in this game. Whether we need him as a No. 8 or a No. 10, it’s not a problem.”

4) Time for Tim?

After rotating keepers Klinsmann named Brad Guzan as his number one for the Copa America, a policy he has reinstituted these past two World Cup Qualifiers.

At the time that Klinsmann anointed Guzan, Howard was coming off a down year at Everton and was headed to Colorado. Guzan had endured a rough season at relegated Aston Villa but had ended the season as the Villians number one.

Howard (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Howard has been performing well and may just win back his spot.  (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Now Howard is playing well, and playing regularly with the Rapids. Guzan has been starting with his new Premier League club Middlesbrough but his play has not been entirely convincing and he could face a challenge to maintain his number one status at Boro.

It may mean something too that Howard started against the better side, T&T, in this recent two game set. Guzan also had a moment or two of indecision versus the Vincy Heat while Howard look very steady against the Soca Warriors.

Is Howard on course to reclaim his job? It will depend on Guzan’s performance with Middlesbrough but it is not difficult to imagine Klinsmann turning to Howard versus Mexico in November.

Scoring Summary: 1 2 F

USA 1 3 4
TRI 0 0 0

USA – Sacha Kljestan 44th minute
USA – Jozy Altidore (Fabian Johnson) 59
USA – Jozy Altidore (Christian Pulisic) 62
USA – Paul Arriola 71

Lineups:
USA: 12-Tim Howard; 20-Geoff Cameron, 21-Steve Birnbaum, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 23-Fabian Johnson; 11-Alejandro Bedoya (14-Paul Arriola, 66), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 16-Sacha Kljestan (13-Caleb Stanko, 72), 10-Christian Pulisic; 7-Bobby Wood (8-Jordan Morris, 60), 17-Jozy Altidore
Subs not used: 1-Brad Guzan, 22-Ethan Horvath, 2-Kellyn Acosta, 5-Michael Orozco, 6-Darlington Nagbe, 9-Rubio Rubin, 15-Kyle Beckerman, 18-Chris Wondolowski, 19-Graham Zusi
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

TRI : 1-Marvin Phillip; 2-Aubrey David, 12-Carlyle Mitchell, 6-Radanfah Abu Bakr, 17-Mekeil Williams; 3-Joevin Jones, 8-Khaleem Hyland, ,10-Kevin Molino, 14-Andre Boucaud (19-Kevan George, 76), 16-Levi Garcia (23-Jomal Williams, 57); 9-Kenwyne Jones (capt.) (11-Shahdon Winchester, 69)
Subs not used: 21-Adrian Foncette, 22-Greg Ranjitsingh, 5-Daneil Cyrus, 7-Hughtun Hector, 13-Cordell Cato, 15-Neveal Hackshaw, 18-Yohance Marshall, 20-Trevin Caesar
Head Coach: Stephen Hart

Stats Summary: USA / TRI
Shots: 17 / 14
Shots on Goal: 10 / 5
Saves: 5 / 6
Corner Kicks: 3 / 2
Fouls: 8 / 11
Offside: 4 / 1

Misconduct Summary:
TRI – Mekeil Williams (caution) 25th minute
TRI – Carlyle Mitchell (caution) 52
TRI – Jomal Williams (caution) 62

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Will Klinsmann Give Youth its Day against Trinidad and Tobago?
Will Klinsmann Give Youth its Day against Trinidad and Tobago? avatar

With its place in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex) virtually assured the U.S. MNT host Trinidad and Tobago tonight in Jacksonville, Florida.

Confidence should be high for a home team that is coming in fresh off of Friday’s 6-0 drubbing of St. Vincent and The Grenadines. The visiting Americans dominated the Vincy Heat from the opening whistle, although it took 28 minutes for Bobby Wood to start the scoring for the visitors.

Christian Politic was impressive. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Christian Politic was impressive. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Second half substitutes Christian Pulisic (2) and Sacha Kljestan scored and starred in the second half after the home side had begun the second stanza by putting the U.S. under pressure.

The U.S. played Trinidad and Tobago to a dull 0-0 draw last November, a rare blemish for the Americans against T&T. The Stars and Stripes own a 16-2-4 all time record against the Soca Warriors and a near perfect 11-0-1 home mark against tonight’s opponents with the lone draw coming way back in 1989.

With a win tonight the U.S. would top the group and and begin The Hex with a home match versus Mexico followed by a trip to Costa Rica. The Americans would prefer to get its top two CONCACAF rivals early rather than later in the round and a victory over T&T would allow the Americans to play Mexico at a cold weather site, a la Columbus, a strategy that has been effective in the past for the U.S. MNT.

A draw would assure a spot in the Hex for the U.S. who hold a three point lead over Guatemala, who stunned the Americans 2-0 last March in Guatemala. If the U.S. lose tonight, a 12 goal advantage in goals difference should still be too much for the Chapines to overcome.

U.S. captain Michael Bradley returns from suspension as does versatile defender Michael Orozco. DeAndre Yedlin has headed back to Newcastle after earning a yellow card ban and proud new papa Matt Besler has returned to Kansas City to meet his new daughter.

No doubt Bradley will assume his place in the heart of the U.S. midfield and Orozco can fill in at either fullback for Yedlin or center back for Besler. Klinsmann also has center backs Steve Birnbaum and Omar Gonzalez available.

Klinsmann recently lamented the inability of younger American players to force veterans aside; is a two goal performance against St. V&G enough to earn 17 year old Pulisic a start? And while Kljestan(30) and Darlington Nagbe (26) no longer qualify as “young” players Nagbe is still fairly new to national team set up and Kljestan has been out of the team after a long absence.

Klinsmann has already named World Cup hero Tim Howard as tonight’s starter, replacing Brad Guzan in a prearranged platoon, so 20 year Ethan Horvath is unlikely to see action.

Kellyn Acosta (R) started on Friday. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Kellyn Acosta (R) started on Friday. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

21 year old Kellyn Acosta started at left fullback on Friday and Klinsmann has several young players on his roster in midfielders Caleb Stanko (23), and Paul Arriola (21); and forwards Jordan Morris (21), who Klinsmann used off of the bench against St. Vincent and The Grenadines, and Rubio Rubin (20).

Will Klinsmann go with some or all of his kiddie corps or will the U.S. coach continue with his conservative policy of relying on veterans like Kyle Beckerman, Graham Zusi, and Chris Wondolowski?

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U.S. Crush St VIncent and the Grenadines
U.S. Crush St VIncent and the Grenadines avatar

U.S. MNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann spent much of the past week doing his best to convince the U.S. soccer public that today’s match versus CONCACAF minnows St. Vincent and the Grenadines was more than a formality before a 6-0 U.S. victory put lie to that theory.

Bobby Wood opened the scoring for the U.S. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Bobby Wood opened the scoring for the U.S. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The Americans were on top from the start at the Cricket Grounds with Hamburg striker Bobby Wood missing an easy chance early before opening the scoring in the 28th minute with a neatly placed strike.

A second U.S. goal, this one from new dad Matt Besler four minutes later put a more realistic look on the scoreboard as the defender finished with a neat half-volley. When Wood was dragged down in the St V&G box captain Jozy Altidore stepped forward to fire the Yanks to the halftime intermission with a 3-0 lead and it was all going well for the visitors.

The second half started in a much different manner as the home team stormed out of the gate determined to give their supporters a better show in the second half.

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines government had made today a half holiday and even if the crowd remained small, spirits were high against the superior American team.

Twice St. V&G had the ball in the U.S. goal in the opening stages of the second half but the Americans were bailed on both occasions by offside calls, correct in both cases.

Christian Pulisic (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Christian Pulisic scored two  goals and got one assist. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Nevertheless, it was a discouraging start to the final 45 for the U.S. – that is until 17-year-old Christian Pulisic broke the spell. Fellow substitute Sacha Kljestan fed a beautiful through ball that the Borussia Dortmund attacker controlled with elan before slipping his shot neatly beyond the beleaguered Vincy Heat keeper.

Moments later the roles were reversed when Pulisic put it on a platter for Kljestan for the New York Red Bulls midfielder to make the score 5-0 in his first game back in a U.S. jersey since 2014 and his first international goal since 2010.

Pulisic added a second goal in stoppage time, cooly sending his shot under the crossbar to put an exclamation point on what was an expected win for the Americans.

The U.S. MNT simply had too much depth and too much talent for their game but overmatched hosts and so head into Tuesday’s match with Trinidad and Tobago on a high.

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U.S. MNT Can Advance to Hex with Win Over Minnows
U.S. MNT Can Advance to Hex with Win Over Minnows avatar

The U.S. MNT can advance to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualification today with an away win over tiny St. Vincent and the Grenadines today the Americans will need help.

The US MNT train in preparation for the Copa America Semis. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The US MNT will hopefully advance. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

If Jurgen Klinsmann’s crew can, as expected, defeat St V&G it will need Trinidad and Tobago to top Guatemala at home to advance directly to the Hex. If either of the underdogs can pull off an upset then the Americans will need to defeat T&T Tuesday night in Jacksonville, Florida in order to move on.

The U.S. is coming off of a run to the Copa America Centenario semifinals in June and despite injuries to stalwarts Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, John Brooks, Gyasi Zardes and suspended captain Michael Bradley the Yanks should be too much for the Vincy Heat, several of whose players have days jobs!

The U.S. has never played at St. Vincent and the Grenadines, although the Americans topped St. V&G 6-1 in a WC Qualifier in November by a 6-1 score after conceding a shock opening goal to the Vincy Heat through Oalex Anderson, then playing for Seattle Sounders II of the USL.

(ISI Photos/John Dorton)

The U.S. should still be strong regardless of their injuries. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Anderson has since moved up to Seattle’s first team, appearing 14 times (two starts) for the Sounders in 2016, although the forward has yet to find the target for his club side this season.

Today’s match will start at 3:30 at Arnos Vale Stadium, because the cricket ground has no lights and with the hosts’ unable to advance to the Hex the Americans have no excuse not to come out on the right side of today’s result.

The match against the USA last November saw Anderson give St. Vincent and the Grenadines a 1-0 lead before the MNT rebounded to win 6-1. St. V&G did throw a scare into Trinidad & Tobago in March when Myron Samuel put the Vincy Heat up a 1-0 lead with a 45th-minute penalty kick. T&T eventually went ahead but the CONCACAF minnows showed character in pulling even via Shandel Samuel in the 77th before finally succumbing by a 3-2 score.

T&T exacted its revenge with a 6-0 win over in the return leg four days later but St Vincent and the Grenadines showed that they trouble the bigger CONCACAF powers at the Cricket Grounds.

The government of St. Vincent has declared match day a national half-day holiday, so the U.S. should expect a large and festive crowd in the afternoon’s Caribbean heat.

Given the injuries to key players and the potential to clinch a place in the Hex, Klinsmann is expected to go with a conservative lineup and has already named Brad Guzan as his starting keeper for today while naming Tim Howard number one for Tuesday.

Altidore has been given the captain's armband. . (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Altidore has been given the captain’s armband. . (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Jozy Altidore has been named as captain and with five goals in seven games since returning from the hamstring injury that ruled him out of June’s Copa, the TFC striker will no doubt lead the line. Bobby Wood began his Bundesliga career last weekend with a goal that was voted Bundesliga Goal of the Week, so expect the Hawaiian to see time alongside Altidore.

Brooks is a big loss at the back but Matt Besler, Steve Birnbaum, or the recalled Omar Gonzalez are all capable replacements to partner Geoff Cameron at the center of the U.S. defense.

Newcastle man DeAndre Yedlin will man one fullback spot, likely partnered by Fabian Johnson, who is again listed as a defender but can also be deployed further up the pitch.

Klinsmann security blanket Kyle Beckerman looks set to start alongside Alejandro Bedoya, and Graham Zusi in the midfield, leaving exciting options Darlington Nagbe, Christian Pulisic and perhaps late addition Sacha Kljestan to battle for a final starting spot in the center of the park.

U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals):
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough;10/0), Ethan Horvath (Molde FC; 0/0), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids; 31/0)

DEFENDERS (7): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas; 0/0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 8/0), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United; 1/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City; 17/2), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca; 9/0), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach; 11/1), , DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United; 4/0)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana; 0/0), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake; 7/0), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union; 4/0), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls; 15/0), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers; 3/0), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund; 1/0), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz; 0/0), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City; 13/3)

FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC; 29/13), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC; 1/0), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht; 0/0), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV; 4/1)

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MLS – Big 5
MLS – Big 5 avatar

Major League Soccer heads into the FIFA international break this week, oh wait, MLS keeps right on playing while the U.S. MNT attempts to advance to the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, i.e. The Hex. So, let’s get to this week’s MLS Big – 5 then, shall we?

Mullins’ Hat

Trick, that is. With a three-goal effort in DC United’s 6-2 win over Chicago, Mullins has five goals for DC since moving down I-95 from the Bronx in July.

Patrick Mullins (R) celebrates scoring. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Patrick Mullins (R) celebrates scoring. (ISI Photos/Tony Quinn)

Now in his third MLS season the two-time Hermann Trophy winner is finally getting his chance as a full-time starter and so far so good. While in and out of the lineup Mullins scored four goals as a rookie with New England in 2014 before landing with expansion NYCFC.

Stuck behind no less than David Villa in NYCFC’s one forward system this past season plus Mullins managed six goals last season and none before the trade this year.

Things are looking up for Mullins in DC under Ben Olsen and it will be interesting to see how many goals Mullins can score if he gets consistent minutes.

2) With Giovinco Out, Can TFC Stay Hot?

Toronto FC had finally gotten its big DP3 together, Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore and it was going so well. Seba was scoring goals, Jozy was scoring goals! Bradley was doing his thing and TFC finally overtook New York City FC for first place.

Toronto will surely miss the speed and creativity of Giovinco. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

Toronto will surely miss the speed and creativity of Giovinco. (ISI Photos/John Todd)

All was right in coach Greg Vanney’s world until Seba came up injured during TFC’s 1-0 loss to Montreal Saturday night at BMO Field. Giovinco will be out for four weeks, can Toronto hold onto first place without the 2015 MLS MVP?

TFC does not play while Altidore and Bradley are on national team duty but Toronto has a busy schedule over the next month, at Chicago on September 10 followed by a quartet of home games versus Eastern Conference competitors.

The Reds host the Red Bulls (9/18), Philadelphia (9/28), Orlando (9/28), and DC United on October 1. It is a busy and important stretch and how well TFC weather Seba’s absence will tell us a lot about Toronto’s MLS Cup hopes.

3) John Doyle Out in San Jose

When MLS fans think of San Jose, if they think of San Jose, they think first of Chris Wondolowski, then maybe of a young peroxide tressed Landon Donovan from the S.J. Clash days, the departed Bash Brothers, and then maybe John Doyle comes to mind.

John Doyle (R) (ISI Photo/Jose L. Argueta)

John Doyle (R) depart company with the Quakes.  (ISI Photo/Jose L. Argueta)

Doyle, the longtime Earthquakes GM, can now be removed from the list. Doyle helmed the Quakes from day one, leading San Jose back into MLS after the Clash decamped for Houston and became the Dynamo.

But for Team President Dave Kaval things had grown stale and he was wasn’t going to pin the blame on coach Dominic Kinnear. “We have a lot of confidence in the coaching staff. Dominic Kinnear has an exceptional track record,” said Kaval, who opined that the team has failed to live up to expectations.

Assistant GM Chris Leitch assumes Doyle’s old job for now, with Kaval calling the rest of this season “an audition” for the former MLS player.

What is Kaval looking for with this change? “We don’t want to be a team that just trolls along the red (playoff) line. That’s not suitable for this club,” Kaval said. “This move shows accountability. We expect more.”

4) De Jong – De Gone

The Nigel De Jong era is over in L.A. after less than a full season. The midfield hardman has been effective in the center of the Galaxy midfield this year even as he has been unable to leave behind his reputation as a dirty player as signified by a three-game suspension in April for a foul on Portland’s Darlington Nagbe.

Nigel de Jong is on his way to Turkey. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

Nigel de Jong is on his way to Turkey. (ISI Photos/Michael Janosz)

The 31-year-old would have become a Designated Player had he stayed with the Galaxy into 2017. Instead, De Jong heads to Turkey as the former Dutch international and the Galaxy part ways by mutual agreement and De Jong brings his hard-nosed style of play to Turkey, where he has joined Galatasaray.

5) Zardes Done for 2016

Gyasi Bardes will not only be a loss to the Galaxy but also to the USMNT. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

Gyasi Bardes will not only be a loss for the Galaxy but also to the USMNT. (ISI Photos/John Dorton)

In addition to De Jong, The Galaxy lost another key player with Tuesday’s news that forward/winger Gyasi Zardes is out for the year after suffering a broken foot in Sunday’s 0-0 home tie with Vancouver. The U.S. MNT will also miss Zardes as it takes on St Vincent and the Grenadines in upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.

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NWSL Roundup
NWSL Roundup avatar

It is not all about Hope Solo in women’s soccer, even if it sometimes feels that way. With that in mind let’s get to this week’s NWSL Roundup.

Ay Carli!

For a while Carli Lloyd’s delayed return to the league was the biggest post-Olympic NWSL story, then along came Hope.

While Ali Krieger was the first Olympic returnee, from any country, contributing to the Washington Spirits 2-1 road win over Lloyd’s Houston Dash on August 18, the rest of the league’s Olympic brigade returned to action last weekend.

Minus Solo and Lloyd, with Lloyd also absent when the Dash drew 2-2 last Saturday with the Western New York Flash. The reigning Women’s Player of the Year cited “personal reasons” for her absence.

Lloyd (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

Lloyd absence has definitely had effects on her club’s results.  (ISI Photos/Brad Smith)

The U.S. WNT co-captain wasn’t inclined to discuss those reasons saying “that really is none of anyone’s business.” The Dash seemed to be ok with its marquee stars extended absence and all appeared to be well when Lloyd returned to practice and given Lloyd’s record of dependability for the national team for so many years the benefit of the doubt is with Lloyd.

Still, with Houston battling to maintain its faint playoff hopes, Lloyd’s delayed return leaves Dash fans justified in wondering exactly where the Dash rank in Lloyd’s priorities.

O’Hara Down – and Out?

Ohara looked to be in a lot of pain when she left the field. (ISI Photos/Robyn Walsh McNeil)

Ohara looked to be in a lot of pain when she left the field. (ISI Photos/Robyn Walsh McNeil)

U.S. Olympian Kelley O’Hara may be wishing she had followed Lloyd’s example and taken an extra day or two off after she left Yurcak Field on crutches following Saturday’s 3-1 home loss to Chicago.

O’Hara came on at halftime for Christy Holly’s playoff chasers only to be injured on a tackle moments before the final whistle. No official word yet on the severity of O’Hara’s injury or the timeline for her return but with just four regular season games remaining the clock is ticking on Sky Blue FC.

Here was O’Hara’s post-game message to Sky Blue supporters.

 

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Orlando Sign Aussie Star De Vanna

It is a reunion in Florida for coach Tom Sermanni and Matilda’s attacker Lisa De Vanna, who played for the Orlando coach for the entirety of his tenure at the helm of Australia’s national team from 2005-2012.

De Vanna (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

De Vanna could be the difference for Sermanni’s team. (ISI Photos/Andrew Katsampes)

With just four games left in the 2016 season, Orlando’s front office will have to get moving on De Vanna’s visa, etc. Nine points separate the Pride from a playoff berth, so Orlando needs De Vanna, who has scored 40 times in 117 national team appearances, sooner rather than later.

Either way both player and coach seem delighted to be back together. Here is what the pair told NWSLsoccer.com

“We’re delighted to sign a player of Lisa’s quality to add to the depth of the team and our attacking presence,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said. “Lisa is a world-class player, a game-changer and I’m looking forward to coaching her again.”

“I am incredibly happy to be joining the Orlando Pride and keen to be working with Tommy again,” De Vanna said of her signing. “I’m looking forward to joining the team. It’s exciting to be a part of a new team and will do my best to help the squad for the rest of the season.”

Recent Results (home team first):

August 18 – Houston Dash 1-2 vs. Washington Spirit

August 26 – Orlando Pride 1-2 vs. Washington Spirit

August 27 – Seattle Reign 3-1 vs. Portland Thorns
Western New York Flash 2-2 vs. Houston Dash
Sky Blue 1-3 vs. Chicago Red Stars

August 28 – FC Kansas City 0-2 vs. Boston Breakers

Upcoming: August 31 – Boston Breakers vs. Houston Dash

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