Star athletes rarely get to go out on their own terms. We’ve seen many all-time greats forced out of their respective sports and we’ve seen boatloads of legends hold on to one last shred of glory by continuing on at a much lower level than the one that made them famous. Yet there was something even more disappointing about the way in which Clint Dempsey called it a career, as one of the USA’s most important stars was quietly whisked away with an unceremonious exit. The writing was on the wall for some time, starting with the mysterious heart issue that impacted Dempsey during the Sounders’ 2016 MLS Cup run. Dempsey continued to shine during his call-ups with the U.S. national team but, after the USMNT’s shock World Cup letdown, the 2018 season just didn’t seem right. Having started just nine games with one goal scored, Dempsey walked away on August 29 after playing just 70 minutes in the prior two months. There was no fanfare, no send-off, no testimonial. Just a retirement and an eventual ceremony that in no way captured just how important Dempsey was to both the Sounders organization and American soccer as a whole. Dempsey may or may not be the best American player of all-time, but it’s impossible to deny that he is among the most tenacious, hard-working and unyielding players to grace American soccer. For many, he was an inspiration, an innovator, a legend. He deserved a better send-off, even if he will be remembered for much more than the way he exited the game.San Diego project falters following public vote ULISES RUIZ https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/GOAL/d2/47/clint-dempsey-seattle-sounders-2018_avfs5wb5o85o126x4pfbfrncy.jpg?t=-2121401777&w=500&quality=80 Zlatan Ibrahimovic fashions himself as a God, but higher powers weren’t enough to save what ended as a calamitous LA Galaxy season. From the moment the Swedish star stepped on the field, there was a buzz around the Galaxy that had been missing for some time. His debut against LAFC was scintillating, historic, entertaining and, most important of all, victorious. The club appeared to be on the right path with a number of big offseason additions joining Ibrahimovic in leading the rebuild. It didn’t quite go as planned. The defense proved to be one of the worst in the league as high-prices options like Michael Cianni and Rolf Feltscher failed to pan out. The two have since left the club, alongside Ashley Cole, who was the lone bright spot on the backline. Ibrahimovic, meanwhile, scored 22 goals in just 27 games, ridiculous numbers even for a player of his pedigree. It wasn’t enough. The Galaxy collapsed on the final day of the season, squandering a two-goal lead in a loss to the Houston Dynamo. The Galaxy completely wasted Ibrahimovic’s heroics, and head coach Sigi Schmid and VP of Soccer Operations Pete Vagenas paid the price. Will they get another chance with the Swede, as AC Milan rumors swirl, or will one of the top attractions in MLS history see his time in the league go down as a missed opportunity? Dempsey’s quiet exit not one fit for a legend Just one game remains in the MLS season as Atlanta United is set to take on the Portland Timbers in the MLS Cup final. Both sides have been among the league’s best for a majority of the season, one which provided several broken records and numerous high points. Stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney came into the league and thrived. Josef Martinez shattered the goalscoring record. Atlanta and the New York Red Bulls dueled all year with both eclipsing the previous record for points in a season. Los Angeles FC dazzled in the club’s expansion season while FC Cincinatti, Inter Miami and the unnamed Nashville side are waiting in the wings. Yet it wasn’t all to plan this year in MLS as Goal takes a look at the top five biggest disappointments of the 2018 season.Toronto FC finally wears down A championship hangover is natural, but no one expected the nosedive experienced by Toronto FC in 2018. In many ways, it’s understandable. The reigning MLS Cup champions, widely viewed as one of the league’s best ever teams, went all-in on the Concacaf Champions League in a bid to become the first MLS side to win the continental competition. They fell short, losing to a pragmatic Chivas side in the final while tanking their opening MLS matches along the way due to the heavy rotation. Once that was over, many expected TFC to turn it around with the focus on MLS, but they never did. The magic switch never flipped on and, when all was said and done, TFC finished ninth, 14 points out of a playoff spot There were reasons for that. Injuries piled up, especially in defense, leading to the conceding of 64 goals, good for second-worst in the conference. Offseason signings Ager Aketxe and Gregory van der Wiel didn’t take the club to a new level. Jozy Altidore played just 13 games, often leaving Sebastian Giovinco to do more heavy-lifting than he probably should have. It would be a good bet to pick TFC to be back amongst the contenders in 2019. The team is too talented and too ambitious to settle for a two-year letdown. But the idea of seeing a historically-good Toronto FC compete with historically-good sides like the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United is a tantalizing one, and one that didn’t come to fruition as TFC finally wore down after two seasons towards the top of the MLS mountain.Zlatan not enough to prevent Galaxy collapse Vaughn Ridley https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/GOAL/a6/65/jozy-altidore-toronto-fc-mls-2018_zjpzn8legjtk1pq0773ssyuoz.jpg?t=-2120432329&w=500&quality=80 Getty Images https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/GOAL/a6/37/zlatan-ibrahimovic-galaxy-mls_1sleelakf6ezk1esklsl8lpwpn.jpg?t=-1126303610&w=500&quality=80 https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/GOAL/8a/15/san-diego-mls-landon-donovan-expansion_mkgr3d3t71k51lwx3qz7vsvrb.png?t=-1395781610&w=500&quality=80 San Diego has everything needed to be a top MLS market. There’s the local talent. There’s the soccer culture and history. There’s the weather and desirability. There’s an ownership group spearheaded by a familiar face in Landon Donovan. There are even ready-made local rivalries on both sides of the border. The city has it all. Except a stadium. Hopes of bringing an MLS franchise to San Diego are all but dead after the proposal to build a stadium fell short in a November vote. The city would have been all but guaranteed of a spot in the next round of expansion if the vote had gone well but, without a stadium, there seems little chance of bringing MLS to the city. “If it was as simple as, ‘Do we want an MLS team and do we want to do something like that for the city?’ I think that’d be an easy answer for everyone,” Donovan told Goal after the vote. “But unfortunately, these things are more complicated than that and I don’t know if they want to go through that again.” An MLS franchise in the southern California city would have been intriguing to say the least. Known as a youth hotbed, a San Diego franchise would have looked to go toe-to-toe with not just MLS rivals like the LA Galaxy, San Jose Earthquakes, and LAFC, but also Mexican sides like Club Tijuana that lie just across the border. The battle at both the youth and senior level would have brought quite a competition, one which we likely won’t see going forward. MLS expansion remains a hot topic all over the country and, while San Diego’s loss may be a market like Sacramento’s gain, the lack of public support for the stadium proposal left many frustrated all through the U.S. soccer landscape.Draft class proves one of weakest in recent memory The ever-increasing presence of homegrown players has changed the MLS SuperDraft forever, and we’ve known that for quite a while. The draft isn’t the same as it used to be. It’s rarely about grabbing a club’s next star. Instead, it’s about finding the diamonds in the rough that slipped through the cracks. This year, though, it appears there were even fewer diamonds than expected. Of this January’s first 10 picks, only four (Chris Mueller, Brandon Bye, Mo Adams and Mason Toye) appeared in at least 15 matches. Only one, Mueller, was in the Rookie of the Year conversation, and he eventually lost to Real Salt Lake homegrown Corey Baird, who took home the honors by a wide margin. Jayne Kamin-Oncea https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/GOAL/d6/f/joao-moutinho-rolf-feltscher-lafc-la-galaxy-mls-2018_fc0h3zdufnoe1lz2qbmmb9yge.jpg?t=-2120676777&w=500&quality=80 It was a rough year for drafted rookies, even with later picks like Alex Roldan and Ken Krolicki helping to boost the class. Roldan proved the only legitimate contributor to a playoff-contending team as most rookies struggled to make a real difference at the MLS level. That’s not a permanent indictment on any involved. Players like Joao Moutinho, Tomas Hilliard-Arce and Francis Atuahene clearly weren’t drafted with the here and now in mind. It may take a few years for many of these guys to figure out their game, and that’s fine. There’s a reason clubs have USL teams and affiliates, and it’s certainly okay for players to have an adjustment period. But, as of now, it’s hard to see a Julian Gressel or a Jack Harrison or a Cyle Larin in this class as it appears there’s no real breakout star in the group just yet.
Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and other NBA stars pay tribute to Kobe Bryant Of course, sports medicine is different, treating physical prodigies engaged in high-stakes competition with relatively minor, if temporary disabling, problems, in the shortest time possible.If differences can be subtle, this looked like an Achilles injury when it happened May 8 against Houston with Durant grabbing the back of his ankle, not his calf, unable to flex the joint, as Turner’s Reggie Miller, calling that game, said and continued to insist.“That collaboration included Kevin and his business partner, Rich Kleiman, our medical staff, his own outside second opinion doctor, outside of our organization,” said Coach Steve Kerr, as shaken as all the Warriors.“Kevin checked all the boxes, and he was cleared to play by everybody involved.“Now, would we go back and do it over again? Damn right. But that’s easy to say after the results.” Unfortunately for them, it was a problem that was about to arise again, in Game 6, which they led in the third quarter when Thompson went down with a knee injury.Klay returned to make two free throws and stayed in to play defense before DeMarcus Cousins missed the bench’s signal not to foul and sent Toronto’s Pascal Siakam to the line.Thompson then sprinted down the hall to the dressing room and did jumping jacks but couldn’t convince the team doctor to let him return. The injury was a torn ACL with Klay scheduled for surgery.“I’m sure he tried to get back out there on the floor,” teammate Draymond Green said, “and they just would not let him.”The Warriors’ season ended that anti-climactically, having been played under a cloud since last summer when Durant rejected a $150 million extension so he could opt out this summer and become a free agent.Even if he now must sit out next season, Durant is still considered this summer’s prize … and the key to package deals with Kawhi Leonard or Kyrie Irving, depending on which team is doing the dreaming.It’s hardly idle speculation. Two teams, the Knicks and Nets, have cleared two maximum salary slots with the Clippers able to do it, too, if the need arises.Not that we were sure of any of this a week ago, but everything changed in the time it took for KD’s injury to go from his calf to his Achilles.This just in:• Durant is still expected to become a free agent and draw the same interest from the same teams.Signing him now means seeing him sit out most, or all, of his age 31 season and accepting the risk that he won’t be what he was, like Kobe Bryant, who ruptured his Achilles at 34.Nevertheless, the Warriors, Clippers, Knicks and Nets, Durant’s preferred destinations, are all reportedly staying in.The Warriors will reportedly offer both Durant and Thompson maximum deals. Klay is expected to accept. KD’s injury might have enhanced the chances that he stays.With Durant’s desire for approval, he had been expected to leave what would always be Steph Curry’s team but the outpouring of love and the depth of teammates’ grief for KD when he went down might be just what it takes to woo him back.• The Raptors’ chances of keeping Leonard just improved.Those were considered nil before the season with Kawhi reportedly looking to return home to Los Angeles and linked to the Clippers.Needless to say, this wasn’t the outcome the Clippers expected … or wanted.• The Lakers, counted out of the running for Anthony Davis, are back in the picture.The Pelicans finally acknowledged they have to trade A.D., who continued to insist he wanted out, Zion Williamson or no Zion Williamson.The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Davis has narrowed his list to the Lakers and Knicks.The Celtics didn’t make the list, despite fervent interest and by far the most to offer with three first-round picks and multiple prospects including highly regarded Jayson Tatum.Instead, Boston was bluntly warned to stay out of it by A.D.’s agent, Rich Paul, who shattered all records for brutal honesty, saying it with his name attached to it.“They can trade for him but it’ll be for one year,” Paul told Sports Illustrated’s Scott Price. “I mean, if the Celtics traded for Anthony Davis, we would go there and we would abide by our contractual (obligations) and we would go into free agency in 2020. I’ve stated that to them.“But in the event that he decides to walk away and you give away assets? Don’t blame Rich Paul.”• The Lakers are once more considered the frontrunners for Davis.On the other hand, they had better be.Related Articles Portland star Damian Lillard (knee) to miss Game 5 vs. Lakers Everything became part of everything else as the NBA Finals departed the stage, giving way to the real competition in the draft and free agency, with Kevin Durant in the middle of it all.The Warriors came up short with Klay Thompson going out in Game 6 … trying to win for their fallen teammate, Durant, who left in Game 5 … which might have been KD’s last appearance for them before becoming a free agent.How poetic was this?Warriors owner Joe Lacob, a hedge fund billionaire, prides himself, famously on being higher tech and “light years ahead of probably every other team in structure, in planning, in how we’re going to go about things” … but saw Durant go down after a team of doctors collaborated in the decision that he had a calf injury … which turned out to be a more serious Achilles tendon tear that he ruptured upon his return. Video: What LeBron James said about Jacob Blake … ‘Black people in America are scared’ “If the Lakers are drafting at No. 4 on draft night, they’re in trouble because that means they didn’t get an Anthony Davis trade done,” ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said.“Right now, they’re not a frontrunner or even really a major consideration among any of the elite free agents.”• The Lakers are trying to keep Kyle Kuzma out of a deal for A.D., reportedly offering Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and their No. 4 pick.Negotiations, which stalled in February amid charges of bad faith between former Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and former Pelicans GM Dell Demps are back on … with Laker packages once more leaking into the press as quickly as they’re offered.Of course, with Magic having already offered Kuzma, Ingram coming off surgery and Ball disappointing to date, the Lakers might be bluffing for all they’re worth.The unofficial deadline for any trade is draft night on Thursday, after which teams tend to stand pat.Now to see what the Lakers’ roster looks like on Friday. On Mamba Night, the Lakers make short work of Blazers to take 3-1 series lead Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error For Lakers’ LeBron James, Jacob Blake’s shooting is bigger issue than a big Game 4 victory