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Gordon hoping for elusive 1st cap with US

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Gordon hoping for elusive 1st cap with US

MIAMI (AP) Alan Gordon celebrates his 31st birthday Tuesday. Maybe U.S. Soccer will give him a cap.

Gordon is the fifth-oldest player currently in camp with the U.S. national team, which is prepping for two matches that will essentially decide if the Americans will continue having a chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Of the 24 players originally picked by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann for these games, Gordon is younger than only defenders Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra, along with goalkeepers Tim Howard and Nick Rimando.

Combined, those four players have 279 appearances - caps, in soccer vernacular - for the U.S.

Gordon has zero.

But he's having a breakout season with the San Jose Earthquakes: His 13 goals in 23 games translate to a 0.9-goal-per-90-minute ratio, the best in Major League Soccer. So Gordon got the call to be part of the U.S. side for these qualifiers, first on Friday on the road against Antigua and Barbuda, then in Kansas City, Kan., on Oct. 16 against Guatemala, the match that coincides with his birthday.

``I'm happy to be here,'' Gordon said. ``It doesn't matter what age I am. I'm playing good soccer right now. The coaches here feel that I can be of some help, and I hope I can prove them right.''

Klinsmann said Gordon earned his chance.

``I think it's great to see,'' Klinsmann said. ``He's a guy that went through ups and downs. He saw it all. He struggled physically. He had a lot of injuries. But he always had the right spirit toward his job. He never took things for granted. He worked always hard and he's a giver.''

The U.S., Guatemala and Jamaica each has seven points after the first four matches in this qualifying round, while Antigua and Barbuda has one. For the U.S. to reach next year's regional finals, four points - which the Americans would get with a win and a tie - would seem to be the most probable requirement.

Dogged by injuries in recent years - including hip surgery last year - Gordon acknowledges that he thought his window of having a chance with the national team had closed. But he was summoned to join the Americans for their friendly at Mexico over the summer (the U.S. pulled off a 1-0 victory, though Gordon did not play), and Klinsmann apparently kept watching him in the weeks that followed.

When the Americans opened training in Miami on Tuesday, Gordon seemed to fit right in, even though he's the only player on the roster without a cap and is nearly nine years older than the team's youngest member.

``Some guys are just late bloomers and I see that all over the place,'' Howard said. ``He's been good. He's come in and he's really got his head down, and he's been a good guy to be around off the field. He works hard on the field. He knows what his strengths are and what his abilities are and he plays to them.''

It's not just luck, either. Or the fact that he's putting the ball in the net for the Earthquakes.

There simply was a point when Gordon got tired of being hurt. So he changed his ways, working harder and trying to take advantage of whatever time is left in his career.

``I had to spend some extra time, be a better professional and take it a lot more serious and do a lot more work than other guys do,'' Gordon said. ``Come early, stay late - that's what I've been doing.''

Gordon may still be a long shot to actually play - only Klinsmann knows where he sits on the depth chart for certain - though his odds figure to have improved by default in recent days. The U.S. ruled Landon Donovan and Brek Shea out of these two qualifiers earlier this week because of injuries, meaning what was a 24-man roster is down to 22.

So there might be need for a goal-scorer who's playing well right now, like Gordon.

``I'm blessed to be here,'' Gordon said. ``And I'm just going to enjoy it and do the best I can and try to help the team, if I can.''

Klinsmann points to Gordon as an example that, as he said, ``the door is always open'' for players who keep working.

``It's another opportunity again for Alan Gordon after he came with us to Mexico,'' Klinsmann said. ``It shows them that if they stay focused and work hard and give everything they have, there are chances for 2014 in Brazil.''

NOTES: D Fabian Johnson (flu) will miss the Antigua match and D Edgar Castillo will miss both. Bocanegra and Michael Parkhurst appear to be the best options at left back, with Geoff Cameron paired in the center with Clarence Goodson or Maurice Edu.

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Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

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Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

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Twitter/City of Las Vegas

Las Vegas changes iconic welcome sign to include no capital letters

The Washington Capitals official #ALLCAPS hashtag started in 2017 during a Caps-Penguins game after the Pittsburgh Penguins' official Twitter account decided to tweet in all lowercase letters during the game. 

Now, as the Caps look to face the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final ahead of Game 1 Monday, Vegas has followed suit by changing their iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign to include only lowercase letters, a jab at the Capitals #ALLCAPS.

Additionally, the City's official Twitter account has changed their handle to "the city of las vegas" without any capital letters and the hashtag #nocaps.

It will be interesting to see how the Capitals' official Twitter will respond...

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

Stanley Cup Final 2018: X-factors that could swing the series

The Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights have met only twice in their history. Neither team was expected to get to this point so you can go ahead and throw away the stats, the matchups, the data and the history. A new story will be written in the Stanley Cup FInal.

Who will ultimately win the Cup? Here are four factors that could ultaimtely swing the series.

1. Goaltending

The Caps have faced elimination only twice in the playoffs and Braden Holtby did not allow a single goal in either game. He enters the Stanley Cup Final having not allowed a single goal in 159:27. Andrei Vasilevskiy began to take over the series with his performance in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 5, but Holtby outplayed him to finish off the series in Washington’s favor.

Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, has been the best player in the playoffs. Not the best goalie, the best player.

Through 15 games, Fleury has a .947 save percentage and four shutouts. As good as Vegas has been this postseason, Fleury has stolen several games for the Golden Knights.

Both of these goalies are certainly capable of stealing away a series for their respective teams. Which one will outplay the other?

2. Time off

Rust is a real thing in hockey. Just any team when they come off a bye week. When the Caps and Golden Knights take the ice on Monday, May 28, it will be the first game for Vegas since May 20. That’s over a week off.

Yes, getting rest at this time of the year is important, but too much rest leads to rust and that should be a major concern for Vegas, especially for a team that was playing so well and has so much momentum.

In the Eastern Conference Final, the Caps stunned the Tampa Bay Lightning by winning both Game 1 and Game 2 in Tampa. Could they do it again with a rusty Vegas team? Will the long layoff cost the Golden Knights one or even two home games to start the series?

3. The McPhee factor

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee was the Caps’ general manager for 17 years starting with the 1997-98 season. He was fired in 2014, but was ultimately responsible for building the core of the Washington team that is now headed to the Stanley Cup Final.

But that also means he knows those players very, very well.

Nicklas Backstrom, Travis Boyd, Andre Burakovsky, John Carlson, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, Chandler Stephenson, Jakub Vrana, Tom Wilson, Braden Holtby, Philipp Grubauer and of course, Alex Ovechkin were all drafted by McPhee. Jay Beagle was also signed by as an undrafted free agent.

A general manager does not sign or draft anyone without knowing a good deal about the kind of player they are. Does that give McPhee a bit of an edge when it comes to facing the Caps?

4. Speed

The Golden Knights are fast. When the expansion draft was all said and done it was clear McPhee had targeted two things specifically: defensemen and speed. The result is an exceptionally fast Golden Knights team that no one has been able to keep up with so far.

Vegas' speed mixed with the goaltending of Fleury has proven to be a lethal combination. Their mobility makes it hard to get the puck from them or even keep it in the offensive zone. Once they get it, it’s going down the ice very quickly and you better keep up with them or it's going to end up in the back of the net. Once they build a lead, it is very difficult for teams to dig their way out as evidenced by their 10-1 record this postseason when scoring first.

Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were both fast teams as well and the Capitals were able to combat that with strong play in the neutral zone. The 1-3-1 trap has given opponents fits and generated a lot of odd-man breaks for the Caps. Will it be as effective against a speedy Vegas team?

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