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John Terry gets called a lot of names these days and he's getting used to it. Abuse and vitriol from opposing fans cascades down from the stands on the tainted Chelsea defender every week.
But "liability" is one taunt he thought he'd never hear.
Terry's failings and infidelities in his private life have spawned a wider examination of his on-field productivity, and in the closing weeks of the English Premier League season, he is failing the test.
After being stripped of the England captaincy following a scandalous affair with Wayne Bridge's former girlfriend, Terry kept the Chelsea armband. Yet he no longer has the aura of spiritual leader at Stamford Bridge and has been directly responsible for a growing catalog of recent slipups.
Saturday's defeat at Tottenham – a loss that allowed Manchester United to narrow the gap at the top of the table to a single point – can be attributed almost solely to Terry.
It was he who gave away the penalty that allowed Jermain Defoe to fire Tottenham to an early lead that it would never relinquish. It was he who was turned inside out by the capable but hardly spectacular Russian striker Roman Pavlyuchenko. And it was he who brought down the curtain on a dismal afternoon for Chelsea by getting himself clumsily sent off for a rash challenge in the second half.
England head coach Fabio Capello, watching in the stands, couldn't have been impressed. United States chief Bob Bradley, no doubt tuning in on television, will have surely been encouraged.
In less than two months, the U.S. takes on England in their World Cup opener in Rustenburg and Terry is a wounded animal who shows no sign of recovery. Attack-minded Americans Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore should no longer be concerned about facing the once-dominant defender.
In England, there are no shortage of critics lining up to take shots at Terry, whose enthusiasm and spirit were once seen as the epitome of everything that was right with the England national team. Now, fans waste no chance to profess their hatred for him, whether it is during matches, in the parking lot after games or even while encountering Terry on the street.
Former England defender Martin Keown was the latest expert to chime in this weekend, claiming Terry has lost mobility and may not have the pace to defend at the level of a World Cup. Even Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti refused to offer the obligatory stout defense of his player, insisting Terry's sending off was evidence that he had "lost control."
For the first time in his career, Terry is offering more hindrance than help to his team. The timing is off, due almost entirely to a lack of confidence than a sudden loss of ability.
In Chelsea's case, Terry's meltdown on Saturday could cost the Blues the EPL title. In England's case, it could cost them a legitimate shot at the World Cup.
The USA certainly hopes so.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
U.S. coach Bob Bradley. His final decision over which strikers to take to the World Cup gets harder by the week. Suddenly, a string of forwards have hit a golden run of form with Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Conor Casey (Colorado Rapids) all scoring twice over the weekend.
2. Get him a beer
Inter Milan's Maicon scored the goal of the week (and maybe of the season) to defeat Juventus, but Mirko Vucinic's double for Roma was arguably even more important. Roma's come-from-behind victory at Lazio in the Rome derby ensured the club's Serie A title destiny remains in its own hands – even though it had eight players booked in a turbulent encounter.
3. Get him some earplugs
Arsenal's already-slim EPL title hopes collapsed in the space of 10 dramatic minutes at Wigan on Sunday. The Gunners surrendered a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 with Polish keeper Lukasz Fabianski the chief culprit for his spectacular blunder on Wigan's tying goal.
4. Keep an eye on …
The La Liga title race. With excitement growing in England and Italy, don't forget about the crescendo building in Spain as well. Barcelona's 0-0 draw at Espanyol allowed Real Madrid to close the gap to just one point with five games to go and keep the race for the trophy alive and well.
5. Catch a flight to …
Milan. With the black clouds caused by a volcanic eruption in Iceland causing the cancellation of countless European flights, you'll be lucky to get anywhere near this week's Champions League action. But if you can get to Milan for this mouthwatering semifinal between Inter and Barcelona on Tuesday, chances are you won't be disappointed.
6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week
95 – The percentage of Manchester adults with a hangover on Sunday morning after Paul Scholes' dramatic last-second winner for United against local rival City. The red half of Manchester spent Saturday night celebrating, while the blue half drowned its sorrows.
7. Fond farewell
Spanish nerves are frayed this week as Fernando Torres is evaluated following surgery on his right knee. Torres has suffered torn cartilage and will not play any more for Liverpool this season, and it is questionable whether he can return in time for Spain's World Cup opener on June 16.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Marcus Hahnemann. The veteran American goalkeeper, currently with EPL side Wolverhampton Wanderers, told a British television station last week that he wants to end his career in MLS, possibly with the Seattle Sounders if Kasey Keller decides to retire.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Fredy Montero. The Seattle Sounders striker's reputation has spread well beyond these shores, with Russian club CSKA Moscow (a quarterfinalist in this season's Champions League) interested in snapping him up, according to reports in the Colombian media.
10. Get excited about …
… the next time a fan of traditional American sports starts giving you a hard time about soccer's low scoring. Because now you have a perfect response after the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals went 18 barren innings in more than six hours on Saturday before the Mets finally prevailed in the 20th inning.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Spanish-Argentinean actress Lorena Bernal, girlfriend of Everton's Mikel Arteta.
- John Terry