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U.S. under-23s: If the London-bound train gets back on track, they’ll need reinforcement

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Putting the ol’ cart before the horse is part of the human condition. We just can’t resist.

So we talked at will of over-aged players for the U.S. under-23 side, which we always presumed would become the U.S. Olympic side – and would therefore be positioned to summon its three, permissible over-aged incredibles.

Well, that cart and the horse went off in a ditch Saturday.

It’s just a ditch, though; nobody spilled fully over a cliff here. There’s time and opportunity to put things right tonight, move into Kansas City this weekend and book a sweaty passage to London, even if the mission is tougher today than it seemed Saturday afternoon.

Should things go horribly askew this evening and the United States fail to move forward, we’ll fill up pages with second-guess discussion points.

But bummer of bummers: supporters and media will be denied their given right to discuss and debate these over-aged selections. What a shame, too, because this is a trusty favorite of quadrennial talking points for domestic soccer fans.  It’s a real-life opportunity to play fantasy sports: you study the team, pick apart its weaker points and add feel good about adding the necessary reinforcement.

I’m quite sure Caleb Porter will appreciate the assistance.

So we cannot be denied this chance!

Especially today, as we know much more about where those three over-aged spots should go. Two qualifying matches have taught us so much.

Assumption: Landon Donovan and / or Clint Dempsey would be needed to beef up the attack, to add some veteran wile and big game experience.

Confirmation: And how. Coaches will tell you that skills get you only so far. The game requires problem solving. It’s one of the things that make soccer unique. Timeouts in basketball and the very nature of football make those a “coach’s game.” In soccer, the man on the bench can only do so much once the referee blows his whistle. The players must think their way around the chessboard. The must quickly assess: What’s working on a given day? Where are the spaces to exploit? Where are the matchup problems? Who is “feeling it.”

Potential resolution: Donovan and Dempsey possess that faculty. And, of course, they own world class ability, as well.

Assumption: Center back was an issue. Carlos Bocanegra (above right) would be required.

Confirmation: Yup.

A veteran center back seems an absolute must. But should it be Bocanegra? This one deserves further thought.

The longtime U.S. international could clearly assist back there, adding much needed organization, leadership and plenty of solid tackling. On the other hand, he’ll be 33 by this summer. His shrewd positioning can help him mitigate a clear speed advantage some of the young blazers will enjoy – but he’ll still be exposed here and there.

Plus, this will be a busy summer to the Rangers man. He’ll surely be involved in U.S. World Cup qualifying contests. And who knows what might happen with Rangers, the fiscally fallen Scottish giants, now on the verge of financial ruin? A huge summer sale-off of big contracts (like Bocanegra’s) seems imminent. Not only will Bocanegra need time to change clubs and get himself established at a new address, he’ll need some time off during the summer. And that seems difficult if he’s busy leading the London effort.

Potential resolution: Geoff Cameron or Clarence Goodson.

Assumption: The midfield is solid, so the over-aged spots can be dispersed elsewhere.

Confirmation: Not so much.

The “Mix” was off Saturday, in more ways than one. Canada’s stacked midfield reduced Mix Diskerud’s influence as a linking presence. Further, the midfield never really found its rhythm or basic construction; credit Canada’s diligence and frustrating tactics for some of that.

Jared Jeffrey as the lone holding man never adjusted accordingly, never “found” the game he was in, giving away too many balls and failing to make a difference on the attack.

Potential resolution: Where is the United States’ particularly strong at the full international level? Central midfield. So, Michael Bradley, anyone? For that matter, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu or Kyle Beckerman might move things in the right direction.

Van Gaal: We cannot let Leicester win the title

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Louis Van Gaal is a party pooper. He wants Manchester United to beat Leicester City this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at Old Trafford.

Au contraire.

[ MORE: How are Leicester here? ]

Van Gaal, 64, wants his side to beat Leicester this weekend so they can have an even bigger celebration at the King Power Stadium the following weekend against Everton when they will likely win the Premier League.

He’s a sly old fox. No pun intended.

Anyway, with United pushing for a top four finish after winning six of their last eight games in the PL, Van Gaal is adamant his team must win on Sunday to deny Leicester the one win they need to secure the title.

“I think we have to beat Leicester because we are still in the race for the first positions, so we have to beat them,” Van Gaal said. “We cannot allow that they are the champions this weekend at Old Trafford. I think they shall be the champion a week later, so we don’t spoil the party, just postpone it a little bit.

“I was the first who said that they could be champions and now a presenter [Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker] has to wear underwear when they are the champions. For me it is not a surprise; I say that many, many times. I believe in team building and the manager has done that with this team. They had the circumstances to play always with the same team as they did not play so many matches as the other teams in the league, so it is always possible. It is good for the Premier League and the sport of football that not always the same teams are the champion.”

With Leicester missing Jamie Vardy, plus United losing just once at home against Leicester in the league in the last 44 years, the Red Devils will be confident of dashing the Foxes title hopes. At least for this week.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up this summer? ]

Wayne Rooney is back to his creative best, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are looking razor sharp and David De Gea is on top form. You would think United could win this and significantly boost their top four hopes.

Than again, this is Leicester. This season they’ve proved that just when you think you have things figured out, they surprise you again.

Not LVG, though. He will have his party hat and streamers ready just in case…

WATCH: Premier League TV schedule, stream links – Week 36

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Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season and this is the week we could have a brand new champion.

It all kicks off at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday as Stoke City hosting relegation battler Sunderland (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to the Potteris. Can Sam Allardyce‘s side keep their good run going and grab a vital win in the race against the dreaded drop? At the same time fellow relegation rivals Newcastle United host Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) at St James’ Park. Former Magpies boss Alan Pardew will be the villain but the Magpies are three games unbeaten.

[ WATCH: Premier League via Live Extra ]

Rounding things off on Saturday, Arsenal welcome Norwich City (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) to the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger is under pressure from the fans as the Gunners are battling for a top four finish, while the Canaries are battling for their lives and are currently in the drop zone.

A busy Sunday sees three games back-to-back with Swansea hosting Liverpool (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Liberty Stadium. The Reds are still chasing a top six finish but will be distracted by their Europa League exploits. Then, the big one. Leicester City head to Manchester United (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) knowing a win will win them the Premier League title. Can Claudio Ranieri‘s men clinch the PL trophy at Old Trafford?

Top six chasing Southampton then host top four hopefuls Manchester City at St Mary’s (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Will Ronald Koeman‘s men keep their good run going against a Man City side who drew with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal in midweek?

Then, Week 36 finishes off on Monday with a massive London derby. Tottenham know that if Leicester slip up at Manchester United, then they will need at least a win or a draw at Chelsea on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to keep the title race alive. Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s men capitalize on any slip up from the Foxes to keep the title race going?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App. If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.

FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday

10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Sunderland – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Aston Villa – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Norwich – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday

7 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday

3 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]

The contenders to replace Martinez if he leaves Everton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 11:  The Manchester City Manager Manuel Pellegrini poses with the Premier League trophy at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium on May 11, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Multiple reports claim that Everton’s board of directors is meeting on Friday to discuss the future of manager Roberto Martinez among many other things.

With new majority shareholder Farshad Moshiri now in charge and the Toffees languishing in a disappointing 11th place, plus losing in the FA Cup semifinal against Manchester United last weekend, the pressure continues to mount on Martinez.

[ INSIDER: Martinez on the brink? ]

The Spanish manager is in his third season in charge at Goodison and after guiding the Merseyside club to fifth-place in his first season, then 11th last season with a run to the Europa League Round of 16 curtailing their league form, a disjointed campaign in 2015-16 could spell the end for him at Everton.

But who would take over from Martinez?

With Moshiri set to spend big this summer on new players and the club already possessing talented youngsters such as John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku, there will be plenty of interested suitors. Everton’s history is all about playing attacking soccer which Martinez has carried on but this season their poor home form and woeful defensive displays have shown that the Spaniard is losing his touch and the respect of the dressing room.

[ MORE: How have Leicester got to this point? ]

Below are the five bookies favorites to become the next manager at Goodison Park should Martinez leave this summer. By the way, the bookies rarely get it wrong and Martinez is the favorite to be the next PL manager to leave.

Here’s a look at the contenders who could take charge at Everton.


Manuel Pellegrini – Odds to be next Everton manager: 5/2

He lives within an easy commute to Finch Farm and the Chilean will be looking for a new job this summer as he steps away from Manchester City. Cool, calm and able to cultivate an attractive style of play, this seems like a very good fit at a very good time for both the club and Pellegrini. He’s the favorite to take over.

David Moyes – 4/1

Ah, who said never go back? Moyes is still loved at Everton but the way he left for Manchester United has left a sour taste in the mouth of some Evertonians. The Scotsman would bring stability back to Goodison but shouldn’t both parties be looking for something new?

Eddie Howe – 6/1

Perhaps the brightest young talent in England, the 38-year-old has all-but secured safety for Bournemouth in their debut season in the PL. A young, hungry manager who loves to play attractive, attacking soccer, Howe could be a great dark horse for this job. That said, it would take a huge contract offer to tempt him away from his special connection with Bournemouth. You get the sense it may be a year or two early for Howe.

Ronald Koeman – 7/1

The Dutchman has already stated he wants to remain at Southampton for the third and final year of his initial contract but he will hold talks this summer to see if his ambitions are matched by the the club. If they aren’t, maybe Everton’s war chest will tempt the legendary Dutchman? Another manager who loves to play attacking soccer but he has a little more defensively solidity to his teams.

Mark Hughes – 8/1

Seems like Hughes could be at a crossroads following his third season in charge at Stoke. How much further can he take the Potters? Will he be able to work with better players at Everton and get more transfer funds? His stock has risen considerably with Stoke set to achieve yet another top 10 finish under Hughes. A solid option.

PST and the ultimate Leicester City roundtable: How did we get here?

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 24:  during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Swansea City at the King Power Stadium on April 24, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
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No one’s catching the Foxes, and their story hasn’t ruined anything about this special Premier League campaign (aside from the dreams of Spurs and Arsenal fans).

Leicester City’s run often gets the label of “fairytale” thanks to its marvelous manager and a trio of afterthought superstars in N'Golo Kante, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.

[ EUROPA: Villarreal 1-0 Liverpool | Shakhtar 2-2 Sevilla ]

Barring the most ridiculous finish in ages, one more absurd than the Foxes’ run to get here, Leicester will be the Premier League champions. From Ted Lasso quip to the UEFA Champions League… what is going on here?

PST’s staff discusses.


Nick Mendola: Obviously this Leicester City run is very difficult to describe and even harder to put in perspective. So let’s start here: What is your favorite thing about this remarkable Foxes season?

Joe Prince-Wright: My favorite thing about this season has to be seeing the looks on the faces of Leicester’s fans. Having been at the KP and in and around the city on a match day, it is electric. Everyone is smiling, the team has given them so much joy and to me, that’s what sport and football is about. The fans. The atmosphere they generate leaves the stadium shaking, mini earthquakes have been recorded nearby and the players have all responded to the incredible support.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: A beer called 'Vardy's Volley' on sale in a city center pub. General views in and around Leicester on April 26, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

[ PL DOWNLOAD: The Leicester City story ]

Although it’s been wonderful to see the gentleman that is Claudio Ranieri work his magic with a squad many had pegged for relegation at the start of the season, seeing the overjoyed reaction of Leicester fans young and old has been my favorite thing. You can tell they are in dreamland.

Kyle Bonn: I can’t get enough of Claudio. Let’s not kid ourselves, Leicester has been the beneficiary of a cannibalistic league season and a spotless bill of health (which can’t be understated). But the way Ranieri has brought a band of professional athletes together to fight for one another is unparalleled in this profession. Jose Mourinho was often hailed as an expert in manipulating the media to his benefit. Ranieri instead has proven a mastermind in player psychology. His tactics have also been world-class this season, but seeing him bring this squad together through plenty of adversity is marvelous.

[ EUROPA FALLOUT: Klopp reacts | No Sturridge? ]

NM: I’ve stopped worrying about the American sports equivalent of Leicester, because salary caps sure stop the comparison from being interesting at all. But I do wonder who is the U.S. sports version of Claudio Ranieri, N’Golo Kante, and Jamie Vardy? Which coach over here could say some of the things Ranieri did — think “Dilly Ding, Dilly Dong” — and not be laughed out of the room as “not serious enough”? Culture clash, sure, but this guy is a special breed.

Leicester City's Claudio Ranieri takes to the touchline before his team's English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
(AP Photo/Jon Super)

Matt Reed: I think it’s interesting how people have tried to compare Leicester’s improbable run to other sports, but realistically I love their story because we’ve never seen a Leicester before. You’re talking about a team that has only two multi-goal losses all season. Even in what some may consider a down season in the PL, that is still something to tip your hat to. Then, there’s obviously the players. You have guys like Christian Fuchs, Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who all wear their heart on their sleeve and you can truly see their raw emotions when they play. What’s not to like about this team?

NM: The thing about a new ‘power’ is that there isn’t a lot of real emotional tumult when they win, especially when you consider that rivals in Nottingham Forest and Derby County aren’t even in the Premier League. And the marvelous thing for other teams’ supporters, aside from Arsenal and Spurs, is that they can take this sort of pride in Leicester’s story like, “My club didn’t win this year, but a mostly inoffensive side has done it! Take that, other teams I hate.”
And aside from some referee’s decisions and Jamie Vardy’s unfortunate casino incident, there’s such little controversy.
KB: Well, Claudio Ranieri reminds me a lot of Lon Kruger. Maybe not with some of the funny stuff he says, because Kruger isn’t known for that, but think about it. Lon is a player’s coach who is loved by every fan base he’s touched. He’s come close to championships (2 Final Fours, 1 Elite 8) but has never won one. And he’s always wearing a smile. They’re very similar to me. I hope Lon wins a title someday because he deserves it, and Ranieri deserves this one this year.
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri congratulates Daniel Drinkwater, right, and Ngolo Kante, left, after the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Newcastle United at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, England, Monday, March 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

As far as the players, it’s hard to say. Kurt Warner comes to mind when thinking of Vardy’s improbable rise, but their personalities don’t really line up. Kante can be likened to a guy like Howard Griffith. A 9th round draft pick, Griffith ended up as a bruiser out of the backfield, a guy who wasn’t a big name given that he was lining up behind future Hall of Famer John Elway and lead blocking for Broncos superstar Terrell Davis, but he was a crucial part of that offense in the trenches and ended up scoring 2 touchdowns in Super Bowl XXXII, one of 2 Super Bowls he’d win.

KB: I have a question for everyone that I also think makes for a fascinating topic:
Will Leicester have staying power at the top of the league, or will they suffer a quick demise?
I hate that I’m saying this, but I think their time at the top is short-lived. Countless teams new to the top have found the fixture congestion with European play impossible to navigate, and Leicester’s bill of health this season was practically unparalleled. Nobody got hurt. There’s no way their fortune remains that high through next year. Depth is nearly impossible for many smaller clubs to attain, so I think they may be doomed. I hope I’m wrong.
MR: I think you bring up a great point, Kyle. I’ve been asking myself this all season long, and I think this also plays into how special their season is. They could very well be a one hit wonder considering the coaching additions of Conte and Guardiola at Chelsea and City. You’d imagine there will be retooling jobs with Man United, Arsenal and Liverpool as well.
WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 11: Jamie Vardy of Leicester City (R) with Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City (L) celebrates scoring the third goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City at The Hawthorns on April 11, 2015 in West Bromwich, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
In most cases, outside of Messi and Ronaldo, one or two players don’t make a team but in Leicester’s case I think Vardy and Mahrez do. You can throw Kante in there as well. I’m not sure if they’ll be able to keep all these guys, but if they don’t this has been one heck of a ride.

JPW: I was with you on this theory for quite some time, Kyle. And although I don’t think Leicester will repeat this season or even finish in the top four again… I think they have the financial muscle of their Thai-based owners to really go out and spend big and potentially make it out of the UCL group stage next season. After all, with the way the tournament seeds are now picked, Leicester will be a top seed. In theory, they should make it to the last 16. Should be some memorable European nights at the KP.

The biggest concern is adding too many players this summer. They have to get the balance right. Throwing this out there to the group: what if they sold Mahrez, Kante and Vardy this summer? How disappointing would that be? Or is that the harsh reality of the big boys having more cash? For me, I can’t understand why they’d pass up the opportunity to see this through and stay one more season to play in the Champions League with Leicester. I know money talks… But come on!

NM: There are similarities to a sophomore slump in other sports here. On top of Leicester’s issues dealing with the European schedule, the Foxes also have to negotiate the opposition spending all summer learning what worked best against them.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 02: Ngolo Kante of Leicester City and Roberto Firmino of Liverpool compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Liverpool at The King Power Stadium on February 2, 2016 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Kante is their MVP, and he’s going to fetch Leicester a load of dough. I have concerns whether he can go at his breakneck pace and physical play without facing injury woes (long-term). They should cash in on a 29-year-old Vardy to be honest and do whatever they can to hold onto Mahrez. Then find someone to slot in next to Drinkwater — maybe Idrissa Gueye, who’s been massively overlooked because Aston Villa has been a trash tornado — and find a pair of hard-working strikers to help adapt and stay in the top half.

It will be very difficult, but it won’t be hard for the club to stay in the mix for European qualification. In a way, though, that makes the story even better. This is a perfect storm, a force of nature, not a manufactured storm like Blackburn in the mid-1990s.

Kyle Lynch: I think you also have to remember how poor the rest of the league was this season. Teams dropped a lot of points you wouldn’t expect, and it’s hard to imagine things don’t shift a little bit back to “normal” next year.

With the money coming in this summer, you know the top teams are going to spend big, and Leicester shouldn’t be afraid to either. But what makes Leicester so great is their spirit and togetherness as a team, so the ownership has to be careful not to disrupt that. With Champions League matches and the uncertainty of injuries, I don’t know if they’ll be playing in Europe for more than one season.

NM: The rub on Kyle’s point here has two big points.

1) Leicester will need to start well and pile up points before the Champions League group stage begins, and they’ll likely have to do it while integrating new players. It’s easy to forget that the Foxes didn’t find their true title form until Ranieri found Kante’s spot on the pitch (He started on the left, and also played a bit more advance before settling alongside Drinkwater).

during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Southampton at Goodison Park on April 16, 2016 in Liverpool, England.

2) It’s not just the big boys seeing that influx of money. Clubs like Swansea, Stoke, Southampton and Everton all have zero reason not to spend more than their usual. That’s also why being one of the 20 clubs in the league next season is so critical for all the Championship promotion chasers, and the three teams hoping to avoid one of the final two relegation spot.

But now we’re talking way too much about the future. The title’s not even clinched yet! What a year… and what could still remain in the Leicester City tale?