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Where are the surprises on U.S. January camp roster?

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What is important to remember in considering the selections named Sunday for the national team’s annual January camp was a little droplet of distinction we told you last week.

Past January camps were largely used to introduce new talent into the U.S. player pool. Coaches got a long look-see over two or three weeks, and players learned more about the speed of thought, speed and play and general demands of the international game.

This time around, with final round World Cup qualifying so near, and with a busy summer ahead that will necessitate reaching deeply into the player pool, the camp roster more accurately reflects the true depth chart.

(MORE: Opportunity factor high for Omar Gonzalez)

(MORE: Landon Donovan not on U.S. roster)

Generally, we are told, these are the 25 healthy bodies who would be called when the very front line men playing abroad (the obvious ones, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, etc.) are not available.

With that in mind, here quickly are the surprises:

  • Interesting to see Philadelphia’s Jeff Parke get a call. He was in last year’s camp, so that’s not the surprising part. Rather, it’s that he has remained ahead of FC Dallas’ George John, who was called into last year’s camp but was pulled out immediately when a loan to West Ham.
  • Incidentally, the Union says Parke is the first active player for the club to be called into a U.S. national team camp.
  • Benny Feilhaber’s inclusion was something of a surprise. Not because he doesn’t have the talent, but simply because he became something of a forgotten man in 2012. After starting the first match last year for Klinsmann, we never heard from the playmaking midfielder again on the national team. Later in the summer, he lost his starting spot in New England – again, not due to flagging talent. So, there is clearly an opportunity here for a Feilhaber “do over.” He had better keep his head down, work hard and take advantage.
  • Looking at the goalkeepers, you’d have to think this is where Klinsmann is using the camp for some initial inspections. Otherwise, Nick Rimando would be in California today.
  • If the RSL man has somehow slipped on the depth chart, then you might wonder if Tally Hall, at age 27, is now the third U.S. goalkeeper, ahead of the much younger Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson?
  • Steven Beitashour, Justin Morrow, Tony Beltran and Connor Lade (pictured) are all outside backs and all national team newbies – although all deserving of closer inspection. On the other hand, Heath Pearce and Zach Loyd, each of whom started a game at left back last January, have apparently been lapped.
  • Same for Jeff Larentowicz and Ricardo Clark; they both started one of the two January matches a year back, but neither made the 25-man camp this time around.
  • Eight players among the 25 are uncapped at full international level: Hall, Beitashour, Morrow, Beltran, Lade, Matt Besler, Will Bruin and Alfredo Morales.
  • Considering his poor season with the LA Galaxy, you’d have to consider Edson Buddle’s inclusion a surprise. Buddle had three goals in 2012 – or 15 fewer than New York’s Kenny Cooper, who did not receive a call-up. You’d have to think Buddle’s name would not be on the list if  D.C. United’s Chris Pontius was healthy at the moment.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.