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Americans Abroad: Altidore scores first Sunderland goal, Tijuana grabs draw

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It has been a busy week for Americans playing across the globe so here, in our new series “Americans Abroad,” we break down the top performances by American players across the planet.

Across many countries from Eastern Europe to Central America, US soccer players are stamping their authority on the beautiful game.

So it’s time to check on how they’ve been doing.

All aboard the “Americans Abroad” express. First stop, England.

ENGLAND

On Saturday in England, plenty of US national team stars were in Premier League action with varying degrees of success. Tim Howard got his first shutout of the season in goal for Everton, as they battled to a 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park. The USMNT ‘keeper made two good saves in the first half.

Over at Stoke, Geoff Cameron started in their 2-1 comeback win over Crystal Palace at the weekend. Cameron didn’t feature in the Potters 3-1 second round League Cup win over Walsall on Wednesday but fellow USMNT star Brek Shea did. The former FC Dallas winger got the start for Mark Hughes’ men but Shea was replaced at half time.

While Jozy Altidore cut a frustrated figure down on the South Coast of England on Saturday. Altidore’s Sunderland took an early lead at Southampton but the Black Cats let a late goal slip as they drew 1-1 at St. Mary’s. Altidore cut a forlorn figure up top for most of the game but he did get a chance in the second half, however Saints ‘keeper Artur Boruc came rushing out to thwart the US international as he wriggled free of Southampton’s defense.

But Altidore was feeling much better on Tuesday evening after sparking a remarkable comeback for the Mackems. League One side MK Dons were 2-0 up at the Stadium of Light with 12 minutes to go, but the 23-year-old forward scored his first goal for Sunderland with a composed finish. The Black Cats scored three more times before the final whistle to win 4-2.

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Despite making three saves, Guzan’s Villa went down to Liverpool.

The only USMNT player in the Premier League to taste defeat at the weekend was goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Aston Villa’s shot-stopper made three saves against Liverpool as the Villans went down 1-0.

In the Championship, Tim Ream was handed the start in a holding midfield role for Bolton during their 1-0 loss to Queens Park Rangers. Ream, 25, played for 62 minutes as the Trotters came up short against the favorites to win the Championship title.

Elsewhere in England’s second-tier, Birmingham’s utility man Jonathan Spector made his season debut after recovering from injury, but the Blues lost to Zak Whitbread’s Leicester City 3-2 in a great game at the King Power Stadium. Whitbread’s side are now up to second in the Championship and the former Norwich City defender was in action on Tuesday as the Foxes beat Carlisle 5-2 away from home in the League Cup. While Spector’s Birmingham beat Yeovil on penalties as the former Manchester United man played all 120 minutes.

Former Aston Villa right back Eric Lichaj put in a solid shift as Nottingham Forest drew 1-1 at Watford on Sunday. And rounding up the action in England, it wasn’t a happy week for Reading’s Danny Williams. The former FC Hoffenheim midfielder played the final nine minutes of the Royals 1-0 defeat to Blackpool on Saturday before starting the 6-0 humiliation from League One side Peterborough in the League Cup on Tuesday and getting a yellow card. Things can only improve for Williams.

EUROPE

In Germany, holding midfielder Jermaine Jones picked up a knock late on as Schalke lost 2-1 to Hannover 96 at the weekend and on Wednesday he was sent off in Schalke’s 3-2 win over PAOK as the German side made the Champions League group stage. Jones was sent off for a second yellow card in the 64th minute.

Back to the Bundesliga, recent USMNT callup John Anthony Brooks hobbled off with an injured thigh in the 23rd minute for Hertha Berlin but the capital club held on to beat Hamburg 1-0 and sit in fifth-place after promotion last season.

US national team star Fabian Johnson played at left back as Hoffenheim rallied to a 3-3 draw with Freiburg in a game that saw three red cards. Johnson’s side are still unbeaten and sit in eighth place.

While FC Nürnberg were defeated 2-0 by Bayern Munich as right back Timmy Chandler started for the first time this season. However Chandler failed to pick up Franck Ribery at the back post in the 70th minute as the Frenchman got the break through Munich were looking for.

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Bradley put in a solid display as Roma began with a win.

Over in Serie A the season finally started as Michael Bradley put in a typically tidy display as Roma beat newly-promoted Livorno 2-0 on Sunday. While across the Alps in France, Alejandro Bedoya played in an unfamiliar role for Nantes in their narrow 2-1 loss to Paris Saint-Germain. The US winger played as a wing back for his new French side and almost scored with a bullet header.

Up in Holland, Aron Johannsson goal-streak was snapped at five games as AZ Alkmaar lost to rivals FC Utrecht 2-0. Elsewhere in the lowlands, Sacha Kjlestan’s Anderlecht battered Charleroi 5-2 with the Seton Hall product grabbing two assists to help the Brussels club claim their fourth-straight win. In Norway Gold Cup star Mikkel Diskerud came off the bench late on to help Rosenborg to a 3-2 win as they stayed top of the Tippeligaen by beating Sandnes Ulf. Babajide Ogunbiyi bagged his first career Superliga goal as Viborg beat Esbjerg 3-1 at home, Viborg now sit fifth in the Danish top-flight.

Another American in Denmark, Conor O’Brien, thought he had scored but his effort for struggling FC Nordsjælland was saved superbly by Odense’s ‘keeper in a fourth straight defeat for O’Brien’s side. Staying in Scandinavia, Steve Clark made four saves as Hønefoss beat Sarpsborg 3-1, the US ‘keeper made a mistake that lead to Sarpsborg’s goal but he made a sprawling stop late on to make up for it.

In the Swedish second division Portland Timbers loanee Michael Nanchoff and fellow American Zurab Tsiskaridze both featured twice in four days as Jonkopings grabbed two draws. Nanchoff scored the opener in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against fellow American Matt Pyzdrowski in goal for Angelholm. Then on Wednesday Nanchoff played another full 90 as Jonkopings drew 1-1 with Ostersunds FK, while Tsiskaridze came on in the 65th minute.

MEXICO

Down in Mexico, plenty of US internationals took to the field over the weekend.

On Sunday right back Michael Orozco Fiscal scored his first goal for Puebla, but they lost 2-1 to Cruz Azul in a close game. Fiscal’s header gave his side a first half lead but they couldn’t hold back La Maquina.

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USMNT defender Fiscal scored but Puebla couldn’t grab all there points.

USMNT left back DaMarcus Beasley also played for Puebla out on the left and showed his new defensive instincts as they tried to grind out a draw. Puebla are 12th after seven games in the Liga MX campaign.

Earlier in the weekend, Jose Torres suffered with Tigres on Saturday as Chiapas rallied to snatch a 2-2 draw late on in the Estadio Universitario. Torres kept the play ticking over nicely in midfield as Tigres led 2-0 at the half but a late capitulation saw them drop two points.

On Friday night Club Tijuana’s large US contingent drew 1-1 with Santos Laguna as Edgar Castillo played the full 90. Castillo was involved throughout and played a role in the equalizer for the border side. Another American, Paul Arriola, came on at half time to play out wide on the right and had a few decent efforts on target that forced Santos ‘keeper Oswaldo Sánchez to make some fine stops. Greg Garza and Joe Corona didn’t make it off the bench and Tijuana have now grabbed eight points from their six games so far in Liga MX action.

REST OF THE WORLD

In Israel Bryan Gerzicich played the full 90 minutes as Hapoel Tel Aviv opened their season with a 0-0 draw against Bnei Sakhnin. The Californian native was making his debut for the Hapeol after signing from Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona.

Out east in Russia, Eugene Starikov started and played 62 minutes as Tom Tomsk blew a halftime lead against CSKA Moscow, losing 2-1 in the Stadion Trud. Tomsk have started off the season with six straight defeats.

LIVE – UCL group stage finale: Leicester, Tottenham both in action

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on November 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The final matchday of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group stage takes place on Wednesday with two Premier League teams in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City is already through and has topped Group G with Claudio Ranieri‘s men securing a top spot for next Monday’s Round of 16 draw. The Foxes face FC Porto in Portugal with the hosts needing just a point to secure second place in the group and their spot in the last 16. Putting their Premier League worries aside, Leicester will aim to stay unbeaten throughout all six of their UCL group games.

Tottenham Hotspur wish they could say the same but Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have already crashed out of the Champions League with one game to go. They host CSKA Moscow at Wembley Stadium in Group E with Spurs needing just a draw to secure a place in the Europa League knockout stages. Bayer Leverkusen and AS Monaco has already qualified from Group E but Spurs’ Harry Kane insists they now want to go on and win the Europa League.

[ MORE: Permutations for each UCL group ]

Elsewhere Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund clash to decide top spot in Group F, while Juventus, Lyon and Sevilla are all still in the mix in Group H with the final game to come.

Below is a full schedule for Wednesday’s Champions League games, with each game kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET.

You can follow live commentary and stats of each game by clicking on the link above, while we will have reaction right here on ProSoccerTalk.


Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group E
Tottenham Hotspur vs. CSKA Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Monaco

Group F
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
Legia Warsaw vs. Sporting Lisbon

Group G
FC Porto vs. Leicester City
Club Brugge vs. FC Copenhagen

Group H
Juventus vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Lyon vs. Sevilla

Power Rankings: Top five players in the Premier League, right now

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The Premier League Player Power Rankings are out and now it is time to focus on the top five.

[ MORE: PST’s top 20 players, Week 14 ]

With two players from Chelsea and two from Arsenal, plus another from Tottenham Hotspur in the top five, Week 14 delivered plenty of goals and attacking players dominate our rankings.

Click on the link above to see our full list of the top 20 players in the Premier League, while in the video above Jenna Corrado and I discuss my top five players based on the last seven days of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ] 

Hit play on the video above to enjoy watching some silky skills and terrific goals as we guide you through the creme de la creme.

Why are Leicester struggling so much? Where can Man City improve?

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Last season Leicester City vs. Manchester City was a clash between two rivals fighting for the Premier League title.

This season? Not so much.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Leicester host Man City on Saturday at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), with the reigning champs embroiled in a relegation battle with just three wins from their 14 PL games this season.

As for City, Pep Guardiola is finding the Premier League a little tougher to handle than Spain and Germany early on with City winning just three of their last eight games in the Premier League but they’re still sitting just four points off top spot. That said, City has lost to both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea already and their status as preseason title favorites is already being severely questioned.

For Leicester, their problems are worse than those at Man City.

There are multiple issues at play which could explain their stunning drop-off compared to last season. After 14 games this season the Foxes have 13 points. At the same point of their incredible title-winning campaign in 2015-16 they had 29 points and were joint-top of the table with Manchester City who actually have one more point this season than they had at this stage last season.

Back to Leicester and right now they are just two points off the relegation zone and have lost three of their last four games. Ranieri is very worried about relegation, as his recent comments in press conferences show.

“This moment is not the right moment for us. We wanted to get points here but of course it was a relegation battle, they won, well done to them,” Ranieri said after the defeat at Sunderland. “I said two, three weeks ago, always I look behind me. We are in the battle of relegation. For this reason we must stay calm, together and continue to work hard.”

At least Ranieri knows it, but how has it got to this point with Leicester breezing through their UCL group and into the knockout stages?

The loss of N'Golo Kante in midfield has been huge for Leicester with the French international midfielder already proving indispensable for Chelsea this season as he breaks play up, shields the back four and sets the tempo of the game for his team. Kante’s departure has left a huge hole in Leicester’s midfield but they’ve been equally hit just as hard with a lack of goals from Jamie Vardy who has scored just twice in the PL and Riyad Mahrez has suffered from a lack of creativity.

Mahrez set up 22 goalscoring chances for Vardy last season. This season the duo have combined just once. Maybe that is because Ranieri has been chopping and changing his team so much to cope with the demands of the UCL and PL, with Mahrez and Vardy often preferred for European action, but there’s no doubting that their level has dropped off and that’s happened across Leicester’s entire squad.

When you look at Leicester’s defensive displays, not much has changed but perhaps the rub of the green is going against them and they are falling behind to opponents extremely often which is making them chase the game and they’re getting out of their comfort zone. Simply put: Leicester isn’t doing what it is best at.

Ranieri knows it and said as much after their latest defeat at Sunderland which has put them further in trouble with plenty of tough games on the horizon.

“It is difficult to say what we miss. We miss everything,” Ranieri said.

In the latest PST Extra Jenna Corrado and I discuss the recent poor form of both Leicester and Man City and if fans of both teams should be worried heading into this big match on Saturday.

Click play on the video above to see us break it down.

Report: FIFA president backs 48-team World Cup, 16 groups of three teams

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 14: FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a photo after part II of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 14, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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Gianni Infantino wants to freshen things up a bit.

The new president of FIFA has been steadfast in his desire to increase the number of teams participating at a World Cup to 48.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars

After all it was a huge part of his presidential mandate which got plenty of the smaller nations of the soccer world on board to vote for him, and reports from AFP are now circulating that Infantino and key figured at FIFA have indeed backed a 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards.

Members of the FIFA Council had previously received outlines of four proposed formats, including staying with a 32-team World Cup, but it is believed Infantino wants a 48-team World Cup and the decision could be made next month at a FIFA Council meeting.

It is also being widely reported that Infantino wants to try something new and have 16 groups with three teams in each. It is also believed the top two teams would go through from each group to a Round of 32 knockout stage and then to a Round of 16 and so on.

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem too bad an idea.

It would certainly eliminate some of the boring third group games we have endured at most World Cups recently as the two teams going through to the last 16 are usually sewn up by that point and the two other teams are left around with another game to play. However, it will be intriguing to see how the game schedule is set up in the three team group scenario.

The cynical folks out there suggest that Infantino is merely trying to ramp up more revenue from increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 but when you look at it, the number of games would actually stay the same if there were 16 groups with three teams in each.

Think about it: more upset stories, more first-time qualifiers and more riding on each of the two group games for each team before heading straight to the knockout rounds.