John Brooks 2

Thoughts on John Brooks, Jozy Altidore and others ahead of U.S. – Austria on Tuesday

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  • Hoping for a John Brooks sighting

We know what Omar Gonzalez is all about as an international center back.

And by now, we also know Geoff Cameron’s ups and down at that spot.

But what about John Brooks? Do we know? Can he hold his own? Or was that promising Sarajevo evening back in the August friendly against Bosnia and Herzegovina more about youthful naiveté, that odd condition of not quite being old and wise enough to know that you are supposed to be nervous?

Either way, the 20-year-old Hertha Berlin center back and recent U.S. debutante certainly shows a lot of promise. Which is what I’d love to see him in Tuesday’s lineup against Austria.

The Cameron-Omar Gonzalez duo looked OK against Scotland’s strikers; not great and not bad. Just OK. Which is probably about what we would have expected.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s U.S.-Austria preview)

Again, we know what both of those guys are about. Not so much with Brooks (pictured above), who certainly has all the physical tools.

But can he solve problems? Can he adjust during the match? Can he bounce back from a shaky moment? These are the questions that Klinsmann is also asking.

Oh, and this one, too: Can he do all this better than Michael Orozco, the man Brooks will probably need to beat out for that roster spot in Brazil?

By the way, Austria’s Bundesliga-heavy team will pose a test. But none of the men Brooks (or whichever U.S. center backs line up against Tuesday at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion (2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN) won’t be named Edin Džeko, the strong and skillful Bosnian and Manchester City striker. Brooks mostly dealt well with Dzeko that day, which made for a very promising start.

  • Who else needs a big night?

We talked about Sacha Kljestan earlier. Kljestan has always seemed at ease about this stuff, equipped with the understanding that every player has to go out, do the very best he can and not worry about it from there. The choices are out of his hands and feet.

So I’d love to see the Anderlecht fixture assigned a more familiar role Tuesday for the United States, a position where he can potentially excel rather than one where he’s figuring things out on the fly. Either way, a big night in Vienna will surely help his cause – and might even be the last test, the one he absolutely must pass.

(MORE: Klinsmann’s thoughts on Kljestan against Scotland)

Brek Shea may only be getting chances (even though he’s not playing a bit for Stoke City) because the United States has pretty much zilch in terms of wide play right now – but the fact is, he’s getting chances. That’s a bottom line bonanza, any way you look at it.

It’s on Shea to exploit this golden goose of an ongoing opportunity. It seems quite possible that he’ll get just 25-or-so minutes once again, which has been a familiar MO under Klinsmann. Make it happen, kid. A few more big. bold, fearless dashes down the left and, well, that seat on the plane into Brazil will pull firmly into view.

Eric Lichaj, like so many others, may have played in cautiously at right back on Friday. But he’s not like a lot of others, whose spots in Brazil are more or less secure. He cannot just hold serve. Klinsmann already has guys who can play defense along the right. Lichaj is getting an opportunity in this short camps because the U.S. manager needs someone who can play defense and go add some pressure up the right flank on the attack.

  • Jozy Altidore’s big year

U.S. first-choice striker Jozy Altidore has had such a fabulous year in the national team shirt, with eight goals in 2013, including four in World Cup Qualifiers. He established that team record by scoring in five-consecutive games, a remarkable feat in international soccer. Plus, Altidore had a memorable hat trick against a good team from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

But around all that, Sunderland happened.

So what a great place this would be for Altidore to add a little sunshine into his soccer days. Things may slowly improve at Sunderland … but realistically there are still tough times ahead around the Stadium of Light. Here’s hoping Altidore puts away a couple of the chances that may come his way Tuesday.

(MORE: Why were we surprised at U.S.-Scotland on Friday?)

Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal ]

In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).

Week 26: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Top-four battle royal

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Whoever says, “No one could have ever predicted Leicester City would be top of the league on Valentine’s Day,” is wrong.

One group of Premier League savants knew: the PL schedule makers, which is why this Sunday shall henceforth be known as “Super Duper Mega Uber Sunday,” as it’s 3rd versus 1st, and 4th versus 2nd.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Top-four battle royal, part 1

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Will Arsenal “Arsenal it up?” Will Leicester finally fall apart and blow the PL title, as they were supposed to have done weeks months ago? The battle of narratives in so strong in this one. Are Leicester really title favorites? Upon further review, they are. No PL team has won more points away from home this season than Leicester (28). Is another giant-slaying on the cards for the Foxes? At this point, who would be crazy enough to doubt them?

[ MORE: PL schedule, stream links ]

Top-four battle royal, part 2

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 11:15 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The last time Tottenham were ahead of Man City this late in the season will have to have been the final day of the 2009-10 season, when Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League just ahead of City. Heading into Sunday, a single point is all that separates the sides. When they met earlier this season, Spurs hammered City, to the tune of 4-1. The importance of three points speaks for itself, as either side could surge into a commanding place in the title race with a victory on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule | Stats ]

Man United’s top-four hopes hanging by a thread

Sunderland vs. Manchester United — Saturday, 6:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

As the PL’s top-four teams have kept winning in recent weeks, so too have Man United, to an extent. With that, the Red Devils are no closer to Champions League qualification today than they were three weeks ago before their mini-run of 11 points from six games. Only Aston Villa (10), who are rock bottom of the league, have won fewer points at home this season than Sunderland (12). United are currently six points back of 4th, so with at least two of the four sides ahead of them guaranteed to drop points on Sunday, it’s a big, big weekend for United to take of their own business and apply a little pressure.

[ MORE: The latest on those Mourinho-to-United rumors ]

The Fallen On Hard Times But Someone Has To Win (Maybe) Derby

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (Premier League Extra Time)

When 2016 began, Crystal Palace were 5th in the PL. Unfortunately for them, the clock also struck midnight on what had been a hugely successful season to that point — five losses and one draw since, and they’re now 12th in the league table. The story is eerily similar for Watford, who were 7th after a Boxing Day draw with Chelsea — five losses, a draw and a win later, they’re 10th. A single point is all that separates Saturday’s combatants desperately hoping to regain their early-season form.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Is Roberto Martinez’s employment under review? It might be

Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Everton will be a fascinating club to watch as the 2015-16 season winds down. There’s essentially no chance of them finishing in the top-four or -five (12 and 6 points back, respectively), and they look essentially the same side that massively disappointed en route to an 11th-place finish last season — they’re atrocious and hugely naive defensively, which has been a characteristic of Roberto Martinez-managed teams since, well, the beginning of his managerial career. $100 million is a lot of money to spend over four transfer windows without any discernible progress.

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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