John Brooks 2

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

  • 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?)

UCL roundup: Real Madrid nearly blow 4-0 lead; PSG roll in Sweden

Luka Modric, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Wednesday’s action in the UEFA Champions League…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Juventus 1-0 Manchester CityFULL RECAP

Mario Mandzukic scored the game’s only goal (WATCH HERE), putting Juventus back atop Group D as Man City tumble into second place. With just one game left to play, City sit two points behind last year’s CL runners-up and risk going into the runners-up side of the draw for the knockout stage, which could mean a date with Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the round of 16.

Manchester United 0-0 PSV EindhovenFULL RECAP

The red half of Manchester has even more to worry about, however, as Man United failed to qualify for the knockout stage on Wednesday by drawing 0-0 with PSV Eindhoven. With one game left to play, United sit second, just a point ahead of the Dutch side, with a difficult away trip to face Wolfsburg looming in two weeks’ time. PSV, meanwhile, will host CSKA Moscow on Dec. 8.

Shakhtar Donetsk 3-4 Real Madrid

Rafa Bentiez is truly special, isn’t he? From 4-0 up, to holding on for dear life and a 4-3 victory over Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, Benitez’s position may, somehow, be even more untenable today than it was following Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice (WATCH HERE), and Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal provided the other two goal before three goals from minutes 77 to 88 put the final result in serious doubt.

Malmo 0-5 Paris Saint-Germain

Zlatan Ibrahimovic made his triumphant return to his boyhood club and marked the special occasion with — what else? — a goal (WATCH HERE). PSG were up 2-0 after 14 minutes thanks to goals scored by Adrien Rabiot and Angel di Maria, so the result was never really in doubt. Ibrahimovic added the third before Di Maria and Lucas Moura ballooned the lead in the game’s final 25 minutes.

Elsewhere in Champions League action

Group B

CSKA Moscow 0-2 Wolfsburg

Group C

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Galatasaray
FC Astana 2-2 Benfica

Group D

Borussia Monchengladbach 4-2 Sevilla — WATCH FABIAN JOHNSON’S GOAL HERE

Man United 0-0 PSV Eindhoven: UCL hopes hang in the balance

Wayne Rooney, Jorrit Hendrix
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Manchester United drew 0-0 with PSV Eindhoven at Old Trafford on Wednesday as Louis Van Gaal‘s side were frustrated as they missed the chance to qualify for the knockout round and now face a pivotal final Group B game away at Wolfsburg.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

Jesse Lingard, Morgan Schneiderlin and Anthony Martial had the best of the chances for United but PSV threatened in the second half as Phillip Cocu’s side can still qualify for the last 16 heading into their finale against already eliminated CSKA Moscow.

As for United, they know a win in Germany in two weeks time against group leaders Wolfsburg will seal their spot in the last 16 and top spot but anything less and a PSV win would mean an early UCL exit.

United started brightly with Anthony Martial trying to play in Wayne Rooney and then Bastian Schweinsteiger smashed a shot in on goal which was easily saved. As the first half wore on it was one-way traffic with the Red Devils pushing hard. Rooney almost got in at the back post but the ball flashed by, then he set up Jesse Lingard but a poor first touch saw the chance go to waste.  Morgan Schneiderlin came close to scoring as he tried to bundle the ball home at the back post after Daley Blind‘s corner caused havoc but Jeroen Zoet saved bravely.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

Finally, PSV began to wake up with Luuk De Jong setting up Jorrit Hendrix but David De Gea was equal to his curling effort as the Dutch side flexed their offensive muscles. With half time approaching United pressed hard as Anthony Martial got free on the left side of the box but his shot was saved when he really should’ve scored. The Frenchman went close again before half time but Zoet saved his shot at the near post as United were frustrated by the reigning Dutch champions.

At the start of the second half United began brightly with Lingard flicking a header past the far post and then Memphis wriggled free of his marker but sent a shot straight at Zoet.

With 30 minutes to go United made two changes with Memphis and Schweinsteiger replaced by Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini, however Davy Propper had a decent strike on goal but De Gea saved well after the Dutch midfield juggled his way into a good spot. Young whipped in some delicious crosses after coming on but PSV pressed hard and United looked to have run out of steam.

Propper forced De Gea into a stop after his rasping shot from 35-yards out, and PSV were giving it a right go late on at Old Trafford. That said,  Lingard squandered a gilt-edge chance as Young’s cross deflected right into his path but the local lad couldn’t keep his half volley down and sent the ball over with the goal gaping. Fellaini just failed to get on the end of a cross to the back post with the Red Devils huffing and puffing in the final moments but they couldn’t find a way through as they fired a blank to set up a nervy finale in Germany on Dec. 8.

Juventus 1-0 Man City: Mandzukic puts Juve past City, top of Group D

Mario Mandzukic, Juventus FC
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A first-half goal from Mario Mandzukic resigned Manchester City to UEFA Champions League defeat on Wednesday, taking control of Group D out of their own hands and putting it into those of Juventus, 1-0 winners on the night.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Juve took the lead through a simple tap-in off the boot of Mario Mandzukic in the 18th minute. Alex Sandro sent a high, looping ball toward the back post where Mandzukic lost his marker, Nicolas Otamendi, when the Argentine tumbled over backwards after a slight touch on the shoulder from Mandzukic.

The Croatian striker nearly doubled Juve’s lead 10 minutes later, but his right-footed side-volley was very well saved by Joe Hart at his left-hand post. Claudio Marchisio sent a long ball to the corner of the six-yard box, where Paulo Dybala laid back a soft, cushioned header to Mandzukic for his low, powerful strike to the near post.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL roundup — Barca, Bayern clinch spots in KO round ]

Sergio Aguero had Man City’s best chance of the first half, just before halftime, when Marchisio played an unthinkable back pass toward Gianluigi Buffon. Aguero was quick to react and suddenly found himself one on one with the legendary Juve and Italy goalkeeper, but his first two touches took him away from goal and Buffon did very well to rush out and close down the angles quickly.

It was Otamendi who went inches from equalizing for City shortly after halftime. Kevin De Bruyne‘s free kick found the Argentine center back at the top of the six-yard box, where he headed the ball for the far post, but the outstretched hand of Buffon tipped the ball onto the inside of the post and back into his hands.

[ MORE: UCL standings | Schedule ]

Juve went straight down to the other end of the field and would have doubled their lead, if not for a pesky post. Alvaro Morata, introduced into the game seconds earlier, got behind the City defense and lifted the ball over Hart toward the far post for Dybala, but the Argentine striker’s deft touch found only the outside of the post, denying the bianconeri a classy goal.

Juve’s victory means the four-time reigning Serie A champions have leapfrogged City for top spot in Group D, two points ahead with one game left to play. City will be home to Borussia Monchengladbach, while Juve will play away to Sevilla on the group stage’s final matchday.

VIDEO: USMNT’s Johnson scores stunning goal in UCL

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U.S. men’s national team star Fabian Johnson put the icing on the cake for Borussia Monchendgladbach against Sevilla on Wednesday.

Johnson, 27, cut inside and hit a dipping, curling shot into the far corner to give Monchengladbach a 2-0 lead late on and give themselves a great chance of finishing third in Group D and qualifying for the Europa League.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]  

The German-American cleared up his differences with USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann after being sent home following the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico in October, and in this type of form he has proven why Klinsmann has recently played him in a left-wing role for the U.S. instead of at full back.

Watch the video below to see Johnson’s superb strike, his second UCL goal in as many games and the second of his career.