Americans Abroad weekend preview: Agudelo to debut in Europe, Howard ready for Merseyside derby

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Juan Agudelo is set to make his debut for FC Utrecht, on loan from Stoke City following his move to Europe.

The 21-year-old isn’t able to play in England just yet, so he’s been sent out to the Netherlands to get playing time while his new parent club sit quietly until they can reapply for a work permit on his behalf.

Utrecht’s head of scouting Edwin de Kruijff called Agudelo “technically proficient” and “an all-round attacker with enormous quality.”  The Dutch club will take on 15th-place Roda JC Kerkrade tomorrow at 1:45 ET.

Across the Eredivisie, Aron Johannsson has two goals in his last two matches and got AZ Alkmaar back on their winning ways last week after a 4-match losing streak. They take on PSV Eindhoven at 2:45 ET tomorrow in a pretty crucial mid-table battle.  The winner will jump into 6th place in the table.

In the Premier League, Everton will play two matches in four days.  Therefore, you may very well not see goalkeeper Tim Howard until their all-important Merseyside derby with Liverpool on Tuesday at 3:00 ET (watch on NBCSN or live on NBC Sports Live Extra). Joel Robles could deputize for the American on Saturday in the FA Cup against Stevenage.

Jozy Altidore could see a good amount of time this weekend as Sunderland also get two matches in a four-day span.  With Altidore mostly relegated to substitute duties in recent weeks, he could see the starting lineup as the Black Cats take on fifth-division minnows Kidderminster on Saturday at 10:00 ET.  Sunderland continue on Tuesday in Premier League action as they host Geoff Cameron‘s Stoke City.

Cameron has surely impressed Stoke boss Mark Hughes, and he’s been rewarded handsomely.  The 28-year-old Massachusetts product has played every minute of the Potters’ season since October 26, adding up to 1,890 of their 1,980 Premier League minutes (and 2,160 of their 2,340 minutes across all competitions).  They look to get out of a rut, having dropped four of their last five, scoring just six times over that span and conceding 16.

Cameron’s Stoke teammate Brek Shea is resting until Tuesday when his current home Barndlsey will continue in the Championship against Blackburn at 2:45 ET. He has yet to go the full 90 for his loan club.

source: AP
Fulham will need Clint Dempsey to put aside his poor form if they wish to pick up points at Swansea on Tuesday.

Fulham’s Clint Dempsey could also be watching their FA Cup tie on Sunday from the bench, with the Cottagers playing twice in just three days, although with Rene Meulensteen looking for Dempsey to get as many minutes as possible, he could also see time in both. However, the Dutch manager has firmly stated their relegation battle is much more important than the FA Cup battle with Sheffield United at 8:00am ET, so Dempsey could be saved for their extremely important match with Swansea in the league on Tuesday at 2:45 ET.

Clint’s had a rough go in his first few matches back with Fulham, but he’s seen little service in the attack in a 4-1 loss to Sunderland and a 2-0 defeat to league-leading Arsenal.

Aston Villa fell in the FA Cup last round to Sheffield United, so Brad Guzan gets the weekend off, with Villa scheduled to host West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday at 2:45 ET. The 29-year-0ld has been a bright spot for his club this season, and will look to take advantage of West Brom’s struggles of late.

Alejandro Bedoya has a very important bounce-back match to look forward to against Ligue 1’s seventh-place Stade Reims.  Bedoya’s Nantes were destroyed 5-0 by league-leaders PSG last week.  The American was a 30th minute substitute for an injured Jordan Veretout with his team down 1-0, and it got way worse from there. This week though, if Nantes can put the performance behind them, a win could see them lead Marseille for sixth, although a loss would mean Stade Reims would jump ahead of them.

With the Bundesliga back in action this weekend, Jermaine Jones will try to cement his place in the Schalke lineup as rumors of his exit have quieted in recent weeks.  New Schalke signing Jan Kirchhoff, on loan from Bayern Munich, was supposed to pip Jones as he looked to leave, but Kirchhoff suffered a relatively serious ankle injury soon after arriving.  Schalke travel to Hamburg on Sunday at 11:30 ET.

Anderlecht are in the midst of a very heated 2nd place battle in the Belgian Jupiler Pro League, and Sacha Kljestan figures to be a big part of it. Stade Rennais have run away with the league title, but with two fixtures to go in the season, three teams including Kljestan’s Anderlecht are all square on 44 points.  They host Club Brugge – one of the other teams on 44 points – on Sunday at noon.

In Mexico, Hercules Gomez, Edgar Castillo, and Joe Corona take the field for Tijuana in the fourth match of the Clausura at 10:00 ET tonight against Morelia.  DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco will play for Puebla against Chiapas at 1:00 ET on Sunday, although Orozco has struggled to find the pitch of late.

Tune back in on Monday for a full recap of the weekend’s action and a closer look at the midweek Premier League fixtures.

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.