A few U.S. national team men desperately need to make big impressions next week

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Every invitation to the United States national team is an opportunity, and every player who has been summoned by Jurgen Klinsmann’s over the last two-plus years should know so. They waste chances at their own peril – because, really, who knows when the next one is coming if you aren’t named Donovan or Dempsey or Howard, etc.?

But some opportunities carry extra weight; Clearly we are at that point when it comes to a few of the U.S. figures who will gather in Frankfurt, and then fly into Cyprus on Tuesday’s for the next day’s friendly against displaced Ukraine.

We are talking serious Last Chance Saloon stuff here for a few guys still straddling the bubble.

(MORE: Klinsmann names squad for Frankfurt camp and Ukraine friendly)

A few of the fellows assembling Sunday in Frankfurt are in, period. Then we have a few are just too far away, without enough time to climb all the way back. But about those bubble types; let’s look at their situations:

Sacha Kljestan: Kljestan never looks bad in the U.S. shirt – but he never looks like a game-changer, either.  If he could so something in camp and (especially) Wednesday against Ukraine, he would go a long way to solidifying his position on that charter into Brazil. His competition for a midfield spot is probably down to Mix Diskerud and Benny Feilhaber, with one or maybe two spots open; Kljestan (pictured) is surely still ahead of Feilhaber but a little  behind Diskerud.

Alejandro Bedoya: Klinsmann needs wingers, figures comfortable attacking from wide areas (who can therefore stretch a defense a bit). And there are precious few of these fellows in the U.S. pool. Bedoya doesn’t really seem to have World Cup quality, but he’s alive in this thing because he does man a position where Klinsmann’s corps are so paper thin. Still, he has to show the manager enough, give Klinsmann reason to feel good about putting him on the plane to Brazil. Otherwise, the manager might just decide that he’s better off with someone else, even if that “someone else” isn’t a flank specialist.

Brek Shea: See Bedoya above … same deal.

Juan Agudelo: Now this could be the late, surprise run from a long-shot figure that we sometimes see. Given the (recent and discomforting) flux of the U.S. forward situation, there’s room for someone like Agudelo (or perhaps Terrence Boyd, who is also in the camp) to work his way up the order with a big camp and / or a goal in Cyprus. And it certainly wouldn’t hurt for Agudelo to toss in a few goals in the month or so ahead at his new, temporary Dutch home.

Danny Williams: He always seemed capable of getting back into the running, considering the German-American midfielder was a U.S. starter less than 18 months ago. Injuries and instability in his club situation conked Williams on the head, national team-wise in 2013. But here he is … still a young talent, and still blessed with a chance to make a late run if he can get on the field against Ukraine. It’s worth wondering whether Klinsmann might start Williams ahead of Jermaine Jones; the coach knows all too well, after all, what Jones can and cannot do at the holding midfield position.

(MORE: Do not read TOO MUCH into some of these surprise call-ups)

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.

Brooks yanked after 29 minutes on return from injury

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USMNT defender John Brooks, whose season has been largely ruined by injuries, made his first start since mid-December after finally returning from a knee injury. It didn’t last long – just 29 minutes.

It doesn’t appear to be injury related, however.

After earning a yellow card just 13 minutes in, Brooks was yanked by new Wolfsburg manager Bruno Labbadia in the 29th minute with the club down 1-0 on the road at Borussia Monchengladbach. Brooks was furious as he came off the pitch, and reports from Germany seem to suggest that his substitution was a tactical decision rather than injury-related.

Brooks has made just eight Bundesliga appearances this season, starting the campaign on the shelf with a thigh injury before his knee problem kept him off the field almost four months through the winter and into the spring.

After his withdrawal, Wolfsburg conceded two more goals before halftime as Monchengladbach grabbed a 3-0 lead via goals from Raffael and Christoph Kramer, with Lars Stindl having already given them a lead eight minutes in.

It’s understandable why Labbadia would be cautious with his more aggressive players. Wolfsburg is in danger of the drop, level with Mainz and Freiburg on 30 points with one of them almost assuredly to finish in the relegation playoff position. Still, it’s an unfortunate turn of events for Brooks after finally making his way back to the field, and he was visibly angry as he came off the pitch.

FA Cup semifinal preview: Can Mourinho win Man United another title?

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It’s been a season of highs and lows for Jose Mourinho, but he could put Manchester United on the precipice of another title this Saturday.

The FA Cup semifinals resume this weekend at Wembley Stadium, with Manchester United facing off against Tottenham and Chelsea battling Swansea. It’s a pair of great matchups with plenty of enticing storylines to watch ahead of and during the games.

[MORE: All our coverage of Arsene Wenger’s decision to step down]

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

Jose Mourinho lost a lot of the good-will earned after Man United’s win over Manchester City as his side capitulated in a 1-0 defeat to last-place West Bromwich Albion.

Now, with a week to stew on that result, Mourinho is just two games away from raising another piece of silverware for Man United, though it won’t exactly be the trophy the fans were hoping for. At the same time, Tottenham, a team on the up and up, would love to win the FA Cup and take control fully of North London from rivals Arsenal. A trip to the final for Tottenham would be the next step in the club’s climb to greatness.

Chelsea vs. Southampton— 10:00 a.m. ET Sunday

It’s been a disappointing season for both clubs, but on different levels. Chelsea, the defending league champions, has struggled most of the season to consistently score goals and will likely finish outside of Europe – unless they make the final of the FA Cup. So there’s a lot riding on the line for Chelsea heading into Sunday’s match.

For Southampton, with Mark Hughes now in charge, it’s almost a throw-away game. If they win, they could be the first team since Wigan to be relegated and qualify for European football the next season, but it could also be a game in which the beleaguered squad could gain some confidence, beating one of the big clubs in England.