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Americans Abroad Preview: Guzan, Cameron square off as surging Premier League squads meet

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The Premier League continues to grind this weekend, and with it, so does its Americans.

The headliner this week happens to come from Aston Villa, as goalkeeper Brad Guzan looks to steer the Claret and Blue to their third straight victory.

In Sunday’s “primetime” slot on NBCSN at noon ET, Villa will take on a surging Stoke City looking to build on consecutive impressive wins over Chelsea and Norwich City. Guzan conceded just a single goal over those two matches.

On the other side of the pitch will be American defender Geoff Cameron, looking for their third win in four matches.  Stoke have just a single loss since February 1, and Cameron has been at the forefront.  The 28-year-old has gone 22 straight Premier League matches in which he’s played every minute for the Potters.

Elsewhere around the Premier League, Jozy Altidore looks to have a better showing than his poor second-half appearance last week. Sunderland travels to Norwich City in an outstanding opportunity to pick up points. Altidore has done little with his recent opportunities, but he may get another chance this weekend with Steven Fletcher out injured.

Tim Howard will stand tall in goal as Everton host Swansea City. The Toffees are looking for all the points they can get to hold off a stumbling Tottenham in the Premier League’s fifth position.

In the Championship, there’s some Americans playing important fixtures.

  • Reading will look to Danny Williams in the midfield as they sit just a point outside the playoff zone, taking on Jonathan Spector and Will Packwood‘s Birmingham City.
  • Tim Ream‘s Bolton travel to struggling Yeovil.
  • Oguchi Onyewu hopes Sheffield Wednesday can deal Doncaster a relegation blow.
  • Huddersfield Town recalled Duane Holmes from his short loan spell at Yeovil, and will take on Blackpool. It will be interesting to see if Holmes is involved.

Outside of England, Aron Johannsson‘s AZ Alkmaar found out they will play Benfica in the Europa League quarterfinals in today’s draw, but that’s not for another two weeks.  Tomorrow, AZ gets PEC Zwolle in a bigtime matchup in the Eredivisie with the two clubs are separated by just 3 points in the table.

Johannsson has done everything in his power to catch Jurgen Klinsmann’s eye, with three goals and two assists in his last five matches.  However, he was held off the scoresheet last week in a 2-1 loss to second-place Twente.

Juan Agudelo‘s FC Utrecht has the weekend off.

Kicker reported today that John Anthony Brooks could start for Hertha Berlin this weekend.  The 21-year-old defender has just six total minutes since the new year, but according to the report he could replace Georgian starter Levan Kobiashvili who has played the full 90 in the club’s last six matches.

US Soccer also revealed today that scouts will be in attendance to watch Bundesliga players Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim) and Julian Green (Bayern Munich) along with Terrence Boyd (Rapid Wien) in Austria. Green’s Bayern has 5th placed Mainz 05 tomorrow at 10:30, and he hasn’t featured in the Bundesliga yet this year, but US Soccer sending a scout to watch could suggest he might play a part with Bayern holding a massive league lead.

With Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League into its playoffs, Sasha Kljestan‘s Anderlecht drew a two-leg tie with regular season champions Standard Liege.  Those playoffs don’t start until next Friday, with Anderlecht scheduled to play Saturday, so the club is off this weekend.

In Turkey, the race for 2nd place sees Jermaine Jones and Besiktas need a big showing against seventh-placed Akhisar Belediye.  Besiktas are just two points back of Galatasaray, who get basement dwellers Kayserispor.

There is Liga MX action tonight, with Puebla’s DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco look to gain ground on Herculez Gomez and Joe Corona‘a Tijuana in the Clausura’s bottom half.  Jose Torres and Tigres host Queretaro tomorrow.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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