On the hot seat: Players who need to impress in next week’s U.S. national team camp

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U.S. Soccer has developed a helpful habit of posting a Q&A with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann whenever a new squad is announced. Compared to the openness of his previous, perfectly reasonable predecessors, Klinsmann’s a set of saloon doors, offering no resistance to whatever wants to pass though. This isn’t Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena. Klinsmann has no problem letting information blow on by. His players have already heard it all before, anyway.

Back to the Q&As. While they’re helpful, nice, and a great way to connect with fans, they’re actually not that informative. For example, the themes touched upon in today’s session include the importance of next week’s camp (you think?), communicating with players (this happens), his expectations for his 22-man squad (strong performance, duh), and his thoughts on Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, and Maurice Edu (these are good players). This is all information we knew yesterday.

There were a few reoccurring themes Klinsmann hammered home. Though the upcoming camp is important, he and his staff are looking at every day, at this point. As vital as it is for players to perform well in U.S. training, it’s also important that the desire to win a spot in the 23-man squad is reflected in their club-level play. From the Q&A:

“We want to see that now over the next couple months, not only in our game against Mexico – that’s the best stage they can have – but especially in MLS games. We literally over the weekend follow all the games. It’s pretty intense now the amount of scouting we do with everyone on our staff. We want to see that they have that sense of urgency, that they are sharp, that they do the right thing, and they show the right leadership because every senior national team player has to be a leader on his club team. That’s why he’s a national team player. We follow all that now week-in, week-out and the players are going to make it very difficult for us at the end of the day to choose 23 players out of that big group.”

For a small group called up on Wednesday, this camp’s performance needs to combine with recent history, club play, and fit on the final roster if they’re going to Brazil. In that sense, next week’s sessions are less about Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and the rest of the team’s locks. It’s more about the handful of players who need the good performances to crack the 30- — and then, 23- — man rosters.

(MORE: Position-by-position: Breaking down the U.S.’s squad for Mexico)

Here are the players who need to impress most next week:

Brad Davis, LM, Houston Dynamo – When U.S. Soccer announced Julian Green would switch affiliations, the big loser was thought to be Brek Shea, who was (is?) in the running as a change-of-pace option off the bench. The more you look at the picture, though, Brad Davis seems to be the likely odd man out. On the left side, Landon Donovan and Fabian Johnson are seen as potential starters. Eddie Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley can also play out there, though Beasley is unlikely to do so. If Green is being given every chance to win a spot on the team, where does that leave Davis? Without a strong week with the national team, it will leave him at home this summer.

source: Getty ImagesMaurice Edu, M, Philadelphia Union – Edu has a long way to go, having fallen off the first team radar once he lost playing time with Stoke City. In today’s Q&A, however, Klinsmann spoke highly of the Union midfielder, saying “he understands the timing needs to be there now if he wants to play.” With only three central midfielders locked in (Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman) there’s at least one bench spot in the middle up for grabs. While that may go to a more attack, change-of-look option, Edu can make the case that, should somebody go down, he’s ready to step in.

Luis Gil, M, Real Salt Lake – Break down the roster into likely starters, needed backups, and “other,” and Gil decidedly rests in that last category. But with so many players able to play multiple positions — the Fabian Johnsons, Geoff Camerons, and Brad Evans of the world — Klinsmann can afford to take a couple of guys for mere experience. That means John Brooks. That means DeAndre Yedlin. That means Luis Gil. These guys could actually go. Their task isn’t so much to prove they can contribute now (though that’d obviously help). Their task is to make the claim that they’re good enough now to be vital in 2018, so vital that Klinsmann should consider giving them one of the roster’s final spots.

Julian Green, F/W, Bayern Munich – At this point, all indications are Julian Green can play himself into a spot in Brazil. If he shows up and meets Klinsmann’s high expectations, he’s going. He might push Brad Davis or Brek Shea out-of-the-way, but an 18-year-old that provides a needed (if, potentially limited) dimension can transcend a mere experience argument.

Next week, Green and Klinsmann get to show a hopeful U.S. fan base that this attacker emblazoned with the Bayern Munich trademark can contribute this summer. Even if that’s only for 15 minutes when the team is up a goal, the U.S. will be thrilled to have him.

Michael Orozco, D, Puebla – Perpetually on the edge of the first team’s radar, Orozco seems like number 22 of 22 in this group. I’m sure Klinsmann doesn’t think of it that way, but as we try to construct ways for players  to make it onto the U.S.’s World Cup roster, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Orozco ends up in Brazil. There are just too many players ahead of him at both center and right back to construct a reasonable path to the World Cup.

Michael Parkhurst, D, Columbus Crew – After looking at all the left back options in the January camp, Klinsmann and his staff decided to call in Michael Parkhurst to start against South Korea: forgotten at Augsburg; never really a left back, capable but not spectacular Micheal Parkhurst. Rewarding his coaching staff’s faith, Parkhurst was dropped in on short notice and played fine. Versatile, experienced, reliable, Parkhurst is the exact type of player you want on the back-end of a World Cup roster, part of the reason why the new Crew captain may already have one foot on the plane to Brazil. He may only need to reinforce the perception he can be a reliable option in Brazil.

Chris Wondolowski, F, San Jose Earthquakes – As a known commodity, Wondolowski is in a tough spot. He could very well end up starting next week’s game, but unless he suddenly shows an ability to start taking on defenders or creating his own chances, he’s not going to transcend perceptions. He is an opportunists, and a good one at MLS-level, but he’s racked up his international numbers in “B” games.

Depending on how others perform (and, players’ health come May), he may yet make the team for Brazil. At this point, though, it may have less to do with “Wondo” and more to do with the other options available.

source: APDeAndre Yedlin, RB, Seattle Sounders – The national perception of DeAndre Yedlin is that he’s just this slash-and-charge option Seattle has to burst down the right side – a patronizing, limited view that’s also limited people’s ability to see his growth. He still makes mistakes at the back, but he’s also become very adept at knowing what his speed does and does not allow him to do. In that middle third — the area that makes players like Brad Evans and DeMarcus Beasley so valuable — Yedlin’s growing ability to read the game offers more than other right back options.

Ultimately, however, he’s in the same places as Gil and John Brooks. If he goes, it’s likely as an experience play. With Brad Evans, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, and Michael Parkhurst all capable of playing right back, Yedlin has a number of more-embedded players to vault to be a viable option at right back.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.