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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.

MLS Snapshot: New York City FC 2-2 Orlando City SC (video)

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC tries to keep the ball as Scott Caldwell #6 of New England Revolution defends during the inaugural game of the New York City FC at Yankee Stadium on March 15, 2015 in the Bronx borough of New York City.The New York City FC defeated the New England Revolution 2-0.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): “It’s not how many times you get knocked down; it’s how many times you get back up.” If that is indeed the way the world works, New York City FC will be given every opportunity to prove themselves again and again and again. When they’re not losing 7-0 to their rivals, they’re blowing two-goal leads (and the simplest of chances to go 3-0 up — check out the videos below for more on that) inside the final 20 minutes at home a week later. Orlando City SC have made a habit of scoring stoppage-time goals this season (Sunday’s 94th-minute equalizer in the Bronx was their fifth), so you’ll have to excuse all of us who wholeheartedly expected NYCFC to snatch this 2-2 draw from the jaws of victory. With the draw, NYCFC remain fourth in the Eastern Conference, a point back of the New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact for second and third, while Orlando City inch to level on points with sixth-place Toronto FC.

[ MORE: USMNT 4-0 Bolivia | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

42′ — Brilliant heads home not long before halftime — Everything seemed fine for NYCFC

66′ — Pirlo’s beautiful ball sets Villa up for 2-0 — Class. Pure class from everyone involved. Everything is fine.

70′ — Villa sends his PK effort sky high — What more can you say? Everything is still probably fine.

72′ — Baptista fires low to make it 2-1 — Villa left the door wide open, and Julio Baptista was quick to walk right through two minutes later. Everything is less fine.

90+4′ — Molino heads home with no time left — As soon as Villa missed the penalty, it was always going to end like this. Nothing is fine.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: David Villa (for a variety of reasons)

Goalscorers: Brilliant (42′), Villa (66′), Baptista (72′), Molino (90+4′)

Klinsmann excited about USMNT’s promising youngsters ahead of Copa America

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 29:  Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States Men's National Team watches his team play against Guatemala during the FIFA 2018  World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States defeated Guatemala 4-0.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The U.S. national team’s last 135 minutes of game time — the final 45 minutes of a 1-0 victory over Ecuador, followed by Saturday’s 4-0 dismantling of Bolivia here at Children’s Mercy Park — have supporters across the country harboring unfamiliar feelings these days: cautious optimism ahead of this week’s 2016 Copa America Centenario.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

It’s the best three-half stretch Jurgen Klinsmann’s side has enjoyed (against top-80 opposition, according FIFA world rankings) since … well, come to think of it, I’m not really sure when. In the last 24 months, the Yanks have lost away to Guatemala, drawn away to Trinidad & Tobago, lost the CONCACAF Cup to Mexico on home soil, finished fourth at the Gold Cup on home soil, and wrapped up 2014 with just one win in their last eight games of the calendar year, including three of four World Cup fixtures.

(When you write it all out like that, it sounds really bad. It’s been really bad.)

Yet, here stands the USMNT, five days from kicking off the centennial edition of Copa America, and a few pieces are beginning to fall into place for Klinsmann and Co. I waxed poetically about Saturday’s victory and all the positives it highlighted.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Listening to Klinsmann and a handful of players speak after the game, there was a similar sense of confidence among the men on the field that a workable, sustainable formula had indeed been realized.

“The atmosphere is really good,” the 1990 World Cup-winning German said. “Fine-tuning elements, every training session helps you. I think no team will come into Copa America 100 percent or perfectly prepared. … It’s a bit tricky.”

[ MORE: Ranking Copa America contenders — what are USMNT’s chances? ]

Perhaps no player on the USMNT’s Copa America roster has come further under Klinsmann’s tutelage, and in such a short period of time, than striker Bobby Wood, who has scored all five of his international goals inside the last five months and on Saturday assisted on Gyasi Zardes’s strike for a 3-0 lead with a quality cut-back cross from the end line — Wood, speaking after the game:

“I think as a team, we’re pretty confident,” Wood said. “We wanted to continue growing as a team with each game before the tournament. With these results, I think we did a good job to be confident going into the Colombia game. … I actually think two games ago, we were still pretty confident. Maybe the outside is putting pressure on us, but as a team inside the locker room, we’re pretty confident to do well. I think everyone is pretty hungry for Copa to start.”

It’s the USMNT’s current crop of youngsters like Wood, the 23-year-old now-Hamburg man, that gives American fans hope beyond Copa America with an eye toward the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The average age of the scorers of the USMNT’s last eight goals: 23 years old. No one is more excited by that progression than Klinsmann, who raved about Christian Pulisic after the 17-year-old became the youngest goalscorer in USMNT history on Saturday.

“What is wonderful to see is the growth of [the young] players over these last one or two years — how they improved their game, how they’re becoming more adult[-like], obviously stronger physically, but also becoming more confident,” he said of players like Wood, Zardes, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks, among others. “This is a process. The process is never-ending, but the first couple of years when you grow, it’s a big learning curve. How far this process takes us into Copa America, we’ll take it one step at a time. We put the pieces together the best way that we get the right results.

“I think over the next couple of weeks, they will definitely get their opportunities to play minutes, leave an impression, and to push more and more the established players toward the edge, which is their job. It will be a very intense and interesting next couple of weeks.”

 

Tens of thousands welcomed Real Madrid home after Champions League final

Real Madrid bus (Photo credit: Real Madrid / Twitter: @realmadrid)
Photo credit: Real Madrid / Twitter: @realmadrid
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MADRID (AP) Tens of thousands of fans endured the rain to greet Real Madrid players as they returned home early Sunday from their triumph in the Champions League final.

[ MORE: Real top Atleti on penalty kicks — Ronaldo the hero again ]

Many waited all night after celebrating the team’s win over crosstown rival Atletico Madrid in a penalty shootout on Saturday in Milan.

The players arrived in Madrid at about 6 a.m. local time (0400 GMT) and traveled on an open bus to the club’s traditional celebration spot, the Plaza de Cibeles, where an estimated 30,000 supporters welcomed the team.

Players carried the Champions League trophy atop the bus, constantly showing it to the cheering fans. The word “Campeones” and “11” were displayed prominently on the bus, in reference to the club’s 11th European title.

[ MORE: Ronaldo — “Our team showed more experience” ]

Team captain Sergio Ramos, who scored Madrid’s goal in regulation time at the San Siro, took the walkway set up over the plaza’s fountain and draped the statue of the goddess Cybele with the club’s scarf and flag, then lifted the trophy high above the famous figure.

A huge video screen was set up at the plaza to allow fans to watch the final, and the party began right after Cristiano Ronaldo converted the final penalty kick in the shootout to give the club its second European title in three seasons. Light shows and music entertained the fans through the night.

Atletico Madrid supporters, who again were denied the opportunity to celebrate the title, had gathered at a different viewing spot to watch the final.

[ MORE: Bale — “We deserve it” ]

There were no reports of major incidents between fans of the rival clubs.

Real Madrid said “almost 80,000” fans watched Saturday’s final at the team’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, where four huge screens were placed at midfield. The title celebration at the stadium included confetti thrown into the air as “We are the champions” played through loudspeakers.

The team will meet with the mayor of Madrid later on Sunday and again will parade through city streets.

The title celebrations will culminate at night at the Bernabeu.

Marek Hamsik absolutely smashes goal in Slovakia’s upset of Germany (video)

TRNAVA, SLOVAKIA - MARCH 25:  Marek Hamsik of Slovakia runs with the ball during the international friendly match between Slovakia and Latvia held at Stadion Antona Malatinskeho on March 25, 2016 in Trnava, Slovakia.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images
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Marek Hamsik hit a ball with such momentous force that we’re not sure it rotated more than three full turns on its 20-yard flight into the goal.

The Slovakia star’s goal equalized a friendly with Germany at 1, and Repre went on to hammer the reigning World Cup champs by a 3-1 score.

[ USMNT-BOLIVIA: Recap3 things | Player ratings ]

I mean, really, what a hit. Bernd Leno had little hope of touching it.