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


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.

Bundesliga: Bayern finally lose; Batshuayi scores a stunner (video)

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BERLIN (AP) Runaway Bundesliga leader Bayern Munich lost 2-1 at Leipzig on Sunday in a rare stumble ahead of the international break.

Sandro Wagner headed the visitors into an early lead but Naby Keita equalized before the break and Timo Werner claimed the winner 10 minutes after it.

“We didn’t play like we have in the last weeks,” Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes said. “Leipzig is the deserved winner. You get such games.”

It was Bayern’s third defeat in 27 German league games and Leipzig’s first-ever win over the Bavarian powerhouse after three losses in the Bundesliga and a defeat on penalties in the German Cup last October.

Bayern leads Schalke by 17 points with seven games remaining. It can wrap up its record-extending sixth consecutive title with a win at home over third-place Borussia Dortmund on March 31 – if Schalke drops points to Freiburg on the same day.

Schalke and Dortmund had already postponed the celebrations by winning their 27th-round games, but Wagner got Bayern fans cheering when he scored in the 12th minute.

Wagner, selected to give Robert Lewandowski a rest, was one of several Bayern players waiting to head James Rodriguez’ brilliant cross inside the far post.

But Bayern failed to cope with Leipzig’s pressing game and Keita deservedly equalized on a rebound after Werner’s effort was blocked.

Keita then sent Werner through to score his first goal since Jan. 20 and end Leipzig’s four-game winless run.

Heynckes, who had called up Bayern under-19 midfielder Meritan Shabani to the senior squad for the first time, sent Lewandowski on for the last 20 minutes but the Poland striker was unable to add to his league-leading tally.

Cologne, which made the worst-ever league start by any team, rekindled its slim hopes of survival by beating Bayer Leverkusen 2-0 in the Rhine derby to leave the bottom of the table for the first time since the third round.

“The corpse is still alive,” said Leonardo Bittencourt, who was impressive for Cologne.

Yuya Osako fired the home side into an early lead after good work from Bittencourt, and Simon Zoller sealed the win with 20 minutes remaining when he lifted the ball over the outrushing goalkeeper.

Leverkusen’s hopes of claiming an equalizer were damaged after a half-hour when Lucas Alario swung his elbow back into Dominic Maroh in an off-the-ball incident, leaving the Cologne defender on the ground clutching his neck. Referee Harm Osmers sent the Argentine off after consulting video replays.

Cologne moved two points above Hamburger SV and five points behind Mainz in the relegation playoff place with seven games remaining. Relegation rivals Hamburg, Mainz, Wolfsburg and Freiburg all lost in the 27th round.

Leverkusen dropped to fifth, one point behind Eintracht Frankfurt in the last Champions League qualification place.

Michy Batshuayi‘s brilliant first-half strike was enough for Borussia Dortmund to beat visiting Hannover 1-0 and consolidate third place in the Bundesliga on Sunday.

The home side enjoyed the better start as it looked to make a statement following its disappointing Europa League exit to Salzburg on Thursday.

Batshuayi scored in the 24th minute, running toward Andre Schuerrle’s corner and flicking it on the volley with his heel to send the ball inside the far post.

Dortmund stayed a point behind Schalke with seven games remaining, while Hannover dropped to 13th after its fourth consecutive loss.

Serie A: Napoli make good on Juve’s slip-up, now just 2 back

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona still unbeaten after 29 league games; Ronaldo scores 4 ]

Napoli 1-0 Genoa

Juventus slipped up in a big, big way on Saturday, stumbling to a scoreless draw away to tiny SPAL 2013, and opening the door ever so slightly for Napoli. With a win on Sunday, secured by Raul Albiol’s late winner, Napoli now trail Juve by just two points with the two sides level on games played (29) once again.

The victory snapped a two-game winless skid for Napoli, a run which saw them cough up the top spot which they had held for nearly the entire season, and set up perhaps a colossal title decider on April 22, when first hosts second in their quest to claim a seventh straight Serie A title.

Crotone 0-2 Roma

One spot and 14 points further down the table, you’ll find an interesting battle for third, with Roma picking up their third straight win, 2-0 over 18th-place Crotone on Sunday.

Stephan El Shaarawy (38th minute) and Radja Nainggolan (74th) bagged the goals for Roma, who lead Inter Milan by four points with nine games to go (Inter have a game in hand).

Sampdoria 0-5 Inter Milan

No one was more impressive this weekend than Inter, who put four past Sampdoria in the first half, including a hat trick from Mauro Icardi, who would then go on to add his fourth — Inter’s fifth — in the second half. That’s 22 league goals for the Argentine forward, who now trails Lazio’s Ciro Immobile by two in the Golden Boot race.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Lazio 1-1 Bologna
AC Milan 3-2 Chievo
Hellas Verona 0-5 Atalanta
Torino 1-2 Fiorentina
Benevento 1-2 Cagliari

La Liga: Barcelona unbeaten after 29 games; Ronaldo scores 4

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Man United vs. Spurs in FA Cup semis; Chelsea-Southampton]

Barcelona 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

Updated numbers for Barcelona’s current unbeaten run in La Liga: 29 games this season; 36 dating back to last season. The quest for the unbeaten league season is now just nine games from reality.

Perhaps even more impressive than the W-D-L record is their defensive record: 13 goals conceded in 29 games (they’ve also scored 74 and have a +61 goal differential).

Sunday’s 2-0 victory over Bilbao saw Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Co., go 11 points clear in the title race and all but secure their third title in four seasons, thanks to results elsewhere (see below).

Paco Alcacer opened the scoring after just eight minutes, and Messi made it 2-0 right on the half-hour mark (his league-leading 25th goal of the season; 34 in all competitions).

Real Madrid 6-3 Girona

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged four goals of his own to bring his season total to 22 (32 in all competitions), now second ahead of Suarez and three behind Messi for the Golden Boot, and in the process push Real Madrid (60 points) to within four points of Atletico Madrid in the race for second.

Ronaldo scored goals no. 1, 2, 4 and 6 for Madrid, with tallies from Lucas Vazquez and Gareth Bale sprinkled in between.

Villarreal 2-1 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid were the last side within touching distance of Barca — “just” eight points back coming into the weekend — but that’s no longer the case following a late collapse and a 2-1 defeat away to fourth-place Valencia.

Antoine Griezmann put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot in the 20th minute, but Enes Unal bagged an equalizer in the 82nd and the game-winner in the 91st. Atleti finished the game with 10 men after Vitolo was sent off in the 92nd minute.

Real host Atleti in the Madrid derby on April 8, a game which will go a long way towards crowning this season’s runners-up.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Valencia 3-1 Alaves (Saturday)
Leganes 2-1 Sevilla
Real Betis 3-0 Espanyol (Saturday)
Celta Vigo 0-0 Malaga
Real Sociedad 1-2 Getafe (Saturday)
Levante 2-1 Eibar (Friday)
Deportivo La Coruña 1-1 Las Palmas (Saturday)

FA Cup: Conte “pleased” by Chelsea’s rebound after CL defeat

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The mark of a truly great team is not only found in the number of trophies won, but how they bounce back from failure.

[ MORE: Chelsea drawn against Southampton in semis; Man United-Spurs ]

After bowing out of the Champions League at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday, Antonio Conte‘s Chelsea could have gone one of two ways during Sunday’s FA Cup quarterfinal clash with Leicester City — and for the rest of the season, for that matter. When Jamie Vardy pulled Leicester back to 1-1 with fewer than 15 minutes until full-time, the Blues had a choice to make: keep fighting, or fold under (more) pressure.

[ MORE: Spurs advance to FA Cup semifinal | Man United join them ]

To their credit, they were undeterred and booked their place in the semifinals, where they’ll face Southampton, courtesy of Pedro‘s 105th-minute winner. Following the game, Conte was highly complimentary (by his standard) of his players — quotes from the BBC:

“A tough game but we knew this. The last game at home we suffer a lot against Leicester. We must be pleased today. I saw a good performance and great character from my team. After the game in the Champions League when we spent a lot of energy they showed good heart to beat Leicester.”

“When you arrive at this point, every game is difficult. They (Southampton) have just changed coach but now it is important to be happy and to go for another game at Wembley. We will try to do our best to reach the final. We want to give satisfaction to our fans.

“I think that for us our target is to try and do our best. To work hard with the players. I must be pleased with the commitment of the players. If you can win a trophy it is important for a team like Chelsea. But the most important thing is for us to fight until the end in every competition. We will try to reach the final.”

[ MORE: Southampton see off Wigan | Chelsea complete the final four ]

As for Pedro, he believes scoring a goal of Sunday’s import will do wonders for his confidence, which could prove a massive boon in Chelsea’s quest to overcome a five-point deficit and usurp fourth-place Tottenham:

“It was a very difficult game. It was good for me to score for my confidence and to get to the next round.

“It was hard to find the pass in between the lines. Leicester defended very well and pressed high. It is difficult to win against this team.

“The most important thing for us was the teamwork and to make it through to the next round. “We have to fight in the next few games. It is a difficult situation for us in the league but we have to fight.

“We have a good opportunity to go to the final and fight for a place in the top four. But now is the moment to relax and enjoy this win.”