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.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.