Soccer: Friendly-USA vs Mexico

Clear message from Klinsmann’s roster: 2018 is in focus

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John Brooks, Julian Green, and DeAndre Yedlin average just over 20 years of age. They not only have a combined 0 appearances in World Cup qualifiers, they haven’t even been to a Gold Cup. As of this afternoon, however, each U.S. prospect has their ticket punched for Brazil, set to take up three spots on Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. Men’s National Team roster.

[MORE: Klinsmann reveals 23-man roster; Landon Donovan is not on the roster]

Go ahead and argue those three among the best the U.S. has to offer, but that’s an impossible case to make. There’s a far more likely story, here. In the face of a tough World Cup group and having inherited a long-term project with the U.S., Klinsmann had one eye on Russia 2018 when he named today’s squad. He’s clearly willing to sacrifice the limited benefit of taking a better, likely little-used, player for the experience his young trio will get through this summer’s tournament.

The strategy’s not new, but it’s certainly profound, considering it involves explaining to three worthy players why, despite having claims to being better at this point in their careers, they won’t be going to Brazil. Those players were likely Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, and, most controversially, Landon Donovan – players who many have long seen as locks for this summer’s squad.

How do you sit Clarence Goodson down and explain this kid from Hertha Berlin, one who looked so poor against Ukraine in March, was going in his place? How do you tell Brad Evans ‘thanks for all your time, but Timmy Chandler and DeAndre have this’?

How do you explain to Landon Donovan that a 19-year-old somebody who looked physically suspect against Mexico has ended his hopes of a fourth World Cup?

What many didn’t anticipate was Klinsmann’s change of course. In leaving off players like Evans and Eddie Johnson, the U.S. boss has shown a willingness to put qualifying performance in an almost irrelevant context. At least, if you didn’t prove yourself indispensable by the time The Hex closed, you weren’t guaranteed a spot.

[MORE from SOCCERLY: Klinsmann’s son deletes cruel Donovan tweet, deletes account]

We also didn’t foresee his focus on 2018 being to great. Luiz Felipe Scolari famously took a 20-year-old Kaka to Japan/South Korea in 2002, but in attack, that Brazil squad was set to rely on Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Rivaldo. With those certainties, the back of Brazil’s roster didn’t matter.

For a U.S. team that looked set to leverage its flexibility, those final spots looked precious, particularly when the choices could be Donovan or Brad Davis, Evans or Chandler, Goodson or relying on Geoff Cameron for depth. Instead of avoiding those hard decisions, Klinsmann embraced them in favor of another goal: 2018.

This is why Sunil Gulati chose the former Germany head coach, and given what he did for the Nationalmannscaft  Klinsmann deference to youth shouldn’t be surprising. Germany’s current success owes a lot to Klinsmann’s willingness to embrace its new talent. The U.S. can only hope that the same plan will produce success during a 2018 tournament, because today’s choices have already brought Russia into focus.

Martinez “thought about dancing” after Everton thumped Stoke City

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Roberto Martinez Manager of Everton looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Everton at Britannia Stadium on February 6, 2016 in Stoke on Trentl, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Everton is finding its form, and that has Roberto Martinez with half a mind to keep dancing.

Martinez admitted his Jason Derulo fandom after video surfaced of the Spaniard dancing in a suite this week, and had to admit he felt like continuing the show after Everton crushed Stoke City 3-0 on Saturday.

The Toffees climbed above Merseyside rivals Liverpool on goal differential and into eight place in the Premier League. They are finally looking like the club supporters expected to see this season.

[ MATCH RECAP: Stoke City 0-3 Everton ]

Everton has back-to-back 3-0 wins in the Premier League. Before that was a loss to Swansea City which followed a trio of draws against Man City, Spurs and Chelsea.

Martinez’s club looked fit to score even more after Romelu Lukaku, Seamus Coleman and Aaron Lennon scored first-half goals on the road at the Britannia Stadium.

Look at that face… a living dance hall. Of course we kid, and are even more grateful for Martinez’s personality.

Pochettino on Tottenham winning title: “If we believe, it can happen”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 06:  Mauricio Pochettino Manager of Tottenham Hotspur looks on prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Watford at White Hart Lane on February 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is playing it cool, but Tottenham Hotspur has a real chance of winning its first-ever Premier League title.

[ MORE: Foxes beat City to stay top ]

Following Spurs’ 1-0 win over Watford at White Hart Lane on Saturday — the scoreline doesn’t reflect how dominant Tottenham were — optimism levels were high.

Four Premier League wins on the spin and six in all competitions will do that.

With Tottenham now second in the PL table and five points behind surprise leaders Leicester City, are they genuine title contenders?

“I feel very proud of the players,” Pochettino said. “We need to be calm. We are in a very good position in the league but the philosophy from the beginning of the season has been to go step by step. We are a very young squad so it is important to keep going and take every game and competition and be ready to compete.

“We need to be careful and always work in the same way. In football you can never stop. You always need to improve and fix a different situation. We still need to be more clinical, we created a lot of chances today but need to score more.We have a good idea of how we want to build the squad for the future and it is important to take this philosophy and deliver it.”

More tellingly Pochettino was also quoted as saying: “In football belief is the most important. If we believe, it can happen.”

In a season where Leicester City top the Premier League, why can’t Spurs launch a serious title challenge of their own with 13 games to go?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned as Leicester demolished Man City

As Pochettino mentioned, scoring more goals should be the main aim for Spurs as they had 26 shots against Watford and 66 percent of the ball but only scored once. But with the best defensive record in the PL and the best goal differential, Spurs are right in this title race.

Agbonlahor says Villans prepared to produce great escape

during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Norwich City at Villa Park on February 6, 2016 in Birmingham, England.
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is feeling quite buoyed by his first goal of the season.

The 29-year-old striker helped ensure his side would keep its early lead with a second half goal, and hopes the 2-0 win over Norwich City is just the latest step in the quest to avoid Villa’s first ever Premier League relegation.

[ MATCH RECAP: Aston Villa 2-0 Norwich City ]

Villa is now eight points back of 17th place Newcastle, and seven of the Canaries. It’s still a 4-point journey to 19th, but Agbonlahor and company are taking it proverbially: one game at a time.

From the BBC:

“We are going to keep fighting till the end. That is all the club expects from us. Take it game by game. There is no reason why we cannot escape. We showed fight today. We had a game plan: we defended well and attacked well.”

The Villans are facing a relatively tough stretch of matches with Liverpool, Stoke City, Everton and Man City on the docket.

What odds would you give Villa of pulling off the latest in a long line of Premier League great escapes?

Newcastle United 1-0 West Bromwich Albion: Mitrovic pushes Magpies to 17th

during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion at St James' Park on February 6, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.
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  • Magpies climb out of relegation zone
  • Baggies continue to struggle under Pulis
  • Mitrovic gets winner as hosts control match

Aleksandar Mitrovic‘s first-half goal gave Newcastle United a week above the drop zone in a 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion at St. James Park on Saturday.

The Magpies leapfrog losing Norwich City for 17th place in the Premier League with 24 points.

West Brom is now winless in five and sits five points ahead of Newcastle, good for 14th place.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Magpies provided an inspired start to the match, piling on pressure and winning a pair of corner kicks. Aleksandar Mitrovic was saved at the goal line by Boaz Myhill in the most clear-cut opportunity.

Craig Gardner won a free kick on the edge of the 18, but Georginio Wijnaldum leapt off the wall to help deflect it out for an eventually unsuccessful corner.

Cheik Tiote scored from close to 40 yards out, but Lee Mason consulted with his linesman before disallowing the goal because Aleksandar Mitrovic was in the flight of the ball and offside.

Mitrovic had the next laugh, though, sprung on a break by Jonjo Shelvey and deservedly finishing his chance past Foster. Newcastle owned a 1-0 lead.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Wijnaldum flashed a header over goal of Townsend’s cross from the right, and it was still 1-0 in the 66th minute. Townsend then poked a low shot off the right post moments later, and Moussa Sissoko flashed a prime shot wide.

The Magpies were leaving themselves open to an equalizer, and it’s not as if the Baggies didn’t find a chance or two (though mostly through set pieces).