The Youth Movement: 10 youngsters who could make an impact in Brazil

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When Julian Green made the United States final 23-man roster, presumably over US legend Landon Donovan, headlines were made and decisions were second-guessed.

But Green isn’t even close to the only youngster – or even the only teenager – who will be making the trip to this summer’s World Cup.

You probably know the big name youngsters – Germany’s Julian Draxler (20 years old), Belgium’s Adnan Januzaj (19), and France’s Paul Pogba (21),  just to name a few.  Those players have been around for a while and have made a name for themselves already, including possibly breaking into their country’s starting lineup.

Here, we will focus more on the young players who aren’t such household names, and could be players who not only get a chance to break onto the big stage, but could be fixtures for years to come in their country’s squad.

Let’s get a brief overview of some players who not only represent the future for their country, but could even have an impact this year.

1) Josip Drmic and Granit Xhaka – Switzerland, 21 years old

With Switzerland coming into Brazil with forward bunch bursting with youth, this Bundesliga pair could very well make a major impact.

source: AP
Switzerland’s young striker Josip Drmic has come on strong recently and is looking to help prove they’re worthy of Pot 1.

Drmic didn’t do much during Switzerland’s qualification, but has bagged three goals in their last two friendlies, and with Switzerland’s inexperienced forward group, the young striker could find himself with ample opportunities during Group E play and beyond.

Xhaka is actually the Swiss’s most-capped forward according to FIFA.com, with 22 appearances for his country, although he is actuality is more of an attacking midfielder, even finding himself located quite centrally under manager Ottmar Hitzfeld.

Dating back to the last match of European qualification against Slovenia, the pair have scored four of Switzerland’s last five goals, and will be a driving force going forward if the Swiss are going to live up to their Pot 1 designation.

Along with Xherdan Shaqiri, Fabian Schar, and Ricardo Rodriguez, Hitzfeld selected five players 22 years old or younger, so no matter what happens this year for Switzerland, the country is set up for the future.

2) Kenneth Omeruo – Nigeria, 20 years old

A young, Chelsea-owned center-back, Omeruo impressed on loan at ADO Den Haag two years ago before staying in the country and spending time at Middlesbrough this past season.  With the Championship side in the hunt for a promotion playoff spot, Omeruo logged valuable minutes in the center of the Boro’s defense next to England youngster Ben Gibson, leading the way to a number of quality results, including a 1-0 win over nearly-promoted Derby County and a 2-0 victory over playoff participants Brighton.

Omeruo has already made a spot for himself in the Nigerian squad, leading the way for his country’s African Cup of Nations victory in which the Super Eagles conceded just four goals in their six tournament matches, including a shutout of Burkina Faso in the finals.

With his sights set on impressing Jose Mourinho, this World Cup could be a springboard for bigger things from Omeruo.  He has a tall task in front of him at Stamford Bridge, considering the current center-back pair is one of the best in Europe, and fellow loanee Kurt Zouma is also looking to do the same, but Omeruo has something Zouma does not: a chance to play on the world’s biggest stage.

3) Stephan de Vrij – Netherlands, 22 years old

One of the fastest-rising stocks in the European game, the Dutch defender was mentored at Feyenoord by the vastly experienced Joris Mathijsen.  At 19 years old, de Vrij’s name was on the tip of every scout’s mouth.  He took a serious regression two years ago as Mathijsen declined due to old age and Feyenoord’s defense temporarily slumped, but the youngster is back to his old level and ready for a move to a top-tier team.

However, he has a chance to showcase his skills at the World Cup, and Feyenoord has recognized the opportunity he has to boost his stock farther by reportedly putting all transfer talks for the 22-year-old on hold until after the event.

Surrounded by Mathijsen at Feyenoord plus Ron Vlaar and Bruno Martins Indi on the international level, de Vrij has had a wealth of experience to draw from and develop.  He’s started the Netherland’s last three matches at CB, and it would appear that the struggles he faced towards the end of World Cup qualifying have passed and he is back into Louis van Gaal’s graces for good.

4) Sead Kolasinac – Bosnia & Herzegovina, 20 years old

Schalke’s third-place finish this Bundesliga season was thanks in part to the young left-back’s breakout year.  After making a name for himself down the stretch two seasons ago as a 19-year-old, he again found himself on the bench to start the year thanks to an injury.

source: Getty Images
“The Destroyer” Sead Kolasinac doesn’t back down from a challenge and can keep up with the best of wingers.

But once recovered, the kid returned to the starting lineup and logged a run of 17 matches where he missed just six total minutes (during that span, Schalke lost just three matches – and it would have been just 1 had they not dropped the final pair of the long run).

Now in the national team fold, Kolasinac has featured in multiple matches for Bosnia since his return from injury in October, and that’s unlikely to change this summer.

Luke Shaw has received constant headlines in England with his explosion onto the international stage and likely transfer to Manchester United.  But Kolasinac has been rumored to also have been recently pursued by the Red Devils, and with reports of Shaw’s potential deal coming to a screeching halt, you could hear this kid’s name crop up more in the coming weeks, especially if he performs at the World Cup. He’s not as skilled as Shaw going forward, but is solid at the back and an accurate defender, earning the nickname “Zerstörer” or “The Destroyer.”

One storyline to keep an eye on: Kolasinac was born in Germany and only turned down the German national team only last year despite time for the German U-20 team.  There’s a serious possibility that Bosnia & Herzegovina could match up with Germany in the quarterfinals if things play out, and there could be some harsh sentiments towards Kolasinac from his country of birth.

5) Marco Verratti – Italy, 21 years old

Riccardo Montolivo’s World Cup dreams shattered just about the same time his left leg did just eight minutes into their recent 0-0 draw with the Republic of Ireland.  A massive blow for Italy losing one of its most experienced players and emotional leaders, Cesare Prandelli must now reach deeper into the player pool to replace him.

In Prandelli’s squad over the likes of Giuseppe Rossi and Mattia Destro, Verratti looks primed to take Montolivo’s place in the midfield, and the Paris Saint-Germain youngster fully deserves it.  A masterful passer, his 91% pass accuracy in Ligue 1 play ranks second in the entire league of players who have at least 25 appearances, second only to his PSG and Italy teammate and central midfield partner Thiago Motta.

With Italy’s downfall often a disconnect between their defense and creative options, it would behoove Prandelli to take Verratti as someone who can take some of the creative weight off Andrea Pirlo’s shoulders and work on spreading around the ball.

6) Santiago Arias – Colombia, 22 years old

Manager Jose Pekerman has constantly been reminded how his back four are Colombia’s weak point.  Enter the 22-year-old PSV right-back, and things have eased up a bit for the man in charge.

Arias provides not just defensive solidity on the wing – his 60% tackle success rate at PSV this year is stellar considering the tough angles and isolation defenders face near the touchline – but also a burst of speed that enables Arias to take on defenders himself and create chances for his teammates. Arias’s 21 chances created ranks 16th among Eredivisie defenders, but he collected his in less minutes than all but one of those in the top 20.

With Pekerman clearly still tinkering with his defense throughout the recent friendlies, it’s hard to tell if Arias – or anyone, for that matter – will be a consistent starter in Brazil at the back for Colombia. One thing is for sure, if Arias can make the most of his minutes, he can use the World Cup as a springboard for later success at both club and country.

7) Diego Reyes – Mexico, 21 years old

It’s been a crazy year for Reyes, and one he won’t soon forget.  Having signed for European giants FC Porto last summer, he’s now going to his first World Cup under Miguel Herrera, and is hoping not just to go but to play.

source: Getty Images
Mexico’s Olympic star Diego Reyes, having battled with the likes of Didier Drogba in the past, is ready for serious minutes at the back.

Reyes is the cream of Mexico’s talented youth system, as he was the only member of the Olympic gold medal-winning team to start the country’s opening fourth-round CONCACAF qualification match against Jamaica.

Already standing 6-foot-4, Reyes is a beast in the air, but doesn’t lose any agility on his feet as tall defenders often do, using his large strides as part of his technical strength rather than a detriment to his game.

While the Mexican team isn’t light on defenders this summer, an injury of unknown severity to captain Rafa Marquez could give Reyes a chance to play serious time in Brazil.

8) Stefanos Kapino  – Greece, 20 years old

Panathinaikos goalkeeper Kapino isn’t the number one choice at the moment for Fernando Santos’s squad, but it’s not exactly a position of security for current favorite Orestis Karnezis, so it’s possible Kapino could make a late push for the spot. Karnezis was the man through Greece’s impressive qualification run, but he’s not even Granada’s first-choice keeper, making just six La Liga appearances last year.

If Karnezis – he of just 18 international caps – were to for whatever reason lose his place, it’s possible Kapino could beat out PAOK starter Panagiotis Glykos for the opening and make a play during his time at Brazil. But either way, Kapino appears to be a man for the future in Greece, and starting for a big club at just 20 years old could open the eyes of bigger fish, paving the way for a club upgrade as well.

9) Alireza Jahanbakhsh – Iran, 20 years old

Just a substitute off the bench for Eredivisie side N.E.C. this season, Jahanbakhsh hasn’t reached a breakout for his club just yet.  However, the World Cup would do nicely, and the big stage could do nicely as well.

Having earned Iran’s Young Footballer of the Year in 2012, Jahanbakhsh has developed a wonderful wing partnership with Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah, and the two electrified the Asian qualifying tournament, scoring plenty of goals including Jahanbakhsh’s first-ever for the national team against Thailand.

Iran may not last long in Brazil, but they have some talents that could make noise on the European stage in the coming years, and Jahanbakhsh is at the head of that pack.

10) Pavel Mogilevets – Russia, 21 years old

Having just earned his first cap five days ago against Slovakia, the baby-faced midfielder from Zenit St. Petersburg is hoping to make an impression in Brazil this summer. He hasn’t made the squad yet, but is about as close as you can get.

Fabio Cappello has made some head-scratching decisions with his World Cup squad (such as dropping striker Pavel Pogrebnyak in favor of the injured Denis Cheryshev) but including Mogilevets could be a view into the future.  With the Italian’s squad down to 25 players, he has gone on record saying he already knows which players will be left out, but isn’t going to tell them until the June 2nd deadline.

The two eventually cut very well could be the pair of youngsters on the roster, Mogilevets and Andrey Semenov, but if he makes it to Brazil, he will have gone for a reason, and the kid who scored twice on loan to Rubin Kazan this past season could get a chance to see the pitch.

11) Julian Green – USA, 19 years old

It would be impossible to write a piece on youth at Brazil without mentioning the German-American teenager who was at the receiving end of Landon Donovan’s international demise.

Green has obvious talent, or he wouldn’t be in the Bayern Munich youth ranks.  However, he’s a pretty major unknown for the United States fan base, and to most of the soccer world as well.  He has barely been sighted in the senior squad at Bayern, mostly impressing at the U-21 level.

But Jurgen Klinsmann obviously loves what he sees, and Green is likely going to be a household name in America if he comes anywhere close to living up to the now-lofty expectations that come with taking a legend’s place.

5th-place San Jose parts ways with Kinnear after 2.5 seasons

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Dominic Kinnear is out after two and a half seasons as head coach of the San Jose Earthquakes, despite leading the club to a hugely improved standing 17 games into the 2017 season.

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The move comes 17 hours after San Jose put to bed a three-game winless skid with a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake on Saturday, a result which propelled them into fifth place in the Western Conference, just two points off second place. After seventh- and ninth-place finishes in Kinnear’s first two seasons back in Northern California (he managed the club in 2004 and 2005 before the club was relocated to Houston, where he would remain for nine seasons, through the 2014 season), this year’s team seemed to be moving in a positive direction quicker than most had previously expected.

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The club has named Chris Leitch head coach and Alex Covelo as assistant coach. Current assistant coach Steve Ralston and goalkeeper coach Tim Hanley will remain in their current roles.

“First and foremost, we would like to thank Dominic for his hard work, professionalism and contributions to this club over the years,” Earthquakes general manager Jesse Fioranelli said in a release. “He worked hard this year and was a first-class person all the way. This decision was made after a lot of thought and evaluation. We decided that we wanted to go in a different direction as we continue to build the identity of this club.”

Kinnear is the second MLS coach to be relieved of his duties this season, suffering the same fate as RSL’s Jeff Cassar, who lasted just three games before being fired in March.

FIFA’s video-review system under scrutiny again in Russia

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OCHI, Russia (AP) FIFA’s new video review system is bringing turmoil to the Confederations Cup, with technology designed to deliver quick, clear decisions agitating players and leaving coaches and fans confused.

Perhaps even worse for FIFA, the latest controversy on Sunday – exactly one week after four goal reviews in that day’s two matches – made one of the world’s highest-rated referees look hesitant and wrong.

Wilmar Roldan sent off a Cameroon defender more than three minutes after a high tackle on a German opponent and only after his own case of mistaken identity.

The Colombian official arrived at what was arguably the correct decision following two visits to the touchline to consult video replays and first showing only a yellow card, then a red card, to the wrong Cameroon player.

“I think everyone is confused, including me,” Cameroon coach Hugo Broos said of referee Roldan after a 3-1 loss in Sochi that eliminated his team. “He and he alone can explain what happened there in that moment.”

Cameroon was also involved in two video decisions last Sunday, when possible Chile goals were reviewed for offside rulings. The first goal was disallowed, the second counted in Chile’s 2-0 victory.

Portugal had most to complain about one week ago when a potential opening goal in a 2-2 draw with Mexico was ruled out by an offside judged in an earlier phase of play.

FIFA stressed last week that all decisions proved ultimately correct, and the controversies were simply inevitable overreactions as world football gets used to a new system being put to its highest-profile tests.

Indeed, FIFA President Gianni Infantino felt confident to proclaim video review was “the future of football” and still on track to be approved by the guardians of the game’s laws before the 2018 World Cup.

Human error by Roldan seemed the biggest problem Sunday though it added to the perception that video review is capable of causing as much controversy as it solves.

FIFA has certainly pulled back from its prediction last year that game-changing decisions – goals scored, penalty kicks awarded, red cards, mistaken identity – could be reviewed and resolved in as few as six seconds.

Accuracy is more important than speed, has become the mantra in Russia.

Neither were in evidence Sunday in Sochi as Cameroon defender Ernest Mabouka eventually left the field around three minutes after his boot connected with Emre Can of Germany.

Mabouka’s teammate Sebastien Siani had sarcastically applauded the referee when he was wrongly sent from the field. Eventually Siani’s slate was wiped clean and he completed the match.

Still, the image of a top referee being openly disrespected will not please FIFA.

Roldan arrived at the Confederations Cup trying to rebuild a reputation that was damaged at the 2014 World Cup. There, he was chosen for the second game of the tournament, and incorrectly ruled out two Mexico goals. FIFA did not pick him for another refereeing duty in Brazil.

To further damage Roldan’s standing, Germany coach Joachim Loew said neither he nor Can believed the tackle merited even a yellow card.

“I didn’t have the impression that it was a mean foul with the intent to hurt the opponent. It was not intentional,” Loew said through a translator at the post-match news conference.

Loew, whose Germany team will defend its World Cup title next year, still thinks video review can benefit the game – with one condition.

“I think it can be fine-tuned over time so that decisions can be made more quickly,” the German coach said. “That would be great.”

Mario Balotelli signs new Nice contract

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Italian striker Mario Balotelli has found himself the owner of a new contract after a successful season in Ligue 1 with French club OGC Nice.

Balotelli’s one-year deal was set to expire at the end of June, but he found a career revival in what many believed would be his last chance in major European soccer. The club officially announced his new contract on Sunday, and while they did not release the length of the deal, they confirmed that Balotelli turned down deals from other clubs to stay in France.

The 26-year-old scored 15 goals in 23 league appearances last year, helping Nice to a fabulous third-place finish in Ligue 1, earning them a Champions League playoff spot.

For a player who saw trouble follow him wherever he went, the only trouble he faced last season at Nice was an erratic bout with injury issues including calf and adductor problems. However, the spells on the sidelines didn’t douse Balotelli’s form. The Italian had an incredible start and finish to the season, scoring six goals in his first five appearances of the season and bagging six goals in the last eight games of the year.

The official release by Nice said that Balotelli made “considerable financial sacrifices and chose the sporting aspect with his heart” in re-signing with the French club.

Morris, Acosta, Roldan highlight USA 23-man Gold Cup roster

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Bruce Arena has released his 23-man roster for the group stage of the 2017 Gold Cup, and it appears heavily experimental as expected, with 16 players MLS based.

The experience comes in spurts, with Brad Guzan paired with the less experienced Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid among the goalkeepers. Along the back line, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, and Jorge Villafana all make their way from the World Cup qualifiers to the Gold Cup, joined by Chelsea youngster Matt Miazga and Toronto FC’s Justin Morrow.

In midfield, Kellyn Acosta gets additional international time after positive showings in the most recent World Cup qualifiers. Dax McCarty returns to the national team along with Alejandro Bedoya, while bright 22-year-old Seattle Sounders playmaker Cristian Roldan also makes the squad. In addition, New England Revolution winger Kelyn Rowe and left-sided Kenny Saief could be set for national team debuts. Saief has appeared twice for Israel but has yet to be cap-tied by playing in a competitive match for any country and recently had his one-time switch approved.

Jordan Morris leads the way along the front line, along with 24-year-old Juan Agudelo who has not played a competitive minute for the United States since the 2011 Gold Cup. Dom Dwyer also appears, with the 26-year-old striker also hoping for an international debut. Gyasi Zardes shows up as a midfielder, but provides the United States with another versatile attacker who could play up front.

The United States will take on Panama, Martinique, and Nicaragua in the group stage of the Gold Cup, and once that is complete, Bruce Arena will be able to make changes to the roster should the United States advance as expected. At that time, Arena can swap in up to six players who appeared on the initial 40-man roster, including more experienced players like Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Dempsey.

Another name who could see time in the Gold Cup knockout round would be goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, who does not appear on the initial 25-man roster as his one-time switch paperwork has yet to be cleared by FIFA according to a number of reports. If that happens in time, he can play for the United States. The 22-year-old FC Dallas goalkeeper has played for the Mexico youth setup but has not been cap-tied by either country. After making the 40-man roster, Gonzalez confirmed he would play for the United States should he be called up. However, should he complete the one-time switch, Gonzalez wouldn’t need to be cap-tied, as completing the paperwork is enough to leave him no choice but to play for the United States.

Finally, Christian Pulisic does not appear on the 25-man roster as expected, after Bruce Arena admitted the Borussia Dortmund youngster was unlikely to play for the United States in the Gold Cup. Arena admitted getting rest and then meeting up with his club for preseason was more important for the 18-year-old than playing in the summer international tournament.

Players are set to report to training in Nashville today, with a warm-up match against Ghana scheduled for Saturday in Connecticut before Gold Cup play starts on July 8.

ROSTER

GKs: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid.

DEFs: Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Justin Morrow, Jorge Villafaña, Graham Zusi.

MFs: Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Dax McCarty, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, Kenny Saief, Gyasi Zardes.

FWDs: Jordan Morris, Juan Agudelo, Dom Dwyer.