Johnson, Dempsey goals give U.S. 2-1 win over Turkey

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If Tuesday’s performance was the warm up, Sunday’s at Red Bull Arena saw the U.S. ease its 2014 World Cup preparation out of neutral. Overcoming a slow start with Fabian Johnson’s first half opener, a U.S. team that waited until late to defeat Azerbaijan earlier this week avoided similar problems against Turkey. Adding a second half goal from Clint Dempsey, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side produced a 2-1 win over the world’s 39th-ranked team, taking another step in its buildup for Brazil.

Turkey produced the match’s first good chance in the 13th minute when Nuri Sahin went off Tim Howard’s left post. Twelve minutes later, however, a ranging give-and-go between Johnson and Michael Bradley saw the U.S. defender burst past the Turkey back line for the game’s first goal. Just after halftime, a failed Turkey clearance on a ball from Timothy Chandler allowed captain Clint Dempsey to double the lead from two yards out.

A giveaway from 90th minute by Chandler led to a Geoff Cameron hand ball after Mustafa Pektemek was allowed to go in alone on goal. Selcuk Inan’s conversion into the left side netting heightened the stoppage time tension, but the Turks only goal proved consolation for their 2-1 loss.

(MORE: Three things that could matter for the U.S., come Brazil)

The United States concludes its send-off series Saturday, June 7, against World Cup-qualified Nigeria in Jacksonville. Nine days later, the team begins the 2014 World Cup in Natal against Ghana.

Twelve minutes of relatively even play at the beginning of the match gave way to a Turkey chance after Geoff Cameron conceded a foul deep on the U.S.’s right. After the restart was cleared, play moving from Turkey’s left to the middle of the box found Nuri Sahin near the penalty spot. With the U.S. defense slow to respond, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder put his shot off the outside of the right post, giving the hosts an early reprieve.

In the 21st minute, after a spell of play left the U.S. on the verge of conceding, a turnover created by Michael Bradley nearly produced the opener. Winning a ball just inside Turkey’s half, Bradley created a 3-on-2 in transition against the visitors’ defense. A pass played wide to Altidore and back to Bradley saw the U.S. barely miss goal when a defender’s lunge caught a ball headed toward Kivrak’s far post.

Four minutes later, after gaining their first hold on the match, the U.S. was in front. Starting his team’s movement from 40 yards out, right back Fabian Johnson found Bradley just above the arc and continued his run into the penalty area. A lob over the defense allowed the new Borussia Moechengladbach player to one-time his shot into the left side of goal, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead.

With its play higher up the field proving more effective, the U.S. played out the rest of the half with few of the defensive worries that speckled the match’s first 20 minutes. Even after the goal, the half’s best chance fell to the U.S., with Clint Dempsey sent on a breakaway toward Kivrak’s goal. Tackled at the edge of the penalty area by Ozan Tufan, the U.S. captain was left appealing for a penalty as play went back the other way.

In the 52nd minute, however, Turkey gave Dempsey his goal. On a ball sent in from the left from Timothy Chandler, a failed clearance from Hakan Balta left the ball just outside goal for the U.S. captain. Getting his right foot to it before Kivrak could get down for the ball, Dempsey unwrapped his gift to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead.

After securing its lead, the U.S. settled into a substitute routine that started at halftime, with Brad Guzan, John Brooks, and Kyle Beckerman brought on for the game’s final 45 minutes. Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin would come on just after the hour-mark, with Jurgen Klinsmann selecting Mix Diskerud for this final sb in the 69th minute.

Along the way, Turkey nearly pulled a goal back in the 61st minute only to see Brad Guzan shut down a 1-on-1. Other half chances through the problematic left side of the U.S.’s defense were thwarted, with the visitors never adopting the intensity of a team pursuing a meaningful result. Even after a Chandler was caught on the ball 30 yards out, a giveaway that produced the game’s final goal, Turkey fail to summon the desperation needed to find its equalizing goal

The reason for that is obvious enough. For Turkey, the game didn’t mean much. For the U.S., however the performance was all about progress, and while the team may not be ready for June 16 right now, it still showed improvement from Tuesday night. Against a much more talented team, the U.S. produced a slightly more convincing result.

The attack did little after being handed a second goal, but in terms to the U.S. trajectory toward Brazil, Sunday represented a move in the right direction. Particularly at the back, a number of questions went unanswered, but seven days from now against Nigeria, the team gets its next chance to offer a response.

Lineups

United States: Howard (Guzan 46′); Johnson (Yedlin 64′), Cameron, Besler (Brooks 46′), Chandler; Zusi (Diskerud 69′), Jones (Beckerman 46′), Bradley, Davis (Green 64′); Altidore, Dempsey

Goals: Johnson 26′, Dempsey 52′

Turkey: Kivrak, Balta (Demirok 83′), Dogan (Ozek 46′), Gonul, Inan, Erdinç (Kisa 80′), Sahin (Çalhanoğlu 70′), Ozyakup (Adin 66′), Tufan, Erkin, Camdal (Pektemek 64′)

Goal: Inan 90′

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.

Leicester City 1-1 West Brom: Mahrez nets first goal of PL season

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The Foxes haven’t had the start to the season that Craig Shakespeare and Co. would have hoped for, but Monday’s performance was certainly a step in the right direction.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Leicester City pulled out a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion at the King Power Stadium, however, the Foxes remain in the bottom three of the Premier League.

Riyad Mahrez had plenty of chances on the day, and he rescued his side with 10 minutes remaining after powering home a strike into the far corner. The goal marks the Algerian’s first of the 2017/18 campaign.

Despite a frustrating opening hour, the visitors led on 63 minutes when Nacer Chadli curled home a brilliant free kick that left Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel stunned.

For the Belgium international, Chadli becomes West Brom’s seventh different goalscorer of the season.

Leicester nearly came out flying in the second stanza whenMahrez had an open chance in the center of the Baggies penalty area, however, the Algerian winger’s left-footed attempt was too high to hit the target.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp ]

Mahrez’s chance came just minutes after West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill was nearly sent off after the 34-year-old took out a streaking Jamie Vardy on the edge of the penalty box.

Monday’s result means both clubs have now gone six matches with a win in PL play.