Cameron believes the USA are heading in the right direction.

The case for Geoff Cameron: should US defender start vs. Belgium?

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An early shank against Portugal is the only mistake Geoff Cameron has made in a U.S. shirt so far in the 2014 World Cup.

However, the Premier League defender lost his starting spot to Omar Gonzalez for the final group game against Germany, and it will be a huge decision to see which player Jurgen Klinsmann goes with on Tuesday against Belgium.

Along with the decision to bring back in Jozy Altidore, who will play at center back is the other hot topic of discussion around the U.S. starting lineup.

[RELATED: How will USA line up? ]

[ RELATED: Three key battles in U.S. vs. Belgium ]

Many U.S. fans made Cameron a scapegoat for the USA’s 2-2 draw vs. Portugal after the shank and then the second goal they conceded in the dying stages, but I’m not buying that. It was a catalogue of errors. Fabian Johnson obviously didn’t give Cameron a call that Silvestre Varela was coming over from the right side, Cristiano Ronaldo was given far too much time to tee up a cross and the ball was lost cheaply in midfield to start with. The first goal, Cameron will admit, came from his mistake. Portugal’s second goal, that wasn’t down to him. You can’t help but think that after scrolling through Twitter in the moments after the game that Cameron, and Michael Bradley to a certain extent, were made the scapegoats. Both players are two of the finest and most experienced the U.S. has.

source: Getty Images
Will Cameron find himself back in the starting XI vs. Belgium?

Regardless, now it is either Gonzalez or Cameron to start for the U.S. in central defense alongside Matt Besler. Gonzalez and Besler formed a formidable partnership in the USA’s qualifying campaign, while Cameron played at right back. Both candidates would do a good job and wouldn’t let the U.S. down against one of Europe’s best teams, but here is the case for Cameron.

“It was a good opportunity for us to give Cammy [Cameron] a breather,” Klinsmann said when asked about why Omar Gonzalez was brought into the starting lineup vs. Germany.

However you dissect Gonzalez’s performance against Germany, he didn’t do much wrong. One shaky clearance that resembled a shank early on was rectified by a string of fine defensive headers and a great last-ditch tackle on Mesut Ozil in the first half. Gonzalez’s solid display, coupled with Cameron’s benching, has now seen the Stoke City defender fall out of the picture for the USA’s round of 16 clash against Belgium.

Should Cameron start against Diables Rogues?

The main reasons why Cameron should get the nod ahead of Gonzalez at the heart of the USA’s defense are the following:

  • He is quicker…

Cameron is not the fastest player in the world but as a center back he possess great pace. Playing right back for Stoke all season, he has bombed on and supported the attack and tracked back pacey wingers with ease. He certainly has the edge over Gonzalez when it comes to being able to match the pace of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku, which will be crucial on Tuesday.

  • He has played in the Premier League for the past two seasons…

Okay, so we know playing in the PL is no longer the sole requirement for being a starter in Klinsmann’s team (we can see that from the large MLS contingent) but Cameron’s displays against the world’s best week in, week out, prove that he can do it when it matters. He has marked Eden Hazard, come up against Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Marouane Fellaini and not looked out of place. His experience against Belgium’s best players counts for a lot.

  • Fitness-wise, he is in top condition…

This is one of the major question marks surrounding Gonzalez, as the LA Galaxy defender was struggling with a knee injury throughout camp and the warm-up games. Gonzalez came through an entire 90 minute unscathed against Germany, but can a player who has had limited game-time over the past six-weeks really play two full games back-to-back in the space of five days? Cameron is in top shape and is not a risk when it comes to this aspect.

  • Remember that display vs. Ghana, yeah…

With Matt Besler having to go off injured at half time against Ghana, the U.S. looked to be in a bad spot as rookie defender John Brooks came on in his place. Cameron defended superbly throughout, making two vital blocks in the second half and his superb display knitted the entire defense together as Ghana piled on the pressure. Brooks got the heroics for his late header, but along with Jermaine Jones in midfield, Cameron was the main reason the U.S. bagged a win that proved crucial in their qualification from the dreaded “Group of Death.”

Watford “Behind The Badge” airs third installment; Catch up on Episode 2 here

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Catch up on Watford’s look “Behind The Badge” ahead of Sunday’s third episode of the four-part glimpse into one of the Premier League’s promoted sides.

The Hornets sit 11th, currently 7 points clear of relegation danger, and are giving fans a better idea of what’s been going on at Vicarage Road.

[ MORE: Behind the Badge archive

In an exclusive series, NBC Sports followed around the Hornets in a very similar fashion to HBO’s Hard Knocks which joins the preseason camp of one NFL team each summer.

Below is the schedule for the three remaining episodes on Watford, which you can watch on NBCSN and live online via NBCSports.com in the coming weeks, plus a link to watch episode one in full from last week.


First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Embedded above
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN

Follow @NicholasMendola

MLS Cup Final preview: Seattle, Toronto battle subzero temps for first Cup

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley walks off the field after a training session, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Toronto, for the MLS Cup soccer championship. Toronto hosts the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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  • First MLS Cup Final for both
  • Sounders all-time 7W-2L-2T
  • TFC joined in 2007, Seattle 2009

It’ll be in the high twenties (-1 Celsius) when Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders kick off the MLS Cup Final on Saturday night in Ontario (Kickoff is Saturday at 8 p.m. EDT).

Combine the visible breath and slight chance of snow with a BMO Field which has been relentlessly loud throughut TFC’s playoff run, and we have the makings of an all-timer.

[ MORE: PST’s MLS Cup roundtable ]

Toronto and Seattle met up at the same venue on July 2, the 1-1 draw perhaps a bit deflated by the absence of Clint Dempsey for Seattle and TFC’s American duo of Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Seattle superstar Nicolas Lodeiro wasn’t there, either, still weeks away from arriving from Boca Juniors.

This is the second MLS Cup Final at BMO Field, after Colorado defeated FC Dallas in 2010. TFC men Drew Moor and Clint Irwin were part of the championship-winning Rapids in that one.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris greets fans who gathered to send off the team after MLS soccer training, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, in Tukwila, Wash. The Sounders were scheduled to travel to Toronto later Wednesday to prepare to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Seattle’s Jordan Morris (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

[ MORE: PST’s Michael Bradley interview ]

Toronto will bring star power to go with a challenging formation; While accolades rightly go to Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Sebastian Giovinco, the Reds’ 3-5-2 under Greg Vanney features versatile wide men in Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow.

Seattle is powered through Nicolas Lodeiro, the ex-Boca Juniors playmaker who has been nearly as effective as Giovinco (albeit with a smaller MLS sample size). Goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the ex-TFC man, has been very good at the back, but can the Sounders’ back line handle Altidore and Giovinco?

The metronomes could be the difference. Bradley’s been good for TFC, but Osvaldo Alonso gave an MLS MVP caliber performance this season.

[ MORE: PST talks with Ozzie Alonso ]

What they’re saying

Toronto FC keeper Irwin on the weather: “It’s probably the most difficult part. As a field player, you can move around. You’re warmer, more active. At this point, there’s not much we can do other than bundle up, and I’ll stay moving back there.”

Seattle forward Jordan Morris on Lodeiro“The first thing Lodeiro said to me is, ‘When I get the ball, you just run.’ I think of him like a quarterback.”

Prediction

Look to the engine rooms here. Alonso is a handful and a magnificent passer of the ball. On his day, Bradley is even better. Will it be? Neither player will shirk from pressure. We’re thinking extra time after a 1-1 match. And Toronto’s depth and home field will propel it to a 2-1 win.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester City

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29:  Bacary Sagna of Manchester City clears the ball from Riyad Mahrez of Leicester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on December 29, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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  • Man City leads all-time 53W-29D-28L
  • Leicester took 4 of 6 pts last season
  • MCFC won previous four

To cure what ails, Leicester City has to knock off one of the top contenders to its Premier League throne: Manchester City (Watch live at 12:30 p.m. EDT Saturday on NBC and NBCSports.com).

There are some advantages for Leicester, though, as Fernandinho and Sergio Aguero are suspended for their red cards picked up the loss to Chelsea. Pep Guardiola used Pablo Zabaleta next to Fernando in the UCL draw with Celtic, and looks set for the same come Saturday.

Leicester rested the majority of its starters in a 5-0 loss at Porto this week, following up a 2-1 setback at Sunderland that left the champs just two points ahead of the 18th and 19th placed clubs in the PL.

What they’re saying

Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri on the task at hand: “I was waiting for a period like this. Now it’s important to react with a big effort together from the team. That is my focus now. We have to be focused on these matches until Christmas Day. We have to get points. We need points and we have to fight. This part of the season is our key moment. I think every match gives us an opportunity. We have to fight. I repeat, we have to fight.”

Man City’s Pep Guardiola on Zabaleta’s positional change“But I think Pablo Zabaleta can play in the middle – he is very experienced and he can play there as he did very well against Celtic. I think in the last years of his career he’ll play more in the middle and it gives us another option.”

Prediction

As much as the injuries hurt Man City, there’s certain harm in the wounded unit that fell 3-1 to Chelsea. We believe the Foxes will strike, but Kelechi Iheanacho has proven more than a suitable fill-in for Aguero. Man City 2-1.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks – Week 15

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Week 15 of the Premier League is here.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Previews of every PL game – Week 15 ]

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Leicester City 1-3 Man City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Swansea City 2-3 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Watford 0-1 Everton – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Southampton 1-1 Middlesbrough – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Man United 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Hull City 2-1 Crystal Palace – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]