NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 16: Matt Besler of the United States challenges Jordan Ayew of Ghana during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and the United States at Estadio das Dunas on June 16, 2014 in Natal, Brazil.

US Soccer players likely to find themselves Premier League transfer targets

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With the United States time at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil having drawn to a close, a number of players will soon feel the chase of European clubs looking for transfer targets.

The Premier League has long been a place welcoming to Americans and with a crop of six Yanks already in England’s top tier – Tim Howard (Everton), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Brad Friedel (Tottenham), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City) and Brek Shea (Stoke City) – there’s a good chance more will join after some impressive performances down in Brazil.

Below are five guys who could get Premier League looks as well as a few clubs where, based on need and prestige, the player could fit in.

MATT BESLER – SPORTING KANSAS CITY (DEFENDER) 

Leading up to the World Cup, Besler had attracted looks from Premier League and Bundesliga clubs impressed with his work in qualification. Now, with his performance in the World Cup in the books, those looks will undoubtedly translate into offers to move abroad.

Positionally intelligent, cool under pressure, fearless and fierce in the tackle, Besler would be a fantastic addition to a Premier League side looking to bolster their center-backs.

Decent Fits: Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Hull City, Newcastle, Southampton, West Ham
Likelihood of Transfer: 7 of 10

DEANDRE YEDLIN – SEATTLE SOUNDERS (DEFENDER) 

Prior to the 1-2 loss to Belgium, Yedlin’s influential role as a bit-part substitute against Portugal and Germany had pundits and fans alike buzzing. Yes, people were well-aware of Yedlin’s sky-rocketing status at the Seattle Sounders but at the tender age of 20, could Yedlin truly handle significant role on the international stage?

That question was emphatically answered Tuesday night when the University of Akron product stepped on the pitch for the injured Fabian Johnson and promptly drove holes into Belgium’s left side. Did he power his way forward too much? Probably. But when the rest of the USMNT was tentative in attack, Yedlin was fearless, downright brash in his attacks. Defensively, he recovered as well, notably shutting down Premier League Young Player of the Year, Eden Hazard.

No doubt, Yedlin is raw. But his physicality is special and his swashbuckling style is reminiscent of current Premier League full-backs Kyle Walker and Seamus Coleman. The latter was purchased by Everton in 2009 for a cool $750,000 from Sligo Rovers and has since gone on to become the most feared attacking full-back in the league. No reason Yedlin can’t achieve the same status by 2018.

Possible Fits: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Southampton
Likelihood of Transfer: 6 of 10

 

FABIAN JOHNSON – BORUSSIA MONCHENGLADBACH (DEFENDER) 

Hard to say there was a more dynamic player than Fabian Johnson for the US in Brazil. The versatile German-American fit right in at right-back, a position some US pundits feared before the tournament the Yanks were vulnerable. But Johnson, who can play anywhere on the left or right side of the pitch, proved an ace on defense and a nightmare going forward.

Explosive pace, skill on the ball and an eye for dangerous runs that create goals, Johnson could be an attacking full-back of the highest caliber in the Premier League. The issue with the 26-year-old, however, is that he just completed his transfer from Hoffenheim to Borussia Monchengladbach, who will be unlikely to want to part with the player after such a strong showing in Brazil. Then again, Johnson arrived at ‘gladbach on a free transfer meaning the lure of straight profit exists.

Decent Fits: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Swansea City
Likelihood of Transfer: 5 of 10

KYLE BECKERMAN – REAL SALT LAKE (MIDFIELDER) 

Along with Yedlin, Beckerman enjoyed his international coming out party in this World Cup. A lock-down holding midfielder for the Americans throughout the group-stage, Beckerman displayed brilliant positioning, accurate passing and a range of tackles making him a nuisance for opposing squads looking to attack through the middle.

Controversially left out of the team that lost 1-2 to Belgium in the Round of 16, Beckerman would be a surefire transfer to the Premier League if he was south of 30 years old. Unfortunately, he’s 32. If English sides can see past that and factor in the late development of the typical American player, a two or three year deal isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Decent Fits: Southampton, Crystal Palace, Sunderland
Likelihood of Transfer: 4 of 10

GRAHAM ZUSI – SPORTING KANSAS CITY (MIDFIELDER) 

Zusi enjoyed a decent World Cup, highlighted by his performance in the 2-1 win over Ghana and, specficially, the perfect swerving corner-kick that John Anthony Brooks thundered home to defeat the Yank’s nemesis. The rest of Zusi’s tournament was marked by inconsistent play, at times displaying smooth technique and clever link-up play but too often going lost on the pitch.

The winger went on trial with West Ham United in January 2013 but was not offered a deal. But since then Zusi has grown in talent and experience making him a possible target of a club with reasonable financial resources and a need of wingers.

Decent Fits: Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion, Burnley
Likelihood of Transfer: 2 of 10

LA Galaxy newcomer Ashley Cole takes responsibility for previous MLS quote

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 5: Ashley Cole #3 of the Los Angeles Galaxy speaks after he was introduced during a news conference at StubHub Center February 5, 2016, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Wireimage)
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During Ashley Cole‘s introductory press conference today, where the former Chelsea legend was officially unveiled by the LA Galaxy to the media alongside Belgian defender Jelle Van Damme, a predictable question came his way.

Cole was asked about comments he made a year and a half ago when he joined AS Roma, where he said he turned down offers from Major League Soccer because he didn’t want to go “relax on the beach.”

The 35-year-old took responsibility for the quote, saying, “Of course, I hold my hands up, it was said.” However, he defended himself saying he was baited into the comments by the Italian reporter.

“I’m not going to come here and try to defend myself,” Cole said. “It was said, but it was for sure taken out of content. I was talking to the reporter, and he kind of said it to me, ‘We’re glad to have you at Roma. We didn’t expect you to be here, we thought you would go and relax on the beach.'”

“Of course you have to understand, I was at a new team, I have to tell the fans at Roma I was here to fight, I was there to win things and play in the Champions League.”

Cole said he spoke to Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Robbie Keane about the league before deciding to join Major League Soccer. “I know it’s going to be hard for me for sure, but I’m happy to be here, I’m going to work as hard as I can, change a few views on me being here, and we’ll see. I’m a winner, I always want to win, I didn’t come here to sit on the beach – to rest – I’m here to play football and work hard. I’m not a diva, I’m not this egotistical guy that comes and thinks he’s bigger than anyone.”

3 key battles for USMNT against Canada

CARSON, CA - JANUARY 31:  Jozy Altidore #17 of the United States chases down a pass against Iceland during the first half at StubHub Center on January 31, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The United States takes on Canada in the second of two matches throughout January camp to test those brought in and see who stands out.

They took out Iceland in the first match, and now the Canadians stand in the way at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA at 10:30 on Friday night.

[ PREVIEW: Get the full look at US vs Canada ]

Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no doubt has already run through is list of positives and negatives in the win over Iceland. While the win is nice, the overriding purpose here is to both evaluate certain players and determine the best formula for success moving forward into World Cup qualifying, the Copa America, and the Olympics.

So, with that in mind, here are three key matchups to keep an eye on as the USMNT players battle both Canada and each other for spots on the roster in future meaningful games.

1) United States attack vs Canada’s organization

The US was solid in possession against Iceland, but it came against an opponent that showed a more attacking intent and also appeared to have limited motivation. Canada would not be what you call a “defensive” team, but they are very organized under Benito Floro, and it shows. They’ve conceded 1 or 0 goals in each of their last 13 matches, losing just once across that time. Their goalscoring numbers have suffered, but it’s translated into marginal success.

To hold the ball against Iceland, the US used a slow build-up process beginning with Jermaine Jones (who stayed surprisingly composed and centralized during his time on the field) who fed Michael Bradley and Lee Nguyen further up the pitch. That tactic may not be as effective against a less erratic opponent, but it will be interesting to see how Klinsmann decides to break down the Canadian defensive unit. The wide areas may be vital.

The 0-0 scoreline has been a fixture in this matchup, finishing goalless the last two times and in four of the last eight, so the US will no doubt be looking to break that deadlock early lest they get frustrated as time progresses.

2) USMNT full-backs vs wide play

Michael Orozco and Brad Evans were sent back to their clubs, leaving the United States incredibly thin at a position the nation has already been weak at for years. Jurgen Klinsmann has been searching far and wide for an answer to this question, and with young Kellyn Acosta slightly out of his depth or potentially star-struck in his debut against Iceland, there are a few other question marks.

The options are limited. Acosta could get another shot if Klinsmann likes what he sees in training, or he could move to the likes of Brandon Vincent or Matt Polster. The latter logged 30 matches for Chicago last year as a rookie, while Vincent was just drafted by FC Dallas and has yet to even make a professional appearance. Either way, it’s likely Canada targets the wide areas as a point of weakness for the US, so whoever plays will be in the spotlight.

[ VIDEO: Bobby Wood scores skillful goal for club ]

3) Central defenders vs Akindele and Larin

Whether Floro decides to play Larin centrally by himself, or partner him with Akindele, the striker(s) will be the main target for Canada’s attack. Larin and Akindele both have not seen the scoresheet since a 4-0 win over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying last June, so they will be itching to get back on board. Should one be deployed centrally, look for the lone wolf to split the central defenders and receive service from wide areas where Canada may exploit the aforementioned weaknesses along the outside of the US back line.

How do you see the US matching up against Canada, and visa-versa?

VIDEO: Bobby Wood splits defenders, scores beautiful solo goal for Union Berlin

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 18:  Bobby Wood of USA during the International Friendly match between the Republic of Ireland and USA at the Aviva Stadium on November 18, 2014 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Bobby Wood may not be in January camp, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to catch the eye of USMNT supporters, and more importantly head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

All he has to do is channel his inner Lionel Messi, split a couple of hapless “defenders” with a stunning display of ball control, and bag an 86th-minute equalizer by beating a goalkeeper at his near post.

Funny, because that’s exactly what he did today as Union Berlin drew 2-2 with Kaiserslautern in 2.Bundesliga league play.

Should you set this defensive display to Yakety Sax? It would fit. Is the goalkeeper’s positioning laughable? Absolutely. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old Hawaii native shows he is building his skill set in Germany and is becoming a useful piece of the puzzle for Klinsmann’s talent pool.

The goal is the eighth of Wood’s 2.Bundesliga season in 20 appearances. The club has lost just one match in its last eight, pulling away from the drop zone into a virtual 3-way tie for 11th position. They sit seven points above the relegation zone and nine off a promotion slot.

African confederation backs Shiekh Salman, not Sexwale, for FIFA presidency

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MAY 02:  Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain poses after he was elected as the 11th President of the Asian Football Confederation during the 2013 AFC Congress at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on May 2, 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
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The African confederation (CAF) announced today in a statement following a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda that they would be unanimously backing Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa for the FIFA presidency.

The AFC has unrivaled power in the vote for the FIFA presidency, and with 54 votes, decided to push all their support into one bloc. The choice to back Salman comes at somewhat of a surprise, given that Tokyo Sexwale was a favorite in the region as he is a South African native, and the CAF has long campaigned for one of its own to be put into office.

Sheikh Salman is the current head of the Asian confederation (AFC), serving in that position since he was voted into office in May of 2013. The AFC signed a cooperative agreement with the CAF just last month

“I am humbled by the support of CAF’s Executive Committee and tremendously encouraged by the unanimous decision to support my bid for the office of FIFA president,” Sheikh Salman said in a statement following the announcement. “I am deeply honored to have earned the trust of many of our African friends at this crucial stage of the campaigning effort.  The two endorsements only mean that there is a strong groundswell in favor of my candidacy. What they don’t mean, is that I can sit back and relax. This campaign will be decided on the day of the vote, not before. Naturally, I am confident that I now have a reasonably strong position to work from with such support.”

In a twist, just hours after the announcement by the CAF, fellow presidential candidate Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein revealed on Twitter that he had the backing of the Egyptian Football Federation, which is a member of the CAF. The original tweet came from an account created to support his presidential bid, but it was retweeted by Prince Ali’s personal verified account.

No word has been announced on whether the CAF had accepted Egypt’s apparent rogue nature. The initial statement by the CAF announcing support for Sheikh Salman read, “While respecting the principle of democracy, the sovereignty, and latitude of each member association to vote for the candidate of its choice, the Executive Committee urges all the 54 member associations of the Confédération Africaine de Football to reserve their votes for Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa during the 26 February 2016 elections for the presidency of FIFA in Zurich.”

The CAF is headquartered just outside Cairo, Egypt.