MLS academies, for the first time, could lead the way for US at 2018 World Cup

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As the post-mortem continues into the USA’s World Cup exit to Belgium on Tuesday, we can now dig deep and look at where this U.S. national team is heading.

On Wednesday PST’s Nick Mendola did a terrific job at projecting which players would be available and sniffing around the U.S. squad at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, if the USA qualify. Of course.

Something struck me when scrolling through Nick’s list, then comparing it the 2014 World Cup squad. It was startling.

How many MLS Academy products were in Brazil? How many MLS Academy products could be in Russia?

In Brazil, only DeAndre Yedlin flew the flag for Homegrown products in Major League Soccer. The 20-year-old Seattle Sounders stud performed admirably and was arguably one of the big plus points to come out of the tournament for Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff. It proved that within the domestic league, specifically it’s academies, unpolished gems are sitting their ripe and ready to be picked and buffered into valuable jewels.

[ RELATED: Time for U.S. to develop game-changers ]

[ RELATED: Which USMNT players will remain in 2018? ]

With the MLS academy system only just starting to bear fruit after a more structured basis was introduced in 2007, youngsters like Seattle’s Yedlin, Colorado’s Shane O’Neill and many others are now shining in MLS. You only have to look at the athleticism, guile and endeavor of Yedlin to see that something special is happening with MLS clubs who are taking their Homegrown talents seriously.

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O’Neill could be one of the next academy stars to rise through the ranks.

Of course he is just one player but if you look at the list below, there are many more just as capable. The college game (my thoughts on its impact on U.S. soccer is an article for another day…) is still an important part of players development if you look around the current U.S. roster, with 10 of the USA’s 23 players playing at least one season of college soccer during their careers.

However, the growing trend of players either exclusively playing for MLS academies or being tied to that academy even after college and not going through the MLS SuperDraft, is certainly on the rise.

Looking around, Russia 2018 provides the first real opportunity for the MLS academies to provide a large chunk of the pie when it comes to players on Klinsmann’s roster. Players such as Jozy Altidore have come through the ranks of the New York Red Bulls before all of this became well-organized, but this new generation of Homegrown talent could really show what MLS has to offer. Developed at clubs across the league, by coaches who have been sent over especially by MLS to Clarefontaine in France to gain their UEFA coaching badges, these players can be the new breed and shine a new light on American soccer that we’ve never seen before. They will have different ethos and identities drilled into them but most importantly: they will be top caliber talent who have been developed and nurtured in the ever-strengthening professional environment of MLS. Many will still visit the U.S. national team residency program in Bradenton, but their core development will take place with their MLS clubs.

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Where is the next DeAndre Yedlin?

Of course we will still have the likes of Julian Green and other German-American stars who have been developed overseas, plus some wily old veterans who will hopefully steer the ship towards Russia 2018. However the big hope lies within Major League Soccer’s academies. As Klinsmann proved during the 2014 World Cup and throughout the qualifying campaign, he believes in MLS talent and giving youth a chance.

As we mull over the USA’s performance in 2014, let’s also gaze wondrously into the future at what things could look like in 2018. It’s a brave new frontier we are about to enter. Homegrown players from the USA’s domestic league have perhaps never been thought of so highly as they are right now. Get along to you local MLS academy side, follow this link for details, and support the stars of the future.

Below is a list of some MLS academy products, with their academy club and age in 2018 in parenthesis, who could be in and around the squad. Some have been to college, but were deemed Homegrown players, others are purely academy players. Here is the full list of MLS Homegrown player signings, as of April 2014.

Take a gander. Is the future looking bright?

MLS Academy products to watch for 2018 World Cup

Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (DC United, 27)

Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders, 24), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids, 24), Erik Palmer-Brown (Sporting Kansas City, 21), Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas, 23),

Midfielders: Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake, 24), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew, 25), Harrison Shipp (Chicago Fire, 26), Bryan Salazar (Houston Dynamo, 23), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids, 24), Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution, 27)

Attackers: Jack McInerney (Philadelphia Union, 25) Juan Agudelo (New York Red Bulls, 25), Jack McBean (LA Galaxy, 23), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy, 26),

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday