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.

source: Getty Images
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),

Klopp hails players in blowout, downplays squad rotation

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t bothered by Jurgen Klopp‘s squad rotation at Liverpool.

“The front four have been on fire, they are not bad,” he said after the Reds battered Bournemouth 4-0 on Sunday.

[ RECAP: Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

“Everyone’s a quality player and the rest of us have to sneak our noses in there. Squad rotation is important, keeps us fresh.”

Klopp was a little more critical of his squad, saying the changes had more to do with how the Reds performed against West Brom than a need to keep players fresh.

“I like them but against West Brom they didn’t hit the target. I don’t change my mind in three minutes, but we have to be consistently good because we are Liverpool.”

The manager especially loved how well Liverpool started, as Bournemouth didn’t have a chance to get moving. Klopp gets plenty of criticism, but he almost always has his finger on the pulse of his club. Sunday was a big win for the manager and his club, even if it was somewhat expected.

Making sense of the table in a Man City world

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There are natural advantages to being atop the table deep into a Premier League season, the most evident being the ability to enter into any match against a challenger knowing a draw will likely be fine.

But what about being ahead of the field by double digits?

Perspective is a major challenge when a team is as doing as well as Manchester City. Pep Guardiola‘s men have drawn just once in 18 matches, and hold a 11-point lead on Manchester United, 14 points better than third place Chelsea.

Speaking of the Blues, manager Antonio Conte raised an interesting point after Chelsea beat Southampton on Saturday. Conte says City’s crazy run has colored over his team’s fine results, as last season’s champions are 8-1-1 since losing two-straight in October.

[ MORE: WBA 1-2 Man Utd | Bournemouth 0-4 Liverpool ]

Four losses is four losses — United has three — but it’s an interesting notion. Both sides have lost to City at home, but otherwise will finish the weekend boasting multiple match leads on the field when it comes to second- and third-place.

Is this much different from recent years? Consider the following seasons after 18 weeks.

Remember: Manchester United has 41 points, and Chelsea 38 (And United has been missing its World XI class player for all but eight games. Some of his doing, some not).

2016-17

Chelsea led the table with 46 points, six better than Liverpool and seven ahead of Man City. Spurs, who would finish second, had 33 points with a match-in-hand. That 13-point gap closed to seven.

2015-16

Leicester was atop the table with 38 points, just two better than Arsenal and three ahead of Man City. They’d finish 10 points better than Arsenal’s 71.

2014-15

Chelsea (45 points) held a three-point advantage on Man City and 10 on third place Manchester United. The Blues would finish eight points ahead of City.

2013-14

Liverpool and Arsenal were dead even with 36 points, one better than eventual champions Man City. The title winners finished two ahead of Liverpool, four free of Chelsea, and six past Arsenal.

So… both United and Chelsea would be leading the Premier League in two of the past four seasons, which is certainly notable.

I don’t want to belabor the Pogba point too much, especially since the most recent absence comes from a red card suspension, but what if United had him for all those matches? Do they find a goal in the 0-0 at Liverpool? Get a point from the 1-0 loss at Chelsea? Flip the script on the 2-1 loss at Huddersfield Town?

Let alone the City loss.

But again, seasons like this one from City remind us of the challenges of framing seasons when one campaign is oh-so-dominant.

Liverpool mashes Cherries

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  • Coutinho, Salah score beauties (video)
  • Cherries winless in six
  • Reds unbeaten in nine
  • Robertson key on left side

Liverpool ran a red-hot first half to an easy 4-0 win over Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday.

Mohamed Salah and Philippe Coutinho scored highlight reel goals, with Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino pitching in flying headers, as the Reds moved into the Top Four with 34 points.

Bournemouth sits 16th, a point ahead of the relegation zone, and witnessed a match much different than last season’s 4-3 win over Liverpool at the same venue.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Joe Gomez curled a shot wide of the goal in the fourth minute. A Nathan Ake foul six minutes later gave Liverpool a free kick just outside the 18, and Philippe Coutinho struck a sweet effort off the inside of the post… and out.

Coutinho nearly put a chance home moments later, so it was not surprise when he scored the match’s first goal. A mazy dribbled past two Cherries ended with a shot across his body and inside the near post. Wonderful stuff. 1-0.

Lovren had 2-0 within six minutes, hitting the deck with a diving header goal after Roberto Firmino saved a corner kick on the line at the back post.

Jermain Defoe timed his run well for a 1v1 with Simon Mignolet, but his shot caromed off the far post.

It would’ve been 3-0 were it not for an outstanding reaction save from Asmir Begovic as Mohamed Salah attempted to cap off a terrific team play in the 43rd minute.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Salah got his goal in stunning fashion, bodying off a defender before dribbling past two more to finish with an off-balance belt past Begovic.

Substitute Ryan Fraser had a chance to pull one back in the 56th minute, but rang it wide of the near post.

The Reds raised their advantage to four on another Robertson started move, with Firmino heading a Coutinho cross beyond Begovic.

Mourinho on muted celebrations from Lukaku, himself

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There’s a lot of buzz about celebrating, and not celebrating, when it comes to Manchester United.

Star striker Romelu Lukaku‘s post-goal actions were muted for a second-straight week, and manager Jose Mourinho appeared nonchalant on the bench.

[ RECAP: WBA 1-2 Man Utd ]

For Lukaku, that could be down to his status as a former West Brom player (and to be sure he was quite energetic in support of Jesse Lingard‘s insurance goal).

As for Mourinho, this is a man who was quite critical of Man City’s celebrations after winning a derby at Old Trafford. And Jose isn’t one to let a story line die unnecessarily.

Here’s Mourinho when asked about Lukaku’s non-celebration, from the BBC:

“Maybe he looks to the bench and sees his manager doesn’t celebrate. Maybe he loves West Brom. Maybe he remembers the team that helped him early in his career.

“I will celebrate if my team scores a winning goal in the last minute. But you have to have more maturity and keep your feet on the ground. If some guys want to be kids until the last day of their careers or if they want to act to the cameras then they can. But if we score an important goal then I can do anything.”

On one hand, I get it. On the other hand (and a third if I can find one), be okay with having a bit of fun, Jose.

United is back to within 11 points of leaders Man City, and it’s a massive mountain to climb for the Red Devils. Yet Ander Herrera, who was terrific again on Sunday, said the directive is simple: control what you can.

“We won three titles last season, which was very good. It is true that the top of the table is difficult to reach right now but this is Premier League, you never know. Our aim is just to keep winning games.”

The side’s 41 points through 18 matches would’ve been enough to lead the Premier League in two of the previous four seasons. No one’s going to tell United to be content with where they stand, but it’s been a fine season for Mourinho’s men so far.