Ten biggest surprise players of the 2014 World Cup

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The relative successes of Lionel Messi, Manuel Neuer and Arjen Robben were not shocking to followers of the world’s game, but several players turned the wattage up on their stars during the World Cup in Brazil.

Let’s take a look at ten players who surprised the world over the past month (We’re going to go with positive surprises because, golly, that’s the type of folks we strive to be):

10. Jermaine Jones, United States — This could’ve been a spot for DeAndre Yedlin, but the fact remains that the electrifying youngster did his work off the bench while Jones played his best matches as an American player. In fact, you could justifiably say that Jones’ tournament more or less cemented some doubters of the “Jurgen Knows Best” crowd.

9. Hector Herrara, Mexico (above right) — We know, El Tri fans, he’s a star. But who had him pegged to be one of the best midfielders in the entire tournament? The 24-year-old Porto man was dynamite.

[ MORE from our 2014 World Cup review ]

8. Juan Cuadrado, Colombia — Again, when you’re an important player for a club like Fiorentina — in a league that isn’t all about foreigners — it’s not a massive surprise. But he provided flair and toughness for the Colombia run.

7. Enner Valencia, Ecuador — A shorter tournament than he would’ve liked, but the new West Ham man now had 7 goals in 13 caps and is coming off a season in Pachuca that saw him net 18 times in 23 matches.

6. Daley Blind, Netherlands (also above right) — The 24-year-old Ajax man sends in mesmerizing crosses and knows how to get stuck in as well.

5. Giancarlo Gonzalez, Costa Rica — Even the fans in Columbus may’ve been surprised by how well the Crew defender, 26, performed at the tournament. Gonzalez was a massive part of a CRC back line that allowed just two goals in five matches: an Edinson Cavani penalty and a Sokratis Papastathopoulos goal.

4. Mathieu Valbuena, France — At a generous 5-foot-6, Valbuena was a diminutive terror for the French side. At times, he was simply a blue blur that Switzerland and Honduras could not handle. At age 29, did anyone expect the Marseille bet to shine so brightly?

3. Memphis Depay, Netherlands — The youngster prefers to be called Memphis due to his father’s lack of interest in his rearing, and the man performed like a Beale Street star. Just 20, Memphis’ best season for PSV was his 14-goal campaign this season. And his World Cup goals against Australia and Chile were his first as a Dutch international.

2. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica — His biggest honor of the last five years was being named La Liga player of the month in April, so perhaps club form keyed the 27-year-old’s performance at the tournament. There’s no denying that the 58-times capped keeper, perhaps set for Bayern Munich, was at-worst the second-best keeper at the tournament.

1. James Rodriguez, Colombia — We had James at No. 57 in our pre-tournament rankings, and that now seems absurdly-low. But remember: James only had five international goals before the World Cup, and his single-season best for club was 14 at Porto in 2012. Something tells us he’ll have a better chance to shine with Monaco or somewhere else this season.

Honorable mention: Ahmed Musa (Nigeria), Sergio Romero (Argentina), Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico), Serey Die (Ivory Coast), Gary Medel (Chile), DeAndre Yedlin (United States), David Ospina (Colombia), Islam Slimani (Algeria)

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.

Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp

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Saturday’s titanic clash between Liverpool and Manchester United ended in an uneventful draw, but that didn’t mean the match itself was short on drama.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Reds defender Dejan Lovren wasn’t happy with Romelu Lukaku‘s action after the former made a tackle on the Man United striker during the first half of the 0-0 draw.

The Liverpool center back spoke ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Maribor.

“I made a tackle there and I just felt he was over me and could just move away,” Lovren said in regards to the play in question. “To be honest, my point of view is that he did on purpose.”

Despite his claims of Lukaku’s malice, the FA has already come out and stated that they won’t take any action against the Belgium international.

“It is not my decision,” Lovren continued. “He seemed nervous during the game and maybe that’s why. Normally if you do it, you apologise.

“It happened and it’s over. Nobody can change it.”

Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job

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The U.S. Men’s National Team scene is quite uncertain at this point, despite U.S. Soccer announcing an international friendly against European powerhouse Portugal on Monday.

Since Bruce Arena’s announcement on Friday that he would step down as USMNT manager, the million-dollar question has been: who’s next?

[ MORE: USMNT U-17s advance to WC quarterfinals with win over Paraguay ]

One name that continues to be floated around is Tab Ramos — current U.S. Under-20 MNT coach and national team assistant.

Ramos, a former national team midfielder in his own right, was in attendance at Sunday’s New York Red Bulls match and spoke with Metro New York.

“If you’d ask everyone here at the Red Bulls game if they’d be interested in the national team job they would say yes,” Ramos said on Sunday. “And I’m just another fan so I’d say yes as well.”

The 51-year-old played in two World Cups during his career on the pitch (1990, 1994), but Ramos is familiar with what it’s like trying to rebuild the pieces of a failed World Cup bid.

Ramos’ first international appearance with the USMNT came two years after the Americans had missed out on qualification into the 1986 World Cup.

“It was very hard back in the ’80s to get people to recognize that we play soccer. Sometimes it feels like a slap in the face that we have to go dig ourselves out,” he said.

“One thing I know about us is that we picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves us back in 1989. We’ll do it again.”