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Lessons from 2010 say U.S. squad as much about opportunity, circumstances as youth

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Young talents like Rubio Rubin, Emerson Hyndman, and Jordan Morris gave the latest U.S. Men’s National Team roster a quality we’re usually denied. Instead of a collection of established talents battling within the margins of their established skills, players who’ve yet to define themselves will tickle our imaginations in Prague. Along with MLS talents like DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil, they’re part of the coming generation of U.S. talent, one that’s yet to show us the limits of their potential.

But the celebration of youth that commenced when Jurgen Klinsmann named today’s team warrants a few notes of caution: Eric Lichaj; Gale Agbossoumonde; Tim Ream; Juan Agudelo; Teal Bunbury. Those were some of the names that represented the United States Nov.17, 2010 in South Africa – at a 1-0 win in at the Nelson Mandela Cup. While it wasn’t the States’ first game that summer’s World Cup, the promise shown by those young guns teased hopes for the coming cycle.

Agudelo, only 17, became the youngest goal scorer in national team history. Agbossoumonde was only 18. Among Bunbury, Ream, and Lichaj, the then-Aston Villa defender (Lichaj) was the oldest, celebrating his 22nd birthday. Not only did none of them make this summer’s roster World Cup, but those hopefuls failed to play major parts while the U.S. qualified for Brazil.

Real Salt Lake defender Nat Borchers was on that team, too. So were Jonathan Bornstein, Logan Pause, and Robbie Rodgers. While Alejandro Bedoya and Mix Diskerud were part of the younger crew, MLS veteran Brian Carroll was there as well. Back in 2010, 2014 was still a long way off.

source: Getty Images
Juan Agudelo became the U.S.’s youngest goal-scorer in 2010. He failed to make this summer’s World Cup squad. (Photo: Getty Images)

In hindsight, 2010 provides a cautionary tale. As exciting as the prospect of an Agudelo-Bunbury tandem was at the time, there were three-plus years separating that moment from kickoff in Brazil. Agudelo (right) changed teams (and continents) in that time. Bunbury was traded from Kansas City. Ream ended up in the second division in England, while Lichaj never fully took hold at Aston Villa. When the U.S. changed head coaches in 2011, the significance of South Africa flew out the window.

The youngest players in this summer’s World Cup squad: Julian Green (19), Yedlin (20), John Brooks (21)? They weren’t even in the picture in 2013. It wasn’t until the very end of the cycle that their youth was served.

Particularly with MLS players largely excluded from the squad (save RSL keeper Nick Rimando), today’s team is as a product of circumstance as much as youth. With multiple U.S. veterans moving to MLS before the World Cup, the stock of established Americans on European soil is particularly thin. That not only means opportunities for talents like Rubin and Hyndman but also new chances for Brek Shea, Michael Orozco, and Ream.

And, as Jurgen Klinsmann implied today, opportunity is really the theme of this camp. It’s a chance for a series of young players to take advantage of the time which, had this call up happened last cycle, would have gone to a Fulham-based Clint Dempsey. Or a Michael Bradley, still in Italy. Perhaps Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones could have commanded the midfield. Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst would already be making plans for Prague.

source: Getty Images
DeAndre Yedlin was a surprise member of this summer’s World Cup squad, with Jurgen Klinsmann showing his willingness to rely on a broader player pool. (Photo: Getty Images)

2014 is a whole new, almost incomparable world; not that the situation doesn’t serve Klinsmann’s broader goals. Under his watch, expanding the player pool as been a steady goal. More talent, more options, more competition – it’s part of the reason why the U.S. boss has been difficult to read during his tenure. More than ever, the States seem to maintain a wide net when considering call ups. As 2011 illustrated, Bradley did the same, but Klinsmann’s willingness to use that net to call on Alan Gordon in qualifying or Yedlin (right) at the World Cup makes his net all the more meaningful. Once you’re in its grasp, you can be called on at any time.

That, as much as the players’ actual ages, may be the lasting impact of today’s squad. Through Sept. 3’s game in Prague, a series of new talents will have a chance to embed themselves in that grasp. Young or not, players like Rubin, Hyndman, Morris and Joe Gyau have a chance to lodge themselves in coaches’ memories, becoming the guy they call in when they need a player to do X, Y or Z. Between Gold Cups, Copa America, World Cup Qualifying, and (if all goes well) Olympics and Confederations Cups, the U.S.’s roster will be stretched at points this coming cycle. Even for relatively established players like Alfredo Morales, this is a chance to make a good early impression.

For some, it might as well be a first impression. Though the likes of Morales and Bobby Wood have been capped, the end of this summer’s World Cup may have wiped slates clean. A new cycle brings a series of new stresses, and goals. How each player can help address those will be on display next week in Prague.

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.

Three battles that could determine the Champions League final

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 14:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF is tackled by Koke of Atletico Madrid and Mario Suarez of Atletico Madrid during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Madrid CF at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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We’re just two days away from the Champions League final, as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid prepare to face each other in Milan on Saturday.

The tie is a rematch of the 2014 final when Real Madrid won 4-1 to claim a record tenth Champions League title. Atletico led that match 1-0 in stoppage time, only to concede a late equalizer before collapsing in extra time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

With Real one of Europe’s best attacking teams and Atleti the best defensive side, two completely different styles of play will clash at the San Siro this weekend. Below, we take a look at a few key matchups that could determine who leaves Milan as champions.

Keylor Navas vs. Jan Oblak

In the Champions League this season, Navas has kept nine clean sheets in ten appearances (tied for the most-ever in a single campaign), while Oblak has kept eight in 12 appearances. Oblak was named to the La Liga Team of the Year after a stellar season for Atleti, and his massive double-save on Thomas Muller’s penalty kick in the semifinals helped Simeone’s men reach Milan. For Navas, the keeper’s strong play is often overshadowed by Real’s attack, but the Costa Rican international has proved massive for the club all season long. In what will surely be an extremely tight match, one big save could prove the difference.

[ MORE: Ranking the Copa America Centenario contenders ]

Luka Modric vs. Gabi 

These may not be two “superstar” names in the sides, but Luka Modric and Gabi may be the most important men on the pitch for Real and Atletico, respectively. When Real goes forward, it starts with Modric in the midfield. The Croatian playmaker is confident in possession and spreads the ball all over the pitch, seemingly always in the right place at the right time. On the other side, Gabi epitomizes what Diego Simeone wants in his Atletico squad. The hard-nosed midfielder sits right in front of the back-line, in charge of clogging up and holes and making sure the rest of his midfield tracks back and keeps shape, which will be vitally important against Real. A product of the Atleti youth system, red and white runs through Gabi’s veins, and having already experienced a loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League final back in 2014, Simeone’s leader on the pitch will want to turn the tides this time around.

(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

Atleti back-line vs. BBC

When all is said and done, the biggest battle will be between the stout Atleti defense and Real’s potent attack. Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez have become the best center-back pairing in Europe, while Real’s BBC trio of Bale, Benzema, and Cristiano combined for 119 goals in all competitions this season. Atleti have already kept clean sheets in the Champions League against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, but both of those matches were in front of a home crowd at the Vicente Calderon. Expect a few heavy challenges to come in early, as the Atletico defense will look to keep Ronaldo & Co. honest.