EXCLUSIVE: Fresh off his club debut, young Emerson Hyndman takes his USMNT chance in stride

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When it rains for Emerson Hyndman, it pours.  First-team appearances, that is.

With the US set to play the Czech Republic tomorrow in Prague, the squad is bursting with not only new players but young ones.

One of those is Hyndman, a prominent name in the ranks of Texas soccer.  A Dallas native, his grandfather is Schellas Hyndman, former FC Dallas coach, and Emerson is always a big draw when he comes back to play in the Dr. Pepper Dallas Youth Cup.

However, those days playing with the Fulham youth team in the Dallas Cup are over, because he’s no longer part of the youth fold at Fulham.

With the club relegated to the Championship last year and in a massive state of flux, Hyndman is now a member of the first team, one of the youth core that manager Felix Magath has publicly called upon to lead the charge back to the Premier League.

Now, at just 18 years old and less than a month away from his first-team debut with Fulham, he’s about to experience his first taste of the national team as well.

“It’s an honor. I’ve worked with the younger groups from under-14’s and under-17’s,” Emerson told me. “It’s been a dream of mine to go into an actual United States camp.  So it’s an honor to me, and it’s an eye-opener for how far I’ve come from the actual academy and onwards.”

[WATCH: USA vs. Czech Rep. – Live on NBCSN, online]

It’s all come at once for Emerson.  Once known on the Fulham FC website as “one of the most technically gifted players in the academy,” he’s transformed himself into what the club now calls “a chief midfield orchestrator.”

His play this season quickly caught the eye of USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, though he’s been on the radar for some time.  With just three appearances for Fulham under his belt, he was called into the squad for the Wednesday friendly and given the #8 shirt.

“[Klinsmann] called me beforehand and said he was interested in bringing me in to get used to everything with himself and the way they work, so I’m going in there with an open mind and to learn from all the great players that are going.  I can’t wait to work under him, he’s an unbelievable coach I’ve heard so I’m excited.”

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Emerson Hyndman has played the full 90 three times with Fulham so far, and each one has seen clear improvement.

But he’s not the only young, budding prospect in this post-World Cup squad.  Not even close.  15 players are 24 or younger.  Six have never been capped. But of all the youth, Hyndman is the youngest on the roster.

“I think it’s always easier going into such a different situation with younger players that you can relate yourself to,” Hyndman said. “It’s happened here at Fulham as well, so I think going with people like Julian Green – who’s actually been to a World Cup already – to learn from people that are also your age is a special opportunity.”

It certainly is happening at Fulham.  With Magath trusting the club in the hands of the young blood, the two situations are quite similar in the 18-year-old’s case.

“[The situation at Fulham] is similar to the US in a way,” Hyndman said. “I played with most of the guys I’ve come up with in the academy for about two years, so I know them real well.  I think going onto the pitch at a first-team level for guys you’ve known for two years is an amazing feeling because you feel a lot more comfortable than you would with a bunch of 30-year-olds, but I think it’s special and doesn’t happen often.”

Hyndman isn’t terribly familiar with a large portion of the young US squad named for this international break, but there is one player he knows quite well.

“I left quite early for England, but I know [FC Utrecht’s] Rubio Rubin quite well. I went with him to Under-14 camps and all the way up to Under-17 and 18.  I don’t know most of the others personally, but that won’t take long.”

For Hyndman, one of his best assets is his calm demeanor and ability to focus.  As a central midfield passer, he keeps his head on a swivel and doesn’t get overwhelmed, even when the stakes are high.

“As soon as the whistle blows, you kind of just start focusing,” Hyndman said. “When you’re in focus-mode you don’t get sidetracked from it, so [my debut] felt to me like I’m playing another under-18 match.  Once you step on the pitch, you don’t really think about the opposition, you just think about where you can help your teammates.  So in the end it felt like any normal game to me.”

Felix Magath has seemingly thrown darts at a board to try and figure out his best Fulham lineup, so Hyndman was used in a number of different scenarios.  What’s seemed to finally stick is a diamond formation in the midfield, with a defensive midfielder behind the narrow pairing of Hyndman and captain Scott Parker in the middle.

And that’s where he thinks he is at his best.

“I like to be in the center of the pitch, whether it’s attacking or defensive, I try to do the best I can. But being in the center of the pitch is where I feel I can bring my best to the game.”

Not many players, at just 18 years old, are finding themselves suddenly in the first-team fold for both club and country.  As Hyndman is finding out on the fly, the atmosphere surrounding the first-team selection is quite different from the youth side.

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18-year-old Hyndman was called into the USMNT squad along with five others who have yet to receive a cap.

“It’s a much different world in first-team football, I figured that out the first day,” Hyndman said.  “Everyone’s fighting for a certain position, and as I’m learning under these guys I’m still trying to assert myself in the team.  So in that sense it’s much different from the academy, which is much more about development.”

Thankfully for Fulham, and promising for the US team, is that in this new environment with so much added pressure, he’s performing admirably.  The youngster through his first three Championship matches has completed an outstanding 184 of 204 attempted passes for just over a 90% completion rate.  He’s also solid defensively, coming back to make some key tackles and completed eight successful tackles over the three matches he’s registered.

It all bodes well for both parties going forward.

“We’re all real excited for our futures, individually and as a team [at Fulham]. When we come together and realize we’re fighting for spots and we’re helping Fulham fight for results, it’s a big change and one we’re all excited about.”

And thanks to his time at Fulham, he’s quite familiar with a major name in the US National side already.

“I was here when Clint Dempsey was here and he was considered the only one, so I guess I’ve kind of taken up that role,” Hyndman said. “I talked to [Clint] a little bit.  He’s a very nice guy.  He helped me adjust to life in London, because he loved it here, so it was easier to talk to him considering he’s even from Texas let alone America.”

Whether he plays against the Czech Republic or not, fans should be giddy about eventually seeing the Dallas native on the field wearing red, white, and blue.  With smarts, technical ability, and composure, Hyndman is a wonderful talent that should feature heavily into the picture for Russia 2018 and beyond.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.

Neymar makes history in PSG’s 8-0 thrashing of Dijon

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A pair of statements which are both true, and not at all mutually exclusive, if you allow logic and balance to prevail: 1) Neymar and his friends at Paris Saint-Germain are quite good at the soccer; 2) they aren’t challenged enough in Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Of course, they’ll be challenged plenty during the latter stages of the Champions League (they drew Real Madrid in the round of 16), but on a weekly basis, the level of competition in their domestic league isn’t of a high standard to indicate just how good they are. That’s the new debate with regard to PSG — it’s no longer, “Are they good? Maybe they’re just a big fish in a small pond.”

On Wednesday, led by Neymar, the most expensive transfer signing of all-time, Unai Emery’s side thrashed 10th-place Dijon to the tune of 8-0. As mentioned, Neymar did slightly more than just pull his own weight — four goals to go with a pair of assists; he lent a direct hand in six of the eight goals.

[ MORE: Chelsea survive Norwich in PKs, reach FA Cup 4th round ]

Even the statistical whizzes at Opta appear somewhat stumped by such an abundance of goals.

Anytime the keepers of stats toss out a “since we started collecting data,” be proud of your achievement. Be very, very proud.

FA Cup: Chelsea, Swansea into 4th rd; B’mouth ousted by Wigan

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Two more Premier League sides booked their place in the fourth round of the FA Cup, courtesy of third-round replays, on Wednesday, bringing the PL’s total representation to 14 clubs…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea 1-1 (5-3 PKs) Norwich City

Chelsea’s scoreless streak — for both themselves and opponents (three straight 0-0 draws across all competitions) — came to a merciful end on Wednesday, but not before surpassing the 300-minute mark. Michy Batshuayi — who, it must be said, struggled mightily in making just his third start (all in cup competitions) since mid-October — broke yet another scoreless deadlock in the 55th minute, ending the Blues’ scoreless run at 331 minutes.

With barely 30 seconds remaining in second-half stoppage time, 19-year-old left back Jamal Lewis brought the Canaries level with a thunderous header off the post.

Extra-time saw Chelsea reduced to 10, and then nine, men. Pedro was booked for diving just after the hour mark, and the Spaniard earned a second yellow card for a wild challenge in the 117th minute. Four minutes later, in second-half extra-time stoppage time, Alvaro Morata was booked for diving and proceeded to shout and gesticulate in the referee’s face. A second yellow was shown immediately.

Willy Caballero denied Nelson Oliveira on Norwich’s first attempt of the ensuing penalty shootout, giving the Blues the only cushion they’d need as Willian, David Luiz, Cesar Azpilicueta, N'Golo Kante and Eden Hazard all converted.

Chelsea will host Newcastle United in the fourth round on Sunday, Jan. 28.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Swansea City 2-1 Wolverhampton Wanderers

Swansea faced the greatest threat of a Cupset on Wednesday but managed to come out on top, knocking off runaway Championship leaders and champions-elect Wolves. The Swans went ahead through Jordan Ayew in the 11th minute before the prolific Diogo Jota, who’ll be in the PL one way or another next season, brought Wolves back to 1-1 in the 66th. Three minutes later, Wilfried Bony bagged the winner to see Carlos Carvalhal’s side through to the next round.

Swansea will visit League Two side Notts County, who knocked off Championship playoff hopefuls Brentford in the third round, on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Wigan Athletic 3-0 Bournemouth

Bournemouth sat 32 places above Wigan in the English football pyramid when Wednesday’s replay kicked off, and it matter not a single iota, as Paul Cook’s side hammered the Cherries at the DW Stadium. Sam Morsy, Dan Burn and Callum Elder bagged the goals for the League One leaders (three points clear after 26 of 46 rounds played). Wigan have alternated each of the last four seasons, finishing 23rd in the Championship and leading/winning League One. It’s been five years since the Latics were relegated from the PL, in the 2012-13 season.

Wigan will host West Ham United in the fourth round on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”