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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.

Xavi backs Dybala, Verratti to succeed at Barcelona over Pogba

TURIN, ITALY - JANUARY 24:  Paulo Dybala (R) of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring the opening goal with team mate Paul Pogba during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and AS Roma at Juventus Arena on January 24, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Paul Pogba linked with a possible summer move to Barcelona worth more than $100 million, one legend at Camp Nou believes Pogba may not be the right signing.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

After making more than 700 appearances for Barcelona, Xavi knows the club as well as anyone, and he prefers Pogba’s Juventus teammate Paulo Dybala for a move to the Catalan giants.

Xavi also praised the play of Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti, saying that while Pogba is a star player, Dybala and Verratti have “Barca DNA.”

There’s two players I really like, both of whom I think have Barca’s DNA. They are Marco Verratti and Paulo Dybala.

They are amazing and, thanks to their quality and style of play, would easily integrate into the [Barca] machine. I see them as future stars at the club.

[Pogba] is a great player. He’ll be a star for France as he is for Juve, but I see him with a different game to ours.

Both Pogba and Dybala are 22-years-old, while Verratti is 23. All three players have been among the elite young talents in the world, with Pogba earning the most praise of the group and always linked with a big-money move to Europe’s top clubs.

[ RELATED: Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career ]

Dybala is enjoying a breakout season at Juventus, currently with 13 goals and eight assists in Serie A play. In Paris, Verratti is part of a PSG side that hasn’t lost in 25 matches and holds a 24-point lead at the top of the table.

Vincent Kompany set to make Manchester City return this weekend

during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at Etihad Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.
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Vincent Kompany is set to make his first appearance for Manchester City since Boxing Day as the defender has returned from injury.

City’s captain and center-back missed more than six weeks with a calf injury before Christmas, and then reaggravated the injury just minutes into his return at the end of December.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

However, Kompany has been back in training and manager Manuel Pellegrini said he is fit to play this weekend when City host Tottenham in a huge top-four matchup.

We’ll see what the starting XI is tomorrow – we’re not just thinking about one player and one game, we’re involved in a lot of competitions. Maybe we have a lot of criticism when we don’t play well but I’m happy with the squad over the whole season.

Every player must play a game when they’re 100%. Vincent has worked for three weeks with no problems. He played 45 minutes in a friendly game against the under-21s and I think he’s ready to play.

Kompany’s presence in the City back-line has been pivotal this season. In the eight Premier League games Kompany has started, City have kept seven clean sheets. In the 18 matches without the big Belgian in the starting lineup, City have kept just five.

[ RELATED: Diego Costa suffers broken nose in Chelsea training ]

With City just a point behind Tottenham, Kompany returns from injury just in time for one of the biggest matches of the season. Tasked with slowing down Harry Kane and Spurs’ high-flying attack, Kompany’s play could prove crucial to the Citizens getting a result.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Newcastle United

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  • CFC unbeaten under Hiddink (W5, D6)
  • Newcastle have just 6 away goals all season
  • Diego Costa: 6 goals in his last 7 PL matches

Chelsea look to extend their unbeaten streak under Guus Hiddink to 12 matches on Saturday when the Blues host relegation-threatened Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

The Blues’ last loss came under Jose Mourinho in December.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Chelsea are up to 13th on the table, currently riding a run of 11 matches unbeaten in all competitions. Guus Hiddink is yet to suffer a loss after taking over for his second stint at Stamford Bridge in December, although draws have kept Chelsea from climbing further up the table. Diego Costa has had the hot-hand with six goals in his last seven appearances, but the Spanish striker will be forced to play with a mask after suffering a broken nose in training.

[ MORE: Hiddink has “no fear” of playing youngsters in Zouma’s absence ]

For Newcastle, the Magpies sit 17th on the table just one point above the drop. Their away form has hurt the club all season, as Steve McClaren‘s men have scored a league-low six goals on the road this year. The Magpies are coming off of a win over West Brom, and supporters will be hoping the club’s new January signings continue to produce. Seydou Doumbia could make his Premier League debut on Saturday, which would be a massive boost to the attack.

What they’re saying

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “The status of being unbeaten sounds good but realistically we would have wished to have more victories, especially at home. And we have an opportunity to do so against Newcastle. They improved their squad with substance, some good signings, and they are more competitive now.”

Newcastle boss Steve McClaren: “In our home games we are starting to get a consistency in our performance and the way we play. We need to start transferring that to our away games and picking up points away from home – we owe it to the fans.”

Prediction

Newcastle have just two wins in their last 18 league matches away from home, and I don’t see that trend changing this weekend. Chelsea have looked a new team with Guus Hiddink in charge, and they stay unbeaten under the Dutchman. Chelsea 2-1 Newcastle United.

Pochettino enjoying best spell of career ahead of massive clash at Man City

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 23:  Mauricio Pochettino (R) Manager of Tottenham Hotspur is seen on arrival at the stadium prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on January 23, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Mauricio Pochettino is getting ready for one of his biggest matches in charge at Tottenham, but he’s not letting the pressure get to him.

The Spurs’ boss talked down the importance of Sunday’s match against Manchester City (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra), and went on to say he is currently having the most enjoyable time of his career.

[ WATCH: Full PL match replays ]

Pochettino has Tottenham sitting second on the table, and they travel to the Etihad this weekend for a clash against fourth-placed Manchester City, who sit one point behind Spurs.

When asked if this weekend’s match could be a decisive result in the title race, Pochettino was unwilling to admit it was anything more than three points in a long campaign. However, when asked about the season as a whole, the Argentinian manager said he was having great fun at White Hart Lane, responding “Is it my most enjoyable time of career? Yes, maybe yes if I’m honest.”

[ MORE: Who are the Premier League title favorites? ]

Pochettino’s work at Tottenham has made him one of the most well-respected managers in the Premier League, with some reports tabbing him as the potential future boss of Manchester United.

Spurs have won six on the spin in all competitions, and will be confident facing a City side they smashed 4-1 earlier this season. With leaders Leicester facing Arsenal on Sunday, Tottenham could see themselves just two points off the pace if results go their way.