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.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday