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.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.