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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.

Watch: Scott Sinclair nets stunning curler in Celtic victory

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Celtic is enjoying another fine campaign in Scotland, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to the play of Scott Sinclair.

[ MORE: Burkina Faso, Cameroon progress at AFCON 2017 ]

The Englishman was at it again on Sunday during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Albion Rovers when the 27-year-old curled an absolutely sublime effort into the top corner for the game’s opening goal.

The finish, Sinclair’s 13th of the season in all competitions, came after the winger picked up the ball on the left side of the Albion penalty area. Sinclair then proceeded to slot his dipping shot just under the bar and into the far post.

Celtic now moves on to the fifth round of this season’s tournament, joining the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen. In addition to the team’s success in the competition, the Bhoys have yet to lose a match in the Scottish Premier League this campaign (19 W, 1 D).

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla avoids Osasuna upset, Barcelona cruises

EIBAR, SPAIN - JANUARY 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Ander Capa (L) and Dani Garcia of SD Eibar during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and FC Barcelona at Ipurua stadium on January 22, 2017 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Eibar 0-4 Barcelona 

Four different goalscorers and three points has put Barcelona inches closer to Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, and it certainly was a complete effort for the Blaugrana. Denis Suarez gave Barca the lead ahead of halftime before Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each netted in the second stanza to give Luis Enrique’s side a strangle hold on the match. Barca now sits just two points behind Real as the season nears its halfway point.

Meanwhile, Barca suffered a major loss during the match when Sergio Busquets was carted off the pitch after sustaining an ankle injury. Busquets left the game after receiving the brunt of a Gonzalo Escalante tackle in the eighth minute.

Osasuna 3-4 Sevilla

There were goals galore at the Estadio El Sadar, however, Osasuna remains at the bottom of La Liga despite their best efforts. The last place side led on two occasions against Sevilla, but a strong second half from the visitors allowed Los Rojiblancos to remain within a point of league leaders Real Madrid. Vicente Iborra recorded a brace for Sevilla, with goals on both sides of halftime, while Franco Vázquez and Pablo Sarabia also inked their names on the score sheet.

Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Atleti went ahead early on against Bilbao, but Diego Simeone’s men needed a late Antoine Griezmann finish to earn a point on Sunday. Koke struck inside of three minutes to give Madrid the early advantage before goals from Íñigo Lekue and Oscar de Marcos gave Bilbao the lead. Atletico has now fallen eight points behind Real Madrid, while Bilbao sits seventh on 29 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 0-0 Sporting Gijon
Real Sociedad 1-0 Celta Vigo


Juventus 2-0 Lazio

Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain each found the back of the net early on for Juventus and Massimiliano Allegri’s side never looked back from there. After scoring in the fifth and 16th minutes, respectively, the Bianconeri remain atop of Serie A after picking up the team’s 16th win on the season. Lazio remains fourth following the defeat, now sitting eight points behind the league leaders.

Roma 1-0 Cagliari

Edin Dzeko netted his 14th league goal of season for Roma on Sunday en route to the team’s fifth consecutive victory in all competitions. The win sees Roma move to within a point of Juventus at the top of Italy’s top flight, however, the Bianconeri currently hold a game in hand. Meanwhile, Cagliari sits 11th in Serie A on 26 points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 2-0 Torino
Empoli 1-0 Udinese
Genoa 2-2 Crotone
Palermo 0-1 Inter Milan
Pescara 1-3 Sassuolo
Atalanta 1-0 Sampdoria

AFCON wrap: Burkina Faso tops Group A, Cameroon also through

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bertrand Traore of Ajax is chalenged by Darwin Andrade of Standard Liege during the UEFA Europa League group G match between AFC Ajax and  R. Standard de Liege at the Amsterdam Arena on September 29, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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One down, three to go.

Two nations advanced out of Group A on Sunday, and neither of the spots were held by the tournament’s hosts.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Cameroon 0-0 Gabon

Hosts Gabon needed a victory to reach the final eight, however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. struggled mightily to break down the Cameroonian backline.

The Panthers failed to manage a shot on target on Sunday, while Cameroon — who finishes second in Group A — recorded a shot goalward just once.

Cameroon will likely face Senegal in the knockout phase after the Lions of Teranga locked up a spot in the next round.

Guinea-Bissau 0-2 Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso topped the group based on goal differential after an early own goal and Bertrand Traore added a second after halftime.

Rudinilson Silva was caught in an uncomfortable position after 11 minutes when the Guinea-Bissau defender put the ball into his own net. From there, Traore doubled the advantage for Burkina Faso after finishing off a Prejuce Nakoulma pass.

The Stallions will face the runner up of Group B, currently Tunisia, in the quarterfinals.

Group A table (* indicates teams that advanced)

*Burkina Faso (5 points, +2 GD)
*Cameroon (5 pts., +1 GD)
Gabon (3 pts., 0 GD)
Guinea-Bissau (1 pt., -3 GD)

Monday’s AFCON schedule

Senegal vs. Algeria — 11 a.m. ET
Zimbabwe vs. Tunisia — 2 p.m. ET

Henry bashes Arsenal’s Xhaka after second red card of season

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (2nd R) of Arsenal talks to Steven Defour (1st R) of Burnley before shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It’s become a trend, albeit one that the Gunners certainly aren’t too fond of. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was sent off for the second time this season and while his side did manage to hold on to three points, the Swiss international has quickly made a name for himself in England for all the wrong reasons.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger apologizes for sending off ]

Xhaka, 24, was dismissed in the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burnley after making a rash challenge on Clarets midfielder Steven Defour in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Gunners up to second place after handling Burnley ]

Former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry sounded off on Xhaka’s latest dismissal following the match, calling out the midfielder for his lack of discipline.

“It’s not the first time. He did the same thing against Swansea,” Henry told Sky Sports. “This one I just don’t get it. Against Swansea it was a counter. Here, he gives the ball cheaply away.

“Why are you doing that 60 yards away from your goal, 25 minutes to go, you’re in control of the game? You misplace a pass. So what? Stay on your feet.

“As soon as you do that, the rules say it’s a red. Is it worse than [Marcos] Rojo who didn’t get a red? No. But the rule says both feet off the ground, it’s a red.”

Since the beginning of 2015, Xhaka has been shown red cards on six occasions dating back to the midfielder’s time with German club Borussia Monchengladbach, and including appearances for both club and country.

Xhaka’s suspension will keep him out of Arsenal’s next three matches, including home fixtures with Watford and Hull and a difficult road visit to Chelsea.