Preview: Early cycle friendly shelves normal questions for U.S. national team’s return

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Nearly four years away from the next World Cup, it’s difficult to approach tomorrow’s U.S. Men’s National Team friendly with our usual level of scrutiny. Who’s fighting for starting spots? Which players need a big camp? What will this tell us about the U.S.’s place in the world? We’re clearly not above those questions, but it’s important to remember: Four years from now, Wednesday’s game against the Czech Republic will be pretty irrelevant.

If there’s any time we should sit back and just enjoy a game, tomorrow’s that time. And given some of the names brought into camp, there’ll be plenty of reasons to look beyond the results, take in the return, and wait for the debates to evolve. From new kids to old kids, returning stars to impending battles, Wednesday’s showing against the Czech republic will seed more than a few discussions going forward.

Here’s what to look for tomorrow in Prague:

source: Getty Images1. New kids in Casa Klinsmann

Emerson Hyndman (right) has been drawing rave reviews. Like fellow 18-year-old Rubio Rubin, the Fulham midfielder is in his first senior camp, competing to make his full international debut. Add in goalkeeper Cody Cropper, fullback Greg Garza, and attackers Joe Gyau and Jordan Morris, and there are six players hoping to win their first cap – the kind of squad you rarely see later in the cycle.

Add in Bobby Wood and Alfredo Morales (one cap, each) and you have a series of players looking to make new impressions on Jurgen Klinsmann. If history is any indication, only a few of them will play significant parts by the end of the cycle. But for those few, tomorrow’s match starts a new journey, one that will allow fans to mark the day a new star broke through with the national team.

2. Old kids solidifying roles

In Brazil, talents like John Brooks, Julian Green, and (to a lesser extent) Mix Diskerud were part of youthful contingent gaining experience for better days. On Wednesday, those better days begin. Each player will be expected to make big contributions this cycle, going from backups’ roles to performers who can compete for starting jobs. By the time the U.S leaves for Russia 2018, each will be in their prime, representing the next generation of American talent.

source: APTomorrow’s unlikley to produce a major breakthrough, but with each appearance over the next four years, the underlying theme should be the same: Progress. As their games mature and older talents start to fade out, Brooks, Green (right), and Diskerud (among others) will have to form the team’s new core. Particularly with so many veterans left off this squad, Prague presents a great opportunity to flash that potential.

3. Fabian and Jozy, back on the field

Fabian Johnson was one of the U.S.’s best players at this summer’s World Cup, but like Jozy Altidore, his tournament ended too soon. Muscle injuries meant both players were on the sidelines by the time Belgium sent the U.S. home, with Altidore’s tournament ending after 20 minutes against Ghana.

Altidore’s drawn plenty of criticism for his play at Sunderland, but for the U.S., he’s a special talent. Only 24 and already sixth on the team’s all-time goal scoring list, Altidore has the poise to function as a focal point, something that will come in handy with Clint Dempsey back in Seattle. His 23 international goals are more than the rest of the camp’s players combined, with his 71 caps more than doubling the squad’s next-highest total (Alejandro Bedoya, 32). Still only 24, Altidore has long been a fixture in the squad, with his track record for the U.S. rendering proving club form need not dictate international results.

Fabian Johnson doesn’t have the wealth of international experience, but after proving himself indispensable over three years with the team, the Borussia Mönchengladbach man has established himself as one of the most talented widemen in U.S. history. Without a long record of hype and adulation, Johnson’s place in fans’ hearts may not be as dear as the team’s long-time talents, but the 26-year-old is still among the best players in Klinsmann’s pool. There’s a reason he’s playing at a club level few American talents can realize.

On Wednesday, both players will be back on the field, supplying some first-team talent to a somewhat experimental squad.

4. And that goalkeeper battle

The extent to which this is an actual competition is debatable, but with Nick Rimando the only player pulled in from MLS, there’s reason to think there’s a battle for Tim Howard’s vacated spot. Brad Guzan may not be gifted the number one’s job. With each player scheduled to play 45 minutes in Prague, there may yet be a fight for time in goal.

Then again, like everything else surrounding Wednesday’s game, it may be best to sit back and enjoy rather than draw firm conclusions. Who knows what’s going on inside Jurgen Klinsmann’s head? With Howard out of the picture, Guzan maybe the assumed number one, but too many times Klinsmann’s shown what happens when we assume. Rimando may have been called in for lack of other options. He may also be given a fresh look as a potential starter.

Competition aside, Wednesday gives the two U.S. veterans some much deserved playing time – minutes they’re starved of when Howard’s in the fold. It will be nice to see each on the field.

Europa League preview: Arsenal in Serbia, Everton desperate vs. Lyon

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The twelve groups of the UEFA Europa League bring forth soccer on Thursday, with a bevy of matches dotting the continent.

[ MORE: Full Europa schedule ]

Here are the top five matches to keep an eye on.

Everton vs. Lyon — 3:05 p.m. ET

If you would’ve told Ronald Koeman his Toffees would walk into this match with just one point but sit only another behind Lyon, he’d probably tell you to take a hike. But Lyon drew 1-1 at Apollon Limassol and 1-1 at home to Atalanta, opening the door for Everton to finish the day in Group E’s top two slots.

Nabil Fekir and Real Madrid loanee Mariano Diaz have seven goals each for Lyon, while ex-Premier Leaguers Memphis Depay and Bertrand Traore are also key components of the French outfit’s attack.

Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET

Arsenal in Europa has been pretty thrilling, with 3-1 and 4-2 wins under Arsene Wenger‘s belt ahead of the first of two with the 1991 European Cup winners. It’s a nice challenge for Canadian national team backstop Milan Borjan, who should be the man to try to thwart the Gunners in Serbia.

Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir — 3:05 p.m. ET

The favorites to win the group are dead last in the group as they welcome the perceived group underdogs from Turkey. The Super Lig runners-up have some familiar names on the roster with Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Eljero Elia, Mevlut Erdinc, Gokhan Inler, Aurelien Chedjou, and Emre Belozoglu.

AC Milan vs. AEK Athens — 3:05 p.m. ET

Milan has been burying goals in Europa play, with five at Austria Wien and three in a home win over Rijeka. Enter Athens, which has scooped up four points in group play and will look for a win to put them ahead of the group-leading Rossoneri.

Nice vs. Lazio — 1 p.m. ET

The only group with a pair of 2-0 teams. Mario Balotelli is plenty familiar with his Roman opposition from his time in Serie A.

Probe finds racial discrimination by England women’s coach

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LONDON (AP) Former England women’s team coach Mark Sampson racially discriminated against two of his players, a fresh Football Association investigation has concluded after initially dismissing allegations of wrongdoing and prompting a damaging public row with striker Eni Aluko.

Sampson was cleared of discrimination by earlier FA investigations but was fired last month because of an unrelated case of inappropriate conduct toward players in a previous job.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Only now has a barrister considered new evidence about Sampson’s conduct toward England internationals Aluko and Drew Spence, with the details being released ahead of a parliamentary hearing.

“I have concluded that on two separate occasions, MS (Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humor, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race,” barrister Katharine Newton wrote in the report.

One racially discriminatory comment by Sampson in 2014 toward Aluko requested her family members from Nigeria didn’t come to a game because of Ebola.

“MS (Sampson) did treat EA (Aluko) less favorably than he would have treated a player who was not of African descent,” Newton wrote. “MS had therefore subjected EA to less favorable treatment because of her ethnicity.”

During a team meeting in 2015, Sampson also asked Spence if she had been to prison, and then suggested she had been arrested four times. Newton concluded that the comment was made “because of her ethnicity.”

[ MORE: Hamid leaving DC United ]

FA chief executive Martin Glenn apologized to Aluko and Spence before the hearing. But Aluko told legislators that Glenn’s earlier conduct toward her was “bordering on blackmail” after he threatened to withhold payments from an 80,000 pound ($105,000) financial settlement unless she published a statement saying the FA “was not institutionally racist.”

With Aluko sitting behind him, Glenn later told the hearing that the player had not been blackmailed.

Instead Glenn said that an August tweet by Aluko – “at least we now know the FA’s stance on derogatory racial remarks by an England manager. Ignore, deny, endorse” – was a “clear breach of the agreement.”

Aluko, who was part of the team that finished third at the 2015 World Cup, has not played for England since making her 102nd appearance in April 2016.

There was a more apologetic tone from Glenn in his written statement on Wednesday, saying that Sampson’s conduct was “not acceptable” and he “would like to sincerely apologize” to Aluko and Spence.

“Our ambition has always been to find the truth and take swift and appropriate action if needed,” Glenn said. “It was our decision to have the original, second and final investigation to ensure that due diligence was taken. It is regrettable that Eniola did not participate in the first external investigation as this would have enabled Katharine Newton to conduct and complete her investigation sooner.”

Report: Hamid leaving DC United to “push himself” elsewhere

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Bill Hamid is taking his talents elsewhere.

The 26-year-old has been with DC United since 2007, making an even 200 appearances across all competitions.

[ MORE: Champions League at halfway mark ]

Hamid is thrice capped by the United States and widely considering to be one of the best shot-stoppers in the league, but the Washington Post’s Steven Goff says Hamid wants to showcase himself on a new stage.

“I want to push myself and see how far I can go because I know I have the work ethic and the hunger to take myself very far in this game. I know I can make it to the next level.”

Hamid is likely to wind up in Europe, and Goff said Danish club Midtjylland is the favorite. He’s also been scouted by Eintracht Frankfurt.

With a new United States men’s national team coach set to be appointed and Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and Nick Rimando all on the back end of their time with the USMNT, Hamid has to look at himself as competing with Ethan Horvath and any number of young prospects.

Horvath is 22 and starting for Club Brugge. If their season continues on its pace, he’ll have a Belgian title and a Norwegian title under his belt.

U-20 players Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha Berlin), Brady Scott (Koln), and Justin Vom Steeg (Fortuna Dusseldorf) are in German systems, while U-17 World Cup starters CJ dos Santos is at Benfica.

Age when making European debut and club
Tim Howard, 24, Manchester United
Brad Friedel, 23, Newcastle United
Brad Guzan, 23, Aston Villa
Kasey Keller, 23, Millwall
Tony Meola, 21, Brighton and Hove Albion
Ethan Horvath, 19, Molde

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

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Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…