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Four players that improved their USMNT stock after January camp

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It’s hard to take too much stock in what occurs during January camp and the ensuing friendlies, but with a new manager in place and crucial matches upcoming for the U.S. Men’s National Team the last few weeks have certainly provided some clarity for Bruce Arena’s side.

After an underwhelming effort draw against Serbia to end January, the USMNT rebounded against Jamaica with a win in a more complete effort.

Here’s a look at four players that lifted their standing with the USMNT since Bruce Arena’s return.

Benny Feilhaber

The Sporting KC man obviously wasn’t a favorite of Jurgen Klinsmann’s during his time as USMNT manager, however, Feilhaber proved that he deserves a place within the U.S. roster moving forward and put pressure on Sacha Kljestan for a hold on the starting attacking midfield position. His vision in the buildup to Jordan Morris’ goal was spot on and Feilhaber controlled the attacking flow in a positive way for most of the Jamaica match.

Dax McCarty

The Chicago Fire midfielder has probably had the craziest few months out of any USMNT player, but McCarty handled himself with class as he was transitioned from one club to another. Although he didn’t see the field against Serbia, the veteran center mid controlled the middle of the park well against Jamaica and linked up well on several occasions with Feilhaber. His defensive presence is something that could potentially be crucial for Arena’s team moving forward, particularly in March when Jermaine Jones is suspended for the Honduras encounter.

Walker Zimmerman

The young center back only missed on seven of his passes in his national team debut against Jamaica, and Zimmerman’s confidence for FC Dallas certainly showed. While Zimmerman faces the challenge of getting past veterans in the pecking order like Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, the 23-year-old has proven at club level that he can hold his own defensively and score critical goals in attacking positions when thrown into the box.

Steve Birnbaum

Serbia and Jamaica didn’t pose the biggest threats in the attacking third, but the D.C. United defender was strong in both matches, and more importantly Bruce Arena saw Birnbaum as fit enough to go the full 90 minutes against each opponent. With Geoff Cameron’s availability uncertain ahead of WCQ’s resumption, the 26-year-old could be in line to slot next to John Brooks in the center of the U.S. back line.

UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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