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Back to the future: US World Cup veterans reunite with Arena

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Demspey and Tim Howard were with Bruce Arena the last time the U.S. coach guided the Americans into World Cup qualifying – way back 12 years ago.

“It’s a long time for a coach, too, I might add,” cracked the 65-year-old Arena, “I had a lot more hair 12 years ago.”

Jozy Altidore played for Arena during his debut season of Major League Soccer with the New York Red Bulls in 2006 and part of `07.

[ MORE: PL Playback — Top Six expectations ]

The Americans are counting on that familiarity and experience in big matches when they face Honduras at home Friday in World Cup qualifying.

“He’s been around U.S. Soccer for a very long time. I think that helps him a bit in his approach,” Altidore said after Tuesday’s training in a steady rain at Avaya Stadium. “He’s a guy that everybody’s really comfortable with and there’s no adjustment period, which is good. He was one of my first pro coaches, so I know him well, his style and everything, so it’s nothing new. It’s good to have him back.”

Arena’s roster features 19 of 26 players from Major League Soccer with the Monday night addition of Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes. There were just 10 MLS players leading into an embarrassing 4-0 loss to Costa Rica on Nov. 15 – eight of whom dressed for the match after Howard got hurt against Mexico.

That sent the Americans to their first 0-2 start in the final round of World Cup qualifying and led to Jurgen Klismnann’s ouster. Arena then returned 10 years after his firing.

“I think Bruce is going to call up the players that give him the best chance to win,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “Regardless of where you play, regardless of what you’ve done, Bruce is going to rely on guys who are going to step on the field in big moments and go for it, be aggressive and fearless and represent him and the team and our country in the best possible way.”

[ MORE: Cameron pumped for USMNT return ]

The Americans might need all the depth they have up front. Forward Jordan Morris didn’t practice again Tuesday while nursing an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. He did gym work and rehabbed the ankle after spending Monday receiving treatment at the team hotel. His status for Wednesday’s practice remained unclear.

“Anybody that’s going to help the team, it doesn’t matter where you play,” Beasley said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s more MLS, more Europe, more Mexico, more Scandinavia, it doesn’t matter. As long as you know what it’s about to play for this team and play for this country you’re going to be a part of it, so it’s good to have that.”

Beasley and Dempsey are 34. Howard, the starting goalkeeper the past two World Cups, turned 38 this month. There’s a comfort level for the three with their new, and old, coach, Arena.

“They’re old, man, they’re some old cats,” Altidore said. “That’s a long time ago. Guys that we still need, guys with a lot of quality.”

“They’re not bad players,” Arena said when asked about his 30-somethings still playing for him on the big stage more than a decade later.

Dempsey and Howard are healthy again at last.

[ MORE: Bellerin talks Barcelona interest ]

Howard had surgery on his right thigh in November after getting hurt in a World Cup qualifying loss to Mexico and being replaced in the 40th minute. Dempsey had been out because of an irregular heartbeat.

“Experience counts for a lot in games like this, guys who understand what these games and what these moments are all about,” Bradley said. “In both their cases, their experience and their track record speaks for itself, guys who have been on the field for us on so many big days, on so many important days. For me, personally, I couldn’t be happier to have them both back and in the team and we’re going to rely on them in a big way on Friday night.”

Howard likes the mix of players brought in by Arena.

“I think that’s probably a testament to some of our longevity,” Howard said. “It’s good to have some pieces in play that have been there who understand the manager. There are a lot of young kids, too.”

NOTES: Altidore downplayed a Twitter back-and-forth with teammate Alejandro Bedoya on March 11. Bedoya spoke after Altidore drew a foul during Toronto FC’s 2-2 draw with Philadelphia. “Knowing Jozy, he tends to go down easy in the box, so let’s just leave it at that.” Altidore took to Twitter: “Nice comment pal (at)AleBedoya17. You have a lot to say but never to anyones face. Im surprised.. but I shouldn’t be.” The matter seems put to rest. “It’s all jokes, man,” Altidore told The Associated Press. “It’s nothing crazy. I’ve known Bedoya a long time. It’s all good.”

Everton 2-0 Hajduk Split: Toffees cruise in Europa League first leg

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  • Keane nabs first EFC goal
  • Baines, Rooney with classy assists
  • Gueye scores rare goal
  • Second leg Aug. 24 in Croatia

Michael Keane and Idrissa Gana Gueye scored as Everton took a 2-0 lead over HNK Hajduk Split in a UEFA Europa League playoff round first leg at Goodison Park on Thursday.

Leighton Baines and Wayne Rooney had assists for the Toffees, while Jordan Pickford, Ademola Lookman, and Davy Klaassen also posted lively performances for the hosts ahead of next week’s second leg.

The Toffees could’ve scored four or five if not for questionable offside calls alone, and the match was interrupted in the first half when the Hajduk support section got out of hand.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ademola Lookman won an early corner for Everton that led to nothing, and played a terrific ball into the center of the box that Davy Klaassen just missed with a sliding effort.

Hajduk had a moment in two in transition, but the Toffees handled it well. Baines in particular broke up the earliest sign of danger.

The breakthrough goal was splendid, with Baines scooping up a punched corner kick and darting past a defender to dink an aesthetically-pleasing ball into traffic for Keane to head home. 1-0, 30′.

The match was stalled for 5-10 minutes after riotous behavior from visiting Hajduk Split supporters, who tossed bottles onto the field and charged at the stewards (one appeared to punch a security guard).

The Toffees went up 2-0 off a classy assist from Rooney, who was moving away from the defense when he cut a ball to a darting Gueye. The Senegalese engine provided a rare goal in the 45th minute.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule ]

The chances were at a premium for both sides in the second half, with Everton still having the better of play. But Jordan Pickford had to get horizontal to make an outstanding two-handed parry on a Hajduk rush in the 61st minute.

Hajduk really found its game late as Everton seemed to rest on its laurels. Pickford was livid, and called into duty to make some big stops and preserve an important home clean sheet.

America’s latest Bundesliga teenager eyes the future

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As recently as Wednesday, Schalke midfielder Weston McKennie joined his American teammate Nick Taitague and fellow Yank teenager Christian Pulisic for an afternoon of FIFA at Pulisic’s place in Gelsenkirchen.

How long those sort of friendly meetings will endure is up for discussion, because one of the world’s best rivalries has two young American friends on either side.

McKennie is a whopping 21 days older than Borussia Dortmund’s Pulisic, and will turn 19 on August 28. He’s also following in the footsteps of Pulisic as a teenage member of the Revierderby.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League picks ]

“When we hang out it doesn’t come up, but we know in the back of our heads that when that game comes around we’ll have to hit pause on our friendship,” McKennie told ProSoccerTalk. “After that game we’ll see how it goes, but I’m sure it’ll be the same.”

The friendship of McKennie, Pulisic, Taitague, and Haji Wright — Wright has left Schalke for a loan stint at Sandhausen in 2.Bundesliga — has otherwise been a boon to the American quartet, and it isn’t wild to consider the unit’s formative days in Germany as a harbinger of what’s to come for the United States men’s national team.

McKennie, 18, could be a massive part of American soccer in the future. Rated the 13th best U-20 prospect in the Bundesliga, the Texas-born midfielder has drawn glowing reviews from new manager Dominic Tedesco, who lauded the player’s “super pressing game” in a senior debut earlier this week, and veterans Benedikt Howedes and Matija Nastasic only had good things to say in conversations with PST this week.

“In the defensive midfield he already operates very mature,” said Howedes, the longtime Schalke man who won the 2014 World Cup with Germany. “He works hard all the time and showed in pre-season that he can help us. If he develops like he has done until now, the team will be pleased with him. Also, he is clever in his head and a really funny guy.”

Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, is very pleased with McKennie’s two-way game.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

“He’s very very good player in the middle because he can go up front and finish actions but also in defense he’s very good,” Nastasic said. “For me, he’s a box-to-box player who can run and is strong. He can be very very good.”

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Both players stressed patience with McKennie and a Schalke squad that has youthful talent in bunches. In addition to the American teenager, there’s Swiss sensation Breel Embolo, Algerian midfielder Nabil Bentaleb, and German trio Max Meyer, Leon Goretzka, and Fabian Reese.

In Meyer and Goretzka, McKennie has teammates who boast more than 210 league appearances despite a combined age of 43. Both won silver medals at the 2016 Olympics and Goretkza won the Silver Boot and Bronze Ball as Germany won the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia.

The fact that these players surround McKennie, Schalke’s youngest First Teamer, and have done so much at their ages is not lost on the American midfielder.

“Being around guys who’ve accomplished so much at a young age, even with Christian being younger than me and achieving so much and setting the way over here, you’re surrounding yourself with people who are only going to make you better,” McKennie said.

“Knowing ‘This kid’s only one year older than me. This kid’s only two years older than me,’ and seeing the way they carry themselves and the amount of experience they’ve had, it rubs off on you.”

And it’s not just the young guys bringing the energy as Schalke prepares for its Bundesliga opener on Saturday against Red Bull Leipzig.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Brooks out 3 months for Wolfsburg ]

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are. The older guys like Naldo and Coke still joke around with young guys. Me being the youngest I get a little bit more than everyone else.”

As for his American hopes, McKennie has spoken of his hopes to get into Bruce Arena’s USMNT fold. He’s hopeful for a call into a friendly camp in the next year, and harbors long shot hopes for a spot on a potential World Cup roster.

Playing an important position in one of the world’s top leagues at age 18 won’t hurt that, though minutes will certainly be difficult to come by this season given Schalke has a rare campaign outside of both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League.

And it may not surprise then when asked to target his role as a potential international, he hopes to grow into a player who’d be described as a mix of two of the United States’ all-time best at that position (one who’s starred at Schalke).

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“I’d kinda say Jermaine Jones if you had to choose a national team player, for the stuff that he does and maybe Michael Bradley, one of those players who is calm on the ball and can play that long ball, the one that is there at the right moments.” McKennie said, though at his age he obviously hasn’t seen a wide variety of USMNT center mids.

“Jermaine in my eyes is one of those guys who gets stuck in no matter what. He goes with all he has, and does the dirty work. That’s kinda how I picture myself.”

All of that isn’t to put the cart before the horse. McKennie is very clear in answering any questions about his future with measured responses. He has a lot of work to do to continue his rise into Schalke’s set-up.

[ MORE: Costa — “I must return to Atletico Madrid” ]

For now, he’ll keep doing what he’s doing, working as hard as possible to maintain a spot in Tedesco’s mix and growing alongside Taitague and Wright, and across the pitch from Pulisic, even as his BVB buddy makes it a bit harder to go out on the town.

“In his area and even in Gelsenkirchen because we’re rivals, he’s noticeable, but he’s not a player who tries to be noticed,” McKennie said. “There are players who try to be noticed, but he’s not. He’s not gonna say no to taking a photo, but even if he’s having a bad day he finds a way to put on a smile. He’s younger than me and I can still look up to him.”

That is until they hopefully hit the same grass for one of the game’s best matches.

Clement says Sigurdsson fee could leave Swans better off

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Many have feared the worst for Swansea City following the sale of Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton, but fortunately the club’s boss isn’t too worried about the departure of his Icelandic star.

Sigurdsson and Fernando Llorente were nearly all of Swansea’s attack last season as the Welsh side barely avoided relegation. The club’s third coach of the season, Paul Clement, was instrumental in that change of fate.

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

He’s not worried about the absence, though, because he feels the approximately $60 million coming into his transfer kitty can leave the squad better than it was before Sigurdsson was sold to Everton.

“We want to improve our playing squad, we want to improve our style we want to win more games we believe that with the funds we have available we can strengthen the squad and end up being a better team.”

And, Clement said, now agents and managers know Swansea has the money to do some business. He says they won’t panic because sometimes the deals improve right before the deadline.

“Yesterday various people who work here at this club, their phones were going, the texts were coming in, the emails were coming in from agents all over the world, because they know we’ve done the Gylfi deal and want to do business and bring players in.”

What do you think? Could Sigurdsson’s fee be the goodbye gift that keeps on giving for a Swans side which is considered a relegation candidate?

LIVE – Everton, AC Milan, Ajax in Europa League action

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Everton, AC Milan and Ajax, three of the bigger sides fighting for passage into the Europa League proper, find themselves 180 minutes from the group stage as the final round of qualifying kicks off on Thursday.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Everton have Croatian side Hajduk Split at Goodison Park for the first leg (3:05 p.m. ET), while Milan host Macedonian side KF Shkendija (2:45 p.m. ET) and Ajax are home to Rosenborg of Norway (2:45 p.m. ET).

[ MORE: Thursday’s transfer rumor roundup | Wednesday | Tuesday ]

Thursday’s notable Europa League fixtures

Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m. ET
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET