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Protect Pulisic, please! Yanks bemoan fouls, lack of cards

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) After watching Christian Pulisic repeatedly get hacked down and then removed early for his safety during the United States’ crucial 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Panama, American former goalkeeper Kasey Keller predicted top European clubs may refuse to release players to national teams unless referees in CONCACAF better protect stars.

[ MORE: USMNT routs Panama to boost WC dreams in a big way ]

“We’re not going to let you play in these kind of games with referees and federations that are going to let you get hit like this, because we’re not going to put that investment in a player that then we’re going to lose for stretches,” the ESPN analyst envisioned them saying. “It would be a huge loss, not only for the U.S., but for everybody.”

Pulisic, the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder from Hershey, Pennsylvania, has emerged as the top American player. He helped the U.S. move into position to qualify for its eighth straight World Cup on Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago. Pulisic made his national team debut in March 2016 and already has eight goals in 19 international appearances, including six in World Cup qualifying.

He scored the go-ahead goal in the eighth minute on Friday, then crossed to Jozy Altidore for the goal that doubled the lead in the 19th. Pulisic was kicked in the back of the left calf by Michael Murillo in the 48th minute, earning the defender a yellow card. Down for a minute and needing treatment from head athletic trainer Jim Hashimoto, Pulisic limped when he re-entered the match after a 2-plus-minute absence.

Pulisic was upended by Anibal Godoy’s slide tackle from behind into his right leg in the 51st. Ahead by three goals, U.S. coach Bruce Arena replaced Pulisic with Dax McCarty in the 57th.

“He’s been getting beat up in these games in CONCACAF, and that’s the way it is. It doesn’t look like anything is going to change,” Arena said. “He took a few shots and we thought it was smart to get him off the field.”

[ MORE: Player ratingsThree things we learned ]

Former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox commentator, said violent play in qualifiers would dwindle if video assistant referees were used. Some leagues have adopted the technology this year.

“If that had happened in an MLS game or I guess now in a Bundesliga game or a Serie A game, there would be guys who would have been gone earlier,” Lalas said. “If he’s not to a certain extent protected, as all players should be, then it’s just a matter of time before somebody gets him when he’s not prepared or not looking.”

Pulisic was given a standing ovation by the crowd as he walked off and greeted by Arena with a handshake and an endearing arm around the shoulder. He doesn’t face those type of tackles with that frequency in Germany. He was fouled repeatedly during the March qualifier in Panama City.

“Panama is a physical team, so it’s always tough playing against them,” Pulisic said. “Yeah, got kicked a few times tonight, but I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”

Pulisic has been dubbed “Wonder Boy” by Lalas and current American goalkeeper Tim Howard. Opposing defenses in qualifiers this year have focused on disrupting him.

“He knows it’s coming,” right back DeAndre Yedlin said. “Teams are going to target him, and he’s experienced enough to know that he needs to protect himself, and what sort of tackles to go into and what not. And as you can see, it didn’t faze him. He had a goal and an assist and was a great player for our team.”

Arena faults FIFA’s regulations in which a player earns a one-game suspension for two yellow cards at any point in qualifying, which stretches 16 games over nearly two years for teams in the final round in the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

“It’s the stupidest. I don’t understand it. I’m just happy I haven’t been around this stuff for a lot of years. I’d lose my mind,” said Arena, who returned as U.S. coach in November after a decade at the club level. “The referees aren’t giving out yellow cards, too, because they realize that players will be suspended the next game, so we never know what kind of mentality the referee is going to be.”

Newcastle linked with targets as Benitez begins transfer quest

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Newcastle United’s players have canceled their Christmas party, as manager Rafa Benitez admits he’s working on January gifts for the St. James’ Park set.

The Magpies have one point from their last eight matches, and face Arsenal, West Ham, and Manchester City in the run-up to the New Year, closing off a run of five matches in 16 days with Brighton and Stoke.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City vs. Spurs ]

Benitez says he’s begun talks with managing director Lee Charnley about the January window. The team is expected to make moves whether Mike Ashley completes a reported sale of the team or not. From Sky Sports:

“At this time it is just to talk about ideas,” he said. “You might say ‘I would like to sign this player’ and someone will say ‘£40m’ – maybe it is not realistic.

“The main thing, we had this conversation, then we have to move forward quickly. I don’t know the details but at least we were talking about that. We have to progress and it is so obvious that we have to improve things.”

Newcastle has been linked with a number of notable names a few weeks from the start of the January market, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, prolific Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun, as well as Liverpool’s Danny Ings and Manchester United’s Luke Shaw.

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Crystal Palace

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  • Leicester leads all-time 26W-18D-23L
  • Foxes 3W-1D vs. Eagles since Oct. 2015
  • Palace won at Leicester in Feb. 2015

The Claude Puel revolution at Leicester City has the Foxes surging up the Premier League table, and Saturday’s visitors from Crystal Palace are making moves of their own (Watch live Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Leicester has won four-straight matches, the latest a 4-1 beatdown of Southampton at St. Mary’s, and returns to King Power Stadium with a chance to make a dent on the five-point deficit between the Foxes and the Top Four.

 

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

After beginning the season 0-7, Crystal Palace has claimed 14 of 30 points to move from 20th to 18th on the table. Roy Hodgson’s men have two wins and four draws in their last six matches.

What they’re saying

Leicester’s Harry Maguire on the task at hand:

Palace’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek on his high-flying loan spell from Chelsea: “It’s what you aspire to be when you’re younger. Right now it’s a case of trying to improve as much as I can and to keep the performances up. As long as I’m enjoying it I think I’ll do well, so I’m really happy. The experience of playing week in week out and the physical side of things, getting my body used to playing games – sometimes three in a week – has been a massive thing for me, especially when I haven’t played for two years regularly. That was one of the main reasons I wanted to get away from Chelsea, to play regular football, get my body used to it, get more robust and I think once you have that then it’s a platform to play better.”

Prediction

This could be a fun one, with names like Zaha, Townsend, Loftus-Cheek, Vardy, Mahrez, and Gray ready to bless the match with pace and creativity. Goals have come in bunches when Leicester’s on the pitch, and we’ll call it 2-1 to the Foxes.

RBNY’s Grella heads to Columbus (through Colorado)

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Mike Grella didn’t get to pick No. 20 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft, but that didn’t stop Columbus from getting their hands on the New York Red Bulls veteran.

Colorado selected Grella with the third overall pick, then sent him to Columbus for a second round pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.

[ MLS: Ousted “blacklisted” by MLS? ]

The only other pick was made by Minnesota United, who took Tyrone Mears from Atlanta United.

Grella, 30, is a well-traveled Duke product who has played in England and Denmark. He scored 18 times with 13 assists in 89 matches for the Red Bulls, but missed most of the 2017 season with a pair of knee injuries.

It’s a good gamble for the Crew, and an extra draft pick for 2019. Second-round picks have become long odds to make MLS rosters, with Tommy McNamara and Aaron Long the last impact players to come out of the round. That was in 2014, and both needed changes of scenery before hitting their MLS strides.

John Cena makes entertaining Premier League predictions

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We do not recommend putting any money on John Cena’s Premier League predictions for this weekend.

The actor and WWE star was the guest picker on the BBC site on Friday, and admitted his soccer knowledge doesn’t extend much further than Cristiano Ronaldo and a tour of Tottenham (he has a fondness for Spurs, it seems).

[ PL PREVIEW: Chelsea vs. Southampton ]

But his actual selections are quite amusing. From picking matches based on species to trying to anger his fiancee’s Arsenal supporting brother, Cena brought the goods.

Our favorites:

Why West Ham will win at Stoke: “Who doesn’t love a good ham? It provides you with nourishment, happiness and a sense of community. It is always served at a big family function gathering. I like West Ham. 0-1.”

Why Southampton will win at Chelsea: “From where I am from, in Massachusetts, Southampton is a pretty cool place, so I am going to have to pick them, only because of how it relates to the States.”