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Tottenham’s strong American connection continues

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LONDON — The American connection at Spurs remains strong.

Each year a small group of young American soccer players get the chance of a lifetime: to train and play games at Tottenham Hotspur for a week.

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Pro Soccer Talk was given exclusive access on the most recent trip to England for a group of 30 young American players handpicked by Tottenham’s academy coaches after impressing at the latest Tottenham Hotspur America Trophy held in December 2016.

For the past five years the tournament has been a huge success with the competition, run in conjunction with Elite Tournaments who are based in the USA, producing incredible experiences for young players from the U.S. from the age of 12-15 which has even resulted in national team recognition for some.

[ MORE: Spurs excited for 2017 US tour

Over the Easter break at Spurs’ impressive training ground near Enfield in north London you could hear American accents taking over with “dang” and “shoot the ball” yelled out by young hopefuls who trained for a week with Tottenham’s coaches and played games against academy teams from Spurs and Queens Park Rangers.

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How does this all work?

Four of Spurs academy coaches go over to watch the tournament in December and then handpick individuals to come over to England for the training camp.

Matt Libber, the Vice President of Elite Tournaments, was stood on the sideline keeping a watchful eye over training as he and his staff have now helped organize this tournament, among many others, for the past five years.

Elite Tournaments have been around since March 2000 and now have 60 events across the USA, mostly focusing on soccer, and new events are popping up across the nation. “It’s widespread. People want to play soccer,” Libber explained.

Such has been the popularity of this event (93 teams from multiple states and Canada competed in the tournament back in December) it is being expanded to new parts of the USA in 2017 and beyond and you can find out more info about that here.

“We are expanding the tournament this year,” Libber said. “Previously it was just one event in Baltimore but we are moving it to two events for the next edition. We are going to be down in the College Station, Texas area and then in Orlando, Florida this coming December and we are hoping to expand the event further, to bring more kids over here and to increase the exposure of the event and for Spurs in the States.”

The connection with Spurs and the U.S. runs truer than perhaps any other Premier League club.

Of course, Fulham’s days of “Fulhamerica” are still fond in the memory of many American soccer fans but after boasting Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey, Brad Friedel, DeAndre Yedlin and now Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tottenham continue be one the first teams that American soccer fans think about supporting when they get into watching the Premier League.

Eric Dier, a star midfielder for Tottenham and England, told us of his amazement at the huge number of Spurs fans in the States as he often visits his sister who lives in New York City and he and his family are blown away by the level of support across the country.

“Every time I go over to America I can’t believe how many Tottenham fans there are over there,” Dier said. “It is amazing that our reach is so far. Obviously there’s a connection because Tottenham have always had great American players and I think there is a real connection with the American fans.”

Spurs are heading to the USA this summer with games against AS Roma in New York City, Manchester City in Nashville and Paris Saint-Germain in Orlando lined up for July. Dier and his teammates are looking forward to their first trip Stateside for two years.

“Everyone is really excited to go over there and we last went there two preseasons ago with the All-Star Game in Colorado which was a great experience. We are looking forward to working hard, playing some big games and enjoying the chance to see our fanbase in America,” Dier added.

What do the kids who go on these trips get out of it? So much.

Speaking to Danny Mitchell, a member of Tottenham’s global coaching program who spent the week with the youngsters from the U.S., he revealed that on the pitch there’s a real challenge for the young Americans.

“The one thing a lot of these kids have always said is that it is a challenge physically, in the nature of the way the game is played,” Mitchell said. “This week there has been a lot of technical stuff which I’m not sure they’ve necessarily done a lot of before but they’ve all engaged well and have responded well to what we have done.”

Engaged in some foreign relations with the Elite Tournaments America Trophy Select Team and the @spursofficial Academy

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Split into two age groups and playing on Spurs’ main indoor facility as the club logo loomed large in the background, one group played head tennis and another a possession game designed to trigger a high-press. As well as on the pitch the group went on stadium tours of White Hart Lane, Wembley, had a Q&A with Dier and watched other games live as part of the full experience.

With some kids picking up the lingo in England rather quickly with choice phrases (think, Ted Lasso’s nickname…) commonplace, it was obvious that even though they didn’t play on the same teams back home and hailed from several U.S. states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Connecticut, the young American players were having the team of their lives.

Over the past five years the main takeaway for young Americans getting the chance to play and train at Spurs is the level of coaching and competition during the scrimmages in England.

“It is eye-opening for the kids, seeing the training style in the U.S. is so different to what it is here,” Libber explained. “For them it opens their eyes to see there is a bigger option out there and also the competition they’re playing against over here. Some years we’ve done really well and other years not so great. It gives them an opportunity to see what other teams are like when they’re not playing against the same teams they play every game in the States.”

Libber (he and his staff racked up 1900 miles in their rental car while in England as they traveled to games at Lincoln, Sunderland and beyond) also explained that players who caught the eye on previous trips have now gone on to big things.

“Most definitely. A couple of years ago when we were over here, we had a couple of kids who Brad Friedel recognized the talent they had and they ended up in the national team pool after that when they got back to the States,” Libber said. “One is now the goalkeeper for the U-17 national team (Quantrell Jones) and another is in college right now (Keegan Kelly at the University of Maryland) after being in the national pool. They got noticed when they were over here.”

Liam Nesbitt, a 14-year-old central midfielder from Baltimore, Maryland, is hoping to be the next in line to benefit from this tournament.

Reflecting on his trip to Tottenham, Nesbitt revealed what he’s learned from the experience.

“It’s been great. I was told this is the best academy in terms of learning the game in England and I don’t doubt it now because it is so nice,” Nesbitt said. “It has been a lot of fun and the coaching has been great. I support Tottenham and this has been like a dream come true. My favorite player is N'Golo Kante though and that’s who I try to base my game off of. I’ve picked up a few new turns to do and these coaches have taught me what drills to do in order to master those moves.”

Patrick Aponowicz was the youngest player on the trip from the U.S. and the 10-year-old was also a Spurs fan who idolized Kyle Walker.

With his flowing locks of blonde hair Aponowicz had been quickly handed the nickname of “Nedved” after the famous Czech Republic winger who shone for Juventus and his country.

“I learned new touches and passing,” Aponowicz said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

Come On You Spurs

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Like a lot of 10 year olds Aponowicz has a busy schedule and says he wishes he could watch even more soccer as he dreams of one day playing in the Premier League for Tottenham.

“I have school, playing for my soccer team four days a week and homework,” Aponowicz said. “My dream is to play for Tottenham and I want to come back here and train.”

Aponowicz isn’t the only young American dreaming of one day returning to England to play for Spurs after a taste of life at Tottenham.

“Definitely… definitely. That’s the dream,” Nesbitt said, nodding his head as his eyes gazed around in wonderment at the vast indoor facility at Tottenham.

The American connection continues to be stronger at Tottenham than perhaps any other Premier League club.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)

Jermaine Jones says his critics are like those who hate Tom Brady

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Whether you love him, loathe him, or exist somewhere in between, it’s difficult to call Jermaine Jones anything but interesting.

The LA Galaxy and USMNT man spoke out again on Monday, largely because some asked him. Jones was a guest on an ESPN podcast and spilled his guts on his American soccer perception.

[ MORE: Gabriel Jesus back in training ]

The comments were colorful, as usual for Jones, with the midfielder harboring hopes for a 2018 World Cup spot and wondering why American fans don’t his strong European record with the same respect proffered to Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey.

Part of that could be down to Howard and Dempsey thriving in the Premier League while Jones got less U.S. TV time operating in Germany aside from short spells at Blackburn and Besiktas.

Debate those thoughts all you like, but we gravitated to his self-comparison to NFL star Tom Brady. Jones is fine with being hated like the Super Bowl-winning QB.

“That is normal. I respect that it is the kind of sport, you know. You have to get hated. If I look in football, look how many people hate Tom Brady, but he is out there and he balling, he gets the championship year for year.

“End of the day, if somebody hates you, that is what i learned from one coach. If they hate you, end of the day, they hate you because they are scared of you.”

MLS Snapshot: Seattle Sounders 0-0 Atlanta United (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): These are going to be two of the most exciting teams in MLS this season. Unfortunately, neither one found a way past the other on Friday night at CenturyLink Field. A point is nothing to be ashamed of for Atlanta, but the Sounders will likely be kicking themselves for not capitalizing on some of their opportunities. Clint Dempsey nearly continued his incredible form to start the 2017 campaign after heading a cross off the post in the second half, arguably the game’s best chance.

Three moments that mattered

8′ — Atlanta dodges an early bullet — It’s hard to say how much Cristian Roldan knew about this ball, but the midfielder still almost made it 1-0.

58′ — Dempsey nearly makes an immediate impact — The USMNT attackers has been on fire in 2017, and Clint Dempsey almost provided another impressive finish for the Sounders after being introduced into the match shortly before.

80′ — Almiron tests Frei from close range — Atlanta didn’t get off too many clear-cut chances on the night, but Miguel Almiron nearly capped off another stellar counterattack for the Eastern Conference side.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Stefan Frei

Goalscorers: N/A

Five things to watch in MLS: Week 5

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The international break is behind us and it’s time for Major League Soccer to continue. With several intriguing matchups across the league this weekend, there are storylines aplenty for the 20 teams involved in action.

[ MORE: MLS power rankings — Week 4 ]

PST takes a look at some of the most intriguing storylines as MLS heads into the fifth week of the season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Does Minnesota get its first win?

It’s safe to say things haven’t gone according to plan for Minnesota since the club’s entrance into MLS just four weeks ago. A league-high 18 goals allowed and one point is all the team has to show to this point, but can the Western Conference side get off the snide?

With Real Salt Lake coming to town Saturday night, the Loons arguably have their best opportunity to pick up three points during the young season. RSL has scored just once during the opening four weeks, but given the Loons defensive struggles, that could very well change.

Reinforcements could be on the way for Minnesota though after the club acquired Colorado Rapids duo Sam Cronin and Marc Burch on Friday.

How good can the Crew become?

Already sitting atop the Eastern Conference through four weeks, the Crew look set to get significantly better thanks to acquiring attacker Kekuta Manneh in a trade with the Vancouver Whitecaps this week.

When considering the fact that the Crew attack already features the likes of Ola Kamara, Federico Higuain and Wil Trapp, the sky is certainly the limit for the 2015 MLS Cup runners’ up.

Greg Berhalter’s side will certainly need to get its backline in order if they are to consider themselves one of the league’s elite, but the Crew front office surely knocked one out of the park with the Manneh move.

D.C., Union look to grab first win

Neither club has been impressive to start the season, however, one team could earn their first win of 2017 on Saturday if they play their cards right.

Ben Olsen’s D.C. United is the only team remaining in MLS that has yet to score a goal this season despite boasting a strong attack that features Patrick Mullins and Luciano Acosta.

The Union are coming off of a 2-1 loss to Orlando two weeks ago, while D.C.’s last time out came with a 2-0 defeat to the Crew.

Atlanta looks to prove itself in Seattle

The newcomers down in Hot-lanta have lived up to their hype so far, and Friday night’s test in Seattle could further validate Tata Martino’s side as they look for their third consecutive victory.

Although top goalscorer Josef Martinez will be out after suffering a quad injury, Atlanta still boasts an exciting attack that features Miguel Almiron and Hector Villalba. The Eastern Conference side is second in MLS with 11 goals scored through four weeks, but getting a result at CenturyLink Field will be quite the feat for the expansion side.

The Sounders picked up their first win prior to the international window and they looked like the side that won MLS Cup in 2016. With Clint Dempsey healthy and firing on all cylinders, Brian Schmetzer’s attack should be among the league’s best alongside that of Atlanta.

Whitecaps hope to find inspiration against Galaxy

With Kekuta Manneh gone, the Whitecaps must turn to other faces if the club’s struggling attack is to improve over the coming weeks. 16-year-old Alphonso Davies will be expected ti carry a greater load for Carl Robinson’s side.

With the Galaxy coming to town on Saturday, it will be a difficult test for the Whitecaps, who have allowed five goals in the last two matches.

The Whitecaps will have to deal with Giovani dos Santos and co. in the attack, although the Galaxy will be without Sebastian Lletget in the long term after suffering a devastating foot injury while on U.S. Men’s National Team duty.