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Key newcomers for USMNT friendly

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While the excitement potential is high amongst big club USMNT call-ups like PSG’s Tim Weah and Everton’s Antonee Robinson, there are several other relative newcomers who are facing a more acute focus.

So yes, of course, we’re most excited to see the young guns fire away, but a few others will be under the microscope for different reasons.

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Paraguay is leaving some big names behind — Dario Lezcano, Jesus Medina, Edgar Benítez — but won’t be using as “B” or “C” of a squad as the USMNT. Key defenders Junior Alonso (Lille) and Gustavo Gomez (AC Milan) will be staring down the U.S. attack, while Atlanta United star Miguel Almiron will try his luck against the Yanks’ backs.

  1. The goalkeepers — With full respect to Bill Hamid and his five caps, the trio of backstops who could play against Paraguay are unknown entities on the senior international level. There are reasons to be excited about Alex Bono (Toronto FC) and Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew) going against Los Guaraníes — and Hamid, too — and standing behind a young and untested group of center backs should give plenty of chances to make a name for whoever is chosen (If Sarachan is more “woke” this go-round, it’ll be multiple keepers).
  2. Andriya Novakovich — The Telstar striker is checking all the boxes: 6-foot-4, productive on the youth level, and now succeeding overseas. The 21-year-old has 17 goals on loan from Reading in the Dutch second tier. While that’s far from a “Woah” figure considering the top-tier in the Netherlands isn’t exactly a defensive hot bed, it’s intriguing for Tuesday in North Carolina.
  3. Rubio Rubin — We’re hopeful Sarachan goes with a 4-4-2, which would allow both Rubin and Novakovich to get runs next to Bobby Wood. Rubin is seeing some time at Liga MX side Club Tijuana after his European adventure stalled following a hot start for Utrecht. He had an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play against Red Bulls this month.
  4. Tyler Adams — Speaking of that match, the Red Bulls got a goal from Adams. It’s fair to say he’s got the chance to be as special a player as Schalke youngster Weston McKennie (and would apparently like to join his USMNT teammate overseas). Adams and McKennie together could legit be an engine room for years. Will that begin on Tuesday?
  5. Cameron Carter-Vickers — The 20-year-old center back has shown resilience in England. His hot start to life at Sheffield United, on loan from Tottenham, cooled enough to have him sent back to North London, but Carter-Vickers has rebounded to become a key part of Ipswich Town’s back line. With 22-year-old Matt Miazga the only clear center back on the roster and older than him, CCV can quiet a lot of doubters.
  6. Kenny Saief — This guy has excited at nearly every turn since bursting onto the scene with Gent via the Israeli national team, and an injury cost him some momentum with the USMNT. Now healthy and on loan with Anderlecht, the same side which refined the fire of Sacha Kljestan, the once-capped Florida-born man is as intriguing as ever.

CCL wrap: Chivas too much for Seattle; Club America cruises

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Club America and Chivas Guadalajara joined Toronto FC and New York Red Bulls in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals with wins on Wednesday evening.

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Chivas’ win means MLS misses out on a chance to guarantee a finalist in the race for a Club World Cup bid.  The semifinal first legs will be held April 3-5, with the second legs April 10-12.

Tauro 1-3 (1-7 agg.) Club America

Tauro will be pleased to not see Henry Martin any time soon, as he bagged a pair of goals to go with his goal and two assists in the first leg. Mexican 22-year-old Alejandro Díaz Liceága also scored in the leg, and Club America set up a massive pair of dates with Toronto FC.

Chivas Guadalajara 3-0 (3-1 agg.) Seattle Sounders

A pair of first half injuries put the Seattle Sounders’ backs against the proverbial wall in a 3-0 loss to Chivas at the Estadio Akron.

Already down Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle was forced into using a substitute before the 10-minute mark when Will Bruin suffered an injury. Lamar Neagle took his place. Then Chad Marshall went down, moving Kim Kee-Hee into the match in the 35th.

Down two goals after Oswaldo Alanís and Javier Lopez scored five minutes apart early in the second half, Seattle knew an away goal would be enough to push it into the semifinal.

The Chivas pressure was relentless as the second half wore on, and Stefan Frei was called upon to make a number of saves. But the hosts put it to bed with 10 minutes to play with a slick sweep of the trailing leg of Jesus Godinez.

MLS, Liga MX announce partnership

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It’s good to be friends.

Major League Soccer and Liga MX are coming close together, with the top flights of Mexico and the USA/Canada announcing a strategic partnership on Tuesday.

The deal will see the Campeones Cup created, with a match each September between the reigning MLS Cup champs and the Liga MX champs, while the MLS All-Stars will also play against the Liga MX All-Stars.

Per the announcement, the leagues will also share “platforms for business practices and social responsibility across North American borders.”

MLS Commissioner Dan Garber had the following to say about building a closer link with Liga MX.

“Major League Soccer is proud to come together with Liga MX for this unprecedented partnership,” Garber said. “Together, we have a vision to elevate the popularity of our game to even higher levels in North America. We are excited to have the MLS champion take on Liga MX’s top club in the Campeones Cup this year and build further programs in the years to come.”

The first-ever Campeones Cup will be held on September 19, 2018 at BMO Field in Toronto, with 2017 MLS Cup champs Toronto FC to play against the winner of the Campeon de Campeones match in July which will see the winner of Liga MX’s two seasons (Apertura and Clausure) square off.

This announcement is all linked in with the joint-bid for the 2026 World Cup between the USA, Mexico and Canada, and it also comes at an intriguing time as three of the four MLS teams facing Liga MX opponents in CONCACAF Champions League play are leading in the first leg of their quarterfinals.

CONCACAF Champions League preview: Eyeing MLS chances

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The CONCACAF Champions League’s quarterfinals kick off late Tuesday evening, and a trio of Major League Soccer teams are two rounds from playing for a spot in the Club World Cup.

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That tournament in the United Arab Emirates remains nine months away for now, where the CCL winner will join the winners of the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, the Asian Champions League, African Champions League, Oceania Champions League, and the winners of the UAE’s top flight.

MLS placed two semifinalists last season, though both Vancouver and FC Dallas failed to cement a spot in the final. Seven of the nine CCL-era tournaments have been all-Mexican, excepting Real Salt Lake’s loss in 2011 and Montreal’s loss in 2015.

Back to the present: One tie does not include an MLS side thanks to FC Dallas’ poor performance against Cinderella side Tauro of Panama. Tauro plays Club America beginning Tuesday at Estadio Azteca.

Of the three MLS sides left, who has the best chance of coming out on top? You be the judge (but it’s probably TFC).

Toronto FC

Opponent: UANL Tigres (4th place, Liga MX)

First leg: Wednesday in Toronto
Second leg: March 13 in San Nicolás

Watch out for… a pair of names who made their mark in Europe; Enner Valencia and Andre-Pierre Gignac have combined for 29 goals to lead Tigres’ attack. You’ll also remember longtime USMNT midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, but — again — TFC’s hopes are pinned to its back line keeping a handle on a pair of strong finishers (and dangerous, experienced Eduardo Vargas.

Seattle Sounders

Opponent: Chivas Guadalajara (16th place, Liga MX)

First leg: Wednesday in Seattle
Second leg: March 14 in Guadalajara

Watch out for… Don’t be misled by Guadalajara’s table status; The Mexican powers have drawn their last four matches. Their leading scorer is Alan Pulido, and Mexican national team star defender Oswaldo Alanis is at the back with Carlos Salcido. Also in the mix is a familiar name: hyped 21-year-old Orbelin Pineda.

New York Red Bulls

Opponent: Club Tijuana (6th place, Liga MX)

First leg: 10 p.m. ET Tuesday in Tijuana
Second leg: March 13 in Harrison

Watch out for… a very American roster, relative to the rest of the league. The newcomer is forward Rubio Rubin, who earned his first start on Feb. 25 and came off the bench for 32 minutes a week later. Alejandro Guido gets minutes mainly off the bench. Michael Orozco hasn’t been playing much, nor has young Fernando Arce, Jr.

CONCACAF Champions League: RBNY, Seattle advance (video)

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Major League Soccer has a trio of quarterfinalists in the race for a place in the UEFA Club World Cup.

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That’s because New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders used convincing second legs to brush off CONCACAF Champions League opposition and clinch spots in the next round.

New York earned a quarterfinal tie with Liga MX powers Club Tijuana, who have a quartet of American players, while the Sounders meet exciting Chivas Guadalajara. The other side of the bracket sees Toronto FC versus UANL Tigres and Club America against Panama’s Tauro.

The quarterfinals will be played over the first two weeks of this month.

New York Red Bulls 2-0 (3-1 agg.) CD Olimpia

The Red Bulls got a pair of goals from outside the box as Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sean Davis helped the side to a 2-0 home win (3-1 on aggregate) over Honduras’ CD Olimpia.

For Wright-Phillips, it was his 101st goal as a member of the Red Bulls.

Seattle Sounders 4-0 (5-2 agg.) Santa Tecla FC

Magnus Wolff Eikrem did nothing to harm the opinion that the new Seattle Sounders man could be the breakout star of the 2018 MLS season.

The Norwegian national team star and former Manchester United Academy member scored as a halftime substitute on debut, the fourth scorer for Seattle in a 4-0 rout of Santa Tecla.

The Salvadoran visitors held a 2-1 lead after one leg, but the Sounders’ away goal part of the equation for just over one half.

Will Bruin scored two minutes after halftime, with Nicolas Lodeiro and Chad Marshall scoring before Eikrem finished off the display.

Clint Dempsey had a pair of assists, none prettier than the 1-2 with Eikrem to round off the scoring.