USMNT

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

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The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.

Scouting report gives high praise for USMNT, Newcastle back Yedlin

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 07:  A detail of the neck tattoo of Newcastle player Deandre Yedlin during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Birmingham City and Newcastle United at St Andrews (stadium) on January 7, 2017 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images
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You may remember Danny Higginbotham from his time as a defender at Sunderland, Stoke City, Derby County, and Southampton, but these days he makes his dough as an analyst.

You almost certainly remember USMNT right back and speed merchant DeAndre Yedlin, though perhaps not seeing him on your television has limited your intake on his progress since leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Newcastle United.

[ MORE: Wenger treatment “unacceptable,” says Pep ]

Yedlin’s been very decent for the Magpies, making 23 appearances while providing a goal and five assists. Higginbotham has been impressed, and devoted a good portion of his prematch notes on Newcastle-Aston Villa to the American.

From Sky Sports:

Yedlin plays almost as a right winger at times. He’s the one that gives the width on that side, and he has been a standout player in recent games.

He is so quick, so he can get back with his recovery runs, but it’s what he does with the ball as well. We see him controlling the whole of the right-hand side. He has been so key for Newcastle and he gives them such an attacking threat.

Newcastle will move back atop the Championship with a win over Aston Villa on Monday, and have a five-point lead on third-place Huddersfield Town in the race for an automatic promotion place. Brighton and Hove Albion is first, two points clear of the Magpies.

Tim Howard talks quality of MLS with Merseyside paper

MANHATTAN BEACH, CA - JANUARY 18:  MLS soccer player Tim Howard attends MLS Media Week - Day 2 at Manhattan Beach Marriott on January 18, 2017 in Manhattan Beach, California.  (Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for TAG Heuer)
Photo by Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for TAG Heuer
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Tim Howard was caught off guard by the quality of MLS in multiple ways.

The longtime Premier League and USMNT goalkeeper left MLS at age 23 and returned after a decade and a half.

[ MORE: Slumping Spurs “have to be clever” ]

Howard, 37, was surprised that the quality of play in the league was so good, while also finding the know-how to be a bit off his expectations.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“I thought that tactically the league would be really good, but technically it would be down. I found it to be the opposite.

“Tactically each team needed some work, which I thought was a good thing if we could get the Rapids organised. That was true.

“We’ve got to a point now where people are no longer looking at MLS as a retirement league. Players are coming here to work, to perform, to be a part of a culture. That’s a good thing.”

Howard also admitted that he’s been keeping former teammates Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley up to date on the quality of the league, and says he still misses walking down the tunnel at Goodison Park. Read it all here.

Lichaj hopes renewed for USMNT call-up

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11:  Apostolos Vellios of Notts Forest celebrates scoring to make it 1-0 with Pajtim Kasmami, Eric Lichaj and Ben Osborn during the Sky Bet Championship match between Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest at Villa Park on September 11, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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USMNT fans have been interested in seeing Eric Lichaj return to the fold for some time, but that wasn’t in the cards under Jurgen Klinsmann aside from a 27-minute cameo against Puerto Rico last year.

With Bruce Arena back on the bench, hopes are renewed for the 28-year-old fullback.

[ MORE: NYCFC signs new DP ]

Lichaj left the University of North Carolina after his freshman year to start life at Aston Villa. Over five seasons, he thrice went on loan while making 42 appearances for Villa.

A permanent transfer to Nottingham Forest followed in 2013, and he’s spent the last four seasons as a mainstay for Forest. Arena mentioned Lichaj in a recent conference call, and that’s got the back pretty pumped.

From FourFourTwo.com‘s Paul Tenorio:

“It excited me, and it gave me more motivation. Because that’s definitely something I want, to get back in the team,” Lichaj told FourFourTwo. “I feel like I can provide something, whether it’s starting in the squad or on the bench. I think I can provide something to the U.S. team for the qualifiers and for the upcoming World Cup.”

Given the Yanks’ problems defending on the left, Lichaj’s omission from the roster has been a head scratcher for a while. Here’s hoping Arena validates Lichaj’s hopes for a return.

Bob Bradley opens up: “I am an American coach”

Swansea manager Bob Bradley watches the action during their English Premier League soccer match against West Ham United at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales, Monday, Dec. 26, 2016. (Simon Galloway/PA via AP)
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For anyone who said it wasn’t a big deal for Bob Bradley to become the first-ever American to coach in the Premier League, they were wrong.

Even Bob himself admits he was wrong about it.

[ LONGFORM: Bradley – “That’s Football” ]

After just 85 days in charge of Swansea City, the former head coach of the U.S. men’s national team was fired with the Swans staying in the relegation zone after gaining eight points from his 11 games in charge.

In a typically revealing piece with the Players’ Tribune, Bradley opens up about his philosophy and the challenges he faced when coaching in the Premier League at Swansea.

[ JPW: American stigma: Bradley unfairly vilified ]  

One of the main challenges was the fact that he was American.

Something we wrote about here at PST in the column above.

[ MORE: Bradley releases statement via PST on Swans firing ]

Below is a snippet from the excellent piece which you can read in full, here.

When I arrived home that night I received a message from the chairman: “Would you meet me at the academy?” When I got that message, I knew exactly what was happening.

As they say in the Premier League, I got the sack.

I failed. Failed to put my stamp on the team at Swansea. To give it a real identity. A real personality. I never managed to find the right balance between attack and defense. I couldn’t find the answers for this group to play with the commitment and passion that so many of my other teams possessed. We never found consistency or confidence.