Preview: Early cycle friendly shelves normal questions for U.S. national team’s return

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Nearly four years away from the next World Cup, it’s difficult to approach tomorrow’s U.S. Men’s National Team friendly with our usual level of scrutiny. Who’s fighting for starting spots? Which players need a big camp? What will this tell us about the U.S.’s place in the world? We’re clearly not above those questions, but it’s important to remember: Four years from now, Wednesday’s game against the Czech Republic will be pretty irrelevant.

If there’s any time we should sit back and just enjoy a game, tomorrow’s that time. And given some of the names brought into camp, there’ll be plenty of reasons to look beyond the results, take in the return, and wait for the debates to evolve. From new kids to old kids, returning stars to impending battles, Wednesday’s showing against the Czech republic will seed more than a few discussions going forward.

Here’s what to look for tomorrow in Prague:

source: Getty Images1. New kids in Casa Klinsmann

Emerson Hyndman (right) has been drawing rave reviews. Like fellow 18-year-old Rubio Rubin, the Fulham midfielder is in his first senior camp, competing to make his full international debut. Add in goalkeeper Cody Cropper, fullback Greg Garza, and attackers Joe Gyau and Jordan Morris, and there are six players hoping to win their first cap – the kind of squad you rarely see later in the cycle.

Add in Bobby Wood and Alfredo Morales (one cap, each) and you have a series of players looking to make new impressions on Jurgen Klinsmann. If history is any indication, only a few of them will play significant parts by the end of the cycle. But for those few, tomorrow’s match starts a new journey, one that will allow fans to mark the day a new star broke through with the national team.

2. Old kids solidifying roles

In Brazil, talents like John Brooks, Julian Green, and (to a lesser extent) Mix Diskerud were part of youthful contingent gaining experience for better days. On Wednesday, those better days begin. Each player will be expected to make big contributions this cycle, going from backups’ roles to performers who can compete for starting jobs. By the time the U.S leaves for Russia 2018, each will be in their prime, representing the next generation of American talent.

source: APTomorrow’s unlikley to produce a major breakthrough, but with each appearance over the next four years, the underlying theme should be the same: Progress. As their games mature and older talents start to fade out, Brooks, Green (right), and Diskerud (among others) will have to form the team’s new core. Particularly with so many veterans left off this squad, Prague presents a great opportunity to flash that potential.

3. Fabian and Jozy, back on the field

Fabian Johnson was one of the U.S.’s best players at this summer’s World Cup, but like Jozy Altidore, his tournament ended too soon. Muscle injuries meant both players were on the sidelines by the time Belgium sent the U.S. home, with Altidore’s tournament ending after 20 minutes against Ghana.

Altidore’s drawn plenty of criticism for his play at Sunderland, but for the U.S., he’s a special talent. Only 24 and already sixth on the team’s all-time goal scoring list, Altidore has the poise to function as a focal point, something that will come in handy with Clint Dempsey back in Seattle. His 23 international goals are more than the rest of the camp’s players combined, with his 71 caps more than doubling the squad’s next-highest total (Alejandro Bedoya, 32). Still only 24, Altidore has long been a fixture in the squad, with his track record for the U.S. rendering proving club form need not dictate international results.

Fabian Johnson doesn’t have the wealth of international experience, but after proving himself indispensable over three years with the team, the Borussia Mönchengladbach man has established himself as one of the most talented widemen in U.S. history. Without a long record of hype and adulation, Johnson’s place in fans’ hearts may not be as dear as the team’s long-time talents, but the 26-year-old is still among the best players in Klinsmann’s pool. There’s a reason he’s playing at a club level few American talents can realize.

On Wednesday, both players will be back on the field, supplying some first-team talent to a somewhat experimental squad.

4. And that goalkeeper battle

The extent to which this is an actual competition is debatable, but with Nick Rimando the only player pulled in from MLS, there’s reason to think there’s a battle for Tim Howard’s vacated spot. Brad Guzan may not be gifted the number one’s job. With each player scheduled to play 45 minutes in Prague, there may yet be a fight for time in goal.

Then again, like everything else surrounding Wednesday’s game, it may be best to sit back and enjoy rather than draw firm conclusions. Who knows what’s going on inside Jurgen Klinsmann’s head? With Howard out of the picture, Guzan maybe the assumed number one, but too many times Klinsmann’s shown what happens when we assume. Rimando may have been called in for lack of other options. He may also be given a fresh look as a potential starter.

Competition aside, Wednesday gives the two U.S. veterans some much deserved playing time – minutes they’re starved of when Howard’s in the fold. It will be nice to see each on the field.

WATCH: Hartford Athletic scores wild 90th-minute winner

Hartford Athletic goal
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It’s very rare in this age full of soccer on our screens that we catch a goal of unique ingenuity.

The USL Championship delivered the goods on Wednesday.

Hartford Athletic had blown a two-goal lead to Philadelphia Union II on Wednesday and was staring down a 2-2 draw when Danny Barrera swung into action.

[ REPORT: Spurs land Mourinho’s “top target” ]

Well, perhaps he lunged into action. Or flailed. On third thought, swung is good.

Heck, you pick the verb.

Barrera, 30, turned Philadelphia goalkeeper Mitchell Budler into a gift horse, reacting quickly to flick his back boot into the path of the keeper’s attempted outlet throw in the 90th minute.

The 81st-minute sub became the match-winning goalscorer off the play, which gives him two goals and seven assists on the season.

Hartford has 32 points and is a point off table-leading Tampa Bay Rowdies with one match to play. Second-place Louisville City is also on 32 points and Pittsburgh Riverhounds have 31.

Hartford may be able to look back at Barrera’s goal as the surprise three points that swung a title race in its favor.

Leeds – Manchester City: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

Leeds - Manchester City
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Leeds – Manchester City: It’s been so far, so good for Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds in their return to the Premier League, but a visit from Man City to Elland Road is a stiffer test (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET Saturday on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Leeds fell 4-3 to Liverpool on Opening Day but has since beaten Fulham and Sheffield United to sit top half of the table in this very young Premier League season.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Man City fell 5-2 to Leicester City at home last weekend after beating Wolves to start their PL season. A midweek clean sheet of Burnley shows that Pep Guardiola’s men aren’t dead, and the Catalan mastermind will relish the chance to match wits with a man he hails as a role model in Bielsa.

Guardiola once called Bielsa the best manager in the world.

“Winning titles helps to have a job next season but at the end of your life, what you remember is not the titles you have won, what you remember is the memories you have and whether the manager taught you a lot,” Guardiola once said when asked about Bielsa. “What we remember are the experiences and the memories, the players you have had, the managers you have had. Marcelo is at the top of the list. Absolutely at the top of the list.”


Team news for Leeds – Manchester City (INJURY REPORT)

Leeds will not have emerging star winger Jack Harrison, who is in his second season on loan to the club from Man City and ineligible to play against his parent club. Gaetano Berardi (knee), Adam Forshaw (groin), Pablo Hernandez (groin) are on the injured list.

Things are getting better for Manchester City, who got Aymeric Laporte and Bernardo Silva back in a midweek League Cup win over Burnley. Still out are Gabriel Jesus (undisclosed), Sergio Aguero (knee), Joao Cancelo (foot), Ilkay Gundogan (COVID-19), and Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed).


What they’re saying

Leeds’ young goalkeeper Illan Meslier on keeping a clean sheet: “I’m happy because in the last game against Fulham I felt I could have saved the last two goals, but against Sheffield I saved two important chances and we arrived at half time at 0-0 which was important. It is just one game though, and we are focused on the next game now and then the one after that. For the spectators I think 4-3 games are better, but for the team and me it is better one-nil. We managed to do that on Sunday and win the game so it is all good.”

Man City boss Guardiola on new signing Ruben Dias: “We know Ruben Dias’s personality and I am sure he will be an incredible player for the next six or seven years. We’re very happy to have him. Our back four are now a young team. We start training tomorrow and get going as quick as possible.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

This line has probably become a lot tighter than it would’ve been in August since Leeds has burst onto the scene while Man City has been up-and-down (relatively speaking). Leeds is +675 to win at home and +440 to draw, while City is -290 to collect all three points.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Leeds – Manchester City prediction

Leeds is a talented side and only getting better and deeper in terms of talent and experience. And Bielsa can plan for any opposition. But injured or not, City still has Kevin De Bruyne, Rodri, Raheem Sterling, and more. Man City 3-1.


How to watch Leeds – Manchester City stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Manchester United – Tottenham: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Manchester United – Tottenham: Jose Mourinho’s latest Premier League project waltzes into his previous stop when Tottenham Hotspur visits Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Both clubs boast midweek wins in the League Cup, though Tottenham’s Thursday visit from Europa League foes Maccabi Haifa have complicated Mourinho’s planning for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Tottenham may have a new striker in the fold, with reports claiming the North Londoners have loaned Mourinho’s No. 1 target, Carlos Vinicius, from Benfica.

Meanwhile, Solskjaer has grown frustrated of answering questions on United’s transfer activity with days to go in the window.


Team news for Manchester United – Tottenham (INJURY REPORT)

Same old, same old for United, which is still dealing with long-term injuries to Axel Tuanzebe (ankle) and Phil Jones (knee).

Tottenham is still waiting for Gareth Bale to regain full fitness after a knee injury, while Heung-min Son is unlikely to play Sunday but manager Jose Mourinho was unwilling to completely rule the South Korean out.


What they’re saying

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Man Utd’s transfer activity“I can’t give you any news. We are working with what we have got. We have a big squad. If there is any update, we will let you know. I don’t comment on other teams’ players. I can’t concern myself with other clubs. I know the club is working well and hard to have a strong squad as possible. Sometimes speculation is there and we can’t control that.”

Spurs’ boss Mourinho on midweek League Cup win over Chelsea“We were ready to fight, I told you. I told the players before the penalties that they were magnificent in the second half, we made Chelsea look ordinary. The team waited for the right moment…. I have to think about three games at the same time but the players only thought about this game, they were phenomenal. Phenomenal.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Man United is -108 to win while visiting Spurs register a +290 odds to get all three points against Jose Mourinho’s former club. A draw nets the bettor +260.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Manchester United – Tottenham prediction

Tottenham’s looked the superior team in all competitions so far, though United’s stars have yet to really fire on all cylinders aside from Bruno Fernandes. The variables for this weekend, however, favor United. Spurs will have played Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday while United played Saturday-Tuesday. If Old Trafford was full of screaming fans we might expect a little more advantage for a home side, too. Son’s absence looms large, though, and that will tilt the scales from a 2-2 draw to a 2-1 Man United win.


How to watch Manchester United – Tottenham stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Report: Tottenham lands Mourinho’s No. 1 striker target from Benfica

Carlos Vinicius to Tottenham
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If Gareth Bale doesn’t have “it” anymore, then Jose Mourinho’s gonna have other options.

Heck, even if he does.

Tottenham will soon announce the signing of Benfica striker Carlos Vinicius on a one-year loan and $50 million-plus option-to-buy after the season.

[ MORE: Champions League draw preview ]

Not to be confused with Real Madrid star Vinicius Junior, Carlos Vinicius is a 25-year-old Brazilian striker coming off a career-year in Portugal.

Vinicius scored 23 times with 13 assists in a breakout 2019-20 season, his 18 league goals tied for the Portuguese top flight lead with teammate Pizzi and Rio Ave’s Mehdi Taremi.

He’s also comfortable coming off the bench, scoring those six of his 18 league goals in substitute performances.

[ MORE: Mourinho on League Cup defeat of Chelsea ]

Football.London reporter Alasdair Gold says Vinicius was Jose Mourinho’s No. 1 summer target but the price tag was too high earlier in the window.

Vinicius used to belong to Napoli but twice went out on loan, one of those a 16-appearance, 2-goal campaign for Monaco in Ligue 1.

The player shares an agency with Cristiano Ronaldo, Ederson, Ruben Neves, Ruben Dias, and Matt Doherty.