Jurgen Klinsmann, US veterans usher in new wave of talent to end 2014

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LONDON — Times, they are a changin’.

Down by the River Thames in London the USA will host No.3-ranked Colombia on Friday as a new era is being ushered in by the U.S. national teams’ veterans and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

[ PREVIEW: USA host Colombia at Fulham  ]

In a press conference at Fulham’s historic Craven Cottage stadium on Thursday, Klinsmann emphasized the need for his veterans to stand up and help integrate promising youngsters such as Bobby Wood, Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin and many others.

The time is now.

“It is very important, the role that the veterans play. In many clubs nowadays you don’t see that anymore. You don’t see that leadership from more experienced players helping the younger guys to understand what it actually takes to become a real professional,” Klinsmann said when asked by ProSoccerTalk. “I was very lucky when I was coming up through the ranks, I had players looking after me who would give me a kick in my backside if I started flying too high. I follow that closely with many club situations where I don’t see that happening anymore.”

[ RELATED: Cameron on USA’s progress ]

Klinsmann revealed he mixed up his squad on purpose for this trip, and during practice all week you could hear the older guys dishing out copious amounts of praise towards the younger players. “Well done Julian!” “Keep going Bobby!” “Attaboy Brooksy!”

“We purposefully made that mixture now for this group,” Klinsmann explained. “I gave them the message, whether it is Brad [Guzan], Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, Nick Rimando. I told them you have to talk to [the young players] communicate with them. Leave your cellphones off the table. Give them ideas what to expect and how their growth should happen.”

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The USA’s veterans are playing a leading role as the team close out 2014.

The USA’s coach is looking forward to leading his team out at a packed stadium on Friday in West London — the game is expected to break attendance records for an international at the Cottage — while also giving plenty of youngsters the chance to shine.

[ RELATED: Ibarra eager to learn ]

Klinsmann has called up the likes of Rubio Rubin, Miguel Ibarra, Alfredo Morales, Stanford University’s Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood in the past two to three camps but used them sparingly. This final batch of international matches in 2014 could give us a glimpse of the future as the youngsters step up to the plate.

“We don’t want them to waste time. We want them to break in quickly if they can,” Klinsmann added. “If it takes longer, then so be it. We want them to have that open dialogue because they have all the power in the world to put them in line, if needed.”

[ RELATED: Guzan leading US goalkeeping core ]

In Klinsmann’s latest squad 12 players have less than 10 caps, while the same number are under the age of 24. The youth element is strong and four-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley, now 32, is playing a key part as a leader on this squad.

“These type of games are where you can challenge these young kids and see whether they can sink or swim,” Beasley said. “So far they have got a passing grade but it is a long four years until another World Cup. These games against quality opponents like Colombia on Friday and Ireland next week is preparation for them to prolong their international career.”

Beasley’s international career began in 2001 and he’s still going. Four World Cup squads and 120 caps later, the Indiana native is keen to do whatever he can to help out. Just like other U.S. players helped him out when he first arrived on the scene.

“One of the guys played here,” Beasley smiled, looking up to the old iron rafters at Craven Cottage. “Brian McBride. He’s a guy that was always full of information and willing to help the young kids. Claudio Reyna. Eddie Pope, when I was younger they were always looking to bring a young guy under their wing and help them in any way. On and off the field. We definitely want to do the same thing as we pass the torch going into 2016, 2017… maybe some of the older guys such as myself won’t be here. So we want to make sure the U.S. national team is in good hands.”

[ RELATED: Besler on SKC, enjoying life in London ]

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Beasley, and other US veterans, have been asked to take the young guys under their wing.

Klinsmann agrees with Beasely, as a strong core of leaders has always defined the U.S. national team across generations and helped his team advance to the knockout stages at the World Cup this summer.

“I think that is a characteristic of the U.S. team for a long time. Long before I came on board,” Klinsmann said. “The experienced players always helped the younger ones and there’s always a special chemistry and a good spirit. That spirit was part of our path getting out of the ‘Group of Death’ this summer at the World Cup. Their role is vital.”

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan is settling into the leadership role, as he works alongside young stoppers such as Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid. With Tim Howard out of the picture until next September, Guzan is happy with the role Klinsmann is asking him to take on and believes a strong bond is developing among the USA’s current crop of players.

“The group is slowly coming together,” Guzan said. “That’s nice to see because there are some new faces and a few guys now that have been in one or two camps, where you would think they have been in five or ten camps. It is an easy group to come in to and the young guys train really well. From that aspect the week has gone well. And, more importantly, off the field the group is really coming together.”

Can this group of talented youngsters headlined by Yedlin and Green oust some veterans, and others who didn’t make this trip, off the roster? These two friendlies over the next week will have a big say if they’re ready to do just that.

“They are a hungry group, they are exciting and they want to do well, to prove themselves and prove they belong here, which they have done so far.” Beasley said. “We are excited about the future of this team.”

Veterans and youngsters intertwined, Klinsmann’s experiment of meshing age groups will be under the spotlight at Craven Cottage on Friday night, then again in Dublin next Tuesday. After that match we will have a good idea if times are a changin’ for good for the U.S. national team.

Benfica loanee Parks readies for playoffs with NYCFC

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Keaton Parks plays the kind of hard-to-quantify midfield role that sends both stat nerds and eye test takers to a very good place.

Barely 22, the New York City FC midfielder doesn’t stand out in any one particular area. Since arriving on loan from Benfica, the American shuttler (of sorts) ranks near the top of the club rankings in pass percentage and aerials won while chipping in tackles and successful dribbles.

[ MORE: PST talks public pitches, youth development with NYCFC director Reyna ]

He’s averaging near one key pass per game but has just a goal and an assist, due more to his responsibility in Dome Torrent’s system than a particular skill set (He has eight goals and seven assists across two-plus seasons between Varzim and Benfica B).

“In the midfield it really helps to play both sides of the ball,” Parks told ProSoccerTalk. “I take pride in doing that, and I love to make a tackle as much as getting in the attack and assisting or scoring goals. It doesn’t bother me that I’m not scoring or making all of the assists. I like to be the solid player who keeps the balance on the team.”

(Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

Parks has been an enigma to American soccer fans for some time in that he’s been in a celebrated club in Benfica but playing in a developmental role that’s near impossible to track without single-minded dedication to Portuguese football (Dramatic? Sure, but you try to catch every Liga Pro game).

But in moving to New York City FC to play under Dome Torrent, he’s had an easier transition than most due to his upbringing with Benfica, which annually ranks amongst the top possession teams in Portugal. Torrent, of course, left his last managerial gig at Girona in Spain to spent a decade-plus on Pep Guardiola‘s staff at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City.

“Dome likes to play a possession style, a confident style,” Parks said. “I still have to fight for my spot on the team but the playing style I was used to right away.

“You can see the experience Dome has, and he mirrors a little bit of what Pep does, so it’s been amazing to be able to learn from him and see the experiences of the players he’s been able to coach in his career.”

NYCFC begins its playoff run on Wednesday against Toronto FC at Citi Field in Queens, and Parks says he’s feeling better after missing three matches with injury.

And while he’s focused on the playoffs — “We want to win the Cup and be at the top” — there is a question of what’s next for him, still on the books at a perennial UEFA Champions League club but very important with a CONCACAF Champions League club.

[ MORE: MLS Playoffs preview/predictions ]

“I’m just going to be looking forward to whatever club I’m at next, whether here or back at Benfica or wherever I am and also with the U-23s going into Tokyo next summer.”

He’ll, in theory, be an imperative part to Jason Kreis, ironically a former NYCFC man himself, and the Yanks bid for a first Olympic run in three cycles. The team should be powerful, and Parks is happy.

“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “We have so much talent on the team with guys playing first division all over the world. I believe we can make a run all the way to these Olympics.”
NYCFC and Toronto FC kick off 7 p.m. ET Wednesday at Citi Field.

MLS conference semifinal preview and predictions

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We’re not sure we should be allowed to make Major League Soccer playoff predictions after getting two upset bids wrong in the first round, but we go again anyway.

No, DC United did not outlast Toronto FC at BMO Field nor were the Portland Timbers able to get a win over Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto but… we got the other four right?

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

It gets trickier at midweek for the conference semifinals, as two of those six victors from the weekend face well-rested one seeds (We suppose they could be rusty, not just well-rested).

NYCFC v. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
TFC 4-0 NYCFC (April 29)
NYCFC 1-1 TFC (Sept. 11)

Toronto hasn’t lost since Aug. 3 (5W-6D) and is well-equipped to deal NYCFC’s possession system on a postage stamp pitch. NYC’s only loss in its last 11 was a throwaway loss to a desperate Revolution side in New England. TFC has a lot of experience in spots like this, but Dome Torrent’s done an incredible job with City. It’s a coin toss, but ultimately it feels like that coin lands TFC side up. 2-1 aet.

Seattle v. Real Salt Lake  — 10 p.m. ET Wednesday

Regular season:
Seattle 1-0 RSL (April 6)
RSL 3-0 Seattle (Aug. 14)

This one’s also close, as RSL has a number of players who won’t be bothered by the pressure but man is this home field advantage a real one. The Sounders only lost two home matches this season, and haven’t lost a home playoff match under Brian Schmetzer. Call it 2-0 for Seattle.

Atlanta United v. Philadelphia Union — 8 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
ATL 1-1 Philly (March 17)
Philly 3-1 ATL (Aug. 31)

The Union are resilient, and Jim Curtin seeing success is an absolute joy. So deserved, but Frank De Boer is showing his mettle in making the tough decisions and Ezequiel Barco looks a terror. A side that is able to bring Tito Villalba and Pity Martinez off the bench is unfair. Atlanta, 3-1.

LAFC v. LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Regular season:
Galaxy 3-2 LAFC (July 19)
LAFC 3-3 Galaxy (Aug. 25)

Can hardly wait for this one. Bob Bradley and Carlos Vela look to send Zlatan Ibrahimovic packing after a riotous summer competition. LAFC is so, so good, and the lack of rest for the Galaxy is a problem. Still, betting against Zlatan seems borderline insane, and Jonathan dos Santos has big game mettle of his own. We’ll call it 2-2 and a place in penalty kicks, where David Bingham’s the difference for the Galaxy in a history-writing upset that takes El Trafico to the next level. Yes, we are predicting for storylines now.

Champions League preview: Chelsea, Liverpool hit the road

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Frank Lampard has a selection headache amongst his wingers as he tries to figure out Chelsea’s best avenue to break down Ajax on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League.

Youngsters Callum Hudson-Odoi and Christian Pulisic starred in the Blues’ weekend win, and Lampard also has Pedro and Willian available at Johan Cruyff Arena before a weekend visit to Burnley.

[ MORE: Dest choosing side this week ]

From ChelseaFC.com:

“Callum gave me that in his display from the start and Christian gave me that in his display coming on, and in terms of the wingers I have, Willian gave me that, Pedro gives me that so I have good selection problems when people come on and make a difference. That is what we are all about.

“The extra level that is the Champions League, the detail, the focus, concentration for 90 minutes, making the most of tiny moments, will be a test for all the young players, not just Callum.”

The good news for Pulisic in his bid to match wits with fellow USMNT (for now) player Sergino Dest is that he’s had experience on the UCL stage with Borussia Dortmund.

The other PL side in action is Liverpool, and the Reds will be expecting to get all three points in Belgium against Genk.

But Genk drew Napoli 0-0 at home on the second match day and the Reds will be wary of a slip-up.

“It’s a really good football-playing team,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp. “They are organized and brave in their positioning. They don’t play with the pressing line too much but go for second balls, have speed and good midfielders and very active full-backs.”

Klopp will not have Trent Alexander-Arnold (illness) and Joel Matip (knee).

Other highlights…

— American manager Jesse Marsch hopes to lead Red Bull Salzburg to a home win over Napoli when he matches wits with Carlo Ancelotti.

Antonio Conte‘s Inter Milan could really use a result against tricky Borussia Dortmund in Italy.

UEFA Champions League Wednesday schedule

12:55 p.m. ET
Ajax v. Chelsea
RB Leipzig v. Zenit Saint-Petersburg

3 p.m. ET
Slavia Prague v. Barcelona
Red Bull Salzburg v. Napoli
Genk v. Liverpool
Inter Milan v. Borussia Dortmund
Lille v. Valencia
Benfica v. Lyon

Man City’s Guardiola issues Rodri update; Zinchenko also injured

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Man City boss Pep Guardiola expects to be without Rodri for at least a couple of matches after his heavily relied-on midfielder hurt his hamstring on Tuesday.

Rodri was removed from the match after 40 minutes, having partnered with Fernandinho at center back for the second-straight match.

[ MORE: Man City 5-1 Atalanta ]

A center mid and a fine one by trade, Rodri’s absence coupled with the still-hurt Aymeric Laporte leaves City significantly weaker in its heart.

“I think tomorrow we will know and hopefully it will be between 10 days if it is not broken,” Guardiola said. “If it is broken, it will be three weeks or one month.”

The club also announced before the match that Oleksandr Zinchenko had suffered a knee injury and will undergo tests.

City visits Aston Villa this weekend and then hosts Southampton in the League Cup and the Premier League before a visit to Atalanta in the Champions League.

That’s when Liverpool at Anfield arrives on the schedule, and the absence of Rodri would take some of the luster off of it for sure.