Rubio Rubin, just 18, shows plenty of promise on U.S. national team debut

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LONDON — On Friday night at Craven Cottage against the No.3-ranked team in the world, 18-year-old striker Rubio Rubin was thrown in at the deep end by Jurgen Klinsmann.

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It was sink or swim time, and in his own words Rubin did “fine.” He’s being modest, it was one of the best debuts from a U.S. teenager in recent memory.

After making nine appearances for FC Utrecht in Holland’s Eredivisie this season, Rubin has been in the past couple of U.S. national team squads but earned his first cap in London among hostile surroundings where a cacophony of Colombian noise filled the air in West London. That didn’t put Rubin off.

“Nah, I wasn’t nervous at all going into the game,” Rubin said nonchalantly. “I just wanted to go out there and do my best, work hard for the team. I wanted to work to get a win today but unfortunately that didn’t happen today. If I played 10 minutes or 90 minutes I am always going to do my best as possible. Coach called me in to start and it didn’t change anything. I just go out there and do my best.”

[ RELATED: Three things we learned from USA vs. Colombia ]

This kid is confident and twice came close through headers either side of half time and was integral in winning the USA’s penalty kick for their only goal in the 9th minute, as Rubin provided Jozy Altidore with a perfect foil as they started up top together. That delighted the USA’s head coach.

“I saw an 18-year-old kid, Rubio Rubin, show that he is coming through the system which is exciting to see,” Klinsmann beamed. “We saw individual performances that were just fun to watch.”

[ RELATED: Altidore could have had “four or five goals at World Cup” ]

Rubin is looking forward to developing a close partnership with Altidore and on this showing the 18-year-old is ready to take up a more prominent role with the USA. Speaking to reporters after the game, Altidore revealed that he’s always talking with Rubin after coming through the Dutch top-flight himself. Their bond was evident against Colombia.

“Jozy and I have been practicing this whole week with each other and just seeing how we play,” Rubin said. “He knows how to play with me and I know how to play with him. Everything is not perfect right now but if we continue to play together we are going to bond and that just happens over time.”

Rubin’s big moment to score a memorable debut goal, which would have put the USA 2-0 up, arrived in the 47th minute as Alejandro Bedoya got the ball on the left flank and he picked out the Oregon native at the back post. But as Rubin stooped to get in front of Colombia’s Pablo Armero, he sent a spectacular diving header just past the post.

“I just played behind the defenders back and right when the ball was going to be played, I went in front of him [Armero] but unfortunately I kind of mishit the ball a little bit,’ Rubin explained. “It was an unfortunate chance that I missed, I wish I could have put it away.”

That missed chance aside, Rubin showed so much promise for a teenager starting his first game up top and he put in a great shift for 67 minutes until he was replaced by Bobby Wood. In the lead up to Colombia’s goal you could argue that he could have shielded the ball better, but that’s something he must learn from occasions such as this. That said, with the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Aron Johansson and others failing to take chances up top over the past six months, there’s definitely a chance for the American forward to fastrack his way into the national team.

Klinsmann wanted his young players to get a taste of a hostile atmosphere against a great team on foreign soil to help aid their development. Rubin was a big winner from this match against Colombia and he enjoyed his special night among a sea of yellow in West London.

“Yeah, there were a lot of Colombians out here today. It was like a home game for Colombia,” Rubin smiled. “I didn’t even believe how many Colombians are living in London. It was definitely one of the biggest matches I’ve played in.”

On this showing, he will get to play in plenty more for the USA.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Giroud is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”