Chile vs. USA preview: Who’s here to stay as USMNT kicks off 2015?

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When Jurgen Klinsmann called in 28 players for the U.S. national team’s annual January training camp and subsequent friendlies, the USMNT head coach did so with eyes and mind looking forward to two different places: this summer’s Gold Cup — established USMNT veterans — and next year’s Olympic qualifying tournament — players under the age of 23.

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Klinsmann was more than open about his intentions to kill two birds with one stone, publicly confirming the roster was a healthy mix of players who will contribute on either front over the next 15 months.

With that in mind, who on the current 23-man roster for friendlies against Chile (Wednesday, 6 pm ET) and Panama (Sunday, Feb. 8, 4 pm ET) is in camp for an extended run with the first team this year, and who’s just hanging around for experience and further evaluation with the Olympics in mind?

Gold Cup locks — Goalkeeper Nick Rimando; defenders Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones and DeAndre Yedlin; midfielders Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud; forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey

Eight players from Klinsmann’s World Cup roster, all of which are too old for the Olympic qualifying team — Yedlin, who is probably seen as “too advanced” for U-23 team, the exception.


 

source: APGold Cup fringe players — Goalkeeper Sean Johnson; defenders Matt Hedges and Perry Kitchen; midfielders Lee Nguyen and Brek Shea; forward Chris Wondolowski

Johnson has been called into camp on a fairly regular basis as the No. 4 goalkeeper, often times flip-flopping with Bill Hamid, so with Tim Howard taking a year-long break from the national team, one of the two young shot-stoppers could sneak onto the Gold Cup roster as the No. 3 behind Brad Guzan (No. 1) and Rimando.

Hedges’ (right) performances during the 2014 MLS season forced Klinsmann to call up the 24-year-old and, with strong showings during training sessions, could push the FC Dallas defender into a class just below Besler, Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, who are all pretty regular starters. A possible shift to a 3-5-2 only helps Hedges as it creates another starting spot along the backline. Kitchen, who often plays in the midfield for D.C. United, surpassed the 11,000-minute mark for United in 2014, his fourth year as a pro, and figures to get a look with the full senior team at some point.

Lee Nguyen had an unreal 2014 season for the New England Revolution, and there’s no one in the USMNT player pool who plays the No. 10 position as dynamically as him. Here’s the problem for Nguyen: if Klinsmann switches to a 3-5-2 full time, there’s little room on the field for Nguyen. Shea, on the other hand, gets another lifeline thrown his way as someone who’s fairly experienced in areas both wide-attacking and defensively. Klinsmann obviously rates the 24-year-old because he keeps calling him into camps despite a complete lack of club team minutes, so he’ll get every chance to succeed (or fail).

Wondolowski is 31 the No. 4 forward on any first-team USMNT roster, at best.

[ RELATED: U.S. U-20s defeat El Salvador, qualify for 2015 U-20 World Cup ]


 

source: APAn eye toward Olympic qualifiers — Goalkeeper Jon Kempin; defender Shane O’Neill; midfielders Dillon Serna and Wil Trapp

Kempin showed flashes of a future MLS No. 1 during spot starts for Sporting Kansas City in 2014. It’ll be interesting to see whether Klinsmann and U-23 head coach Andreas Herzog opt to ride the 21-year-old Kempin, or Southampton prospect and regular U-20/23 starter Cody Cropper.

O’Neill and Trapp (right) figure to make up the spine for the Olympic qualifying team, and a strong one at that. Both 21 years old, each has logged nearly 4,000 minutes (Trapp is just short at 3,875) in their first two full seasons in MLS combined.

[ RELATED: Juan Agudelo close to re-joining New England Revolution ]


 

Too old for Olympic qualifiers, hoping to make a GC case — Defender Steve Birnbaum; midfielder Miguel Ibarra; forward Bobby Wood

Both Birnbaum and Ibarra seem long shots to earn long-term places in the senior team, but January call-ups are important opportunities to make their case, regardless. Meanwhile, Wood got a number of run-outs with the senior team at the end of 2014, but failed to stake his claim to a place once the full complement of forwards is available to Klinsmann.

Everton’s Silva: ‘It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score’

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Like in the two games leading into Friday night, Everton have done their part in creating clear-cut chances.

They haven’t done their part in finishing, however. A major point of concern for manager Marco Silva following his side’s 2-0 loss against Aston Villa. From the BBC:

“It is really difficult to see how we can lose this game when we create so many chances to score. It is a tough place to play football.”

The Toffees have now outshot all three opponents they’ve faced this season (34-21), but have only a goal to speak for their attacking dominance. Against Villa, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Theo Walcott squandered ideal chances in the first and second halves, respectively. In the minutes following his Everton debut, Alex Iwobi was the closest to converting for the visitors, hitting the post in the closing minutes of the match.

Silva, as critical as ever before, acknowledges that despite his team succeeding when it comes to creating chances, they desperately need to move the ball past the white line.

“The most difficult thing is to create and when you do you have to put the ball in the net,” the 42-year-old added. “It is concerning about the goals we didn’t score and of course we should score more. Against Palace we created lots of chances to score and didn’t and again today.”

With a challenging bout against Wolves at Goodison Park next on the schedule, the Portuguese will certainly look to tinker his attack to improve the team’s poor conversion rate. Despite falling to score 10 yards in, Iwobi contributed positively for Everton at Villa Park. Moise Kean, still adjusting to the rigors of the league, can be another prudent option to consider.

Luckily, Everton have time – and a match against Lincoln City midweek – to weigh their options. Silva, as he clearly explained at Villa Park, would want the goals to come in sooner rather than later.

Villa’s Wesley hopes to ‘continue like this’ after scoring first goal

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Anwar El Ghazi was the x-factor Friday night, giving every Aston Villa supporter in attendance at Villa Park the excuse to roar at the top of their lungs following his composed finish in the dying seconds of stoppage time.

But about an hour earlier, Villa’s $28-million striker, Wesley, gave the same supporters a reason to believe that they had a chance against Everton, and, most importantly, that Villa made the right decision in securing his signature just months ago.

[ MORE: Recap | Highlights ]

With a timely run and a well-paced strike, the Brazilian opened his Premier League and Aston Villa account. Something manager Dean Smith knew was bound to happen. From the BBC:

“Wesley is not rewarding me but this performance was very good tonight. I believe in him, I have watched him for a while at Club Bruges, playing in the Champions League so I know the calibre of player we were bringing in. You can’t judge someone after two games.”

Prior to Friday, Wesley was less effective than expected in the claret and blue, recording only two shots on target in his first 164 minutes in the league. Smith was swarmed with questions about the striker’s ineffectiveness as the pressure continued to pile on.

Against Everton, however, with the Villa struggling to keep possession and most playing through frenetic counter attacks, the 22-year-old made the most out of the small number of chances he saw. 21 minutes in, he scored. A couple of minutes later – if it wasn’t for a superb last-second tackle from Everton’s Yerry Mina – the Brazilian would have had a brace.

When he wasn’t aiming for goal, the striker was effectively displacing Everton’s back four with his clever runs and brawny hold-up play. One could tell that the Brazilian was playing the game to his strengths, in peace.

“I am very happy tonight, what a performance from the team,” Wesley said after the match. “We worked hard, played very well and we hope to continue like this week by week then we will see what happens.

“The manager knows me, he sees me everyday working hard and the supporters know me too. I keep calm, I know my qualities and today you saw that I can do.

“I hope to continue like this, the last two games were very difficult but now I have to help my team with goals.”

Time will tell if Wesley will continue on the same path, but after a slow start, its quite crystal clear that everyone at Aston Villa is behind the Brazilian striker.

Late El Ghazi goal seals Aston Villa victory over Everton

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With three points under their belt and Villa Park rocking like never before, it now feels like Aston Villa are finally back in the Premier League.

Pinned back the majority of the second half, trying to conserve a 1-0 lead, Anwar El Ghazi‘s last-gasp goal sealed the deal for Villa, edging Everton 2-0 on Friday.

Wesley‘s cathartic welcome to the Premier League 21 minutes in gave Dean Smith‘s side the room to breathe, despite being behind the ball the majority of the match.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]


Four things we learned

1. Certainly not the case last time they featured in the Premier League, Villa now have the luxury of boasting game-changing choices off the bench like El Ghazi, who can come in and finish things off.

2. Three matches in, and the Toffees’ glaring void is a clinical finisher up top. They’ll need to find a solution, sooner rather than later.

3.  In the 30-minute cameo, Alex Iwobi displayed that he can turn out to be a difference-maker for Everton this season, if utilized properly.

4. On a good night, there aren’t many stadiums that roar louder than Villa Park.

Man of the Match


Jota, positive for 77 minutes on the right side of the midfield, combined time and time again with Villa right back Frederic Guilbert for the greater good of creating energetic counters. The Spaniard’s first assist of the season came in similar fashion, when Wesley finished off his precise through ball.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Everton, like in the first half, imposed themselves on the home side, dominating control of the ball. A lack of fishing and creativity in the final third, however, complicated things for Marco Silva‘s side. As the clocked ticked, the ingenuity was nowhere to be found.

Shortly after coming on, Iwobi put forward the clearest chance Everton had experienced all night. The substitute’s shot, though, struck post, denying any chances of a brilliant debut by the former Arsenal man.

Villa continued to sit back with its four-man backline and Douglas Luiz right above as the No. 6, while remaining attentive on when to spring forward and take advantage of an unbalanced Everton.

El Ghazi surprised many, riffling a shot from 25 yards out. Pickford, vigilant as ever before, calmly blocked it out of danger.

Right before stoppage time, the Toffees were a couple of feet from walking away from Villa Park with a vital point. Theo Wolcott, however, failed to keep his strike leveled, skying the ball well over the bar.

Just minutes later, substitute El-Ghazi showed those watching how to finish, leading Villa to their first Premier League win since 2016.

AT HALF: Wesley scores first goal for Aston Villa

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With pressure certainly on, Wesley scored his first Premier League goal, which has Aston Villa 45 minutes out of their first points since their return to the big stage.

Following a sublime through ball from Jota, the Brazilian didn’t shy away from slotting the ball past Jordan Pickford and into the back of the net.

[ STREAM: Aston Villa – Everton ]

Such timely run and clinical finish showcased by the 22-year-old put into perspective why Villa were willing to shell out $28 million for the striker this summer.

Welcome to the Premier League, Wesley.