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.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

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Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

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Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

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It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

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Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

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“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

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The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

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Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.