US U-23 goalkeeper Charlie Horton aims to flourish with new club Leeds United

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U.S. U-23 international Charlie Horton has had quite a week.

After finishing up with the U.S. U-23 national team following a third-place finish for Andreas Herzog’s side at the prestigious Toulon Tournament in France, Horton then signed a two-year contract with illustrious English club Leeds United and now he is back at home in Ohio putting his feet up for a well-deserved rest.

[ RELATED: U.S. beat Germany 2-1 ]

But the American international has big plans for the future as he aims to emulate some of the great U.S. goalkeepers to grace the Premier League. That said, he’s keen to take it one step at a time to make his mark in England.

Horton, still just 20 years old, spoke to ProSoccerTalk from the U.S. and is delighted to have landed at English Championship club Leeds. He is determined to continue his development with one of English soccer’s biggest clubs that has fallen on tough times of late.

Talking about his decision to sign for Leeds, Horton is excited he will now get the chance to develop and help Leeds get back to England’s top-flight after deciding to leave Cardiff City.

“For me it was about what was the best step to take. I wasn’t really worried about what league it was in. I was more concerned on my development and where I could thrive,” Horton said. “I signed with my agent Patrick [McCabe] and we sat down and mapped everything out. As the situation merited, it was a serious decision and it didn’t need to be rushed. At the end of it we had five or six teams highly interested from MLS, two or three from the UK and a couple of others in Europe. It was making sure the right opportunity arose and that ultimately came with Leeds who are a massive club and were in the UEFA Champions League not long ago.”

And Leeds are pretty pumped to have a promising young goalkeeper like Horton on board too.

The American, who was born in London and grew up in Croydon before moving to Ohio as an nine year old, will once again get to work with renowned goalkeeping coach Richard Hartis. Horton’s relationship with Hartis dates back to Cardiff and Hartis has coached at Manchester United and with the English national team’s youth setup.

“It was massive. The opportunity to work with him [Hartis] is huge,”Horton explained. “He is one of the most well-respected goalkeeping coaches in the industry. I have done well working with him before and to pair that with a club like Leeds, a manager like Uwe Rosler and an owner who is so passionate about the club… it was easy for me.”

[ RELATED: U-20’s make World Cup quarterfinals

When it comes to Rosler, Horton is his first signing as Leeds’ new manager. The German coach has taken over at the Yorkshire club with one main target from ambitious and eccentric owner Massimo Cellino: get them back in the Premier League.

After his playing days with Manchester City and Southampton were over, Rosler built up a healthy coaching resume and led Brentford through the lower divisions but a short but after a short and rather unsavory stint in charge at Wigan Athletic he has landed at Leeds. Rosler’s plan is for Horton to get playing time in the U-21 development squad but to also push current Leeds No. 1 Marco Silvestri.

“I know the manager and assistant manager of the USA team and they gave him a glowing reference. We’re very happy with him…” Rosler said. “He is one who will push every single day to get better. He will push the guys in front of him and he will get playing time in the Under-21s. I’m looking forward to working with such a positive character like Charlie. He will train everyday with the first team and Richard. He has very good potential and will be a future number one. He will travel with us for preseason – he’s a first-team player playing in the Under-21s. He has tremendous potential.”

[ RELATED: “Still chasing that ball of tape” – The tale of Brad Friedel ]

One of the things that attracted Horton to Leeds was Rosler’s track record of playing youngsters at Brentford and Leeds also boast plenty of academy prospects in their current squad with Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt just a few of the current crop, while James Milner, Aaron Lennon and Harry Kewell have come through in the past during Leeds’ heyday in the Champions League some 15 years ago.

Although it is often tough for young ‘keepers to get a chance to play regularly in their early 20’s in the Football League in England — not everyone can be as capable of the likes of David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois early in their careers — Horton is certainly in the right place to get opportunities.

“I knew that when Uwe was interested that he is not afraid to play young players. That is huge for me,” Horton admitted. “But I am also really excited to get around him because he’s just a top draw coach. When I am ready and the coaching staff believe that, I am going to hopefully grab the opportunity with both hands and not look back.”

His upbringing in both England and the U.S. make Horton a unique character and he is better placed than most to talk about the reasons why so many good goalkeepers continue to be produced by the United States.

“I think the interesting thing to look at is the way that young Americans play a variety of sports. For me I was really lucky because I grew up in England which gave me the passionate and love for soccer,” Horton said. “Then I moved here [the U.S.] and for two or three years, obviously I was always focused on soccer and being a goalkeeper, but I was playing basketball, American football, baseball and volleyball. All of these sports that develop hand-eye coordination that a European may not necessarily get on such a scale.”

Horton knows following in the footsteps of top American goalkeepers in England will be tough but he has had a little bit of help from USMNT legend Brad Friedel along the way. Friedel is from Lakeview, Ohio, not far from where Horton grew up, and Friedel took Horton under his wing and trained together for two years when the latter was 14.

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Horton has been with Peterborough and Cardiff in the past, but has now landed at Leeds.

“Those are big shoes to fill. If I can have a career like Brad Friedel, he is around from where I am from in Ohio, I would be honored. In every sense of the word he is a legend,” Horton said. “He has done so much for the game both in England and the States. I do think the U.S. has this reputation of producing top goalkeepers and I’m really hopeful that somewhere down the line I could be added to that list.”

Horton’s journey to England began at the age of 18 as he signed for Peterborough United, despite signing a National Letter of Intent at UNC-Chapel Hill. He explains that Chelsea’s Head Scout of the Americas at the time, Jorge Alvial, persuaded him to go to England and although he was turned down by Manchester United for being too small after a trial, Horton is now projected to stand at over 6 foot 6 inches when he stops growing.

Making the move to England has seen him bounce from Peterborough to Cardiff and now to Leeds and Horton revealed, in a slightly reverse-Freidel accent which is an interesting mix of mostly American but a little British slang throw in here and there, that he told his Mom the following before making the move back across the pond to pursue his dreams.

“‘If I don’t go, I am going to regret this for the rest of my life,'” Horton said. “At 18 I was willing to make a decision where I was not going to settle for having any kind of regret. I am in an industry where I have to rely on my body and hopefully will do for 20 years. I can go back to University whenever and rely on my mind for far longer. At the end of the day it was: ‘live life with no regrets and grab the opportunity with both hands.'”

With idols such as Joe Hart, Peter Schmeichel and Oliver Kahn growing up in Ohio, Horton always wanted to be a goalkeeper. He has watched the current crop of star stoppers from the U.S. in the Premier League and is looking forward to not only meeting with the likes of Brad Guzan and Tim Howard but also challenging for a spot on the U.S. roster along with a plethora of other talented young goalkeepers currently coming through.

“My goal is to be called into a men’s camp soon and hopefully I will have the opportunity to get in touch with those guys [Howard and Guzan] and really learn. For a young goalkeeper learning is so important,” Horton said. “I think us Americans can stick together and I’d love to pick their brains on things, on certain situations and gather as much knowledge as you possibly can. I know where they have been and where they have reached and ultimately that is where I want to get to. Any knowledge I can get off of them is huge.”

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Horton and the U.S. U-23’s finished third at the Toulon Tournament.

In terms of the future, Horton will be battling with current U.S. U-20 goalkeeper Zack Steffen and fellow U-23 ‘keeper Cody Cropper for a spot on the U.S. U-23 roster for the Olympics next summer and then to challenge the likes of Howard and Guzan after that. With recent success for the U-23’s at Toulon and the U-20’s at the World Cup in New Zealand, promising young talents such as Rubio Rubin, Gedion Zelalem and Jordan Morris are popping up throughout the USA’s player pool.

Horton is excited with where the U.S. can get to as a soccer nation and believes the sky is the limit.

“It is very exciting. U.S. Soccer is growing massively and not just with the men’s team at the World Cup last year and the Women’s World Cup for several years but it is now filtering through the youth sides. That is very exciting for us,” Horton said. “As a country that is where we need to be. It is setting up a really exciting time and future for U.S. Soccer and we need to keep developing and getting the country where we want it. Ultimately for me, that is to win a World Cup.”

One step at a time, Horton is fulfilling his dream to play professionally and now has a chance to grow with Leeds United over the next two years and try to hold down a starting spot either at Elland Road or out on loan. But where does he see himself in five years time?

After a short pause, he gives the following well-rounded and superbly level-headed response.

“In five years time I would like to be playing and have claimed a first-team spot in a top league. Hopefully that is with Leeds and we take that team to the top. I’d also like to be involved with the U.S. national team,” Horton said. “I would just like to be well into my career and have the respect and admiration from those around me. I think its great to be a great player but it is also important to be respected by your colleagues and have a reputation you are proud of.

“I hope that reputation of me is that I work extremely hard to prepare myself and leave very little to chance and go about my business that way. If that’s the reputation I leave the game with, I’d be immensely proud of that,” Horton added. “Hopefully that’s where I am. I am fortunate because goalkeepers have long careers. For someone who has lofty goals like me, it is just about continuing on that path of development and to get better each day. As goalkeepers we are fighting for fractions to centimeters and centimeters to inches every day. The more I can stack those gains on top of each other day after day, I think that is when I will really start to see some change and lay claim to a spot. For me there is no rush at the minute. I am willing to put in the hard work and grit to get there.”

Follow Charlie on his journey with Leeds United and the U.S. national team via Twitter by hitting the button below.

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
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Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
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Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.