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The new fan’s 2015-16 guide to picking a new Premier League club

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Must read preface: For several years on my own site and then on a Western New York soccer blog, I’ve given prospective fans of the Premier League a guide to choose a team. In no way do I claim to give anything other than an opinionated overview that I believe to be a fair representation of clubs whose history far outlives even my fandom of the beautiful game.

[ MORE: 2015-16 Premier League season previews ]

But the fact remains that people need to know what they are getting into, as I know personally of a fan or two now attached to insufferable clubs. ‘They’ had no idea that their love for a brown ale or clever nickname would lead to a lifetime of supporter misery.

[RELATED: PL season previews]

I almost always advocate choosing a club that isn’t already a giant because that’s my background as a proud Buffalonian, but do what feels right. Maybe you’re a Yankees or Cowboys fan who enjoys feeding off the hate of others. By all means, continue onward!

So without further ado, I submit to you my 2015-16 beginners guide to selecting a Premier League team.

source: Getty Images
They’ve got 99 problems, but attack-minded players ain’t one.

1. Arsenal
Last championship: 2003-04
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Gunners
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Tottenham, Chelsea
Comparison: New York Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Gooners… they are everywhere. That’s not a joke, as Arsenal is the most-supported team in these here United States of America. They have a massive celebrity supporter base, too, from Piers Morgan to Prince Harry, Steve Earle to Jay-Z, there’s a bountiful group of shiny fans and it seems impossible to go to a soccer gathering without meeting an Arsenal supporter. There’s some magic to the club, for sure. French manager Arsene Wenger fashions players who play the game with flair and the club has begun to spend again after paying off a great deal of debt. Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are incredible talents, and Santi Cazorla could be among the more unheralded out-and-out superstars of all-time.

This year, the Gunners are looking for a title fight. And for a big club, they provide their fans a fair bit of misery. They’ve won the last two FA Cups, but haven’t seen a Premier League title since 2004.  Also, as a fan, you’ll have the boon of reading about “The Invincibles” nearly every week for better or worse, as Arsenal ran through the PL gauntlet unbeaten earlier this century.

2. Aston Villa
Last championship: 1980-81
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Villans
Location: Birmingham
American players: GK Brad Guzan
Biggest rivals: West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City (championship)
Comparisons: Chicago Bears, Calgary Flames
PST’s Premier League season preview

Great slogan, cool color scheme and some solid players: there are far worse teams to select than Aston Villa (though now you have to contend with motor-mouthed Tim “Timmy Tactics” Sherwood as boss). Conceptually, Villa as a strong English side is appealing on a few levels and there’s history to prove the Birmingham team deserves a winner, but recently supporters have suffered through the ignominy of nearly seeing their club relegated for the first time in its history. After selling Christian Benteke and Fabian Delph this summer, that fate is quite uncertain yet again.

3. Bournemouth
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 1/24 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Cherries
Location: Bournemouth, Dorset
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Southampton
Comparisons: Utah Jazz, Carolina Hurricanes
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How are they even here?!?! That’s the question you can’t help but ask when you read about a club that’s never made it this far, and plays in a stadium that seats just 12,000. In some ways, last season’s Burnley campaign will be replicated here in terms of underdog story. Their crest is a man heading the ball incorrectly, unless of course the Cherries player is clearing the ball from danger. We’ll be rooting for the upstarts this season.

4. Chelsea
source: Last championship: 2014/15
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Blues
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Arsenal, QPR
Comparison: Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Redskins
PST’s Premier League season preview

Last year’s champions made it five titles, and Jose Mourinho’s position as one of the best managers in the game is buttressed by the wealth of talent purchased by owner Roman Abramovich. The London club has Champions League glories as well, and look fit to build on that this season. Mourinho enters season No. 3 with the best attacking midfielder in the league in Eden Hazard, and likely the best defensive mid as well in Nemanja Matic.

You could do worse than choosing a club in London, as it is an incredible city to visit. Aside from my distaste for John Terry and the gloved theatrics of brilliant striker Diego Costa, they are a decent choice. Chelsea is going to be good — if not great — for a long, long time.

5. Crystal Palace
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 8/24
Nickname: Eagles, Glaziers
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Brighton & Hove Albion, Charlton Athletic, Millwall, Wimbledon
Comparisons: New Jersey Devils, Memphis Grizzlies
PST’s Premier League season preview

Palace is a truly intriguing option due to incredible fans and their manager, Alan Pardew, who is at best a goofball and at worst a lunatic. Palace is a real working-class London club, and the addition of “Pardiola’s” former Newcastle star Yohan Cabaye gives them a flair to match their work rate.. I love their modern crest, though they aren’t new jacks. Australian mid Mile Jedinak is a great man to have in the middle of the park.

6. Everton
Last championship: 1986-87
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Toffees, The School of Science
Location: Liverpool
American players: GK Tim Howard
Biggest rivals: Liverpool
Comparison: Boston Bruins, Denver Broncos
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Roberto Martinez’s crew had a tough season last year, as contending with the UEFA Europa League schedule pushed the team down the standings for much of the year. Their defense is solid, with Phil Jagielka pacing a unit with Seamus Coleman, Leighton Baines and, for now at least, young John StonesRomelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley are fun to watch, but need to take that next consistent step to raise the Toffees. With a classy kit/color scheme and a fun rivalry with Liverpool, they are a good choice for new fans. Plus…. American World Cup hero Tim Howard is their longtime starting netminder.

7. Leicester City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 10/24
Nickname: Foxes
Location: Leicester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Nottingham Forest, Derby County, Coventry City
Comparison: Philadelphia Eagles, Baltimore Orioles
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Leicester — or Lie-cester, as Ted Lasso would say — engineered a stunning salvation to their Premier League hopes last year under Nigel Pearson, but enter a new era after the boss was fired due in large part to a racist incident in Thailand involving his son (He’s also choke-held an opposing player, for what it’s worth). The Foxes are four-time FA Cup finalists and three-time League Cup winners, and I personally dig the ‘Foxes’ nickname. Forty-six of their 108 seasons in football have been in England’s top flight, and it would be cool to see Leicester stick around for a while.

8. Liverpool
source: APLast championship: 1989-90
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Reds
Location: Liverpool
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Everton, Manchester United
Comparison: Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Flyers
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It’s a new era for Liverpool now that Steven Gerrard has waltez (or dance-halled) himself over to Los Angeles, but really, it’s fair to call Liverpool the most storied club in the BPL, both title-winning (they have 18) and horrific (their supporters have been involved in two of the biggest tragedies in football history). And, as a fan — like Manchester United — now is a time to jump on board the Liverpool train if you want to join a big club. The Reds have added a good batch of players in Danny Ings and James Milner, while ridding themselves of the endless Raheem Sterling saga. Upgrades to their attack give the Reds their best chance for a title in ages.

9. Manchester City
Last championship: 2013/14
Years in Premier League: 19/24
Nickname: Citizens
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Comparison: Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Angels
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Manchester City has great money, talent and depth, and if you like Oasis you’re in even more luck (The Gallagher Brothers are massive fans). If you pick Man City now, you’re joining a good deal of perceived bandwagoneers — rightly or wrongly — but if baby blue is your hue, don’t let anyone convince you it’s any worse than choosing any other of the giant clubs in the world. Soccer’s money now. We have to deal with it. Winners of two of the last four PL crowns, City will be a big club for a long time barring unforeseen advances in energy manipulation (though the club may struggle more than usual this season, in my opinion). There’s a natural connection to New York City FC in Major League Soccer.

10. Manchester United
Last championship: 2012-13
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Red Devils
Location: Manchester
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Liverpool, Leeds United, Manchester City
Comparison: New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens, New England Patriots
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Now is an okay time to get on board with Manchester United and not just feel like you’ve jumped on a bandwagon. You’re a new soccer fan, and the team re-enters the UEFA Champions League debate after more than a half-decade since its last title. As far as the Premier League, there’s a new batch of world-class talent from Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay. Manager Louis Van Gaal has a great resume and the club’s loaded. United has England’s best talent (Wayne Rooney) and one of Germany’s all-timers in Bastian Schweinsteiger. If United can find a center back to upgrade over Phil Jones, the club can compete for anything they want in 2015-16.

11. Newcastle United

source: Getty ImagesLast championship: 1926-27
Years in Premier League: 22/24
Nickname: Magpies
Location: North England
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Sunderland, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Chicago Cubs, Buffalo Bills
PST’s Premier League season preview

Hey, do you like misery? Call them a combination of the Chicago Cubs and the Buffalo Bills, as Newcastle is a rich club that has only been the bridesmaid for years upon years. One of the biographies on the team’s history — and a great read at that — is entitled “Fifty Years of Hurt” (Yup). My goodness, have they had hard luck and heartbreak along the way. This club has taken an absolute beating yet continues to find ways to rebound, most recently with a decent performance during their return to the top flight in 2010/11. New manager Steve McClaren has a slew of new talent this season including Giorginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic, and the Magpies might have the talent to tempt the Top Ten again.

12. Norwich City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 8/24 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: The Canaries
Location: Norwich
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Ipswich Town
Comparison: Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions… heck, the NFC North
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First off: Read Joe Posnanski’s brilliant SportsWorld piece on the Canaries. Norwich is a high-firing, well-spirited club and their colorful unis were matched by their play in 2014-15, which saw them rise back to the Premier League. The Canaries have the “oldest football supporters song in the world”,

“Kick off, throw in, have a little scrimmage,
Keep it low, a splendid rush, bravo, win or die;
On the ball City, never mind the danger,
Steady on, now’s your chance,
Hurrah! We’ve scored a goal, City! City! City!”

Have a little scrimmage!!!!!!

The club has more than 8,000 public shares in a bit of Packers-esque ownership. They’ve been at their grounds — stadium — on Carrow Road since 1935, so the historical and road-tripping allure is there.

13. Southampton
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 17/24
Nickname: Saints
Location: Southampton
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Portsmouth, Brighton & Hove Albion, Bournemouth
Comparison: St. Louis Blues, Oakland Athletics, Minnesota Vikings
PST’s Premier League season preview

A club that has seen major glory, including an FA Cup win, but also been through the depths of despair following a relegation and administration allllllll the waaaaaay down to League One… now into the Europa League. Southampton has done marvelous things under former Edmonton Oilers — you read that right — boss Ralph Kruger, and continues to sell off big pieces while acquiring intriguing talent. Look out for Jordy Clasie to be perhaps the league’s best signing of the summer.

14. Stoke City

source: Getty Images

Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 8/24 (Return 2008-09)
Nickname: Potters
Location: Stoke-on-Trent
American players: DF Geoff Cameron
Biggest rivals: Port Vale
Comparison: Green Bay Packers (without the titles), Portland Trailblazers
PST’s Premier League season preview

Here’s a club with a legit chance to make a run for Europe for the first time in history. Loads of respect for the fans of Stoke, a club that has smartly moved up the Premier League pecking order. and the Potters were really humming under Mark Hughes last season. Marko Arnautovic and the USMNT’s Geoff Cameron are big parts of the club, which has now added four Barcelona players in the last half-decade. As a new fan, you can adopt Stoke City and feel pretty decent about not hopping the major club bandwagon but also not worrying about falling out of the league. And Stokesalona has thrilling, diminutive forward Bojan Krkic.

15. Sunderland
Last championship: 1935-36
Years in Premier League: 15/24
Nickname: Mackems, Black Cats
Location: Sunderland, Tyne-upon-Wear
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Newcastle United, Middlesbrough
Comparison: Sacramento Kings, Toronto Maple Leafs
PST’s Premier League season preview

There’s decent tradition in Sunderland to go with holdover manager Dick Advocaat, but the club has seen a series of seasons that include hanging out near the bottom of the league before surviving by the skin of its teeth. It’s incredible that they even survived their moribund last two seasons to remain in the top flight. Sunderland is owned by an American and has a relationship with DC United of Major League Soccer. Another fun fact: their nickname isn’t an actual word (Mackem is short for Make Them, abbreviated).

16. Swansea City
Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 5/24
Nickname: The Swans, The Jacks
Location: Wales
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Cardiff City
Comparison: Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Suns
PST’s Premier League season preview

A big time rugby area, Swansea is also indicative of the a travelers dream: friends have told me it’s a gorgeous place to visit. They’ve played a good deal of free-wheeling football and I certainly wouldn’t mind supporting the Swans under Garry Monk, a longtime club man who kept the team alive as a first-year boss two years ago before turning them into a fun contender last season. With the addition of Andre Ayew, Swans are a candidate — along with Stoke —  to become a perennial top-half contender. If I were coming along now, I’d be tempted to adopt the Welsh side.

17. Tottenham Hotspur
Last championship: 1960-61
Years in Premier League: 24/24
Nickname: Spurs
Location: London
American players: DF DeAndre Yedlin
Biggest rivals: Arsenal
Comparison: Washington Capitals, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Cowboys
PST’s Premier League season preview

Spurs are a good team to pick. They have an awesome name, an inventive manager and a cool-albeit-goofy logo. They also play in London, so visiting them is an A-plus idea. Tottenham hates Arsenal, so it’s a good bet for vitriol as well. Spurs also have a ton of extremely likable and/or exciting players: Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela among them. There’s also terrific French goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Aside from the chanting of a gentleman — the chanting, not the gentleman — at my local pub who tries to cram “Rock The Casbah” in my eardrums 30 times a match, there’s really a terrific tradition at the North London club and perhaps they’ve moved from being “so close” to being truly elite again.

18. Watford

source: Getty Images

Last championship: Never
Years in Premier League: 3/24 (Return: 2015-16)
Nickname: Hornets
Location: Hertfordshire
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Luton Town
Comparisons:
PST’s Premier League season preview

The Hornets have made it to the Premier League twice before, only to go bounding back down to the Championship after a season each time. This year could be different, with Valon Behrami among the stars set to make a difference for Sir Elton John’s favorite club. Manager Quique Flores has a lot of work to do, but this is a club that gave USMNT star Jay DeMerit a shot and he ended up their captain.

19. West Bromwich Albion

Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 10/24
Nickname: Baggies, West Brom
Location: West Midlands
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Aston Villa, Wolverhampton
Comparison: Milwaukee Brewers, Indiana Pacers
PST’s Premier League season preview

I’ll let Wikipedia show you why I have respect for the fans of this club:

“Albion have always enjoyed loyal and passionate support… Supporters of the team celebrate goals by bouncing up and down and chanting “Boing Boing”. This dates back to the 1992–93 season, when the team was promoted from the new Second Division. In recent years fans of the team have celebrated the end of each season by adopting a fancy dress theme for the final away match, including dressing as vikings in 2004 in honour of Player of the Season Thomas Gaardsøe. In 2002–03 Albion’s fans were voted the best in the Premier League by their peers, while in the BBC’s 2002 “national intelligence test” Test the Nation, they were found to be ‘more likely to be smarter than any other football supporters, registering an average score of 138′.”

source: Getty Images20. West Ham United
Last championship: N/A
Years in Premier League: 20/24
Nickname: Hammers, the Irons
Location: London
American players: None
Biggest rivals: Millwall, Leyton Orient
Comparison: Philadelphia 76ers, Oakland Raiders
PST’s Premier League season preview

The Irons are forever blowing bubbles, but in recent years have had to worry about blowing their season. West Ham is a proud club that had a great first half of last season, so perhaps new manager Slaven Bilic can harness that into a full campaign. The focus of some hard-nosed supporter stories — the film “Green Street Hooligans” was penned about fictional West Ham fans — the Hammers have plenty of grit on the pitch as well. To be fair, their last few seasons have featured injuries to big purchase Andy Carroll, and this year they’ve added big talent to what should be an okay attack should Kevin Nolan stay in form, healthy and unsuspended.

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.

Players to watch at the U-20 World Cup

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The U-20 World Cup begins this week in Poland, and there are a bevy of future stars to watch, as well as several who will make their names during the tournament.

We’ll focus on the former. While England’s failure to qualify somewhat limits the Premier League starlets on show, there are still plenty from the English top flight.


Tim Weah, United States (PSG) — After a loan at Celtic and time with the full USMNT, how much can he dominate back in his age group?

Alban Lafont, France (Fiorentina) — At age 20, he’s already the starter between the sticks for his Serie A mainstays.

Diego Lainez, Mexico (Real Betis) — Eighteen with 12 league appearances for Real Betis, Lainez is a massive part of El Tri‘s future and carries four caps to his name.

Ruben Vinagre, Portugal (Wolves) — Wolves were promoted, and Vinagre actually made eight more appearances (17) than he made in the Championship.

Ezequiel Barco, Argentina (Atlanta United) — His sophomore season for the Five Stripes has been better than his debut campaign, though that’s not saying a ton given the hype.

Evan N’Dicka, France (Eintracht Frankfurt) — Plenty of playing time in the Bundesliga at the age of 19 for this towering center back.

Paxton Pomykal, United States (FC Dallas) — Looking good in MLS. How much should that translate on this stage?

Andriy Lunin, Ukraine (Real Madrid) — Won’t be wearing the white of Madrid in meaningful action any time soon, but made four appearances on loan for Leganes as a 20-year-old.

Sebastian Soto, United States (Hannover 96) — Not the American-born Bundesliga starlet we expected had we created this list months ago, but Soto has made his Bundesliga debut, so there’s a lot to like while Josh Sargent works with the full USMNT.

Dan Zagadou, France (Borussia Dortmund) — The left- and center back has 25 first team appearances for BVB at 19.

Diogo Dalot, Portugal (Manchester United) — Red Devils supporters know about this fella, who was purchased under the watch of Jose Mourinho last summer.

Mickael Cuisance, France (Borussia Monchengladbach) — Took a step back after his blockbuster ‘Gladbach breakthrough in 2017-18, but will be a key piece for the favorites.

Moussa Sylla, France (Monaco) — The winger is already a factor for AS Monaco, even if they struggled this season.

Bonus: Erling Håland, Denmark (Red Bull Salzburg); Ronald Araujo, Uruguay (Barcelona); Tom Dele-Bashiru, Nigeira (Manchester City).