Three things we learned from USA U-23’s defeat vs. England U-21

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PRESTON — The U.S. U-23 national team lost 1-0 to England’s U-21 side at Deepdale in Preston on Thursday.

[ MORE: Klinsmann rejects criticism ]

Andi Herzog’s side are currently in England on a training camp and the first of their two friendlies, the second is against Qatar next Tuesday, was a good measuring stick for where they are at ahead of the all-important CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament for Rio 2016 next month.

Here are three things we learned from the young U.S. side at Preston in front of a crowd of 10,187.

“HEY, IS THIS THE SENIOR TEAM…?”

For plenty of moments during this game, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking you were watching the U.S. national team in action, not the U-23 side. Perhaps it was understandable against a very good England side — nine of England’s 11 starters either started or were involved in Premier League action last weekend — but the U.S. kept dropping back and inviting pressure from wide areas, especially the longer the first half wore on. Time and time again we’ve seen the senior team sit back and soak up pressure under Jurgen Klinsmann before hitting teams on the break (see: USA 4-3 Netherlands and to a lesser extend USA 2-1 Germany this summer) and this performance was almost a mirror image of that. The young Yanks are aspiring to fill the boots of those in the full national team and on this showing, they are a spitting image. Emerson Hyndman and Will Trapp used the ball well in the first half, but the U.S. had too many turnovers in the middle as the game wore on and a plethora of second half subs changed the tempo of the game. The U.S. finally succumbed to England late on as James Wilson grabbed the winner when the defense switched off from a quick free kick in the 70th minute and the Three Lions could have easily doubled their lead on numerous occasions. In the end it remained 1-0 but against a strong England side, Herzog’s team look more than capable of handling Canada, Cuba and Panama when the Olympic qualifying tournament comes around in October.

CROPPER vs. STEFFEN

Head coach Andi Herzog gave both of his goalkeepers 45 minutes, with Cody Cropper starting the game and Zack Steffen replacing him at half time. After being released by Premier League club Southampton this summer, 22-year-old goalkeeper Cropper was at a crossroads in his young career. After a move to MK Dons of England’s second-tier and a solid outing at Deepdale, he looks like he’s navigating it just fine. On Thursday Cropper proved why he is currently at the top of the list from the USA’s European contingent of young goalkeepers. In the 25th minute he stood tall and pushed away Cauly Woodrow’s powerful blast at the back post.

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Hyndman looked steady in the middle for USA.

Cropper was marshaling his backline loudly, and was a leader as he is obviously reaping the benefits from spending time in several senior squads with Brad Guzan and Tim Howard. As for Steffen, his impressive form at the U-20 World Cup saw the Freiburg youngster elevated to the U-23 side and although he conceded a goal in the second half he didn’t put a foot wrong during his 45 minutes on the pitch with solid distribution and made three decent stops. In the years to come it will be one heck of a battle between Cropper, Steffen and William Yarbrough for the starting spot for the full national team.

RODRIGUEZ, HERNANDEZ LIVELY

Without much service, the forward duo of Mario Rodriguez and Alonso Hernandez caused England’s defense plenty of problems for the first 60 minutes. With Rodriguez leading the line and Hernandez buzzing around just behind him, England’s center backs Eric Dier and Calum Chambers didn’t know whether to step up or cover and in the 40th minute came a perfect example of the nuisance the pacey duo can cause. First Monchengladbach prospect Rodriguez nipped in and intercepted a loose ball out of the back on the edge of England’s box from a goal kick, then a run from Juarez’s Hernandez allowed Jerome Kiesewetter to ghost in-behind Joe Gomez and almost stole the ball off of the foot of England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. With Rubio Rubin and Maki Tall in reserve, Herzog has options ahead of the game vs. Qatar next Tuesday but Rodriguez and Gonzalez are a good partnership up top.

Bulgaria, England both sanctioned by UEFA

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UEFA have dished out sanctions to both Bulgaria and England after their EURO 2020 qualifier on Monday.

The game was halted twice in the first half due to racist chants from the home fans.

UEFA’s anti-racism protocol was put into place as the racist abuse was reported to officials who then stopped the game and an announcement was made over the stadium speakers threatening to abandon the game.

European Soccer’s governing body announce on Tuesday they have sanctioned the Bulgarian Football Union (BFU) for racist chanting, Nazi salutes, disrupting the national anthems and throwing objects among other charges.

The English Football Association have been hit with charges which include not having enough travelling stewards and also for disrupting the national anthem.

UEFA are said to be thoroughly investigating the racist abuse of England’s players from Bulgaria’s fans.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asked for the president of their football association, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign following the racist abuse of England’s players in Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium on Monday.

And on Tuesday Mihaylov handed in his resignation as Bulgaria, who has previously been charged for racist chants against Kosovo and the Czech Republic, were at the center of the truly disgusting racist abuse.

Bulgaria goalkeeper, coach on racist abuse: “England overreacted”

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Bulgaria’s goalkeeper Plamen Iliev believes their fans ‘behaved well’ in Sofia on Monday, despite the game being halted twice in the first half due to racist chants from the home fans.

UEFA’s anti-racism protocol was put into place as the racist abuse was reported to officials who then stopped the game and an announcement was made over the stadium speakers threatening to abandon the game.

Bulgaria’s prime minister has condemned the incidents of racism and called for the Bulgarian FA president, Borislav Mihaylov, to resign with immediate effect.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Iliev praised Bulgaria’s fans and said that England’s complaints were an overreaction.

“If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today,” Iliev said. “There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit. The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”

Despite England’s players, fans and staff all hearing the abuse, plus television microphones picking up monkey chants during the game, the fact Iliev has uttered these words is truly shocking.

His manager echoed the same views, while saying that the reason Bulgaria’s captain Ivelin Popov went over to speak to home fans at half time was probably because they weren’t playing well…

During a press conference with both managers after the game, local journalists shouted “exaggeration” when questions about the racist abuse were asked.

Bulgaria’s manager, Krasimir Balakov, said he heard nothing and he was shown having a heated exchange with Jordan Henderson on the pitch during the second stoppage as he’d shown signs of frustration that the game was paused.

“I personally did not hear the chanting,” Balakov said. “I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behavior was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem. During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable.”

With UEFA launching a full investigation into the chants and England making a formal complaint, Bulgaria can expect a hefty punishment for their latest incident of racist abuse of opposition players. A section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during EURO 2020 qualifying.

We can only hope that Iliev and Balakov apologize for these comments in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Golden Boy shortlist revealed

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The top 20 players under the age of 21 in European soccer have been announced, as the famous Golden Boy award nominees for 2019 will raise a few eyebrows.

An award dished out by Italian outlet Tuttosport, previous stars to be named Golden Boy include Raheem Sterling, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney and Paul Pogba, as Matthijs de Ligt was the winner in 2018 and is nominated once again.

Nominees must be under the age of 21 and play in one of Europe’s top-flight leagues.

Four of the 20 finalists play in the Premier League with Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Matteo Guendouzi and Moise Kean all named on the shortlist.

Alongside de Ligt, the likes of Joao Felix, Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz are all expected to be among the favorites for the award. Felix’s rise to stardom at Benfica and Atletico Madrid will likely see him win this award.

Canada’s Alphonso Davies is a finalist as the former Vancouver Whitecaps star continues to develop at Bayern Munich.

Below is the full list of nominees for 2019, with the winner announced on December 16 as media outlets across Europe vote for the winner.


Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich)
Matthijs de Light (Juventus)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (AC Milan)
Ansu Fati (Barcelona)
Phil Foden (Manchester City)
Matteo Guendouzi (Arsenal)
Erling Braut Haland (RB Salzburg)
Kai Havertz (Bayer Leverkusen)
Joao Felix (Atletico Madrid)
Dejan Joveljic (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Moise Kean (Everton)
Kang-in Lee (Valencia)
Andriy Oleksiyovych Lunin (Real Valladolid)
Donyell Malen (PSV)
Mason Mount (Chelsea)
Rodrygo (Real Madrid)
Jadon Sancho (BVB)
Ferran Torres (Valencia)
Vinicius Jr (Real Madrid)
Nicolo Zaniolo (AS Roma)

UEFA wants to “wage war on racists”

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has reacted strongly to the racist abuse of England’s players in Bulgaria on Monday.

[ MORE: England’s players react ]

During the EURO 2020 qualifier monkey chants were heard from sections of the home crowds at Sofia’s Vasil Levski stadium, while Nazi salutes were also made and the officials stopped the game twice in the first half and then followed step one of UEFA’s anti-racism protocol as a message was broadcast over the speakers that the game was in danger of being abandoned.

A section of home supporters were seen leaving their seats just before half time, covering their faces with hoods and some had shirts which said “UEFA No Respect” written on them.

UEFA will investigate the incidents in Sofia after England made a formal complaint, and this comes after section of the stadium in Sofia was shut on Monday due to the racist abuse of players from both Kosovo and the Czech Republic during previous EURO 2020 qualifiers.

Ceferin called on governments and other organizations to work with them to “wage war” on racists as incidents continue to crop up across Europe.

“There were times, not long ago, when the football family thought that the scourge of racism was a distant memory. The last couple of years have taught us that such thinking was, at best, complacent. The rise of nationalism across the continent has fuelled some unacceptable behaviour and some have taken it upon themselves to think that a football crowd is the right place to give voice to their appalling views.

“As a governing body, I know we are not going to win any popularity contests. But some of the views expressed about UEFA’s approach to fighting racism have been a long way off the mark. UEFA, in close cooperation with the FARE network (Football Against Racism Europe), instituted the three-stage protocol for identifying and tackling racist behaviour during games.

“UEFA’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches. The minimum sanction is a partial closure of the stadium – a move which costs the hosts at least hundreds of thousands in lost revenue and attaches a stigma to their supporters.

“UEFA is the only football body to ban a player for ten matches for racist behaviour – the most severe punishment level in the game. Believe me, UEFA is committed to doing everything it can to eliminate this disease from football. We cannot afford to be content with this; we must always strive to strengthen our resolve.

“More broadly, the football family – everyone from administrators to players, coaches and fans – needs to work with governments and NGOs to wage war on the racists and to marginalise their abhorrent views to the fringes of society. Football associations themselves cannot solve this problem. Governments too need to do more in this area. Only by working together in the name of decency and honour will we make progress.”