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5 USMNT players with the most to gain in upcoming friendlies

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The U.S. national team’s January camp is all about opportunity — opportunity to get your foot in the door; opportunity opportunity to be seen by USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann; opportunity to adapt to the USMNT program; opportunity to establish yourself as a regular on subsequent 23-man rosters; opportunity to audition for a job, for those currently without a club team.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

This year’s January camp consists of 26 players (25, now that Matt Miazga has departed to reportedly to complete his transfer to Chelsea), all of whom with something to prove in a Copa America and World Cup qualifying year, no matter their previous standing (or lack thereof) with the USMNT.

Five players with the most to gain (or lose) from a strong (or weak) showing in this year’s January camp and friendlies against Iceland (Sunday) and Canada (Friday, Feb. 5)…

5. Jozy Altidore, forward (Toronto FC) — Altidore has competition for minutes now, perhaps for the first time in his career; Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood are (in the eyes of Klinsmann) hot on his heels, and that pesky, young prospect Alan Gordon just won’t go away. Seriously, though, Altidore is the epitome of a “confidence player,” and 2016 is a big year for the USMNT, as well as TFC. A striker who’s full of goals has the ability to mask so many other flaws within a squad, so no pressure, Jozy, but you’re 26 now and everyone’s kind of counting on you.

[ MORE: Zardes, Parker talk youth-heavy January camp ]

4. Ethan Finlay, midfielder (Columbus Crew SC) — Finlay is the type of player the USMNT doesn’t currently have, and has needed for quite some time — he’s not really a midfielder, he’s not really a forward, and he’s definitely not a winger; he’s a guy that plays between the opposition’s midfield and defense, and wreaks havoc with very good movement, vision and delivery of the final ball in a number of different scenarios. The three USMNT players starting behind the center forward on a given night is anyone’s guess these days, so Finlay’s got as much a case as anyone at this point.

[ MORE: Tim Howard “highly likely” to make move back to MLS this year ]

3. Perry Kitchen, midfielder (free agent) — Kitchen is currently without a club job after his contract with D.C. United expired last year and the two sides have reportedly moved on from negotiations to re-sign the 23-year-old. That’s not Kitchen’s only incentive; there’s also a massive void at defensive midfield with Kyle Beckerman about to turn 34 and seemingly on his way out of the picture. Positive buzz from the friendlies -> getting signed by a peripheral European club -> his stock rises in Klinsmann’s eyes -> the USMNT’s no. 6 for a decade. You see how these things go hand in hand?

[ MORE: Critical stretch arrives for Bradley’s Le Havre in promotion bid ]

2. Jermaine Jones, midfielder (free agent) — This camp’s elder statesman (he turned 34 in November) needs work. After letting his contract with the New England Revolution expire in 2015, Jones is free to sign with any club anywhere in the world. Just one problem: they’re scared off by the six-game suspension hanging over his head. Beyond his uncertain club situation, Jones needs to prove he’s still got something tangible to give to the USMNT (i.e. gas left in the tank). Sidebar: remember this time last year when Jones was being groomed as USMNT center back of the (near) future? Those sure were fun times.

[ MORE: Schalke in transfer negotiations for USMNT’s John Brooks ]

1. Darlington Nagbe, midfielder (Portland Timbers) — Nagbe made “the jump” in 2015, from promising prospect to actually delivering two-plus months of the kind of game-changing, dominant performances we’ve been crying out for for years. With that leap forward comes the expectations of reaching yet another level in 2016. There’s a massive opportunity for someone — anyone — with a creative bone in their body to take ownership of the central midfield spot just ahead of Bradley and a more stationary no. 6 sitting in behind. Is 2016 the year of Darlington? It could be, with a strong showing in January camp and a pair of dynamic displays against Iceland and Canada.

Forster stars as 10-man Celtic beat Rangers, claim 10th-straight trophy

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At some point, Rangers supporters will be forgiven for thinking Celtic doesn’t have all the luck in Scotland.

The Bhoys, second best for most of the day, scored a 60th minute goal and then overcame a red card three minutes later to claim their 10th successive piece of Scottish silverware with a 1-0 win the Scottish League Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Celtic’s Chris Jullien prodded home a free kick before 18-year-old Jeremie Frimpong was sent off, and Rangers had already controlled the proceedings before seeing a 16-5 edge in shot attempts at the final whistle.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, the former Saints and Newcastle man, was outstanding in the win, even stopping an Alfredo Morelos penalty as the Rangers star failed to deliver.

From the BBC:

“It was just one of them days, it went my way today. I’m buzzing. There’s been days when it’s not gone my way, today it has. I can’t say how much it means to me. I didn’t really think about the penalty to be honest. I picked the way it went. I’ll take it.

“That’s why I came back; to play in games like this, to win silverware, to play European football.”

Rodgers: “Historic day” as Leicester City extends win streak

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Of course it’s early, but it looks like Leicester City is the Premier League’s lone bright hope of challenging Liverpool for the title.

And yeah, that’s a big deal, even after the Foxes claimed the most inexplicable title in top flight history just four seasons ago.

[ RECAP: Villa 1-4 Leicester City ]

But the Foxes remain leery about embracing their title credentials, even after setting a club record by winning their eight-straight via a 4-1 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park on Sunday.

“I thought they were amazing,” said Brendan Rodgers. “It is a historical day for the club and the performance warranted that. It really does mean something special, it puts the team in the history books of Leicester City.”

Okay, but… just a little bit about the title fight, Brendan? No?

Perhaps goal scoring defender Jonny Evans would take the bait.

“We are up there and it shows we are playing well. Our performance was good, against one of the best Villa teams I faced in years. It shows we are capable of coming away and getting results. It is nice people are talking about us, we’re enjoying it and there’s great spirit in the club.”

Leicester is eight points back of first, the only team within 10 points of Liverpool. Man City is 14 back and Chelsea 17.

The Foxes host Norwich City before its next stretch of proving ground arrives via a League Cup quarterfinal at Everton prefaces league matches versus Man City and Liverpool.

Scrappy Sheffield United comes back to win again

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George Baldock had a goal and an assist as Sheffield United came back to beat poor Norwich City at Carrow Road on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Enda Stevens also scored for the Blades, who got back in the win column after a loss to Newcastle at midweek. United is eighth, the top of three teams on 22 points.

Alex Tettey scored Norwich’s lone goal, the Canaries locked in 19th and four points back of safety.


Three things we learned

1. Baldock’s banner day: The Blades dangerous right back loves to whip in a cross, and it’s no surprise he got his assist that way. He’s been quite lively around the box this year, and his turn and fire to make it 2-1 was a fitting finish given the 26-year-old’s day.

2. Basham gets VAR reprieve: Sometimes it’s not black and white, and you go to VAR, and VAR decides the shades of gray. Chris Basham was sent off for a vicious tackle on Kenny McLean, but the Sheffield United man saw VAR decide it wasn’t quite so dastardly and Blades continued with 10 men. A tough one if you’re a Norwich supporter.

3. Buendia stays bright: Norwich playmaker Emiliano Buendia is keeping the Canaries in games, the proverbial don’t write it, don’t write it, don’t write it canary in a coal mine. Five more key passes for Buendia to accompany more fine dribbling and a surprisingly good battle for a player as skillful as the 22-year-old Argentine.

Man of the Match: Baldock.


The Canaries went in front through Tettey inside a half-hour of kickoff, a corner dealt with poorly from the Blades that the Norwegian struck well for 1-0.

Norwich was good money for its halftime lead, with an 8-4 edge in shots, 53 percent of the ball, and six corners to the Blades’ zero.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Blades leveled things through Stevens, who headed in a Baldock cross before the assister became the scorer. The goal was no small ask, Baldock navigating the 18 to get off his shot.

Vardy, Iheanacho power 4-star Foxes past Villa

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Kelechi Iheanacho again collected a goal and an assist and Jamie Vardy scored twice as Leicester City punished Aston Villa in an entertaining 4-1 at Villa Park on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jonny Evans also scored for the Foxes, who maintain their place eight points behind leaders Liverpool.

Jack Grealish scored for Aston Villa, which stays ahead of 18th place on Southampton on goal differential.

Leicester City hosts Liverpool on Boxing Day, a date to circle on the calendar.


Three things we learned

1. Iheanacho emergence a new wrinkle: Nigerian striker Kelechi Iheanacho was always lurking as a possible star during his time at Man City, but couldn’t break through and transferred to the King Power Stadium. Life hadn’t been easy at his new home, but a goal and an assist in consecutive Premier League fixtures can make a difference as Leicester hopes to challenge Liverpool. Resting Jamie Vardy on occasion without a big drop-off would be a potentially monumental development.

2. Vardy’s party a record bash: The 15th and 16th goals of Vardy’s PL run put him on pace for 38. That would be six better than Mohamed Salah‘s 38-game record and four better than the 42-game mark shared by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole. Even when he makes mistakes, he finishes.

3. Hobbled Mings a big worry: Villa star center back Tyrone Mings pulled up with an injury but attempted to fight through it. Full credit to him, as he’s been the easy star of the newly-promoted side’s start to life in the Premier League, but an absence or step back from the block and clearance machine will be a major blow to Dean Smith‘s side.

Man of the Match: It’s between Vardy and Iheanacho — James Maddison was also good — and we’ll choose Vardy because we gave it to Iheanacho at midweek.


Kelechi Iheanacho slipped Vardy through on goal, and the Foxes striker nearly blew his chance despite dribbling the keeper.

Ezri Konsa would’ve liked to challenge Vardy following the unusual mis-touch, but the defender was felled by his own sliding keeper.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

After Anwar El Ghazi just missed a promising bid to equalize, Villa’s Bjorn Engels slid to break up a Vardy pass to a wide open Iheanacho.

The Nigerian got his goal in the 41st, a James Maddison cross deflected goal ward and off his leg for 2-0.

Grealish bounced a shot through traffic and inside the far post after Vardy couldn’t clear a corner kick.

Leicester needed less than four second half minutes to restore its two-goal advantage, the unmarked Evans perfectly placing a back post header across goal off a corner kick.