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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.

Nashville MLS expansion club snares ex-Liverpool CEO Ayre

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Former Liverpool CEO Ian Ayre is moving from Merseyside to the Music City.

The Tennesseean’s Joe Rexrode says Ayre is set to take the reins of Nashville SC as the first CEO in club history when it makes its debut in the 2020 MLS season.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

Liverpool hired ex-EA Sports executive Peter Moore to replace Ayre in 2017 after the latter, 54, spent six years with the club as managing director and then CEO.

From the Tennessean:

“The MLS has huge ambitions to be one of the biggest and leading leagues in the world, and is on that trajectory,” Ayre said. “Both as a soccer fan and an executive in the industry, it’s something I’ve had my eye on because it’s important. … You talk about MLS and its growth, I think it’s becoming easier and will become easier to attract the right talent to something that’s exciting and developing. And if you have a reputation of being involved in a club like Liverpool, you hope that stands for something when you start to try and attract talent.”

Report: Lampard interviews twice with Championship club

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Steven Gerrard‘s longtime England midfield mate Frank Lampard could soon be joining him in a management.

While Gerrard is tasked with rebuilding Rangers’ Scottish title push, Lampard’s reported new gig would entail leading Ipswich Town back to the Premier League for the first time since 2002.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

Sky Sports says Lampard has already interviewed twice with Ipswich Town ownership in a bid to earn his first senior management gig.

Lampard, 39, played for Chelsea, Man City, New York City FC, West Ham United, and Swansea in a sparkling 20-year playing career.

Town finished 12th in the Championship, 15 points back of a playoff spot and 19 clear of relegation.

No World Cup for Chelsea’s Spanish trio

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Spain has left Chelsea trio Alvaro Morata, Marcos Alonso, and Pedro off its World Cup squad.

Also omitted were Napoli’s Jose Callejoin and Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin.

[ MORE: MLS Things — The Archive ]

Manager Julen Lopetegui did include Blues defender Cesar Azpilicueta and ex-Chelsea man Diego Costa, as well as Manchester United’s David De Gea, Arsenal’s Nacho Monreal, and Man City’s David Silva.

Spain is expected to contend for the tournament crown in Russia, led by a stellar midfield which includes Silva, Andres Iniesta, Isco, and Thiago Alcantara.

Spain is in a group with Portugal, Iran, and Morocco.

Spain’s World Cup squad

Goalkeepers: De Gea, Kepa Arrizabalaga, Pepe Reina

Defenders: Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Azpilicueta, Nacho, Alvaro Odriozola, Jordi Alba, Monreal, Dani Carvajal

Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Asensio, Iniesta, Isco, Saul Niguel, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Silva.

Forwards: Diego Costa, Rodrigo, Iago Aspas, Lucas Vazquez.

MLS Three Things: RBNY beats Atlanta, is a special club right now

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At this point, Jesse Marsch could take the USMNT job, Tyler Adams could bolt for the Bundesliga, and we’d still have to select the New York Red Bulls to finish with a home playoff game.

[ MORE: Willian’s shot at Conte ]

That’s how well run RBNY is these days, which is to take nothing away from their coach and 19-year-old star, but considering they navigated a solid CONCACAF Champions League run en route to this start… well…. wow.

On a night when Luis Robles’ ironman streak ended, Kaku recorded two assists, and Ezequiel Barco bagged his second goal in three matches, they don’t even meet the requirements of our three things.

Form giants deliver more goals

Marsch’s men have been shutout once this season, and most multiple goals in four-consecutive wins. Three of those four wins have come on the road, at LA, Colorado, and now Atlanta.

RBNY has the best points-per-game in Major League Soccer, has scored the joint-most goals despite playing in the second-fewest games, and is allowing barely more than a goal-a-game.

Bet against ’em. We dare ya.

BWP delivers the goods

RBNY’s 33-year-old English star scored twice and won a penalty that Daniel Royer converted as he continued his assault on all future Red Bulls’ hopes of becoming the club’s leading scorer.

Bradley Wright-Phillips has almost 50 more goals than his nearest competitor, Juan Pablo Angel, and he makes headers look like child’s play.

Victory comes with a price

Kemar Lawrence was lost with a scary-looking face-plant on a clearance, and needed to be stretchered off the pitch. Hopefully it’s not long-term for the Jamaican back.