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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.

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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.

Italy women’s team awarded for ’emancipating’ female game

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ROME (AP) The Italy women’s national soccer team was awarded the Foreign Press Association’s Invictus award Monday for promoting and “emancipating” the female game in the country with its run to the World Cup quarterfinals.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Head coach Milena Bertolini and forward Barbara Bonansea were given the award during a ceremony at the Rome-based association.

With soccer dominated by men in Italy and few opportunities for girls, Bertolini recounted how she had to dress up as a boy to play as a kid.

“Now things are changing, thanks to the Italian federation’s school programs,” Bertolini said.

Bertolini and Bonansea lamented that female players are still not considered professionals and therefore are not permitted to earn more than $33,500 per year by Italian law.

“It’s not about the money, it’s a question of rights,” said Bonansea, who also plays for Italian champion Juventus.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

While Italy’s men’s team is a four-time World Cup champion, the women had not played in a World Cup for two decades and entered as a prohibitive underdog during its opening match against Australia in France in June. But the Azzurre came back from a goal down for a 2-1 win courtesy of Bonansea’s two scores , with her second coming in the fifth minute of stoppage time.

“That goal shaped our World Cup, both in terms of results and in terms of promoting women’s soccer in Italy,” Bertolini said. “The strong emotions on the field were transmitted to everyone who was watching. I still get goosebumps now just thinking about that goal.”

The Azzurre went on to win their group then beat China in the first knockout round before losing to eventual finalist the Netherlands.

In a country of 60 million people, a total of more than 20 million spectators watched Italy’s five matches on RAI state TV, setting audience records for women’s soccer game after game.

The Invictus award is dedicated to “promoting the positive effects of sports in terms of integration and emancipation by the vulnerable sections of society.”

UCL preview: Spurs desperate for a win; Man City host Atalanta

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By the end of the week, we’ll be at the halfway point of the UEFA Champions League group stage, and while some Premier League clubs (Manchester City and Liverpool) are currently in rather strong positions, a couple others (Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea) have some serious work to do to rescue their respective campaigns.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

Tottenham’s start to the group stage has gone about as poorly as it could have done, considering the positions in which they’ve found themselves early in games. Going from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw away to Olympiacos was bad enough, but going from 1-0 up to a 7-2 home defeat to Bayern Munich was the real demoralizer.

Now, last year’s UCL runners-up find themselves third in the group with just one point. However, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side is set for a back-to-back home-and-away with (presumed) doormat Red Star Belgrade, beginning Tuesday when the Serbian side visits the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Spurs will continue to be without goalkeeper Hugo Lloris following his dislocated elbow, while midfielders Christian Eriksen and Giovani Lo Celso are back in full training and expected to be available for selection. Tanguay Ndombele was only involved as a second-half sub during Spurs’ draw with last-place Watford over the weekend, so he is likely to return to the starting lineup.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

Man City, meanwhile, are coming off a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace and feeling a renewed sense of PL title contention after Liverpool dropped their first points of the season. While a domestic three-peat is undoubtedly high on the list of priorities for Pep Guardiola‘s side, it’s probably safe to assume that breaking though in the UCL is the main objective for 2019-20. Since Guardiola took over at the Etihad Stadium, City have reached the quarterfinals twice and the round of 16 once. Under the direction of Manuel Pellegrini, City reached the semifinals the season before Guardiola’s arrival.

Outside of long-term knees injuries to Aymeric Laporte and Leroy Sane, City have a clean bill of health.

Tuesday’s full UEFA Champions League schedule

Atletico Madrid v. Bayer Leverkusen — 12:55 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk v. Dinamo Zagreb — 12:55 p.m. ET

Tottenham Hotspur v. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Manchester City v. Atalanta — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray v. Real Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Juventus v. Lokomotive Moscow — 3 p.m. ET
Brugge v. Paris Saint-Germain — 3 p.m. ET
Olympiacos v. Bayern Munich

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man United 1-1 Liverpool; Struggles in North London

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe review the key results from Matchweek 9 in the Premier League focusing on Manchester United and Liverpool’s 1-1 draw at Old Trafford (0:50). The chaps also discuss Manchester City’s win at Crystal Palace (16:50), Arsenal’s defeat at Sheffield United (23:25), Tottenham’s draw at home to Watford (35:25) and debate who currently is the 3rd best team in the Premier League (42:05). Finally, the guys name their under-appreciated performances of the weekend (50:50).

To listen to more lively conversations and passionate debate from Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe, subscribe to The 2 Robbies Podcast on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

FA Cup qualifier to be replayed after team walks off for racist abuse

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LONDON (AP) The FA Cup qualifying match between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town that was abandoned following racist abuse will be replayed next week.

[ MORE: Sheffield United beat Arsenal with stellar defensive display (video) ]

The Football Association said Monday that the match will be replayed from the start on Oct. 29 at Haringey’s home ground.

Saturday’s game saw the players walk off in the 64th minute, shortly after Yeovil had gone 1-0 up via a penalty. Haringey officials said after the game that its Cameroonian goalkeeper Valery Pajetat and defender Coby Rowe had both been targeted by racial abuse by visiting fans.

London police said they had arrested two men, age 23 and 26, on Monday on suspicion of racially aggravated common assault in connection with the incident.

[ MORE: Referee officials explain VAR decision on Rashford goal ]

The FA said: “Following the incident in the original tie and the two arrests already made, the FA’s investigation is ongoing. We are continuing to work with the relevant authorities on our investigation into the matter.”

The winner of the game will advance to the first round of the FA Cup.