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Lack of USMNT players starting in Premier League cause for concern

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This is something which has been eating away at me for a little while and I’m sure many others are concerned.

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Just where have the U.S. players in the Premier League gone and will they ever come back?

As of right now, there are just five U.S. national team players who are first team players in the Premier League’s 20 teams, plus a smattering of talented youngsters in academy and reserve squads.

Of those five only one is starting regularly at the time of writing: Geoff Cameron.

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Cameron, 30, has been a regular starter at Stoke City over the past four seasons since he arrived at the Britannia Stadium from Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo. He has made 132 appearances for Stoke and if it wasn’t for a few niggling injuries over the past two campaigns he’d be over the 150 mark. The former Houston star is a lone ranger right now. He’s excelled at right back, in central defense and central midfield under both Tony Pulis and now Mark Hughes at Stoke and after missing the last six weeks with an ankle injury the Potters have missed his presence, experience and ball-playing expertise on the backline.

With Cameron nearing a return to full fitness — he has returned to training and should be available for Stoke’s clash with Newcastle next week — he’ll soon be back to being the only American playing consistently in the Premier League. He’s an integral part of the U.S. national team and that’s because he’s playing week in, week out in the most competitive league in the world.

What has happened to the others in the PL?

Tim Howard, 36, has recently lost his place at Everton to Joel Robles after suffering a minor injury. Howard has been in the PL for over a decade and his credentials don’t need to be backed up but with some sections of the Everton support critical of his displays this season, it seems like his time in England’s top-flight may be coming to an end. A move to the Colorado Rapids is edging ever close and looks likely in May and his manager Roberto Martinez hardly dismissed that notion last week.

Brad Guzan, 31, has lost his starting spot at Aston Villa and the goalkeeper will be playing in England’s second-tier next season as Villa look doomed to relegation. DeAndre Yedlin, 22, has been loaned out by Tottenham Hotspur to Sunderland and has only made a handful of appearances for the struggling Black Cats this season. Things are looking up for Yedlin as he played in the 2-2 draw at Liverpool and started in the 2-1 win against Manchester United last time out, but it still seems like a spot as a regular starter for a solid PL club is some way away for the Seattle Sounders product.

After that you have Matt Miazga, 20, who has just arrived at Chelsea in January but is highly unlikely to play a starring role for the Blues anytime soon and will likely be loaned out to gain experience. After Miazga there are two promising youngsters in the PL academy setups who have both been loaned out this season in Arsenal’s Gedion Zelalem and Sunderland’s Lyden Gooch, plus Cameron Carter-Vickers making waves at Tottenham Hotspur but then… nothing but prospects.

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This downward trend of Americans playing in the Premier League is down to many things. Maybe Major League Soccer is finally able to keep the better players at its disposal (Matt Besler and Jordan Morris are just two who’ve turned down moves to Europe in recent years) which is great for the domestic league, but if you look through North America’s top-flight you’ll also see it littered with USMNTers who called it quits in the PL. They all wanted to make it England but in the case of Brek Shea, Maurice Edu and a growing number of others, it hasn’t worked out.

Jozy Altidore‘s poor record in England with Hull and Sunderland is well documented, while Michael Bradley could never get interest from a PL club despite shining at AS Roma and his brief stint at Aston Villa on loan didn’t work out the way anybody wanted. Clint Dempsey, 32, obviously was one of the most successful American players to ever suit up in the PL, if not the most successful, as Deuce produce goals and played regularly at Fulham and even at Spurs for a while. Although, Dempsey was on the outs at Tottenham before he decided to move back to MLS but that was more about a personal decision to move back to the U.S. than a playing one.

The point I’m trying to make here is that the number of U.S. national team players in England’s top-flight has dwindled drastically in recent years and that should be worrying to fans of the Nats. Worse still, it may become tougher for non-EU players to get work permits in the coming years with the English FA hoping to tighten up its regulations and this trend could continue. Unless a young American player has a European passport then then likelihood of them breaking through in the PL seems ridiculously slim. That’s bad news for the U.S. national team.

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The era of Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride, Stuart Holden, Brad Friedel and Howard being regulars in the PL are over. Now, only one regular outfield player (Cameron) remains. Purely for soccer fans in the U.S. who love the Premier League, of which there are plenty, is it concerning that the number of U.S. national team players in the PL is so small? It could point to a lack of quality in the national team which sometimes happens in a certain cycle. There are plenty USMNT men in the Bundesliga, Alejandro Bedoya is excelling in Ligue 1 and of course there’s a whole host of USMNTers in the Championship, England’s second-tier, but perhaps we just have to accept that despite the best efforts of Jurgen Klinsmann and his coaching staff, young American players are no longer getting chances to come to England.

If it’s from a pure quality standpoint then that’s the most worrying aspect for Klinsmann. The fact that this downturn in U.S. players making an impact in England has coincided with a year of struggle in 2015 for the U.S. may be more than a coincidence. Or maybe not, it’s hard to measure player development in one league over another but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if the U.S. had 8-10 regular starters in the PL compared to MLS then it would obviously be a much better thing for the USMNT. Obviously. With the level of play and strength of opposition, it just makes sense. MLS is getting there but every promising young talent in the league would want to head to the PL and make a difference if he could but the reality is that hardly any are getting the chance to do that anymore.

There’s many reasons for that, but the fact that the most-watched league in the world — with arguably the highest concentration of top clubs among its 20 members — has just five USMNT players in it, and only one of those is a regular starter, should be a cause for huge concern.

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

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

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.

Reports claim Allegri linked with Manchester United, Spurs

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The international break can be a slow time for news, but what to make of multiple reports claiming that Max Allegri is in discussion with a pair of struggling traditional Premier League powers?

Tuttosport claims that Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have interest in hiring the Italian manager, adding that United has had “intensified” contact with him.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Noise out of Old Trafford continues to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while there is no real buzz that Mauricio Pochettino is on the verge of leaving Spurs.

The 52-year-old Allegri has won Serie A once with AC Milan and five times with Juventus, claiming a Serie C title with Sassuolo in 2007-08.

Is there anything to it? He’d be a great hire for either side. In United’s case, he’d be a marked upgrade on their current boss.