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“It’s very special” — Wisconsin defender set to take on USMNT, Mexico

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Macroeconomics. Soccer practice. Portuguese class. Match versus Rutgers.

All that, and then Sam Brotherton can get down to preparing for Giovani Dos Santos and Jozy Altidore.

The University of Wisconsin captain and New Zealand national teamer has one heck of a week ahead of him.

“It’s been pretty tough trying to balance at all, but I’ve had a lot of support from the university and thankfully my professors have been understanding,” the 6-foot-1 center back told ProSoccerTalk.

[ MORE: LA’s Dos Santos gets Mexico call-up ]

Following this weekend’s match between Wisconsin and Rutgers, Brotherton will hop on a plane to meet head coach Anthony Hudson and New Zealand in Nashville. The Kiwis are Stateside for an Oct. 8 match against Mexico in Nashville before heading to Washington for an Oct. 11 date with the USMNT at RFK Stadium.

Credit: UW Athletic Communications
Credit: UW Athletic Communications

This isn’t a bizarre story of a tiny national team finding a college kid with an ancestral tie and giving him a call; Brotherton is off to tangle with two of CONCACAF’s best in a match that will hopefully better prepare New Zealand for the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Brotherton will enter the trip on his 20th birthday, and on the path for caps Nos. 7 and 8. He’s the only amateur player on a team with West Ham defender Winston Reid, Leeds United striker Chris Wood, and Portland Timbers backstop Jake Gleeson.

It’s no secret that Brotherton has the skill set to be a professional player now, and his call-ups to the national team in the summer before his freshman year had pro clubs on alert. But Brotherton had signed to play for head coach John Trask at a very good school at Wisconsin, and that meant something to him.

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“It was a decision I had to make, and I felt that I had made a commitment to the school,” said Brotherton, whose father was educated at Oxford. “I’ve always been passionate about my education and wanted to get my degree so I felt I wanted to give college soccer a try, start off here at Wisconsin and see where it went.”

Brotherton is one of a bevy of young New Zealand players plying their trade in the NCAA Soccer game. Xavier’s Cory Brown was the Big East preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Saint Francis Red Flash senior defender Francis de Vries is an All-American, and Stuart Holthusen was First Team All-MAC at Akron in 2015.

The University at Buffalo has a Kiwi head coach and four players, including goalkeeper Cameron Hogg, who played with Brotherton on the U20 team.

“Sam has always been a leader in any side he stepped into,” Hogg said. “From Auckland to the national U20s, he’s always been a leading voice even if he wasn’t wearing the armband.”

Wisconsin is 4-2-1, the longtime MLS assistant Trask running the Badgers program to a solid start. Trask has started the sophomore in 24 matches, including a freshman season that saw Brotherton named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and had his teammates recognizing a leader.

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“Sam is one of the few sophomores that I’ve named captain,” Trask told PST. “It’s rare in a team. Sam has just got it. His presence as a person and the quality of his play, every guy on the team said he should be our captain. I’ve got a ton of time for him.”

“Sam is an excellent center back and he’s incredible in the air,” said Adam Lauko, who graduated from Wisconsin in 2015. “On top of that he is mature beyond his years and a well-respected leader. He’s a great guy to be around as well.”

2015 was an insane ride for Brotherton, as the kid went from scoring at the U20 World Cup to his freshman year in Madison. Two days after that season ended, he earned his first full national team cap when he played in a 1-0 win over Oman.

“It was amazing,” Brotherton said. “It’s really quite hard to put into words. It’s very special. I was so fortunate that it happened so young in my career. It’s an honor, but it makes you want to work even harder.”

Being a center back means having the opportunity to learn from Reid, a man with 19 caps and 175 appearances for West Ham. All but 28 of those have come with the Irons in the Premier League, and Reid was chosen the Hammer of the Year in 2012-13 and the New Zealand Footballer of the Year for 2014.

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“Rugby is the main sport in New Zealand, but Winston has increased the awareness and popularity of football,” Brotherton said. “He’s a great player and a great guy. A lot of guys look up to him, and every time you get in camp with him it’s great to learn off someone like that.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 10: Chris Smalling of Manchester United looks dejected as Winston Reid of West Ham United celebrates as he scores their third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester United at the Boleyn Ground on May 10, 2016 in London, England. West Ham United are playing their last ever home match at the Boleyn Ground after their 112 year stay at the stadium. The Hammers will move to the Olympic Stadium for the 2016-17 season. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Fellow New Zealand defender Reid (center) celebrates scoring the match-winner in the final match at the Boleyn Ground (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

When New Zealand won the 2016 OFC Nations Cup, Brotherton started all five matches. He went 120 minutes in the final as the Kiwis won in penalty kicks, but still came back to school at Wisconsin.

“With all his international call-ups and how difficult our business school is, we’re still optimistic he’s going to be an Academic All-American in addition to a soccer All-American,” Trask said. “He knows I won’t stand in his way when the moment’s right. I still think he can learn at the collegiate level while also pushing his degree. It’s a very unique situation.”

Brotherton said he’s grateful to Trask, who he calls “a winner”, and Wisconsin for allowing him to pursue his international career. He praises Hudson’s preparation and tactical acumen, and admits that he’s open to playing professional in Europe, North America, or wherever the best opportunity lies.

[ MORE: Southampton draws in Israel ]

And if that’s home?

“I love going to the beach,” Brotherton said. “I spearfish a little bit, and I definitely miss being close to the sea.”

That’s all in the future, though. Brotherton has a busy week ahead of him, as Wisconsin looks to go 3-1 in Big Ten play with a home win over Rutgers before he goes to hopefully start in front of thousands of passionate Mexico and USMNT fans in two gigantic stadia.

“All players look forward to playing in big games in front of some good crowds,” Brotherton said. “It’s exciting and those opportunities don’t come around too often, so it brings the best out of you as a player.”

Gold Cup: Mexico, Canada win to finish 1st, 2nd in Group A (video)

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A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group A play at the 2019 Gold Cup…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Martinique 2-3 Mexico

Mexico fought off a valiant effort from a Martinique side which was more than up for the task of taking down CONCACAF’s premier giant before falling just short of securing their first Gold Cup point since 2002 (appeared in four of six tournaments since then). Mexico secured a first-place finish in Group A with a perfect record of nine points from three games and will face the runner-up from Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

Uriel Antuna opened the scoring with a slow-rolling finish in the 29th minute, but Les Matinino drew level through Kevin Parsemain’s stunning, inch-perfect free kick in the 56th.

Raul Jimenez tapped Rodolfo Pizarro’s cross into a wide open goal to put Mexico back in front in the 61st, followed by a third from Fernando Navarro 11 minutes later.

Martinique refused to go away, though, as Seattle Sounders defender Jordy Delem headed home while left criminally unmarked inside the box to cut the lead back to one.

[ COPA AMERICA: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video) ]

Canada 7-0 Cuba

For the second time in three games this tournament, Cuba suffered a 7-0 drubbing — this time at the hands of Canada, who finished second and will face the winner of Group B, either Costa Rica or Haiti.

19-year-old forward Jonathan David, who plays for Belgian side Gent, bagged a hat trick (3rd, 71st and 77th minutes), as did fellow forward Lucas Cavallini (21st, 43rd and 45th), to go with a measly singular goal from Junior Hoilett in the 50th.

Monday’s Gold Cup schedule

Bermuda v. Nicaragua — 6:30 p.m. ET
Costa Rica v. Haiti — 8:30 p.m. ET

Copa America: Argentina dispatches Qatar to advance (video)

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A roundup of Sunday’s action from the final round of Group B play at the 2019 Copa America in Brazil…

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: France gets by Brazil in ET | England bests Cameroon ]

Qatar 0-2 Argentina

Argentina bounced back from a defeat and a draw in their first two games to avoid what would have been an indefensible disaster — failing to advance from the group — by beating Qatar 2-0 in the two sides’ Group B finale.

Lautaro Martinez scored what turned out to be the game-winner after just four minutes. Qatar attempted to play the ball out of the back, but a pass from a Qatari defender was badly mishit and went straight to Martinez, who was quick to corral the ball and run it down for a one-time finish from just inside the box.

Sergio Aguero put the game to bed with a brilliant individual goal in the 82nd minute. After receiving the ball 40 yards from goal, Aguero bust forward and went past two defenders in a flash before picking out a small window to hit with his left-footed finish from 12 yards out.

Up next for Lionel Messi and Co., is a quarterfinal tangle with Venezuela.

Colombia 1-0 Paraguay

Having already secured a place in the quarters, Colombia finished group play with a perfect nine-point record and locked up first place in the group edging past Paraguay.

Gustavo Cuellar bagged the game’s only goal in the 31st minute, when he snuck the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs from an impossibly tight angle.

Colombia finished Group B with three victories, by way of four goals scored and zero goals conceded.

Monday’s Copa America schedule

Chile v. Ecuador — 7 p.m. ET
Ecuador v. Japan — 7 p.m. ET

AFCON: Senegal start with win despite missing Mane

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Senegal reinforced its status as one of the favorites to win the Africa Cup of Nations by starting its campaign in Egypt with a 2-0 win over Tanzania on Sunday.

Senegal didn’t miss forward Sadio Mane, who was suspended for the game, as it opened with a solid display in Cairo.

Playing just his second competitive game for his country, Krepin Diatta powered in a shot from outside the penalty area to make it 2-0 midway through the second half. Senegal would have won the Group C game by much more if it had been just a little sharper in front of goal.

Tanzania goalkeeper Aishi Manula also helped keep the score down.

Keita Balde got the first goal in the 28th minute after finishing off an intricate attack – which swept from one side of the field to the other – by driving his shot into the bottom corner.

Mane missed the game with a suspension for two yellow cards he received in qualifying.

Senegal, host Egypt and Nigeria are seen as the strongest contenders for the title, although Senegal has played more African Cups (15) than any other team without winning the championship.

Senegal is the No. 1 team in Africa while Tanzania is the second-lowest ranked team at the tournament. It’s making just its second appearance at the African Cup and first since 1981.

Also in Group C, Riyad Mahrez scored the second goal as Algeria began its campaign with a 2-0 win over Kenya, which qualified for the first time since 2004.

Baghdad Bounedjah slotted a penalty for Algeria after Aissa Mandi cut into the area from the right flank and was sliced down. Mahrez added the second before halftime. His first-time shot from a cross was heading for the bottom right corner of the Kenyan net, deflected off a defender, and ended up in the bottom left.

Content with 2-0, Algeria shut the game down in the second half and had little trouble in holding off the Kenyans.

But meetings with minnows have provided early headaches for some of the other top teams in the first three days of action in Egypt. The home team struggled to break down Zimbabwe, Uganda surprised Congo 2-0 and Nigeria needed a late goal to finally beat tournament debutant Burundi, the lowest-ranked team to make it to Egypt. Guinea was held 2-2 by Madagascar, another team making its first appearance.

The trend continued in Sunday’s first game. Morocco got lucky and escaped with a 1-0 victory over Namibia in Group D when Itamunua Keimune scored an own goal in the 89th minute.

“The first game is always difficult,” Morocco’s M’barak Boussoufa said. “We are happy to win, even by a slim margin.”

Striker Keimune was at the wrong end of the field and trying to clear a free kick from Hakim Ziyech. Apparently uncertain whether to kick or head the ball, all he did was divert it into his own net with a minute to go. Bitterly disappointed, Namibia’s players slumped to the ground at the final whistle and were consoled by members of their coaching staff.

“We deserved a draw,” Namibia coach Ricardo Manetti said.

The Morocco-Namibia group is arguably the toughest at the African Cup, with 2015 champion Ivory Coast and South Africa the other two teams. They meet on Monday.

Morocco plays Ivory Coast in its next game, when Morocco coach Herve Renard comes up against the country he coached to the title in 2015.

“We have to get ready for that,” Renard said.

Abraham, Chelsea youngsters ‘buzzing’ for chance amid transfer ban

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Chelsea has never been a club known for building a first-team squad full of young players from the club’s youth academy — at least not in the Roman Abramovich era — but the Blues will have no choice other than to rely upon a handful of youngsters amid the club’s season-long transfer ban.

[ MORE: Pulisic admits hint of satisfying revenge in win over T&T ]

The prospect of regular playing time — even under such circumstances — has the likes of 21-year-old forward Tammy Abraham, among others, “buzzing” at the chance to make their mark and secure an important place at the club for the foreseeable future. There’s also the matter of hiring a new manager ahead of the 2019-20 season, which will afford every player, young or old, a clean slate — quotes from the Guardian:

“This year is the most important year for us. It is now or never. There will never be a better time to play the youngsters. Of course the transfer ban is probably not what the club wanted, but for us it is exciting. I am excited and I am sure the rest of the players are.

“There is a great chance for us young players, so we must get our heads down in training and go for it at Chelsea. I have already been talking to the club about preseason. I’m going to have a couple of weeks and then come back hitting the ground running. There is no better time for a young player to be at Chelsea. I am going to give it my all. With a new manager coming in, there is no better time to show what I am made of in preseason. I am just buzzing at the thought of the new season.”

It’s obviously a bit odd to hear a player speak so positively, and freely, about something as bleak as a transfer ban – especially when you consider the decaying state of Chelsea’s current squad — but perhaps more so is the disconnect which appears to exist between the club’s academy setup and the folks who sanction expensive transfer after expensive transfer rather than giving those young players a chance.

Abraham, who spent last season on loan at Aston Villa and scored 25 goals in the EFL Championship, sees himself, and anyone else who gets a chance due to the transfer ban, as potential agents of change for future classes of academy kids.

“Maybe it will change. Hopefully. Chelsea has always had a great academy. They have lacked playing them and taking them to the next level. You see the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who on the borderline have done that. We have excellent players still there and coming through who are still Chelsea players so fingers crossed if it all goes well it changes the mindset. I got thousands of messages from Chelsea fans on Instagram saying play him, play him. It is nice to have that behind you, knowing the supporters have your back. They believe in you as well. Clearly I was doing something right. Fingers crossed it all happens.”