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Three thoughts on USMNT roster vs. Portugal

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The U.S. national team will close out a disappointing 2017 by playing against Portugal next Tuesday, Nov. 14, in Leiria.

[ MORE: Full USMNT squad, here ]

Interim boss Dave Sarachan named plenty of youngsters (12 players under the age of 24, to be exact) in his 21-man squad for the friendly, with four teenagers included and plenty of players given a second chance to impress after being overlooked by Bruce Arena in the past 12 months.

Here are my thoughts on the roster for the final game of the year for the USMNT and what impact it may have as the U.S. is still reeling from failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.


1. Youth movement takes center stage

If you’re going to play the kids, you might as well do it now. Everyone connected with U.S. Soccer needs a boost right now and showing that there’s a bright future with a talented young crop coming through should do the trick.

[ MORE: McKennie speaks to Mendola ]

Portugal do not have their first-choice lineup for this game with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Jose Fonte, Rui Patricio and William Carvalho all left out. This is the perfect time to start Weston McKennie, Ethan Horvath, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tyler Adams to see if they’re capable of making the step up. I’d start as many youngsters as possible. What have the U.S. got to lose?

Of the four teenagers, McKennie is playing regularly in the Bundesliga at a huge club, Adams has had a fine season for New York Red Bulls and the U.S. youth team, CCV is a regular for a Sheffield United side chasing promotion to the Premier League and Sargent deserves his chance after starring for both the U-17 and U-20 teams and getting a move to Werder Bremen. Is Sargent going to start ahead of Jozy Altidore anytime soon in the big U.S. games? Probably not. But until you try him (dare I say that chucking in another young 17-year-old, Mr Pulisic, worked out pretty well…) you won’t know what he’s capable of.

If you don’t play the kids in this game, especially the European based crew, when the heck are you going to?


2. Suggested lineup vs. Portugal

—– Horvath —–

— Yedlin — Brooks — Carter-Vickers — Villafana —

—- McKennie —- Williams —- Acosta —- Adams —- Gooch —-

 —- Sargent —- 

I’d like to see a return to a solid 4-5-1 which becomes a 4-3-3 going forward. It’s all a bit fake with Sarachan only in charge for one game and the strange scenario of Arena’s old coaching staff all still in place, but a new manager for the U.S. can do a lot worse than getting back to a hard-nosed defensive system which allows the likes of Christian Pulisic to float free in the attacking third (a la Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan in years gone by) when the U.S. has the ball.

Club Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath has impressed me whenever I’ve seem him play, so I’d give him the nod in net, while Bill Hamid may be the long-term challenger to Brad Guzan for the No.1 jersey after his recent move to Europe but Gonzalez is also worth a go. Simply put, as always, the USMNT have plenty of goalkeeping options. DeAndre Yedlin will be the long-time right back for the U.S. so you might as well play him, while Jorge Villafana is probably on one of his last chances with the USMNT after several shaky displays.

Carter-Vickers and Miazga starting together may be a little too much right away but you could even play a 3-5-2 formation with Brooks, Miazga and CCV as the center backs. McKennie and Gooch will put in great shifts out wide and are comfortable on the ball, while Danny Williams, Adams and Kellyn Acosta have a perfect combo of power, trickery and passing ability. Up top, why not start Sargent? We know what Dom Dwyer, CJ Sapong and Juan Agudelo can do, so the youngster deserves a chance to start and has shown his predatory instincts around the box for the youth national teams.


3. Experienced players can reclaim starting spots

Danny Williams, Alejandro Bedoya and Eric Lichaj will all be aiming to prove they deserve to be starters for the USMNT moving forward as they are among a handful of more experienced players in this squad.

[ MORE: Williams sits down with JPW ]

Williams, 28, has perhaps been one of the most missed players in recent months, first under Jurgen Klinsmann and then he was totally blanked by Arena. The German-American midfielder has become a starter for Huddersfield Town in the Premier League this season and played a pivotal role in their recent defeat of Manchester United. His mixture of athleticism, guile and ability to make surging runs forward from midfield would’ve helped the U.S. out massively over the past 6-12 months. He has worked extremely hard to get back into the fold and deserves to stick around.

Bedoya, 30, played 11 minutes across the USA’s two key World Cup qualifiers last month and the Philadelphia Union man will want to prove he still has plenty left in the tank for the USMNT. He could play in a new-look central midfield with Williams and Acosta but will he get in the team ahead of Michael Bradley when he’s available again in 2018 after the conclusion of the MLS Cup playoffs? A strong display against Portugal will be key to securing his long-term future for the USMNT.

Lichaj, 28, has been in and out of squads under Klinsmann and Arena but the Nottingham Forest full back is reliable and versatile. He should be in every U.S. squad due to that fact that he can play both right and left back, and at a stretch he can play in midfield too. Lichaj is also in great form and was named Man of the Match on multiple occasions for Forest last month.

The likes of Bradley, Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Dempsey, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, Pulisic and Guzan will all likely be available in 2018 but aside from that experience core, over 15 places are now totally up for grabs following the humiliation of failing to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next summer.

Four-star Manchester United wins Europa League group

Manchester United Mata Greenwood
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Manchester United is in fine feather and showing it, smashing AZ Alkmaar in a stylish 4-0 win at Old Trafford in Europa League play on Thursday.

Juan Mata had a goal and set up two others, while Mason Greenwood scored twice after Ashley Young opened the scoring in a group-claiming victory.

[ MORE: Saka leads Arsenal comeback ]

United wins the group with 13 points, conceding just twice in six matches.

The Red Devils have won three-straight matches, as AZ joins Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in the loss column. Up next is a Sunday visit from Everton in the Premier League before Wednesday’s League Cup quarterfinal visit from Colchester United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer handed starts to James Garner, Brandon Williams, and Axel Tuanzebe, bringing youngsters Ethan Laird and Tahith Chong off the bench.

Greenwood, 18, now has six goals in 22 senior appearances, while Mata, 31, gets on the score sheet for the first time this season.

For his career, the award-winning Spaniard is doing okay, though: 125 goals and 149 assists in 542 senior appearances.

Ljungberg hails ‘amazing’ teen Saka after game-changing performance

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Arsenal phenom Bukayo Saka‘s big day spurred the Gunners to a top seed in the Europa League knockout rounds.

Arsenal went behind on two deflected goals in the second half’s first 25 minutes, but Saka answered with a goal and an assist in three minutes to take a point from Belgium in a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.

[ RECAP, VIDEO: Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal ]

Saka was at the heart of it of all good things Arsenal, the 18-year-old handed plenty of responsibility. despite his tender age.

“He was amazing,” said interim manager Freddie Ljungberg. “He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He’s a tremendous talent.”

Saka had four key passes to go with his goal and assist, winning six of eight duels while producing two tackles and an interception.

Ljungberg said Arsenal hasn’t sent its young players on loan enough, though that hardly applies to Saka given he was 17 until September.

The injured Gunners used Konstantinos Mavropanos, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, and Reiss Nelson in the Starting XI, and brought Gabriel Martinelli off the bench.

“I feel sorry for our young players,” he said. “A lot of them haven’t been on loan, they’ve not had that exposure to men’s football. Some of them made mistakes but they’ll learn from those mistakes and won’t do them again.”

Smith-Rowe was loaned to RB Leipzig last season and Nelson starred on loan at Hoffenheim. Mavropanos played first team football for Greek Super League side PAS Giannina in his late teens.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Arsenal uses thrilling comeback to win Europa League group

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Nothing Arsenal-related is allowed to be easy, it seems.

The Gunners used a goal and an assist from Bukayo Saka to come back from a two-goal deficit and draw Standard Liege 2-2 in Belgium on Thursday, winning its Europa League group when Vitoria came back to beat Eintracht Frankfurt on a wild afternoon of soccer.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Arsenal trailed on second half goals from Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah, but rallied behind Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette to score a second-straight win for interim boss Freddie Ljungberg.

Saka sent in a laser cross in the 78th minute and Lacazette did quite well to power it under the bar.

He’s loving this competition, having made a serious entrance earlier in the tournament versus Eintracht Frankfurt. The 18-year-old now has two goals and five assists across all competitions this season.

The Gunners needed just three more minutes to tie the score on a day they outshot the hosts 15-11.

Saka showed his nose for goal to tie the score five minutes later with a dribble to the top of the 18 and a sly finish to the keeper’s left.

This was all happening around the same time Vitoria scored twice in three minutes to take a 3-2 lead on Eintracht Frankfurt.

Standard Liege goes from the knockout rounds to nothing in a blink, while Eintracht goes from winning the group to second.

The field for the Europa League is looking fierce, with Inter Milan, Benfica, Ajax, Club Brugge, Olympiacos, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, and Red Bull Salzburg joining the competition via transfer from the UEFA Champions League.

Arsenal joins Premier League sides Wolves and Manchester United in the knockout rounds, having lost the Europa League final to rivals Chelsea at the end of last season.

The Gunners beat West Ham on Monday and host Manchester City at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 17 is here in the Premier League as the games continue to come thick and fast during the festive season.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

While you can download the NBC Sports Predictor app (below) and play the Premier League Pick ‘Em game yourself to predict the scores and win the prizes.

DOWNLOAD NBC SPORTS PREDICTOR

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the long shots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Chelsea 3-0 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Liverpool 3-1 Watford – (Saturday, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Crystal Palace 3-1 Brighton – (Monday, 2:45 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Leicester 3-0 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

Southampton 1-1 West Ham – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

Sheffield United 2-1 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Man United 2-1 Everton – (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Arsenal 3-3 Man City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Wolves 1-2 Tottenham – (Sunday 9 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Burnley 1-2 Newcastle United – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM