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Christian Pulisic is now ready to lead USMNT

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LONDON — All eyes from an American perspective will be on Christian Pulisic at Wembley on Thursday as England host the U.S men’s national team in a friendly.

The 20-year-old is growing up fast and he will play for the USMNT for the first time since May, and just the second time in the last 13 months, when he steps onto the pitch in London.

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Due to injuries and being handed a rest over the summer, interim head coach Dave Sarachan hasn’t had Pulisic to call on often. Now, on the big stage against England at the home of soccer, everyone connected with U.S. Soccer is waiting to see if he can lead this young USMNT into a new era.

Since Pulisic broke into tears after the USA’s shock defeat to Trinidad & Tobago — which resulted in their elimination from qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in October 2017 — he has played a friendly game against Bolivia. That is it.

Speaking to a small group of U.S. based reporters in west London ahead of the USMNT’s game against England on Thursday, Pulisic was calm and quiet ahead of his return and the Borussia Dortmund star seems to have grown up quite a bit.

“It hasn’t been awkward at all,” Pulisic said when asked about his time away from the team. “Obviously it was super tough, not qualifying [for the World Cup], we would have loved to have been there. We can’t change that now. I’ve had some injuries which made me miss out on some of the games and now I am just super excited to be back with these guys.”

These guys include teenagers Tim Weah and Josh Sargent, plus other young stars Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie but Pulisic is clearly the player the USMNT look to in order to push them on to the next level.

His leadership role is one that is developing and he believes he can now start to carry this team forward with the 2022 World Cup the next major target.

“I mean you know I’ve been a part of this team for the whole qualifying process and now moving forward, some of these guys who weren’t there during that time,” Pulisic said. “I definitely need to be a more important piece of this team and continue to grow as a leader. That support for the team, for myself. Yeah. It’s going to be fun. For me it’s tough because I’m not a very vocal guy, not super outgoing, but I think the biggest thing I can do is lead by example. I want to show these guys how it’s done on a professional level. I want to go in and to be focused every day and in training. I think guys see that, they want to do the same thing.” 

Pulisic voiced his belief that the USMNT need to hire a new head coach soon (current Columbus Crew coach Gregg Berhalter is expected to take charge in the coming weeks) despite Sarachan steadying the ship over a turbulent last 12 months.

“We definitely want a permanent coach and someone who has a plan and someone who has an idea of how we want to play moving forward,” Pulisic said. “In the meantime Dave [Sarachan] has also done a good job developing guys and calling guys in and allowing them to be a part of the team as well. It is something I think will definitely happen in the near future.”

In the near future the USMNT will aim to emulate their opponents on Thursday, as a young England team reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup.

“England is a great team, I think they surprised a lot of people and had a great World Cup,” Pulisic said. “Yes it’s an inspiration for us. We definitely feel that with the young side that we have that we can also do something like that. That’s the goal for us.”

Pulisic lavished praise on Wayne Rooney, who is being honored during the U.S. game as he wins his 120th and final cap for the Three Lions, with the Pennsylvania native revealing he studied Rooney’s career and hopes to emulate it with the U.S. There are similarities with how Rooney and Pulisic were seen as saviors for their respective soccer nations.

“Yeah I mean a guy like that and has had such a successful career is something that I can I can look at and I want to be just like that,” Pulisic said. “I want to have a long career with wherever I may be that I am doing the best I can. Now he’s ended up in MLS, who knows if I will end up there one day. It’s great to see that and I can definitely look up to a guy like that.”

Never too far from Pulisic’s mind is the fact he is now in a leadership role, along with the likes of Weston McKennie, and he has fast become a figurehead for this new, and very young, USMNT side.

“I think that we have a lot of brave young players and guys who aren’t afraid to come in and show us what they know about the game, what they learned from their clubs. I think that’s really important,” Pulisic said. “Guys can’t come in to be shy and expect us to kind of show them the ropes. They’ve got to come in and they’ve got to show what they can do and be competent with it. I think that’s what makes a great young team.

“Me and Weston are both 20, so it’s not like we’re experienced old guys! We’re in the same boat as a lot of other players. Of course we know, myself especially, have been through a qualifying process, been through stuff like that. So obviously I have more experience in that side of things. So I will help the guys and I try to as much as I can. And Weston will do the same as he has also had some experience, some good Bundesliga experience. We want to help out the young guys who don’t have that as much as we can. We also still have a lot to learn.”

Their latest lesson against England will be a heck of a learning curve for this young U.S. team, and Pulisic is ready to lead the Stars and Stripes.

What to expect as U.S. kicks off U-20 World Cup

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Tab Ramos’ United States men’s national team may have a navigable U-20 World Cup group, but it doesn’t set-up nicely.

Not that supporters are ready to make excuses; The U.S. is expected to make a decent run over the next month in Poland.

[ WATCH: The U-20 World Cup on Telemundo ]

Timothy Weah, Paxton Pomykal, and the Baby Yanks meet Ukraine at 2:30 p.m. ET in their Group D debut, hopeful of a run past the quarterfinals. The Americans haven’t played three post-group stage matches since a fourth place finish in 1999.

A group win is imperative with loaded favorites France expected to win Group E and set for a spot on the other side of the knockout bracket.

Aside from Josh Sargent’s call-up to the full USMNT, the Yanks have every reason to be optimistic about their potential. The 21-man player squad breaks down to six players on German sides, 10 American-based players, two from the Netherlands, and one each from Portugal, Spain, and France.

Weah is probably the most exciting one of the bunch, having success at Celtic on loan from PSG and earning high praise from Neymar amongst others, but Pomykal is one of the best MLS products in some time as a center midfielder.

Both Pomykal and Chris Durkin are getting significant minutes at the Major League Soccer level, while Mark McKenzie has nearly 20 with the Philadelphia Union as a senior player.

Beyond that are exciting strikers Sebastian Soto, who debuted for Hannover 96 this season, and Wolfsburg prospect Ulysses Llanez.

But the Yanks will look to Weah for that extra special something, the 19-year-old scoring six goals between PSG and Celtic this season.

Friday’s debut will be followed by a Monday match against Nigeria before Thursday’s tango witj Qatar.

Winning Group D means the third-place team from B, E, or F, while finishing second is a Round of 16 match-up with France, who boasts a number of high-end players already playing regularly at the highest levels of European soccer.

Everton adds keeper depth with Lossl

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Everton has added goalkeeping depth beyond Jordan Pickford.

Danish keeper Jonas Lossl will sign a three-year contract with the Toffees on July 1, staying in the Premier League after his release from Huddersfield Town.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup rewind ]

Lossl, 30, was initially on loan to the Terriers from Bundesliga outfit Mainz, but the deal was made permanent before last season.

The Dane had an outstanding loan campaign but wasn’t as strong this season as the Terriers were mowed down by Premier League competition and relegated to the Championship.

He was one of five players released by Huddersfield earlier this month.

Pickford also had a rough season between the sticks for Everton, but played all 38 Premier League matches for the club. Maarten Stekelenburg was his backup.

River Plate to sponsor car in Indy 500

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There will be a soccer presence at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Indianapolis 500.

On Thursday, Club Atletico River Plate announced, along with car owner Juncos Racing that Kyle Kaiser’s No. 32 car will feature a River Plate logo on the front of the vehicle. Juncos Racing is named after founder Ricardo Juncos, an Argentine native and clearly a big River fan.

Per a press release from River Plate, it’s the first time a soccer team is sponsoring a car in the Indy 500, which takes place this Sunday, May 26.

[READ: Pochettino hopeful Kane will be ready to make an impact in UCL final]

“As a River fan, I always wanted to have the logo of the Club in the car,” Juncos said in a press release.
“This race is very important for me. I am very happy and I believe that in the goal of River to expand into the Indy 500. From here to there will come positive things for both.”

Kaiser, just 23, is one of the new guys on the main IndyCar scene, especially after winning the IndyCar Lights title in 2017. It’s the racing equivalent of winning the Europa League. Unlike River’s reputation as one of the biggest clubs in South America, Kaiser just barely made it into the field all together, bumping former Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso out of the field by about one hundredth of a second.

While it’s cool to see a soccer team get involved in the Indy 500, a worldwide viewing event that’s also akin to a religious holiday throughout the state of Indiana, it’s another Buenos Aires club that really should have been the first to sponsor a car.

Racing Club, defending Argentine league champs, would have been terrific, Racing in Uruguay, or Racing de Santander in Spain. Perhaps one day in the future the three clubs can combine forces to sponsor an IndyCar event or a car competing in a race.

USSF, Relevant Sports clash in court over international matches

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NEW YORK (AP) A lawyer for a promoter asked a judge to order the U.S. Soccer Federation to sanction international league matches in the United States.

The USSF last month denied an application by Relevent Sports, a company partly owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida. The USSF cited an Oct. 26 announcement by FIFA that its ruling council “emphasized the sporting principle that official league matches must be played within the territory of the respective member association.”

During a half-hour hearing Thursday before New York Supreme Court Justice W. Franc Perry, a lawyer for the USSF argued the court should not hear the dispute and it should be sent to arbitration.

Blair G. Connelly, the lawyer representing the USSF, said because Relevent’s application included its executive chairman, Charlie Stillitano, as the FIFA-licensed match agent requesting approval to stage the game, Relevent was bound by a provision in FIFA’s match agent regulations requiring any dispute with a national association be submitted to arbitration. FIFA’s rules specify such a case be heard by its player status committee, whose decision could be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

“What they’re trying to do is outsource the court’s authority … to two bodies in Switzerland that don’t follow New York law and have nothing to do with it,” said Marc Litt, a lawyer for Relevent.

Connelly said the USSF’s decision could be overruled only if the court found it to be irrational. He also cited a 2007 decision by U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber in Illinois, who ordered a suit against the USSF by ChampionsWorld, a previous Stillitano-affiliated company, be stayed pending FIFA’s arbitration procedure.

“They are bound by the contracts their agent enters into on their behalf,” Connelly said.

Litt said FIFA never issued a formal regulation against international club matches in different countries and the USSF cited only a news release.

“Was U.S. Soccer irrational when it concluded that something that FIFA itself called a decision by its decision-making body was in fact a decision? We’re we crazy to think that? Was U.S. Soccer just in outer space?” Connelly said.

Litt claimed the USSF made its decision to protect Soccer United Marketing, an affiliate of the USSF and Major League Soccer.

“We believe that the only reason that they don’t want professional league matches that count in the United States is because that would damage Major League Soccer,” Litt said.

Relevent also attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

Perry did not announce any decision.