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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.

Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

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Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

[ VIDEO: Rooney sent off, Kamara scores golazo ]

The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb, the magic touch his going near post as if to say, “Can I beat this guy a second time, or do I have to use the easier route?”

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

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How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

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The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

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Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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