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Stock up/stock down: USMNT January friendlies

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Given the impressive group of USMNT players and prospects abroad, this January camp was of monumental importance for the all-MLS squad assembled by Gregg Berhalter.

Aside from goalkeeper Zack Steffen, himself headed to Manchester City in the summer, and perhaps LAFC’s Walker Zimmerman, everyone had something to prove to Berhalter and his staff: Even former longtime captain and 143-times capped Michael Bradley.

[ MORE: USMNT 2-0 Costa Rica | Player ratings ]

Consider this list of players not called into January’s camp and wins over the mostly “B teams” of Panama and Costa Rica.

Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, “Timo” Weah, Josh Sargent, Bobby Wood, Ethan Horvath.

And those are just the “must” call-ups for March’s visits from Ecuador and Chile.

So keeping in mind the staff had a dozen non-friendly chances to evaluate the players on a myriad of levels, here are those who raised or lowered their stock in the matches versus Panama and Costa Rica.

Stock up

Jonathan Lewis, New York City FC (21) — Personal anecdote: I watched Akron play the University at Buffalo a couple of  times during Lewis’ lone season with the Zips, and Lewis’ electric talent leapt off the pitch. That’s a nearly essential sign if a college star has an international future.

Lewis was an impact sub for Berhalter in a similar fashion. In addition to the unteachable pace he possesses, Lewis stood up a cross that Sebastian Lletget finished for the difference-making goal against Costa Rica.

But Lewis’ pro career has been a slow burn (Dominic Torrent deployed him much more than Patrick Vieira, but still zero starts). Even with David Villa leaving NYCFC, Lewis is behind Jesus Medina, reported $9 million buy Alex Mitrita and 2018 revelation Ismael Tajouri-Shradi. He needs an outlet, and maybe former (ages ago) Akron coach and current Columbus boss Caleb Porter would be up for it?

Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (26) — Lletget left the United States for West Ham United in 2009, so we saw very little of his development. He became, in fact, a curiosity thanks to his making just one senior appearance in West London.

Upon his MLS debut with LA, though, it became clear there was something very good here. Lletget scored for the USMNT in his third cap before suffering a Lisfranc injury and missing 18 months. He scored on Saturday — in the same venue in which he was hurt — and was perhaps the most composed player in a U.S. jersey.

His ability to play anywhere in the midfield is huge, and Berhalter will love what he’s seen from the veteran.

Michael Bradley, Toronto FC (31) — The short- and long-term future of the midfield runs through Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, but Bradley’s performance against Panama — as poor as Los Canaleros were — shows he’s going to be someone who has in him at least another World Cup cycle as a contributor. Think a rich man’s “Kyle Beckerman in the 2018 qualification cycle.” Even if he is not starting, his experience and engine combine to make for a tremendous asset.

Bonus positives: Djordje Mihailovic, Chicago Fire (20). Steffen (23).

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Stock questionable?

Let’s first put a list of players who, unless there were unreported injuries, couldn’t get many minutes, if any, for Berhalter: Reggie Cannon, Auston Trusty, Marky Delgado, Mark McKenzie, Keegan Rosenberry, Justen Glad, Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Miller.

Most of this bunch is quite young, so it’s hard to say they aren’t for the future. Delgado, Acosta, and Rosenberry are the biggest eyebrow-raisers given their age and importance to their current clubs.

Stock down

Corey Baird, Real Salt Lake (23) — A lot of astute soccer minds love Baird because he’s very good positionially, and that’s true, but this is also a player who was the 18th rated Real Salt Lake player last season despite producing eight goals and five assists. It’s one of those “arguments against analytics,” but he has to get goals and assists against this opposition. Instead, he was just okay. You could easily argue that the team Panama put out there would finish dead last in MLS. I need my wingers to feast on that.

Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (27) — I hate the idea of piling on, and it’s silly to write off such a tantalizing and industrious talent when so many coaches have failed to do so, but Zardes just isn’t on the level and hasn’t been for some time outside of MLS.

While thriving in MLS usually is a gateway to torture CONCACAF, Zardes hasn’t scored in his last 13 caps. Eight of those caps were 45 minutes or more, so it’s not like he hasn’t a chance to score (He has pitched in an assist). As a center forward, hold up play is important but not as much as goals. Jozy Altidore will need to get a chance to show he should be in the group with Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah, Bobby Wood, and even Andrija Novakovich (and Jordan Morris). Not good for Gyasi.

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Reports: Mourinho looking into Fellaini, Dzeko signings

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People joked when Jose Mourinho was hired at Tottenham Hotspur. “Just wait until he goes after Marouane Fellaini” they said.

If only they knew.

According to a report by Belgian publication DH, Mourinho is seriously considering a January swoop to bring Fellaini back to the Premier League, wishing for a player of his body and skill profile in his squad. Fellaini was initially a David Moyes signing at Manchester United in 2013, but became a Mourinho favorite thanks to his aerial presence in midfield and his ability to play up front in a pinch.

Fellaini is currently playing for Chinese club Shandong Luneng, having scored seven goals and assisted four more in 22 Chinese Super League matches this season while playing mostly a center-mid role. The club finished fifth in the league table, with the season just coming to a conclusion on December 1. Luneng also played in the Chinese League Cup final, falling to Shanghai Shenhua 3-0.

The Belgian’s popularity at Manchester United never reached the levels of other fan favorites, and he was often seen as symbolic of the club’s struggles to find top-level players. Still, Mourinho persisted with a player he clearly favored, with Fellaini eventually making 89 appearances across all competitions under his Portuguese boss.

Reports also indicate that Mourinho is eyeing Roma striker Edin Dzeko as a January option. The Italian club is currently fifth in the Serie A table, in a tight battle for a top four spot. Still, the Bosnia-Herzegovina international has a contract that runs through the summer of 2022, meaning the club could look to cash in on a player who will be 36 years old at the expiry of his current deal. Dzeko has declined somewhat, but still proves a goal threat, with six scores in 15 league matches this campaign plus another two in Europa League action.

Newcastle win dampened by Saint-Maximin injury

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Steve Bruce has seen Newcastle up to 10th in the table after topping Southampton 2-1, but the news wasn’t all good at St. James Park after the victory.

The Magpies boss confirmed that Allan Saint-Maximin  could be out “for weeks” after pulling up deep into stoppage time, coming off in the 96th minute after all three Newcastle substitutes had been used.

Bruce partly blamed himself for the injury, claiming he nearly rested the Frenchman for the match. “I nearly left him out today,” Bruce said after the game, “and, now, I wish I had done because he could be out for weeks. I’m disappointed with myself. We don’t know how serious it is. I kick myself if he is out for a long time. The way he pulled up – let’s hope it’s not too serious.”

The manager claims Saint-Maximin was “fatigued” but risked him anyways. He could have brought the 22-year-old off at some point during the second half, but with the game level until Federico Fernandez’s 87th minute winner, he chose to risk it further looking for a winner. Bruce used his third and final substitute in the 85th minute to haul off Miguel Almiron still two minutes before the eventual winning goal was scored. And it wasn’t just Steve Bruce who thought he could miss significant time.

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Saint-Maximin struggled with a muscle injuries earlier in the season, missing games against Norwich City, Watford, and Liverpool while getting treatment. Since returning in full in early October, Saint-Maximin has played in every Premier League game for Newcastle, completing at least 80 minutes in eight of those nine games and finishing 90 minutes four times.

The injury is poorly timed with Newcastle set to begin a heavy set of fixtures. They take on Burnley next weekend before games against Crystal Palace, Manchester United, Everton, and Leicester City all in an eleven-day span through the holiday season. Saint-Maximin is a critical player to have go down, with a 7.07 WhoScored rating, ranking third on the team in that metric. He has completed 4.5 dribbles a game this season, which ranks second in the Premier League behind Wilfried Zaha‘s 4.6 despite having played five fewer games and 550 fewer minutes.

Ciaran Clark also went down during the game, with the Newcastle defender hauled off at halftime after suffering a calf injury.

Wolves, Seagulls split spoils at the Amex

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Wolves failed in a bid to pull within three points of fourth place, drawing Brighton 2-2 at the Amex Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Diogo Jota scored twice in a 4-goal first half, with Neal Maupay and Davy Propper bagging goals for Brighton. The Seagulls remain 12th with 19 points.


Three things we learned

1. Wolves’ blink at Top Four chance: Wolves entered the day with a chance to close to within three points of fourth place Chelsea, and Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men next face Spurs, Norwich City, Man City, and Liverpool. They needed three points here. Not for lack of effort, they couldn’t conjure the magic.

2. Jota calm in the finish: Jota scored his second and third Premier League goals of the season, joining his Europa League success to give him six. He added five assists in the UEL, and is averaging 2.5 tackles and 1.9 interceptions per contest.

 

3. Maupay paying off faith: The French center forward has blossoming into a steady Premier League contributor after his outlandish production in the Championship earned him a big money move to the Amex Stadium. His sixth goal in 16 matches now includes goals against Wolves, Spurs, Everton, and Arsenal.

Man of the Match: Jota.


Brighton had most of the ball for the first half hour, but could’ve solve the Wolves back line.

Jota put Wolves ahead via a clever 1-2 with Raul Jimenez to get behind the line, prodding home for 1-0.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The lead lasted all of six minutes, as Maupay and Propper struck two minutes apart.

Maupay’s was a fine finish of a long Dale Stephens assist, while Propper headed a Leandro Trossard cross past Rui Patricio in the 36th.

Propper then fell from grace with a miserable pass stolen by Jonny Otto, the wingback finding Jota for his second goal of the night.

Wolves thought VAR might give them a penalty for handball in the 62nd minute, to no avail.

It was Wolves’ turn to give away a huge chance, but Stephens curled the effort wide of the far post in the 72nd minute.

Forster stars as 10-man Celtic beat Rangers, claim 10th-straight trophy

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At some point, Rangers supporters will be forgiven for thinking Celtic doesn’t have all the luck in Scotland.

The Bhoys, second best for most of the day, scored a 60th minute goal and then overcame a red card three minutes later to claim their 10th successive piece of Scottish silverware with a 1-0 win the Scottish League Cup.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Celtic’s Chris Jullien prodded home a free kick before 18-year-old Jeremie Frimpong was sent off, and Rangers had already controlled the proceedings before seeing a 16-5 edge in shot attempts at the final whistle.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster, the former Saints and Newcastle man, was outstanding in the win, even stopping an Alfredo Morelos penalty as the Rangers star failed to deliver.

From the BBC:

“It was just one of them days, it went my way today. I’m buzzing. There’s been days when it’s not gone my way, today it has. I can’t say how much it means to me. I didn’t really think about the penalty to be honest. I picked the way it went. I’ll take it.

“That’s why I came back; to play in games like this, to win silverware, to play European football.”