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U.S. U-20s meeting potential head-on

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The Yanks are coming.

Given the past year for the U.S. men’s national team, that’s a statement which might’ve required different and perhaps excessive punctuation even a few months before the U-20 World Cup in Poland.

Maybe: The Yanks are coming?

Or even: The Yanks are coming?!?

[ RECAP: France 2-3 U.S. U-20s ]

There was a cautious optimism regarding the United States U-20 team heading into the tournament, no doubt. Tab Ramos’ men had suitcases full of swagger and a boatload of nerve honed from win after win in CONCACAF and plenty of advancement in their club careers.

Sebastian Soto and Timothy Weah had broken into the fold at Hannover 96 and Celtic (and PSG). Paxton Pomykal was having one of the best seasons of any midfielder in MLS, and a handful of players including Chris Richards and Alex Mendez took MLS Academy-developed careers to Bundesliga clubs.

Ukraine, Nigeria, and Qatar was a manageable group, not an easy one, but if the hype and hope met halfway the Baby Yanks could have a shot at placing for the first time in 20 years (when the tournament had fewer teams).

Looking at the tournament field, the mandate of the ambitious seemed simple: Don’t just advance, but win the group and probably avoid France. The oddsmakers had France as better than even money to win the tournament.

So when the Baby Yanks’ early 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit via goals before and after halftime, many would’ve been forgiven for sensing in air of inevitability. That Ramos’ men would flip the script with two goals in the final 16 minutes was wondrous.

Perhaps that amazement is a product of how much weight was put on the Baby Yanks winning Group D with the hopes of avoiding France. Maybe that added to the specter of Les Bleus, casting a longer shadow over the field.

Of course it could all fall apart for the U-20s against Ecuador, even though the Yanks will be favored in Gdynia. These are young players, more likely to be swayed by in-game emotions. Wisdom is there to be gained from these tournaments, win or lose.

Yet this makes three-straight quarterfinal berths for the U.S. who, by the way, has U-20 eligible Josh Sargent on USMNT duty.

It’s a terrific feather in the cap of Ramos, whose 2017 squad took eventual finalists Venezuela to penalty kicks in the quarters and had neither Christian Pulisic nor Weston McKennie on the roster (Tyler Adams and Sargent were there, it should be noted).

That Venezuela team, for what it’s worth, lost to England who had Lewis Cook, Dominic Solanke, Dominic Calvert-Lewin as three of a several to now have Premier League experience under their belts. 2015 winners, Serbia, defeated the U.S. in the quarters (penalty kicks) and had Sergej Milinković-Savić and Marko Grujic.

The U-20 World Cup isn’t a kingmaker of a tournament, and many stars of this month (and last) won’t dance onto FIFPro Best XI, but tell any sad sacks trying to thumb their nose at this U.S. win to take a hike.

Only eight teams will remain once Argentina and Mali finish their tangle on Tuesday, and the United States is alive. For a men’s program which failed so fantastically in World Cup and Olympic qualifying, these wins are welcome feats of strength.

And really, it could be huge given the full USMNT’s promise under Gregg Berhalter, with three key players 20 years old and promise building into the Gold Cup and, we can only hope, the 2022 World Cup.

Milan hoping to woo “great champion” Zlatan next week

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Serie A mainstays AC Milan are trying to woo Zlatan Ibrahimovic back to the San Siro.

The full-court press makes sense, as it will take some financial sacrifices for Ibrahimovic to join the side given Financial Fair Play problems in Milan.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

Coach Stefano Pioli called Zlatan “a great champion” while admitting he has to focus on the table and not transfers, while former AC Milan CEO Adriano Galliani issued a glowing call for the Swede to return to town.

From Football-Italia.com:

“It would be romantic if he returned. But I have a rule, I don’t talk about teams I’m not involved with anymore. I’m only a fan of Milan now. Still, his arrival would enrich Italian football, similar to when Cristiano Ronaldo came to Italy.”

Man, they know how to speak this guy’s language, don’t they?

Sky Sports says Ibrahimovic’s agent will meet with Milan again next week in the hopes of convincing him to take a lower wage deal, and the 38-year-old showed he’s willing to take one for the team during his stint with the LA Galaxy.

The move makes too much sense, with Milan’s 11 goals well below its expected goal number. They need a finisher, and Zlatan sure does that. And if lower wages means Zlatan gets to play mercenary for five months while proving he’s got the goods for a big wage for 2020-21, that’s an easy concession for the striker.

U.S. U-17 keeper Odunze learning from Schmeichel at Leicester City

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Leicester City’s huge secret was told to the world at the U-17 World Cup in Brazil, where imposing goalkeeper Chituru Odunze made several big saves in the United States’ quick exit from the group stage.

Odunze, who turned 17 last month, joined the Premier League outfit from the Vancouver Whitecaps last season, and is already getting some first team training time.

[ PL PREVIEW: Man City v. Chelsea ]

This is all good news for a USMNT program which has a long history of goalkeepers shining at the top levels in Europe, including Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, and now Zach Steffen.

Odunze admits to being pleased at the tests provided by Jamie Vardy and the Leicester attackers, but says he’s learning more from the expertise on show from a trio of wise first team goalkeepers: Kasper Schmeichel, Danny Ward, and Eldin Jakupovic.

Schmeichel is a Premier League winner, Jakupovic a former regular PL starter with Hull City, and Ward helped Huddersfield Town to promotion during a loan from Liverpool. From The Leicester Mercury:

“They’re all really good role models at the club, and they sort of take you under their wing. They’ve taught me to calm down and be confident in my abilities,” Odunze said. “Of course, there are little pieces of technical information they give me while we’re training, but a lot of the lasting information I get from them is mental.”

The 17-year-old has a monstrous frame, so learning from Schmeichel and company at such a young age while getting tested by the Foxes’ electric attackers is a great combination. He is 2W-2L at the U18 Premier League level.

Premier League Preview: Manchester City v. Chelsea

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Manchester City and Chelsea both defend their slimmed title hopes when they meet Saturday at the Etihad Stadium (Watch Live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

City is hoping to avoid a second-straight loss after dropping nine points behind prohibitive title favorites Liverpool last match day, while Frank Lampard‘s Blues know a loss could see them drop as many as 11 points behind the Reds.

And, of course, a win will give either side the table advantage over the other.

Ederson and David Silva are available again for Man City. Christian Pulisicis in contention to play” for Chelsea after missing the international break with the United States.

A Champions League match day follows this one, with Man City meeting Shakhtar Donetsk in Manchester on Tuesday and Chelsea in Spain to meet Valencia one day later.


Injuries/suspensions

Manchester City: OUT — Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Leroy Sane. QUESTIONABLE — None.

Chelsea: OUT — Ruben Loftus-Cheek. QUESTIONABLE — Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi.


Probable lineups

Manchester City: Ederson; Walker, Stones, Fernandinho, Mendy; Rodri, Gundogan, B.Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Aguero.

Chelsea: Arrizabalaga; Azpilicueta, Tomori, Zouma, Alonso; Kovacic, Kante, Mount, Pulisic, Willian; Abraham.


What they’re saying

City’s Pep Guardiola on Frank Lampard’s young managerial career: “From my experience, experience doesn’t count much. I would say that when you know the club it is a good advantage and Frank Lampard knows Chelsea perfectly and everything behind the scenes – media, fans, players – so that is good. When I arrived (at Barcelona) not many people trusted me, honestly. Few, few people. Maybe the president, sporting director and not many. “Maybe Frank was similar at Derby. It was a big club, he didn’t take results in the beginning and people said he didn’t have experience. Look now.”

Frank Lampard on being above Man City after 12 matches: “For us to be in that position is something I am pleased with, I actually want more as well. I look at ourselves and don’t consider others, only where we could have got more points too, and there are times where we could have done. At the same time it is nice to be up there and around it. It’s a great test tomorrow, head to head to see where we’re at. It won’t be the end story, anyone can go to Manchester City and lose, they are such a strong outfit. That is what Pep Guardiola and the club have built over recent years. So I won’t be making huge judgements win or lose tomorrow without a doubt.”


Prediction

Could go either way, couldn’t it, but it feels more likely we see a vintage, defiant bounce back effort from City that looks a bit too easy given Chelsea’s strengths. This is the first big league test for Chelsea since its narrow loss to Liverpool on Sept. 22. We see the six-match winning streak ending via a 3-1 final score.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks

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Matchweek 13 is here in the Premier League as the international break is finally over.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ]

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

Sheffield United 0-2 Man United – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Arsenal 3-1 Southampton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM] 

Everton 4-1 Norwich – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM


DON’T TOUCH THIS…

West Ham 1-2 Tottenham – (Saturday 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Crystal Palace 1-2 Liverpool – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Watford 1-1 Burnley – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

Man City 3-3 Chelsea – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Aston Villa 2-1 Newcastle – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM


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

 

Bournemouth 2-1 Wolves – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Brighton 2-1 Leicester – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM