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Dest decision to stay with the U.S. significant for future

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With the shrill of the referee’s whistle on Friday night, with Sergino Dest expected to be on the field, his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be final.

There have been plenty of dual-nationals before him and there will continue to be dual-nationals after him. But Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. is a significant one for multiple reasons.

First, there’s the whirlwind past six months he’s had. Before the summer began, Dest was a solid member of the Jong Ajax team, which is effectively the reserve side, though it plays in the Dutch Second Division. For the U.S., he started in four of the five games for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past May and June, beating France U-20s along the way.

After a strong preseason, suddenly Dest found himself promoted to the Ajax first team. Then, suddenly this then-18-year-old kid was starting for Ajax, first in the Eredivisie and then in the UEFA Champions League, and he was impressing. After not noticing him or not bothering to call him in to national team camps in the past, suddenly Ronald Koeman was interested, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was pushing the Oranje on Dest.

While the U.S. has recruited players from Germany, England, and Mexico among other countries in recent years, it’s rare that the player hasn’t been coveted as well by the bigger – or local national team compared to the USMNT. So it says something that the USMNT is such a welcoming place that Dest felt comfortable enough when making his decision to stick with what he knew.

Also, while the Tyler Boyd decision to play for the USMNT wasn’t seen as a huge recruiting coup – he had played in friendly matches for New Zealand in the past – Dest’s decision, considering that he plays at Ajax and gets minutes in the Champions League – is on the level of the Jonathan Gonzalez deal. Gonzalez of course decided to go with Mexico, but due to a loss of form and injuries, that decision hasn’t fully panned out over the past 12 months. Dest, meanwhile, has the opportunity to cement himself as the right or left back of the future for the U.S.

A player this young is usually not put in this position where they have to choose, but Dest – with official FIFA matches coming up – basically had to make his decision this month or risk being out of the USMNT and the Netherlands for multiple training camps.

Ultimately, while Dest’s decision is a great sign for the USMNT, it’s only the start. There’s plenty of American-born players that the USMNT is losing out on, especially to Mexico. Players like Efrain Alvarez, and Gonzalez are two players who could make a difference for the U.S. moving forward, but have chosen – Alvarez for now – to play for Mexico. Other current USMNT youngsters such as Richie Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, Alex Mendez, and Julian Araujo could all potentially play for another country as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable should they leave.

And another caveat. Dest is only 19-years old, and it’s truly impossible to predict whether he’ll be the next Steve Cherundolo for the USMNT – owned the right back slot for more than a decade – or a short-term fix before an injury or loss of form keeps him away from the team.

So U.S. Soccer is on the right track with the commitment from Dest, but it still has an awful lot to do to keep growing the USMNT player pool.

 

Rankings the comeback potential of Champions League sides

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Maybe Group H of the UEFA Champions League was very soft.

Chelsea and Valencia are in massive holes after 90 minutes of the Round of 16, and third-place Ajax is a 2-0 hole in its Europa League tie.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The other six teams’ disadvantages after one leg range from tricky to barely existent.

Let’s rate which teams have the best chances to climb back and earn a spot in the quarterfinals.

8. Chelsea (down 3-0 to Bayern Munich after home leg)

Robert Lewandowski’s injury hurts the Bavarians, but not three goals worth of hurt. And Serge Gnabry has been the one sounding death knells for London clubs.

7. Valencia (down 4-1 to Atalanta after away leg)

The away goal combined with the Serie A side’s relative inexperience in the competition gives Valencia a bit more hope than Chelsea.

6. Napoli (level at 1 with Barcelona after home leg)

On the plus side, Gennaro Gattuso’s men are level. That said, they allowed an away goal to Barca and have to go to the Camp Nou against a side yearning to make better UCL memories.

5. Real Madrid (down 2-1 to Man City after home leg)

Who knows what Pep Guardiola will launch at the Etihad Stadium, but giving him two away goals and a lead opens up his playbook? As for Zinedine Zidane, it was all so one dimensional at the Bernabeu. What’s he have cooking?

4. Tottenham Hotspur (down 1-0 to RB Leipzig after home leg)

Spurs have better UEL experience than their second leg hosts, though the striker problems looms over Jose Mourinho’s plans.

3. Liverpool (down 1-0 to Atletico Madrid after away leg)

It’s easy to imagine the Reds’ rebounding, and even Atleti will doubt its potential to keep Liverpool off the scoreboard at Anfield.

2. Paris Saint-Germain (down 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund after away leg)

Dortmund’s allowed plenty of goals this season, and PSG’s attack is stacked.

1. Juventus (down 1-0 to Lyon after away leg)

It’s difficult to imagine Juve playing as poor as they did Wednesday when they head back to Turin. The Old Lady knew something was wrong in warm-ups. They’ll address it, but can they keep Lyon off the board?

 

Europa League preview: Arsenal, Wolves, Man Utd look to advance

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Fifteen places remain up for grabs in the Europa League’s Round of 16 after Steven Gerrard’s Rangers handled Braga in Wednesday’s lone second leg.

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Notable names Porto, Benfica, and Ajax enter their second legs with hills to climb, while the three Premier League teams have varying degrees of advantage.

Manchester United v. Club Brugge

United enters the second leg at Old Trafford with an away goal advantage after the 1-1 draw in Belgium.

Luke Shaw says the Red Devils are driven by a desire to play for silverware, and the UEL joins the FA Cup as their lone opportunities to claim trophies this year.

“It is a massive ambition for me,” said Shaw, via The Manchester Evening News. “I was there for the Europa League final, and the feeling, even though I wasn’t on the pitch, was a feeling I have not felt and I wanted more of. I wasn’t involved and that is what is pushing me on even more to get into this final, and others. We should be in finals and we should be in all competitions until the end. We are very confident at the moment.”

Arsenal v. Olympiacos

The Gunners claimed a 1-0 result in Greece, and know a draw will be enough to bring Mikel Arteta‘s men to the Round of 16.

The manager was asked what’s different about his Gunners, now back in contention to qualify for Europe via the Premier League table.

“I think the team is progressing well, the club is in a better place,” Arteta said, via Football.London. “We are getting much more unity on the sections of the club and as well a great energy back from the fans every time we play at the Emirates and away from the Emirates. There are a lot of positive things but there are still things to improve individually, collectively and as a club and we are in that process at the moment.”

Espanyol v. Wolves

Wolves rang up a four-goal advantage at the Molineux, and that may give Nuno Espirito Santo a chance to use his depth for a rare time this season.

The boss has counted on players like Conor Coady, Rui Patricio, and Raul Jimenez in all tournaments, and he admits that it’s worn on the squad.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve not suffered,” said Espirito Santo via Wolves’ site. “It’s been tough with a tight schedule, very demanding on the players and I think the credit is on them – the way they compete, the way they prepare themselves to compete, but it’s tough, very tough. … The credit is for the players, it’s for the staff, but the players buying, believing and working very hard, is what makes things go well.”

Look out for Diogo Jota if he plays; The Wolves star has five goals in his past two matches.

Thursday’s second legs

12:55 p.m. ET kickoffs
Istanbul Basaksehir (1-3) v. Sporting Lisbon
Gent (0-1) v. Roma
Malmo (1-2) v. Wolfsburg
LASK (1-1) v. AZ Alkmaar
Porto (1-2) v. Bayer Leverkusen
Espanyol (0-4) v. Wolves
Basel (3-0) v. APOEL Nicosia

3 p.m. ET
Manchester United (1-1) v. Club Brugge
Celtic (1-1) v. Copenhagen
Benfica (1-2) v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Red Bull Salzburg (1-4) v. Eintracht Frankfurt
Inter Milan (2-0) v. Ludogorets Razgrad
Ajax (0-2) v. Getafe
Sevilla (1-1) v. CFR Cluj
Arsenal (1-0) v. Olympiacos

Juventus ‘could tell something wasn’t switched on’ in Lyon

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Juventus’ obsession with winning another European Cup has the club on edge after a 1-0 first leg loss to Lyon on Wednesday in the first leg of the Round of 16.

Stalwart defender Leonardo Bonucci, defender Danilo, and manager Maurizio Sarri were less than pleased with the performance.

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Bonucci was spotted yelling at substitute midfielder Blaise Matuidi in warm-ups, and that was a prelude to a poor performance from most of the team.

“I didn’t tell Matuidi off, I told him the team includes those who are on the bench and we must all be ready to contribute,” Bonucci said, via Football-Italia. “I could tell something wasn’t switched on with the XI starters either. We’ve got to sort this out, as these are the things that make the difference.”

Sarri, the system man, is quite upset with his players after what he said was a lightning-fast training session on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why, I cannot get the players to understand the importance of moving the ball quickly,” said the flummoxed ex-Chelsea man. “This is fundamental, we’ll keep working on it and sooner or later this concept will get into their heads.”

Sarri was happier with the ball movement in the second half, and will expect Juve to do the same in its home second leg.

Danilo had a decent day in the loss. He didn’t sugar coat the performance.

“We cannot just gift the first half to the opposition in such an important tournament. We are aware that we did that and need to work harder,” Danilo said.

Guardiola ‘so proud’ of Man City comeback; KDB, Jesus react to tactics

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Pep Guardiola was grinning widely after his tactical moves set up Manchester City in a 2-1 comeback win over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

“I’m so proud,” Guardiola said. “This is the first step. It’s not over. We can enjoy the moment.”

Why wouldn’t he be smiling? Guardiola became the first manager to win Champions League games at the Bernabeu with two different teams, and did it during one of the most controversial periods in club history.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

What was different? Well, Guardiola played Kevin De Bruyne as a sort of second striker and took center forward Gabriel Jesus and deployed him as a left-sided midfielder.

“In the four years we are here with Pep, sometimes there are some surprises,” De Bruyne said. “Even the players don’t really know before the game starts what we need to do. Some were good. We had some lesser moments but in a quality game like this you’re gonna struggle but we fought really well together.”

Jesus had it even weirder, playing as a sort of left midfielder or even wingback with plenty of responsibility going back and forward.

The Brazilian said he has some experience playing wide, but — again — you have to be ready for the full Pep Guardiola experience.

“I can remember my time in the Palmeiras academy and I play like a winger and then become a striker,” he said. “But I go to the pitch to help my team-mates. It doesn’t matter if I have to run back or forwards. I have to help my team-mates. We are learning a lot. We have to play different positions sometimes.”

Guardiola knows the second leg is going to be tough, as Real will put everything into attack.

“When we were better, we conceded a goal,” Guardiola said, via the BBC. “When they were better, we scored a goal. That’s football. I remember the quarterfinal a few seasons ago at Anfield when we played incredibly well and they scored all their shots on target.”

Real will be without center back Sergio Ramos, who was sent off late, while Man City could be missing its best center back. Aymeric Laporte subbed off in the first half.