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Berhalter speaks on USMNT roster, Bradley’s chance, Pulisic’s problems

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. captain Michael Bradley has an immediate chance to show new coach Gregg Berhalter he deserves to be considered for the next World Cup cycle.

The 31-year-old midfielder was the oldest player and among just four veterans selected for a 27-man roster that will attend Berhalter’s first training camp starting Jan. 6.

[ MORE: Berhalter names first USMNT squad ]

“I truly believe that and this is an opportunity for Michael to show his value to the group,” Berhalter said during a conference call Thursday. “So we’re excited to see him and how he works through this training camp and meeting the team and also contributing to what we’re trying to do on the field.”

Bradley has 142 international appearances but like most veterans was dropped after the October 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances. He returned in October following a one-year absence along with 34-year-old goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Guzan was omitted so he can train under a new club coach with Atlanta, which opens in February with the CONCACAF Champions League. Berhalter left off 29-year-old forward Jozy Altidore and 28-year-old midfielder Darlington Nagbe, both recovering from injuries. Berhalter said Altidore will come to camp for a day or two to “see the environment.”

The first U.S. coach who played for the Americans in the World Cup, Berhalter was hired Dec. 2 from the Columbus Crew to succeed Dave Sarachan, the interim coach for 13 months. Berhalter’s first matches are exhibitions against Panama on Jan. 27 at Glendale, Arizona, and against Costa Rica on Feb. 2 at San Jose, California. The team’s first competitive match in 20 months is June 18 at St. Paul, Minnesota, where the Americans open the defense of their CONCACAF Gold Cup title.

Sarachan gave debuts to 23 players, with the Americans winning three matches, lost five and tied four. Berhalter chose 12 players with no national team experience for the training camp, and seven others with five appearances or fewer. The group averages 24 years, 230 days and just 10 appearances.

Berhalter’s roster was chosen entirely from MLS, and he intends to add a central midfielder or winger. The only other players picked with more than a dozen appearances were forward Gyasi Zardes (40) and midfielders Kellyn Acosta (23) and Paul Arriola (17).

Players who could make debuts include are goalkeeper Tyler Miller; defenders Justin Glad, Nick Lima, Daniel Lovitz, Mark McKenzie, Keegan Rosenberry and Auston Trusty; midfielders Corey Baird, Russell Canouse and Djordje Mihailovic; and forwards Jeremy Ebobisse and Christian Ramirez.

Berhalter has been in Europe meeting with the foreign-based portion of his player pool, a group not available to the national team until a pair of home exhibitions in March. The 45-year-old Berhalter, a member of the 2002 and ’06 World Cup rosters, said he is “trying to get a sense of the past but also the future, what this group is looking for.”

“I think we can use this opportunity in this training camp to just start the process and set the tone for what this group is going to be like,” he said, emphasizing three points: “building a culture within the team, instilling a style of play and then competing – competing in every single thing we do.”

Among the players he met with in Germany was 20-year-old star midfielder Christian Pulisic, who on Tuesday made first Bundesliga start for Borussia Dortmund since Sept. 29. Since returning in October following a three-week injury layoff, Pulisic has lost playing time to 18-year-old English midfielder Jadon Sancho.

“At the moment it hasn’t been going the best for him, and I think that’s when guys really can show their qualities, just how they endure through times like this,” Berhalter said. “And we talked about that.”

After training at Carson, California, each winter since 2004, the U.S. is moving its January camp 120 miles south to Chula Vista, near San Diego.

The roster:

Goalkeepers: Alex Bono (Toronto), Sean Johnson (New York City), Tyler Miller (LA), Zack Steffen (Columbus)

Defenders: Reggie Cannon (Dallas), Greg Garza (Cincinnati), Justen Glad (Salt Lake), Nick Lima (San Jose), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal), Mark McKenzie (Philadelphia), Keegan Rosenberry (Colorado), Auston Trusty (Philadelphia), Walker Zimmerman (LA)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (Colorado), Paul Arriola (D.C.), Corey Baird (Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Russell Canouse (D.C.), Marky Delgado (Toronto), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago), Cristian Roldan (Seattle), Wil Trapp (Columbus)

Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse (Portland), Christian Ramirez (LA), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus).

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

Man City sign USMNT goalkeeper Zack Steffen

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One of the worst kept secrets in American soccer is now official: Zack Steffen has signed for Manchester City.

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The Columbus Crew SC and U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper will officially join the reigning Premier League champions on July 9, 2019 at the start of the secondary transfer window in Major League Soccer.

In a statement released by Columbus, they say the transfer fee is “the largest in club history and most ever received by an MLS club for a goalkeeper in the League’s 23-year history.”

It is believed Steffen will cost City around $10 million.

Steffen, 23, has become a regular for the USMNT over the past 12 months and has made six appearances for the Stars and Stripes which included a superb display against 2018 World Cup winners France in a 1-1 friendly draw in Lyon back in June

Speaking about his upcoming move to the Premier League, Steffen is delighted to get the opportunity and he hopes to continue progressing with Columbus over the next seven months.

“Any success that I have had as a goalkeeper in MLS with Crew SC is a testament to those around me who have pushed me – teammates, coaches, staff, family, friends and supporters,” Steffen said. “Today’s announcement regarding next summer is a special moment for me and I look forward to finishing my time with this Club on a strong note. I am eager to continue to put in the work to improve and be the best teammate I can.”

Steffen’s development has been clear for all to see over the past 18 months, as he has flourished in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter. Brought in from German side SC Freiburg in 2016, the imposing goalkeeper has jumped to the top of the pack and ahead of Brad Guzan and Ethan Horvath as the USMNT’s top goalkeeper. Steffen was named the 2018 MLS Goalkeeper of the year and was also an MLS All-Star in 2018.

It is likely the former University of Maryland goalkeeper will find minutes hard to come by at City for the foreseeable as current first-choice goalkeeper Ederson is just 25 years old, but Steffen’s move to the PL means he will be training with one of the top clubs in the world and that can only be a good thing for the USMNT moving forward.

More than likely Steffen will spend time out on loan at either Girona or others clubs with a close connection to the City Football Group (CFG) in the next few years, and this signing goes along with City’s mantra of trying to sign up the best young talent across the globe then either sell them on or loan them out for a sizeable fee.

Following in the footsteps of Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Brad Guzan before him, Steffen is the latest American to get his shot in the Premier League.

When preseason rolls around in 2019 we will be seeing Steffen in a Man City jersey.

Atlanta’s MLS Cup celebration is joyous, but short-lived

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ATLANTA (AP) Despite cold, drizzly weather, thousands of fans turned out Monday for a downtown parade and rally to celebrate the city’s first championship since 1995.

The revelry won’t last long.

Atlanta United must find a coach to replace Tata Martino and likely cope with the loss of star midfielder Miguel Almiron before returning to the field in February for their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“That puzzle exists every year in professional sports,” team owner Arthur Blank told reporters after the rally outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “The great organizations, the great teams find a way to respond to that. What we’ve built here is a sustainable, winning organization, so we’re looking forward to being back – not just competing, but being back on this stage a year from now.”

In just its second season since entering Major League Soccer as an expansion team, Atlanta United won the championship with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night.

Less than 48 hours later, the city toasted its first championship team since the Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series .

“We did it! We broke the curse!” said rapper Archie Eversole, whose song “We Ready” became a popular theme at home games.

The players rode a double-decker bus on the 1-mile-long parade route, holding up the cup for the cheering crowd as they passed the Georgia Aquarium, College Football Hall of Fame and Centennial Olympic Park. Blank, team president Darren Eales and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms revved up fans in convertibles at the front of the procession.

The parade ended in a grassy lot alongside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where some 15,000 turned out for a lunchtime rally also attended by outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal.

“We’ve won a championship in only our second season,” Eales said. “That’s pretty incredible.”

In probably his last appearance with the team, Martino hammered in the golden spike while the crowd roared. The Argentine coach is reportedly headed to Mexico to become that country’s national team coach.

“Coach Martino is one of the great coaches in the world,” Blank said. “He saw the vision, he bought into the vision, and he executed the vision with this incredible group of players.”

That group will be changing.

Atlanta already made several moves, announcing the day after the game that it declined contract options on five players including captain Michael Parkhurst, though the 34-year-old defender is expected to return in 2019. The team said it has already begun negotiations on a new contract with Parkhurst, who finally won the MLS Cup after playing on four runner-up teams.

The biggest moves are still to come. Almiron, who was runner-up in the MVP voting to teammate Josef Martinez, is expected to follow through on his desired move to Europe, which should bring United a hefty transfer fee.

The team seems to have already lined up a replacement.

Argentine star Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, who scored the clinching goal in River Plate’s victory Sunday in the Copa Libertadores final, announced on the field right after the game that he’s leaving the team. He told media in his native country that he’s headed to Atlanta United.

Martinez, who scored a record 31 goals during the regular season and added four more in the playoffs , appears likely to remain with the team for at least one more season. He’s had much more success in MLS than his previous stint in Italy’s Serie A.

“I am going to be here as long as they want me,” Martinez said after winning the MVP award. “I feel like I’m at home.”

Atlanta United could target another South American coach as Martino’s replacement, with an eye toward maintaining a pipeline to promising young players from that continent. As Almiron has shown, the MLS can provide a useful steppingstone to those wishing to further their careers in Europe.

Among those mentioned as candidates: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who previously won the MLS Cup as a player in Columbus and coached Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores final this season; along with Marcelo Bielsa, who has close ties to Martino and is currently managing Leeds in England’s second division.

Atlanta United will have an additional priority in 2019 after qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, the continent’s top club competition. They will face Herediano in the two-legged opening round, with the first game to be played in Costa Rica in a Feb. 19-21 window before the second leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a week later.

That 16-team competition, which runs through the first of May, figures to be the team’s top priority in the early part of the 2019 season. The only U.S. team to win the title was D.C. United two decades ago.

But Atlanta is intent on defending its MLS championship, as well.

“It’s an honor to represent this city,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, saluting the fans who broke numerous attendance records during the club’s first two seasons. “We’ll be back next year to defend this cup.”

Champions! Atlanta United win MLS Cup in second season

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Atlanta United didn’t need all that long to earn the right to call themselves the champions of MLS, realizing the two-year-long dream of Arthur Blank and Gerardo “Tata” Martino with a 2-0 victory in the 2018 MLS Cup final on Saturday.

[ MORE: Chelsea hand Man City a first loss | Liverpool win to go top of PL ]

2018 MLS MVP — and single-season goals king (31) — Josef Martinez put his prints everywhere as the Venezuelan bagged a goal and an assist in front of an MLS-record crowd of 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Atlanta enjoyed plenty of possession — more than 56 percent in the first half — but the Timbers midfield and defense did an admirable job to funnel everything from Atlanta out wide once in the final third. From there, Liam Ridgewell and Larrys Mabiala could comfortably head cross after cross away from danger.

[ MORE: Son, Dele send Spurs past Leicester with ease ]

All of the pressing, harrying and chasing finally paid off for Atlanta in the 39th minute, when center back Michael Parkhurst pushed higher and higher up the field and tackled the ball away from Jeremy Ebobisse. Martinez was lurking atop the penalty area — narrowly onside — and knew exactly what to do with the ball when it fell to him.

Brad Guzan was called into action for the first time not long after Martinez’s goal, diving to his right to deny a goal-bound header from Ebobisse.

[ MORE: Messi’s latest free-kick magic (video) ]

Atlanta doubled their lead in the 54th minute, courtesy of a cool finish from Franco Escobar at the back post. Miguel Almiron floated his free kick into the box and Martinez flicked it as the first red shirt in the box. Jorge Villafaña was a full yard behind everyone else in white, keeping Escobar onside, but there was still plenty to be done from there.

After just two seasons in MLS, Martino, who coached his final game in Atlanta on Saturday, has secured his place as one of the league’s great influencers — both in terms of the global interest and respect he commanded, and the tactical daredevil mindset he displayed.

The entire organization in Atlanta has raised the bar in MLS — both in terms of on-field product and the numerous financial investments made by the organization — making Saturday’s finale a thoroughly fitting result.

So which domestic players will be in Berhalter’s first USMNT call-ups?

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The amount of players called up to USMNT camps has varied in the last few seasons.

Jurgen Klinsmann called up 23 in 2016 during World Cup qualifying, Bruce Arena opted for 32 in 2017 as he evaluated who could help him right the ship, and Dave Sarachan rang in 30 players last January.

[ MORE: Berhalter introduced by USSF ]

It’s likely new boss Gregg Berhalter is going to look at 30-32 players for the usually domestic-based January camp which will lead up to a Jan. 27 meeting with Panama in Arizona.

That’s not to say Berhalter couldn’t ask permission for some European-based players who are B-teamers or relatively unused abroad (Keaton Parks, Aron Johannsson, Timmy Chandler, Jonathan Klinsmann), but this will be MLS heavy.

Let’s begin with the relatively obvious… and imagine the MLS names who were called up last month alongside the European stars will be a part of Berhalter’s plans.

That means Brad Guzan, Jorge Villafana, Reggie Cannon, Aaron Long, Marky Delgado, Sebastian Lletget, Wil Trapp, and Kellyn Acosta.

Zack Steffen and Walker Zimmerman are expected to seal January deals to Europe, so we’ll abstain from considering them in our 30.

Next, the top season performers in MLS. Crew forward Gyasi Zardes was the highest-scoring American player in MLS and did it under Berhalter’s tutelage, so it would say something about the player and coach if he wasn’t invited to camp.

Dom Dwyer was the second-leading American scorer in MLS — the only two Yanks in the Top 25 — while Teal Bunbury (26th), Chris Wondolowski (35th), Fafa Picault (36th), Christian Ramirez (44th) are in the Top 50.

You added correctly; Only six Americans were in the Top 50 for goal scoring in MLS.

It gets worse with assists. Cristian Roldan was the leading American playmaker with nine, good for 33rd in the league. Paul Arriola (37th), Sean Davis (40th), Miguel Ibarra (41st), Chris Mueller (48th) round out the Top 50.

There were plenty of very decent goalkeeping performances, as pretty much every top backstop this side of Andre Blake is American. Stefan Frei, Evan Bush, David Bingham, and Steffen were pretty good. Nick Rimando is a vet to the program, and Bill Hamid is sure to hear his name.

Anyone who’s read this site knows I love the advanced stats site WhoScored, and it’s MLS player rankings for Americans regurgitates plenty of the above names but tosses in some others: Graham Zusi, Ike Opara, Keegan Rosenberry, Tim Parker, Russell Canouse, Edgar Castillo, Matt Hedges, Steve Birnbaum, and Nick Lima.

Other non-traditional calendar followers include Denmark, where Jonathan Amon plies his trade, and South Korea (remember Mix Diskerud? He was often linked with the Crew, but this still seems a long shot).

Also called up in the past year from MLS and still active? Ben Sweat, Alex Bono, Justin Morrow, Matt Polster, Danilo Acosta, Justen Glad, Darlington Nagbe, Kelyn Rowe, Marlon Hairston, Ian Harkes, Brooks Lennon, Juan Agudelo.

Finally, the young bucks… Unless I’m blanking, no one above is under the age of 23 except for Cannon. Every camp has its kids, and the Yanks just had some serious and proud representation at U-20 World Cup qualification. Philadelphia’s Mark McKenzie (CB), Paxton Pomykal (CM), and Jaylin Lindsey (LB/RB) are interesting for this.

So let’s try… for 30-32. Veteran heavy.

Goalkeepers (4): Guzan, Hamid, Bono, Klinsmann

Defenders (10): Long, Parker, Rosenberry, Birnbaum, Lima, Cannon, Villafana, Glad, McKenzie, Lennon

Midfielders (11): Canouse, Trapp, Michael Bradley, Romain Gall, Davis, Roldan, Arriola, Lletget, Delgado, K. Acosta, Nagbe

Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore, Amon, Zardes, Dwyer, Mueller