Clint Dempsey

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Christian Pulisic can become true star at Chelsea

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For the last seven years, Eden Hazard has graced the Chelsea touchline with a spectacular brilliance, ebbing and flowing through midfielders and around defenders like water in a babbling brook splashes and curls around the rocks in its path.

With Hazard off to Real Madrid, Chelsea reluctantly must begin anew. A new winger has arrived, not to take Hazard’s place – an impossible task in and of itself – but to write his own legacy and build his own following at the London club, one that can blaze a trail no American has trekked before.

Premier League stardom.

Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard, DeAndre Yedlin, and others have proven Americans belong at the highest level, but none have achieved the kind of recognition that Pulisic is capable of achieving. None have done what Christian Pulisic hopes to do – shed his nationality and become not an American in the Premier League, but simply a goalscoring and creative force in England’s top flight.

Pulisic has the ability to produce enough brilliance that no longer will Americans have to “blaze a trail” in Europe or “reach new heights” because the Hersey-born kid will have set the bar high enough to erase those terms from the lexicon. This is not to say that Pulisic will win the Ballon d’Or, or that he will become a club legend with the likes of Lampard or Drogba or even Hazard – that much sustained brilliance is in and of itself impossible to predict, for that is precisely what makes a particular career so legendary.

No, the American simply has to be himself, for Borussia Dortmund and U.S. National Team fans have already seen what he can do when his excellence is allowed freedom of expression. If Frank Lampard and Chelsea allow Pulisic the same autonomy showed to Hazard, they shall reap the rewards of his inate exuberance and boyish glee. If USMNT fans have learned anything by watching Pulisic over the last few years, it is that he genuinely, authentically loves to play the game, and that love has both expression and reverberation on the pitch in both quantifiable and imperceptible results.

Yes indeed, this is unquestionably setting the bar extremely high for a player just 20 years old, a peril the American media has failed to traverse numerous times with countless talented players in the past. Yet Pulisic is intrinsically different – he no longer has to prove himself. He has withstood the beatings of CONCACAF and scaled the Yellow Wall where other Dortmund players have wilted under its immense pressure. This is as battle-tested as 20-year-olds come, and Chelsea now possesses a player capable of setting Stamford Bridge alight.

As a giant of the Premier League over the entirety of the league’s existence, the Blues have seen countless stars come and go, and Pulisic’s level of talent is not especially unique to the Stamford Bridge dressing room where so many world-class stars have come before him. Yet none of that should matter to the American youngster who doesn’t need to emulate any of the greats or look to club history for inspiration, as his best comes from within. Pulisic doesn’t need to reach the heights of Hazard to be considered a star, he just needs to do what he’s done the last three years at Borussia Dortmund and let the truly big stage and the truly bright lights do the rest.

Now, as the Premier League season draws nearer and Chelsea looks forward to its opening match against Manchester United on Sunday, all eyes will be on Pulisic – not that that’s anything new to him. Pulisic will succeed as long as he stays true to himself at Chelsea, taking with him the inspiration of his glittering predecessor but also putting his head down and doing what he does best.

Just play ball.

Rob Green retires after Europa League victory

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Chelsea reserve goalkeeper Robert Green announced his retirement on Friday, two days after the club lifted the Europa League title.

The 39-year-old did not make a single appearance for Chelsea this season, playing third-string behind Kepa Arrizabalaga and Willy Caballero the entire way.

Green, an England international with 12 caps to his name, came up through the Norwich City academy and played eight professional seasons with the Canaries before moving to West Ham, Queens Park Rangers, Leeds United, and Huddersfield Town before ending his career with the Blues. In total, Green amassed 267 Premier League appearances, keeping 55 clean sheets.

“Following an incredible evening in Baku on Wednesday and after a 23-year career spanning three decades, I’ve decided that now is the right time to announce my retirement from professional football,” Green said in a statement via Chelsea’s official website.

“Being part of the group and celebrations with such a special squad of players after winning the Europa League seems a fitting way to end what’s been an amazing journey for me in the game. I’ve loved every moment and feel privileged to have enjoyed the career I have. I’ve played with, and against, some of the best players in the world and have experienced so much that professional football has to offer.”

The Three Lions veteran was most well known in the United States for making an error in the 2010 World Cup against the USMNT, allowing Clint Dempsey‘s weak, speculative shot to clatter off his hands and into the back of the net. He was benched after that and did not make another World Cup appearance in his career.

USMNT hero Beasley to retire after MLS season

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One of the best American exports of all-time is retiring after this season.

DaMarcus Beasley, who played in the top flight in six countries, will finish his playing career after this season with the Houston Dynamo.

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Beasley was capped 126 times in 17 years for the USMNT, and won four Gold Cups in addition to playing in four World Cups.

Beyond MLS level, where Beasley was an MLS All-Star before and after his European adventure, he played for PSV Eindhoven, Rangers, Manchester City, and Hannover 96. He also spent three seasons with Puebla in Liga MX.

The soon-to-be 37-year-old Beasley has been looking but not playing like everyone on the field’s uncle for some time, so there was definitely an air of immortality about the left back even if we knew this day was not too far off in the distance.

There are not too many players in USMNT history who’d rate above Beasley in terms of legacy and achievement — maybe Claudio Reyna, Clint Dempsey, Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, and Carlos Bocanegra as deep but incomplete list? We wish him well, and a happy ending with Houston playing so well.

USMNT-Ecuador preview: Competition level rises

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Gregg Berhalter’s United States men’s national team has never allowed a goal, albeit with a bevy of MLS players in the USMNT shirt going against domestic-based players from Panama and Costa Rica.

Thursday’s opponent is Ecuador, and this is a proper international break. No, La Tricolor won’t present the same challenge as Chile, who visits Houston on March 26, but Antonio Valencia and Enner Valencia are a step up from the CONCACAF visitors of January and February.

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The U.S. is unbeaten in its last three matches against Ecuador, winning two and drawing one. The last meeting was during Jurgen Klinsmann’s remarkable Copa America Centenario, as the Yanks navigated Jermaine Jones’ 52nd minute red card and both sides played most of the second half with 10 men in a 2-1, Clint Dempsey-inspired win.

Berhalter’s USMNT isn’t as young this go-round, with Michael Bradley, Tim Ream, and Gyasi Zardes among those who’ve featured for several American coaches.

It’s also the first time U.S. fans will see Christian Pulisic since his sale to Chelsea and loan back to Dortmund, likely playing attacking center midfield as the most important piece of the Yanks’ XI (with apologies to John Brooks).

What will be second-most in focus for U.S. fans is Tyler Adams as right back, a move which makes sense in Berhalter’s possession system where the RB is stationed as a center mid, but takes the 20-year-old out of the center of the park when the opposition has the ball.

This most likely says that Berhalter is unwilling to take Bradley out of his lineup just yet, because Schalke’s Weston McKennie is likely to start as is Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic. And it also isn’t a ringing endorsement of Newcastle’s DeAndre Yedlin, who Berhalter is calling a winger despite a distinct problem with his finishing touch.

But GB knows his stuff, and in some ways the Ecuador match is a logical progression towards a Chile which will put Arturo Vidal, Charles Aranguiz, and a back line with more than 300 combined caps on the pitch next week. So handle Ecuador, and move forward.

FIFA denies solidarity payments for Dempsey, Bradley

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If you’re looking for a sentence that will enrage and stun you for a second, even if you think FIFA is the most crooked thing on Earth, just wait a few paragraphs.

FIFA has denied solidarity payments to two clubs for the development of USMNT players Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, according to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle. That’s not the shocking part, considering that U.S. Soccer has a long history of not aligning with the transfer rules followed by most of the world.

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No blood, no foul. Well, at least no surprise.

But what FIFA said in denying the money to the Dallas Texans and Sockers FC Chicago is, frankly, wild even for them (The DRC in the drop quote is FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Center). From ESPN.com:

The documents didn’t specify why the cases involving Sockers FC Chicago and the Dallas Texans were turned down. One of the letters from the DRC stated that if a club wants a full explanation for its decision, it must pay FIFA a fee of nearly $10,000.

I suppose I could write a lot more simply by riffing on that facr, but I’m not going to do that. That’s enough for one night.

But the ESPN report, citing an expert, speculates that Bradley and Dempsey’s unkempt player passports — a U.S. Soccer problem now rectified with current youth players — is the reason for denial.