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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.

Report: Man City to send Zack Steffen on loan to Fortuna Dusseldorf

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Zack Steffen is currently on international duty with the United States, but he may have more clarity on his club future heading into next season.

After leaving the Columbus Crew for a move to Manchester City, the 24-year-old goalkeeper will head out on loan to Bundesliga side Fortuna Dusseldorf to begin the next European season, according to a report by Paul Tenorio of The Athletic.

[ MORE: US U-20 side stuns World Cup favorites France 3-2 ]

Steffen played his last game for the Crew last week and joined Manchester City in a deal worth $10 million. He was widely expected to spend this season on loan, not yet considered close to challenging for a spot in the Man City first-team squad.

According to Tenorio, Dusseldorf executives are flying to Washington D.C. to meet up with Steffen and his representatives at USMNT camp to finalize the deal. At the Bundesliga club, Steffen will link up with fellow U.S. international Alfredo Morales who joined in 2018 after five seasons at Ingolstadt. He will compete with starting goalkeeper Michael Rensing who amassed nearly 3,000 minutes across all competitions while leading the team to a 10th placed finish in the Bundesliga table.

[ MORE: Preview USMNT vs. Jamaica ]

Steffen was asked after his final Crew game what his expectations are for his club future, and he was non-committal, but said he hopes to earn playing time wherever he lands. “We’re still figuring all that out,” he told reporters after USMNT training at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. “What’s important for young goalkeepers is games, high-level games, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Steffen has instilled himself as the preferred choice for the starting goalkeeper job with the United States national team, with the USMNT looking to transition away from aging goalkeepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. He has just eight international caps but looks to be the leading candidate for most high-leverage games in the near future.

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.

[ MORE: Brighton hires new boss ]

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.

MLS roundup: Atlanta grabs late win, Sporting KC completes wild comeback

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Julian Gressel scored in the 74th minute and Atlanta United won for just the second time this season and first in front of the home fans, beating the Colorado Rapids 1-0 at Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Darlington Nagbe snatched the ball off substitute Nicolas Mezquida in a dangerous position and dribbled all the way to the byline before sending a cross to Gressel positioned right at the near post, and the German squeezed it in past Tim Howard for the game’s only goal. Colorado, meanwhile, was held to just six shots and Brad Guzan kept them off the scoresheet for just his second clean sheet of the season. Atlanta nearly had another in injury time to kill off the game, but Hector Villalba’s curler came off the far post.

Sporting KC, meanwhile, looked to be heading to another defeat, having won just one of its previous five matches and without the recently injured Roger Espinoza, but a pair of 2nd half red cards for the visiting New England Revolution changed the game and saw the hosts come from 3-1 down to draw 4-4.

The first half was all New England as Juan Caciedo scored a first-half brace and the visitors led 3-1 at the break, having gone well in front despite less than 30% possession. Sporting KC looked lost, with just one first-half shot on target despite all the possession, and having shipped seven goals over the previous game and a half.

That all turned in the second half after Brandon Bye was sent off for a last-man foul in the 55th minute. Bye was already on a yellow, but the referee issued a straight red after a lazily hit back-pass came his way and he took down a charging Gerso. That turned the game and both Krisztian Nemeth and Felipe Gutierrez bagged braces for the hosts before it was all over. With Jalil Anibaba also sent off for New England deep in the match, Sporting KC pushed for a winner but nothing came and they were forced to settle for a draw. The draw is disappointing for Sporting KC in a vacuum as their winless run pushes to four matches, but it should serve as a confidence booster moving forward without Espinoza for the foreseeable future.

Toronto FC fell further off the top of the Eastern Conference as they dropped a 2-1 result to the Portland Timbers on Jeremy Ebobisse’s 70th minute winner. The U.S. international got between Justin Morrow and Chris Mavinga and dove to connect with Sebastian Blanco‘s cross, acrobatically heading it in from close range. That proved the decisive moment after Jonathan Osorio and Bill Tuiloma cancelled each other out with first-half goals just two minutes apart.

The win pushed Portland up to 10th as they picked up their second win in a row, but for Toronto, they fell four points off the pace at the top of the Eastern Conference, although they still have two games in hand on the rest of the pack.

Full MLS roundup:

NYCFC 1-1 Orlando City
Toronto FC 1-2 Portland Timbers
FC Dallas 0-0 San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps 1-1 Philadelphia Union
Atlanta United 1-0 Colorado Rapids
New York Red Bulls 1-0 FC Cincinnati

Houston Dynamo 2-0 Columbus Crew
Sporting KC 1-3 New England Revolution

Youthful FC Dallas side earns home win over Colorado

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The kids are alright in Dallas as a 2-1 win over Colorado pushed them into the mix near the top of the Western Conference standings four games into the 2019 season.

The Dallas starting 11 included five homegrown players and included 18-year-old Jesus Ferreira as well as 18-year-old Edwin Cerrillo and 19-year-old Paxton Pomykal. 20-year-old Reggie Cannon and 21-year-old Pablo Aranguiz also manned the midfield, making goalscorer Michael Barrios feel like an old man at 27.

And yet, it was Barrios who opened the scoring just past the half-hour mark. He received the ball near the top of the box and let rip a speculative effort, contorting his body awkwardly to get power on a near-post shot, and it was enough to slip by Tim Howard.

Colorado pulled level in the 69th minute as Tommy Smith chested the ball into the back of the net with Jesse Gonzalez on the ground. VAR gave it a look but determined Smith did not handle the ball as he was on his knees on the doorstep.

Sticking with the home side’s theme, FC Dallas brought 17-year-old academy product Thomas Roberts off the bench, and it was he who helped create the winner. His assist to fellow sub Zdenek Ondrasek fed the latter with a shot, and while that was saved, Ryan Hollingshead was on hand to slot the ball home.