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USMNT-Italy match to be held in Belgium

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The United States men’s national team has a venue for its final match of 2018.

The Yanks will face Italy… in Belgium. U.S. Soccer announced that the USMNT and Gli Azzurri will meet at Luminus Arena, home of Genk.

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That match is Nov. 20, five days after the Yanks face England at Wembley Stadium.

It’s just three days after Italy hosts Portugal in a must-win UEFA Nations League match. Italy is two points behind Portugal but has played one fewer match.

Italy beat Poland in the UEFA Nations League on Sunday, picking up its first win since a May triumph over Saudi Arabia.

Europa League: Tight first legs in all but one Round of 16 pairing

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There weren’t too many surprises in Thursday’s first legs of the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 16.

Just two visitors won, Anderlecht and Genk, leaving every tie but one realistically up for grabs in one week’s time.

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We’ve already dealt with Manchester United’s 1-1 draw in Russia, and Alexandre Lacazette’s virtuoso performance in Lyon’s defeat of Roma.

Elsewhere, the all-Belgian tie between Gent and Genk ended with five away goals. Tanzanian striker Mbwana Samatta led the way for Genk, bagging a brace in the 5-2 win.

Ageless Esteban Cambiasso scored as Olympiacos only managed a 1-1 home draw against Vincent Aboubakar and Besiktas, while former Cardiff outcast Andreas Cornelius scored the match-winner as Copenhapen scooped up a 2-1 home win over Ajax.

In-form USMNT winger Fabian Johnson was dangerous again as Borussia Monchengladbach notched an away goal through Jonas Hofmann in a 1-1 draw with Schalke. The match is the second between the three sides in two weeks.

Thursday’s UEFA Europa League first legs

Schalke 1-1 Borussia Monchengladbach
Lyon 4-2 Roma
Gent 2-5 Genk
Olympiacos 1-1 Besiktas
Celta Vigo 2-1 Krasnodar
Rostov 1-1 Manchester United
APOEL 0-1 Anderlecht
Copenhagen 2-1 Ajax

Leicester agrees on deal to sign midfielder Wilfred Ndidi

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LEICESTER, England — Leicester has agreed a deal to sign Nigeria midfielder Wilfred Ndidi from Belgian club Genk.

The 20-year-old Ndidi will join the Premier League champions on a contract through June 2022 if he is granted a British work permit.

[ MORE: USWNT’s Dunn joins Chelsea ]

He was originally a central defender but has been developed into a combative defensive midfielder, helping Genk to qualify for the Europa League knockout phase as group winners.

Leicester has so far made a poor defense of its first English title, sitting 14th in the 20-team standings halfway through the season.

SportsWorld: Exclusive talk with Courtois shows Chelsea’s young keeper has deep experience

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It’s difficult to find goalkeeping resumes on par with Thibaut Courtois, period. But toss in the fact that he’s done what he’s done by the age of 23, and you have the potential for cross-era greatness.

So what makes this guy tick? Competition and improvement for one thing, and our own Joe Prince-Wright spoke with the Belgian backstop and his longtime mentor at Genk to talk about Courtois’ career.

[ SPORTSWORLD: On Courtois | Clark talks NCAA soccer ]

The mentor in question, Genk goalkeeping guru Guy Martens, says the club was trying to make youth versions of a Dutch goalkeeping great, which is convenient because that Manchester United model was also one of Courtois’ heroes.

From NBC’s SportsWorld:

How did a young goalkeeper growing up in Belgium learn so much, so soon? Courtois watched and learned from the greats of the previous generation. Edwin van der Sar and Iker Casillas were his favorites, particularly the latter, from whom he drew inspiration after seeing Casillas start and star for Spanish giants Real Madrid at a young age.

“For him to be playing in goal at the age of 18, it was an inspiration that there was a goalkeeper around at such a young age and he was already important at a big team,” said Courtois. “As well, Edwin van der Sar. When he was playing at Manchester United he was a role model because I think I have quite a similar style to him. Obviously, you would try to see with your eyes and try to learn from things he did in the game and analyze how he reacted to certain situations. For me, you look at every goalkeeper and you try to learn what they do.”

The van der Sar comparison is a particularly interesting one, as Courtois’ former coach Martens reveals their plan was to always produce miniature van der Sars. Genk’s impressive youth academy — which has also produced Christian Benteke, Kevin De Bruyne, Steven Defour, Divock Origi and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco, among others — churned out a team full of youngsters that won the league in 2011 with a 19-year-old Courtois in goal.

The long-form piece is a must-read, as the “relaxed” Courtois shares a batch of exclusive quotes with JPW. Check it out here.

Pair of Championship teams, Belgian side linked with move for Gyasi Zardes

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Maybe all of the Galaxy’s recent purchases came with the knowledge of one big summer sale item.

Gyasi Zardes is a dynamic young striker, and Los Angeles may be weighing offers from abroad for the 23-year-old California native. Capped 13 times under Jurgen Klinsmann, Zardes is said to be wanted in Europe.

[ MORE: Newcastle nabs $18 million Frenchman ]

Zardes is being linked to join USMNT teammate Danny Williams and exciting prospect Andrija Novakovich at Reading in England’s Championship and Belgian club Genk, as well as another Championship side. has the story:

A pair of sources close to the situation confirmed to that Reading were indeed browsing Zardes. Costigan also linked another Championship admirer, fast starters Brighton & Hove Albion, as potential bidders.

On Wednesday, Reading manager Steve Clarke made it clear that he was still eager to get in some last-minute shopping before the summer transfer market closes on Sept. 1.

“By my calculations, we’ve had 14 players out from the end of last season, including loans, and only eight back in,” the Reading boss told reporters. “So you can see that there is room to bring a few more in.”

With Giovani dos Santos joining Robbie Keane in L.A.’s electric strike force, and Bradford Jamieson IV coming through the ranks, L.A. could weather the loss of Zardes. Would a move be a step up for the youngster, given his training ground partners?

That’s no longer a certainty, but it would be a higher-profile stage for a player whose meteoric rise just may set the stage for a bigger move.