Extra Time: International Friendlies - Including the USMNT & US U-23's

Extra Time: International Friendlies - Including the USMNT & US U-23's

It's tough to get too excited for a February FIFA international date ahead of World Cup Qualifying and the upcoming European Championships, but there are some intriguing fixtures - including the USMNT and the US U-23's.

Jürgen Klinsmann and the USMNT are in Genoa, Italy where they'll face four-time World Cup Champion Italy (2:30PM ESPN2, ESPN3). These two teams met in an absolute brawl back in the 2006 World Cup (see video above), the most recent World Cup won by the Azzuri. The game was marred by three red cards - including a straight red for Daniel De Rossi's elbow to the face of Brian McBride (the other two players sent off were Eddie Pope and Pablo Mastroeni of the US).

This was supposed to the first time that Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey would take the field together under Klinsmann, but Donovan will not play due to bronchitis. It's unfortunate because both have been in excellent form.
 
Dempsey has scored 16 goals in all competitions this season, including the first ever Premier League hat trick for a US born player. Donovan is fresh off of a succesful loan spell with Everton, where he had six assists in nine games, helping to lead the Toffees to upset wins over Manchester City and Chelsea. Alas, their first combine appearance under Klinsmann will have to wait another day.
 
The US roster is composed primarily of European-based players. In fact, only four MLS players (Break Shea - FC Dallas, Nick Rimando - Real Salt Lake, Geoff Cameron - Houston Dynamo, and Edson Buddle - LA Galaxy) play domestically. 

One of the more interesting names on the US roster is Terrence Boyd. Boyd, like his US teammates Danny Williams and Timmy Chandler, is the son of an American father and German mother. All three were raised in Germany - where they also play professionally. 

What makes Boyd so interesting is that he's yet to play a game in the Bundesliga for his club (Borussia Dortmund), yet he's been called in to the senior national team. Klinsmann has been criticized for his decision to include so many German-born players in the US squad. Personally, I don't have a problem with it. The deeper the US-eligible player pool, the better.

One quick note on the Azzuri. If you watch the game pay close attention to Andrea Pirlo. There are few players in the world able to pick out and play a ball 60 yards in the air on a dime. The guy is just pure class. He'll dictate the entire pace of the game. He's not particularly flashy, fast, or spectacular, but he's a devastating playmaker.

I mean, just watch him here...

Other international games of note include:

Ghana v. Chile - For some reason this game is being played at PPL Park. It's great to have international soccer right in our backyard, but this game was announced less than two weeks ago. Also, the Black Stars have knocked the US out of consecutive World Cups, so there can't be too much love for them locally.

Germany v. France (2:45PM, ESPN3) - The two European powerhouses will meet in Bremen, Germany. France, still trying to rebound following their disastrous 2010 World Cup, will try to knock off Die Mannschaft on German soil. Good luck with that. Although, Germany will be without its captain Phillip Lahm, who is out due to a knee injury.

England v. Netherlands - Consider it a win for the Three Lions if they simply arrive at Wembley on time. With all the drama surrounding Fabio Capello's departure as manager of England, the associated speculation as to who will replace Capello for the Euros (Spurs boss Harry Redknapp is the odds on favorite), and the controversy over which English player will wear the captain's armband it'll be a miracle if England manage to lace their boots up.

US U-23's v. Mexico U-23's (10PM, Univision Telefutura) - If you are a Union fan this is the game you should be most excited about. Three Union players (Freddy Adu, Amobi Okugo, and Jack McInerney) are part of Caleb Porter's US roster. Mexico, whose youth and junior teams have been the class of the CONCACF region over the last few years - including a third-place finish at the U-20 World Cup, will be a huge test for the U-23's. 

Of all the game being played on Wednesday I am most excited about this one. I love getting a glimpse of the young talent in the US pipeline.

On Eagles' roster bubble, Marcus Smith finally showing signs of improvement

On Eagles' roster bubble, Marcus Smith finally showing signs of improvement

Final cuts are a little over a week away. Marcus Smith is trying to impress a coaching staff that didn't draft him. Steven Means has had a very good preseason. Smith has little to show for his first two NFL seasons.

If time is running out on the former first-round pick from Louisville, it's not weighing on him.

"I try not to think about those things," Smith said. "Just go out there every single day and not worry about what's going on around me because everything will take care of itself."

Smith, in his first year as a 4-3 defensive end after struggling in two seasons as a 3-4 linebacker, missed the preseason game against the Bucs with a concussion but actually played very well Thursday night in Pittsburgh, with four tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry.

It didn't count. But it was the kind of performance the Eagles have been waiting for since they made Smith the 26th pick in the 2014 draft.

Smith played just 68 snaps as a rookie, getting more than seven snaps in only four games. Last year, he played five or fewer snaps in nine of 16 games.

But new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has given Smith every opportunity to shine, and he liked what he saw in Pittsburgh.

"The thing I'm most proud about with Marcus is that he's done a good job in the run game," Schwartz said.

"He's a very skilled athlete. He's fast and he's smooth. I think he was a quarterback when he first went to Louisville. I mean, that stuff shows. Where he's really making good improvement is setting the edge of our defense [and] attacking tackles.

"He did that against a physical group from Pittsburgh. That was a great sign."

Smith was asked about his run defense being an underrated part of his game, and he disagreed with the assessment.

"For myself, it's not an underrated part,  but everybody else thinks that it's underrated because they see me as just a pass rusher," he said.

"But I also know that I can play the run and stop the run and rush the passer at the same time, and when you have both those tools then it allows the coaches to be able to put you in the game more."

When the preseason began, it was just kind of a foregone conclusion that Smith's time in Philly had run out.

Now, he's battling not only for a roster spot, presumably with Means, but also for playing time behind defensive ends Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.

Smith insists he's not worried about where he fits in on a roster that's loaded on the defensive line.

"I don't think about those things because if you think about things you can't control you tend to not do the things that you're supposed to do," he said.

"So I just worry about what I can control and just get better and play well."

Smith is on three special teams units — kickoff, punt and kickoff return — which gives him a few more opportunities to show he belongs.

More than anything, for the first time since he got to the NFL, he's brimming with confidence.

That, more than anything else, was missing the last two seasons.

"I feel really comfortable just because the scheme and the type of defense that we're playing, it allows me to just be a defensive end," he said.

"My confidence level is really high. I feel that when I'm out on the field I can't be stopped."

Russell Wilson still affecting Eagles' decision making

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Russell Wilson still affecting Eagles' decision making

By now, most Eagles fans have probably heard stories that the team coveted Russell Wilson in the 2012 NFL draft, but waited too long and wound up watching helplessly as he went to the Seahawks. Doug Pederson was just an offensive quality control coordinator with back then, but even he realizes how losing out on a franchise quarterback altered the course of history.

“If we’d have drafted Russell Wilson in 2012, we’d still be here as coaches,” Pederson said with a smile.

That's what Pederson tells Albert Breer for TheMMQB.com, and there might be a bit of truth to it. Despite concerns over his stature, it turns out Wilson was an outstanding NFL signal-caller from the jump, and while he was surrounded with a dominant defense and ground attack, likely would've been a winner just about anywhere.

Actually, Wilson may not have been good enough to save Andy Reid's head coaching job in Philadelphia or his staff — after 14 years, it was time, and an offensive line depleted by injuries was the real reason behind a 4-12 season. Regardless, Pederson learned something from waiting too long on Wilson in the draft, and based on their aggressive move for Carson Wentz this year, the Eagles organization did too.

Simply enough, if you like a quarterback, Pederson says, “Take him. Take him. Take the best available one. If you’re not planning for the quarterback position, you’re probably not going to win many games.”

...

“There’s a lesson there. Seattle, they felt like we did with Russell Wilson,” Pederson said. “We got Nick Foles right after that, and I love Nick Foles and think he’s gonna be a good quarterback in this league and do well for Kansas City. But if you’re not planning for that position …”

For as much criticism or questioning as the Eagles have faced for their plan at the quarterback position this year, "take him" certainly was not the issue. In addition to all of players and draft collateral they gave up for Wentz, they also invested large sums of money into current starter Sam Bradford and long-term backup Chase Daniel.

If you think Pederson and executive vice president of personnel Howie Roseman's experience of missing out on Wilson didn't play a role in those moves, the head coach made it quite clear to the contrary. While Eagles fans would prefer the known quantity and proven Super Bowl champion under center, you can't say this regime hasn't done everything in its power to erase that mistake.

NHL Notes: Panthers flip Dave Bolland's contract, prospect Lawson Crouse to Coyotes for picks

NHL Notes: Panthers flip Dave Bolland's contract, prospect Lawson Crouse to Coyotes for picks

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- The Arizona Coyotes have acquired prospect Lawson Crouse and veteran Dave Bolland's contract from the Florida Panthers for two draft picks.

Arizona sent a 2017 third-round pick and a conditional 2018 second-rounder that could become another 2017 third to Florida. The Coyotes are taking on the final three years of the injured Bolland's deal to pick up Crouse, the 11th pick in the 2015 draft.

Nagging injuries limited Bolland to 25 games last season, and the 30-year-old forward has three years left on his deal at a salary-cap hit of $5.5 million. But Arizona general manager John Chayka said Bolland isn't expected to play for the foreseeable future and could be placed on long-term injured reserve.

Crouse, 19, is a 6-foot-4 left winger who could make his NHL debut this fall.

Avalanche name Jared Bednar head coach
DENVER -- The Colorado Avalanche have hired Jared Bednar as their new head coach.

Bednar replaces Patrick Roy, who abruptly stepped down as coach and vice president of hockey operations earlier this month.

The 44-year-old Bednar won the American Hockey League's Calder Cup championship as coach of the Lake Erie Monsters last season. He also won the ECHL's Kelly Cup in 2009 with the South Carolina Stingrays.

President of hockey operations and general manager Joe Sakic said upon Roy's sudden resignation that he'd look outside the organization for Colorado's next coach. He did just that with Bednar, who had been in the Columbus system.

Sidney Crosby named Canada's captain for World Cup of Hockey
Canada has chosen Sidney Crosby as its captain for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.

Crosby returns as Canada's captain after wearing the "C" for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He's coming off his second Stanley Cup as captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Montreal Canadiens defenseman Shea Weber will serve as the alternates.

Crosby scored one of Canada's biggest goals in international history when he beat U.S. goaltender Ryan Miller to win the gold medal on home ice at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Now 29, he has two gold medals, two Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Canada begins training camp Sept. 5 in Ottawa. The World Cup begins Sept. 17 in Toronto (see full story).

Coyotes hire NHL's first female coach
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Coyotes have hired Dawn Braid as skating coach and say she is believed to be the first full-time female coach in NHL history.

Braid has a long association with the NHL.

She worked part-time for the Coyotes last year and has served as a skating consultant with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.

Braid also spent seven years with the Athletes Training Center as director of skating development. Among the skaters she worked with while there is New York Islanders center John Tavares (see full story).