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.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).