Games to Watch: U.S. national team set to face Ukraine in Cyprus
Jurgen Klinsmann has assembled his Europe-based stars for one of the last friendlies before this summer's World Cup. He has also called in two of MLS' biggest names, Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) and Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders). The game was originally set to be played in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, but was moved to Cyprus because of Ukraine's political unrest.
Games to Watch: U.S. national team set to face Ukraine in Cyprus
Scroll down for details on next Wednesday's U.S.-Ukraine game, which has been moved to Cyprus because of political unrest in Ukraine. I like to list games in chronological order, so it goes near the end.
Chelsea at Fulham
10:00 a.m. Saturday (NBCSN)
Premier League leaders Chelsea make the short trip across West London to face an old rival. Fernando Torres leads the Blues against a Fulham squad that has already changed manager twice this season as it tries to avoid relegation.
U.S. national team star Clint Dempsey has been on loan at Craven Cottage since the MLS season ended, but he hasn’t had much of an impact. His loan finishes March 1, and this would be his last game in the deal.
Inter Milan at AS Roma
2:40 p.m. Saturday (beIN Sport)
It’s a battle of two of the top five teams in Serie A, as Rodrigo Palacio leads Inter into the Italian capital. Roma is led by veteran forward Francesco Totti and one-time Arsenal castoff Gervinho. The next time these teams meet, by the way, by the way, will be in August at Lincoln Financial Field.
Sunderland vs. Manchester City
8:55 a.m. Sunday (beIN Sport)
Although Sunderland is fighting relegation, the Capital One Cup final offers Jozy Altidore and the Black Cats a chance to win silverware this season. They’re a huge underdog against Yaya Touré and Manchester City, one of the Premier League’s heavyweights.
Real Madrid at Atlético Madrid
10:55 a.m. Sunday (beIN Sport)
The Derbi madrileño is a must-win for the home team. Diego Costa and company would fall six points back of first place Real in with a loss. Meanwhile, los Merengues are peaking at the right time. Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo have combined to score 46 goals this season, including 13 in the club’s last five games.
Juventus at AC Milan
2:40 p.m. Sunday (beIN Sport)
Any time Mario Balotelli leads Milan against another Italian giant, it’s must-see TV. The flamboyant striker is the Terrell Owens of European soccer. Juventus counters with Carlos Tévez, the equal of Chad Johnson.
(Before you ask, I don't know who the Italian Drew Rosenhaus is.)
It’s been a rough year at the San Siro, as the rossoneri are 16 points out of a Champions League place. A win over the first-place bianconeri would salvage some pride, though not much else.
Olympique Marseille at Paris Saint-Germain
3:00 p.m. Sunday (Univision Deportes, beIN Sport tape-delayed at 5:00 p.m.)
France’s signature rivalry takes center stage in the City of Lights. Zlatan Ibrahimović and Yohan Cabaye lead PSG against Marseille, traditionally France’s most popular team, at the Parc des Princes. Marseille winger Andre Ayew is likely to be a big part of the Ghanaian national team that will face the United States at the World Cup.
United States vs. Ukraine
1:30 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2, UniMás)
Jurgen Klinsmann has assembled his Europe-based stars for one of the last friendlies before this summer’s World Cup. He has also called in two of MLS’ biggest names, Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) and Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders). The game was originally set to be played in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, but was moved to Cyprus because of Ukraine’s political unrest.
Of the 24 players in the squad, the one who might generate the most buzz is 18-year-old Bayern Munich forward Julian Green. He’s a dual German-American citizen who has played for Germany’s youth national teams, and thus has to file paperwork with FIFA to make a one-time switch to the United States.
The rumor going around is that Green wants to do so, and you can be sure Klinsmann will use this camp to seal the deal. Until then, Green can’t play in U.S. games, but he can train with the team. So he’ll be with Klinsmann and the rest of the squad for a two-day camp in Frankfurt ahead of the game.
“Julian is an exceptional talent,” Klinsmann said in this Q&A on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s website. “It’s a big step for him as we try to emotionally connect him to our program, because it’s not only a World Cup coming up this summer. Next year there’s a Gold Cup, then you have an Olympics [in 2016], then you have Confederations Cup hopefully [in 2017 if the U.S. qualifies], and soon comes the next World Cup around the corner in Russia [in 2018].”
The inclusion of Bradley and Dempsey may irk those who want to see them finish preseason work with their MLS clubs. That’s likely to be a small crowd, though, relative to those who put the national team’s World Cup preparation first.
Bradley in particular isn’t a concern. Though the MLS season starts three days after this game, Toronto FC has a bye on the opening weekend. Dempsey is a bit more controversial, because Seattle kicks off its campaign against reigning MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City in the league’s first game of 2014.
If Dempsey plays 90 minutes against Ukraine, he could sit out of the Sounders’ opener after the long flight home from Cyprus. Seattle fans might not be happy about that - and I suspect NBCSN, which will broadcast the Sounders-Sporting game, wouldn’t be either.
But for Klinsmann - and for most of the American soccer community, frankly - the national team comes first.
Here’s the full list of players Klinsmann has summoned:
Goalkeepers (3): Cody Cropper (Southampton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton)
Defenders (7): John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Oguchi Onyewu (Sheffield Wednesday), Will Packwood (Birmingham City), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers)
Midfielders (8): Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Beşiktaş), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (Barnsley), Danny Williams (Reading)
Forwards (6): Juan Agudelo (Utrecht), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar)
Italy at Spain
3:55 p.m. Wednesday (ESPN2, ESPN Deportes)
Don’t be too quick to change the channel after the U.S. game ends, because this game in Madrid will also be worth watching. As it’s one of the last warmup opportunities before the World Cup, expect big names such as Spain’s Xavi Hernandez and Italy’s Andrea Pirlo to be in the spotlight.
The contest is also serving as a fundraiser for the Spanish soccer players’ union, which has been fighting to get better wages and working conditions. A high-profile example of the issue arose last month. Racing Santander staged an on-field boycott during a Copa del Rey quarterfinal against Real Sociedad to protest their having not been paid since September.