U.S.-Canada from Toronto tonight: why it matters

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I know everyone wanted to see Wednesday’s friendly against Brazil as something more than it was. Yes, a contest against the five-time World Cup champs is a wow-wow moment to be marveled, an exciting and joyous occasion worth breaking out the funny foam fingers and all.

And, yes, an exhibition with Brazil is a bigger moment than say, a barely noticeable U.S. friendly in January against Norway or Venezuela.

But U.S.-Brazil is more “happening” than “meaningful moment.”  You simply cannot say that a match devoid of collective pressure, a.k.a. a “friendly,” is more than an exhibition.  It is what it is.

As for tonight’s happening: I can make a case that Sunday’s match against Canada at BMO Field in Toronto is a more important than Wednesday’s. (And no, not just because it’s on NBC Sport Network, my partners in media; Kickoff is 7 p.m. ET.)

These final tune-ups before a tournament (or in this case, before World Cup qualifying begins) typically land a little further along the continuum of significance. Who’s healthy and fit? Who’s worked out the kinks? What’s the final, first-choice lineup arrangement look like? The shot clock is running out on these questions, so the answers, though still fluid, do gain added weight.

And there’s this: win, lose or draw against Brazil … and they are still Brazil. And we are still the United States, and there really isn’t a bigger significance past that.

But …

Sunday’s contest contains slightly more regional resonance. That’s because Canada is a CONCACAF rival … as much “rival” as our northern neighbors can be when they just haven’t kept pace developmentally with the United States.

Canada last went to a World Cup in 1986.  Not exactly coincidentally, that 1986 World Cup in Mexico was the last tournament for which the United States did not qualify.

So there’s a question of regional superiority here. Right now it’s Mexico, the United States and everyone else in CONCACAF. But if Canada rises, there’s suddenly a third big fork competing for bites of the CONCACAF pie. And given the rise of African soccer and other complex politics of the way World Cup spots get divided among continents, this region’s allotment won’t grow anytime soon.

So, there is surely some value (limited, admittedly, but “some”) in maintaining dominance over Canada.

Nobody around U.S. Soccer wants Sunday’s match in Ontario to be the one that finally gets Canada going into the right direction. And neither team wants to go into World Cup qualifying, which begins later this week, with the bloody nose of a bad loss.

(Check back later on the blog for more on tonight’s United States match, and what you might see on the BMO field.)

AT THE HALF: Manchester derby scoreless after 45 minutes

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After 45 minutes, the final Manchester derby of the 2016-17 Premier League season — the one that’ll go a long, long way toward deciding which of the city’s sides will finish in the top-four — is scoreless, but not without incident.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The game’s best chances thus far fell Manchester City’s way, as Sergio Aguero missed a clear-cut chance after 10 minutes — Kevin De Bruyne whipped in the perfect ball to the back post, and Aguero put it wrong side of David De Gea‘s post.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ander Herrera has, once again, be Manchester United’s danger man, combining well with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Claudio Bravo made the one save he was forced into during the first half. One thing to keep an eye on during the final 45 minutes: Rashford picked up a knock very early on, and struggled to move around the field after that.

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

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