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Study points ahead of tonight’s U.S. World Cup qualifier

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TAMPA, Fla. – Anything other than a resounding win tonight against tiny Antigua and Barbuda would be fodder for fan angst – but a win by any margin will do in the technical sense as Jurgen Klinsmann gets his first taste of World Cup qualifying as U.S. manager.

Clint Dempsey is not yet at full speed. Landon Donovan hasn’t been at full rev most of this year, a fine night against Scotland as the exception. Michael Bradley has been cleaning up, ensconcing himself as perhaps the most important U.S. man this side of Tim Howard.

We’ll see it all come together at 7 p.m. on ESPN. What else to consider:

  • Style points do not count; there are no voters around to impress

So says U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra (pictured). Yes, the United States will be expected to win by multiple goals. And if the Americans sneak away with a 1-0 or 2-0 win, flags of concerns will rise across U.S. fandom and the chattering class. But no matter, says Bocanegra, who figures the need for plentiful goals serves only the bottom line.

“We need to hopefully go out there and get some early goals on them and take some pressure off ourselves,” he said. “So we need to be impressive right from the first whistle. Doesn’t matter how we win, or what the score is, we just need to come away with a win.”

  • The left back situation

We’ve gone over that one, here (about the situation) and here (about the options). My best starting XI guess: We’ll see Geoff Cameron tonight for injured starter Fabian Johnson and injured backup Edgar Castillo.

FYI: I’m hearing that Johnson has a better chance of playing Tuesday than Castillo.

  • The Klinsmann factor

Two things to know here: First, the U.S. boss isn’t just new to coaching in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, he’s new to World Cup qualifying, period. Remember, Germany didn’t go through the qualifying paces with Klinsmann in charge for World Cup 2006; as hosts, they were awarded the berth. So there’s that.

Does it matter? Surely not, because Klinsmann was clearly front-and-center in those Germans bids to grab World Cup spots as a player.

The other thing to discuss his tactical style, about his desire for United States that plays higher up the field, applies more pressure and generally is more of a regional bully that can impose itself. It’s a style suited for games like tonight’s.

Teams under previous manager Bob Bradley were all about organization and possession, not necessarily about taking the fight to the enemy. It was a style suited to manufacture upsets against higher-quality nations, or to carefully manage matches against equals. But his teams, lacking that extra gear of forward drive, sometimes struggled to break down weaker teams.

Klinsmann’s way should be better at it. We’ll know more in a few hours.

We will, that is, unless …

  • The wet weather factor

Bocanegra said the United States has an edge on a wet field, where the ball moves quicker. He’s surely correct.

But there’s a point where “wet and slick” becomes “water-logged and bogged down.” That benefits the lesser side, the visitors in this case. Rain here in Tampa. Yep. On and off through the day. With more perhaps en route.

By the way, the field at Raymond James, where about 20,000 seats had been sold as of yesterday, is 116 yards by 74 yards. Whereas the fields were tighter for last week’s friendlies in Florida and Maryland, U.S. Soccer officials made sure this one was properly wide.

  • Who starts at striker?

Best guess, Herculez Gomez. Or perhaps Terrence Boyd.

Coming into this camp I (and everyone else) assumed it would be Jozy Altidore, coming off that breakout season in Holland. But listening to everything Klinsmann is saying here, I don’t see that now.  He keeps talking up Gomez and Boyd and the razor-wire edge and effort they bring every day to training. (And there has been lots and lots of training, two sessions on most days since the team arrive more than two weeks ago.)

Altidore? Klinsmann says those three weeks off hurt the 23-year-old Alkmaar man desperately.

I’ll have just a little more on this one later this afternoon.

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.