Cherundolo head shot

Can the weight of the World Cup moment be useful going forward?

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KANSAS CITY – No U.S. player or staffer could feel fantastic about the nervy way semifinal-round qualifying unfolded, about merging into the final pair of matches with such a small margin for error (even if the extra tension did help create an absolutely stirring atmosphere at Livestrong Sporting Park).

The veteran U.S. players and all the coaches have an understanding that qualifying is never easy-breezy, not even in the lesser of the two money rounds, this just-completed bugger of a semifinal stage. But the slog turned even more difficult than most expected, a semifinal round squeeze that left a few questions deserving of answers.

“We certainly didn’t want to put ourselves in this situation, but we did, and we came up with the right answer,” veteran right back Steve Cherundolo said after last night’s 3-1 win over Guatemala.

But in the end, could it all work to the U.S. advantage? Tougher matches are ahead in the final round, which begins in February.

(MORE: Quick look at final round CONCACAF World Cup qualifying)

Here’s what Cherundolo told me about it last night when I asked if two matches that required a result will add some steel, some calm in the twitchy moments surely to come, to this particular group? Said Cherundolo:

Absolutely. It’s great to see how guys perform under pressure. Tonight the pressure was on. Friday, the pressure was on in Antigua. It was a gutsy performance in Antigua. It wasn’t a good performance by any means, soccer-wise. But guys put in the work and that’s the most important thing in these games, making the most of the chances you get.”

As the players and coaches keep reminding us, every group is different in these World Cup qualifying cycles.

Cherundolo has been in these white-knucklers before, so the exercise is not so critical for him. But the weight of the moment is new, and can certainly be instructional to guys like Graham Zusi, Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst, Danny Williams and Herculez Gomez, all starters last night.

In terms of international soccer, nothing they’ve done before this Friday-Tuesday set compares. Nothing close, in fact.

(MORE: Quick take-aways from Tuesday’s 3-1 win)

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur battles with Kenedy of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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  • Chelsea leads all-time: 65W-39D-50L
  • Spurs 8 back of Leicester
  • Clubs drew 0-0 in November

If Spurs want to keep their unlikely title charge alive, they’ll need to start in a historically difficult place (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Tottenham heads to Chelsea on Monday knowing a win at Stamford Bridge would be their first road London Derby win over the Blues since 1990.

[ MORE: Vardy wins English Player of the Year award ]

Spurs are leading the form table with 14 points from its last six matches, but hasn’t been able to gain ground on Leicester and would forfeit their title chances by losing even a single point on Monday.

Chelsea’s Diego Costa is 10th in the Premier League in goals with 11, but that’s 13 back of league leader Harry Kane. The Spurs forward has a one goal edge on Sergio Aguero and two on Jamie Vardy with two weeks left in the season.

What they’re saying

Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink on Monday’s match: “That’s almost a personal challenge, but whoever will play in defence will like that challenge with Harry Kane. He is having an admirable season. He has maintained his form [from last season] and is doing very well.”

Harry Kane on trying to topple Chelsea“Playing London rivals is always a big game for us and this is no different. With the situation that we’re in as well, I’m sure Chelsea will be wanting to try to beat us but we’ve got to be prepared for that and make sure we go out there, play the way we have been and really take the game to them.

“We try to play the same way every game – we try to attack, play good football, keep possession and press high. We’ll do the same this week. Chelsea know the way we’re going to play but hopefully if we do it well enough they won’t be able to stop it.”

Prediction

Will Leicester’s miracle run to the Premier League title be completed while the Foxes crowd around a television? It wouldn’t fit the story line, but we have a feeling Chelsea has enough in the tank to make a season-ending stop. 1-1.

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy wins English player of year award

FILE - This is a Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015 file photo of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy as he celebrates his goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Newcastle United and Leicester City at St James' Park, Newcastle, England. Jamie Vardy’s unconventional route to the English Premier League’s record book began with heartbreaking rejection at 16 and back-breaking work in a carbon-fiber factory.  (AP Photo/Scott Heppell) UNITED KINGDOM OUT  NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
AP Photo/Scott Heppell
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LONDON (AP) Leicester forward Jamie Vardy has won England’s Footballer of the Year award on the day his team could clinch an unlikely Premier League title.

The Football Writers’ Association said Leicester players swept the top three places and seven in total got votes for the award seen as the most prestigious individual prize in England.

Vardy won 36 percent of journalists’ votes “making him a clear winner” ahead of teammates Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante, the writers’ organization said Monday.

[ MORE: Ranieri up in the air while Spurs play Chelsea ]

“It’s been an amazing season for all of us at Leicester, based on the teamwork not individuals, which you can see in the voting,” Vardy said in a statement. The 29-year-old forward gets the honor just four years after playing in the fifth-tier division.

His 22 Premier League goals include a streak of scoring in 11 consecutive early-season matches, which launched Leicester’s historic title challenge after being a 5,000-1 outsider.

Vardy also scored his first goals for England, against Germany and the Netherlands, in March.

Leicester will win the league with two rounds to spare if second-placed Tottenham fails to win at Chelsea later Monday. Victory for Leicester at home to Everton on Saturday would also secure the title.

Leicester swept the main individual awards, after 17-goal Mahrez won the players’ vote last week.

Coach Claudio Ranieri is near-certain to win the manager of the year award later this month.

Champions League: Bayern Munich promise “fireworks” vs. Atletico Madrid

Atletico's Gimenez, left, and Bayern's Robert Lewandowski challenge for the ball during the Champions League 1st leg semifinal soccer match between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, April 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul White)
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BERLIN (AP) Thomas Mueller has promised “fireworks” as Bayern Munich seeks to overturn a 1-0 defeat to Atletico Madrid and reach the Champions League final, where Real Madrid or Manchester City await.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Five-time champion Bayern could go out to Spanish opposition at the semifinal stage for the third straight season, after defeats to Real Madrid and Barcelona in 2014 and 2015.

Saul Niguez’ brilliant strike in the first leg in Spain is the difference between the sides. Another Bayern fightback in front of 70,000 fans is expected Tuesday, with Pep Guardiola’s side counting on the spirit that helped it recover from 2-0 down against Juventus to win 4-2 after extra time earlier in the campaign.

Guardiola still hopes to lead Bayern to the treble and match the feat of his predecessor Jupp Heynckes in his last season before he leaves for City.

City could yet meet its future coach in the final if it completes the job against Madrid on Wednesday. After a scoreless first leg in Manchester, Manuel Pellegrini‘s side knows a score-draw will be enough to reach the final for the first time.

[ MORE: Man City, Real Madrid draw | Atleti top Bayern at home ]

Here is a closer look at this week’s Champions League matches:

Bayern missed the chance to clinch its fourth successive Bundesliga title on Saturday, when it was clear that thoughts were already on Atletico’s visit.

With the league title all but certain to arrive sooner or later, Guardiola decided to rest Xabi Alonso, Javi Martinez, Philipp Lahm, David Alaba, Arturo Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Douglas Costa and Robert Lewandowski in the 1-1 draw against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

“Tuesday’s match is going to be different, we have to play better then,” Guardiola said.

Since losing the 2014 semifinal to Madrid, Bayern has won all 11 Champions League games at home.

[ MORE: Ronaldo back in training three days before decider vs. Man City ]

However, Bayern has been made to sweat in the Champions League this season, leaving it very late against Juventus and scraping past Benfica 3-2 on aggregate.

“The assurance has suffered a bit the last few weeks,” Mueller said. “We stand together well as a team but it’s no longer as easy as it was.”

Most fans were surprised to see Mueller starting the first leg in Madrid on the bench. The 26-year-old scored his 20th league goal of the season Saturday, bringing his tally across all competitions to 32, and it was his injury-time goal that forced extra time against Juventus.

If Bayern had trouble breaking through Atletico’s defense in Madrid, it will now have to deal with the addition of Diego Godin to the Spanish team’s backline. Godin, a key player for Atletico, and winger Yannick Carrasco were both cleared to play on Sunday after recovering from injuries.

Coach Diego Simeone also rested most of his first-choice players over the weekend, starting only four players from his lineup that beat Bayern. Atletico won 1-0 against Rayo Vallecano to stay level on points with league leader Barcelona.

MLS Snapshot: Sporting KC 1-1 LA Galaxy (video)

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, front, works in front of the net while covered by Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme, back, during the first half of an MLS soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner
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The game in 100 words (or less): In theory, playing with a man advantage is supposed to provide just that — an advantage. In practice, it’s been a largely fruitless exercise for Sporting Kansas City in 2016. Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with the LA Galaxy, Sporting KC have played 153 minutes with a man advantage (four red cards shown to opponents on the season), and scored all of one goal on the season, all the way back on the opening day of the season. Ashley Cole was the latest to see red against Sporting (video below – if you’re anything other than a Chelsea fan, you’ll enjoy this one), and once again Peter Vermes’ side failed to hit pay dirt in the game’s final 20 minutes. The draw sees the two sides pick up a point each, with the Galaxy climbing one spot in the Western Conference standings, up to fourth, while Sporting hold steady in sixth.

[ MORE: Monday’s MLS Rewind column  ]

Three moments that mattered

30′ — Davis curls a left-footed beauty for 1-0 — Attention, defenders of MLS; Brad Davis’s left foot — it’s still good.

42′ — Dos Santos finishes off a devastating counter — In the blink of an eye, from one end of the field to the other, and the Galaxy were back on level terms through Giovani dos Santos. Cheeky, cheeky.

70′ — Cole sees two yellows in the span of 13 seconds — Cole has mostly flown under the radar while in MLS. That is no longer the case.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Roger Espinoza

Goalscorers: Davis (30′), Dos Santos (42′)