Why the United States should (and probably will) claim easy victory tonight over Canada

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HOUSTON – Don’t believe the “Camp Cupcake” silliness, the pejorative term applied to Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team camp.

Laying aside the fact that the athlete’s warm-up during the tough conditioning workouts of the last three weeks would make most of us forfeit breakfast, the players now in Houston for tonight’s contest against rebuilding Canada represent a mix of quality players who will be in Honduras in a week’s time for a final stage World Cup qualifier, and guys with some level of potential to get there.

The talent includes Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, Eddie Johnson (pictured), Juan Agudelo, all of whom will be front and center in the U.S. effort tonight at potentially stormy BBVA Compass Stadium. (Kickoff is 8 p.m. CT) They should all like their chances of being called next week when the United States begins its final push for Brazil 2014.

Meanwhile, the players tonight on the other side of the Houston Dynamo’s new downtown home can only help ready the banners for their own extended push: “2018 Russia or Bust!”

That’s not to be disparaging to the Canadian Soccer Association; rather, it’s just to say that these are teams in two very different places.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann had his men in camp for about two weeks longer. He needed the extra time to prep the legs and lungs of 8-10 players for next week’s match against Honduras. A group of 10 or fewer will join the U.S. front-page types, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and the rest of the lot from abroad.

(MORE: Predicted U.S. lineup for tonight)

Canada has been in camp only a few days, so fitness is on the U.S. side, big time.

The Canadians have played a friendly already, and that might be a check for the Maple Leaf. But seeing as that match was just three nights prior, any edge in greater unit cohesion is marginalized by the fatigue factor.

And let’s talk about that match Saturday in Phoenix, a 4-0 Canadian loss to a Denmark side that was hardly fully equipped; like the American team, most of its first string remains in Europe.

Yes, the Canadians have the best attacker on the field tonight in Dwayne De Rosario, who will presumably be motivated, still with many friends and fond memories of his years in Dynamo orange. But “De Ro,” valiant and talented as he possibly can be, is 34. He played 62 minutes less than 72 hours ago, and that was his first full run-out in about five months. Translation: Don’t expect anything more than about ¾ De Ro tonight.

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Canada today, in full youth build-‘em-up mode, is more about guys like Kyle Bekker, the 22-year-old recent MLS draftee out of Boston College. Bekker is a great young talent, but a U.S. midfield of Beckerman, Zusi (pictured right), Benny Feilhaber or some combination thereof should and likely will overwhelm a man fresh out of college.

Gonzalez will be the best defender on the field, probably by some measure.

Let’s not forget that the Klinsmann’s men are playing at home. Just because it’s a friendly, that remains a decided advantage.

Toss in these historical edges: The United States is protecting a 15-game unbeaten streak (8-0-7) in the series since 1985. Plus the obvious, that the United States has been to every World Cup since 1986, while the Canadians haven’t been to once since then.

The United States needs a resounding win here, if only to keep supporter confidence high around Klinsmann ahead of next week’s opening of “Now it counts” time.

Best bet: a 3-0 or 4-0 win for the United States.

Wenger: Sanchez, Giroud will both be with Arsenal next year

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Arsene Wenger thinks Alexis Sanchez will sign a new deal at Arsenal this summer, whether the manager changes or not.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s visit from Leicester City, Wenger did not offer any clues as to his future with the club. He also said it does not hinge on how the Gunners finish the current campaign, and that he is working on transfers for the benefit of Arsenal regardless of his future.

[ MORE: Will Real open door for Barca? ]

That’s no surprise, given his reputation and fidelity to the club. What may surprise some is Wenger’s confidence that Sanchez will stay at the Emirates Stadium.

From Sky Sports:

“I personally think he will stay and sign. First of all he is happy here, his desire is to stay, that is what I deeply believe.

“I don’t think you would sell him to any Premier League club, that is for sure. The question is why would you sell him to another club? You want to be as strong as you can be and not strengthen the other teams.”

Wenger said both sides want to work out a deal and that the hold-up resides in agent-related matters. He also said Arsenal does not have interest in selling Olivier Giroud, who backed Wenger just over a month ago.

Title fight in Spain: Will Real slip up again?

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Barcelona’s dramatic 3-2 win over Real Madrid has set La Liga’s title race on its ear, with both clubs level on points with 75.

Real still controls its own destiny in a bid for its first league title since 2011-12, but a single loss puts Barcelona in pole position for its fourth title in five seasons.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

The tiebreaker is head-to-head, which Lionel Messi lifted from Real with his thrilling stoppage time thriller on Sunday at the Bernabeu.

Here are the run-ins for both sides, with Real facing a more congested schedule thanks to its status as a UEFA Champions League semifinalist.

Real Madrid

Only two of Real’s remaining five La Liga matches are at home, a boon for Barcelona considering Real boasts a strong home mark. The loss to Barca was Real’s first at the Bernabeu this season, and the Merengues only drew three matches at home (Villarreal, Eibar, Atletico Madrid).

Those home matches, however, are against teams that beat Real in the sides’ other league meetings this year, Sevilla and Valencia.

Wednesday – at Deportivo de la Coruna (16th)
Saturday – vs. Valencia (12th)
May 2 – vs. Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 6 – at Granada (19th)
May 10 – at Atletico Madrid (UCL)
May 14 – vs. Sevilla (4th)
May 21 – at Malaga (14th)

Barcelona

Barca is home for three of its remaining five matches. The Blaugranas drew Villarreal and blew out Osasuna and Eibar ahead of the return visits.

As for the road matches, Barca has the Derbi barceloni with Espanyol, having taken the Camp Nou meeting 4-1, as well as a trip to Las Palmas (5-0 at home).

Wednesday – vs. Osasuna (20th)
Saturday – at Espanyol (9th)
May 6 – vs. Villarreal (5th)
May 14 – at Las Palmas (13th)
May 21 – vs. Eibar (8th)
May 27 – vs. Alaves (Copa del Rey Final)

The verdict

Any whiplash Real faces from schedule congestion should be offset by Barcelona’s much tougher schedule. Real could lose again, perhaps versus Sevilla, but Barca will likely finish second thanks to dropped points against Espanyol, Eibar, or Villarreal.

Premier League Weds. preview: Desperation on display

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Two London powers face a race to stay alive for their lofty season goals, while two Northeast sides see their last chances to claim hope for another year in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: All PL games here ]

That’s what’s on the docket for Wednesday’s PL matches, one day after Chelsea buried Southampton 4-2 t0 move seven points clear of Spurs in the race for the league’s 2016-17 crown.

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

No team has looked better than Spurs lately, though Palace won’t be bowed by a big name or good form. Sam Allardyce‘s Eagles boast wins at Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home defeat of Arsenal. Those have all come in 2017, as Palace has leapt to within striking distance of the top half.

Spurs need to win at Selhurst Park to keep pace with Chelsea and sit four points back of the No. 1 spot with five matches to play. Lose, concede, and feel like last April all over again. It was a year from Tuesday that Spurs coughed up a home lead to Leicester and saw any hopes of catching Leicester fade into the sunset.

Middlesbrough vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET

This Tees-Wear Derby oozes desperation, with Sunderland knowing it needs to win its matches-in-hand on Hull City and Swansea to have any hope of staying up, and Middlesbrough nearly as desperate.

Boro’s 24 points is three more than Sunderland, who has played one less game. Hull sits 17th with 33 points while Swansea holds 31.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won in the Premier League since Dec. 17, a run of 16 matches. Their only wins of the year are over lower league opposition, a trio of victories against Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington Stanley, and Oxford United.

Sunderland has just one league win since that same date in December, and that came at Crystal Palace. The Black Cats have lost six of eight, and look destined to join Boro in the second tier as Northeast neighbors Newcastle comes up.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images )

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — 2:45 p.m. ET

Did Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal win over Manchester City snap Arsenal out of its funk, or was it just a matter of Alexis Sanchez’s class squeezing a bit of excellence out of the tube?

Arsene Wenger will hope for the latter, because Arsenal’s Top Four hopes hinge on winning its matches-in-hand on Liverpool and getting significant help from Man City and Manchester United. Their opposition will also be rested, having rested since bowing out of the UEFA Champions League on April 18.

Leicester’s five match winning streak, part of Craig Shakespeare’s new manager bounce, has died down a bit. The Foxes lost at Everton and drew at Palace, and get a third tricky road test in a row at the Emirates Stadium.

Pochettino calls out Xavi for Dele Alli-Man City “lie to lie to lie”

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“He tried to destroy our focus to win because he hates me because he’s Barcelona.”

Even half-kidding, the Derby Barceloni is alive and well for longtime Espanyol man Mauricio Pochettino and Barcelona legend Xavi.

At least that’s why the latter is trying to sabotage the former’s Premier League title fight, Pochettino says.

[ RECAP: Chelsea 4-2 Saints ]

Speaking from his club team in Qatar, Xavi claimed that Manchester City is going to bid high for Spurs’ young star Dele Alli.

Tottenham boss Pochettino says that’s just not true. Pochettino was joking a bit when he answered questions on the topic, but then told a story about Xavi diving for a penalty in the derby. Here are a few of his thoughts, from The Telegraph:

“It wasn’t a penalty but Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Barcelona and they won the game. After in the replay it was very funny because it was clear no one touched him. Come on! It goes from lie to lie to lie.”

“He is working for Manchester City, maybe? He wants to help Guardiola and [Vincent] Kompany.”