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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.