U.S.- Costa Rica prediction for tonight, and where a bit of creeping self-doubt can be a good thing

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – History has taught us that the best U.S. national team performances have arrived when the Americans feel backed into a tough spot.

The big disappointments – think “Ghana,” and then “Ghana” again – have often arrived when the team begins feeling good about itself.

I have this theory that as the United States talent pool gradually improved, the team lost a little bit of the gritty element that got it through the 1990s and pushed it forward in the early part of the 2000s. It lost a little bit of that useful chip-on-shoulder effect.

Past U.S. versions knew they had to try harder. Unblessed with a superior first touch or the collective soccer brain to think three moves ahead rather than two, the boys in star-striped blue or red (or that awful denim) had to close the gap through heart, hustle and a stubborn competitiveness. And also through that most quintessential of American values, that optimistic, unbreakable belief that good things were ahead.

You only have to spend a little bit of time in other lands to gain perspective on the U.S. virtue of heady expectation. There are plenty of countries where the populace really does sit around and wait for the next bad thing to happen.

That brings us to tonight’s match at DSG Park in Commerce City. U.S. backs against the wall? Yeah, I’d say we are there.

Feeling the weight of it all, the pressure to get the job done tonight against Costa Rica amid the team’s first real test of locker room accord since the days of Steve Sampson, John Harkes, Eric Wynalda, etc.? That seems reasonable as an assessment.

So I wonder if a little bit of creeping self-doubt isn’t a good thing? I wonder if the players don’t rally a little bit around the unrest?

I chatted yesterday with Ian Darke, who will call tonight’s game for ESPN (10 p.m. ET).  We agreed that Brian Straus’ Sporting News piece – the best piece of American soccer reporting in a long, long time, in my opinion – might just be a good thing for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.

Straus certainly didn’t make any of that stuff up; players were saying it.

Well, you want that stuff in the open, ready to be mopped up and dealt with. Better that than whispered around certain corners of the locker room, like so much toxic sludge, slowly rotting the floors, so to speak.

It may have made some people mad (like Michael Bradley – and good for him for adding a counter-balance and saying things that needed to be said.) And perhaps Klinsmann will understand that some of his communication methods may need a re-think.

In the end, the team might just be better for it.  We’ll know more in a little while.

I say it will help. I say the U.S. back line will get lots of protection and will dig in accordingly, stubbornly rather than nervously. The fullbacks will be aggressive in moving forward, but not wildly so.

Michael Bradley will be cautious, also endeavoring to protect a weakened defense.

The United States will find a goal … but perhaps not multiple goals.

I’m calling a 1-0 U.S. win.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.

Men in Blazers podcast: Transfer window, USMNT at Gold Cup, RBNY-NYCFC

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Men In Blazers are back with their latest podcast, and the boys are hitting club soccer here and abroad as well as Bruce Arena’s men in the red, white, and blue.

Rog and Davo break down transfer window activity, rumored and real; get a heat check on the USMNT heading into the Gold Cup; and recap the (Ray) Hudson River Derby.

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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Agent Jorge Mendes appears before judge in Falcao tax probe

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MADRID (AP) Football agent Jorge Mendes has told a Spanish judge that he had no involvement in the financial planning of client Radamel Falcao, who has been accused by a state prosecutor of tax fraud.

Mendes, who is not accused of any wrongdoing, appeared before a judge in a Madrid court for 45 minutes on Tuesday as part of the probe into whether there are grounds for the case against Falcao to go to trial.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Mendes’ agency, Gestifute, released a statement saying that “neither he nor his employees have ever intervened in the creation of corporate structures for his clients and much less provided any tax advice to them.”

Last month, a state prosecutor accused Falcao of defrauding Spain’s Tax Office of around $6 million from 2012-13. The alleged unpaid taxes were from money the Colombian player made from endorsement deals through image rights, not from the salary he was then being paid from club Atletico Madrid. Falcao now plays for Monaco.

Arfield, Adekugbe on Canada’s Gold Cup roster

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Burnley midfielder Scott Arfield and on-loan Brighton defender Samuel Adekugbe are among the players who will represent Canada in this summer’s Gold Cup.

Arfield, 28, was born in Scotland and earned the first of seven Canada caps in 2016, and Adekugbe returns to Vancouver from a year-long loan to Brighton and Hove Albion on June 30.

The pair join nine MLS players, two NASL player, and a USL player, with the rest of the group based outside North America.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Notably, Orlando City players Will Johnson and Cyle Larin were not called up by coach Octavio Zambrano.

Goalkeepers: Maxime Crepeau (Montreal), Milan Borjan (MKS Korona Kielce), Jayson Leutwiler (Shrewsbury Town)

Defenders: Samuel Adekugbe (Brighton and Hove Albion), Fraser Aird, Manjrekar James (Vasas Budapest), Dejan Jakovic (New York Cosmos), Adam Straith (FC Edmonton), Steven Vitoria (Lechia Gdansk), Marcel de Jong (Vancouver Whitecaps)

Midfielders: Scott Arfield (Burnley), Patrice Bernier (Montreal), Alphonso Davies (Vancouver), Raheem Edwards (Toronto FC), Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City), Mark-Anthony Kaye (Louisville City FC), Anthony Jackson-Hamel (Montreal), Jonathan Osorio (Toronto), Michael Petrasso (QPR), Samuel Piette (CD Izarra), Russell Teibert (Vancouver)

Forwards: Lucas Cavallini (CA Penarol), Tosaint Ricketts (Toronto)