Jurgen Klinsmann

Preview: Confident United States expecting victory against Panama

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SEATTLE, Wash. – The rhetoric surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann’s time with the U.S. men’s national team has always cast the coach’s tenure as a process, one that would require the program to regroup and reset before moving forward. Two weeks ago, as Belgium was slicing through the team in a Cleveland friendly, that process appeared to be sputtering, but after wins against Germany and Jamaica, confidence is high ahead of the team’s latest challenge – Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifier against Panama.

“We need to confirm what we’ve built over the last couple of games,” was Klinsmann’s assessment as the team arrived in Seattle, site of Tuesday’s match. After their 2-1 win in Kingston, the U.S. sit second in “The Hex” – the six-team final round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying tournament. With three teams advancing directly to Brazil 2014, the U.S. will take a big step to a seventh-straight World Cup with a win over Panama.

“We want to get three points on Tuesday night, badly,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a must-win. Every home game is a must-win. We know that.”

(MORE: The U.S.’s long trip, quick turnaround after Jamaica)

With the qualifying tournament just short of its half-way mark, the game’s far from a must-win, but with the well-established maxim of ‘win all your home games’ entrenched in CONCACAF lore, you wouldn’t expect a coach of one of the region’s favorites to say anything less. And while the math may not support Klinsmann’s urgency, given the progress the U.S. has made over the last two weeks, anything but full points would be a major setback. Against a team that’s never reached a World Cup, a draw could be a step back.

Panama’s chances of getting that result took were dealt a severe blow this weekend when Blas Perez was ruled out of Tuesday’s match. The veteran FC Dallas striker and Panama’s most dangerous goal-scoring threat, Perez was ruled out with gastrointestinal problems. The 32-year-old’s absence will make life easier on defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, who now will focus their attentions on Luis Tejada and Rolando Blackburn.

There are, however, other points of worry in the Panamanian team. In captain Felipe Baloy, the Canaleros have a defender capable of starting for any team in the region, his physicality capable of neutralizing even an in-form Jozy Altidore. In the middle, former Philadelphia Union midfielder Gabriel Gomez has always been a force for country, even if he failed to have a significant impact in Major League Soccer. He’ll be a major focal point for Michael Bradley.

(MORE: Bradley’s importance could be tested | Without Jermaine Jones.)

Even with those talents, Panama’s challenges down to a coaching truism. If Klinsmann’s team plays to their potential – if the team that faced Jamaica and Germany boarded the charter to Seattle – the United States will win. It will probably be difficult, as most U.S. games are, and there may be moments where a Brad Evans-esque player will have to unexpectedly step up, but the U.S. is beyond doubting their capabilities to do so.

The bigger question is how many of those of those capabilities will be at Klinsmann’s disposal. Jermaine Jones, the much-maligned midfield hard man whose become one of Klinsmann’s obligatory starters, is out while recovering from a concussion. Graham Zusi, so crucial in providing service from the right for Altidore’s recent goals, was cautioned in Kingston, leaving him suspended with after accumulating too many yellow cards.

The extent to which Klinsmann’s replacements click will dictate how easy the U.S. has it against Panama. In the middle, Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron is most likely to take Jermaine Jones’s mantle, his utility man’s ability to play central defense, right back, and midfield focused in support of Bradley. In place of Zusi, the situation is more nebulous, with Eddie Johnson, Joe Corona, and Brad Davis all potentially starting against Panama.

(MORE: “Adaptability” in action, just as Klinsmann preached.)

The biggest names, however, are there. Clint Dempsey will wear the armband. Tim Howard will protect the net. Jozy Altidore will be chasing goals, while Omar Gonzalez looks to continue his ascent in defense. With nine of eleven starters returning from the Jamaica match – and with Panama missing their leading scorer – there’s little appetite to accept excuses.

If the States win, they could very well sit top of the group through five rounds, the Hex-leading Costa Ricans facing a tough task in Mexico City. Any other result, and the States will be examining at themselves instead of the standings.

(MORE: Costa Rica plan plan Mexico upset, Honduras host Jamaica)

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.